THE POETICAL WORKS OF ALEXANDER POPE
With Memoir, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes
by THE REV. GEORGE GILFILLAN
LIFE OF ALEXANDER POPE
Alexander Pope was born in Lombard Street, London, on the 21st of May 1688–the year of the Revolution. His father was a linen-merchant, in thriving circumstances, and said to have noble blood in his veins. His mother was Edith or Editha Turner, daughter of William Turner, Esq., of York. Mr Carruthers, in his excellent Life of the Poet, mentions that there was an Alexander Pope, a clergyman, in the remote parish of Reay, in Caithness, who rode all the way to Twickenham to pay his great namesake a visit, and was presented by him with a copy of the subscription edition of the “Odyssey,” in five volumes quarto, which is still preserved by his descendants. Pope’s father had made about L10,000 by trade; but being a Roman Catholic, and fond of a country life, he retired from business shortly after the Revolution, at the early age of forty-six. He resided first at Kensington, and then in Binfield, in the neighbourhood of Windsor Forest. He is said to have put his money in a strong box, and to have lived on the principal. His great delight was in his garden; and both he and his wife seem to have cherished the warmest interest in their son, who was very delicate in health, and their only child. Pope’s study is still preserved in Binfield; and on the lawn, a cypress-tree which he is said to have planted, is pointed out.
Pope was a premature and precocious child. His figure was deformed–his back humped–his stature short (four feet)–his legs and arms disproportionably long. He was sometimes compared to a spider, and sometimes to a windmill. The only mark of genius lay in his bright and piercing eye. He was sickly in constitution, and required and received great tenderness and care. Once, when three years old, he narrowly escaped from an angry cow, but was wounded in the throat. He was remarkable as a child for his amiable temper; and from the sweetness of his voice, received the name of the Little Nightingale. His aunt gave him his first lessons in reading, and he soon became an enthusiastic lover of books; and by copying printed characters, taught himself to write. When eight years old, he was placed under the care of the family priest, one Bannister, who taught him the Latin and Greek grammars together. He was next removed to a Catholic seminary at Twyford, near Winchester; and while there, read Ogilby’s “Homer” and Sandys’s “Ovid” with great delight. He had not been long at this school till he wrote a severe lampoon, of two hundred lines’ length, on his master–so truly was the “boy the father of the man”–for which demi-Dunciad he was severely flogged. His father, offended at this, removed him to a London school, kept by a Mr Deane. This man taught the poet nothing; but his residence in London gave him the opportunity of attending the theatres. With these he was so captivated, that he wrote a kind of play, which was acted by his schoolfellows, consisting of speeches from Ogilby’s “Iliad,” tacked together with verses of his own. He became acquainted with Dryden’s works, and went to Wills’s coffee-house to see him. He says, “Virgilium tantum vidi.” Such transient meetings of literary orbs are among the most interesting passages in biography. Thus met Galileo with Milton, Milton with Dryden, Dryden with Pope, and Burns with Scott. Carruthers strikingly remarks, “Considering the perils and uncertainties of a literary life–its precarious rewards, feverish anxieties, mortifications, and disappointments, joined to the tyranny of the Tonsons and Lintots, and the malice and envy of dunces, all of which Dryden had long and bitterly experienced–the aged poet could hardly have looked at the delicate and deformed boy, whose preternatural acuteness and sensibility were seen in his dark eyes, without a feeling approaching to grief, had he known that he was to fight a battle like that under which he was himself then sinking, even though the Temple of Fame should at length open to receive him.” At twelve, he wrote the “Ode to Solitude;” and shortly after, his satirical piece on Elkanah Settle, and some of his translations and imitations. His next period, he says, was in Windsor Forest, where for several years he did nothing but read the classics and indite poetry. He wrote a tragedy, a comedy, and four books of an Epic called “Alexander,” all of which afterwards he committed to the flames. He translated also a portion of Statius, and Cicero “De Senectute,” and “thought himself the greatest genius that ever was.” His father encouraged him in his studies, and when his verses did not please him, sent him back to “new turn” them, saying, “These are not good rhymes.” His principal favourites were Virgil’s “Eclogues,” in Latin; and in English, Spencer, Waller, and Dryden–admiring Spencer, we presume, for his luxuriant fancy, Waller for his smooth versification, and Dryden for his vigorous sense and vivid sarcasm. In the Forest, he became acquainted with Sir William Trumbull, the retired secretary of state, a man of general accomplishments, who read, rode, conversed with the youthful poet; introduced him to old Wycherley, the dramatist; and was of material service to his views. With Wycherley, who was old, doted, and excessively vain, Pope did not continue long intimate. A coldness, springing from some criticisms which the youth ventured to make on the veteran’s poetry, crept in between them. Walsh of Abberley, in Worcestershire, a man of good sense and taste, became, after a perusal of the “Pastorals” in MS., a warm friend and kind adviser of Pope’s, who has immortalised him in more than one of his poems. Walsh told Pope that there had never hitherto appeared in Britain a poet who was at once great and correct, and exhorted him to aim at accuracy and elegance.
When fifteen, he visited London, in order to acquire a more thorough knowledge of French and Italian. At sixteen, he wrote the “Pastorals,” and a portion of “Windsor Forest,” although they were not published for some time afterwards. By his incessant exertions, he now began to feel his constitution injured. He imagined himself dying, and sent farewell letters to all his friends, including the Abbe Southcot. This gentleman communicated Pope’s case to Dr Ratcliffe, who gave him some medical directions; by following which, the poet recovered. He was advised to relax in his studies, and to ride daily; and he prudently followed the advice. Many years afterwards, he repaid the benevolent Abbe by procuring for him, through Sir Robert Walpole, the nomination to an abbey in Avignon. This is only one of many proofs that, notwithstanding his waspish temper, and his no small share of malice as well as vanity, there was a warm heart in our poet.
In 1707, Pope became acquainted with Michael Blount of Maple, Durham, near Reading; whose two sisters, Martha and Teresa, he has commemorated in various verses. On his connexion with these ladies, some mystery rests. Bowles has strongly and plausibly urged that it was not of the purest or most creditable order. Others have contended that it did not go further than the manners of the age sanctioned; and they say, “a much greater license in conversation and in epistolary correspondence was permitted between the sexes than in our decorous age!” We are not careful to try and settle such a delicate question–only we are inclined to suspect, that when common decency quits the _words_ of male and female parties in their mutual communications, it is a very ample charity that can suppose it to adhere to their _actions_. And nowhere do we find grosser language than in some of Pope’s prose epistles to the Blounts.
His “Pastorals,” after having been handed about in MS., and shewn to such reputed judges as Lord Halifax, Lord Somers, Garth, Congreve, &c., were at last, in 1709, printed in the sixth volume of Tonson’s “Miscellanies.” Like all well-finished commonplaces, they were received with instant and universal applause. It is humiliating to contrast the reception of these empty echoes of inspiration, these agreeable _centos_, with that of such genuine, although faulty poems, as Keat’s “Endymion,” Shelley’s “Queen Mab,” and Wordsworth’s “Lyrical Ballads.” Two years later, (in 1711), a far better and more characteristic production from his pen was ushered anonymously into the world. This was the “Essay on Criticism,” a work which he had first written in prose, and which discovers a ripeness of judgment, a clearness of thought, a condensation of style, and a command over the information he possesses, worthy of any age in life, and almost of any mind in time. It serves, indeed, to shew what Pope’s true forte was. That lay not so much in poetry, as in the knowledge of its principles and laws,–not so much in creation, as in criticism. He was no Homer or Shakspeare; but he might have been nearly as acute a judge of poetry as Aristotle, and nearly as eloquent an expounder of the rules of art and the glories of genius as Longinus.
In the same year, Pope printed “The Rape of the Lock,” in a volume of Miscellanies. Lord Petre had, much in the way described by the poet, stolen a lock of Miss Belle Fermor’s hair,–a feat which led to an estrangement between the families. Pope set himself to reconcile them by this beautiful poem,–a poem which has embalmed at once the quarrel and the reconciliation to all future time. In its first version, the machinery was awanting, the “lock” was a desert, the “rape” a natural event,–the small infantry of sylphs and gnomes were slumbering uncreated in the poet’s mind; but in the next edition he contrived to introduce them in a manner so easy and so exquisite, as to remind you of the variations which occur in dreams, where one wonder seems softly to slide into the bosom of another, and where beautiful and fantastic fancies grow suddenly out of realities, like the bud from the bough, or the fairy-seeming wing of the summer-cloud from the stern azure of the heavens.
A little after this, Pope became acquainted with a far greater, better, and truer man than himself, Joseph Addison. Warburton, and others, have sadly misrepresented the connexion between these two famous wits, as well as their relative intellectual positions. Addison was a more amiable and childlike person than Pope. He had much more, too, of the Christian. He was not so elaborately polished and furbished as the author of “The Rape of the Lock;” but he had, naturally, a finer and richer genius. Pope found early occasion for imagining Addison his disguised enemy. He gave him a hint of his intention to introduce the machinery into “The Rape of the Lock.” Of this, Addison disapproved, and said it was a delicious little thing already–_merum sal_. This, Pope, and some of his friends, have attributed to jealousy; but it is obvious that Addison could not foresee the success with which the machinery was to be managed, and did foresee the difficulties connected with tinkering such an exquisite production. We may allude here to the circumstances which, at a later date, produced an estrangement between these celebrated men. When Tickell, Addison’s friend, published the first book of the “Iliad,” in opposition to Pope’s version, Addison gave it the preference. This moved Pope’s indignation, and led him to assert that it was Addison’s own composition. In this conjecture he was supported by Edward Young, who had known Tickell long and intimately, and had never heard of him having written at college, as was averred, this translation. It is now, however, we believe, certain, from the MS. which still exists, that Tickell was the real author. A coldness, from this date, began between Pope and Addison. An attempt to reconcile them only made matters worse; and at last the breach was rendered irremediable by Pope’s writing the famous character of his rival, afterwards inserted in the Prologue to the Satires,–a portrait drawn with the perfection of polished malice and bitter sarcasm, but which seems more a caricature than a likeness. Whatever Addison’s faults, his conduct to Pope did not deserve such a return. The whole passage is only one of those painful incidents which disgrace the history of letters, and prove how much spleen, ingratitude, and baseness often co-exist with the highest parts. The words of Pope are as true now as ever they were–“the life of a wit is a warfare upon earth;” and a warfare in which poisoned missiles and every variety of falsehood are still common. We may also here mention, that while the friendship of Pope and Addison lasted, the former contributed the well-known prologue to the latter’s “Cato.”
