Part 2 out of 5
'T is more to guide, than spur the Muse's steed;
Restrain his fury, than provoke his speed; 85
The winged courser, like a gen'rous horse,
Shows most true mettle when you check his course.
Those RULES of old discovered, not devis'd,
Are Nature still, but Nature methodiz'd;
Nature, like liberty, is but restrain'd 90
By the same laws which first herself ordain'd.
Hear how learn'd Greece her useful rules indites,
When to repress, and when indulge our flights:
High on Parnassus' top her sons she show'd,
And pointed out those arduous paths they trod; 95
Held from afar, aloft, th' immortal prize,
And urg'd the rest by equal steps to rise.
Just precepts thus from great examples giv'n,
She drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n.
The gen'rous Critic fann'd the Poet's fire, 100
And taught the world with reason to admire.
Then Criticism the Muse's handmaid prov'd,
To dress her charms, and make her more belov'd:
But following wits from that intention stray'd,
Who could not win the mistress, woo'd the maid; 105
Against the Poets their own arms they turn'd,
Sure to hate most the men from whom they learn'd.
So modern 'Pothecaries, taught the art
By Doctor's bills to play the Doctor's part,
Bold in the practice of mistaken rules, 110
Prescribe, apply, and call their masters fools.
Some on the leaves of ancient authors prey,
Nor time nor moths e'er spoil'd so much as they.
Some drily plain, without invention's aid,
Write dull receipts how poems may be made. 115
These leave the sense, their learning to display,
And those explain the meaning quite away.
You then whose judgment the right course would steer,
Know well each ANCIENT'S proper character;
His fable, subject, scope in ev'ry page; 120
Religion, Country, genius of his Age:
Without all these at once before your eyes,
Cavil you may, but never criticize.
Be Homer's works your study and delight,
Read them by day, and meditate by night; 125
Thence form your judgment, thence your maxims bring,
And trace the Muses upward to their spring.
Still with itself compar'd, his text peruse;
And let your comment be the Mantuan Muse.
When first young Maro in his boundless mind 130
A work t' outlast immortal Rome design'd,
Perhaps he seem'd above the critic's law,
And but from Nature's fountains scorn'd to draw:
But when t' examine ev'ry part he came,
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same. 135
Convinc'd, amaz'd, he checks the bold design;
And rules as strict his labour'd work confine,
As if the Stagirite o'erlook'd each line.
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem;
To copy nature is to copy them. 140
Some beauties yet no Precepts can declare,
For there's a happiness as well as care.
Music resembles Poetry, in each
Are nameless graces which no methods teach,
And which a master-hand alone can reach. 145
If, where the rules not far enough extend,
(Since rules were made but to promote their end)
Some lucky Licence answer to the full
Th' intent propos'd, that Licence is a rule.
Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take, 150
May boldly deviate from the common track;
From vulgar bounds with brave disorder part,
And snatch a grace beyond the reach of art,
Which without passing thro' the judgment, gains
The heart, and all its end at once attains. 155
In prospects thus, some objects please our eyes,
Which out of nature's common order rise,
The shapeless rock, or hanging precipice.
Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to faults true Critics dare not mend. 160
But tho' the Ancients thus their rules invade,
(As Kings dispense with laws themselves have made)
Moderns, beware! or if you must offend
Against the precept, ne'er transgress its End;
Let it be seldom, and compell'd by need; 165
And have, at least, their precedent to plead.
The Critic else proceeds without remorse,
Seizes your fame, and puts his laws in force.
I know there are, to whose presumptuous thoughts
Those freer beauties, ev'n in them, seem faults. 170
Some figures monstrous and mis-shap'd appear,
Consider'd singly, or beheld too near,
Which, but proportion'd to their light, or place,
Due distance reconciles to form and grace.
A prudent chief not always must display 175
His pow'rs in equal ranks, and fair array.
But with th' occasion and the place comply,
Conceal his force, nay seem sometimes to fly.
Those oft are stratagems which error seem,
Nor is it Homer nods, but we that dream. 180
Still green with bays each ancient Altar stands,
Above the reach of sacrilegious hands;
Secure from Flames, from Envy's fiercer rage,
Destructive War, and all-involving Age.
See, from each clime the learn'd their incense bring! 185
Hear, in all tongues consenting Pæans ring!
In praise so just let ev'ry voice be join'd,
And fill the gen'ral chorus of mankind.
Hail, Bards triumphant! born in happier days;
Immortal heirs of universal praise! 190
Whose honours with increase of ages grow,
As streams roll down, enlarging as they flow;
Nations unborn your mighty names shall sound,
And worlds applaud that must not yet be found!
Oh may some spark of your celestial fire, 195
The last, the meanest of your sons inspire,
(That on weak wings, from far, pursues your flights;
Glows while he reads, but trembles as he writes)
To teach vain Wits a science little known,
T' admire superior sense, and doubt their own! 200
Of all the Causes which conspire to blind
Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is _Pride_, the never-failing voice of fools.
Whatever nature has in worth denied, 205
She gives in large recruits of needful pride;
For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find
What wants in blood and spirits, swell'd with wind:
Pride, where wit fails, steps in to our defence,
And fills up all the mighty Void of sense. 210
If once right reason drives that cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless day.
Trust not yourself; but your defects to know,
Make use of ev'ry friend--and ev'ry foe.
A _little learning_ is a dang'rous thing; 215
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fir'd at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts, 220
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
But more advanc'd, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleas'd at first the tow'ring Alps we try, 225
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky,
Th' eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;
But, those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen'd way, 230
Th' increasing prospect tires our wand'ring eyes,
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
A perfect Judge will read each work of Wit
With the same spirit that its author writ:
Survey the WHOLE, nor seek slight faults to find 235
Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind;
Nor lose, for that malignant dull delight,
The gen'rous pleasure to be charm'd with Wit.
But in such lays as neither ebb, nor flow,
Correctly cold, and regularly low, 240
That shunning faults, one quiet tenour keep,
We cannot blame indeed--but we may sleep.
In wit, as nature, what affects our hearts
Is not th' exactness of peculiar parts;
'Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call, 245
But the joint force and full result of all.
Thus when we view some well-proportion'd dome,
(The world's just wonder, and ev'n thine, O Rome!)
No single parts unequally surprize,
All comes united to th' admiring eyes; 250
No monstrous height, or breadth, or length appear;
The Whole at once is bold, and regular.
Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.
In every work regard the writer's End, 255
Since none can compass more than they intend;
And if the means be just, the conduct true,
Applause, in spight of trivial faults, is due;
As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit,
T' avoid great errors, must the less commit: 260
Neglect the rules each verbal Critic lays,
For not to know some trifles, is a praise.
Most Critics, fond of some subservient art,
Still make the Whole depend upon a Part:
They talk of principles, but notions prize, 265
And all to one lov'd Folly sacrifice.
Once on a time, La Mancha's Knight, they say,
A certain bard encount'ring on the way,
Discours'd in terms as just, with looks as sage,
As e'er could Dennis of the Grecian stage; 270
Concluding all were desp'rate sots and fools,
Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules.
Our Author, happy in a judge so nice,
Produc'd his Play, and begg'd the Knight's advice;
Made him observe the subject, and the plot, 275
The manners, passions, unities; what not?
All which, exact to rule, were brought about,
Were but a Combat in the lists left out.
"What! leave the Combat out?" exclaims the Knight;
Yes, or we must renounce the Stagirite. 280
"Not so, by Heav'n" (he answers in a rage),
"Knights, squires, and steeds, must enter on the stage."
So vast a throng the stage can ne'er contain.
"Then build a new, or act it in a plain."
Thus Critics, of less judgment than caprice, 285
Curious not knowing, not exact but nice,
Form short Ideas; and offend in arts
(As most in manners) by a love to parts.
Some to _Conceit_ alone their taste confine,
And glitt'ring thoughts struck out at ev'ry line; 290
Pleas'd with a work where nothing's just or fit;
One glaring Chaos and wild heap of wit.
Poets like painters, thus, unskill'd to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover ev'ry part, 295
And hide with ornaments their want of art.
True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd;
Something, whose truth convinc'd at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind. 300
As shades more sweetly recommend the light,
So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit.
For works may have more wit than does 'em good,
As bodies perish thro' excess of blood.
Others for Language all their care express, 305
And value books, as women men, for Dress:
Their praise is still--the Style is excellent:
The Sense, they humbly take upon content.
Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found, 310
False Eloquence, like the prismatic glass,
Its gaudy colours spreads on ev'ry place;
The face of Nature we no more survey,
All glares alike, without distinction gay:
But true expression, like th' unchanging Sun, 315
Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon,
It gilds all objects, but it alters none.
Expression is the dress of thought, and still
Appears more decent, as more suitable;
A vile conceit in pompous words express'd, 320
Is like a clown in regal purple dress'd:
For diff'rent styles with diff'rent subjects sort,
As several garbs with country, town, and court.
Some by old words to fame have made pretence,
Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense; 325
Such labour'd nothings, in so strange a style,
Amaze th' unlearn'd, and make the learned smile.
Unlucky, as Fungoso in the play, }
These sparks with awkward vanity display }
What the fine gentleman wore yesterday; } 330
And but so mimic ancient wits at best,
As apes our grandsires, in their doublets drest.
