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ject; metaphysical morality was to him a new stady : he was proud of his acquisitions, and, supposing himself mas ter of great secrets, was in haste to teach what he had not learned. Thus he tells us, in the first epistle, that from the nature of the Supreme Being may be deduced an order of beings such as mankind, because infinite excellence can do only what is best. He finds out that these beings must be ' somewhere;' and that all the question is, whether man be in a wrong place.' Surely if, according to the poet's Leibnitian reasoning, we may infer that man ought to be, only because he is, we may allow that his place is the right place, because he has it. Supreme Wisdom is not less infallible in disposing than in creating. But what is meant by somewhere and place, and wrong place, it had been vain to ask Pope, who probably had never asked himself.
Having exalted himself into the chair of wisdom, he tells us much that every man knows, and much that he does not know himself; that we see but little, and that the order of the universe is beyond our comprehension; an opinion not very uncommon; and that there is a chain of subordinate beings 'from infinite to nothiug,' of which himself and his readers are equally ignorant. But he gives us one comfort, which without his help he supposes unattainable, in the sition, 'that though we are fools, yet God is wise.'
This Essay affords an egregious instance of the predominance of genius, the dazzling splendour of imagery, and the seductive powers of eloqnence. Never were penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment so happily disguised. The reader feels his mind full, though he learns nothing; and, when he meets it in its new array, no longer knows the talk of his mother and his nurse. When these wonderworking sounds sink into sense, and the doctrine of the Essay, disrobed of its ornaments, is left to the powers of its naked excellence, what shall we discover?-That we are, in comparison with our Creator, very weak and ignorant, that we do not uphold the chain of existence; and that we could not make one another with more skill than we are made. We may learn yet more; that the arts of human life were copied from the instinctive operations of other animals; that, if the world be made for man, it may be said that man was made for geese. To these profound principles of natural knowledge are added some moral instructions
poequally new; that self interest, well understood, will pro. duce social concord; that men are mutual gainers by mutual benefits; that evil is sometimes balanced by good ; that human advantages are upstable and fallacious, of uncertain duration and doubtful effect; that our true honour is, not to have a great part, but to act it well; that virtue only is our own; and that happiness is always in our power.
Surely a man of no very comprehensive search may venture to say that he has heard all this before; but it was never till now recommended by such a blaze of em. bellishment, or such sweetness of melody. The vigorous contraction of some hts, the luxuriant amplification of others, the incidental illustrations, and sometimes the dignity, sometimes the softness, of the verses, enchain phi. losophy, suspend criticism, and oppress judgment by overpowering pleasure.
This is true of many paragraphs ; yet, if had nnder. taken to exemplify Pope's felicity of composition before a rigid critic, I should not select the ‘Essay on Man;' for it contains more lines unsuccessfully laboured, more harsh. ness of diction, more thoughts imperfectly expressed, more levity without elegance, and more heaviness without strength, than will easily be found in all bis other works.
The Characters of Men and Women are the product of diligent speculation upon human life; much labour bas been bestowed upon them, and Pope very seldom laboured in vain. That his excellence may be properly estimated, I recommend a comparison of his Characters of IVomen with Boileau's satire; it will then be seen with how much more perspicacity female nature is investigated and female excellence selected ; and he surely is no mean writer to whom Boilean should be found inferior. The Characters of Men, however, are written with more, if not with deeper, thought, and exhibit many passages exquisitely beautiful. The 'Gem and the Flower' will not easily be equalled. In the women's part are some defects; the character of Atossa is not so neatly finished as that of Clodio; and some of the female characters may be found perhaps more frequently among men; what is said of Philomede was true of Prior.
In the Epistles to Lord Bathurst and Lord Burlington, Dr. Warburton has endeavoured to find a train of thought which was never in the writer's head, and, to support his hypothesis, has printed that first which was published last. In one, the most valuable passage is perhaps the Elegy on 'Good Sense;' and the other, the End of the Duke of Buckingham."
The epistle to Arbuthnot, now arbitrarily called “The Prologue to the Satires,' is a performance consisting, as it seems, of many fragments wrought into one design, which by this union of scattered beauties contains more striking paragraphs than could probably have been brought together into an occasional work. As there is po stronger motive to exertion than self-defence, no part has more elegance, spirit, or dignity, than the poet's vindication of his own character. The meanest passage is the satire upon Sporus.
Of the two poems which derived their names from the year, and which are called “The Epilogue to the Satires,' it was very justly remarked by Savage, that the second was in the whole more strongly conceived, and more equally supported, but that it had no single passage equal to the contention in the first for the dignity of vice and the celebration of the triumph of corruption.
