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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury (1838–1915)
 
ALEXANDER POPE, the foremost English poet of the eighteenth century, was born in Lombard Street, London, on May 21st, 1688, and died at Twickenham, May 30th, 1744. In our literature he is the earliest man of letters pure and simple. With that pursuit previous writers had mingled other avocations, if indeed literature itself had not been with them an avocation amid the distraction of other pursuits. Chaucer was a soldier and a diplomatist. Spenser was a government official. Shakespeare was an actor, besides being connected with the management of the company of which he was a member. Milton was an eager and earnest participant in the fierce religious and political strife of his time. Even Dryden held a position in the civil service. But Pope was never anything else than a man of letters. That career he had chosen from the first; and to it he remained faithful to the last.  1
  It was mainly due to choice; partly it was a result of necessity. He was the son of a linen-draper who was a Roman Catholic; and Pope, though almost a latitudinarian in matters of religion, stood stanchly to the end by the faith of his parents. His creed accordingly shut him out of all the posts of profit and sinecures with which it was then not uncommon to reward literary merit. Even had it been otherwise, it is not likely that he would have been turned aside from his choice by the attraction of any other pursuit. In his case the Muse cannot be said to have been ungrateful. To him in a most unusual sense poetry was its own exceeding great reward. It lifted him to a station such as no man of letters before his time had ever attained, and few have attained since,—and this too in spite of obstacles that it might seem would have put an effectual bar in the way of success. A member of a proscribed religious body, with no advantages of birth and fortune, with every disadvantage of personal appearance, he raised himself by the sheer force of genius to a position of equality with the highest of the land. Unplaced, untitled, he became the companion and friend of nobles and ministers of State, without in a single instance sacrificing his personal self-respect, or appearing even to his bitterest foes in the light of a dependent upon the favor of the great.  2
  In one way this extraordinary success was due to good fortune. Pope saw the beginning of the end of the system of patronage, and was to profit more than any one else by the method of publication by subscription—which to some extent took its place in the transition that was going on to the system of publication now in force. Before his time authors generally relied for their support, not on the sale of their works, but upon the gifts received from the wealthy and powerful. To them they dedicated their productions, usually in terms of fulsome eulogy; from them they received a reward varying with the feelings and character of the bestower. The extravagant praise given to ordinary men in these dedications by Pope’s great predecessor has cast something of a stain upon the reputation of Dryden; though all that can be justly said against him was that in the general daubing which every patron at that time received, his was the hand that laid on the plaster with most skill and most effectiveness. But Pope was reduced to no such sad necessity. The publication by subscription of his translation of the Iliad, completed when he was but little over thirty years old, with the subsequent translation of the Odyssey, brought out in a similar way, made him pecuniarily independent. He was never forced in consequence to resort for his subsistence to any of those shifts and mean devices—as they appear at least from the modern point of view—to which many of his most eminent contemporaries betook themselves either from choice or from necessity. Not merely his example, but also his precepts, tended to bring the whole system of patronage into disrepute. All these feelings about the early adverse conditions which had surrounded him, and the success with which he had triumphed over them, came to his mind when late in life—it was in the year 1737—he brought out his imitation of the second epistle of the second book of Horace. In these following lines, possessed of special biographic interest, he recalled the disabilities under which he and his parents had suffered, and expressed his joy in the right he had earned to boast that Homer had made him independent of the favor of the powerful:—
  “Bred up at home, full early I begun
To read in Greek the wrath of Peleus’s son.
Besides, my father taught me from a lad
The better art to know the good from bad
(And little sure imported to remove,
To hunt for truth in Maudlin’s learned grove):
But knottier points we knew not half so well
Deprived us soon of our paternal cell;
And certain laws, by sufferers thought unjust,
Denied all posts of profit or of trust:
Hopes after hopes of pious Papists failed,
While mighty William’s thundering arm prevailed.
For right hereditary taxed and fined,
He stuck to poverty with peace of mind;
And me the Muses helped to undergo it:
Convict a Papist he, and I a poet.
But (thanks to Homer) since I live and thrive,
Indebted to no prince or peer alive,
Sure I should want the care of ten Monroes,
If I would scribble rather than repose.