One of Pope’s most intimate friends in his early days was Henry Cromwell–a distant relative of the great Oliver–a gentleman of fortune, gallantry, and literary taste, who became his agreeable and fascinating, but somewhat dangerous, companion. He is supposed to have initiated Pope into some of the fashionable follies of the town. At this time, Pope’s popularity roused one of his most formidable foes against him. This was that Cobbett of criticism, old John Dennis,–a man of strong natural powers, much learning, and a rich, coarse vein of humour; but irascible, vindictive, vain, and capricious. Pope had provoked him by an attack in his “Essay on Criticism,” and the savage old man revenged himself by a running fire of fierce diatribes against that “Essay” and “The Rape of the Lock.” Pope waited till Dennis had committed himself by a powerful but furious assault on Addison’s “Cato” (most of which Johnson has preserved in his Life of Pope); and then, partly to court Addison, and partly to indulge his spleen at the critic, wrote a prose satire, entitled, “The Narrative of Dr Robert Norris on the Frenzy of J.D.” In this, however, he overshot the mark; and Addison signified to him that he was displeased with the spirit of his narrative,–an intimation which Pope keenly resented. _This_ scornful dog would not eat the dirty pudding that was graciously flung to him; and Pope found that, without having conciliated Addison, he had made Dennis’s furnace of hate against himself seven times hotter than before.
In 1712 appeared “The Messiah,” “The Dying Christian to his Soul,” “The Temple of Fame,” and the “Elegy on the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady.” Her story is still involved in mystery. Her name is said to have been Wainsbury. She was attached to a lover above her degree,–some say to the Duke of Berry, whom she had met in her early youth in France. In despair of obtaining her desire, she hanged herself. It is curious, if true, that she was as deformed in person as Pope himself. Her family seems to have been noble. In 1713, he published “Windsor Forest,” an “Ode on St Cecilia’s Day,” and several papers in the _Guardian_–one of them being an exquisitely ironical paper, comparing Phillip’s pastorals with his own, and affecting to give them the preference–the extracts being so selected as to damage his rival’s claims. This year, also, he wrote, although he did not publish, his fine epistle to Jervas, the painter. Pope was passionately fond of the art of painting, and practised it a good deal under Jervas’s instructions, although he did not reach great proficiency. The prodigy has yet to be born who combines the characters of a great painter and a great poet.
About this time, Pope commenced preparations for the great work of translating Homer; and subscription-papers, accordingly, were issued. Dean Swift was now in England, and took a deep interest in the success of this undertaking, recommending it in coffee-houses, and introducing the subject and Pope’s name to the leading Tories. Pope met the Dean for the first time in Berkshire, where, in one of his fits of savage disgust at the conflicting parties of the period, he had retired to the house of a clergyman, and an intimacy commenced which was only terminated by death. We have often regretted that Pope had not selected some author more suitable to his genius than Homer. Horace or Lucretius, or even Ovid, would have been more congenial. His imitations of Horace shew us what he might have made of a complete translation. What a brilliant thing a version of Lucretius, in the style of the “Essay on Man,” would have been! And his “Rape of the Lock” proves that he had considerable sympathy with the elaborate fancy, although not with the meretricious graces of Ovid. But with Homer, the severely grand, the simple, the warlike, the lover and painter of all Nature’s old original forms–the ocean, the mountains, and the stars–what thorough sympathy could a man have who never saw a real mountain or a battle, and whose enthusiasm for scenery was confined to purling brooks, trim gardens, artificial grottos, and the shades of Windsor Forest? Accordingly, his Homer, although a beautiful and sparkling poem, is not a satisfactory translation of the “Iliad,” and still less of the “Odyssey.” He has trailed along the naked lances of the Homeric lines so many flowers and leaves that you can hardly recognise them, and feel that their point is deadened and their power gone. This at least is our opinion; although many to this day continue to admire these translations, and have even said that if they are not Homer, they are something better.
The “Iliad” took him six years, and was a work which cost him much anxiety as well as labour, the more as his scholarship was far from profound. He was assisted in the undertaking by Parnell (who wrote the Life of Homer), by Broome, Jortin, and others. The first volume appeared in June 1715, and the other volumes followed at irregular intervals. He began it in 1712, his twenty-fifth year, and finished it in 1718, his thirtieth year. Previous to its appearance, his remuneration for his poems had been small, and his circumstances were embarrassed; but the result of the subscription, which amounted to L5320, 4s., rendered him independent for life.
While at Binfield, he had often visited London; and there, in the society of Howe, Garth, Parnell, and the rest, used to indulge in occasional excesses, which did his feeble constitution no good; and once, according to Colley Cibber, he narrowly escaped a serious scrape in a house of a certain description,–Colley, by his own account, “helping out the tomtit for the sake of Homer!” This statement, indeed, Pope has denied; but his veracity was by no means his strongest point. After writing a “Farewell to London,” he retired, in 1715, to Twickenham, along with his parents; and remained there, cultivating his garden, digging his grottos, and diversifying his walks, till the end of his days.
Some years before, he had become acquainted with Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the most brilliant woman of her age–witty, fascinating, beautiful, and accomplished–full of enterprise and spirit, too, although decidedly French in her tastes, manners, and character. Pope fell violently in love with her, and had her undoubtedly in his eye when writing “Eloisa and Abelard,” which he did at Oxford in 1716, shortly after her going abroad, and which appeared the next year. His passion was not requited,–nay, was treated with contempt and ridicule; and he became in after years a bitter enemy and foul-mouthed detractor of the lady, although after her return, in 1718, she resided near him at Twickenham, and they seemed outwardly on good terms.
In 1717, and the succeeding year, Pope lost successively his father, Parnell, Garth, and Rowe, and bitterly felt their loss. He finished, as we have seen, the “Iliad” in 1718; but the fifth and sixth volumes, which were the last, did not appear till 1720. Its success, which at the time was triumphant, roused against him the whole host of envy and detraction. Dennis, and all Grub Street with him, were moved to assail him. Pamphlets after pamphlets were published, all of which, after reading with writhing anguish, Pope had the resolution to bind up into volumes–a great collection of calumny, which he preserved, probably, for purposes of future revenge. His own friends, on the other hand, hailed his work with applause,–Gay writing a most graceful and elegant poem, in _ottava rima_, entitled, “Mr Pope’s Welcome Home from Greece,” in which his different friends are pictured as receiving him home on the shores of Britain, after an absence of six years. Bentley, that stern old Grecian, avoided the extremes of a howling Grub Street on the one hand, and a flattering aristocracy on the other, and expressed what is, we think, the just opinion when he said, “It is a pretty poem, but it is not Homer.”
In 1721, he issued a selection from the poems of Parnell, and prefixed a very beautiful dedication to the Earl of Oxford, commencing with–
“Such were the notes thy once-loved poet sung, Till death untimely stopp’d his tuneful tongue. Oh, just beheld and lost, admired and mourn’d, With softest manners, gentlest arts adorn’d!”
In 1722, he engaged to translate the “Odyssey.” He employed Broome and Fenton as his assistants in the work; and the portions translated by them were thought as good as his. He remunerated them very handsomely. Of this work, the first three quarto volumes appeared in 1725; and the fourth and fifth, which completed the work, the following year. Pope sold the copyright to Lintot for L600.
He was busy at this time, too, with an edition of Shakspeare,–not quite worthy of either poet. It appeared in six volumes, quarto, in 1725. His preface was good, but he was deficient in antiquarian lore; and his mortification was extreme when Theobald, destined to figure in “The Dunciad,” a mere plodding hack, not only in his “Shakspeare Restored,” exposed many blunders in Pope’s edition; but issued, some years afterwards, an edition of his own, which was much better received by the public.
In 1726, there was a great gathering of the Tory wits at Twickenham. Swift had come from Ireland, and resided for some time with Pope. Bolingbroke came over occasionally from Dawley; and Gay was often there to laugh with, and be laughed at by, the rest. Swift had “Gulliver’s Travels”–the most ingenious and elaborate libel against man and God ever written–in his pocket, nearly ready for publication; and we may conceive the grim, sardonic smile with which he read it to his friends, and their tumultuous mirth. Gay was projecting his “Beggars’ Opera,” and Pope preparing some of his witty “Miscellanies.” At the end of two months, the Dean was hurried home by the tidings of Stella’s illness. He left the “Travels” behind him, for the copyright of which Pope procured L300,–a sum counted then very large, and which Swift generously handed over to Pope.
In September this year, when returning in Lord Bolingbroke’s coach from Dawley, the poet was overturned in a little rivulet near Twickenhan, and nearly drowned. The unfortunate little man! One is reminded of Gulliver’s accident in the Brobdignagian cream-pot. In trying to break the glasses of the coach, which were down, he severely cut his right hand, and lost the use of two of his fingers,–an addition to his other deformities not very desirable; and we suspect that Pope thought Voltaire (who had met him at Bolingbroke’s) but a miserable comforter, when, in a letter of pretended condolence, he asked–“Is it possible that those fingers which have written ‘The Rape of the Lock,’ and dressed Homer so becomingly in an English coat, should have been so barbarously treated? Let the hand of Dennis or of your poetasters be cut off; yours is sacred.” It was perhaps in keeping that those mutilated fingers were soon to be employed in attacking Dennis, and that the embittered poet was about, with the half of his hand, but with the whole of his heart, to write “The Dunciad.”
In the end of April 1727, we find Swift again in Twickenham, where his irritation at the continued ascendancy of Sir Robert Walpole served to infuse more venom into the “Miscellanies” concocted between him and Pope,–two volumes of which appeared in June this year. Gay, also, and the ingenious and admirable Dr Arbuthnot, contributed their quota to these volumes. Swift speedily fell ill with that giddiness and deafness which were the _avant-couriers_ of his final malady; and in August he left Twickenham, and in October, London and England, for ever.
