6 POPE. [CHAE could hardly read or speak a word of French ; and his knowledge of Greek would have satisfied Bentley as little as his French satisfied Voltaire. Yet he must have been feirly conversant with the best known French literature of the time, and he could probably stumble through Homer with the help of a crib and a guess at the general meaning. He says himself that at this early period, he went through all the best critics ; all the French, English and Latin poems of any name ; " Homer and some of the greater Greek poets in the original," and Tasso and Ariosto in translations. Pope at any rate acquired a wide knowledge of Eng- lish poetry. Waller, Spenser, and Dryden were, he says, his great favourites in the order named, till he was twelve. Like so many other poets, he took, in- finite delight in the Faery Queen ; but Dryden, the great poetical luminary of his own day, naturally exercised a predominant influence upon his mind. He declared that he had learnt versification wholly from Dryden's works, and always mentioned his name with reverence. Many scattered remarks reported by Spence, and the still more conclusive evidence of frequent appropriation, show him to have been familiar with the poetry of the preceding century, and with much that had gone out of fashion in his time, to a degree in which he was probably excelled by none of his successors, with the exception of Gray. Like Gray he contemplated at one time the history of English poetry which was in some sense executed by Warton. It is characteristic, too, that he early showed a critical spirit. From a boy, he says, he could distinguish be- tween sweetness and softness of numbers, Dryden ex- emplifying softness and Waller sweetness ; and the remark, whatever its value, shows that he had been
Page:Alexander Pope (Leslie).djvu/18
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