ページの画像
PDF
ePub

Twickenham; but he left his work, whatever was the reason, unfinished; and, by Benson's invitation, undertook the longer task of " Paradise Lost." Pope then desired his friend to find a scholar who should turn his Essay into Latin prose; but no such performance has ever appeared.

Pope lived at this time among the Great, with that reception and respect to which his works entitled him, and which he had not impaired by any private misconduct or factious partiality. Though Bolingbroke was his friend, Walpole Was not his enemy; but treated him with so much consideration as, at his request, to solicit and obtain from the French Minister an abbey for Mr. Southcot, whom he considered himself as obliged to reward, by this exertion of his interest, for the benefit which he had received from his attendance in a long illness.

It was said, that when the Court was at Richmond, Queen Caroline had declared her intention to visit him. This may have been only a careless effusion, thought on no more: the report of such notice, however, was soon in many mouths; and, if I do not forget or misapprehend Savage's account, Pope, pretending to decline what was not yet offered, left his house for a time, not, I suppose, for any other reason than lest he should be thought to stay at home in expectation of an honour which would not be conferred. He was therefore angry at Swift, who represents him as "refusing the visits of a "Queen," because he knew that what had never been offered had never been refused.

Beside the general system of morality, supposed to be contained in the "Essay on Man," it was his intention to write distinct poems upon tlie different duties or conditions of life; one of which is the Epistle to Lord Bathurst (1733) on the " Use of "Riches," a piece on which he declared great labour to have been bestowed.*

Into this poem some hints are historically thrown, and some known characters are introduced, with others of which it is difficult to say how far they are real or fictitious; but the praise of Kyrl, the Man of Ross, deserves particular examination, who, after a long and pompous enumeration of his public works and private charities, is said to have diffused all those blessings from five hundred a year. Wonders are willingly told and willingly heard. The truth is, that Kyrl was a' man of known integrity and active benevolence, by whose solicitation the wealthy were persuaded to pay contributions to his charitable schemes; this influence he obtained by an example of liberality exerted to the utmost extent of his power, and was thus enabled to give more than he had. This account Mr. Victor received from the minister of the place: and I have preserved it, that the praise of a good man, being made more credible, may be more solid. Narrations of romantic and impracticable virtue, will be read with wonder, but that which is unattainable is recommended in vain; that good may be endeavoured, it must be shewn to be possible.

This is the only piece in which the author has given a hint of his religion, by ridiculing the ceremony of burning the pope, and by mentioning

[ocr errors][merged small]

with some 'indignation the inscription on the Monument.*

When this poem was first published, the dialogue, having no letters of direction, was perplexed and obscure. Pope seems to have written with no very distinct idea: for he calls that an "Epistle to "Bathurst," in which Bathurst is introduced as speaking.

He afterwards (1734) inscribed to Lord Cobham his " Characters of Men," written with close attention to the operations of the mind, and modifications of life. In this poem he has endeavoured to establish and exemplify his favourite theory of the ruling Passion, by which he means an original direction of desire to some particular object; an innate affection, which gives all action a determinate and invariable tendency, and operates upon the whole system of life, either openly, or more secretly, by the intervention of some accidental or subordinate propension.

Of any passion, thus innate and irresistible, the existence may be reasonably doubted. Human characters are by no means constant; men change by change of place, of fortune, of acquaintance; he who is at one time a lover of pleasure, is at another a lover of money. Those indeed who attain any excellence, commonly spend life in one pursuit; for excellence is not often gained upon easier terms. But to the particular species of excellence men are directed, not by an ascendant planet, or predominating humour, but by the first book which

* Erected to commemorate the great Fire of London on Fish street-hill.

they read, some early conversation which tliey heard, or some accident which excited ardour and emulation.

It must at least be allowed that this riding Passion, antecedent to reason and observation, must have an object independent on human contrivance; for there can be no natural desire of artificial good. No man therefore can be born, in the strict acceptation, a lover of money; for he may be born where money does not exist: nor can he be born, in a moral sense, a lover of his country ; for society, politically regulated, is a state contradistinguished from a state of nature; and any attention to that coalition of interests which makes the happiness of a country, is possible only to those whom enquiry and reflection have enabled to comprehend it.

This doctrine is in itself pernicious as well as false; its tendency is to produce the belief of a kind of moral predestination, or overruling principle which cannot be resisted; he that admits it is prepared to comply with every desire that caprice or opportunity shall excite, and to flatter himself that he submits only to the lawful dominion of nature, in obeying the resistless authority of his ruling Passion.

Pope has formed his theory with so little skill, that, in the examples by which he illustrates and confirms it, he has confounded passions, appetites, and habits.

To the "Characters of Men," he added soon after, in an Epistle supposed to have been addressed to Martha Blount, but which the last edition has taken from her, the "Characters of Women." This poem, which was laboured with great diligence, and in the author's opinion with great success, was neglected at its first publication, as the commentator supposes, because the public was informed, by an advertisement, that it contained no character drawn from tfie Life; an assertion which Pope probably did not expect nor wish to have been believed, and« which he soon gave his readers sufficient reason to distrust, by telling them in a note that the work was. imperfect, because part of his subject was. Viee too high to be yet exposed.

The time however soon came, in which it was safe to display the Duchess of Marlborough under the name of Atossa; and her character was inserted with no great honour to the writer's gratitude.

He published from time to time (between 1730 and 1740} Imitations* of different poems of Horace, generally with his name, and once, as was suspected, without it. What he was upon moral principles ashamed to own, he ought to have suppressed. Of these pieces it is useless to settle the dates, as they had seldom much relation to the times, and perhaps had been long in his hands.

This mode of imitation, in which the antients are familiarised, by adapting their sentiments to modern topics, by making Horace say of Shakspeare what he originally said of Ennius, and accommodating his satires on Pantolabus and Nomentanus to the flatterers and prodigals of our own time, was first practised in the reign of Charles the Second, by Oldham and Rochester, at least I remember no instances more ancient. It is a kind of middle composition between translation and original design, which

« 前へ次へ »