In these “Miscellanies” there appeared the famous “Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus,” written chiefly by Pope, in which he lashed the various proficients in the bathos, under the names of flying fishes, swallows, parrots, frogs, eels, &c., and appended the initials of well-known authors to each head. This roused Grub Street, whose malice had nearly fallen asleep, into fresh fury, and he was bitterly assailed in every possible form. Like Hyder Ali, he now–to travesty Burke–“in the recesses of a mind capacious of such things, determined to leave all Duncedom an everlasting monument of vengeance, and became at length so confident of his force, so collected in his might, that he made no secret whatever of his dreadful resolution, but, compounding all the materials of fun, sarcasm, irony, and invective, into one black cloud, he hung for a while on the declivities of Richmond Hill; and whilst the authors were idly and stupidly gazing on this menacing meteor which blackened all their horizon, it suddenly burst and poured down the whole of its contents on the garrets of Grub Street. Then issued a scene of (ludicrous) woe, the like of which no eye had seen, no heart conceived, and which no tongue can adequately tell. All the horrors of literary war before known or heard of–(MacFlecknoe, the Rehearsal, &c.)–were mercy to the new tempest of havoc which burst from the brain of this remorseless poet. A storm of universal laughter filled every bookseller’s shop, and penetrated into the remotest attics. The miserable dunces, in part, were stricken mad with rage–in part, dumb with consternation. Some fled for refuge to ale, and others to ink; while not a few fell, or feared to fall, into the ‘jaws of famine.'” This singular poem was written in 1727. It was first printed surreptitiously (_i.e._, with the connivance of the author) in Dublin, and then reprinted in London. The first perfect edition, however, did not appear in London till 1729. On the day of its publication, according to Pope, a crowd of authors besieged the publisher’s shop; and by entreaties, threats, nay, cries of treason, tried to hinder its appearance. What a scene it must have been–of teeth gnashing above ragged coats, and eyes glaring through old periwigs–of faces livid with famine and ferocity; while, to complete the confusion, hawkers, booksellers, and even lords, were mixed with the crowd, clamouring for its issue! And as, says Pope, “there is no stopping a torrent with a finger, out it came.” The consequence he had foreseen. A universal howl of rage and pain burst from the aggrieved dunces, on whose naked sides the hot pitch had fallen. They pushed their rejoinders beyond the limits of civilised literary warfare; and although Pope had been coarse in his language, they were coarser far, and their blackguardism was not redeemed by wit or genius. Pope felt, or seemed to feel, entire indifference as to these assaults. On some of them, indeed, he could afford to look down with contempt, on account of their obvious _animus_ and gross language. Others, again, were neutralised by the fact, that their authors had provoked reprisals by their previous insults or ingratitude to Pope. Many, however, were too obscure for his notice; and some, such as Aaron Hill and Bentley, did not deserve to be classed with the Theobalds and Ralphs. To Hill, he, after some finessing, was compelled to make an apology. Altogether, although this production increased Pope’s fame, and the conception of his power, it did not tend to shew him in the most amiable light, or perhaps to promote his own comfort or peace of mind. After having emptied out his bile in “The Dunciad,” he ought to have become mellower in temper, and resigned satire for ever. He continued, on the contrary, as ill-natured as before; and although he afterwards flew at higher game, the iron had entered into his soul, and he remained a satirist, and therefore an unhappy man, for life.
In 1731 appeared an “Epistle on Taste,” which was very favourably received; only his enemies accused him of having satirised the Duke of Chandos in it,–a man who had befriended Pope, and had lent him money. Pope denied the charge, although it is very possible, both from his own temperament, and from the frequent occurrence of similar cases of baseness in literary life, that it may have been true. Nothing is more common than for those who have been most liberally helped, to become first the secret, and then the open, enemies of their benefactors. In 1732 appeared his epistle on “The Use of Riches,” addressed to Lord Bathurst. These two epistles were afterwards incorporated in his “Moral Essays.”
As far back as 1725, Pope had been revolving the subject of the “Essay on Man;” and, indeed, some of its couplets remind you of “pebbles which had long been rolled over and polished in the ocean of his mind.” It has been asserted, but not proved, that Lord Bolingbroke gave him the outline of this essay in prose. It is unquestionable, indeed, that Bolingbroke exercised influence over Pope’s mind, and may have suggested some of the thoughts in the Essay; but it is not probable that a man like Pope would have set himself on such a subject simply to translate from another’s mind. He published the first epistle of the Essay, in 1732, anonymously, as an experiment, and had the satisfaction to see it successful. It was received with rapture, and passed through several editions ere the author was known; although we must say that the value of this reception is considerably lessened, when we remember that the critics could not have been very acute who did not detect Pope’s “fine Roman hand” in every sentence of this brilliant but most unsatisfactory and shallow performance.
In the same year died dear, simple-minded Gay, who found in Pope a sincere mourner, and an elegant elegiast; and on the 7th of June 1733, expired good old Mrs Pope, at the age of ninety-four. Pope, who had always been a dutiful son, erected an obelisk in his own grounds to her memory, with a simple but striking inscription in Latin. During this year, he published the third part of the “Essay on Man,” an epistle to Lord Cobham, On the Knowledge and Characters of Man, and an Imitation of the First Satire of the Second Book of Horace. In this last, he attacks, in the most brutal style, his former love Lady Mary W. Montague, who replied in a piece of coarse cleverness, entitled, “Verses to the Imitator of the First Satire of the Second Book of Horace,”–verses in which she was assisted by Lord Harvey, another of Pope’s victims. He wrote, but was prudent enough to suppress, an ironical reply.
In 1734 appeared his very clever and highly-finished epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (now entitled the “Prologue to the Satires”), who was then languishing toward death. Arbuthnot, from his deathbed, solemnly advised Pope to regulate his satire, and seems to have been afraid of his personal safety from his numerous foes. Pope replied in a manly but self-defensive style. He is said about this time to have in his walks carried arms, and had a large dog as his protector; but none of the dunces had courage enough to assail him. Dennis, who was no dunce, might have ventured on it–but he had become miserably infirm, poor, and blind; and Pope had heaped coals of fire on his head, by contributing a Prologue to a play which was acted for his behoof.
Our author’s life becomes now little else than a record of multiplying labours and increasing infirmities. In 1734 appeared the fourth part of the “Essay on Man,” and the Second Satire of the Second Book of Horace. In 1735 were issued his “Characters of Women: An Epistle to a Lady” (Martha Blount). In this appears his famous character of Atossa–the Duchess of Marlborough. It is said–we fear too truly–that these lines being shewn to her Grace, as a character of the Duchess of Buckingham, she recognised in them her own likeness, and bribed Pope with a thousand pounds to suppress it. He did so religiously–as long as she was alive–and then published it! In the same year he printed a second volume of his “Miscellaneous Works,” in folio and quarto, uniform with the “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” including a versification of the Satires of Donne; also, anonymously, a production disgraceful to his memory, entitled, “Sober Advice from Horace to the Young Gentlemen about Town,” in which he commits many gross indecorums of language, and annexes the name of the great Bentley to several indecent notes. It is said that Bentley, when he read the pamphlet, cried, “‘Tis an impudent dog, but I talked against his Homer, and the _portentous cub never forgives_.”
The “Essay on Man” and the “Moral Epistles” were designed to be parts of a great system of ethics, which Pope had long revolved in his mind, and wished to incarnate in poetry. At this time occurred the strange, mysterious circumstances connected with the publication of his letters. It seems that, in 1729, Pope had recalled from his correspondents the letters he had written them, of many of which he had kept no copies. He was induced to this by the fact, that after Henry Cromwell’s death, his mistress, Mrs Thomas, who was in indigent circumstances, had sold the letters which had passed between Pope and her keeper, to Curll the bookseller, who had published them without scruple. When Pope obtained his correspondence, he, according to his own statement, burned a great many and laid past the others, after having had a copy of them taken, and deposited in Lord Oxford’s library. And his charge against Curll was, that he obtained surreptitiously some of these letters, and published them without Pope’s consent. But, ere we come to the circumstances of the publication, several other things require to be noticed. In 1733, Curll, anxious to publish a Life of Pope, advertised for information; and, in consequence, one P.T., who professed to be an old friend of Pope’s and his father’s, wrote Curll a letter, giving an account of Pope’s ancestry, which tallied exactly with what Pope himself, in a note to one of his poems, furnished the following year. P.T., in a second letter, offered to the publisher a large collection of Pope’s letters, and inclosed a copy of an advertisement he had drawn out to be published by Curll. Strange as it seems, Curll took no notice of the proposal till 1735, when, having accidentally turned up a copy of P.T.’s advertisement, he sent it to Pope, with a letter requesting an interview, and mentioning that he had some papers of P.T.’s in reference to his family history, which he would shew him. Pope replied by three advertisements in the papers, denying all knowledge of P.T. or his collection of letters or MSS. P.T. then wrote Curll that he had printed the letters at his own expense, seeking a sum of money for them, and appointing an interview at a tavern to shew him the sheets. This was countermanded the next day, P.T. professing to be afraid of Pope and his “bravoes,” although how Pope was to know of this meeting was, according to Curll, “the cream of the jest.”
Soon after, a round, fat man, with a clergyman’s gown and a barrister’s band, called on Curll, at ten o’clock at night. He said his name was Smith, that he was a cousin of P.T.’s, and shewed the book in sheets, along with about a dozen of the original letters. After a good deal of negotiation with this personage, Curll obtained fifty copies of P.T.’s printed copies, and issued a flaming advertisement announcing the publication of Pope’s letters for thirty years, and stating that the original MSS. were lying at his shop, and might be seen by any who chose,–although not a single MS. seems to have been delivered. Smith, the day that the advertisement appeared, handed over, for a sum of money, about three hundred volumes to Curll. But as in the advertisement it was stated that various letters of lords were included, and as there is a law amongst regulations of the Upper House that no peer’s letters can be published without his consent, at the instance of the Earl of Jersey, and in consequence, too, of an advertisement of Pope’s, the books were seized, and Curll, and the printer of the paper where the advertisement appeared, were ordered to appear at the bar for breach of privilege. P.T. wrote Curll to tell him to conceal all that passed between him and the publisher, and promising him more valuable letters still. Curll, however, told the whole story; and as, when the books were examined, not a single lord’s letter was found among them, Curll was acquitted, his books restored to him, the lords saying that they had been made the tools of Pope; and he proceeded to advertise the correspondence, in terms most insulting to Pope, who now felt himself compelled (!) to print, by subscription, his genuine letters, which, when printed, turned out, strange to tell, to be identical with those published by the rapacious bookseller! On viewing the whole transaction, we incline with Johnson, Warton, Bowles, Macaulay, and Carruthers, to look upon it as one of Pope’s ape-like stratagems–to believe that P.T. was himself, Smith his agent, and that his objects were partly to outwit Curll, to mystify the public, to gratify that strange love of manoeuvring which dwelt as strongly in him as in any match-making mamma, and to attract interest and attention to the genuine correspondence when it should appear. Pope, it was said, could not “drink tea without a stratagem,” and far less publish his correspondence without a series of contemptible tricks–tricks, however, in which he was true to his nature–_that_ being a curious compound of the woman and the wit, the monkey and the genius.
