Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/120

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Pope
Pope
 

have been pointed out by Gilbert Wakefield and others, and the conventional style of Pope's day often gives an air of artificiality to his writing, while he was of course entirely without the historical sense of more recent writers. Bentley remarked that it was a ‘pretty poem, but not Homer,’ nor has any critic disputed the statement. It must be regarded rather as an equivalent to Homer, as reflected in the so-called classicism of the time, and the genuine rhetorical vigour of many passages shows that there was some advantage in the freedom of his treatment, and may justify the high place held by the work until the rise of the revolutionary school.

Pope had made not only a literary but a social success. At that period the more famous authors were more easily admitted than at any other to the highest social and political circles. Besides meeting Oxford, Bolingbroke, Atterbury, Swift, and Congreve in society, he was frequently making tours about the country, and staying in the country houses of Lord Harcourt—at whose place, Stanton Harcourt, he finished the fifth volume of the ‘Iliad’ in 1718—of Lord Bathurst, Lord Digby, and others. Gay's pleasant poem, ‘Mr. Pope's Welcome from Greece,’ gives a long list of the distinguished friends who applauded the successful achievement of the task. In April 1716 the Pope family left Binfield, and settled at Mawson's Buildings, Chiswick, ‘under the wing of my Lord Burlington.’ He was now within reach of many of the noble families who lived near the Thames, and saw much aristocratic society. Here his father died on 23 Oct. 1717, an event mentioned by the son with great tenderness. In 1718 Pope had felt himself rich enough to think of building a house in London, and the plans were prepared for him by James Gibbs (1682–1754) [q. v.] Bathurst apparently deterred him by hints as to the probable cost, and in 1719 he bought the lease of a house at Twickenham, with five acres of land. Here he lived for the rest of his life, and took great delight in laying out the grounds, which became famous, and are constantly mentioned in his poetry. Pope also invested money in the South Sea scheme. It appears that at one time he might have become a rich man by realising the amount invested. He held on, however, until the panic had set in; but he seems finally to have left off rather richer than he began (see Courthope's account in Works, v. 184–7). He corresponded upon the South Sea scheme with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and with Teresa and Martha Blount, who were more or less concerned in the speculations of the period [see Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley; Blount, Martha].

Both women had about this time a great influence upon Pope's personal history. The only earlier mention of anything like a love affair in Pope's life occurs in his correspondence with Cromwell (18 March 1708), where he speaks of a certain ‘Sappho.’ She is identified with a Mrs. Nelson, who wrote a complimentary poem prefixed to his ‘Pastorals’ in the ‘Miscellany,’ but afterwards suppressed in consequence of a quarrel. Pope, however, speaks of her with levity, and in a later letter (21 Dec. 1711) compares her very unfavourably with (apparently) the Blounts. In 1717 an edition of his poems was published, including the ‘lines to an unfortunate lady.’ Ayre, followed by Ruffhead, constructed out of the lines themselves a legend of a lady beloved by Pope who stabbed herself for love of somebody else. Sir John Hawkins and Warton found out that she hanged herself for love of Pope. Bowles heard from a gentleman of ‘high birth and character,’ who heard from Voltaire, who heard from Condorcet, that the lady was in love with a French prince. The fact appears to be that a Roman catholic, Mrs. Weston, had quarrelled with her husband, and, upon his threatening to deprive her of her infant, proposed to retire into a convent. Pope took up her cause, quarrelled with Mr. and Mrs. Rackett, who took the other side, and appealed to Caryll to interfere. The purely imaginary lady was merely the embodiment of his feelings about Mrs. Weston, though he afterwards indulged in a mystification of his readers by a vague prefatory note in later editions. Caryll had in vain asked for explanations. Mrs. Weston died on 18 Oct. 1724, long after the imaginary suicide. The poems of 1717 contained also the ‘Eloisa to Abelard,’ which bore a similar relation to a genuine sentiment. When he forwarded the volume to Lady Mary, Pope called her attention to the closing lines (Works, ix. 382), and during the composition he had mentioned the same passage (apparently) in a letter to Martha Blount (ib. ix. 264), in each case making the application to the lady to whom he was writing. Pope's relations to Lady Mary have been considered in her life [see Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley]. He knew her before she went to Constantinople in 1716, and after her return in 1718 she lived near him for a time at Twickenham. The quarrel took place about 1722, and the extreme bitterness with which Pope ever afterwards assailed her can be explained most plausibly, and least to his discredit, upon the assumption that his extravagant expressions of gallantry