The imitations of Horace seem to have been written as relaxations of his genins. This employmeut became his favourite by its facility; the plan was ready to his hand, and nothing was required but to accommodate as he could the sentiments of an old author to recent facts or familiar images; but what is easy is seldom excellent; such imitations cannot give pleasure to common readers: the man of learning may be sometimes surprised and delighted by an unexpected parallel; but the comparison requires know. ledge of the original, which will likewise often detect strained applications. Between Roman images and English manners, there will be an irreconcileable dissimilitude, and the work will be generally uncouth and party.coloured, neither original nor translated, neither ancient cor modern.*
* In one of these poems is a couplet, to which belongs a story that I once heard the Reverend Dr. Ridley relate:
Slander, or poison dread from Delia's rage;
Hard words, or hanging, if your judge be ****,' Sir Francis Page, a judge well known in his time, conceiving that his name was meant to fill up the blank, sent his clerk to Mr. Pope, to complain of the insult. Pope told the young man that the blank might be supplied by many monosyllables, other than the judge's name :But, Sir,' said the clerk, the judge says that no other word will make sense of the passage.'
So then it
Pope had, in proportions very nicely adjusted to each other, all the qualities that constitute genius. He had invention, by which new trains of events are formed, and new scenes of imagery displayed, as in the ‘Rape of the Lock;', and by which extrinsic and adventitious embellish. ments and illustrations are connected with a knowo subject, as in the ` Essay on Criticism.' He had imagination, which strongly impresses on the writer's mind, and enables him to convey to the reader, the various forms of nature, incidents of life, and energies of passion, as in his . Eloisa,' * Windsor Forest,' and the 'Ethic Epistles.' He had judg. ment, which seleets from life or nature what the present purpose requires, and by separating the essence of things from its concomitants..often makes the representation more powerful than the reality; and he had colours of language always before him, ready to decorate his matter with every grace of elegant expression, as when he accommodates his diction to the wonderful multiplicity of Homer's sentiments and descriptions.
Poetical expression includes sound as well as meaning: • Music,' says Dryden, 'is inarticulate poetry;' among the excellences of Pope, therefore, must be mentioned the melody of his metre. By perusing the works of Dryden be discovered the most perfect fabric of English verse, and ha. bituated himself to that only which he found the best ; in consequence of which restraint, his po ry has been cen. sured as too uniformly musical, and as glutting the ear with unvaried sweetness. I suspect this objection to be the cant of those who judge by principles rather than perception; and who would even themselves bave less pleasure in his works, if he had tried to relieve attention by studied discords, or affected to break his lines and vary his pauses.
But though he was thus careful of his versification, he did not oppress his powers with superfluous rigour. He seems to have thought with Boileau, that the practice of writing might be refined till the difficulty should overbalance the advantage. The construction of his language is not al. ways strictly grammatical : with those rhymes which preseems,' says Pope, 'your master not only a judge, but a poet: as that is the case, the odds are against me. Give my respects to the judge, and tell him, I will not contend with one that has the advantage of me, and he may fill up the blank as he pleases, -H.
scription had conjoined, he contented himself without regard to Swift's remonstrances, though there was no strik. ing consonance; nor was he very careful to vary his terminations, or to refuse admission, at a small distance, to the same rhymes.
To Swift's edict for the exclusion of Alexandrines and triplets be paid little regard; he admitted them, but, in the opinion of Fenton, too rarely; he uses them more liberally in his translation than his poems.
He has a few double rhymes; and always, I think, unsuccessfully, except once in the Rape of the Lock.'
Expletives he very early ejected from his verses; but be now and then admits an epithet rather commodious than important. Each of the first six lines of the “Iliad' might lose two syllables with very little diminution of the meaning; and sometimes, after all his art and labour, one verse seems to be made for the sake of another. In his latter produc. tions the diction is sometimes vitiated by French idioms, with which Bolingbroke had perhaps infected him.
I have been told that the couplet by which he declared his own ear to be most gratified was this:
Lo, where Mæotis sleeps, and hardly flows
The freezing Tanais through a waste of snows. But the reason of this preference I cannot discover.
It is remarked by Watts, that there is scarcely a happy combination of words, or a phrase poetically elegant in the English language, which Pope has not inserted into his version of Homer. How he obtained possession of so many beauties of speech, it were desirable to know. That he gleaned from authors, obscure as well as eminent, what he thought brilliant or useful, and preserved it all in a regular collection, is not unlikely. When, in his last years, Hall's Satires were shewn him, he wished that he had seen them sooner.
New sentiments and new images others may produce; but to attempt any farther improvement of versification will be dangerous. Art and diligence have now done their best, and what shall be added will be the efforts of tedious toil and needless curiosity.
After all this, it is surely superfluous to answer the question, that has once been asked, Whether Pope was a poet? otherwise than by asking, in return, If Pope be not a