In 1737, four of his Imitations of Horace were published, and in the next year appeared two Dialogues, each entitled “1738,” which now form the Epilogue to the Satires. One of them was issued on the same day with Johnson’s “London.” In that year, too, he published his “Universal Prayer,”–a singular specimen of latitudinarian thought, expressed in a loose simplicity of language, quite unusual with its author. The next year he had intended to signalise by a third Dialogue, which he commenced in a vigorous style, but which he did not finish, owing to the dread of a prosecution before the Lords; and with the exception of letters (one of them interesting, as his last to Swift), his pen was altogether idle. In 1740, he did nothing but edit an edition of select Italian Poets. This year, Crousaz, a Swiss professor of note, having attacked (we think most justly) the “Essay on Man” as a mere Pagan prolusion–a thin philosophical smile cast on the Gordian knot of the mystery of the universe, instead of a _sword_ cutting, or trying to cut, it in sunder–Warburton, a man of much talent and learning, but of more astuteness and anxiety to exalt himself, came forward to the rescue, and, with a mixture of casuistical cunning and real ingenuity, tried, as some one has it, “to make Pope a Christian,” although, even in Warburton’s hands, like the dying Donald Bane in “Waverley,” he “makes but a queer Christian after all;” and his system, essentially Pantheistic, contrives to ignore the grand Scripture principles of a Fall, of a Divine Redeemer, of a Future World, and the glorious light or darkness which these and other Christian doctrines cast upon the Mystery of Man. If, however, Warburton, with all his scholastic subtlety, failed to make Pope a Christian, he made him a warm friend; Allen, Pope’s acquaintance, a rich father-in-law; and himself, by and by, the Bishop of Gloucester. Sophistry has seldom, although sometimes, been thus richly rewarded.
The last scene of Pope’s tiny and tortured existence was now at hand. But ere it closed, it must close like Dryden’s, characteristically, with an author’s quarrel. Colley Cibber had long been a favourite of Pope’s ire, and had as often retorted scorn, till at last, by laughing upon the stage at Pope’s play (partly Gay’s), entitled, “Three Hours After Marriage,” he roused the bard almost to frenzy; and Pope set to work to remodel “The Dunciad;” and, dethroning Theobald, set up Cibber as the lawful King of the Dull,–a most unfortunate substitution, since, while Theobald was the ideal of stolid, solemn stupidity, Cibber was gay, light, pert, and clever; full of pluck, too, and who overflowed in reply, with pamphlets which gave Pope both a headache and a heartache whenever he perused them.
Pope had never been strong, and for many years the variety and multitude of his frailties had been increasing. He had habitually all his life been tormented with headaches, for which he found the steam of strong coffee the chief remedy. He had hurt his stomach, too, by indulging in excess of stimulating viands, such as potted lampreys, and in copious and frequent _drams_. He was assailed at last by dropsy and asthma; and on the 30th of May 1744, he breathed his last, fifty-six years of age. He had long, he said, “been tired of the world,” and died with philosophic composure and serenity. He took the sacrament according to the form of the Roman Catholic Church; but merely, he said, because it “looked right.” A little before his death, he called for his desk, and began an essay on the immortality of the soul, and on those material things which tend to weaken or to strengthen it for immortality,– enumerating generous wines as among the latter influences, and spirituous liquors among the former! His last words were, “There is nothing that is meritorious but virtue and friendship; and, indeed, friendship itself is only a part of virtue.” Thus, “motionless and moanless,” without a word about Christ–the slightest syllable of repentance–and with a scrap of heathen morality in his mouth, died the brilliant Alexander Pope. Who is ready to say, “May my last end be like his”? His favourite Martha Blount behaved, according to some accounts, with disgusting unconcern on the occasion. So true it is, “there is no friendship among the wicked,” even although the heartless Bolingbroke, too, was by, and seems to have succeeded in squeezing out some crocodile tears, as he bent over the dying poet, and said, “O God! what is man?” His remains were, according to his wish, deposited in Twickenham church, near his parents, where the single letter P on the stone alone distinguishes the spot.
Pope’s character, apart from his poetry, which we intend criticising in our next volume, was not specially interesting or elevated. He was a spoiled child, a small self-tormentor,–full to bursting with petty spites, mean animosities, and unfounded jealousies. While he sought, with the fury of a pampered slave, to trample on those authors that were beneath him in rank or in popularity, he could on all occasions fawn with the sycophancy of a eunuch upon the noble, the rich, and the powerful. Hazlitt speaks of Moore as a “pug-dog barking from the lap of a lady of quality at inferior passengers.” The description is far more applicable to Pope. We have much allowance to make for the influence exerted on his mind by his singularly crooked frame and sickly habit of body, by his position as belonging to a proscribed faith, and by his want of training in a public school; but after all these deductions, we cannot but deplore the spectacle of one of the finest, clearest, and sharpest minds that England ever produced, so frequently reminding you of a bright sting set in the body, and steeped in the venom, of a wasp. And yet, withal, he possessed many virtues, which endeared him to a multitude of friends. He was a kind son. He was a faithful and devoted friend. He loved, if not _man_, yet many men with deep tenderness. A keen politician he was not; but, so far as he went along with his party, he was true to the common cause. In morals, he was greatly superior, in point of external decorum, to most of the wits of the time; but in falsehood, finesse, treachery, and envy, he stood at the bottom of the list, without that plea of poverty, or wretchedness, or despair, which so many of them might have urged. Uneasy, indeed, he always, and unhappy he often, was; but very much of his uneasiness and unhappiness sprung from his own fault. He attacked others, and could not bear to be attacked in return. He was a bully and a coward. He threw himself into a thorn-hedge, and was amazed that he came out covered with scratches and blood. While he shone in satirising many kinds of vice, he laid himself open to retort by his own want of delicacy. He, as well as Swift, was fond of alluding in his verse to polluted and forbidden things. _There_, and there alone, his taste deserted him; and there is something disgusting and unnatural in the combination of the elegant and the obscene–the coarse in sentiment and the polished in style. And whatever may be said for many of the amiable traits of the Man, there is very little to be said for the general tendency–so far as healthy morality and Christian principle are concerned–of the writings of the Poet.
Spring, the First Pastoral, or Damon Summer, the Second Pastoral, or Alexis
Autumn, the Third Pastoral, or Hylas and AEgon Winter, the Fourth Pastoral, or Daphne
AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM–
THE RAPE OF THE LOCK–
ODE ON ST CECILIA’S DAY
TWO CHORUSES TO THE TRAGEDY OF BRUTUS– Chorus of Athenians
Chorus of Youths and Virgins
TO THE AUTHOR OF A POEM ENTITLED SUCCESSIO ODE ON SOLITUDE
THE DYING CHRISTIAN TO HIS SOUL
ELEGY TO THE MEMORY OF AN UNFORTUNATE LADY PROLOGUE TO MR ADDISON’S TRAGEDY OF CATO IMITATIONS OF ENGLISH POETS–
Of a Lady Singing to her Lute
On a Fan of the Author’s Design
Earl of Rochester–
Earl of Dorset–
The Happy Life of a Country Parson THE TEMPLE OF FAME
ELOISA TO ABELARD
EPISTLE TO ROBERT EARL OF OXFORD AND EARL MORTIMER EPISTLE TO JAMES CRAGGS, ESQ.
EPISTLE TO MR JERVAS
EPISTLE TO MISS BLOUNT
EPISTLE TO MRS TERESA BLOUNT
TO MRS M.B. ON HER BIRTHDAY
TO MR THOMAS SOUTHERN, ON HIS BIRTHDAY, 1742 TO MR JOHN MOORE
TO MR C., ST JAMES’S PLACE
On Charles Earl of Dorset
On Sir William Trumbull
On the Hon. Simon Harcourt
On James Craggs, Esq.
Intended for Mr Rowe
On Mrs Corbet
On the Monument of the Honourable Robert Digby, and his Sister Mary On Sir Godfrey Kneller
On General Henry Withers
On Mr Elijah Fenton
On Mr Gay
Intended for Sir Isaac Newton
On Dr Francis Atterbury
On Edmund Duke of Buckingham
For One who would not be Buried in Westminster Abbey Another, on the same
On two Lovers struck dead by Lightning AN ESSAY ON MAN–
EPISTLE TO DR AKBUTHNOT; OR, PROLOGUE TO THE SATIRES SATIRES AND EPISTLES OF HORACE IMITATED– Satire I. To Mr Fortescue
Satire II. To Mr Bethel
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF THE FIRST BOOK OF HORACE– To Lord Bolingbroke
THE SIXTH EPISTLE OF THE FIRST BOOK OF HORACE– To Mr Murray
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF THE SECOND BOOK OF HORACE– To Augustus
THE SECOND EPISTLE OF THE SECOND BOOK OF HORACE– Book I. Epistle VII.
Book II. Satire VI.
Book IV. Ode I.
Part of the Ninth Ode of the Fourth Book THE SATIRES OF DR JOHN VERSIFIED–
EPILOGUE TO THE SATIRES: IN TWO DIALOGUES– Dialogue I.
POPE’S POETICAL WORKS.
I am inclined to think that both the writers of books, and the readers of them, are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations. The first seem to fancy that the world must approve whatever they produce, and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate. Methinks, as on the one hand, no single man is born with a right of controlling the opinions of all the rest; so, on the other, the world has no title to demand that the whole care and time of any particular person should be sacrificed to its entertainment. Therefore I cannot but believe that writers and readers are under equal obligations for as much fame, or pleasure, as each affords the other.
