Imatges de pàgina

he was universally supposed, and by the Earl of Burlington to whom the poem is addressed, was privately said to mean the Duke of Chandos; a man perhaps too much delighted with pomp and show, but of a temper kind and beneficent, and who had consequently the voice of the public in his favour.

A violent outcry was therefore saised against the ingratitude and treachery of Pope, who was said to have been indebted to the patronage of Chandos for a present of a thousand pounds, and who gained the opportunity of insulting him by the kindness of his invitation.

The receipt of the thousand pounds Pope publickly denied; but from the reproach which the attack on a character so amiable brought upon him, he tried all means of escaping. The name of Cleland was again employed in an apology, by which no man was satisfied ; and he was at last reduced to shelter his temerity behind dissimulation, and endeavour to make that disbelieved which he never had confidence openly to deny. He wrote an exculpatory letter to the Duke, which was answered with great magnanimity, as by a man who accepted his excuse without believing his professions. He said, that to have ridiculed his taste, or his buildings, had been an indifferent action in another man; but that in Pope, after the reciprocal kindness that had been exchanged between them, it had been less easily excused.

Pope, in one of his Letters, complaining of the treatment which his poem had found, "owns that such criticks can intimidate him, nay almost “ persuade him to write no more, which is a compliment this age deserves.” The man who threatens the world is always ridiculous; for the world can easily go on without him, and in a shon tine will cease to miss him. I have heard of an idiot, who used to revenge his vexations by lying all night upon the bridge. " There is ncthing," says Juvenal, “ that a man will not be“ lieve in his own favour.” Pope had been flattered till he thought himself one of the moving powers in the system of life. When he talked of laying down his pen, those who sat round himn intreated and implored; and self-love did not suffer him to suspect that they went away and laughed,

The following year deprived him of Gay, a man whoin he had known early, and whom he seemed to love with more tenderness than any other of his literary friends. Pope was now forty-four years old; an age at which the mind begins less easily to admit new confidence, and the will to grow less flexible, and when therefore the departure of an old friend is very acutely felt.

In the next year he lost his mother, not by an unexpected death, for she had lasted to the age of ninety-three; but she did not die unlamented. The filial piety of Pope was in the highest degree amiable and exemplary; his parents had the happiness of living till he was at the summit of poetical repu. tation, till he was at ease his forture, and without a rival in his fame, and found no diminution of his respect or tenderness. Whatever was his pride, to them he was obedient; and whatever was his irritability, to them he was

3 Y 2


gentle. Life has, among its soothing and quiet comforts, few things better to give than such a son.

One of the passages of Pope's life, which seems to deserve some enquiry, was a publication of Letters between him and many of his friends, which falling into the hands of Curll, a rapacious bookseller of no good fame, were by him printed and sold. This volume containing some Letters from noblemen, Pope incited a prosecution against him in the House of Lords for breach of privilege, and attended himself to stimulate the resentment of his friends. Curll appeared at the bar, and knowing himself in no great danger, spoke of Pope with very little reverence. “ He has," said Curll,

a knack at versifying, but in prose I think myself a match for him." When the orders of the House were examined, none of them appeared 10 have been infringed; Curll went away triumphant; and Pope was left to seek some other remedy,

Curll's account was, that one evening a man in a clergyman's gown, but with a lawyer's band, brought and offered to sale a number of printed voJumes, which he found to be Pope's epistolary correspondence; that he asked no name, and was told none, but gave the price demanded, and thought himself authorised to use his purchase to his own advantage.

That Curll gave a true account of the transaction, it is reasonable to believe, because no falfhood was ever detected; and when some years afterwards I mentioned it to Lintot, the son of Bernard, he declared his opinion to be, that Pope knew better than any body else how Curll übtained th: copies, because another parcel was at the same time sent to himself, for which no price had ever been demanded, as he made known his resolution not to pay a porter, and consequently not to deal with a nameless agent.

