Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

one.

The former alternative involves an obvious improbability ; the latter is

supported by the circumstance since ascertained", that Pope had withdrawn the letters from Lord Oxford's library in the spring of 1735. This discovery seems at first sight to tend towards the conclusion that Pope had entertained the idea of publishing the letters before Curll's venture saw the light. In this case Pope's edition of his letters cannot have been brought out in sheer self-defence.

The question (which continues to constitute one of the cruces of which the life of Pope is so prolific) remains in its original difficulty. It is certain that Pope had allowed himself to alter the letters in every possible way from the form in which they were originally written, by additions and omissions and variations. Yet this is insufficient to prove his intention of publishing them. He could not at any time keep any printed or written thing by him without revising it and altering it for the better or the worse ; whether it was his own (as in the case of the Rape of the Lock and the Dunciad, and numerous passages afterwards incorporated in his Satires), or whether it was another man's, (as in the notable case, to be mentioned below, of Bolingbroke's letters On the Spirit of Patriotism &c.). A grave suspicion rests however upon the straightforward character of his conduct in this transaction; unhappily not the only case connected with the publication of his works which continues obscure and doubtful.

As Pope's letters remain to us, they are not, with the exception of those to Cromwell and of those which have been preserved in MS., spontaneous effusions. His letters to Lady Mary at the same time prove that even as he wrote at the time, he wrote with affectation. But in editing his correspondence, he succeeded in depriving it of every vestige of natural freshness. A letter which is written with one eye to the person addressed, and the other to the public beyond, possesses no charm apart from all other literary compositions. Yet it may be doubted whether Pope could ever have excelled in a branch of writing where genius can claim no monopoly of excellence. His pen could have never strayed into the little language' of Swift; or rushed along with the reckless vigour of Byron ; still less could it have matched in sweet simplicity the epistolary style of Cowper; but he was even without Horace Walpole's ability for telling a story. Yet his prose in itself is unaffected and clear; and though far from approaching that of Swift in strength or that of Addison in beauty, is free from an undue affectation of classicisms, and from other peculiarities of an impotent grandiloquence.

· See Johnson's Lives of the Poets, Cunningham's edition, Vol. 111. p. 13, cited by Carruthers.

VIII.

In 1739 Bolingbroke sold Dawley; and though he continued in frequent connexion with the Marcellus of his hopes at Leicester House, and with Pope at Twickenham, he was frequently absent in France. It was not till 1742 that the death of Bolingbroke's father established him in his paternal domain at Battersea; while the overthrow of Walpole in the same year caused hin for the last time to hope for an after-summer of political power. It was perhaps the bitterest drop in the full cup of the ambitious intriguer's disappointments, to find that his own party treated him with respectful neglect, and that he was politely set aside as an interesting but useless specimen of 'narrative old age.'

Although after Bolingbroke's removal from Dawley his friendship with Pope continued unbroken, the latter was gradually passing under the influence of another mind. Warburton, the presiding genius of the closing period of Pope's life, had approached him in the humble attitude of an interpreter offering his services to a misunderstood philosopher. The career of Warburton offers a cheering instance of the success of a man determined from the first to succeed. He had marked out the English Church and English literature as the avenues likely to lead to eminence and emolument; and both were opened to him in accordance with his speculations. By asserting himself as one of the pillars of orthodoxy, and coming forward as an aid to faith just at the close of the struggle between the Church and her deistical opponents, he ultimately obtained the bishopric of Gloucester as his temporal reward. In literature he knew how to claim saints as well as to expose sinners; and thus he had, at an early point of his career, recommended himself to Pope's notice by a volunteer attempt to bring the author of the Essay on Man and pupil of Boling. broke into harmony with orthodox Anglicanism, and to defend him against the arguments of a French professor (de Crousaz) who had maintained Spinozism to be the logical outcome of the poet's system. Pope gratefully accepted the service; and his slight personal acquaintance with Warburton soon developed into a close intimacy. Warburton played a far more important part in connexion with Pose than that which men of genius in their decline have frequently permitted to assiduous admirers. He not only proclaimed, but interpreted, the utterances of his oracle. By him all Pope's later works were arranged under a neat and comprehensive system; and so well, was the poet contented with this re-arrangement of himself, that he entrusted to one who understood him almost better than himself the collected edition of his works commenced towards the close of his life. And in his will he left to Warburton the property of all such of his works as the former had furnished, or should furnish, with commentaries.

