Slike strani

"The Rape of the Lock" (1712-14).

in composition. This is closely followed by the first sketch of The Rape of the Lock, which appeared in two cantos in Lintot's Miscellany for 1712. The tiny mock-heroic poem was greeted by Addison as "merum sal," but Pope set himself to still further improvement of it, and the whole poem, as we have it, was published in in 1714. This masterpiece, the successful rival of Boileau's Lutrin, which had been translated into English about this time by Nicholas Rowe, and incomparably superior to all other mock-heroic poems the world had hitherto seen, stamped Pope at once the chief poet of his age. The Rape of the Lock was his longest work between 1712 and 1715. In 1712 a number of The Spectator contained the famous pastoral, The Messiah, which was modelled on Virgil's fifth eclogue. In 1713 was published Windsor Forest, whose extraordinary neatness of versification and beauty of diction must (1713). be taken into account, if we compare it with the work of other and more natural poets. Pope, who, like Wycherley, had a suspicious fondness for referring to his own precocity, said that he had written Windsor Forest in 1704. The plan of the work is borrowed principally from Sir John Denham's Cooper's Hill, but Pope has hardly any passage to be compared with those few but unequalled lines which have preserved the vitality of Denham's poem. Pope's work was received, on the one hand, by hard criticism, notably from the pen of John Dennis; but, on the other, it provoked a somewhat undiscriminating praise. Certainly, few people would be found nowadays to congratulate the poet upon his Temple of Fame, which, resorting to his old fashion of imitation and paraphrase, he adapted from Chaucer's House of Fame.

"Windsor Forest"

of Homer


§ 2. În 1715 the first volume of his translation of the Iliad appeared. This work, upon which Dryden had feared to venture, has its origin in 1709, when a detached Translation episode appeared in Lintot's Miscellany, and was received so well that Pope determined to complete the undertaking. The work was to be published by subscription, and he was at first almost reduced to despair when brought face to face with so prodigious a task; but with practice came facility, and the whole of the Iliad was at last completed by the publication of the sixth volume in 1720. The whole work, as is well known, was dedicated to Congreve. It excited a frenzy of admiration, and various enthusiasts wrote laudatory epigrams which, by the extravagance of the honour paid to Pope, prove how little the authors understood of Homer. In a pecuniary sense this was a most successful venture. Pope

Translation of the "Odyssey" (1725)

received for his labour upwards of £5000, and laid the foundation of that competence which he enjoyed with sense and moderation. The Odyssey did not appear till five years later, in 1725; but of this Pope himself translated only twelve out of the twenty-four books;

Metre and style of


[ocr errors]

and employed, in 1723, for his assistance in the remaining half, the two respectable contemporary poets, ELIJAH FENTON (1683-1730) and WILLIAM BROOME (1689-1745), to whom he paid a generous share in the proceeds, not, however, without some show of ungratefulness on their part. The version of The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, which was published in the same volume, was by Parnell, and had appeared separately in 1717. Pope, in selecting a form for his version, took that rhymed decasyllabic verse Pope's of which he was so consummate a master. However lations. beautiful this may be as a medium for appropriate subjects, it is quite unfitted, from the regularity of its pauses, the neatness of its structure, and the irresistible tendency to terminate the sense with the couplet, to reproduce in English the solemn, ever-varied, resonant swell of Homer's billow-like hexameter. Homer is stripped, so to speak, of his flowing chlamys and fillets, and set to masquerade in the stiff bounds of the high-heeled shoes, the laced velvet coat, and flowing periwig of the eighteenth century. Mechanically, indeed, Pope's translation is far from unfaithful; but, in its adaptation of the spirit and atmosphere of its original, it is not to be compared with Chapman's version. Bentley's criticism upon the work is, after all, the best and most comprehensive. "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer." Nevertheless, it is a noble monument of our national literature; and there must be many readers who have gained a considerable admiration for Homer through its means, although it may be possible to criticise such an admiration. It is unfortunate,. perhaps, that in selecting the two great epic writers for translation, Dryden and Pope did not exchange parts. Dryden, although Virgilian himself rather than Homeric, and unequal to the task of reproducing Homer's freshness and grandeur, still possessed most of the Homeric quality of fire and animation; while Pope, with his prevailing merit of consummate grace and finish, would have reproduced, with as great success as Dryden, the unsurpassed dignity and chastened majesty of Virgil.


