Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/98

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literary society were Swift, Arbuthnot, Congreve, Bishop Atterbury, Pope, Gay and Thomas Parnell. Their chief object was a general war against the dunces, waged with great spirit by Arbuthnot, Swift and Pope.

The estrangement from Addison was completed in connexion with Pope's translation of Homer. This enterprise was definitely undertaken in 1713. The work was to be published by subscription, as Dryden's Virgil had been. Men of all parties subscribed, their unanimity being a striking proof of the position Pope had attained at the age of twenty-five. It was as if he had received a national commission as by general consent the first poet of his time. But the unanimity was broken by a discordant note. A member of the Addison clique, Tickell, attempted to run a rival version. Pope suspected Addison's instigation; Tickell had at least Addison's encouragement. Pope's famous character of Addison as “ Atticus ” in the Epistle to Dr Arbulhuot (ii. 193-215) was, however, inspired by resentment at insults that existed chiefly in his own imagination, though Addison was certainly not among his warmest admirers. Pope afterwards claimed to have been magnanimous, but he spoiled his case by the petty inventions of his account of the quarrel.

The translation of Homer was Pope's chief employment for twelve years. The new pieces in the miscellanies published in 1717, his “ Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady, ” a.nd his “ Eloisa to Abelard, ” were probably written some years before their publication. His “ Eloisa to Abelard ” was based on an English translation by John Hughes of a French version of the Letters, which difiered very considerably from the original Latin. The Iliad was delivered to the subscribers in instalments in 1715, 1717, 1718 and 1720. Pope's own defective scholarship made help necessary. William Broome and John ]ortin supplied the bulk of the notes, and Thomas Parnell the preface. For the translation of the Odyssey he took Elijah Fenton and Broome as coadjutors, who between them translated twelve out of the twenty-four books.[1] It was completed in 1725. The profitableness of, the work was Pope's chief temptation to undertake it. His receipts for his earlier poems had totalled about £15O, but he cleared more than £8000 by the two translations, after deducting all payments to coadjutors much larger sum than had ever been received by an English author before.

The translation of Homer had established Pope's reputation with his contemporaries, and has endangered it ever since it was challenged. Opinions have varied on the purely literary merits of the poem, but with regard to it as a translation few have differed from Bentley's criticism, “ A fine poem, Mr Pope, but you must not call it Homer.” His collaboration with Broome (q. v.) and Fenton (q. v.)[2] involved him in a series of recriminations. Broome was weak enough to sign a note at the end of the work understating the extent of Fenton's assistance as well as his own, and ascribing the merit of their translation, reduced to less than half its real proportions, to a regular revision and correction—mostly imaginary—at Pope's hands. These falsehoods were deemed necessary by Pope to protect himself against possible protests from the subscribers. In 1722 he edited the poems of Thomas Parnell, and in 1725 made a considerable sum by an unsatisfactory edition of Shakespeare, in which he had the assistance of Fenton and Gay.

Pope, with his economical habits, was rendered independent by the pecuniary success of his Homer, and enabled to live near London. The estate at Binfield was sold, and he removed with his parents to Mawson's Buildings, Chiswick, in 1716, and in 1719 to Twickenham, to the house with which his name is associated. Here he practised elaborate landscape gardening on a small scale, and built his famous grotto, which was really a tunnel under the road connecting the garden with the lawn on the Thames. He was constantly visited at Twickenham by his intimates, Dr John Arbuthnot, John Gay, Bolingbroke (after his return in 1723), and Swift (during his brief visits to England in 1726 and 1727), and by many other friends of the Tory party. With Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, he was on terms of affectionate intimacy, but he blundered in his evidence when he was called as a witness on his behalf in 1723.

In 1717 his father died, and he appears to have turned to the Blounts for sympathy in what was to him a very serious bereavement. He had early made the acquaintance of Martha and Teresa Blount, both of them intimately connected with his domestic history. Their home was at Mapledurham, near Reading, but Pope probably first met them at the house of his neighbour, Mr Englefield of Whiteknights, who was their grandfather. He begun to correspond with Martha Blount in 1712, and after 1717 the letters are much more serious in tone. He quarrelled with Teresa, who had apparently injured or prevented his suit to her sister; and although, after her father's death in 1718, he paid her an annuity, he seems to have regarded her as one of his most dangerous enemies. His friendship with Martha lasted all his life. So long as his mother lived he was unwearying in his attendance on her, but after her death in 1733 his association with Martha Blount was more constant. In defiance of the scandal-mongers, they paid visits together at the houses of common friends, and at Twickenham she spent part of each day with him. His earlier attachment to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was apparently a more or less literary passion, which perished under Lady Mary's ridicule.

The year 1725 may be taken as the beginning of the third period of Pope's career, when he made his fame as a moralist and a satirist. It may be doubted whether Pope had the staying power necessary for the compositionxof a great imaginative work, whether his crazy constitution would have held together through the strain. He toyed with the idea of writing a grand epic. He told Spence that he had it all in his head, and gave him a vague (and it must be admitted not very promising) sketch of the subject and plan of it. But he never put any of it on paper. He shrank as with instinctive repulsion from the stress and strain of complicated designs. Even his prolonged task of translating weighed heavily on his spirits, and this was a much less formidable effort than creating an epic. He turned rather to designs that could be accomplished in detail, works of which the parts could be separately laboured at and put together with patient care, into which happy thoughts could be htted that had been struck out at odd moments and in ordinary levels of feeling.

Edward Young's satire, The Universal Passion, had just appeared, and been received with more enthusiasm than any thing published since Pope's own early successes. This alone would have been powerful inducement to Pope's emulous temper. Swift was finishing Gulli11er's Travels, and came over to England in 1726. The survivors of the Scriblerus Club-Swift, Pope, Arbuthnot, and Gay-resumed their old amusement of parodying and otherwise ridiculing bad writers, especially bad writers in the Whig interest. Two volumes of their Miscellanies in Prose and Verse were published in 1727. A third volume appeared in 1728, and a fourth was added in 1732. According to Pope's own history of the Dunciad, an Heroic Poem in Three Books, which first appeared on the 28th of May 1728, the idea of it grew out of this. Among the Miscellanies was a “Treatise of the Bathos or the Art of Sinking in Poetry,” in which poets were classified, with illustrations, according to their eminence in the various arts of debasing instead of elevating their subject. No names were mentioned, but the specimens of bathos were assigned to various letters of the alphabet, which, the authors boldly asserted, were taken at random. But no sooner was the treatise published than the scribblers proceeded to take the letters to themselves, and in revenge to fill the newspapers with the most abusive falsehoods and scurrilities they could devise. This gave Pope the opportunity he had hoped for, and provided him with an excuse for the personalities of the Dunciad, which had been in his mind as early as 1720. Among the most prominent objects of his satire were Lewis

  1. 1, 4, 19 and 20 are by Fenton; 2, 6, 8, 11, 12, 16, 18, 23, with notes to all the books by Broom
  2. The correspondence with them is given in vol. vm. of Elwin and Courthope's edition.