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold;
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old:
Be not the first by whom the new are try'd, 335
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.
But most by Numbers judge a Poet's song;
And smooth or rough, with them is right or wrong:
In the bright Muse though thousand charms conspire,
Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire; 340
Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear, }
Not mend their minds; as some to Church repair, }
Not for the doctrine, but the music there. }
These equal syllables alone require,
Tho' oft the ear the open vowe's tire; 345
While expletives their feeble aid do join;
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line:
While they ring round the same unvary'd chimes,
With sure returns of still expected rhymes;
Where-e'er you find "the cooling western breeze," 350
In the next line, it "whispers through the trees:"
If crystal streams "with pleasing murmurs creep,"
The reader's threaten'd (not in vain) with "sleep:"
Then, at the last and only couplet fraught
With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, 355
A needless Alexandrine ends the song
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, and know
What's roundly smooth or languishingly slow;
And praise the easy vigour of a line, 360
Where Denham's strength, and Waller's sweetness join.
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound must seem an Echo to the sense: 365
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar:
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw, 370
The line too labours, and the words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprize,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise! 375
While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove
Now burns with glory, and then melts with love,
Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow,
Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow:
Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found, 380
And the world's victor stood subdu'd by Sound!
The pow'r of Music all our hearts allow,
And what Timotheus was, is DRYDEN now.
Avoid Extremes; and shun the fault of such,
Who still are pleas'd too little or too much. 385
At ev'ry trifle scorn to take offence,
That always shows great pride, or little sense;
Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best,
Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest.
Yet let not each gay Turn thy rapture move; 390
For fools admire, but men of sense approve:
As things seem large which we thro' mists descry,
Dulness is ever apt to magnify.
Some foreign writers, some our own despise;
The Ancients only, or the Moderns prize. 395
Thus Wit, like Faith, by each man is apply'd
To one small sect, and all are damn'd beside.
Meanly they seek the blessing to confine,
And force that sun but on a part to shine,
Which not alone the southern wit sublimes, 400
But ripens spirits in cold northern climes;
Which from the first has shone on ages past,
Enlights the present, and shall warm the last;
Tho' each may feel increases and decays,
And see now clearer and now darker days. 405
Regard not then if Wit be old or new,
But blame the false, and value still the true.
Some ne'er advance a Judgment of their own,
But catch the spreading notion of the Town;
They reason and conclude by precedent, 410
And own stale nonsense which they ne'er invent.
Some judge of author's names, not works, and then
Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men.
Of all this servile herd the worst is he
That in proud dulness joins with Quality, 415
A constant Critic at the great man's board,
To fetch and carry nonsense for my Lord.
What woful stuff this madrigal would be,
In some starv'd hackney sonneteer, or me?
But let a Lord once own the happy lines, 420
How the wit brightens! how the style refines!
Before his sacred name flies ev'ry fault,
And each exalted stanza teems with thought!
The Vulgar thus through Imitation err;
As oft the Learn'd by being singular; 425
So much they scorn the crowd, that if the throng
By chance go right, they purposely go wrong;
So Schismatics the plain believers quit,
And are but damn'd for having too much wit.
Some praise at morning what they blame at night; 430
But always think the last opinion right.
A Muse by these is like a mistress us'd,
This hour she's idoliz'd, the next abus'd;
While their weak heads like towns unfortify'd,
'Twixt sense and nonsense daily change their side. 435
Ask them the cause; they're wiser still, they say;
And still to-morrow's wiser than to-day.
We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow,
Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so.
Once School-divines this zealous isle o'er-spread; 440
Who knew most Sentences, was deepest read;
Faith, Gospel, all, seem'd made to be disputed,
And none had sense enough to be confuted:
Scotists and Thomists, now, in peace remain,
Amidst their kindred cobwebs in Duck-lane. 445
If Faith itself has diff'rent dresses worn,
What wonder modes in Wit should take their turn?
Oft', leaving what is natural and fit,
The current folly proves the ready wit;
And authors think their reputation safe, 450
Which lives as long as fools are pleas'd to laugh.
Some valuing those of their own side or mind,
Still make themselves the measure of mankind:
Fondly we think we honour merit then,
When we but praise ourselves in other men. 455
Parties in Wit attend on those of State,
And public faction doubles private hate.
Pride, Malice, Folly, against Dryden rose,
In various shapes of Parsons, Critics, Beaus;
But sense surviv'd, when merry jests were past; 460
For rising merit will buoy up at last.
Might he return, and bless once more our eyes,
New Blackmores and new Milbourns must arise:
Nay should great Homer lift his awful head,
Zoilus again would start up from the dead. 465
Envy will merit, as its shade, pursue;
But like a shadow, proves the substance true;
For envy'd Wit, like Sol eclips'd, makes known
Th' opposing body's grossness, not its own,
When first that sun too pow'rful beams displays, 470
It draws up vapours which obscure its rays;
But ev'n those clouds at last adorn its way,
Reflect new glories, and augment the day.
Be thou the first true merit to befriend;
His praise is lost, who stays, till all commend. 475
Short is the date, alas, of modern rhymes,
And 'tis but just to let them live betimes.
No longer now that golden age appears,
When Patriarch-wits surviv'd a thousand years:
Now length of Fame (our second life) is lost, 480
And bare threescore is all ev'n that can boast;
Our sons their fathers' failing language see,
And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be.
So when the faithful pencil has design'd
Some bright Idea of the master's mind, 485
Where a new world leaps out at his command,
And ready Nature waits upon his hand;
When the ripe colours soften and unite,
And sweetly melt into just shade and light;
When mellowing years their full perfection give, 490
And each bold figure just begins to live,
The treach'rous colours the fair art betray,
And all the bright creation fades away!
Unhappy Wit, like most mistaken things,
Atones not for that envy which it brings. 495
In youth alone its empty praise we boast,
But soon the short-liv'd vanity is lost:
Like some fair flow'r the early spring supplies.
That gaily blooms, but ev'n in blooming dies.
What is this Wit, which must our cares employ? 500
The owner's wife, that other men enjoy;
Then most our trouble still when most admir'd,
And still the more we give, the more requir'd;
Whose fame with pains we guard, but lose with ease,
Sure some to vex, but never all to please; 505
'Tis what the vicious fear, the virtuous shun,
By fools't is hated, and by knaves undone!
If Wit so much from Ign'rance undergo,
Ah let not Learning too commence its foe!
Of old, those met rewards who could excel, 510
And such were prais'd who but endeavour'd well:
Tho' triumphs were to gen'rals only due,
Crowns were reserv'd to grace the soldiers too,
Now, they who reach Parnassus' lofty crown,
Employ their pains to spurn some others down; 515
And while self-love each jealous writer rules,
Contending wits become the sport of fools:
But still the worst with most regret commend,
For each ill Author is as bad a Friend.
To what base ends, and by what abject ways, 520
Are mortals urg'd thro' sacred lust of praise!
Ah ne'er so dire a thirst of glory boast,
Nor in the Critic let the Man be lost.
Good-nature and good-sense must ever join;
To err is human, to forgive, divine. 525
But if in noble minds some dregs remain
Not yet purg'd off, of spleen and sour disdain;
Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes,
Nor fear a dearth in these flagitious times.
No pardon vile Obscenity should find, 530
Tho' wit and art conspire to move your mind;
But Dulness with Obscenity must prove
As shameful sure as Impotence in love.
In the fat age of pleasure wealth and ease
Sprung the rank weed, and thriv'd with large increase: 535
When love was all an easy Monarch's care;
Seldom at council, never in a war:
Jilts rul'd the state, and statesmen farces writ;
Nay wits had pensions, and young Lords had wit:
The Fair sate panting at a Courtier's play, 540
And not a Mask went unimprov'd away:
The modest fan was lifted up no more,
And Virgins smil'd at what they blush'd before.
The following licence of a Foreign reign
Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain; 545
Then unbelieving priests reform'd the nation,
And taught more pleasant methods of salvation;
Where Heav'n's free subjects might their rights dispute,
Lest God himself should seem too absolute:
Pulpits their sacred satire learn'd to spare, 550
And Vice admir'd to find a flatt'rer there!
Encourag'd thus, Wit's Titans brav'd the skies,
And the press groan'd with licens'd blasphemies.
These monsters, Critics! with your darts engage,
Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage! 555
Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice,
Will needs mistake an author into vice;
All seems infected that th' infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye.
Learn then what MORALS Critics ought to show, 560
For't is but half a Judge's task, to know.
'Tis not enough, taste, judgment, learning, join;
In all you speak, let truth and candour shine:
That not alone what to your sense is due
All may allow; but seek your friendship too. 565
Be silent always when you doubt your sense;
And speak, tho' sure, with seeming diffidence:
Some positive, persisting fops we know,
Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so;
But you, with pleasure own your errors past, 570
And make each day a Critic on the last.
'T is not enough, your counsel still be true;
Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos'd as things forgot. 575
Without Good Breeding, truth is disapprov'd;
That only makes superior sense belov'd.
Be niggards of advice on no pretence;
For the worst avarice is that of sense.
With mean complacence ne'er betray your trust, 580
Nor be so civil as to prove unjust.
Fear not the anger of the wise to raise;
Those best can bear reproof, who merit praise.