Years following years steal something every day,
At last they steal us from ourselves away;
In one our frolics, one amusements end,
In one a mistress drops, in one a friend:
This subtle thief of life, this paltry time,
What will it leave me if it snatch my rhyme?
If every wheel of that unwearied mill,
That turned ten thousand verses, now stands still?”
  3
  In many respects Pope’s life was peculiarly uneventful in the usually uneventful life of an author. His father quitted his business while the son was still a child, and took up his residence at Binfield in Berkshire, on the northern border of Windsor Forest. From that place he went in 1716 to Chiswick. In October of the following year he died. Early in 1718 Pope left Chiswick, and removed with his mother to Twickenham, about twelve miles from the center of the city of London proper. There he leased a house surrounded with five acres on the banks of the Thames. On the adornment and improvement of these grounds he spent henceforth time, thought, and money. Through them ran the highway from Hampton Court to London, and the two portions of his property were connected by a tunnel under the road. This underground passage, styled a grotto, possessed a spring; and was adorned with shells, corals, crystals, and in general with an assortment of natural curiosities, to which Dr. Johnson in his life of the poet applies the name of “fossil bodies.” This grotto became noted; and references to it are by no means unfrequent in the literature of the day. Twickenham remained henceforth Pope’s home, and his residence in it made it even during his lifetime classic ground. From that place he ruled with almost undisputed sway over English letters, making and unmaking reputations by the praise or blame he bestowed in a single line.  4
  Pope had almost from his infancy been devoted to literature. He never really knew what it was to be a boy. His health, always delicate, would not have endured the close confinement and hard application of any rigid system of training. As he was a Catholic, he could not have attended a public school had he so wished. That deprivation was to him however no misfortune. Sickly and deformed, precocious and sensitive, he would have been little at home in that brutal boy-world, which spares the feelings of no comrade on the ground of personal or mental defects. Accordingly he was thrown from his earliest years upon the society of books and of his elders. Taught mainly by private tutors and schoolmasters more or less incapable, his education was mainly of a desultory character; and for the best part of it he was indebted to himself. For his purposes it was probably none the worse on that account. Living a secluded life in the country, he early manifested all the tastes and aspirations of the born man of letters. While yet a mere boy he made translations into verse, he wrote an epic, he wrote a tragedy; and long before he reached his majority, he had displayed powers which attracted the attention of men prominent in the social and literary world.  5
  His active career as a man of letters began with the publication of his ‘Pastorals.’ These appeared in 1709 in the sixth volume of Tonson’s Miscellany. Never was there a kind of literature more unreal and conventional than that to which they belonged, though our ancestors persuaded themselves, or affected to believe, that it was a return to the simplicity of nature. The poetical pieces of the character then written are the most artificial products of an artificial age. At their best no inhabitant of either city or country ever talked or felt in real life as did those who are represented as bearing a part in their dialogue; at their worst they were so expressionless as to resemble much more the bleating of sheep than the song of shepherds. Yet they had been made a fashion. Those of Pope were received with great contemporary applause, which, so far as the melody of the numbers was concerned, was fully deserved. Following these on not altogether dissimilar lines was the descriptive poem ‘Windsor Forest,’ which came out in 1712. At a later period Pope apparently learned to despise the taste which had inspired these productions. “Who could take offense,” he said, referring to them,
  “While pure description took the place of sense?”
  6
  A far more worthy and substantial success was achieved by the ‘Essay on Criticism,’ which appeared in 1711. Pope was but twenty-three years old at the time of its publication. The production, however, is a remarkable one in many ways. The rules and maxims are indeed little more than commonplaces; but the skill with which they are expressed makes this poem, considering its character and the youth of its writer, one of the most signal illustrations of precocity which our literature furnishes. In it in particular occur a number of those pointed lines which have contributed to render Pope, with the single exception of Shakespeare, the most frequently quoted author in our speech. To “snatch a grace beyond the reach of art,” and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” are perhaps the most familiar of the numerous sayings, which, occurring originally in this poem, are now heard from the lips of everybody. But these, as has been indicated, are far from being the only ones; while the following comparison of the increasing difficulties that invariably wait upon effort to reach the highest place has always been justly admired:—
  “So pleased at first, the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales and seem to tread the sky;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last:
But, those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labors of the lengthened way;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes;
Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise.”