83. In 1717 Pope published a volume of collected poems, containing, among others, the Lines to an Unfortunate Lady, the Epistle from Sappho to Phaon, borrowed from Collection the Heroïdes of Ovid, and the Epistle from Eloisa to of miscellaAbelard, its subject taken, oddly enough, from the neous poems romantic story of medieval times. These works are artificial in their arrangement and diction alike; but the passion which they express is so intense, so vivid with beautiful and pathetic imagery, that they must be considered as masterpieces. The subject of the first is very obscure, and was for a long time supposed to deal with a real story of disappointed love and suicide. Although many passages in this elegy are of extraordinary beauty, Eloïsa, as a whole, is a finer and more sustained composition. There is a singular air of romance

about it, in spite of the correct trimness of its couplets; the intense glow of unhappy passion lights up the gloom of Eloïsa's surroundings with a lurid and unnatural splendour. During this part of his life, Pope was living at Chiswick with his father and mother, to whom he always showed the most tender and dutiful affection; but his father died in 1717, and, two years after, Pope removed with his mother to a villa Pope's life at he had purchased at Twickenham. While this house Twickenham. was getting ready, he stayed for a little while at

Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire, and finished the fifth book of his Iliad. Twickenham was his home for the rest of his life: here he lived in easy circumstances, amusing his leisure with gardening and with the grotto and quincunxes in which he delighted; associating with almost all the illustrious statesmen, orators, and men of letters of his day, Swift, Addison, Atterbury, Bolingbroke, Prior, Gay, and Arbuthnot. He was a Pope's clique. little too fond of talking of his own independence, and alluding, with affected indifference, to the number of "titled" guests whom he received; and, like most men who live in a narrow clique, was very prone to treat all those who were outside the charmed bounds as wretches deserving only of contempt, and to behave as though all virtues, wit, and honour

Controversy with Theobald.

were confined to his own set. In 1725 he published His edition of an edition of Shakespeare in six volumes-a careShakespeare (1725). less and ill-performed task, in which he exhibited a strange deficiency in the kind of knowledge indispensable to a commentator upon any old author. His work was generally condemned as inferior to Theobald's contemporary edition. Theobald, without any poetic genius, possessed more crititical discernment, and produced a more valuable result. In 1726 he published a detailed criticism of Pope's Shakespeare. For this, Pope's jealous envy could never forgive him, and we shall see directly how savagely he revenged himself. Theobald's own edition of Shakespeare did not come out till 1733; but Pope was never without quarrels, and his residence at Twickenham is marked by a series of unworthy literary squabbles and disastrous Platonic friendships. Until the appearance of The Dunciad, he produced little that is noteworthy from a poetical point of view; and, apart from the Odyssey, his chief contribution to literature between 1717 and 1728 was "Martinus the part which he took, with Swift, Arbuthnot, and others, in the Miscellanies (1727-8), and particularly in the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus, an extensive satire on the abuse of learning and the extravagances of philosophy. Parts of this work belong to the volume of 1727; but it was not published in full till 1741. The intention of the partners was to write a kind of Don Quixote for the benefit of literature; but the idea was not very happy, although the wit of Arbuthnot saved the production from being totally unsuccessful.

Scriblerus" (1727).

Pope's admirable satiric genius entirely deserted him when he abandoned verse for prose, and his wit became mere personality and buffoonery. Perhaps, with the exception of Arbuthnot's History of John Bull, the prose portions of the Miscellanies are hardly worthy of their author's fame. Pope, however, supplied some brilliant satirical poetry to this compilation.

