Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/99

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85
POPE, ALEXANDER


Theobald, Colley Cibber, John Dennis, Richard Bentley, Aaron Hill and Bernard Lintot, who, in spite of his former relations with Pope, was now classed with the piratical Edmund Curll. The book was published with the greatest precautions. It was anonymous, and professed to be a reprint of a Dublin edition. When the success of the poem was assured, it was republished in 1729, and a copy was presented to the king by Sir Robert Walpole. Names took the place of initials, and a defence of the satire, written by Pope himself, but signed by his friend William Cleland, was printed as “ A letter to the Publisher.” Various indexes, notes and particulars of the attacks on Pope made by the different authors satirized were added. To avoid any danger of prosecution, the copyright was assigned to Lord Oxford, Lord Bathurst and Lord Burlington, whose position rendered them practically unassailable. We may admit that personal spite influenced Pope at least as much as disinterested zeal for the honour of literature, but in the dispute as to the comparative strength of these motives, a third is apt to be overlooked that was probably stronger than either. This was an unscrupulous elfish love of fun, and delight in the creations of a humorous imagination. Certainly to represent the Dunciad as the outcome of mere personal spite is to give an exaggerated idea of the malignity of Pope's disposition, and an utterly wrong impression of the character of his satire. He was not, except in rare cases, a morose, savage, indignant satirist, but airy and graceful in his malice, revengeful perhaps and excessively sensitive, but restored to good humour as he thought over his wrongs by the ludicrous conceptions with which he invested his adversaries. The most unprovoked assault was on Richard Bentley, whom he satirized in the reconstruction and enlargement of the Dunciad made in the last years of his life at the instigation, it is said, of William Warburton. In the earlier editions the place of hero had been occupied by Lewis Theobald, who had ventured to criticize Pope's Shakespeare. In the edition which appeared in Pope's Works (1742), he was dethroned in favour of Colley Cibber, who had just written his Letter from Mr Cibber to Mr Pope inquiring into the motives that might induce him in his satirical writings to be so frequently fond of Mr Cibber's name (1742). Warburton's name is attached to many new notes, and one of the preliminary dissertations by Ricardus Aristarchus on the hero of the poem seems to be by him.,

The four epistles of the Essay on Man (1733) were also intimately connected with passing controversies. They belong to the same intellectual movement with Butler's Analogy#-the effort of the 18th century to put religion on a rational basis. But Pope was not a thinker like Butler. The subject was suggested to him by Henry St John, Lord Bolingbroke, who had returned from exile in 1723, and was 'a fellow-member of the Scriblerus Club. Bolingbroke is said-and the statement is supported by the contents of his posthumous works-to have furnished most of the arguments. Pope's contribution to the controversy consisted in brilliant epigram and illustration. In this didactic work, as in his Essay on Criticism, he put together on a sufficiently simple plan a series of happy sayings, separately elaborated, picking up the thoughts as he found them in miscellaneous reading and conversation, and trying only to fit .them with perfect expression. His readers were too dazzled by the verse to be severely critical of the sense. Pope himself had not comprehended the drift of the arguments he had adopted from Bolingbroke, and was alarmed when he found that his poem was generally interpreted as an apology for the free-thinkers. Warburton is said to have qualified its doctrines as “ rank atheism, ” and asserted that it was put together from the “ worst passages of the worst authors.” The essay was soon translated into the chief European languages, and in 1737 its orthodoxy was assailed by a Swiss professor, jean Pierre de Crousaz, in an Examen de Vessay de M. Pope sur Vhamme. Warburton now saw it to revise his opinion of Pope's abilities and principles-for what reason does not appear. In any case he now became as enthusiastic in his praise of Pope's orthodoxy and his genius as he had before been scornful, and proceeded to employ his unrivalled powers of sophistry in a defence of the orthodoxy of the conflicting and in consequent positions adopted in the Essay on Man. Pope was wise enough to accept with all gratitude an ally who was so useful a friend and so dangerous an enemy, and from that time onward Warburton was the authorized commentator of his works.

The Essay on Man was to have formed part of a series of philosophic poems on a systematic plan. The other pieces were to treat of human reason, of the use of learning, wit, education and riches, of civil and ecclesiastical polity, of the character of women, &c. Of the ten epistles of the Moral Essays, the first four, written between 1731 and 1735, are connected with this scheme, which was never executed. There was much bitter, and sometimes unjust, satire in the M oral Essays and the Imitations of Horace. In these epistles and satires, which appeared at intervals, he was often the mouthpiece of his political friends, who were all of them in opposition to Walpole, then at the height of his power, and Pope chose the object of his attacks from among the minister's adherents. Epistle III., “ Of the Use of Riches, ” addressed to Allen Bathurst, Lord Bathurst, in 1732, is a direct attack on Walpole's methods of corruption, and on his financial policy in general; and the two dialogues (1738) known as the “ Epilogue to the Satires, ” professedly a defence of satire, form an eloquent attack on the court. Pope was attached to the prince of Wales's party, and he did not forget to insinuate, what was indeed the truth, that the queen had refused the prince her pardon on her deathbed. The “ Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot ” contains a description of his personal attitude towards the scribblers and is made to serve as a “ prologue to the satires.” The gross and unpardonable insults bestowed on Lord Hervey and on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in the first satire “ to Mr Fortescue ” provoked angry retaliation from both. The description of Timon's ostentatious villa in Epistle IV., addressed to the earl of Burlington, was generally taken as a picture of Canons, the seat of John Brydges, duke of Chandos, one of Pope's patrons, and caused a great outcry, though in this case Pope seems to have been innocent of express allusion. Epistle II., addressed to Martha Blount, contained the picture of Atossa, which was taken to be a portrait of Sarah Iennings, duchess of Marlborough. One of the worst imputations on Pope's character was that he left this passage to be published when he had in effect received a bribe of £1000 from the duchess of Marlborough for its suppression through the agency of Nathanael Hooke (d. 1763). As the passage eventually stood, it might be applied to Katherine, duchess of Buckingham, a natural daughter of James II. Pope may have altered it with the intention of diverting the satire from the original object. He was scrupulously honest in money matters, and always independent in matters of patronage; but there is some evidence for this discreditable story beyond the gossip of Horace Walpole (Works, ed. P. Cunningham, i. cxliv.), though not sufficient to justify the acceptance it received by some of Pope's biographers. To appreciate fully the point of his allusions requires an intimate acquaintance with the political and social gossip of the time. But apart from their value as a brilliant strongly-coloured picture of the time Pope's satires have a permanent value as literature. It is justly remarked by Mark Pattison[1] that “these Imitations are among the most original of his writings.” The vigour and terseness of the diction is still unsurpassed in English verse. Pope had gained complete mastery over his medium, the heroic couplet, before he used it to express his hatred of the political and social evils which he satirized. The elaborate periphrases and superfluous ornaments of his earlier manner, as exemplified in the Pastorals and the Homer, disappeared; he turned to the uses of verse the ordinary language of conversation, differing from everyday speech only in its exceptional brilliance and point. It is in these satires that his best work must be sought, and by them

that his position among English poets must be fixed. It was

  1. In his edition of the Satires and Epistles (1866).