Yet even a righteous victory is not always gained at once. Pope seems to have oscillated between the influence exerted over him by Warburton and the still unexhausted fascination of Bolingbroke. The indefatigable activity of Warburton, and the nervous weakness of Pope's declining health, were in favour of the former.

An attempt on the part of Murray (in the style of the late Mr Rogers) to reconcile the two conflicting influences by inviting Warburton and Bolingbroke to meet at his table, led to no result except agitating Pope, who was of the party. He was obliged,' he exclaimed, after listening to an animated contest between the two, to be of the opinion of both the antagonists, since the one was his teacher and the other his apologist; since the one thought, and the other answered for him?'

But this incident occurred only a few months before the death of Pope. However much he may have fallen under the influence of Warburton (and such was the value which he set upon his friend that he refused an honorary degree offered to him by the University of Oxford, because it was not offered to Warburton, who accompanied him on his visit to the University, at the same time), upon the literary activity of Pope's closing years it acted as a stimulant. The fourth book of the Dun. ciad, which Pope published in 1741, would, as he expressly declared, never have been written but for the suggestive influence of his friend. It betrayed no falling off in power of expression; but to Warburton's influence must be ascribed the direction which Pope's invective, unhappily for his reputation for moral justice, took in this his last important production. The adaptation, which followed, of the entire Dunciad to a new hero was, as will be observed elsewhere, an unfortunate attempt to gratify personal spleen at the expense of poetic consistency. Colley Cibber, finding himself suddenly re-introduced to public ridicule in the new edition of the Dunciad, had very naturally raised his arm in self-defence; and had published a letter to Pope endeavouring to account for the genesis and growth of the enmity of the latter against the writer. Pope intended a revenge, as crushing as it was unexpected, by the bold step of dethroning Theobald as hero of the poem in favour of Cibber. Cibber was not slow with a retort; although Warburton had as usual evolved the fitness of an adventitious personality out of the entire scheme of the poem. But the ill-directed shaft of the revised Dunciad had fallen harmless; and thus Pope's last literary effort unfortunately produced no effect beyond that of marring one of his most brilliant poems.

But towards the close of his life Pope had lost most of his literary enemies, as he had been deprived of most of his intimate associates and friends. On the other hand, popular fame surrounded him with a halo to which his general absence from public haunts lent something mysterious. When curiosity drew him to the theatre to witness one of the first performances of Garrick, the knowledge of his presence filled the confident actor with an anxiety approaching to awe?. The veneration with which his name for some time continued to inspire rising poets of a school which could have little sympathy with his own, is evinced by such expressions as those in Mason's juvenile monody of Musæus. But gradually the end was

The anecdote is told by M. Ch. de Rému- reverential awe with which Pope was towards sat, 1. s.

the close of his life regarded by such men as * The incident is mentioned in Mr Fitzgerald's Johnson and Reynolds, see Forster's Life and recent Life of Garrick. For instances of the Times of Goldsmith, 1, 373, note.

approaching, when nothing but the society of old friends could cheer the decline of health and spirits, until even affections such as these should lose their power. The last months of Pope's life were passed chiefly in the society of Warburton, though he was still occasionally able to visit his older friends, Lords Bolingbroke and Marchmont, at Battersea: while Martha Blount, towards whom his affection remained unabated, solaced him by her occasional presence in his own home. At last came that sense of the insufficiency of all human affections which to all except vulgar minds heralds the near approach of death. Pope died after an open and free acknowledgment of the faith from the profession of which he had never swerved, and in a calm tranquillity offering a consoling contrast to the turbulence of his intellectual life. The date of his death was the 30th of May, 1744. He was buried, according to the directions of his will, in Twickenham church, near the monument which his filial piety had erected to his parents. He desired no inscription on his tomb; but the officious devotion of Warburton, seventeen years later, placarded a tasteless monument with an epigram written by Pope himself, but never, we may be sure, designed by him to degrade his resting-place?. His will is only interesting in so far as ample provision was made in it for Martha Blount, to whom the principal part of the poet's property was bequeathed for her life. To his literary friends he made many bequests of books and statues. The legacy to Warburton has been already mentioned; but as literary executor he named Lord Bolingbroke, or (in case he should not survive the testator,) Lord Marchmont. To Bolingbroke's hands were to be committed all MS. and unprinted papers; and thus it came to pass that even after his death Pope's name and fame were involved in two of those literary imbroglios to which he had too frequently exposed them in his lifetime.