'T were well might critics still this freedom take,
But Appius reddens at each word you speak, 585
And stares, tremendous, with a threat'ning eye,
Like some fierce Tyrant in old tapestry.
Fear most to tax an Honourable fool,
Whose right it is, uncensur'd, to be dull;
Such, without wit, are Poets when they please, 590
As without learning they can take Degrees.
Leave dang'rous truths to unsuccessful Satires,
And flattery to fulsome Dedicators,
Whom, when they praise, the world believes no more,
Than when they promise to give scribbling o'er. 595
'T is best sometimes your censure to restrain,
And charitably let the dull be vain:
Your silence there is better than your spite,
For who can rail so long as they can write?
Still humming on, their drowsy course they keep, 600
And lash'd so long, like tops, are lash'd asleep.
False steps but help them to renew the race,
As, after stumbling, Jades will mend their pace.
What crowds of these, impenitently bold,
In sounds and jingling syllables grown old, 605
Still run on Poets, in a raging vein,
Ev'n to the dregs and squeezings of the brain,
Strain out the last dull droppings of their sense,
And rhyme with all the rage of Impotence.
Such shameless Bards we have; and yet't is true, 610
There are as mad abandon'd Critics too.
The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read,
With loads of learned lumber in his head,
With his own tongue still edifies his ears,
And always list'ning to himself appears. 615
All books he reads, and all he reads assails.
From Dryden's Fables down to Durfey's Tales.
With him, most authors steal their works, or buy;
Garth did not write his own Dispensary.
Name a new Play, and he's the Poet's friend, 620
Nay show'd his faults--but when would Poets mend?
No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd,
Nor is Paul's church more safe than Paul's churchyard:
Nay, fly to Altars; there they'll talk you dead:
For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread. 625
Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks, }
It still looks home, and short excursions makes; }
But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks, }
And never shock'd, and never turn'd aside,
Bursts out, resistless, with a thund'ring tide. 630
But where's the man, who counsel can bestow,
Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know?
Unbiass'd, or by favour, or by spite;
Not dully prepossess'd, nor blindly right;
Tho' learn'd, well-bred; and tho' well-bred, sincere, 635
Modestly bold, and humanly severe:
Who to a friend his faults can freely show,
And gladly praise the merit of a foe?
Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfin'd;
A knowledge both of books and human kind: 640
Gen'rous converse; a soul exempt from pride;
And love to praise, with reason on his side?
Such once were Critics; such the happy few,
Athens and Rome in better ages knew.
The mighty Stagirite first left the shore, 645
Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore:
He steer'd securely, and discover'd far,
Led by the light of the Mæonian Star.
Poets, a race long unconfin'd, and free,
Still fond and proud of savage liberty, 650
Receiv'd his laws; and stood convinc'd 't was fit,
Who conquer'd Nature, should preside o'er Wit.
Horace still charms with graceful negligence,
And without method talks us into sense,
Will, like a friend, familiarly convey 655
The truest notions in the easiest way.
He, who supreme in judgment, as in wit,
Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ,
Yet judg'd with coolness, tho' he sung with fire;
His Precepts teach but what his works inspire. 660
Our Critics take a contrary extreme,
They judge with fury, but they write with fle'me:
Nor suffers Horace more in wrong Translations
By Wits, than Critics in as wrong Quotations.
See Dionysius Homer's thoughts refine, 665
And call new beauties forth from ev'ry line!
Fancy and art in gay Petronius please,
The scholar's learning, with the courtier's ease.
In grave Quintilian's copious work, we find
The justest rules, and clearest method join'd: 670
Thus useful arms in magazines we place,
All rang'd in order, and dispos'd with grace,
But less to please the eye, than arm the hand,
Still fit for use, and ready at command.
Thee, bold Longinus! all the Nine inspire, 675
And bless their Critic with a Poet's fire.
An ardent Judge, who zealous in his trust,
With warmth gives sentence, yet is always just;
Whose own example strengthens all his laws;
And is himself that great Sublime he draws. 680
Thus long succeeding Critics justly reign'd,
Licence repress'd, and useful laws ordain'd.
Learning and Rome alike in empire grew;
And Arts still follow'd where her Eagles flew;
From the same foes, at last, both felt their doom, 685
And the same age saw Learning fall, and Rome.
With Tyranny, then Superstition join'd,
As that the body, this enslav'd the mind;
Much was believ'd, but little understood,
And to be dull was constru'd to be good; 690
A second deluge Learning thus o'er-run,
And the Monks finish'd what the Goths begun.
At length Erasmus, that great injur'd name,
(The glory of the Priesthood, and the shame!)
Stemm'd the wild torrent of a barb'rous age, 695
And drove those holy Vandals off the stage.
But see! each Muse, in LEO'S golden days,
Starts from her trance, and trims her wither'd bays,
Rome's ancient Genius, o'er its ruins spread,
Shakes off the dust, and rears his rev'rend head. 700
Then Sculpture and her sister-arts revive;
Stones leap'd to form, and rocks began to live;
With sweeter notes each rising Temple rung;
A Raphael painted, and a Vida sung.
Immortal Vida: on whose honour'd brow 705
The Poet's bays and Critic's ivy grow:
Cremona now shal ever boast thy name,
As next in place to Mantua, next in fame!
But soon by impious arms from Latium chas'd,
Their ancient bounds the banish'd Muses pass'd; 710
Thence Arts o'er all the northern world advance,
But Critic-learning flourish'd most in France:
The rules a nation, born to serve, obeys;
And Boileau still in right of Horace sways.
But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despis'd, 715
And kept unconquer'd, and unciviliz'd;
Fierce for the liberties of wit, and bold,
We still defy'd the Romans, as of old.
Yet some there were, among the sounder few
Of those who less presum'd, and better knew, 720
Who durst assert the juster ancient cause,
And here restor'd Wit's fundamental laws.
Such was the Muse, whose rules and practice tell,
"Nature's chief Master-piece is writing well."
Such was Roscommon, not more learn'd than good, 725
With manners gen'rous as his noble blood;
To him the wit of Greece and Rome was known,
And ev'ry author's merit, but his own.
Such late was Walsh--the Muse's judge and friend,
Who justly knew to blame or to commend; 730
To failings mild, but zealous for desert;
The clearest head, and the sincerest heart.
This humble praise, lamented shade! receive,
This praise at least a grateful Muse may give:
The Muse, whose early voice you taught to sing, 735
Prescrib'd her heights, and prun'd her tender wing,
(Her guide now lost) no more attempts to rise,
But in low numbers short excursions tries:
Content, if hence th' unlearn'd their wants may view,
The learn'd reflect on what before they knew: 740
Careless of censure, nor too fond of fame;
Still pleas'd to praise, yet not afraid to blame,
Averse alike to flatter, or offend;
Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend.
* * * * *
AN ESSAY ON MAN
TO H. ST. JOHN LORD BOLINGBROKE
Having proposed to write some pieces on Human Life and Manners, such as
(to use my Lord Bacon's expression) _come home to Men's Business and
Bosoms_, I thought it more satisfactory to begin with considering _Man_
in the abstract, his _Nature_ and his _State_; since, to prove any moral
duty, to enforce any moral precept, or to examine the perfection or
imperfection of any creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know
what _condition_ and _relation_ it is placed in, and what is the proper
end and purpose of its _being_.
The science of Human Nature is, like all other sciences, reduced to a
_few clear points_: There are not _many certain truths_ in this world.
It is therefore in the Anatomy of the mind as in that of the Body; more
good will accrue to mankind by attending to the large, open, and
perceptible parts, than by studying too much such finer nerves and
vessels, the conformations and uses of which will for ever escape our
observation. The _disputes_ are all upon these last, and, I will venture
to say, they have less sharpened the _wits_ than the _hearts_ of men
against each other, and have diminished the practice, more than advanced
the theory of Morality. If I could flatter myself that this Essay has
any merit, it is in steering betwixt the extremes of doctrines seemingly
opposite, in passing over terms utterly unintelligible, and in forming a
_temperate_ yet not _inconsistent_, and a _short_ yet not _imperfect_
system of Ethics.
This I might have done in prose, but I chose verse, and even rhyme, for
two reasons. The one will appear obvious; that principles, maxims, or
precepts so written, both strike the reader more strongly at first, and
are more easily retained by him afterwards: The other may seem odd, but
is true, I found I could express them more _shortly_ this way than in
prose itself; and nothing is more certain, than that much of the _force_
as well as _grace_ of arguments or instructions, depends on their
_conciseness_. I was unable to treat this part of my subject more in
_detail_, without becoming dry and tedious; or more _poetically_,
without sacrificing perspicuity to ornament, without wandring from the
precision, or breaking the chain of reasoning: If any man can unite all
these without diminution of any of them, I freely confess he will
compass a thing above my capacity.
What is now published, is only to be considered as a _general Map_ of
MAN, marking out no more than the _greater parts_, their _extent_, their
_limits_, and their _connection_, and leaving the particular to be more
fully delineated in the charts which are to follow. Consequently, these
Epistles in their progress (if I have health and leisure to make any
progress) will be less dry, and more susceptible of poetical ornament. I
am here only opening the _fountains_, and clearing the passage. To
deduce the _rivers_, to follow them in their course, and to observe
their effects, may be a task more agreeable.
ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE I
Of the Nature and State of Man, with respect to the UNIVERSE.
_Of_ Man _in the abstract_.
