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ALEXANDER

POPE.

(ALEXANDER Pope was born in Lombard Street, in the city of London, 1688. His father was a wholesale linen-draper, who, having realised a modest competence, retired to the country to live upon it. Pope's youth was spent at Binfield in the skirts of Windsor Forest. Pope was brought up a Catholic, his father, though the son of a beneficed clergyman of the Estal Church, having become a convert to Catholicism during a residence on the continent. On the death of his father, Pope, who had largely increased his inheritance by the profits of his translation of Homer, established himself at Twickenham. Here he resided till his death in 1744, employing himself in writing, in embellishing his grounds, of five acres, and in intercourse with most of the wits, and other famous men and women of his time, among whom Gay, Swift, Arbuthnot, and Lord Bolingbroke were his especial intimates. Pope was deformed, and sickly from childhood, and his constant ill-health made his temper fretful, waspish, and irritable. Notwithstanding these defects of character he secured the warm attachment of his friends. Bolingbroke said of him that he never knew a man who had so tender a heart for his particular friends. Warburton, after spending a fortnight at Twickenham, said of him, 'He is as good a companion as a poet, and, what is more, appears to be as good a man.' Pope's principal works arePastorals, published in 1709; Essay on Criticism, 1711; Pollio, 1712; Rape of the Lock, 1714; Translation of Homer's Iliad, 1715-18; Edition of Shakspeare, 1725; Translation of Homer's Odyssey, 1726; Dunciad, ist form, 1728; Epistle to the Earl of Burlington, 1731; On the Use of Riches, 1732; Essay on Man, Part 1, 1732 ; Horace, Sat. 2. 1. imitated, 1733 ; Epistle to Lord Cobham, 1733; Epistle to Arbuthnot, 1735; Horace, Epistle 1. 1. imitated, 1737; Dunciad, altered and enlarged, 1742. His works were collected by his literary executor, Bishop Warburton, and published in 9 volumes in 1751.]

Pope is not only the foremost literary figure of his age, but the representative man of a system or style of writing which for a hundred years before and after him pervaded English poetry. The writers in this style are sometimes spoken of as the 'school of Pope.' But the title is a misnomer. A school coexists along with other schools from which it is distinguished by some special characteristics ; all the contemporaneous schools taken together bearing the common and more general stamp of their age. During the period now under review, which extends, speaking roughly, from the Restoration to the French Revolution, the whole of English literary effort, but especially poetical effort, has one aim and is governed by one principle. This is the desire to attain perfection of form; a sense of the beauty of literary composition as such. It was ihe rise within the vernacular language of that idea, which impregnating the Latin language as written and spoken in the fifteenth century had produced the revived, neolatin literature of the Renaissance. Pope himself (Sat. and Ep. 5), in describing this ‘manner,' spoke of it as French, and attributed it to the imitation of French fashions introduced into England at the Restoration.

•We conquer'd France, but felt our captive's charms;
Her arts victorious triumph'd o'er our arms;
Britain to soft refinements less a foe,
Wit grew polite, and numbers learn'd to flow.'

De Quincey (Works, vol. 9) expatiates upon the deficiencies of this explanation of a revolution in literary taste. Certainly the court of Louis XIV exercised a great influence in all matters of taste. But this influence of fashion ceased when the ascendency of France was broken by the war of the Spanish succession, while the direction which had been impressed upon English poetry continued to dominate it till towards the close of the eighteenth century.

A better denomination for the period of our literature which extends from the Restoration to the French Revolution is 'the classical period.' And this is not to be taken to mean that English writers now imitated the Greek and Latin writers, or consciously formed themselves upon classical models, as the Latinists of the Renaissance imitated Cicero and Virgil. English writers had begun to perceive that there was such an art as the art of writing ; that it was not enough to put down words upon paper anyhow, provided they conveyed your meaning. They found that sounds were capable of modulation, and that pleasure could be given by the arrangement of words, as well as instruction conveyed by their import. The public ear was touched by this new harmony, and began imperatively to demand its satisfaction ; and from that moment the rude volubility of the older time seemed to it as the gabble of savages. A poem was no longer to be a story told with picturesque imagery, but was to be a composition in symmetry and keeping. A thought or a feeling was not to be blurted out in the first words that came, but was to be matured by reflection and reduced to its simplest expression. Condensation, terseness, neatness, finish-all qualities hitherto unheard of in English-had to be studied. It was found to be possible to please by your manner as well as by your matter. And having been shown to be possible, it became necessary. No writer who neglected the graces of style could gain acceptance by the public.

This fastidiousness of the public ear required on the part of writers greatly increased labour. It was no longer possible to take a sheet of paper, and write out your thoughts as fast as the pen would move. "The mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease' were distanced in the race. It was evident that, under the new standard thus set up, the prize would be to him who should be willing to take most trouble about his style. Pope was willing. As a boy he took as his life's lesson the advice given him by 'knowing Walsh,' who used to tell him “there was one way left of excelling ; for though we had several great poets, we never had any one great poet that was correct; and desired me to make that my study and aim.' De Quincey, misconstruing Walsh's meaning, has been at the pains to show that Pope's verses abound in grammatical incorrectnesses. “The language,' he says, 'does not realise the idea ; it simply suggests or hints it.' That conveyance by suggestion, instead of a perfect and plenary deliverance, is just what Pope aimed at, and what Walsh inculcated, though he may not have chosen the very best word for what he meant.