§ 4. The first edition of The Dunciad appeared in May, 1728; a second edition, which remained definitive for some years, belongs to March, 1729; a fourth book was added to the original three in 1742; and the whole satire was Dunciad" published, in its final form, in 1743. To chastise (1728-43). one's enemies, especially if they are weaker than


oneself, is not a noble pastime; but Pope was constitutionally sensitive. His early success, his steady popularity, his malignant vanity, and, above all, the supercilious tone in which he thought fit to speak of the struggles of literary existence and its social inferiority, all conspired to raise round him a swarm of industrious enemies, animated alike by envy and revenge. Consequently, he determined to inflict upon them, under the mask of zeal for reason and good taste, a memorable castigation. The Dunciad is more remarkable for its spite than for its taste or reason; but this fault, which ought to have been its ruin, has procured, by a curious inversion of taste, its real and abiding fame. The primary idea of The Dunciad was doubtless suggested by Dryden's Mac Flecknoe, whose faults and merits it shares on a larger scale; but it is incomparably the fiercest, most sweeping, and most powerful of all literary satires. Most of the persons attacked are now so obscure that their names are rescued from oblivion only by their position in Pope's satire, where they lie like perishable rubbish preserved in the lava of a volcano; but, in the later part of the poem, and especially in the additional book, Pope has given a sketch of the gradual decline and corruption of taste and learning in Europe, which is one of the noblest outbursts of his genius. The Its plot. plot of the poem-the Iliad, so to speak, of the

dunces-is not very ingenious, and was borrowed from Dryden. The idea is that the throne of dulness is left vacant by the death of Laurence Eusden, and that the various aspirants to "that bad eminence" engage in a series of trials, like the Olympic games of old, to determine who shall inherit it. In the original poem, the palm was given to Theobald, whose strictures on Pope's Shakespeare had suggested, to a great extent, the completion of the satire. Theobald's own Shakespeare of 1733, undoubtedly better than Pope's, may have caused a subsequent change in the poem. At any rate, its modifications were innumerable. Finally, in the complete edition of 1743, which appeared in the year before Theobald's and Pope's own death, Theobald is degraded from the throne, and the crown is given to Colley Cibber, the famous actor, manager, and dramatic author, who had succeeded Eusden as Laureate in 1730. What

ever were Cibber's vices and frivolity, he was certainly in no sense an appropriate king of dunces; and in this, as in numberless other instances, Pope's bitterness ran away with his judgment. The Dunciad is a wonderful-almost a fearfulexample of the highest genius applied to the most selfish endsself-love chastising its victims with the lightning of genius, under the guise of punishing bad literature. At the same time, had the only object of the poem been to wreak a private revenge upon individuals, its perennial interest would have been nonexistent. Its universal fame lies in its general application to dulness under all its shapes and forms.


The publication of The Dunciad was followed by a series of poems, chiefly epistolary, which appeared, speaking roughly, between 1731 and 1735. These are the poems Later poems comprehended in the Moral Essays, the Epistles, and the Imitations of Horace -a poet whom Pope was very well calculated to imitate; for, in good sense, clearness, and that curiosa felicitas of diction which Petronius ascribed to Horace, it is difficult to judge between the two. Pope's tone, in all these compositions, is half satirical-the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1735) contains some of his most biting satire-half philosophical. In 1734, this philosophical tone is seen with undivided authority in the final Essay on edition of the Essay on Man, an ethical and metaMan" (1734). physical poem consisting of four epistles, and ad


dressed to Bolingbroke. As a matter of fact, it is really a poetical version of a metaphysical system which Bolingbroke himself had planned. The originality, therefore, of the theory, is not remarkable, and its soundness is doubtful; the treatment is also somewhat diffuse and unwieldy; and, on the whole, as a contribution to the literature of philosophy, it is unimportant. On the other hand, no one can deny the exquisite neatness and conciseness of the verse, its unvarying melody, and the beauty and felicity of the illustrations; and the Essay on Man is an excellent example of the highest skill in the art of so treating an abstract and philosophical subject as to render it neither dry nor unpoetical. Briefly summarised, its construction is this. In the first epistle man is regarded in his relation to the universe; in the second, in his relation to himself; in the third, in his relation to society; and in the fourth, with respect to his idea of, and pursuit after, happiness.

The Essay on Man was Pope's last work of real importance. During the final years of his life he kept adding to his satires,

Pope's clos-
ing years.

completing the Imitations of Horace, for instance. His later satires display the same brilliancy as of old, but their tone, in its very brilliancy, becomes In his Ode on Saint Cecilia's Day, he was bold enough to try his strength with Dryden, and was defeated, yet without disgrace. As his illustration of the power of music, he chose the story of Orpheus, and particularly his descent

« PrejšnjaNaprej »