I. v. 17 &c. _That we can judge only with regard to our_ own
system, _being ignorant of the_ relations _of
systems and things_.
II. v. 35, &c. _That Man is not to be deemed_ imperfect, _but a Being
suited to his_ place _and_ rank _in the creation,
agreeable to the_ general Order _of things, and
conformable to_ Ends _and_ Relations _to him unknown_.
III. v. 77, &c. _That it is partly upon his_ ignorance _of_ future
_events, and partly upon the_ hope _of a_ future
_state, that all his happiness in the present
IV. v. 109, &c. _The_ pride _of aiming at more knowledge, and
pretending to more Perfections, the cause of Man's
error and misery. The_ impiety _of putting himself in
the place of_ God, _and judging of the fitness or
unfitness, perfection or imperfection, justice or
injustice of his dispensations_.
V. v. 131, &c. _The_ absurdity _of conceiting himself the _final cause
_of the creation, or expecting that perfection in the_
moral _world, which is not in the_ natural.
VI. v. 173, &c. _The_ unreasonableness _of his complaints against_
Providence, _while on the one hand he demands the
Perfections of the Angels, and on the other the bodily
qualifications of the Brutes; though, to possess any of
the_ sensitive faculties _in a higher degree, would
render him miserable_.
VII. v. 207. _That throughout the whole visible world, an universal_
order _and_ gradation _in the sensual and mental
faculties is observed, which causes a_ subordination
_of creature to creature, and of all creatures to Man.
The gradations of_ sense, instinct, thought,
reflection, reason; _that Reason alone countervails
fill the other faculties_.
VIII. v. 233. _How much further this_ order _and_ subordination _of
living creatures may extend, above and below us; were
any part of which broken, not that part only, but the
whole connected_ creation _must be destroyed_.
IX. v. 250. _The_ extravagance, madness, _and_ pride _of such a
X. v. 281, &c. _The consequence of all, the_ absolute submission
_to the end_. _due to Providence, both as to our_ present _and_
Awake, my ST. JOHN! leave all meaner things
To low ambition, and the pride of Kings.
Let us (since Life can little more supply
Than just to look about us and to die)
Expatiate free o'er all this scene of Man; 5
A mighty maze! but not without a plan;
A Wild, where weeds and flow'rs promiscuous shoot;
Or Garden, tempting with forbidden fruit.
Together let us beat this ample field,
Try what the open, what the covert yield; 10
The latent tracts, the giddy heights, explore
Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar;
Eye Nature's walks, shoot Folly as it flies,
And catch the Manners living as they rise;
Laugh where we must, be candid where we can; 15
But vindicate the ways of God to Man.
I. Say first, of God above, or Man below,
What can we reason, but from what we know?
Of Man, what see we but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer? 20
Thro' worlds unnumber'd tho' the God be known,
'Tis ours to trace him only in our own.
He, who thro' vast immensity can pierce,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe,
Observe how system into system runs, 25
What other planets circle other suns,
What vary'd Being peoples ev'ry star,
May tell why Heav'n has made us as we are.
But of this frame the bearings, and the ties,
The strong connexions, nice dependencies, 30
Gradations just, has thy pervading soul
Look'd thro'? or can a part contain the whole?
Is the great chain, that draws all to agree,
And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee?
II. Presumptuous Man! the reason wouldst thou find, 35
Why form'd so weak, so little, and so blind?
First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
Why form'd no weaker, blinder, and no less?
Ask of thy mother earth, why oaks are made
Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade? 40
Or ask of yonder argent fields above,
Why JOVE'S satellites are less than JOVE?
Of Systems possible, if 'tis confest
That Wisdom infinite must form the best,
Where all must full or not coherent be, 45
And all that rises, rise in due degree;
Then, in the scale of reas'ning life, 'tis plain,
There must be, somewhere, such a rank as Man:
And all the question (wrangle e'er so long)
Is only this, if God has plac'd him wrong? 50
Respecting Man, whatever wrong we call,
May, must be right, as relative to all.
In human works, tho' labour'd on with pain,
A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain;
In God's, one single can its end produce; 55
Yet serves to second too some other use.
So Man, who here seems principal alone,
Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown,
Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal;
'Tis but a part we see, and not a whole. 60
When the proud steed shall know why Man restrains
His fiery course, or drives him o'er the plains:
When the dull Ox, why now he breaks the clod,
Is now a victim, and now Ægypt's God:
Then shall Man's pride and dulness comprehend 65
His actions', passions', being's, use and end;
Why doing, suff'ring, check'd, impell'd; and why
This hour a slave, the next a deity.
Then say not Man's imperfect, Heav'n in fault;
Say rather, Man's as perfect as he ought: 70
His knowledge measur'd to his state and place;
His time a moment, and a point his space.
If to be perfect in a certain sphere,
What matter, soon or late, or here or there?
The blest to day is as completely so, 75
As who began a thousand years ago.
III. Heav'n from all creatures hides the book of Fate,
All but the page prescrib'd, their present state:
From brutes what men, from men what spirits know:
Or who could suffer Being here below? 80
The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,
Had he thy Reason, would he skip and play?
Pleas'd to the last, he crops the flow'ry food,
And licks the hand just rais'd to shed his blood.
Oh blindness to the future! kindly giv'n, 85
That each may fill the circle mark'd by Heav'n:
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl'd,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world. 90
Hope humbly then: with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher Death; and God adore.
What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that Hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast: 95
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutor'd mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind: 100
His soul, proud Science never taught to stray
Far as the solar walk, or milky way;
Yet simple Nature to his hope has giv'n,
Behind the cloud-topt hill, an humbler heav'n;
Some safer world in depth of woods embrac'd, 105
Some happier island in the watry waste,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold.
To Be, contents his natural desire,
He asks no Angel's wing, no Seraph's fire; 110
But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog shall bear him company.
IV. Go, wiser thou! and, in thy scale of sense,
Weight thy Opinion against Providence;
Call imperfection what thou fancy'st such, 115
Say, here he gives too little, there too much:
Destroy all Creatures for thy sport or gust,
Yet cry, If Man's unhappy, God's unjust;
If Man alone engross not Heav'n's high care,
Alone made perfect here, immortal there: 120
Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,
Re-judge his justice, be the God of God.
In Pride, in reas'ning Pride, our error lies;
All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies.
Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes, 125
Men would be Angels, Angels would be Gods.
Aspiring to be Gods, if Angels fell,
Aspiring to be Angels, Men rebel:
And who but wishes to invert the laws
Of ORDER, sins against th' Eternal Cause. 130
V. Ask for what end the heav'nly bodies shine,
Earth for whose use? Pride answers, "'Tis for mine:
For me kind Nature wakes her genial Pow'r,
Suckles each herb, and spreads out ev'ry flow'r;
Annual for me, the grape, the rose renew 135
The juice nectareous, and the balmy dew;
For me, the mine a thousand treasures brings;
For me, health gushes from a thousand springs;
Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise;
My foot-stool earth, my canopy the skies." 140
But errs not Nature from his gracious end,
From burning suns when livid deaths descend,
When earthquakes swallow, or when tempests sweep
Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep?
"No, ('tis reply'd) the first Almighty Cause 145
Acts not by partial, but by gen'ral laws;
Th' exceptions few; some change since all began:
And what created perfect?"--Why then Man?
If the great end be human Happiness,
Then Nature deviates; and can Man do less? 150
As much that end a constant course requires
Of show'rs and sun-shine, as of Man's desires;
As much eternal springs and cloudless skies,
As Men for ever temp'rate, calm, and wise.
If plagues or earthquakes break not Heav'n's design, 155
Why then a Borgia, or a Catiline?
Who knows but he, whose hand the lightning forms,
Who heaves old Ocean, and who wings the storms;
Pours fierce Ambition in a Cæsar's mind,
Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankind? 160
From pride, from pride, our very reas'ning springs;
Account for moral, as for nat'ral things:
Why charge we Heav'n in those, in these acquit?
In both, to reason right is to submit.
Better for Us, perhaps, it might appear, 165
Were there all harmony, all virtue here;
That never air or ocean felt the wind;
That never passion discompos'd the mind.
But ALL subsists by elemental strife;
And Passions are the elements of Life. 170
The gen'ral ORDER, since the whole began,
Is kept in Nature, and is kept in Man.
VI. What would this Man? Now upward will he soar,
And little less than Angel, would be more;
Now looking downwards, just as griev'd appears 175
To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears.
Made for his use all creatures if he call,
Say what their use, had he the pow'rs of all?
Nature to these, without profusion, kind,
The proper organs, proper pow'rs assign'd; 180
Each seeming want compensated of course,
Here with degrees of swiftness, there of force;
All in exact proportion to the state;
Nothing to add, and nothing to abate.
Each beast, each insect, happy in its own: 185
Is Heav'n unkind to Man, and Man alone?
Shall he alone, whom rational we call,
Be pleas'd with nothing, if not bless'd with all?
The bliss of Man (could Pride that blessing find)
Is not to act or think beyond mankind; 190
No pow'rs of body or of soul to share,
But what his nature and his state can bear.
Why has not Man a microscopic eye?
For this plain reason, Man is not a Fly.
Say what the use, were finer optics giv'n, 195
T' inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav'n?
