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lish only the precepts which may produce it; they re-write, translate, and disfigure on its pattern the great works of other ages; they carry it into all the different kinds of literature, and succeed or fail in them according as it is adapted to them or not. The sway of this style is so absolute, that it is imposed on the greatest, and condemns them to impotence when they would apply it beyond its domain. The possession of this style is so universal, that it is met with in the weakest, and raises them to the height of talent, when they apply it in its domain. This it is which brings to perfection prose, discourse, essay, dissertation, narration, and all the productions which form part of conversation and eloquence. This it is which destroyed the old drama, debased the new, impoverished and diverted poetry, produced a correct, agreeable, sensible, colourless, and concise history. This spirit, common to England and France, impressed its form on the infinite diversity of literary works, so that in its universal manifest ascendency we cannot but recognise the presence of one of those internal forces which bend and govern the course of human genius.
In no branch was it displayed more manifestly than in poetry, and at no time did it appear more clearly than under Queen Anne. The poets have just attained to the art which they had discerned. For sixty years they were approaching it; now they possess it, handle it; already they employ and exaggerate it. The style is at the same time finished and artificial. Open the first that comes to hand, Parnell or Philips, Addison or Prior, Gay or Tickell, you find a certain turn of mind, versification, language. Pass to a second, the same form reappears; you would say that they were imitations one of another. Go on to a third; the same diction, the same apostrophes, the same fashion of arranging an epithet and rounding a period. Turn over the whole lot; with little individual differences, they seem to be all cast in the same mould; one is more epicurean, another more moral, another more biting; but the noble language, the oratorical pomp, the classical correctness, reign throughout; the substantive is accompanied by its adjective, its knight of honour; antithesis balances the symmetrical architecture; the verb, as in Lucan or Statius, is displayed, flanked on each side by a noun decorated by an epithet; one would say that the verse had been fabricated by a machine, so uniform is the make; we forget what it means; we are tempted to count the feet on our fingers; we know beforehand what poetical ornaments are to embellish it. There is a theatrical dressing, contrasts, allusions, mythological elegances, Greek or Latin quotations. There is a scholastic solidity, sententious maxims, philosophic commonplaces, moral developments, oratorical exactness. You might imagine yourself to be before a family of plants; if the size, colour, accessories, names differ, the
1 P. L. Courier (1772-1825) says, 'a lady's maid, under Louis XIV., wrote better than the greatest of modern writers.'
fundamental type does not vary; the stamens are of the same number, similarly inserted, around similar pistils, above leaves arranged on the same plan; he who knows one knows all; there is a common organism and structure which involves the uniformity of the rest. If you review the whole family, you will doubtless find there some characteristic plant which displays the type in a clear light, whilst next to it and by degrees it alters, degenerates, and at last loses itself in the surrounding families. So here we see classical art find its centre in the neighbours of Pope, and above all in Pope; then, after being half effaced, mingle with foreign elements, until it disappears in the poetry which succeeded it.1
In 1688, at the house of a linen draper in Lombard Street, London, was born a little, delicate, and sickly creature, by nature artificial, constituted beforehand for a studious existence, having no taste but for books, who from his early youth derived his whole pleasure from the contemplation of printed books. He copied the letters, and thus learned to write. He passed his infancy with them, and was a versemaker as soon as he knew how to speak. At the age of twelve he had written a little tragedy out of the Iliad, and an Ode on Solitude. From thirteen to fifteen he composed a long epic of four thousand verses, called Alexander. For eight years shut up in a little house in Windsor Forest, he read all the best critics, almost all the English, Latin, and French poets who have a reputation, Homer, the Greek poets, and a few of the greater ones in the original, Tasso and Ariosto in translations, with such assiduity, that he nearly died from it. He did not search in them for passions, but style: there was never a more devoted adorer, never a more precocious master of form. Already his taste showed itself: amongst all the English poets his favourite was Dryden, the least inspired and the most classical. He perceived his He states that Mr. Walsh told him there was one way left of
The Rev. Whitwell Elwin, in his second volume of the Works of Alexander Pope, at the end of his introduction to An Essay on Man, says, p. 338: 'M. Taine asserts that from the Restoration to the French Revolution, from Waller to Johnson, from Hobbes and Temple to Robertson and Hume, all our literature, both prose and verse, bears the impress of classic art. The mode, he says, culminated in the reign of Queen Anne, and Pope, he considers, was the extreme example of it. . . . Many of the most eminent authors who flourished between the English Restoration wrote in a style far removed from that which M. Taine calls classical. . . . The verse differs like the prose, though in a less degree, and is not "of a uniform make, as if fabricated by a machine." .. Neither is the substance of the prose and verse, from the Restoration to the French Revolution, an invariable common-sense mediocrity. . . . There is much truth in his (M. Taine's) view, that there was a growing tendency to cultivate style, and in some writers the art degenerated into the artificial.'-TR.
