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found readers; but as the facts were minute, and the characters, being either private or literary, were little known, or little regarded, they awakened no popular kindness or resentment: the book never became much the fubject of conversation ; some read it as contemporary history, and some perhaps as a model of epistolary language ; but those who read it did not talk of it. Not much therefore was added by it to fame or envy; nor do I remember that it produced either publick praise, or publick censure.
It had however, in some degree, the recommendation of novelty. Our language has few Letters, except those of ftatesinen. Howel indeed, about a century ago, published his Letters, which are commended by Morhoff, and which alone of his hundred volumes continue his memory. Loveday's Letters were printed only once; those of Herbert and Suckling are hardly known. Mrs. Phillips's (Orinda's] are equally neglected; and those of Walsh seem written as exercises, and were never sent to any living mistress or friend. Pope's epistolary excellence had an open field; he had no English rival, living or dead.
Pope is seen in this collection as connected with the other contemporary wits, and certainly suffers no difgrace in the comparison : but it must be remembered, that he had the power of favouring himself: he might have originally had publication in his mind, and have written with care, or have afterwards selected those which he had most happily conceived, or most diligently laboured : and I know not whether there does not appear something more studied and artificial in his
productions than the rest, except one long Letter by Bolingbroke, composed with all the skill and industry of
a profeffed author. It is indeed not easy to distinguish affectation from habit ; he that has once studiously formed a style, rarely writes afterwards with complete ease. Pope may be said to write always with his repu : tation in his head; Swift perhaps like a man who remembered that he was writing to Pope ; but Arbuthnot like one who lets thoughts drop from his pen as they rise into his mind.
Before these Letters appeared, he published the first part of what he persuaded himself to think a system of Ethicks, under the title of an Ejay on Man; which, if his Letter to Swift (of Sept, 14, 1725) be rightly explained by the commentator, had been eight years under his consideration, and of which he seems to have desired the success with
solicitude. He had now many open and doubtless many secret enemies. The Dunces were yet smarting with the war; and the superiority which he publickly arrogated, disposed the world to wish his humiliation.
All this he knew, and against all this he provided. His own name, and that of his friend to whom the work is inscribed, were in the first editions carefully suppressed; and the poem, being of a new kind, was ascribed to one or another, as favour determined, or conjecture wandered ; it was given, says Warburton, to every man, except himn only who could write it. Those who like only when they like the author, and who are under the dominion of a naine, condemned it; and those admired it who are willing to scatter praise at random, which while it is unappropriated excites no envy. Those friends of Pope, that were trusted with the secret, went about lavishing honours on the new
born poet, and hinting that Pope was never so much in danger from any former rival:
To those authors whom he had personally offended, and to those whose opinion the world considered as decisive, and whom he suspected of envy or malevolence; he sent his essay as a present before publication, that they might defeat their own enmity by praises, whiclt they could not afterwards decently retract.
With these precautions, in 1733 was published the first part of the Esay on Man. There had been for some time a report that Pope was busy upon a Systemi of Moraliry; but this design was not discotered in the new poem, which had a form and a title with which its readers were unacquainted. Its reception was not uniform; fome thought it a very imperfect piece, though not without good lines. While the author was unknown, fome, as will always happen, favoured him as an adventurer, and some censured hiin as an intruder ; but all thought him above neglect; the sale increased; and editions were multiplied.
The subsequent editions of the first Epistle exhibited two memorable corrections. At first,
At first, the poet and his friend
Expatiate freely o'er this scene of man,
A mighty maze of walks without a plan. For which he wrote afterwards,
A mighty maze, but not without a plan!
And spite of pride, and in thy reason's fpite,
But having afterwards discovered, or been shewn, that the trutb which subsisted in spite of reason could not be very clear, he substituted
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite. To such oversights will the most vigorous mind be liable, when it is employed at once upon argument and poetry.
The second and third Epistles were published; and Pope was, I believe, more and more suspected of writing them; at last, in 1734, he avowed the fourth, and claimed the honour of a moral poet.
In the conclusion it is sufficiently acknowledged, that the doctrine of the Ejay on Man was received from Bolingbroke, who is said to have ridiculed Pope, among those who enjoyed his confidence, as having adopted and advanced principles of which he did not perceive the consequence, and as blindly propagating opinions contrary to his own. That those communications had been consolidated into a scheme regularly drawn, and delivered to Pope, from whom it returned only transformed from prose to verse, has been reported, but hardly can be true. The Effay plainly appears the fabrick of a poet : what Bolingbroke supplied could be only the first principles; the order, illuftration, and embellishments, must all be Pope's.
These principles it is not my business to clear from obscurity, dogmatism, or falsehood; but they were not immediately examined ; philosophy and poetry have not often the same readers ; and the Essay abounded in splendid amplifications and sparkling sentences, which were read and admired, with no great attention to their ultimate purpose ; its flowers caught the eye, Vol. IV.
which did not see what the gay foliage concealed, and for a time flourished in the sunshine of universal approbation. So little was any evil tendency discovered, that, as innocence is unsuspicious, many read it for a manual of piety:
Its reputation foon invited a translator. It was first turned into French prose, and afterwards by Resnel into verse. Both translations fell into the hands of Crousaz, who first, when he had the version in prose, wrote a general censure, and afterwards reprinted Refnel's version, with particular remarks upon every paragraph.
Crousaz was a professor of Switzerland, eminent for his treatise of Logick, and his Examen de Pyrrhonisme, and, however little known or regarded here, was no mcan antagonist.' His mind was one of those in which philosophy and piety are happily united. He was accustomed to argument and disquisition, and perhaps was grown too desirous of detecting faults; but his intentions were always right, his opinions were folid, and his religion pure.
His inceffant vigilance for the promotion of piety disposed him to look with distrust upon all metaphy . fical systems of Theology, and all schemes of virtue and happiness purely rational; and therefore it was not long before he was persuaded that the politions of Pope, as they terminated for the most part in natural religion, were intended to draw mankind away froin revelation, and to represent the whole course of things as a necessary concatenation of indiffoluble fatality; and it is undeniable, that in many paffages a religious eye may calily discover expressions not very favourable to mora's, or to liberty.