Or touch, if tremblingly alive all o'er,
To smart and agonize at every pore?
Or quick effluvia darting thro' the brain,
Die of a rose in aromatic pain? 200
If Nature thunder'd in his op'ning ears,
And stunn'd him with the music of the spheres,
How would he wish that Heav'n had left him still
The whisp'ring Zephyr, and the purling rill?
Who finds not Providence all good and wise, 205
Alike in what it gives, and what denies?
VII. Far as Creation's ample range extends,
The scale of sensual, mental pow'rs ascends:
Mark how it mounts, to Man's imperial race,
From the green myriads in the peopled grass: 210
What modes of sight betwixt each wide extreme,
The mole's dim curtain, and the lynx's beam:
Of smell, the headlong lioness between,
And hound sagacious on the tainted green:
Of hearing, from the life that fills the Flood, 215
To that which warbles thro' the vernal wood:
The spider's touch, how exquisitely fine!
Feels at each thread, and lives along the line:
In the nice bee, what sense so subtly true
From pois'nous herbs extracts the healing dew? 220
How Instinct varies in the grov'lling swine,
Compar'd, half-reas'ning elephant, with thine!
'Twixt that, and Reason, what a nice barrier,
For ever sep'rate, yet for ever near!
Remembrance and Reflection how ally'd; 225
What thin partitions Sense from Thought divide:
And Middle natures, how they long to join,
Yet never pass th' insuperable line!
Without this just gradation, could they be
Subjected, these to those, or all to thee? 230
The pow'rs of all subdu'd by thee alone,
Is not thy Reason all these pow'rs in one?
VIII. See, thro' this air, this ocean, and this earth,
All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how high, progressive life may go! 235
Around, how wide! how deep extend below!
Vast chain of Being! which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see,
No glass can reach; from Infinite to thee, 240
From thee to Nothing.--On superior pow'rs
Were we to press, inferior might on ours:
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroy'd:
From Nature's chain whatever link you strike, 245
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.
And, if each system in gradation roll
Alike essential to th' amazing Whole,
The least confusion but in one, not all
That system only, but the Whole must fall. 250
Let Earth unbalanc'd from her orbit fly,
Planets and Suns run lawless thro' the sky;
Let ruling Angels from their spheres be hurl'd,
Being on Being wreck'd, and world on world;
Heav'n's whole foundations to their centre nod, 255
And Nature tremble to the throne of God.
All this dread ORDER break--for whom? for thee?
Vile worm!--Oh Madness! Pride! Impiety!
IX. What if the foot, ordain'd the dust to tread,
Or hand, to toil, aspir'd to be the head? 260
What if the head, the eye, or ear repin'd
To serve mere engines to the ruling Mind?
Just as absurd for any part to claim
To be another, in this gen'ral frame:
Just as absurd, to mourn the tasks or pains, 265
The great directing MIND of ALL ordains.
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul;
That, chang'd thro' all, and yet in all the same;
Great in the earth, as in th' ethereal frame; 270
Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees,
Lives thro' all life, extends thro' all extent,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent;
Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part, 275
As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart:
As full, as perfect, in vile Man that mourns,
As the rapt Seraph that adores and burns:
To him no high, no low, no great, no small;
He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all. 280
X. Cease then, nor ORDER Imperfection name:
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
Know thy own point: This kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heav'n bestows on thee.
Submit.--In this, or any other sphere, 285
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:
Safe in the hand of one disposing Pow'r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see; 290
All Discord, Harmony not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good:
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason's spite,
One truth is clear, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT.
* * * * *
EPISTLE TO DR ARBUTHNOT
Advertisement to the first publication of this _Epistle_
This paper is a sort of bill of complaint, begun many years since, and
drawn up by snatches, as the several occasions offered. I had no
thoughts of publishing it, till it pleased some Persons of Rank and
Fortune (the Authors of _Verses to the Imitator of Horace_, and of an
_Epistle to a Doctor of Divinity from a Nobleman at Hampton Court_) to
attack, in a very extraordinary manner, not only my Writings (of which,
being public, the Public is judge), but my P_erson, Morals_, and
_Family_, whereof, to those who know me not, a truer information may be
requisite. Being divided between the necessity to say something of
_myself_, and my own laziness to undertake so awkward a task, I thought
it the shortest way to put the last hand to this Epistle. If it have any
thing pleasing, it will be that by which I am most desirous to please,
the _Truth_ and the _Sentiment_; and if any thing offensive, it will be
only to those I am least sorry to offend, _the vicious_ or _the
Many will know their own pictures in it, there being not a circumstance
but what is true; but I have, for the most part, spared their _Names_,
and they may escape being laughed at, if they please.
I would have some of them know, it was owing to the request of the
learned and candid Friend to whom it is inscribed, that I make not as
free use of theirs as they have done of mine. However, I shall have this
advantage, and honour, on my side, that whereas, by their proceeding,
any abuse may be directed at any man, no injury can possibly be done by
mine, since a nameless character can never be found out, but by its
_truth_ and _likeness_.
P. shut, shut the door, good John! fatigu'd, I said,
Tie up the knocker, say I'm sick, I'm dead.
The Dog-star rages! nay't is past a doubt,
All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out:
Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand, 5
They rave, recite, and madden round the land.
What walls can guard me, or what shade can hide?
They pierce my thickets, thro' my Grot they glide;
By land, by water, they renew the charge;
They stop the chariot, and they board the barge. 10
No place is sacred, not the Church is free;
Ev'n Sunday shines no Sabbath-day to me;
Then from the Mint walks forth the Man of rhyme,
Happy to catch me just at Dinner-time.
Is there a Parson, much bemus'd in beer, 15
A maudlin Poetess, a rhyming Peer,
A Clerk, foredoom'd his father's soul to cross,
Who pens a Stanza, when he should _engross_?
Is there, who, lock'd from ink and paper, scrawls
With desp'rate charcoal round his darken'd walls? 20
All fly to TWIT'NAM, and in humble strain
Apply to me, to keep them mad or vain.
Arthur, whose giddy son neglects the Laws,
Imputes to me and my damn'd works the cause:
Poor Cornus sees his frantic wife elope, 25
And curses Wit, and Poetry, and Pope.
Friend to my Life! (which did not you prolong,
The world had wanted many an idle song)
What _Drop_ or _Nostrum_ can this plague remove?
Or which must end me, a Fool's wrath or love? 30
A dire dilemma! either way I'm sped,
If foes, they write, if friends, they read me dead.
Seiz'd and tied down to judge, how wretched I!
Who can't be silent, and who will not lie.
To laugh, were want of goodness and of grace, 35
And to be grave, exceeds all Pow'r of face.
I sit with sad civility, I read
With honest anguish, and an aching head;
And drop at last, but in unwilling ears,
This saving counsel, "Keep your piece nine years." 40
"Nine years!" cries he, who high in Drury-lane,
Lull'd by soft Zephyrs thro' the broken pane,
Rhymes ere he wakes, and prints before _Term_ ends,
Oblig'd by hunger, and request of friends:
"The piece, you think, is incorrect? why, take it, 45
I'm all submission, what you'd have it, make it."
Three things another's modest wishes bound,
My Friendship, and a Prologue, and ten pound.
Pitholeon sends to me: "You know his Grace
I want a Patron; ask him for a Place." 50
"Pitholeon libell'd me,"--"but here's a letter
Informs you, Sir, 't was when he knew no better.
Dare you refuse him? Curll invites to dine,"
"He'll write a _Journal_, or he'll turn Divine."
Bless me! a packet.--"'Tis a stranger sues, 55
A Virgin Tragedy, an Orphan Muse."
If I dislike it, "Furies, death and rage!"
If I approve, "Commend it to the Stage."
There (thank my stars) my whole Commission ends,
The Play'rs and I are, luckily, no friends, 60
Fir'd that the house reject him, "'Sdeath I'll print it,
And shame the fools--Your Int'rest, Sir, with Lintot!"
'Lintot, dull rogue! will think your price too much:'
"Not, Sir, if you revise it, and retouch."
All my demurs but double his Attacks; 65
At last he whispers, "Do; and we go snacks."
Glad of a quarrel, straight I clap the door,
Sir, let me see your works and you no more.
'Tis sung, when Midas' Ears began to spring,
(Midas, a sacred person and a king) 70
His very Minister who spy'd them first,
(Some say his Queen) was forc'd to speak, or burst.
And is not mine, my friend, a sorer case,
When ev'ry coxcomb perks them in my face?
A. Good friend, forbear! you deal in dang'rous things. 75
I'd never name Queens, Ministers, or Kings;
Keep close to Ears, and those let asses prick;
'Tis nothing--P. Nothing? if they bite and kick?
Out with it, DUNCIAD! let the secret pass,
That secret to each fool, that he's an Ass: 80
The truth once told (and wherefore should we lie?)
The Queen of Midas slept, and so may I.
You think this cruel? take it for a rule,
No creature smarts so little as a fool.
Let peals of laughter, Codrus! round thee break, 85
Thou unconcern'd canst hear the mighty crack:
Pit, Box, and gall'ry in convulsions hurl'd,
Thou stand'st unshook amidst a bursting world.
Who shames a Scribbler? break one cobweb thro',
He spins the slight, self-pleasing thread anew: 90
Destroy his fib or sophistry, in vain,
The creature's at his dirty work again,
Thron'd in the centre of his thin designs,
Proud of a vast extent of flimsy lines!