  7
  The greatest success, however, of Pope’s early career was his mock-heroic poem of the ‘Rape of the Lock.’ This appeared in its original form in 1712, but its present much enlarged form belongs to 1714. The poem stands by itself in our literature. There is none like it; and it may not be too much to say that in no literature is there anything of the kind equaling it. The productions already mentioned, with the ‘Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady’ and the epistle of ‘Eloïsa to Abélard,’ constitute the most important contributions that Pope made to English literature before he had completed his version of the Iliad. They stand largely distinct in spirit and in matter from the work of his later years. Some of them address the emotional side of our nature, as contrasted with the appeal to the purely intellectual side which is the distinguishing note of everything written after the publication of the translation of the Odyssey. To use his own words, he thenceforward
  “Stooped to truth, and moralized his song”;
though this is a line which expresses his own belief rather than his actual performance. These early productions brought him general reputation, and the personal friendship of men eminent in the world of society and of letters. The good opinion of all was confirmed by the publication of his translation of the Iliad, the first installment of which was published in 1715, and the last as late as 1720.
  8
  It was this work which at that time established Pope’s reputation and fortune on a secure basis. To some extent it was necessity that led him to undertake it, rather than strong desire or special qualification. His father’s fortune, whatever it was, had been reduced by investments that turned out unfortunately. His own original work had been paid for on a scale which the pettiest author of the present age would deem beggarly. For the ‘Rape of the Lock,’ for instance, in its first form, he had received but seven pounds; for the additions to it, nearly tripling its length, fifteen pounds was the sum paid. But the publication of the translation of the Iliad netted him over five thousand pounds; and the subsequent translation of the Odyssey, after paying his fellow-workers, Brome and Fenton, added to this amount the further sum of three thousand pounds. Henceforth he was pecuniarily independent. Even far greater was the accession to his literary reputation. The translation of the Iliad, when completed, placed him at the undisputed headship of English men of letters then living. The subsequent fortunes of his version may be thought to justify the enthusiasm with which it was received. There had been three other translations of Homer before his own; those that have followed, or are to follow, are as the sands of the sea for number. Yet during the whole period that has elapsed since its publication, Pope’s version has never ceased to hold its place. Other translations may more accurately reflect the spirit of the original; other translations may be more faithful to the sense: the one executed by him has the supreme distinction of being readable.  9
  The publication of his version of the two Homeric epics was followed by his edition of the works of Shakespeare. This came out in 1725. It was a task Pope had no business to undertake; for his time was too precious to be spent in text-correction and annotation, and he had neither the leisure nor the taste to engage in that minute and painstaking research which makes such correction or annotation of real and permanent value. The edition was a general disappointment. In the year after its appearance Theobald (or Tibbald, as the name is sometimes spelled) brought out a critical treatise with the not altogether conciliatory title of ‘Shakspear restored; or a Specimen of The Many Errors committed as well as unamended by Mr. Pope in his late edition of this Poet.’ Yet in spite of these somewhat suggestive words, the reviewer expressed a good deal of respect for the poet, though it was for him as a poet and not as a commentator. Even in the latter capacity, he cannot fairly be deemed to have exceeded the legitimate province of that criticism which is always held to justify an exultant yell over a real or fancied blunder made by another scholar. But the comparative moderation of Theobald did him no good. Of all the irritable race of authors, Pope was the one least disposed to forget or forgive. This particular treatise was the occasion of his bringing out, what he had long had in mind, an attack on the whole body of minor authors, with whose venomous but vigorous mediocrity his own sensitiveness had brought him into conflict. Accordingly in 1728 appeared the ‘Dunciad,’ in three books, with Theobald for hero as the supreme dunce.  10