excelling. 'We had several great poets,' he said, 'but we never had one great poet that was correct; and he advised me to make that my study and aim.' He followed this advice, tried his hand in translations of Ovid and Statius, and in recasting parts of old Chaucer. He appropriated all the poetic elegances and excellencies, stored them up in his memory; he arranged in his head the complete dictionary of all happy epithets, all ingenious turns of expression, all sonorous rhythms by which one may exalt, render precise, illuminate an idea. He was like those little musicians, infant prodigies, who, brought up at the piano, suddenly acquire a marvellous touch, roll out scales, brilliant shakes, make the octaves vault with an agility and justice which drive off the stage the most famous artists. At seventeen, becoming acquainted with old Wycherley, who was sixty-nine, he undertook, at his request, to correct his poems, and corrected them so well, that the other was at once charmed and mortified. Pope blotted out, added, recast, spoke frankly, and eliminated firmly. The author, in spite of himself, admired the corrections secretly, and tried openly to make light of them, until at last his vanity, wounded at owing so much to so young a man, and at finding a master in a scholar, ended by breaking off an intercourse by which he profited and suffered too much. For the scholar had at his first step carried the art beyond his master's. At sixteen his Pastorals bore witness to a correctness which no one had possessed, not even Dryden. To read these choice words, these exquisite arrangements of melodious syllables, this science of division and rejection, this style so fluent and pure, these graceful images rendered still more graceful by the diction, and all this artificial and many-tinted garland of flowers which he called pastoral, people thought of the first eclogues of Virgil. Mr. Walsh declared that it is not flattery at all to say that Virgil had written nothing so good at his age.' When later they appeared in one volume, the public was dazzled. 'You have only displeased the critics,' wrote Wycherley, 'by pleasing them too well.' The same year the poet of twenty-one finished his Essay on Criticism, a sort of Ars Poetica: it is the kind of poem a man might write at the end of his career, when he has handled all modes of writing, and has grown grey in criticism; and in this subject, whose treatment demands the experience of a whole literary life, he was in an instant as ripe as Boileau.
This consummate musician, who begins by a treatise on harmony, what will he make of his incomparable mechanism and his professional science? It is well to feel and think before writing; a full source of
1 R. Carruthers, Life of Alexander Pope, 2d ed. 1857, ch. i. 33.
2 It is very doubtful whether Pope was not older than sixteen when he wrote the Pastorals. See, on this subject, Pope's Works, ed. Elwin, London 1871, i. 239 et passim.—TR.
3 Pope's Works, ed. Elwin, i. 233.
♦ Ibid. i. 242.
