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first led to give greater weight to correctness and
to the restraint of arbitrary rules from a conscious
ness that he had a tendency to hyperbole and ex
travagance. But he afterwards became convinced
that the heightening of discourse by passion was a
very different thing from the exaggeration which
heaps phrase on phrase, and that genius, like
beauty, can always plead its privilege. Dryden, by
his powerful example, by the charm of his verse
which combines vigor and fluency in a measure
perhaps never reached by any other of our poets,
and above all because it is never long before the
sunshine of his cheerful good sense breaks through
the clouds of rhetoric, and gilds the clipped hedges
over which his thought clambers like an unpruned
vine, Dryden, one of the most truly English of
English authors, did more than all others com
bined to bring about the triumphs of French stand
ards in taste and French principles in criticism.
But he was always like a deserter who cannot feel
happy in the victories of the alien arms, and who
would go back if he could to the camp where he
naturally belonged. Between 1660 and 1700 more
French words, I believe, were directly transplanted
into our language than in the century and a half
since. What was of more consequence, French
ideas came with them, shaping the form, and
through that modifying the spirit, of our literature.
Voltaire, though he came later, was steeped in the
theories of art which had been inherited as tradi-



POPE 17

tlons of classicism from the preceding generation.
He had lived in England, and, I have no doubt,
gives us a very good notion of the tone which was
prevalent there in his time, an English version of
the criticism imported from France. He tells us
that Mr. Addison was the first Englishman who
had written a reasonable tragedy. And in spite
of the growling of poor old Dennis, whose sandy
pedantry was not without an oasis of refreshing
sound judgment here and there, this was the opin
ion of most persons at that day, except, it may be
suspected, the judicious and modest Mr. Addison
himself. Voltaire says of the English tragedians,
and it will be noticed that he is only putting,
in another way, the opinion of Dryden, " Their
productions, almost all barbarous, without polish,
order, or probability, have astonishing gleams in
the midst of their night ; ... it seems sometimes
that nature is not made in England as it is else
where." Eh bien, the inference is that we must
try and make it so ! The world must be uniform
in order to be comfortable, and what fashion so
becoming as the one we have invented in Paris ?
It is not a little amusing that when Voltaire played
master of ceremonies to introduce the bizarre
Shakespeare among his countrymen, that other
kind of nature made a profounder impression on
them than quite pleased him. So he turned about
presently and called his whilome protege a buffoon.
The condition of the English mind at the close
of the seventeenth century was such as to make
it particularly sensitive to the magnetism which



16 POPE

Waller's verse in the half -scornful emphasis which
Dry den lays on " cultivated." Perhaps he was at
first led to give greater weight to correctness and
to the restraint of arbitrary rules from a conscious
ness that he had a tendency to hyperbole and ex
travagance. But he afterwards became convinced
that the heightening of discourse by passion was a
very different thing from the exaggeration which
heaps phrase on phrase, and that genius, like
beauty, can always plead its privilege. Dryden, by
his powerful example, by the charm of his verse
which combines vigor and fluency in a measure
perhaps never reached by any other of our poets,
and above all because it is never long before the
sunshine of his cheerful good sense breaks through
the clouds of rhetoric, and gilds the clipped hedges
over which his thought clambers like an unpruned
vine, Dryden, one of the most truly English of
English authors, did more than all others com
bined to bring about the triumphs of French stand
ards in taste and French principles in criticism.
But he was always like a deserter who cannot feel
happy in the victories of the alien arms, and who
would go back if he could to the camp where he
naturally belonged. Between 1660 and 1700 more
French words, I believe, were directly transplanted
into our language than in the century and a half
since. What was of more consequence, French
ideas came with them, shaping the form, and
through that modifying the spirit, of our literature.
Voltaire, though he came later, was steeped in the
theories of art which had been inherited as tradi-