Such care had been taken to make them publick, that they were sent al once to two booksellers; to Curll, who was likely to seize them as a pres; and to Lintot, who might be expected to give Pope information of the seeming injury. Lintot, I believe, did nothing; and Curll did what was expected. That to make them publick was the only purpose may be rea" sonably supposed, because the numbers offered to sale by the private niessengers, shewed that nope of gain could not have been the motive of the Impression.

It seems that Pope, being desirous of printing his Letters, and not knowing hor to do, without imputation of vanity, what has in this country been done very rarely, contrived an appearance of compulsion; that when he could complain that his Letters were surreptitiously published, he might decently and defensively publish them himself.

Pope's private correspondence, thus promulgated, filled the nation with praises of his candour, tenderness, and benevolence, the purity of his pufposes, and the fidelity of his friendship. There were some Letters which a very good or a very wise man would wish suppressed; but, as they had been already exposed, it was impracticable now to retract them.


From the perusal of these Letters, Mr. Allen first conceived the desire of knowing him, and with so much zeal did he cultivate the friendship which · he had newly formed, that, when Pope told his purpose of vindicating his own property by a genuine edition, he offered to pay the cost.

This however Pope did not accept; but in time solicited a subscription for a Quarto volume, which appeared (1737) I believe, with sufficient profit. In the Preface he tells, that his Letters were reposited in a friends library, said to be the Earl of Oxford's, and that the copy thence stolen was sent to the press. The story was doubtless received with different degrees of credit, It may be suspected that the Preface to the Miscellanies was written to prepare the public for such an incident; and to strengthen ihis opinion, James Worsdale, a painter who was employed in clandestine negociations, but whose veracity was very doubtful, declared that he was the messenger who carried, by Pope's direction, the books to Curll.

When they were thus published and avowed, as they had relation to recent facts, and persons either then living or not yet forgotten, they may be supposed to have found readers; but, as the facts were minute, and the characters, being either private or literary, were little known, or little regarded; they awakened no popular kindness or resentment; the book never became much the subject of conversation; some read it as a contemporary history, and some perhaps as a model of epistolary language; but those who read it did not talk ofit.

Not much therefore was added by it to fame or envy; nor do I remember that it produced either publick praise or publick censure.

It had however, in some degree, the recommendation of novelty. Our language has few Letters, except those of statesmen. Howel indeed, about a century ago, published his Letters, which are commended by Morboff and which alone of his hundred volumes continue his memory. Loveday's Letters were printed only once; those of Herbert and Suckling are hardly known. Mrs. Philips's (Orinda's) are equally neglected ; and those of Walsh seem written as exercises, and were never seni to any living mistress or friend. Pope's epistolary .excellence had an open field; he had no English rival, living or dead.

Pope is seen in this collection as connected with the other contemporary wits, and certainly suffers no disgrace in the comparison : but it must be remembered, that he had the power of favouring himself: he might have originally had publication in his mind, and have written with care, or have afterwards selected those which he had most happily conceived, or most diligently laboured : and I know not whether there does not appear something more studied and artificial in his productions than the rest, except one long Letter by Boling broke, composed with all the skill and industry of a professed author. It is indeed not easy to distinguish ailectation from habit ; he that has once studiously formed a style, rarely writes afterwards with complete ease. Pope may be said to write always with his reputation in his head ;


[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

Swift perhaps like a man who remembered that he was writing to Pope ; but Arbuthnot like one who lets thoughts drop from his pen as they rise into his mind.

Before these Letters appeared, he published the first part of what be persuaded himself to think a system of Ethicks, under the title of an “ Essay “ on Man;" which, if his Letter to Swift (of Sept. 14, 1725) be rightly explained by the commentator, had been eight years under his consideration, and of which he seems to have desired the success with great solicitude. He had now many open and doubtless many secret enemies. The “ Dunce." were yet smarting with the war; and the superiority which he publickly arrogated disposed the world to wish his humiliation.