  It shows the influence of a man of genius both over contemporaries and posterity, that the reputation of Theobald has never recovered from the effects of this blow. He was undoubtedly a very ordinary poet, and as a critic the best that can be said of him is that he was as poor as the average members of that fraternity. But as an editor there had been none before to compare with him, and there have been very few since, amid the countless number who have attacked the text of the great dramatist. His edition of Shakespeare, which came out in 1733, effectually put Pope’s in the shade then, and has been ever since the storehouse upon which later commentators have drawn for their readings, even while engaged in depreciating the man to whom they owe the corrections they have adopted. For Theobald was on the whole one of the acutest as well as one of the most painstaking of textual critics. Yet in consequence of Pope’s attack he was held up at the time as one of the dullest of mortals, and is often termed so now by men who are duller than he ever conceived of any one’s being. One of the last acts of Pope’s life was to dethrone him from the position to which he had been raised. The proceeding was eminently characteristic of the poet. His publication of the fourth book of the ‘Dunciad’ in 1742 led to a pamphlet, in the shape of a letter addressed to him, by Colley Cibber. So stung was he by the laureate’s attack that he recast the whole ‘Dunciad’ in 1743, with the fourth book added; and in place of Theobald put his later antagonist, whose qualities and attainments were almost exactly the reverse of those of his original hero.  11
  The publication of the ‘Dunciad’ marks the turning-point in Pope’s literary career. Henceforth his writings were of a philosophical cast, like the ‘Essay on Man,’ which came out in four parts from 1732 to 1734; or semi-philosophical and semi-satirical, as in the ‘Moral Essays’; or mainly satirical, as in the ‘Imitations of Horace.’ These imitations were wonderful exhibitions of ingenuity and skill. Pope took particular satires and epistles of the Latin poet, and cleverly applied to contemporary characters and to modern times and conditions the sentiments expressed by his model. In the composition of them his peculiar powers shone out at their best. One or two of these pieces are in a measure autobiographical. An offshoot of the ‘Imitations’—the ‘Prologue to the Satires’—is especially marked by this characteristic, and on the whole is the most striking of all. It labors at present, as indeed all satirical work must eventually labor, under the general ignorance that has come to prevail about facts and persons once widely known; and the sting that once caused keen pain to the victim and keener delight to contemporaries, is now not appreciated by the mass of even educated readers. Still the point and venom are there; and so long as fuller knowledge is accessible, change of time or circumstance can never destroy the pungency and force of the lines, however much they may impair belief in the justice of the attack. The picture, for instance, of Addison under the name of Atticus, found in this prologue, may be as grossly unfair as his partisans maintain; but while letters live, that cruel characterization will never be dissociated from his memory, and will always suggest doubt even when it does not carry conviction.  12
  The greatness of Addison has made this portrait familiar, and its references easily understood. There are in Pope’s works plenty of similar passages, almost if not quite as powerful in their way; but the subtle irony of personalities, that once made them widely read and keenly enjoyed, now falls unheeded, save by the few who have taken the pains to become fully acquainted with the minor characters and events of the time. The satirist, in truth, must always sacrifice to some extent the future to the present. If Pope himself appreciated the fact, he must have felt that for the coming loss he was receiving some compensation in the actual terror he inspired. About the extent of that there can be no question. He was dreaded as no author before or since has been dreaded, and he exulted in the consciousness of the power he wielded. “Yes, I am proud,” he said in the ‘Epilogue to the Satires,’—
          “—I must be proud, to see
Men not afraid of God, afraid of me:
Safe from the bar, the pulpit, and the throne,
Yet touched and shamed by ridicule alone.”
It was an obvious answer to all this,—and Pope did not fail to have his attention called to it,—that a somewhat similar statement could be made about a mad dog. Nor at the time could the possession of this power conduce to a really enviable reputation, outside of the comparatively limited circle with which he was closely connected, and which naturally shared in his sentiments and prejudices. During his life it is plain that suspicions were entertained, even by many most disposed to admire him, that he was not as attractive in his character as he was in his writings. In spite of the respect paid to its sting, a hornet is not a creature to which any popular sympathy clings. This feeling about him has increased since the devious course he often pursued has been in these later times completely exposed.
