Page:Alexander Pope (Leslie).djvu/20

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8 POPE. [chap.

of the English government by Brutus of Troy, with a superabundant display of didactic morality and religion. Happily this dreary conception, though it occupied much thought, never came to the birth.

The time soon came when these tentative flights were to be superseded by more serious efforts. Pope's ambition was directed into the same channel by his innate propensities and by the accidents of his position. No man ever displayed a more exclusive devotion to literature, or was more tremblingly sensitive to the charm of literary glory. His zeal was never distracted by any rival emotion. Almost from his cradle to his grave his eye was fixed unremittingly upon the solo purpose of his life. The whole energies of his mind were absorbed in the struggle to place his name as high as possible in that temple of fame, which he painted after Chaucer in one of his early poems. External conditions pointed to letters as the sole path to eminence, but it was precisely the path for which he had admirable qualifications. The sickly son of the Popish tradesman was cut off from the bar, the senate, and the church. Physically contemptible, politically ostracized, and in a humble social position, he could yet win this dazzling prize and force his way with his pen to the highest pinnacle of contemporary fame. Without adventitious favour and in spite of many bitter antipathies, he was to become the acknowledged head of English literature, and the welcome companion of all the most eminent men of his time. Though he could not foresee his career from the start, he worked as vigorously as if the goal had already been in sight; and each successive victory in the field of letters was realized the more keenly from his sense of the disadvantages in face of which it had been won. In tracing his rapid ascent,