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Ver. 279. How index learning turns no student pale,
Yet holds the eel of science by the tail.
[This illustration Pope borrowed from his fri Swift.—Tale of a Tub, sec. seven :-“The most accomplished way of using books at present is twofold : either, first, to serve them as some men do lords, learn their titles exactly, and then brag of their acquaintance; or, secondly, which is indeed the choicer, the profounder, and politer method, to get a thorough insight into the index, by which the whole book is governed and turned, like fishes by the tail.”]
WITHERS, WARD, GILDON, AND HOWARD.
Ver. 295. Where wretched Withers, Ward, and Gildon rest,
And high-born Howard.
“George Withers was a great pretender to poetical zeal, and abused the greatest personages in power, which brought upon him frequent correction. The Marshalsea and Newgate were no strangers to him."—WINSTANLY, Lives of Poets.
Charles Gildon, a writer of criticisms and libels of the last age, bred at St. Omer's with the Jesuits; but renouncing popery, he published Blount's books against the divinity of Christ, The Oracles of Reason, &c. . He sig. nalized himself as a critic, having written some very bad plays: abused Mr. P. very scandalously in an anonymous pamphlet of the Life of Mr. Wycher. ley, printed by Curll; in another, called The New Rehearsal, printed in 1714; in a third, intituled The Complete Art of English Poetry, in two volumes ; and others.
Hon. Edward Howard, author of the British Princes, and a great number of wonderful pieces, celebrated by the late Earls of Dorset and Rochester, Duke of Buckingham, Mr. Waller, &c.
[Pope had probably never looked into the prison strains of old George Wither, for he could not have been insensible to the beauty of many passages in the “Shepherd's Hunting,” which was produced in the Marshalsea. In that prison, “though walled about with disrespect,” the Muse solaced his confinement :
“ In my days of former bliss,
Her divine skill taught me this,
By the murmur of a spring,
In some other wiser man."
“Poesy, thou sweet'st content,
Then I am in love with thee !" Wither, after a busy and chequered life, died in 1667. How a genuine old poet of indomitable spirit came to be associated with two such modern scribblers as Gildon and Howard, it would be difficult to conjecture.]
GAMING AT THE COURT. Ver. 310. Gaming and Grub-street skulk behind the king.] When the statute against gaming was drawn up, it was represented, that the king, by ancient custom, plays at hazard one night in the year; and therefore a clause was inserted, with an exception as to that particular. Under this pretence, the groom-porter had a room appropriated to gaming all the summer the court was at Kensington, which his Majesty accidentally being acquainted of, with a just indignation, prohibited. It is reported, the same practice is yet continued wherever the court resides, and the hazard-table there open to all the professed gamesters in town.
“Greatest and justest sovereign know you this ?
DONNE to Queen Eliz. [The practice alluded to, we need scarcely remark, has long since been discontinued. Gaming as here described is unknown in the English court, and but little known in English society.]
MRS. NEEDHAM. Ver. 323. To Needham's.] A matron of great fame, and very religious in her way: whose constant prayer it was, that she might“ get enough by her profession, to leave it off in time, and make her peace with God.” But her fate was not so happy; for being convicted, and set in the pillory, she was (to the lasting shame of all her great friends and votaries) so ill used by the populace, that it put an end to her days.
TENDERNESS TO BAD WRITERS.
Ver. 328. God save King Log !] See Ogilby's Æsop's Fables, where, in the story of the Frogs and their King, this excellent hemistich is to be found.
Our author manifests here, and elsewhere, a prodigious tenderness for the bad writers. We see he selects the only good passage, perhaps, in all that ever Ogilby writ: which shows how candid and patient a reader he must have been. What can be more kind and affectionate than these words in the preface to his poems, where he labours to call up all our humanity and forgiveness towards these unlucky men, by the most moderate representation of their case that has ever been given by any author? “Much may be said to extenuate the fault of bad poets. What we call a genius is hard to be distinguished, by a man himself, from a prevalent inclination. And if it be never so great, he can at first discover it no other way than by that strong propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. He has no other method but to make the experiment, by writing, and so appealing to the judgment of others. And if he happens to write ill (which is certainly no sin in itself) he is immediately made the object of ridicule ! I wish we had the humanity to reflect, that even the worst authors might endeavour to please us, and in that endeavour, deserve something at our hands. We have no cause to quarrel with them, but for their obstinacy in persisting, and even that may admit of alleviating circumstances. For their particular friends may be either ignorant, or insincere; and the rest of the world too well-bred to shock them with a truth which generally their booksellers are the first that inform them of."