  13
  The character of Pope is indeed the most peculiar and puzzling of that of any author of our literature. His impatience under attack was excessive; and when his hostility was once aroused, the virulence of his dislike or hatred seemed thenceforth never to experience abatement. Occasionally too he expressed himself with a ferocity that bore a close resemblance to malignity. The violence of his language, indeed, not unfrequently impaired the effectiveness of his invective. It certainly sometimes exceeded the bounds of decency and sense. The terms in which he came to speak of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, to whom he had once professed something more than friendship, were simply unpardonable, no matter what the real or fancied injury he may have suffered. There is something to be said in palliation of his course, in fact something in the case of certain persons which approaches justification. The age was a coarse one; and literary combatants used towards each other the coarsest language. Pope himself had early been subjected to contumely out of all proportion to the provocation he had given. By Dennis in his remarks upon the ‘Essay on Criticism’ he had been styled a “humpbacked toad.” Comments upon his personal deformities—and such were not infrequent—he took deeply to heart; and these he not only never forgave, he took care to repay in kind the abuse of which he had been made the object. But on every side he was thin-skinned. It was his abnormal sensitiveness to criticism that led to the long war he carried on with the petty writers of the time, whom he classed together under the general name of dunces. The contest was only saved from being wholly ignoble by the marvelous ability he brought to the work of waging it. But outside of any pretexts furnished by the action of his opponents, he loved personalities for their own sake. “Touch me,” he wrote, “and no minister so sore.” He adds:—
  “Whoe’er offends, at some unlucky time
Slides into verse, and hitches in a rhyme;
Sacred to ridicule his whole life long,
And the sad burthen of some merry song.”
  14
  The most singular thing about his character was, that while in his controversies he was at times moved by some of the meanest passions that can stir the heart, he sincerely regarded himself as actuated by the purest and loftiest motives. It was, to use his own words, the strong antipathy of good to bad, that led him to attack those who had incurred his dislike, either on social, or political, or literary grounds. It is needless to add that in his opinion those who had incurred his dislike were invariably contemptible and vile. In this matter he may or may not have imposed upon others; but there is little reason to doubt that he imposed upon himself. No one was ever more under the influence of that pleasing self-flattery which tempts a man to give to his ill-nature the name of virtuous indignation. According to his own account he was engaged in a holy war against vice, in whatever station of life it presented itself. Nor is this all. He himself was, if anything, more fond of the reputation of being a good than a great man; and in order to secure the name of it, stood constantly ready to sacrifice the thing. His life was largely made up of a series of strategic devices to persuade the public that he was by nature incapable of the very acts he was engaged in perpetrating. If these things contributed to the benefit of his reputation with his contemporaries, they have damaged him irretrievably with posterity, now that his devious tracks have been fully explored.  15
  This characteristic was most fully exemplified in his epistolary correspondence,—both in its matter and the means he took to secure its publication. His letters are not really letters; they are rather little essays, short and somewhat tedious moral discourses. In fact, Pope, when he wrote prose, wrote with his left hand. The difference between it and his verse is everywhere plainly marked, but nowhere more so than in the correspondence, which was brought out under his own supervision. Never were letters more artificial. They are particularly distinguished for the lofty moral sentiments they contain. The impression they give of him is of a man animated by the most exalted feelings that belong to humanity. Yet we know now that they were never written as they were published. The correspondence he carried on in his youth with Wycherley was so altered that the parts the two writers played were completely reversed; and until a recent period all biographers and literary historians have been deceived by the mutilations of the originals then made. It was even worse in the subsequent publication of his correspondence. He had recalled the letters he wrote; and when time had made it safe, he brought them out with dates changed, with contents dismembered, and addressed to eminent persons then dead who had never had the pleasure of receiving them while living. The elaborate scheme he planned and carried out so as to appear in the light of being forced for his own protection to publish this correspondence, reads like the plot of a cheap and particularly villainous melodrama. For us the effect of all these elaborate devices has been rendered absolutely nugatory by the accidental discovery, in the middle of nineteenth century, of transcripts of the original letters made before they were returned.  16