Pope at once took the lead in the race of writers because he took more pains than they. He laboured day and night to form himself for his purpose, that viz. of becoming a writer of finished

To improve his mind, to enlarge his view of the world, to store up knowledge—these were things unknown to him. Any ideas, any thoughts, such as custom, chance, society or sect may suggest, are good enough, but each idea must be turned over till it has been reduced to its neatest and most epigrammatic expression.

If this definition of the literary aim which dominated all writing during the hundred years which followed 1660 be just, it follows from it that the period would be more favourable to prose than to

verse.

poetry. What in fact came to pass was that a compromise was effected between poetry and prose, and the leading writers adopted as the most telling form of utterance prosaic verse, metre without poetry. It is by courtesy that the versifiers of this century from Dryden to Churchill are styled poets, seeing that the literature they have bequeathed us wants just that element of inspired feeling, which is present in the feeblest of the Elizabethans.

But if these versifiers are not poets in the noblest sense of the term, it does not follow that what they produced is destitute of value. In the romantic reaction at the beginning of this century, the worthlessness of eighteenth-century poetry was part of the revolutionary creed. Sheer lawlessness was then admired, while labour was disdained as the badge of an unimaginative and artificial school. The sounder judgment of a riper period of criticism can now do justice to the writers of our classical period. What they had not got we know well enough. They wanted inspiration, lofty sentiment, the heroic soul, chivalrous devotion, the inner eye of faith-above all, love and sympathy. They could not mean greatly. But such meaning as they had they laboured to express in the neatest, most terse and pointed form which our language is capable of. If not poets they were literary artists. They showed that a couplet can do the work of a page, and a single line produce effects which in the infancy of writing would require sentences.

Of these masters of literary craft Pope is the most consummate. In two directions, in that of condensing and pointing his meaning, and in that of drawing the utmost harmony of sound out of the couplet, Pope carried versification far beyond the point at which it was when he took it up. Historical parallels are proverbially misleading. Yet the analogy between what Virgil did for the Latin hexameter as he received it from Lucretius, and Pope's maturing the ten-syllable couplet which he found as Dryden left it, is sufficiently close to be of use in aiding us to realise Pope's merit. Because, after Pope, his trick of versification became common property, and 'every warbler had his tune by heart,' we are apt to overlook the merit of the first invention.

But epigrammatic force and musical flow are not the sole elements of Pope's reputation. The matter which he worked up into his verse has a permanent value, and is indeed one of the most precious heirlooms which the eighteenth century has bequeathed us. And here we must distinguish between Pope when he attempts general themes, and Pope when he draws that which

manners.

he knew, viz. the social life of his own day. When in the Pastorals he writes of natural beauty, in the Essay on Criticism he lays down the rules of writing, in the Essay on Man he versifies Leibnitzian optimism, he does not rise above the herd of eighteenthcentury writers, except in so far as his skill of language is more accomplished than theirs. The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciaa have a little more interest, because they treat of contemporary

But even in these poems, because the incidents are trivial and the personages contemptible, Pope is not more than pretty in The Rape of the Lock, and forcible, where force is ludicrously misplaced, in The Dunciad. It is where he comes to describe the one thing which he knew, and about which he felt sympathy and antipathy, viz. the court and town of his time, in the Moral Essays, and the Satires and Epistles, that Pope found the proper material on which to lay out his elaborate workmanship. And even in these capital works we must distinguish between Pope's general theorems and his particular portraits. Where he moralises, or deduces general principles, he is superficial, secondhand, and onesided as the veriest scribbler. For example : in the splendid lines on the Duke of Wharton (Mor. Ess. I. 174) we must separate the childish theory of the ruling passion from the telling accumulation of epigram on epigram which follows under that spurious rubric.

Or again, we might instance his Epistle to Augustus (Ep. 5) sparkling with lines of wit and pregnant sense, and yet offering as our literary history the grotesque theory, that the French style, which came in with the Restoration, was a consequence of the conquest of France in the fifteenth century.

In short, Pope, wherever he recedes from what was immediately close to him, the manners, passions, prejudices, sentiments, of his own day, has only such merit-little enough-which wit divorced from truth can have. He is at his best only where the delicacies and subtle felicities of his diction are employed to embody some transient phase of contemporary feeling. Pope has small knowledge of books. Though he was, as Sir W. Hamilton says, 'a curious reader,' he read for style, not for facts. Of history, of science, of nature, of anything except the town' he knows nothing. He just shares the ordinary prejudices of the ordinary ' wit' of his day. He was a Tory-Catholic, like any other ToryCatholic of George Il's day. His sentiments reflect the social medium in which he lived. The complex web of society, with its indefinable shades, its minute personal affinities and repul.

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