Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/100

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the Homer chiefly that Wordsworth and Coleridge had in their eye when they began the polemic against the “ poetic diction ” of the 18th century, and struck at Pope as the arch-corrupter. They were historically unjust to Pope, who did not originate this diction, but only furnished the most finished examples of it. At the beginning of the 10th century Pope still had an ardent admirer in Byron, whose first satires are written in Pope's couplet. The much abused pseudo-poetic diction in substance consisted in an ambition to “rise above the vulgar style, ” to dress nature to advantage-a natural ambition when the arbiters of literature were people of fashion. If One compares Pope's “Messiah ” or “ Eloisa to Abelard, " or an impassioned passage from the Iliad, with the originals that he paraphrased, one gets a more vivid idea of the consistence of pseudo-poetic diction than could be furnished by pages of analysis. But Pope merely made masterly use of the established diction of his time, which he eventually forsook for a far more direct and vigorous style. A passage from the Guardian, in which Philips was commended as against him, runs: “It is a nice piece of art to raise a proverb above the vulgar style and still keep it easy and unaffected. Thus the old wish, ' God rest his soul, ' is very finely turned:-

“'Then gentle Sidney liv'd, the shepherd's friend,
Eternal blessings on his shade attend!'"

Pope would have despised so easy a metamorphosis as this at any period in his career, and the work of his coadjutors in the Odyssey may be distinguished by this comparative cheapness of material Broome's description of the clothes washing Nausicaa and her maidens in the sixth book may be compared with the original as a luminous specimen.

Pope's wit had won for him the friendship of many distinguished men, and his small fortune enabled him to meet them on a footing of independence. He paid long visits at many great houses, especially at Stanton Harcourt, the home of his friend Lord Chancellor Harcourt; at Oakley, the seat of Lord Bathurst; and at Prior Park, Bath, where his host was Ralph Allen. With the last named he had a temporary disagreement owing to some slight shown to Martha Blount, but he was reconciled to him before his death.

He died on the 30th of May 1744, and he was buried in the parish church of Twickenham. He left the income from his property to Martha Blount till her death, after which it was to go to his half-sister Magdalen Rackett and her children. His unpublished MSS. were left at the discretion of Lord Bolingbroke, and his copyrights to Warburton.

If we are to judge Pope, whether as a man or as a poet, with human fairness, and not merely by comparison with standards of abstract perfection, there are two features of his times that must be kept steadily in view-the character of political strife in those days and the political relations of men of letters. As long as the succession to the Crown was doubtful, and political failure might mean loss of property, banishment or death, politicians, playing for higher stakes, played more fiercely and unscrupulously than in modern days, and there was no controlling force of public opinion to keep them within the bounds of common honesty. Hence the age of Queen Anne is preeminently an age of intrigue. The government was almost as unsettled as in the early days of personal monarchy, and there was this difference-that it was policy rather than force upon which men depended for keeping their position. Secondly, men of letters were admitted to the inner circles of intrigue as they had never been before and as they have never been since. A generation later Walpole defied them, and paid the rougher instruments that he considered sufficient for his purpose in solid coin of the realm; but Queen Anne's statesmen, whether from difference of tastes or difference of policy, paid their principal literary champions with social privileges and honourable public appointments. Hence men of letters were directly infected by the low political morality of the unsettled time. And the character of their poetry also suffered. The most prominent defects of the age-the lack of high and sustained imagination, the genteel liking for “ nature to advantage dressed, ” the incessant striving after wit-were fostered, if not generated, by the social atmosphere.

Pope's own ruling passion was the love of fame, and he had no scruples where this was concerned. His vanity and his childish love of intrigue are seen at their worst in his petty manoeuvres to secure the publication of his letters during his lifetime. These intricate proceedings were unravelled with great patience and ingenuity by Charles Wentworth Dilke, when the false picture of his relations with his contemporaries which Pope had imposed on the public had been practically accepted for a century. Elizabeth Thomas, the mistress of Henry Cromwell, had sold Pope's early letters to Henry Cromwell to the bookseller Curll for ten guineas. These were published in Curll's Miscellaneain 1726 (dated 1727), »and had considerable success. This surreptitious publication seems to have suggested to Pope the desirability of publishing his own correspondence, which he immediately began to collect from various friends on the plea of preventing a similar clandestine transaction. The publication by Wycherley's executors of a posthumous volume of the dramatist's prose and verse furnished Pope with an excuse for the appearance of his own correspondence with Wycherley, which was accompanied by a series of unnecessary deceptions. After manipulating his correspondence so as to place his own character in the best light, he deposited a copy in the library of Edward, second earl of Oxford, and then he had it printed. The sheets were offered to Curll by a person calling himself P.T., who professed a desire to injure Pope, but was no other than Pope himself. The copy was delivered to Curll in 173 5 after long negotiations by an agent who called himself R. Smythe, with a few originals to vouch for their authenticity. P. T. had drawn up an advertisement stating that the book was to contain answers from various peers. Curll was summoned before the House of Lords for breach of privilege, but was acquitted, as the letters from peers were not in fact forthcoming. Difficulties then arose between Curll and P. T., and Pope induced a bookseller named Cooper to publish a Narrative of the Method by which Mr Pope's Private Letters were procured by Edmund Curll, Bookseller (173 5). These preliminaries cleared the way for a show of indignation against piratical publishers and a “ genuine ” edition of the Letters of Mr Alexander Pope (1737, fol. and 4to). Unhappily for Pope's reputation, his/friend Caryll, who died before the publication, had taken a copy of Pope's letters before returning them. This letter-book came to light in the middle of the 10th century, afidshowed the freedom which Pope permitted himself in editing. The correspondence with -Lord Oxford, preserved at Longleat, afforded further evidence of his tortuous dealings. V The methods he employed to secure his correspondence with Swift were even more discreditable. The proceedings can only be explained as the measures of ia desperate man whose maladies seem to have engendered a passion for trickery. They are related in detail by Elwin in the introduction to vol. i. of Pope's Works. A man who is said to have “ played the politician about cabbages and turnips, ” and who “ hardly drank tea without a stratagem, ” was not likely to be straightforward in a matter in which his ruling passion was concerned. Against Pope's petulance and “ general love of secrecy and cunning ” have to be set, in any fair judgment of his character, his exemplary conduct as a son, the affection with which he was regarded in his own circle of intimates, and many well-authenticated instances of genuine and continued kindliness to persons in distress.

Bibliography.—Various collected editions of Pope's Works appeared during his lifetime, and in 1751 an edition in nine volumes was published by a syndicate of booksellers “with the commentaries of Mr Warburton.” Warburton interpreted his editorial rights very liberally. By his notes he wilfully misrepresented the meaning of the allusions in the satires, and made them more agreeable to his friends and to the court, while he made opportunities for the gratification of his own spite against various individuals. Joseph Warton's edition in 1797 a ded to the mass of commentary without giving much new elucidation to the allusions of the text, which even Swift, with his exceptional facilities, had found obscure. In 1769~1807 an edition was issued which included Owen Ruffhead's Life of Alexander