Bolingbroke made the discovery that shortly before his death Pope had caused to be printed off, in readiness for publication in his Epistle on the Characters of Women, that satiric sketch of the Duchess of Marlborough, under the name of Atossa, which he had formerly been induced to suppress. It has already been stated that there is too little room for doubt that Pope, in order to secure an independence for Martha Blount, had accepted from the Duchess the sum of £1000; but the extent of the undertaking which he had made in return must ever remain unknown. The existence both of the problem and of the certainty, casts an unwelcome shadow on Pope's character. Another grievance, which stung Bolingbroke to allow the bitterest reproaches to be uttered in writing, and virtually in his name, against Pope, was intrinsically of less moment. It concerned the unwarranted printing by Pope's directions, five years before his death, of Bolingbroke's Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism, on the Idea of a Patriot King, and on the State of Parties, with alterations in the arrangement and omissions never sanctioned by their author. Pope seems in this instance to have been guilty of an inexcusable offence against his

I See the Epitaph, No. xv.

friend; but as, the letters being kept private, no evil result had followed, Bolingbroke would have shown no more than ordinary generosity in remaining silent as to the practically harmless affront. But there was no generosity in his nature, and instead of contenting himself with burning the offensive copies, he ordered his editor, Mallet, to revile Pope for his breach of trust in terms which reflect even less credit upon the offended than upon the offender.

a

“There is nothing easier,' it has been remarked by the most generous, as he is the most refined, of living critics?, “than to make a caricature of Pope.' Hogarth and his public contemporaries never lighted upon a more facile task; and it needs no genius for description to reproduce with telling elaboration the familiar outlines. But little is gained by intermingling personalities from which Dennis might have shrunk with an estimate of intellectual characteristics; and a very few facts suffice to change into infinite pity the curiosity with which his bodily and mental sufferings have been exhibited, like the contortions of a marionette.

From the day of his birth Pope was weak and sickly in body; and the extreme sensibility of his nerves, the feebleness of his digestive organs, and the general fragility of his constitution, made his life, in Dr Johnson's phrase, a long disease. In boyhood he nearly sank under the influence of an uncontrollable hypochondria; such indulgences of town life as he afterwards permitted himself had speedily to be relinquished; in middle age he was dependent for ordinary comfort on the constant care of women. He was bald and deformed and almost a dwarf; his wearingapparel had to be stiffened here and padded there; and his bodily wants were in consequence those of a child, and his habits those of a valetudinarian. If his treatment of his maladies was sometimes petulant and sometimes unwise, his friends might have spared posterity their anecdotes of these inevitable failings; nor need Dr Johnson, of all men, have gravely recorded the fact that Pope ‘loved too well to eat.'

'It might well be expected,' observes a brilliant critic, whose cruelty in dwelling upon Pope's physical infirmities has rarely been surpassed”, that such a man would be 'capricious and susceptible.' Upon Pope's sensitive nature every spoken or written word, and every event in which he was interested, operated with thrilling effect. Martha Blount often saw him weep, in reading very tender and melancholy passages; he told Spence that he could never peruse Priam's lament for Hector without tears. This would not have astonished the generation of Sterne and Mackenzie; but Pope's age was not given to sensibility. On the other hand, Pope had, like a child, no judgment of the relative importance of injuries; his anger was uncontrollable, and with the passionate petulance of childhood he combined the resentfulness of a mind unable to forgive till it forgets. In his vanity I see nothing superlative. For him, wholly wrapped up in the progress of his literary career,

1 M. Ste. Beuve, in his Nouveaux Lundis (T. VII.).

2 M. Taine.

« AnteriorContinuar »