  It is the barest act of justice to Pope to state that there was much in his surroundings to explain these peculiarities in his proceedings, though it is impossible to condone them. His family professed a persecuted religion; and in the anti-Catholic reaction that followed the expulsion of James II., their situation must often have been disagreeable. The boy was necessarily brought up in that atmosphere of evasion and intrigue by which the weak strive to protect themselves from the strong, seeking to secure by trickery what could not be wrested from law. It was not a school to encourage the development of openness and manliness. Indirection to those thus nurtured tends to become a second nature. Besides this, there were bodily defects which probably exerted an influence of their own upon the poet’s nature. His life was, as he himself said, a long disease; and his personal appearance was such that his enemies delighted to call him a monster. Deformity of the body sometimes reacts upon the character; and Pope seems to have been one to whom this principle in a measure applies. On the other hand, there is a good deal to be said in his favor. In many respects he was an example to even good men. Never was there a more pious and devoted son. He constantly interested himself in behalf of the unfortunate who had gained his sympathy or had engaged his respect. Furthermore, he early secured the esteem of a number of persons whose friendship was always an honor and was sometimes fame; and there must have been much in his character to inspire respect and affection, or he could not have earned a regard which was never given lightly, and would have been withdrawn had there not existed qualities to retain it.  17
  From Pope the man it is much more satisfactory to turn to Pope the writer. The first thing that here arrests the attention is the estimate in which he was held by his own generation. No poet of any previous period in English literature ever attained like success, perhaps no poet of any period. The critical attitude of the nineteenth century is so different from the attitude of the eighteenth, that so far from the former being able to sympathize with the sentiments of the latter, it is hardly able to understand them. The view taken of Pope by his contemporaries and immediate successors is something ordinarily incomprehensible to the modern man. In their eyes he was not merely a great poet; there was no greater English poet. Some were disposed to reckon him the greatest. He was our English Homer, not merely because he translated him, but because he stood in the same lofty relation to English poetry that Homer did to Greek. While there were some who denied, and a few who scoffed at, this enrollment, theirs was not the prevailing opinion. That was expressed by Dr. Johnson in his comment on the delay which took place in the publication of the second volume of Joseph Warton’s ‘Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope.’ The first had appeared in 1756. In this, Warton had maintained that Pope did not stand at the head of his profession; that he was indeed superior to all other men in the kind of poetry in which he excelled, but that that in which he excelled was not poetry of the highest kind. Heresy of this sort was not palatable; at any rate, for some reason the second volume was not published until 1782. When Boswell in 1763 asked Johnson why Warton did not bring out the continuation, the latter gave as the probable reason that the delay was due to the writer’s disappointment at his inability to persuade the world to be of his opinion in regard to Pope.  18
  Certainly no English author, with the possible exception of Chaucer, so profoundly influenced the men of his own generation and of those immediately succeeding. No author so impressed his peculiarities of style and diction upon his followers. There is scarcely a poet of the eighteenth century, outside of one or two of the first class, in whose writings the imitation of Pope, conscious or unconscious, cannot be found upon every page. Most of these authors have now sunk into oblivion, or are known only to the special student; but their number was legion, and several of them had in their day a good deal of repute. It was comparatively easy to catch Pope’s manner, or rather mannerisms,—the careful balancing of the two divisions of the line, the antithesis of clause and of meaning, the almost monotonous melody of the measure: but what was not easy to any, and to most was impossible, was to impart to the verse the vigor which attracted to it attention, and the point which riveted it in the memory; the curious felicity of expression which gave to the obvious the aspect of the striking; and more than all, the occasional loftiness of sentiment and diction which lifted the numbers from the region of artifice, where so many of them belonged, into the atmosphere of creative art.  19
  As there was no justification for Pope’s title to supremacy among English poets, the reaction against the unreasonable claims set up in his behalf brought him in the course of time into undeserved depreciation. The revolt against his methods and style, which began in the latter half of the last century, led to an undervaluation of his achievement as undue as had been the exaggerated estimate previously taken. So far from his being deemed the greatest of English poets, it became a matter of dispute whether he was a poet at all. The literary tournament as to his merits and defects that went on in the first quarter of the present century, in which Bowles, Byron, and Campbell took part, is the most celebrated, though by no means the only one, of the controversies started by the discussion as to his position. The wits of Blackwood’s Magazine felicitated themselves in consequence with the thought that there was one subject for critical disquisition that could never be exhausted. This inestimable treasure was the question as to whether Pope was a poet. It would assuredly be a very arbitrary and narrow definition of the word that would reject him from the class. Still there is no doubt that the reaction was, at one time at least, powerful enough to cause him to be widely depreciated. Derogatory opinion of his work is indeed still frequently expressed by men who have clearly not gone through that preliminary preparation for judging his writings which consists in reading them; and who often in condemning him resort to the very phrases he originated, to express their own scanty ideas.  20