Whom have I hurt? has Poet yet, or Peer, 95
Lost the arch'd eye-brow, or Parnassian sneer?
* * * * *
Does not one table Bavius still admit?
Still to one Bishop Philips seem a wit?
Still Sappho--A. Hold! for God's sake--you 'll offend,
No Names!--be calm!--learn prudence of a friend! 100
I too could write, and I am twice as tall;
But foes like these--P. One Flatt'rer's worse than all.
Of all mad creatures, if the learn'd are right,
It is the slaver kills, and not the bite.
A fool quite angry is quite innocent: 105
Alas! 'tis ten times worse when they _repent_.
One dedicates in high heroic prose,
And ridicules beyond a hundred foes:
One from all Grubstreet will my fame defend,
And more abusive, calls himself my friend. 110
This prints my _Letters_, that expects a bribe,
And others roar aloud, "Subscribe, subscribe."
There are, who to my person pay their court:
I cough like _Horace_, and, tho' lean, am short,
_Ammon's_ great son one shoulder had too high, 115
Such _Ovid's_ nose, and "Sir! you have an Eye"--
Go on, obliging creatures, make me see
All that disgrac'd my Betters, met in me.
Say for my comfort, languishing in bed,
"Just so immortal _Maro_ held his head:" 120
And when I die, be sure you let me know
Great _Homer_ died three thousand years ago.
Why did I write? what sin to me unknown
Dipt me in ink, my parents', or my own?
As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame, 125
I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came.
I left no calling for this idle trade,
No duty broke, no father disobey'd.
The Muse but serv'd to ease some friend, not Wife,
To help me thro' this long disease, my Life, 130
To second, ARBUTHNOT! thy Art and Care,
And teach the Being you preserv'd, to bear.
But why then publish? _Granville_ the polite,
And knowing _Walsh_, would tell me I could write;
Well-natur'd _Garth_ inflam'd with early praise; 135
And _Congreve_ lov'd, and _Swift_ endur'd my lays;
The courtly _Talbot, Somers, Sheffield_, read;
Ev'n mitred _Rochester_ would nod the head,
And _St. John's_ self (great _Dryden's_ friends before)
With open arms receiv'd one Poet more. 140
Happy my studies, when by these approv'd!
Happier their author, when by these belov'd!
From these the world will judge of men and books,
Not from the _Burnets, Oldmixons_, and _Cookes_.
Soft were my numbers; who could take offence, 145
While pure Description held the place of Sense?
Like gentle _Fanny's_ was my flow'ry theme,
A painted mistress, or a purling stream.
Yet then did _Gildon_ draw his venal quill;--
I wish'd the man a dinner, and sat still. 150
Yet then did _Dennis_ rave in furious fret;
I never answer'd,--I was not in debt.
If want provok'd, or madness made them print,
I wag'd no war with _Bedlam_ or the _Mint_.
Did some more sober Critic come abroad; 155
If wrong, I smil'd; if right, I kiss'd the rod.
Pains, reading, study, are their just pretence,
And all they want is spirit, taste, and sense.
Commas and points they set exactly right,
And 'twere a sin to rob them of their mite. 160
Yet ne'er one sprig of laurel grac'd these ribalds,
From slashing _Bentley_ down to pidling _Tibalds_:
Each wight, who reads not, and but scans and spells,
Each Word-catcher, that lives on syllables,
Ev'n such small Critics some regard may claim, 165
Preserv'd in _Milton's_ or in _Shakespeare's_ name.
Pretty! in amber to observe the forms
Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms!
The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare,
But wonder how the devil they got there. 170
Were others angry: I excus'd them too;
Well might they rage, I gave them but their due.
A man's true merit 'tis not hard to find;
But each man's secret standard in his mind,
That Casting-weight pride adds to emptiness, 175
This, who can gratify? for who can _guess?_
The Bard whom pilfer'd Pastorals renown,
Who turns a Persian tale for half a Crown,
Just writes to make his barrenness appear,
And strains, from hard-bound brains, eight lines a year; 180
He, who still wanting, tho' he lives on theft,
Steals much, spends little, yet has nothing left:
And He, who now to sense, now nonsense leaning,
Means not, but blunders round about a meaning:
And He, whose fustian's so sublimely bad, 185
It is not Poetry, but prose run mad:
All these, my modest Satire bade _translate_,
And own'd that nine such Poets made a _Tate_.
How did they fume, and stamp, and roar, and chafe!
And swear, not ADDISON himself was safe. 190
Peace to all such! but were there One whose fires
True Genius kindles, and fair Fame inspires;
Blest with each talent and each art to please,
And born to write, converse, and live with ease:
Should such a man, too fond to rule alone, 195
Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne.
View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
And hate for arts that caus'd himself to rise;
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer; 200
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;
Alike reserv'd to blame, or to commend.
A tim'rous foe, and a suspicious friend;
Dreading ev'n fools, by Flatterers besieg'd, 205
And so obliging, that he ne'er oblig'd;
Like _Cato_, give his little Senate laws,
And sit attentive to his own applause;
While Wits and Templars ev'ry sentence raise,
And wonder with a foolish face of praise:-- 210
Who but must laugh, if such a man there be?
Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?
What tho' my Name stood rubric on the walls
Or plaister'd posts, with claps, in capitals?
Or smoking forth, a hundred hawkers' load, 215
On wings of winds came flying all abroad?
I sought no homage from the Race that write;
I kept, like Asian Monarchs, from their sight:
Poems I heeded (now be-rhym'd so long)
No more than thou, great George! a birth-day song. 220
I ne'er with wits or witlings pass'd my days,
To spread about the itch of verse and praise;
Nor like a puppy, daggled thro' the town,
To fetch and carry sing-song up and down;
Nor at Rehearsals sweat, and mouth'd, and cry'd, 225
With handkerchief and orange at my side;
But sick of fops, and poetry, and prate,
To Bufo left the whole Castalian state.
Proud as Apollo on his forked hill,
Sat full-blown Bufo, puff'd by ev'ry quill; 230
Fed with soft Dedication all day long.
Horace and he went hand in hand in song.
His Library (where busts of Poets dead
And a true Pindar stood without a head,)
Receiv'd of wits an undistinguish'd race, 235
Who first his judgment ask'd, and then a place:
Much they extoll'd his pictures, much his seat,
And flatter'd ev'ry day, and some days eat:
Till grown more frugal in his riper days,
He paid some bards with port, and some with praise; 240
To some a dry rehearsal saw assign'd,
And others (harder still) he paid in kind.
_Dryden_ alone (what wonder?) came not nigh,
_Dryden_ alone escap'd this judging eye:
But still the _Great_ have kindness in reserve, 245
He help'd to bury whom he help'd to starve.
May some choice patron bless each gray goose quill!
May ev'ry _Bavius_ have his _Bufo_ still!
So, when a Statesman wants a day's defence,
Or Envy holds a whole week's war with Sense, 250
Or simple pride for flatt'ry makes demands,
May dunce by dunce be whistled off my hands!
Blest be the _Great!_ for those they take away.
And those they left me; for they left me Gay;
Left me to see neglected Genius bloom, 255
Neglected die, and tell it on his tomb:
Of all thy blameless life the sole return
My Verse, and Queenb'ry weeping o'er thy urn.
Oh let me live my own, and die so too!
(To live and die is all I have to do:) 260
Maintain a Poet's dignity and ease,
And see what friends, and read what books I please;
Above a Patron, tho' I condescend
Sometimes to call a minister my friend.
I was not born for Courts or great affairs; 265
I pay my debts, believe, and say my pray'rs;
Can sleep without a Poem in my head;
Nor know, if _Dennis_ be alive or dead.
Why am I ask'd what next shall see the light?
Heav'ns! was I born for nothing but to write? 270
Has Life no joys for me? or, (to be grave)
Have I no friend to serve, no soul to save?
"I found him close with _Swift_"--'Indeed? no doubt,'
(Cries prating _Balbus_) 'something will come out.'
'Tis all in vain, deny it as I will. 275
'No, such a Genius never can lie still;'
And then for mine obligingly mistakes
The first Lampoon Sir _Will_, or _Bubo_ makes.
Poor guiltless I! and can I choose but smile,
When ev'ry Coxcomb knows me by my _Style_? 280
Curst be the verse, how well soe'er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy man my foe,
Give Virtue scandal, Innocence a fear,
Or from the soft-eyed Virgin steal a tear!
But he who hurts a harmless neighbour's peace, 285
Insults fall'n worth, or Beauty in distress,
Who loves a Lie, lame slander helps about,
Who writes a Libel, or who copies out:
That Fop, whose pride affects a patron's name,
Yet absent, wounds an author's honest fame: 290
Who can _your_ merit _selfishly_ approve.
And show the _sense_ of it without the _love_;
Who has the vanity to call you friend,
Yet wants the honour, injur'd, to defend;
Who tells whate'er you think, whate'er you say, 295
And, if he lie not, must at least betray:
Who to the _Dean_, and _silver bell_ can swear,
And sees at _Canons_ what was never there;
Who reads, but with a lust to misapply,
Make Satire a Lampoon, and Fiction, Lie. 300
A lash like mine no honest man shall dread,
But all such babbling blockheads in his stead.