living ideas and candid passions is necessary to make a genuine poet, and in him, seen closely, we find that everything, to his very person, is tricked out and artificial; he was a dwarf, four feet high, contorted, hunchbacked, thin, valetudinarian, appearing, when he arrived at maturity, no longer capable of existing. He could not get up himself, a woman dressed him; he wore three pairs of stockings, drawn on one over the other, so slender were his legs; 'when he rose, he was invested in bodice made of stiff canvas, being scarce able to hold himself erect till they were laced, and he then put on a flannel waistcoat;' next came a sort of fur doublet, for the least thing made him shiver; and lastly, a thick linen shirt, very warm, with fine sleeves. Over all this he wore a black garment, a tye-wig, a little sword; thus equipped, he went and took his place at the table of his great friend, Lord Oxford. He was so small, that he had to be raised on a chair of his own; so bald, that when he had no company he covered his head with a velvet cap; so punctilious and exacting, that the footmen avoided to go his errands, and the Earl had to discharge several 'for their resolute refusal of his messages.' At dinner he ate too much; like a spoiled child, he would have highly seasoned dishes, and thus 'would oppress his stomach with repletion.' When cordials were offered him, he got angry, but did not refuse them. He had all the appetite and whims of an old child, an old invalid, an old author, an old bachelor. You are prepared to find him whimsical and susceptible. He often, without saying a word, and without any known cause, quitted the house of the Earl of Oxford, and the ladies had to go repeatedly with messages to bring him back. If Lady Mary Wortley, his former poetical divinity, were unfortunately at table, there was no dining in peace; they would not fail to contradict, peck at each other, quarrel; and one or other would leave the room. He would be sent for and would return, but he brought his hobbies back with him. He was crafty, malignant, like a nervous abortion as he was; when he wanted anything, he dared not ask for it plainly; with hints and contrivances of speech he induced people to mention it, to bring it forward, after which he would make use of it. 'Thus he teased Lord Orrery till he obtained a screen. He hardly drank tea without a stratagem. Lady Bolingbroke used to say that "he played the politician about cabbages and turnips." "2
The rest of his life is not much more noble. He wrote libels on the Duke of Chandos, Aaron Hill, Lady Mary Wortley, and then lied or equivocated to disavow them. He had an ugly liking for artifice, and prepared a disloyal trick against Lord Bolingbroke, his greatest friend. He was never frank, always acting a part; he aped the blasé man, the impartial great artist, a contemner of the great, of kings, of poetry itself. The truth is, that he thought of nothing but his phrases,
1 Johnson, Lives of the most eminent English Poets, 3 vols., ed. Cunningham, 1854; A. Pope, iii. 96. 2 Ibid. iii. 99.
his author's reputation, and 'a little regard shown him by the Prince of Wales melted his obduracy." When you read his correspondence, you find that there are not more than about ten genuine letters; he is a literary man even in the moments when he opened his heart; his confidences are formal rhetoric; and when he conversed with a friend he was always thinking of the printer, who would give his effusions to the public. Through his very pretentiousness he grew awkward, and unmasked himself. One day Richardson and his father, the painter, found him reading a pamphlet that Cibber had written against him. 'These things,' said Pope, are my diversion.' 'They sat by him while he perused it, and saw his features writhing with anguish; and young Richardson said to his father, when they returned, that he hoped to be preserved from such diversion.' In fine, his great cause for writing was literary vanity; he wished to be admired, and nothing more; his life was that of a coquette studying herself in a glass, bedecking herself, smirking, paying compliments to herself, yet declaring that compliments weary her, that painting the face makes her dirty, and that she has a horror of affectation. Pope has no dash, no naturalness or manliness; no more ideas than passions; at least such ideas as a man feels it necessary to write, and in connection with which we lose thought of words. Religious controversy and party quarrels resound about him; he studiously avoids them; amidst all these shocks his chief care is to preserve his writing-desk; he is a very lukewarm Catholic, all but a deist, not well aware of what deism means; and on this point he borrows from Bolingbroke ideas whose scope he cannot see, but which he thinks suitable to be put into verse. In a letter to Atterbury (1717) he says:
"In my politics, I think no further than how to prefer the peace of my life, in any government under which I live; nor in my religion, than to preserve the peace of my conscience in any church with which I communicate. I hope all churches and governments are so far of God, as they are rightly understood and rightly administered; and where they err, or may be wrong, I leave it to God alone to mend or reform them.'3
Such convictions do not torment a man. In reality, he did not write because he thought, but thought in order to write; inky paper, and the noise it makes in the world, was his idol; if he wrote verses, it was merely for the sake of doing so.
This is the best training for versification. Pope gave himself up to it; he was a man of leisure, his father had left him a very fair fortune; he earned a large sum by translating the Iliad and Odyssey; he had an income of eight hundred pounds. He was never in the pay of a publisher; he looked from an eminence upon the beggarly authors grovelling in their Bohemianism, and, calmly seated in his pretty house at Twickenham, in his grotto, or in the fine garden which he had himself
1 Boswell's Life of Johnson, ch. lxxi. 670.
2 Carruthers' Life of Pope, ch. x. 377.
3 Ibid. ch. iv. 164.