All this he knew, and against all this he provided. His own name, and that of his friend to whom the work is inscribed, were in the first editions carefully suppressed; and the poem being of a new kind, was ascribed to one or another as favour determined, or conjecture wandered ; it was given says Warburton, to every man except him only who could write it. Those who like only when they like the author, and who are under the dominion of a name, condemned it ; and those admired it who are willing to scatter praise at randon, which while it is unappropriated excites no envy. Those friends of Pope, that were trusted with the secret, went about lavishing honours on the new-born poet, and hinting that Pope was never so much in danger from any former rival.

To those authors whom he had personally offended, and to those whose opinion the world considered as decisive, and whom he suspected of envy or malevolence, he sent his essay as a present before publication, that they might defeat their own enmity by praises which they could not afterwards decently retract.

With these precautions, in 1733 was published the first part of the " Essay "on Man." There had been for some time a report that Pope was busy upon a Systein of Morality ; but this design was not discovered in the new poem, which had a form and a title with which its readers were unacquainted. Its reception was not uniform ; some thought it a very imperfect piece, ihough not without good lines. While the author was unknown, some, as will always happen, favoured him as an adventurer, and some censured him as an intruder; but all thought him above neglect; the sale increased, and editions were multiplied.

The subsequent editions of the first Epistle exhibited two memorable cosections. At first, the poet and his friend

Expatiate freely o'er this scene of man,

A mighty maze of walks without a plan, For which he wrote afterwards,

A mighty maze, but not witbout a plan :


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

for, if there was no plan, it was in vain to describe or trace the maze. The other alteration was of these lines.

And spite of pride, and in thy reason's spite,

One truth is clear, whatever is, is right: but having afterwards discovered, or been shewn, that the “ truth” which subsisted " in spite of reason" could not be very “clear," he substituted

And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite. To such oversights will the most vigorous inind be liable, when it is employed at once upon argument and poetry.

The second and third Epistles were published ; and Pope was, I believe, more and more suspected of writing them ; at last, in 1734 he avowed the fourth, and claimed the honour of a motal poet.

In the conclusion it is sufficiently acknowledged, that the doctrine of the “ Essay on Man” was received from Bolingbroke, who is said to have ridiculed Pope, among those who enjoyed his confidence, as having adopted and advanced principles of which he did not perceive the consequence, and aš blindly propagating opinions contrary to his own. That those communications had been consolidated into a scheme regularly drawn, and delivered to Pope, from whom it returned only transformed from prose to verse, has been reported, but hardly can be true. The Essay plainly appears the fabrick of a poet : what Bolingbroke supplied could be only the first principles; the order, illustration, and embellishments, must all he Pope's,

These principles is not my business to clear from obscurity, cogmatism, or falsehood ; but they were not immediately examined ; philosophy and poetry have not often the same readers ; and the Essay abounded in splendid amplifications and sparkling sentences, which were read and admired with no great attention to their ultimate purpose ; its flowers caught the eye, which did not see what the gay foliage concealed, and for a time flourished in the sunshine of universal approbation. So little was any evil tendency discovered, that as innocence is unsuspicious, many read it for a manual of piety.

Its reputation soon invited a translator. It was first turned into French prose, and afterwards by Resnel into verse. Both translations fell into the hands of Crousaz, who first, when he had the version in prose, wrote a general censure, and afterwards reprinted Resnel's version, with particular remarks upon every paragraph.

Crousaz was a professor of Switzerland, eminent for his treatise of Logick, and his “ Examen de Pyrrhonisme," and, however little known or regarded here, was no mean antagonist. His mind was one of those in which philosophy and piety are happily united. He was accustomed to argument and disquisition, and perhaps was grown too desirous of detecting faults; but his intentions were always right, his opinions were solid, and his religion pure.

« AnteriorContinua »