Every one acknowledges, it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly passed upon poems. A critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point: and can it then be wondered at, if the poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error? For as long as one side will make no allowances, the other will be brought to no acknowledgments.
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill-placed; poetry and criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.
Yet sure, upon the whole, a bad author deserves better usage than a bad critic; for a writer’s endeavour, for the most part, is to please his readers, and he fails merely through the misfortune of an ill judgment; but such a critic’s is to put them out of humour,–a design he could never go upon without both that and an ill temper.
I think a good deal may be said to extenuate the fault of bad poets. What we call a genius, is hard to be distinguished by a man himself from a strong inclination: and if his genius be ever so great, he cannot at first discover it any other way than by giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. The only method he has is to make the experiment by writing, and appealing to the judgment of others: now if he happens to write ill (which is certainly no sin in itself) he is immediately made an object of ridicule. I wish we had the humanity to reflect, that even the worst authors might, in their endeavour to please us, deserve something at our hands. We have no cause to quarrel with them but for their obstinacy in persisting to write; and this too may admit of alleviating circumstances. Their particular friends may be either ignorant or insincere; and the rest of the world in general is too well bred to shock them with a truth which generally their booksellers are the first that inform them of. This happens not till they have spent too much of their time to apply to any profession which might better fit their talents, and till such talents as they have are so far discredited as to be but of small service to them. For (what is the hardest case imaginable) the reputation of a man generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world; and people will establish their opinion of us from what we do at that season when we have least judgment to direct us.
On the other hand, a good poet no sooner communicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with the fear of being ridiculous. If he is made to hope he may please the world, he falls under very unlucky circumstances: for, from the moment he prints, he must expect to hear no more truth than if he were a prince, or a beauty. If he has not very good sense (and indeed there are twenty men of wit for one man of sense), his living thus in a course of flattery may put him in no small danger of becoming a coxcomb: if he has, he will consequently have so much diffidence as not to reap any great satisfaction from his praise; since, if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery, and if in his absence, it is hard to be certain of it. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as sure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine genius as with a fine fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it: and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so much good as ill-will does him harm. Then there is a third class of people, who make the largest part of mankind, those of ordinary or indifferent capacities; and these (to a man) will hate, or suspect him: a hundred honest gentlemen will dread him as a wit, and a hundred innocent women as a satirist. In a word, whatever be his fate in poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are indeed some advantages accruing from a genius to poetry, and they are all I can think of: the agreeable power of self-amusement when a man is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted into the best company; and the freedom of saying as many careless things as other people, without being so severely remarked upon.
I believe, if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration. The life of a wit is a warfare upon earth; and the present spirit of the learned world is such, that to attempt to serve it (any way) one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its sake. I could wish people would believe, what I am pretty certain they will not, that I have been much less concerned about fame than I durst declare till this occasion, when methinks I should find more credit than I could heretofore: since my writings have had their fate already, and it is too late to think of prepossessing the reader in their favour. I would plead it as some merit in me, that the world has never been prepared for these trifles by prefaces, biased by recommendations, dazzled with the names of great patrons, wheedled with fine reasons and pretences, or troubled with excuses. I confess it was want of consideration that made me an author; I writ because it amused me; I corrected because it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write; and I published because I was told I might please such as it was a credit to please. To what degree I have done this, I am really ignorant; I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleased with them at last. But I have reason to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deserves to do so: for they have always fallen short, not only of what I read of others, but even of my own ideas of poetry.
If any one should imagine I am not in earnest, I desire him to reflect that the ancients (to say the least of them) had as much genius as we: and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more complete pieces. They constantly applied themselves not only to that art, but to that single branch of an art, to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the business of their lives to correct and finish their works for posterity. If we can pretend to have used the same industry, let us expect the same immortality: though if we took the same care, we should still lie under a further misfortune: they writ in languages that became universal and everlasting, while ours are extremely limited both in extent and in duration. A mighty foundation for our pride! when the utmost we can hope is but to be read in one island, and to be thrown aside at the end of one age.
All that is left us is to recommend our productions by the imitation of the ancients; and it will be found true, that, in every age, the highest character for sense and learning has been obtained by those who have been most indebted to them. For, to say truth, whatever is very good sense must have been common sense in all times; and what we call learning is but the knowledge of the sense of our predecessors. Therefore they who say our thoughts are not our own, because they resemble the ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our fathers: and indeed it is very unreasonable that people should expect us to be scholars, and yet be angry to find us so.
I fairly confess that I have served myself all I could by reading; that I made use of the judgment of authors dead and living; that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errors, both by my friends and enemies: but the true reason these pieces are not more correct, is owing to the consideration how short a time they and I have to live: one may be ashamed to consume half one’s days in bringing sense and rhyme together; and what critic can be so unreasonable as not to leave a man time enough for any more serious employment, or more agreeable amusement?
The only plea I shall use for the favour of the public is, that I have as great a respect for it as most authors have for themselves; and that I have sacrificed much of my own self-love for its sake, in preventing not only many mean things from seeing the light, but many which I thought tolerable. I would not be like those authors who forgive themselves some particular lines for the sake of a whole poem, and _vice versa_ a whole poem for the sake of some particular lines. I believe no one qualification is so likely to make a good writer as the power of rejecting his own thoughts; and it must be this (if anything) that can give me a chance to be one. For what I have published, I can only hope to be pardoned; but for what I have burned, I deserve to be praised. On this account the world is under some obligation to me, and owes me the justice in return to look upon no verses as mine that are not inserted in this collection. And perhaps nothing could make it worth my while to own what are really so, but to avoid the imputation of so many dull and immoral things as, partly by malice, and partly by ignorance, have been ascribed to me. I must further acquit myself of the presumption of having lent my name to recommend any miscellanies or works of other men; a thing I never thought becoming a person who has hardly credit enough to answer for his own.
In this office of collecting my pieces, I am altogether uncertain whether to look upon myself as a man building a monument, or burying the dead. If time shall make it the former, may these poems (as long as they last) remain as a testimony that their author never made his talents subservient to the mean and unworthy ends of party or self-interest; the gratification of public prejudices or private passions; the flattery of the undeserving or the insult of the unfortunate. If I have written well, let it be considered that ’tis what no man can do without good sense,–a quality that not only renders one capable of being a good writer, but a good man. And if I have made any acquisition in the opinion of any one under the notion of the former, let it be continued to me under no other title than that of the latter.
But if this publication be only a more solemn funeral of my remains, I desire it may be known that I die in charity and in my senses, without any murmurs against the justice of this age, or any mad appeals to posterity. I declare I shall think the world in the right, and quietly submit to every truth which time shall discover to the prejudice of these writings; not so much as wishing so irrational a thing, as that every body should be deceived merely for my credit. However, I desire it may then be considered that there are very few things in this collection which were not written under the age of five-and-twenty: so that my youth may be made (as it never fails to be in executions) a case of compassion. That I was never so concerned about my works as to vindicate them in print; believing, if any thing was good, it would defend itself, and what was bad could never be defended. That I used no artifice to raise or continue a reputation, depreciated no dead author I was obliged to, bribed no living one with unjust praise, insulted no adversary with ill language: or, when I could not attack a rival’s works, encouraged reports against his morals. To conclude, if this volume perish, let it serve as a warning to the critics, not to take too much pains for the future to destroy such things as will die of themselves; and a _memento mori_ to some of my vain cotemporaries the poets, to teach them that, when real merit is wanting, it avails nothing to have been encouraged by the great, commended by the eminent, and favoured by the public in general.
November 10, 1716.
VARIATIONS IN THE AUTHOR’S MANUSCRIPT PREFACE.
After the words ‘severely remarked on,’ p. 2, l. 41, it followed thus–For my part, I confess, had I seen things in this view at first, the public had never been troubled either with my writings, or with this apology for them. I am sensible how difficult it is to speak of one’s self with decency: but when a man must speak of himself, the best way is to speak truth of himself, or, he may depend upon it, others will do it for him. I’ll therefore make this preface a general confession of all my thoughts of my own poetry, resolving with the same freedom to expose myself, as it is in the power of any other to expose them. In the first place, I thank God and nature that I was born with a love to poetry; for nothing more conduces to fill up all the intervals of our time, or, if rightly used, to make the whole course of life entertaining: _Cantantes licet usque_ (_minus via laedet_). ‘Tis a vast happiness to possess the pleasures of the head, the only pleasures in which a man is sufficient to himself, and the only part of him which, to his satisfaction, he can employ all day long. The Muses are _amicae omnium horarum_; and, like our gay acquaintance, the best company in the world as long as one expects no real service from them. I confess there was a time when I was in love with myself, and my first productions were the children of Self-Love upon Innocence. I had made an epic poem, and panegyrics on all the princes in Europe, and thought myself the greatest genius that ever was. I can’t but regret those delightful visions of my childhood, which, like the fine colours we see when our eyes are shut, are vanished for ever. Many trials and sad experience have so undeceived me by degrees, that I am utterly at a loss at what rate to value myself. As for fame, I shall be glad of any I can get, and not repine at any I miss; and as for vanity, I have enough to keep me from hanging myself, or even from wishing those hanged who would take it away. It was this that made me write. The sense of my faults made me correct.
After the words ‘angry to find us so,’ p. 3, l. 36, occurred the following–In the first place I own that I have used my best endeavours to the finishing these pieces. That I made what advantage I could of the judgment of authors dead and living; and that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errors by my friends and by my enemies. And that I expect no favour on account of my youth, business, want of health, or any such idle excuses. But the true reason they are not yet more correct is owing to the consideration how short a time they and I have to live. A man that can expect but sixty years may be ashamed to employ thirty in measuring syllables and bringing sense and rhyme together. To spend our youth in pursuit of riches or fame, in hopes to enjoy them when we are old; and when we are old, we find it is too late to enjoy any thing. I therefore hope the wits will pardon me, if I reserve some of my time to save my soul; and that some wise men will be of my opinion, even if I should think a part of it better spent in the enjoyments of life than in pleasing the critics.
WITH A DISCOURSE ON PASTORAL POETRY.
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR MDCCIV.
Rura mihi et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes, Flumina amem, sylvasque, inglorius!
