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I have been told that the couplet by which he declared his own ear to be most gratified was this:
Lo, where Mæotis Neeps, 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, whịch Pope has not inserted into his version of Homer. How he obtained poffeffion 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 fentiments and new images others may produce; but to attempt any further improvement of versification will be dangerous. Art and diligence have now done their best, and what shall be added will be the effort 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 poet, where is poetry to be found? To circumfcribe poetry by a definition will only shew the narrowness of the definer, though a definition which shall exclude Pope will not easily be made,
Let us look round upon the present time, and back upon the past; let us enquire to whom the voice of mankind has decreed the wreath of poetry; let their productions be examined, and their claims stated, and the pretensions of Pope will be no more disputed. Had he given the
world only his version, the name of poet must have been allowed him: if the writer of the Iliad were to class his successors, he would assign a very high place to his translator, without requiring any other evidence of Genius.
The following Letter, of which the original is in the hands of Lord Hardwicke, was communicated to me by the kindness of Mr. Jodrell. “ To Mr. Bridges, at the Bishop of London's at
“ The favour of your Letter, with your Remarks, can never be enough acknowledged; and the speed, with which you discharged so troublesome a task, doubles the obligation.
“ I must own, you have pleased me very much by the commendations so ill bestowed upon me; but, I assure you, much more by the frankness of your censure, which I ought to take the more kindly of the two, as it is more advantageous to a scribbler to be improved in his judgment than to be soothed in his vanity. The greater part of those deviations from the Greek, which you have observed, I was led into by Chapman and Hobbes; who are (it seems) as much celebrated for their knowledge of the original, as they are decryed for the badness of their translations. Chapman pretends to have restored the genuine sense of the author, from the mistakes of all former explainers, in several hundred places : and the Cainbridge editors of the large Homer, in Greek and Latin, attributed so much to Hobbes, that they confefs they have corrected the old Latin interpretation
very often by his version. For my part, I generally took the author's meaning to be as you have explained it; yet their authority, joined to the knowledge of my own imperfectness in the language, over-ruled me. However, Sir, you may be confident I think you in the right, because you happen to be of my opinion: (for men (let them say what they will) never approve any other's sense, but as it squares with their own.) But you have made me much more proud of, and positive iņ my judgement, since it is strengthened by yours. I think your criticisms, which regard the expression, very just, and shall make my profit of them; to give you some proof that I am in earnest, I will alter three verses on your bare objection, though I have Mr. Dryden's example for each of them. And this, I hope, you will account no small piece of obedience, from one, who values the authority of one true poet above that of twenty criticks or commentators. But though I speak thus of commentators, I will continue to read carefully all I can procure, to make up, that way, for my own want of critical understanding in the original beauties of Homer. Though the greatest of them are certainly those of the Invention and Design, which are not at all confined to the language: for the distinguishing excellences of Homer are (by the confent of the best criticks of all nations) first in the manners, (which include all the speeches, as being no other than the representations of each person's manners by his words): and then in that rapture and fire, which carries you away with him, with that wonderful force, that no man who has a true poetical spirit is master of himself, while he reads him. Homer makes you
integested and concerned before you are aware, all at once; whereas Virgil does it by soft degrees. This, I be
liève, is what a transator of Homer ought principally to imitate; and it is very hard for any translator to come up to it, because the chief reason why all translations fall short of their originals is, that the very constraint they are obliged to renders them heavy and dispirited.
“ The great beauty of Homer's language, as I take it, confists in that noble fimplicity which runs through all his works; (and yet his diction, contrary to what one would imagine consistent with simplicity, is at the same time very copious). I don't know how I have run into this pedantry in a Letter, but I find I have faid too much, as well as spoken too inconsiderately; what farther thoughts I have upon this subject, I shall be glad to communicate to you (for my own improvement) when we meet; which is a happiness I very earnestly desire, as I do likewise fome opportunity of proving how much I think myself obliged to your friendship, and how truly I am, Sir, Your most faithful, humble servant,
The Criticism upon Pope's Epitaphs, which was printed in The Visitor, is placed here, being too minute and particular to be inserted in the Life.
EVERY Art is best taught by example. Nothing contributes more to the cultivation of propriety than remarks on the works of those who have moft excelled. I shall therefore endeavour, at this visit, to entertain
students in poetry with an examination of Pope's Epitaphs. 6
To define an epitaph is useless; every one knows that it is an inscription on a tomb. An epitaph, therefore, implies no particular character of writing, but may be composed in verse or prose. It is indeed commonly panegyrical; because we are seldom distinguished with a stone but by our friends; but it has no rule to restrain or mollify it, except this, that it ought not to be longer than common beholders may be expected to have leisure and patience to peruse.
1. On Charles Earl of Dorset, in the Church of Wythyham
And patriots still, or poets, deck the line. The first distich of this epitaph contains a kind of information which few would want, that the man, for whom the tomb was erected, dicd. There are indeed fome qualities worthy of praise ascribed to the dead, but none that were likely to exempt him from the lot of man, or incline us much to wonder that he should die. What is meant by judge of nature, is not easy to