But how much all indulgence is lost upon these people may appear from the just reflection made on their constant conduct, and constant fate, in the following epigram :
“Ye little wits, that gleam'd awhile,
When Pope vouchsafed a ray,
How soon ye fade away!
Thus empty vapours rise ;
That rear'd him to the skies.
There He shall ever burn:
And must to earth return."
Two things there are, upon the supposition of which the very basis of all verbal criticism is founded and supported: the first, that an author could never fail to use the best word on every occasion ; the second, that a critic cannot choose but know which that is. This being granted, whenever any word doth not fully content us we take upon us to conclude, first, that the author could never have used it; and, secondly, that he must have used that very one which we conjecture in its stead.
We cannot, therefore, enough admire the learned Scriblerus for his alteration of the text in the two last verses of the preceding book, which in all the former editions stood thus:
"Hoarse thunder to its bottom shook the bog,
And the loud nation croak’d, God save King Log!” He has, with great judgment, transposed these two epithets, putting hoarse to the nation, and loud to the thunder; and this being evidently the true reading, he vouchsafed not so much as to mention the former; for which assertion of the just right of a critic he merits the acknowledgement of all sound commentators.
RICHARD FLECKNOE, OR MAC FLECKNOE. Ver. 2. Flecknoe's Irish throne]. Richard Flecknoe was an Irish priest, but had laid aside (as himself expressed it) the mechanic part of priesthood. He printed some plays, poems, letters, and travels. I doubt not our author took occasion to mention him in respect to the poem of Mr. Dryden, to which this bears some resemblance, though of a character more different from it than that of the Æneid from the Iliad, or the Lutrin of Boileau from the Défaite des Bouts Rimés of Sarazin.
It may be just worth mentioning, that the eminence from whence the ancient sophists entertained their auditors was called by the pompous name of a throne:-επί θρόνον τινός υψηλού μάλα σοφιστικώς και σοβαρώς.-THEMIS: TIUS, Orat. i.
[Sir Walter Scott says that Richard Flecknoe, from whom Dryden's satire takes its title, was so distinguished as a wretched poet, that his name had become almost proverbial. “Shadwell is represented as the adopted son of this venerable monarch, who so long
"In prose and verse was own'd, without dispute,
Through all the realms of nonsense, absolute." The solemn inauguration of Shadwell (Pope's Bavius] as his successor in
this drowsy kingdom, forms the plan of the poem; being the same which Pope afterwards adopted on a broader canvas for his Dunciad.-Scott's Life of Dryden. Flecknoe's works were numerous—as Heroic Portraits, &c., 1660; "Sixty-nine Enigmatical Characters," 1665; “Love's Kingdom : with a Treatise on the Stage,” 1674. He died in 1678.]
CAMILLO QUERNO. Ver. 15. Rome in her Capitol saw Querno sit.] Camillo Querno was of Apulia, who, hearing the great encouragement which Leo X. gave to poets, travelled to Rome with a harp in his hand, and sung to it twenty thousand verses of a poem called Alexius. He was introduced as a buffoon to Leo, and promoted to the honour of the laurel; a jest which the court of Rome and the Pope himself entered into so far, as to cause him to ride on an elephant to the Capitol, and to hold a solemn festival on his coronation, at which it is recorded the poet himself was so transported as to weep for joy. He was ever after a constant frequenter of the Pope's table, drank abundantly, and poured forth verses without number. Paulus Jovius, Elog. Ver. Doct., chap. lxxxii.
Some idea of his poetry is given by Fam. Strada, in his Prolusions.
[The good fortune of this Italian Mac Flecknoe did not continue to the end of his life. He returned to Naples after the taking of Rome, and died in an hospital.]
JAMES-MOORE SMYTHE. Ver. 50. A wit it was, and call’d the phantom More.] Curll, in his Key to the Dunciad, affirmed this to be James-Moore Smythe, Esq., and it is probable (considering what is said of him in the Testimonies) that some might fancy our author obliged to represent this gentleman as a plagiary, or to pass for one himself. His case, indeed, was like that of a man I have heard of, who, as he was sitting in company, perceived his next neighbour had stolen bis handkerchief. “Sir, (said the thief, finding himself detected), do not expose me, I did it for mere want; be so good as to take it privately out of my pocket again, and say nothing." The honest man did so, but the other cried out: “See, gentlemen, what a thief we have among us! look, he is stealing my handkerchief !' The plagarisms of this person gave occasion to the following epigram :
Moore always smiles whenever he recites :
A modest man may like what's not his own." His only work was a comedy called the Rival Modes; the town condemned it in the action, but he printed it in 1726-7, with this modest motto,