There are not, I believe, a greater number of any sort of verses than of those which are called Pastorals; nor a smaller, than of those which are truly so. It therefore seems necessary to give some account of this kind of poem; and it is my design to comprise in this short paper the substance of those numerous dissertations the critics have made on the subject, without omitting any of their rules in my own favour. You will also find some points reconciled, about which they seem to differ, and a few remarks which, I think, have escaped their observation.
The original of poetry is ascribed to that age which succeeded the creation of the world: and as the keeping of flocks seems to have been the first employment of mankind, the most ancient sort of poetry was probably _pastoral_. It is natural to imagine, that the leisure of those ancient shepherds admitting and inviting some diversion, none was so proper to that solitary and sedentary life as singing; and that in their songs they took occasion to celebrate their own felicity. From hence a poem was invented, and afterwards improved to a perfect image of that happy time; which, by giving us an esteem for the virtues of a former age, might recommend them to the present. And since the life of shepherds was attended with more tranquility than any other rural employment, the poets chose to introduce their persons, from whom it received the name of “pastoral.”
A pastoral is an imitation of the action of a shepherd, or one considered under that character. The form of this imitation is dramatic, or narrative, or mixed of both; the fable simple, the manners not too polite nor too rustic: the thoughts are plain, yet admit a little quickness and passion, but that short and flowing: the expression humble, yet as pure as the language will afford; neat, but not florid; easy and yet lively. In short, the fable, manners, thoughts, and expressions are full of the greatest simplicity in nature.
The complete character of this poem consists in simplicity, brevity, and delicacy; the two first of which render an eclogue natural, and the last delightful.
If we would copy nature, it may be useful to take this idea along with us, that pastoral is an image of what they call the Golden Age. So that we are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be conceived then to have been, when the best of men followed the employment. To carry this resemblance yet further, it would not be amiss to give these shepherds some skill in astronomy, as far as it may be useful to that sort of life. And an air of piety to the gods should shine through the poem, which so visibly appears in all the works of antiquity: and it ought to preserve some relish of the old way of writing; the connexion should be loose, the narrations and descriptions short, and the periods concise. Yet it is not sufficient, that the sentences only be brief, the whole eclogue should be so too. For we cannot suppose poetry in those days to have been the business of men, but their recreation at vacant hours.
But with respect to the present age, nothing more conduces to make these composures natural than when some knowledge in rural affairs is discovered. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on design, and sometimes is best shown by inference; lest by too much study to seem natural, we destroy that easy simplicity from whence arises the delight. For what is inviting in this sort of poetry, proceeds not so much from the idea of that business, as of the tranquility of a country life.
We must therefore use some illusion to render a pastoral delightful; and this consists in exposing the best side only of a shepherd’s life, and in concealing its miseries. Nor is it enough to introduce shepherds discoursing together in a natural way; but a regard must be had to the subject–that it contain some particular beauty in itself, and that it be different in every eclogue. Besides, in each of them a designed scene or prospect is to be presented to our view, which should likewise have its variety. This variety is obtained in a great degree by frequent comparisons, drawn from the most agreeable objects of the country; by interrogations to things inanimate; by beautiful digressions, but those short; sometimes by insisting a little on circumstances; and lastly, by elegant turns on the words, which render the numbers extremely sweet and pleasing. As for the numbers themselves, though they are properly of the heroic measure, they should be the smoothest, the most easy and flowing imaginable.
It is by rules like these that we ought to judge of pastorals. And since the instructions given for any art are to be delivered as that art is in perfection, they must of necessity be derived from those in whom it is acknowledged so to be. It is therefore from the practice of Theocritus and Virgil (the only undisputed authors of pastoral) that the critics have drawn the foregoing notions concerning it.
Theocritus excels all others in nature and simplicity. The subjects of his ‘Idyllia’ are purely pastoral; but he is not so exact in his persons, having introduced reapers and fishermen as well as shepherds. He is apt to be too long in his descriptions, of which that of the cup in the first pastoral is a remarkable instance. In the manners he seems a little defective, for his swains are sometimes abusive and immodest, and perhaps too much inclining to rusticity; for instance, in his fourth and fifth ‘Idyllia.’ But ’tis enough that all others learnt their excellencies from him, and that his dialect alone has a secret charm in it, which no other could ever attain.
Virgil, who copies Theocritus, refines upon his original: and in all points where judgment is principally concerned, he is much superior to his master.
Though some of his subjects are not pastoral in themselves, but only seem to be such, they have a wonderful variety in them, which the Greek was a stranger to. He exceeds him in regularity and brevity, and falls short of him in nothing but simplicity and propriety of style; the first of which perhaps was the fault of his age, and the last of his language.
Among the moderns, their success has been greatest who have most endeavoured to make these ancients their pattern. The most considerable genius appears in the famous Tasso, and our Spenser. Tasso in his ‘Aminta’ has as far excelled all the pastoral writers, as in his ‘Gierusalemme’ he has outdone the epic poets of his country. But as this piece seems to have been the original of a new sort of poem–the pastoral comedy–in Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the ancients. Spenser’s Calendar, in Mr Dryden’s opinion, is the most complete work of this kind which any nation has produced ever since the time of Virgil. Not but that he may be thought imperfect in some few points. His Eclogues are somewhat too long, if we compare them with the ancients. He is sometimes too allegorical, and treats of matters of religion in a pastoral style, as the Mantuan had done before him. He has employed the lyric measure, which is contrary to the practice of the old poets. His stanza is not still the same, nor always well chosen. This last may be the reason his expression is sometimes not concise enough: for the Tetrastic has obliged him to extend his sense to the length of four lines, which would have been more closely confined in the couplet.
In the manners, thoughts, and characters, he comes near to Theocritus himself; though, notwithstanding all the care he has taken, he is certainly inferior in his dialect: for the Doric had its beauty and propriety in the time of Theocritus; it was used in part of Greece, and frequent in the mouths of many of the greatest persons: whereas the old English and country phrases of Spenser were either entirely obsolete, or spoken only by people of the lowest condition. As there is a difference betwixt simplicity and rusticity, so the expression of simple thoughts should be plain, but not clownish. The addition he has made of a Calendar to his Eclogues, is very beautiful; since by this, besides the general moral of innocence and simplicity, which is common to other authors of pastoral, he has one peculiar to himself–he compares human life to the several seasons, and at once exposes to his readers a view of the great and little worlds, in their various changes and aspects. Yet the scrupulous division of his pastorals into months has obliged him either to repeat the same description, in other words, for three months together; or, when it was exhausted before, entirely to omit it: whence it comes to pass that some of his Eclogues (as the sixth, eighth, and tenth, for example) have nothing but their titles to distinguish them. The reason is evident–because the year has not that variety in it to furnish every month with a particular description, as it may every season.
Of the following eclogues I shall only say, that these four comprehend all the subjects which the critics upon Theocritus and Virgil will allow to be fit for pastoral: that they have as much variety of description, in respect of the several seasons, as Spenser’s: that, in order to add to this variety, the several times of the day are observed, the rural employments in each season or time of day, and the rural scenes or places proper to such employments; not without some regard to the several ages of man, and the different passions proper to each age.
But after all, if they have any merit, it is to be attributed to some good old authors, whose works as I had leisure to study, so I hope I have not wanted care to imitate.
THE FIRST PASTORAL, OR DAMON.
TO SIR WILLIAM TRUMBULL.
First in these fields I try the sylvan strains, Nor blush to sport on Windsor’s blissful plains: Fair Thames, flow gently from thy sacred spring, While on thy banks Sicilian Muses sing;
Let vernal airs through trembling osiers play, And Albion’s cliffs resound the rural lay.
You that, too wise for pride, too good for power, Enjoy the glory to be great no more,
And, carrying with you all the world can boast, To all the world illustriously are lost! 10 Oh, let my Muse her slender reed inspire, Till in your native shades you tune the lyre: So when the nightingale to rest removes, The thrush may chant to the forsaken groves, But, charm’d to silence, listens while she sings, And all the aerial audience clap their wings.
Soon as the flocks shook off the nightly dews, Two swains, whom Love kept wakeful, and the Muse, Pour’d o’er the whitening vale their fleecy care, Fresh as the morn, and as the season fair: 20 The dawn now blushing on the mountain’s side, Thus Daphnis spoke, and Strephou thus replied.
Hear how the birds, on every bloomy spray, With joyous music wake the dawning day!
Why sit we mute when early linnets sing, When warbling Philomel salutes the spring? Why sit we sad, when Phosphor shines so clear, And lavish Nature paints the purple year?
Sing then, and Damon shall attend the strain, While yon slow oxen turn the furrow’d plain. 30 Here the bright crocus and blue violet glow; Here western winds on breathing roses blow. I’ll stake yon lamb, that near the fountain plays, And from the brink his dancing shade surveys.
And I this bowl, where wanton ivy twines, And swelling clusters bend the curling vines: Four Figures rising from the work appear, The various Seasons of the rolling year; And what is that, which binds the radiant sky, Where twelve fair signs in beauteous order lie? 40
Then sing by turns, by turns the Muses sing; Now hawthorns blossom, now the daisies spring; Now leaves the trees, and flowers adorn the ground: Begin, the vales shall every note rebound.
Inspire me, Phoebus, in my Delia’s praise, With Waller’s strains, or Granville’s moving lays! A milk-white bull shall at your altars stand, That threats a fight, and spurns the rising sand.
O Love! for Sylvia let me gain the prize, And make my tongue victorious as her eyes; 50 No lambs or sheep for victims I’ll impart, Thy victim, Love, shall be the shepherd’s heart.
Me gentle Delia beckons from the plain, Then hid in shades, eludes her eager swain; But feigns a laugh, to see me search around, And by that laugh the willing fair is found.
The sprightly Sylvia trips along the green, She runs, but hopes she does not run unseen; While a kind glance at her pursuer flies, How much at variance are her feet and eyes! 60
O’er golden sands let rich Pactolus flow, And trees weep amber on the banks of Po; Blest Thames’s shores the brightest beauties yield, Feed here, my lambs, I’ll seek no distant field.
Celestial Venus haunts Idalia’s groves; Diana Cynthus, Ceres Hybla loves;
If Windsor-shades delight the matchless maid, Cynthus and Hybla yield to Windsor-shade.