Let _Sporus_ tremble--A. What? that thing of silk,
_Sporus_, that mere white curd of Ass's milk?
Satire or sense, alas! can _Sporus_ feel? 305
Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?
P. Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings,
This painted child of dirt, that stinks and stings;
Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys,
Yet wit ne'er tastes, and beauty ne'er enjoys: 310
So well-bred spaniels civilly delight
In mumbling of the game they dare not bite.
Eternal smiles his emptiness betray,
As shallow streams run dimpling all the way.
Whether in florid impotence he speaks, 315
And, as the prompter breathes, the puppet squeaks;
Or at the ear of _Eve_, familiar Toad,
Half froth, half venom, spits himself abroad,
In puns, or politics, or tales, or lies,
Or spite, or smut, or rhymes, or blasphemies. 320
His wit all see-saw, between _that_ and _this_, }
Now high, now low, now master up, now miss, }
And he himself one vile Antithesis. }
Amphibious thing! that acting either part,
The trifling head or the corrupted heart, 325
Fop at the toilet, flatt'rer at the board,
Now trips a Lady, and now struts a Lord.
_Eve's_ tempter thus the Rabbins have exprest,
A Cherub's face, a reptile all the rest;
Beauty that shocks you, parts that none will trust; 330
Wit that can creep, and pride that licks the dust.
Not Fortune's worshipper, nor fashion's fool,
Not Lucre's madman, nor Ambition's tool,
Not proud, nor servile;--be one Poet's praise,
That, if he pleas'd, he pleas'd by manly ways: 335
That Flatt'ry, ev'n to Kings, he held a shame,
And thought a Lie in verse or prose the same.
That not in Fancy's maze he wander'd long,
But stoop'd to Truth, and moraliz'd his song:
That not for Fame, but Virtue's better end, 340
He stood the furious foe, the timid friend,
The damning critic, half approving wit,
The coxcomb hit, or fearing to be hit;
Laugh'd at the loss of friends he never had,
The dull, the proud, the wicked, and the mad; 345
The distant threats of vengeance on his head,
The blow unfelt, the tear he never shed;
The tale reviv'd, the lie so oft o'erthrown,
Th' imputed trash, and dulness not his own;
The morals blacken'd when the writings scape, 350
The libell'd person, and the pictur'd shape;
Abuse, on all he lov'd, or lov'd him, spread,
A friend in exile, or a father, dead;
The whisper, that to greatness still too near,
Perhaps, yet vibrates on his SOV'REIGN'S ear:-- 355
Welcome for thee, fair _Virtue_! all the past;
For thee, fair Virtue! welcome ev'n the _last_!
A. But why insult the poor, affront the great?
P. A knave's a knave, to me, in ev'ry state:
Alike my scorn, if he succeed or fail, 360
_Sporus_ at court, or _Japhet_ in a jail
A hireling scribbler, or a hireling peer,
Knight of the post corrupt, or of the shire;
If on a Pillory, or near a Throne,
He gain his Prince's ear, or lose his own. 365
Yet soft by nature, more a dupe than wit,
_Sappho_ can tell you how this man was bit;
This dreaded Sat'rist _Dennis_ will confess
Foe to his pride, but friend to his distress:
So humble, he has knock'd at _Tibbald's_ door, 370
Has drunk with _Cibber_, nay has rhym'd for _Moore_.
Full ten years slander'd, did he once reply?
Three thousand suns went down on _Welsted's_ lie.
To please a Mistress one aspers'd his life;
He lash'd him not, but let her be his wife. 375
Let _Budgel_ charge low _Grubstreet_ on his quill,
And write whate'er he pleas'd, except his Will;
Let the two _Curlls_ of Town and Court, abuse
His father, mother, body, soul, and muse.
Yet why? that Father held it for a rule, 380
It was a sin to call our neighbour fool:
That harmless Mother thought no wife a whore:
Hear this, and spare his family, _James Moore!_
Unspotted names, and memorable long!
If there be force in Virtue, or in Song. 385
Of gentle blood (part shed in Honour's cause.
While yet in _Britain_ Honour had applause)
Each parent sprung--A. What fortune, pray?--P. Their own,
And better got, than _Bestia's_ from the throne.
Born to no Pride, inheriting no Strife, 390
Nor marrying Discord in a noble wife,
Stranger to civil and religious rage,
The good man walk'd innoxious thro' his age.
Nor Courts he saw, no suits would ever try,
Nor dar'd an Oath, nor hazarded a Lie. 395
Un-learn'd, he knew no schoolman's subtle art,
No language, but the language of the heart.
By Nature honest, by Experience wise,
Healthy by temp'rance, and by exercise;
His life, tho' long, to sickness past unknown, 400
His death was instant, and without a groan.
O grant me, thus to live, and thus to die!
Who sprung from Kings shall know less joy than I.
O Friend! may each domestic bliss be thine!
Be no unpleasing Melancholy mine: 405
Me, let the tender office long engage,
To rock the cradle of reposing Age,
With lenient arts extend a Mother's breath,
Make Languor smile, and smooth the bed of Death,
Explore the thought, explain the asking eye, 410
And keep a while one parent from the sky!
On cares like these if length of days attend,
May Heav'n, to bless those days, preserve my friend,
Preserve him social, cheerful, and serene,
And just as rich as when he serv'd a QUEEN. 415
A. Whether that blessing be deny'd or giv'n,
Thus far was right, the rest belongs to Heav'n.
* * * * *
ODE ON SOLITUDE
Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread, 5
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away, 10
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixt; sweet recreation;
And Innocence, which most does please 15
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie. 20
* * * * *
THE DESCENT OF DULLNESS
[From the 'Dunciad', Book IV]
In vain, in vain--the all-composing Hour
Resistless falls: the Muse obeys the Pow'r.
She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of _Night_ primæval and of _Chaos_ old!
Before her, _Fancy's_ gilded clouds decay, 5
And all its varying Rain-bows die away.
_Wit_ shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea's strain,
The sick'ning stars fade off th' ethereal plain; 10
As Argus' eyes by Hermes' wand opprest,
Clos'd one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
_Art_ after _Art_ goes out, and all is Night.
See skulking _Truth_ to her old cavern fled, 15
Mountains of Casuistry heap'd o'er her head!
_Philosophy_, that lean'd on Heav'n before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
_Physic_ of _Metaphysic_ begs defence,
And _Metaphysic_ calls for aid on _Sense_! 20
See _Mystery_ to _Mathematics_ fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
_Religion_ blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares _Morality_ expires.
For _public_ Flame, nor _private_, dares to shine; 25
Nor _human_ Spark is left, nor Glimpse _divine_!
Lo! thy dread Empire, CHAOS! is restor'd;
Light dies before thy uncreating word;
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall,
And universal Darkness buries All. 30
* * * * *
ON MR. GAY
IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY, 1732
Of Manners gentle, of Affections mild;
In Wit, a Man; Simplicity, a Child:
With native Humour temp'ring virtuous Rage,
Form'd to delight at once and lash the age:
Above Temptation, in a low Estate, 5
And uncorrupted, ev'n among the Great:
A safe Companion, and an easy Friend,
Unblam'd thro' Life, lamented in thy End.
These are Thy Honours! not that here thy Bust
Is mix'd with Heroes, or with Kings thy dust; 10
But that the Worthy and the Good shall say,
Striking their pensive bosoms--_Here_ lies GAY.
* * * * *
THE RAPE OF THE LOCK
In 1711 Pope, who had just published his 'Essay on Criticism', was
looking about for new worlds to conquer. A fortunate chance threw in his
way a subject exactly suited to his tastes and powers. He seized upon
it, dashed off his first sketch in less than a fortnight, and published
it anonymously in a 'Miscellany' issued by Lintot in 1712. But the theme
had taken firm root in his mind. Dissatisfied with his first treatment
of it, he determined, against the advice of the best critic of the day,
to recast the work, and lift it from a mere society 'jeu d'esprit' into
an elaborate mock-heroic poem. He did so and won a complete success.
Even yet, however, he was not completely satisfied and from time to time
he added a touch to his work until he finally produced the finished
picture which we know as 'The Rape of the Lock'. As it stands, it is an
almost flawless masterpiece, a brilliant picture and light-hearted
mockery of the gay society of Queen Anne's day, on the whole the most
satisfactory creation of Pope's genius, and, perhaps, the best example
of the mock-heroic in any literature.