  But no writer continues to remain a classic to successive generations without having very substantial claims to the position he has achieved. Over a large number of men Pope will always exercise a peculiar attraction. These are those to whom the poetry of the understanding is dear, as contrasted with the poetry of high spiritual intuitions. Within this limited and lower field Pope is uniformly excellent, and in many ways unsurpassed. Take him in respect to the matter of diction. Not even Milton himself was his superior in the extraordinary technical skill with which the manner is made to correspond to the matter. His ability in this line was exhibited in his very first work of importance,—the ‘Essay on Criticism,’ written while he was a mere boy. The passage may serve for an illustration, where he exemplifies the faults he censures in his remarks upon poetical numbers. The monotony of constantly recurring open vowels, the insertion of expletives to fill out the verse, the use of feeble words, and the employment of the Alexandrine, are not only pointed out, but are exhibited, in the following lines:—
      “These equal syllables alone require,
    Though oft the ear the open vowels tire;
    While expletives their feeble aid do join,
    And ten low words oft creep in one dull line….
    A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.”
But the correspondence of sound to sense is even more skillfully shown in the passage immediately following, in the same poem, in which the line moves slowly or rapidly, harshly or smoothly, in accordance with the idea sought to be conveyed:—
      “’Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,—
    The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
    Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
    And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
    But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
    The hoarse rough verse should like the torrent roar:
    When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw,
    The line too labors, and the words move slow;
    Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o’er th’ unbending corn, and skims along the main.”
  21
  Again, in the effect wrought by the apt use of antithesis, Pope has no superior; it may not be amiss to say he never had a rival. The description of Addison as Atticus, already referred to, and that of Lord Hervey under the title of Sporus, both occurring in the ‘Prologue to the Satires,’ are conspicuous instances of his ability in the use of this rhetorical device. Still, the most brilliant illustrations of his skill in this particular are to be found in the ‘Rape of the Lock.’ Here the anticlimax often lends its aid to the effect; but in many passages the latter is in no way dependent upon the former. Has, indeed, a finer tribute ever been paid to the universal attraction of a beautiful woman than in the following antithetical lines, which celebrate the heroine of the poem as she appeared upon the Thames?
  “On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss and infidels adore.
Her lively looks a sprightly mind disclose,
Quick as her eyes, and as unfixed as those:
Favors to none, to all she smiles extends;
Oft she rejects, but never once offends.
Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,
And like the sun, they shine on all alike.
Yet graceful ease, and sweetness void of pride,
Might hide her faults, if belles had faults to hide:
If to her share some female errors fall,
Look on her face, and you’ll forget ’em all.”
It is easy now to decry Pope; but where in any poet have more exquisite compliments been put into so few words? To examples of a similar character though of different subject—and such are numerous—we must add the power of pointed expression, which has converted so large a number of his lines into the cheap currency of common quotation; furthermore, the constant recurrence of witty observation in its most condensed form,—such, for illustration, as can be seen in the latter half of a couplet like the following, describing a gossiping conversation:—
  “A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes;
At every word a reputation dies.”
Such passages will easily explain the attraction Pope has to men of keen intellectual aptitudes, and to periods in which men of this character abound. He is never likely to be a favorite of those individuals to whom poetry is mainly a source of spiritual comfort, or of spiritual exaltation. But there are all sorts of tastes in the world; and in the ever-changing revolution of literary fashions, Pope will always be sure of a high place, varying in importance with the feelings prevalent at the time, though it is hardly possible that he will ever regain the position he held in the eighteenth century.
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