All nature mourns, the skies relent in showers, Hush’d are the birds, and closed the drooping flowers; 70 If Delia smile, the flowers begin to spring, The skies to brighten, and the birds to sing.
All nature laughs, the groves are fresh and fair, The sun’s mild lustre warms the vital air; If Sylvia smiles, new glories gild the shore, And vanquish’d Nature seems to charm no more.
In spring the fields, in autumn hills I love, At morn the plains, at noon the shady grove, But Delia always; absent from her sight, Nor plains at morn, nor groves at noon delight. 80
Sylvia’s like autumn ripe, yet mild as May, More bright than noon, yet fresh as early day; Even spring displeases, when she shines not here; But, blest with her, ’tis spring throughout the year.
Say, Daphnis, say, in what glad soil appears, A wondrous tree that sacred monarchs bears? Tell me but this, and I’ll disclaim the prize, And give the conquest to thy Sylvia’s eyes.
Nay, tell me first, in what more happy fields The thistle springs, to which the lily yields? 90 And then a nobler prize I will resign;
For Sylvia, charming Sylvia shall be thine.
Cease to contend, for, Daphnis, I decree, The bowl to Strephon, and the lamb to thee: Blest swains, whose nymphs in every grace excel; Blest nymphs, whose swains those graces sing so well! Now rise, and haste to yonder woodbine bowers, A soft retreat from sudden vernal showers; The turf with rural dainties shall be crown’d. While opening blooms diffuse their sweets around. 100 For see! the gath’ring flocks to shelter tend, And from the Pleiads fruitful showers descend.
* * * * *
VER. 36. And clusters lurk beneath the curling vines.
VER. 49-52. Originally thus in the MS.–
Pan, let my numbers equal Strephon’s lays, Of Parian stone thy statue will I raise; But if I conquer and augment my fold,
Thy Parian statue shall be changed to gold.
VER. 61-64. It stood thus at first–
Let rich Iberia golden fleeces boast, Her purple wool the proud Assyrian coast, Blest Thames’s shores, &c.
VER. 61-68 Originally thus in the MS.–
Go, flowery wreath, and let my Sylvia know, Compared to thine how bright her beauties show; Then die; and dying teach the lovely maid How soon the brightest beauties are decay’d.
Go, tuneful bird, that pleased the woods so long, Of Amaryllis learn a sweeter song;
To Heaven arising then her notes convey, For Heaven alone is worthy such a lay.
VER 69-73. These verses were thus at first–
All nature mourns, the birds their songs deny, Nor wasted brooks the thirsty flowers supply; If Delia smile, the flowers begin to spring, The brooks to murmur, and the birds to sing.
VER. 99, 100, was originally–
The turf with country dainties shall be spread, And trees with twining branches shade your head.
* * * * *
THE SECOND PASTORAL, OR ALEXIS.
TO DR GARTH.
A shepherd’s boy (he seeks no better name) Led forth his flocks along the silver Thame, Where dancing sunbeams on the waters play’d, And verdant alders form’d a quivering shade. Soft as he mourn’d, the streams forgot to flow, The flocks around a dumb compassion show: The Naiads wept in every watery bower,
And Jove consented in a silent shower.
Accept, O Garth the Muse’s early lays, That adds this wreath of ivy to thy bays; 10 Hear what from love unpractised hearts endure: From love, the sole disease thou canst not cure.
Ye shady beeches, and ye cooling streams, Defence from Phoebus’, not from Cupid’s beams, To you I mourn, nor to the deaf I sing,
‘The woods shall answer, and their echo ring.' The hills and rocks attend my doleful lay; Why art thou prouder and more hard than they? The bleating sheep with my complaints agree, They parch’d with heat, and I inflamed by thee. 20 The sultry Sirius burns the thirsty plains, While in thy heart eternal winter reigns.
Where stray ye, Muses, in what lawn or grove, While your Alexis pines in hopeless love? In those fair fields where sacred Isis glides, Or else where Cam his winding vales divides? As in the crystal spring I view my face, Fresh rising blushes paint the watery glass; But since those graces please thy eyes no more, I shun the fountains which I sought before. 30 Once I was skill’d in every herb that grew, And every plant that drinks the morning dew; Ah, wretched shepherd, what avails thy art, To cure thy lambs, but not to heal thy heart! Let other swains attend the rural care,
Feed fairer flocks, or richer fleeces shear: But nigh yon mountain let me tune my lays, Embrace my love, and bind my brows with bays. That flute is mine which Colin’s tuneful breath Inspired when living, and bequeath’d in death; 40 He said, ‘Alexis, take this pipe–the same That taught the groves my Rosalinda’s name:’ But now the reeds shall hang on yonder tree, For ever silent, since despised by thee. Oh! were I made by some transforming power The captive bird that sings within thy bower! Then might my voice thy listening ears employ, And I those kisses he receives, enjoy.
And yet my numbers please the rural throng, Rough Satyrs dance, and Pan applauds the song: 50 The Nymphs, forsaking every cave and spring, Their early fruit, and milk-white turtles bring; Each amorous nymph prefers her gifts in vain. On you their gifts are all bestow’d again. For you the swains the fairest flowers design, And in one garland all their beauties join; Accept the wreath which you deserve alone, In whom all beauties are comprised in one.
See what delights in sylvan scenes appear! Descending gods have found Elysium here. 60 In woods bright Venus with Adonis stray’d, And chaste Diana haunts the forest shade. Come, lovely nymph, and bless the silent hours, When swains from shearing seek their nightly bowers, When weary reapers quit the sultry field, And crown’d with corn their thanks to Ceres yield; This harmless grove no lurking viper hides, But in my breast the serpent love abides. Here bees from blossoms sip the rosy dew, But your Alexis knows no sweets but you. 70 Oh, deign to visit our forsaken seats,
The mossy fountains, and the green retreats! Where’er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade, Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade: Where’er you tread, the blushing flowers shall rise, And all things flourish where you turn your eyes. Oh, how I long with you to pass my days, Invoke the Muses, and resound your praise! Your praise the birds shall chant in every grove, And winds shall waft it to the Powers above. 80 But would you sing, and rival Orpheus’ strain, The wondering forests soon should dance again, The moving mountains hear the powerful call, And headlong streams hang listening in their fall!
But see, the shepherds shun the noonday heat, The lowing herds to murmuring brooks retreat, To closer shades the panting flocks remove; Ye gods! and is there no relief for love? But soon the sun with milder rays descends To the cool ocean, where his journey ends: 90 On me Love’s fiercer flames for ever prey, By night he scorches, as he burns by day.
* * * * *
VER. 1-4 were thus printed in the first edition–
A faithful swain, whom Love had taught to sing, Bewail’d his fate beside a silver spring; Where gentle Thames his winding waters leads Through verdant forests, and through flowery meads.
VER. 3, 4. Originally thus in the MS.–
There to the winds he plain’d his hapless love, And Amaryllis fill’d the vocal grove.
Oft in the crystal spring I cast a view, And equall’d Hylas, if the glass be true; But since those graces meet my eyes no more I shun, &c.
VER. 79, 80–
Your praise the tuneful birds to heaven shall bear, And listening wolves grow milder as they hear.
Me love inflames, nor will his fires allay.
THE THIRD PASTORAL, Or HYLAS AND AEGON.
TO MR WYCHERLEY.
Beneath the shade a spreading beech displays, Hylas and AEgon sung their rural lays;
This mourn’d a faithless, that an absent love. And Delia’s name and Doris’ fill’d the grove. Ye Mantuan nymphs, your sacred succour bring; Hylas and AEgon’s rural lays I sing.
Thou, whom the Nine with Plautus’ wit inspire, The art of Terence, and Menander’s fire; Whose sense instructs us, and whose humour charms, Whose judgment sways us, and whose spirit warms! 10 Oh, skill’d in Nature! see the hearts of swains, Their artless passions, and their tender pains.
Now setting Phoebus shone serenely bright, And fleecy clouds were streak’d with purple light; When tuneful Hylas, with melodious moan, Taught rocks to weep, and made the mountains groan.
Go, gentle gales, and bear my sighs away! To Delia’s ear the tender notes convey.
As some sad turtle his lost love deplores, And with deep murmurs fills the sounding shores, 20 Thus, far from Delia, to the winds I mourn, Alike unheard, unpitied, and forlorn.
Go, gentle gales, and bear my sighs along! For her, the feather’d choirs neglect their song: For her, the limes their pleasing shades deny; For her, the lilies hang their heads and die. Ye flowers that droop, forsaken by the spring, Ye birds that, left by summer, cease to sing, Ye trees that fade when autumn-heats remove, Say, is not absence death to those who love? 30
Go, gentle gales, and bear my sighs away! Cursed be the fields that cause my Delia’s stay; Fade every blossom, wither every tree,
Die every flower, and perish all but she.
What have I said? Where’er my Delia flies, Let spring attend, and sudden flowers arise; Let opening roses knotted oaks adorn,
And liquid amber drop from every thorn.
Go, gentle gales, and bear my sighs along! The birds shall cease to tune their evening song, 40 The winds to breathe, the waving woods to move, And streams to murmur, ere I cease to love. Not bubbling fountains to the thirsty swain, Not balmy sleep to labourers faint with pain, Not showers to larks, or sunshine to the bee, Are half so charming as thy sight to me. Go, gentle gales, and bear my sighs away! Come, Delia, come; ah, why this long delay? Through rocks and caves the name of Delia sounds, Delia, each care and echoing rock rebounds. 50 Ye Powers, what pleasing frenzy soothes my mind! Do lovers dream, or is my Delia kind?
She comes, my Delia comes!–Now cease, my lay, And cease, ye gales, to bear my sighs away!
Next AEgon sung, while Windsor groves admired; Rehearse, ye Muses, what yourselves inspired.
Resound, ye hills, resound my mournful strain! Of perjured Doris, dying I complain:
Here where the mountains, lessening as they rise, Lose the low vales, and steal into the skies: 60 While labouring oxen, spent with toil and heat, In their loose traces from the field retreat: While curling smokes from village-tops are seen, And the fleet shades glide o’er the dusky green.