The occasion which gave rise to 'The Rape of the Lock' has been so often
related that it requires only a brief restatement. Among the Catholic
families of Queen Anne's day, who formed a little society of their own,
Miss Arabella Fermor was a reigning belle. In a youthful frolic which
overstepped the bounds of propriety Lord Petre, a young nobleman of her
acquaintance, cut off a lock of her hair. The lady was offended, the two
families took up the quarrel, a lasting estrangement, possibly even a
duel, was threatened. At this juncture a common friend of the two
families, a Mr. Caryll, nephew of a well-known Jacobite exile for whom
he is sometimes mistaken, suggested to Pope "to write a poem to make a
jest of it," and so kill the quarrel with laughter. Pope consented,
wrote his first draft of 'The Rape of the Lock', and passed it about in
manuscript. Pope says himself that it had its effect in the two
families; certainly nothing more is heard of the feud. How Miss Fermor
received the poem is a little uncertain. Pope complains in a letter
written some months after the poem had appeared in print that "the
celebrated lady is offended." According to Johnson she liked the verses
well enough to show them to her friends, and a niece of hers said years
afterward that Mr. Pope's praise had made her aunt "very troublesome and
conceited." It is not improbable that Belinda was both flattered and
offended. Delighted with the praise of her beauty she may none the less
have felt called upon to play the part of the offended lady when the
poem got about and the ribald wits of the day began to read into it
double meanings which reflected upon her reputation. To soothe her
ruffled feelings Pope dedicated the second edition of the poem to her in
a delightful letter in which he thanked her for having permitted the
publication of the first edition to forestall an imperfect copy offered
to a bookseller, declared that the character of Belinda resembled her in
nothing but in beauty, and affirmed that he could never hope that his
poem should pass through the world half so uncensured as she had done.
It would seem that the modern critics who have undertaken to champion
Miss Fermor against what they are pleased to term the revolting behavior
of the poet are fighting a needless battle. A pretty girl who would long
since have been forgotten sat as an unconscious model to a great poet;
he made her the central figure in a brilliant picture and rendered her
name immortal. That is the whole story, and when carping critics begin
to search the poem for the improprieties of conduct to which they say
Pope alluded, one has but to answer in Pope's own words.
If to her share some female errors fall,
Look on her face, and you'll forget 'em all.
Pope's statement in the dedication that he had been forced into
publishing the first draft of the poem before his design of enlarging it
was half executed is probably to be taken, like many of his statements,
with a sufficient grain of salt. Pope had a curious habit of protesting
that he was forced into publishing his letters, poems, and other
trifles, merely to forestall the appearance of unauthorized editions. It
is more likely that it was the undoubted success of 'The Rape of the
Lock' in its first form which gave him the idea of working up the sketch
into a complete mock-heroic poem.
Examples of such a poem were familiar enough to Pope. Not to go back to
the pseudo-Homeric mock epic which relates the battle of the frogs and
mice, Vida in Italy and Boileau in France, with both of whom Pope, as
the 'Essay on Criticism' shows, was well acquainted, had done work of
this kind. Vida's description of the game of chess in his 'Scacchia
Ludus' certainly gave him the model for the game of ombre in the third
canto of 'The Rape of the Lock'; Boileau's 'Lutrin' probably suggested
to him the idea of using the mock-heroic for the purposes of satire.
Now it was a dogma of the critical creed of the day, which Pope devoutly
accepted, that every epic must have a well-recognized "machinery."
Machinery, as he kindly explained to Miss Fermor, was a "term invented
by the critics to signify that part which the deities, angels, or demons
are made to act in a poem," in short for the whole supernatural element.
Such machinery was quite wanting in the first draft of the Rape; it must
be supplied if the poem was to be a true epic, even of the comic kind.
And the machinery must be of a nature which would lend itself to the
light satiric tone of the poem. What was it to be? The employment of
what we may call Christian machinery, the angels and devils of Tasso and
Milton, was, of course, out of the question. The employment of the
classic machinery was almost as impossible. It would have been hard for
such an admirer of the classics as Pope to have taken the deities of
Olympus otherwise than seriously. And even if he had been able to treat
them humorously, the humor would have been a form of burlesque quite at
variance with what he had set out to accomplish. For Pope's purpose,
springing naturally from the occasion which set him to writing the
'Rape', was not to burlesque what was naturally lofty by exhibiting it
in a degraded light, but to show the true littleness of the trivial by
treating it in a grandiose and mock-heroic fashion, to make the quarrel
over the stolen lock ridiculous by raising it to the plane of the epic
contest before the walls of Troy.
In his perplexity a happy thought, little less in fact than an
inspiration of genius, came to Pope. He had been reading a book by a
clever French abbé treating in a satiric fashion of the doctrines of the
so-called Rosicrucians, in particular of their ideas of elemental
spirits and the influence of these spirits upon human affairs. Here was
the machinery he was looking for made to his hand. There would be no
burlesque in introducing the Rosicrucian sylphs and gnomes into a
mock-heroic poem, for few people, certainly not the author of the 'Comte
de Gabalis', took them seriously. Yet the widespread popularity of this
book, to say nothing of the existence of certain Rosicrucian societies,
had rendered their names familiar to the society for which Pope wrote.
He had but to weave them into the action of his poem, and the brilliant
little sketch of society was transformed into a true mock-epic.
The manner in which this interweaving was accomplished is one of the
most satisfactory evidences of Pope's artistic genius. He was proud of
it himself. "The making the machinery, and what was published before,
hit so well together, is," he told Spencer, "I think, one of the
greatest proofs of judgment of anything I ever did." And he might well
be proud. Macaulay, in a well-known passage, has pointed out how seldom
in the history of literature such a recasting of a poem has been
successfully accomplished. But Pope's revision of 'The Rape of the Lock'
was so successful that the original form was practically done away with.
No one reads it now but professed students of the literature of Queen
Anne's time. And so artfully has the new matter been woven into the old
that if the recasting of 'The Rape of the Lock' were not a commonplace
even in school histories of English literature, not one reader in a
hundred would suspect that the original sketch had been revised and
enlarged to more than twice its length. It would be an interesting task
for the student to compare the two forms printed in this edition, to
note exactly what has been added, and the reasons for its addition, and
to mark how Pope has smoothed the junctures and blended the old and the
new. Nothing that he could do would admit him more intimately to the
secrets of Pope's mastery of his art.
A word must be said in closing as to the merits of 'The Rape of the
Lock' and its position in English literature. In the first place it is
an inimitable picture of one phase, at least, of the life of the time,
of the gay, witty, heartless society of Queen Anne's day. Slowly
recovering from the licentious excesses of the Restoration, society at
this time was perhaps unmoral rather than immoral. It was quite without
ideals, unless indeed the conventions of "good form" may be dignified by
that name. It lacked the brilliant enthusiasm of Elizabethan times as
well as the religious earnestness of the Puritans and the devotion to
patriotic and social ideals which marked a later age. Nothing, perhaps,
is more characteristic of the age than its attitude toward women. It
affected indeed a tone of high-flown adoration which thinly veiled a
cynical contempt. It styled woman a goddess and really regarded her as
little better than a doll. The passion of love had fallen from the high
estate it once possessed and become the mere relaxation of the idle
moments of a man of fashion.
In the comedies of Congreve, for example, a lover even if honestly in
love thinks it as incumbent upon him to make light of his passion before
his friends as to exaggerate it in all the forms of affected compliment
before his mistress.
In 'The Rape of the Lock' Pope has caught and fixed forever the
atmosphere of this age. It is not the mere outward form and
circumstance, the manners and customs, the patching, powdering, ogling,
gambling, of the day that he has reproduced, though his account of these
would alone suffice to secure the poem immortality as a contribution to
the history of society. The essential spirit of the age breathes from
every line. No great English poem is at once so brilliant and so empty,
so artistic, and yet so devoid of the ideals on which all high art
rests. It is incorrect, I think, to consider Pope in 'The Rape of the
Lock' as the satirist of his age. He was indeed clever enough to
perceive its follies, and witty enough to make sport of them, but it is
much to be doubted whether he was wise enough at this time to raise his
eyes to anything better. In the social satires of Pope's great admirer,
Byron, we are at no loss to perceive the ideal of personal liberty which
the poet opposes to the conventions he tears to shreds. Is it possible
to discover in 'The Rape of the Lock' any substitute for Belinda's
fancies and the Baron's freaks? The speech of Clarissa which Pope
inserted as an afterthought to point the moral of the poem recommends
Belinda to trust to merit rather than to charms. But "merit" is
explicitly identified with good humor, a very amiable quality, but
hardly of the highest rank among the moral virtues. And the avowed end
and purpose of "merit" is merely to preserve what beauty gains, the
flattering attentions of the other sex,--surely the lowest ideal ever
set before womankind. The truth is, I think, that 'The Rape of the Lock'
represents Pope's attitude toward the social life of his time in the
period of his brilliant youth. He was at once dazzled, amused, and
delighted by the gay world in which he found himself. The apples of
pleasure had not yet turned to ashes on his lips, and it is the poet's
sympathy with the world he paints which gives to the poem the air, most
characteristic of the age itself, of easy, idle, unthinking gayety. We
would not have it otherwise. There are sermons and satires in abundance
in English literature, but there is only one 'Rape of the Lock'.
The form of the poem is in perfect correspondence with its spirit. There
is an immense advance over the 'Essay on Criticism' in ease, polish, and
balance of matter and manner. And it is not merely in matters of detail
that the supremacy of the latter poem is apparent. 'The Rape of the
Lock' is remarkable among all Pope's longer poems as the one complete
and perfect whole. It is no mosaic of brilliant epigrams, but an organic
creation. It is impossible to detach any one of its witty paragraphs and
read it with the same pleasure it arouses when read in its proper
connection. Thalestris' call to arms and Clarissa's moral reproof are
integral parts of the poem. And as a result, perhaps, of its essential
unity 'The Rape of the Lock' bears witness to the presence of a power in
Pope that we should hardly have suspected from his other works, the
power of dramatic characterization. Elsewhere he has shown himself a
master of brilliant portraiture, but Belinda, the Baron, and Thalestris