Resound, ye hills, resound my mournful lay! Beneath yon poplar oft we pass’d the day: Oft on the rind I carved her amorous vows, While she with garlands hung the bending boughs: The garlands fade, the vows are worn away; So dies her love, and so my hopes decay. 70
Resound, ye hills, resound my mournful strain! Now bright Arcturus glads the teeming grain, Now golden fruits on loaded branches shine, And grateful clusters swell with floods of wine; Now blushing berries paint the yellow grove; Just gods! shall all things yield returns but love?
Resound, ye hills, resound my mournful lay! The shepherds cry, ‘Thy flocks are left a prey’– Ah! what avails it me, the flocks to keep, Who lost my heart–while I preserved my sheep. 80 Pan came, and ask’d, what magic caused my smart, Or what ill eyes malignant glances dart? What eyes but hers, alas, have power to move? And is there magic but what dwells in love?
Resound, ye hills, resound my mournful strains! I’ll fly from shepherds, flocks, and flowery plains. From shepherds, flocks, and plains, I may remove, Forsake mankind, and all the world–but Love! I know thee, Love! on foreign mountains bred, Wolves gave thee suck, and savage tigers fed. 90 Thou wert from Etna’s burning entrails torn, Got by fierce whirlwinds, and in thunder born!
Resound, ye hills, resound my mournful lay! Farewell, ye woods; adieu, the light of day! One leap from yonder cliff shall end my pains; No more, ye hills, no more resound my strains!
Thus sung the shepherds till the approach of night, The skies yet blushing with departing light, When falling dews with spangles deck’d the glade, And the low sun had lengthen’d every shade. 100
* * * * *
VER. 48-5l–Originally thus in the MS.–
With him through Libya’s burning plains I’ll go, On Alpine mountains tread the eternal snow; Yet feel no heat but what our loves impart, And dread no coldness but in Thyrsis’ heart.
THE FOURTH PASTORAL, OR DAPHNE.
TO THE MEMORY OF MRS TEMPEST.
Thyrsis, the music of that murmuring spring Is not so mournful as the strains you sing; Nor rivers winding through the vales below, So sweetly warble, or so smoothly flow.
Now sleeping flocks on their soft fleeces lie, The moon, serene in glory, mounts the sky, While silent birds forget their tuneful lays, Oh sing of Daphne’s fate, and Daphne’s praise!
Behold the groves that shine with silver frost, Their beauty wither’d, and their verdure lost. 10 Here shall I try the sweet Alexis’ strain, That call’d the listening Dryads to the plain? Thames heard the numbers as he flow’d along, And bade his willows learn the moving song.
So may kind rains their vital moisture yield And swell the future harvest of the field. Begin; this charge the dying Daphne gave, And said, ‘Ye shepherds, sing around my grave!’ Sing, while beside the shaded tomb I mourn, And with fresh bays her rural shrine adorn. 20
Ye gentle Muses, leave your crystal spring, Let nymphs and sylvans cypress garlands bring; Ye weeping Loves, the stream with myrtles hide, And break your bows, as when Adonis died; And with your golden darts, now useless grown, Inscribe a verse on this relenting stone: ‘Let Nature change, let Heaven and Earth deplore, Fair Daphne’s dead, and Love is now no more!’ ‘Tis done, and Nature’s various charms decay; See gloomy clouds obscure the cheerful day! 30 Now hung with pearls the dropping trees appear, Their faded honours scatter’d on her bier. See where, on earth, the flowery glories lie, With her they flourish’d, and with her they die. Ah, what avail the beauties Nature wore, Fair Daphne’s dead, and Beauty is no more!
For her the flocks refuse their verdant food, The thirsty heifers shun the gliding flood, The silver swans her hapless fate bemoan, In notes more sad than when they sing their own; 40 In hollow caves sweet Echo silent lies,
Silent, or only to her name replies; Her name with pleasure once she taught the shore; Now Daphne’s dead, and Pleasure is no more!
No grateful dews descend from evening skies, Nor morning odours from the flowers arise; No rich perfumes refresh the fruitful field, Nor fragrant herbs their native incense yield. The balmy zephyrs, silent since her death, Lament the ceasing of a sweeter breath; 50 Th’ industrious bees neglect their golden store; Fair Daphne’s dead, and Sweetness is no more!
No more the mounting larks, while Daphne sings, Shall, listening in mid air, suspend their wings; No more the birds shall imitate her lays, Or, hush’d with wonder, hearken from the sprays: No more the streams their murmurs shall forbear, A sweeter music than their own to hear;
But tell the reeds, and tell the vocal shore, Fair Daphne’s dead, and Music is no more! 60
Her fate is whisper’d by the gentle breeze, And told in sighs to all the trembling trees; The trembling trees, in every plain and wood, Her fate remurmur to the silver flood;
The silver flood, so lately calm, appears Swell’d with new passion, and o’erflows with tears; The winds and trees and floods her death deplore, Daphne, our grief, our glory now no more!
But see! where Daphne wondering mounts on high Above the clouds, above the starry sky! 70 Eternal beauties grace the shining scene, Fields ever fresh, and groves for ever green! There while you rest in amaranthine bowers, Or from those meads select unfading flowers, Behold us kindly, who your name implore, Daphne, our goddess, and our grief no more!
How all things listen, while thy Muse complains! Such silence waits on Philomela’s strains, In some still evening, when the whispering breeze Pants on the leaves, and dies upon the trees. 80 To thee, bright goddess, oft a lamb shall bleed, If teeming ewes increase my fleecy breed. While plants their shade, or flowers their odours give, Thy name, thy honour, and thy praise shall live!
But see, Orion sheds unwholesome dews; Arise, the pines a noxious shade diffuse; Sharp Boreas blows, and Nature feels decay, Time conquers all, and we must Time obey. Adieu, ye vales, ye mountains, streams, and groves; Adieu, ye shepherds, rural lays, and loves; 90 Adieu, my flocks; farewell, ye sylvan crew; Daphne, farewell; and all the world, adieu!
* * * * *
VER. 29, 30–Originally thus in the MS.–
‘Tis done, and Nature’s changed since you are gone; Behold, the clouds have put their mourning on.
VER. 83, 84. Originally thus in the MS.–
While vapours rise, and driving snows descend, Thy honour, name, and praise shall never end.
A SACRED ECLOGUE, IN IMITATION OF VIRGIL’S ‘POLLIO.’
In reading several passages of the Prophet Isaiah, which foretell the coming of Christ and the felicities attending it, I could not but observe a remarkable parity between many of the thoughts, and those in the ‘Pollio’ of Virgil. This will not seem surprising, when we reflect, that the eclogue was taken from a Sibylline prophecy on the same subject. One may judge that Virgil did not copy it line by line, but selected such ideas as best agreed with the nature of pastoral poetry, and disposed them in that manner which served most to beautify his piece. I have endeavoured the same in this imitation of him, though without admitting anything of my own; since it was written with this particular view, that the reader, by comparing the several thoughts, might see how far the images and descriptions of the prophet are superior to those of the poet. But as I fear I have prejudiced them by my management, I shall subjoin the passages of Isaiah and those of Virgil, under the same disadvantage of a literal translation.
Ye Nymphs of Solyma! begin the song:
To heavenly themes sublimer strains belong. The mossy fountains, and the sylvan shades, The dreams of Pindus and the Aonian maids, Delight no more–O Thou my voice inspire Who touch’d Isaiah’s hallow’d lips with fire!
Rapt into future times, the bard begun: A virgin shall conceive, a virgin bear a son! From Jesse’s root behold the branch arise, Whose sacred flower with fragrance fills the skies: 10 The ethereal Spirit o’er its leaves shall move, And on its top descends the mystic Dove. Ye Heavens! from high the dewy nectar pour, And in soft silence shed the kindly shower! The sick and weak the healing plant shall aid, From storms a shelter, and from heat a shade. All crimes shall cease, and ancient fraud shall fail; Returning Justice lift aloft her scale;
Peace o’er the world her olive wand extend, And white-robed Innocence from heaven descend. 20 Swift fly the years, and rise the expected morn! Oh spring to light, auspicious Babe, be born! See, Nature hastes her earliest wreaths to bring, With all the incense of the breathing spring! See lofty Lebanon his head advance,
See nodding forests on the mountains dance: See spicy clouds from lowly Saron rise,
And Carmel’s flowery top perfumes the skies! Hark! a glad voice the lonely desert cheers; ‘Prepare the way! a God, a God appears:’ 30 ‘A God, a God!’ the vocal hills reply,
The rocks proclaim the approaching Deity. Lo, Earth receives him from the bending skies! Sink down, ye mountains, and ye valleys, rise; With heads declined, ye cedars, homage pay; Be smooth, ye rocks, ye rapid floods, give way! The Saviour comes! by ancient bards foretold: Hear him, ye deaf, and all ye blind, behold! He from thick films shall purge the visual ray, And on the sightless eyeball pour the day: 40 ‘Tis he the obstructed paths of sound shall clear, And bid new music charm th’ unfolding ear: The dumb shall sing, the lame his crutch forego, And leap exulting like the bounding roe. No sigh, no murmur the wide world shall hear, From every face he wipes off every tear. In adamantine chains shall Death be bound, And Hell’s grim tyrant feel th’ eternal wound. As the good shepherd tends his fleecy care, Seeks freshest pasture and the purest air, 50 Explores the lost, the wandering sheep directs, By day o’ersees them, and by night protects, The tender lambs he raises in his arms,
Feeds from his hand, and in his bosom warms; Thus shall mankind his guardian care engage, The promised Father of the future age.
No more shall nation against nation rise, Nor ardent warriors meet with hateful eyes, Nor fields with gleaming steel be cover’d o’er, The brazen trumpets kindle rage no more; 60 But useless lances into scythes shall bend, And the broad falchion in a ploughshare end. Then palaces shall rise; the joyful son
Shall finish what his short-lived sire begun; Their vines a shadow to their race shall yield, And the same hand that sow’d, shall reap the field; The swain in barren deserts with surprise See lilies spring, and sudden verdure rise; And start, amidst the thirsty wilds, to hear New falls of water murmuring in his ear. 70 On rifted rocks, the dragons’ late abodes, The green reed trembles, and the bulrush nods, Waste sandy valleys, once perplex’d with thorn, The spiry fir, and shapely box adorn:
To leafless shrubs the flowering palms succeed, And odorous myrtle to the noisome weed.