POPE 17

tions of classicism from the preceding generation.
He had lived in England, and, I have no doubt,
gives us a very good notion of the tone which was
prevalent there in his time, an English version of
the criticism imported from France. He tells us
that Mr. Addison was the first Englishman who
had written a reasonable tragedy. And in spite
of the growling of poor old Dennis, whose sandy
pedantry was not without an oasis of refreshing
sound judgment here and there, this was the opin
ion of most persons at that day, except, it may be
suspected, the judicious and modest Mr. Addison
himself. Voltaire says of the English tragedians,
and it will be noticed that he is only putting,
in another way, the opinion of Dryden, " Their
productions, almost all barbarous, without polish,
order, or probability, have astonishing gleams in
the midst of their night ; ... it seems sometimes
that nature is not made in England as it is else
where." Eh bien, the inference is that we must
try and make it so ! The world must be uniform
in order to be comfortable, and what fashion so
becoming as the one we have invented in Paris ?
It is not a little amusing that when Voltaire played
master of ceremonies to introduce the bizarre
Shakespeare among his countrymen, that other
kind of nature made a profounder impression on
them than quite pleased him. So he turned about
presently and called his whilome protege a buffoon.
The condition of the English mind at the close
of the seventeenth century was such as to make
it particularly sensitive to the magnetism which



20 POPE

stronger in perceptive and analytic than in imagi
native qualities, loving precision, grace, and finesse,
prone to attribute an almost magical power to the
scientific regulation whether of politics or reli
gion, had brought wit and fancy and the elegant
arts of society to as great perfection as was pos
sible by the a priori method. Its ideal in litera
ture was to conjure passion within the magic circle
of courtliness, or to combine the appearance of
careless ease and gayety of thought with intellect
ual exactness of statement. The eternal watchful
ness of a wit that never slept had made it distrust-
fid of the natural emotions and the unconventional
expression of them, and its first question about a
sentiment was, Will it be safe? about a phrase,
Will it pass with the Academy ? The effect of its
example on English literature would appear chiefly
in neatness and facility of turn, in point and epi
grammatic compactness of phrase, and these in con
veying conventional sentiments and emotions, in
appealing to good society rather than to human
nature.. Its influence would be greatest where its
success had been most marked, in what was called
moral poetry, whose chosen province was manners,
and in which satire, with its avenging scourge, took
the place of that profounder art whose office it was
to purify, not the manners, but the source of them
in the soul, by pity and terror. The mistake of
the whole school of French criticism, it seems to
me, lay in its tendency to confound what was com
mon with what was vulgar, in a too exclusive def
erence to authority at the expense of all free
movement of the mind.



POPE 21

There are certain defects of taste which correct
themselves by their own extravagance. Language,
I suspect, is more apt to be reformed by the charm
of some master of it, like Milton, than by any
amount of precept. The influence of second-rate
writers for evil is at best ephemeral, for true style,
the joint result of culture and natural aptitude, is
always in fashion, as fine manners always are, in
whatever clothes. Perhaps some reform was needed
when Quarles, who had no mean gift of poesy,
could write,

' ' My passion has no April in her eyes :
I cannot spend in mists ; I cannot mizzle ;
My fluent brains are too severe to drizzle
Slight drops." l

Good taste is an excellent thing when it confines
itself to its own rightful province of the proprie
ties, but when it attempts to correct those profound
instincts out of whose judgments the higher princi
ples of aesthetics have been formulated, its success
is a disaster. During the era when the French
theory of poetry was supreme, we notice a decline
from imagination to fancy, from passion to wit,
from metaphor, which fuses image and thought in
one, to simile, which sets one beside the other, from
the supreme code of the natural sympathies to the

1 Elegie on Doctor Wilson, But if Quarles had been led astray
by the vices of Donne's manner, he had good company in Herbert
and Vaughan. In common with them, too, he had that luck of
simpleness which is even more delightful than wit. In the same
poem he says,

" Go, glorious soul, and lay thy temples down
In Abram's bosom, in the sacred down
Of soft eternity."



22 POPE

parochial by-laws of etiquette. The imagination
instinctively Platonizes, and it is the essence of
poetry that it should be unconventional, that the
soul of it should subordinate the outward parts ;
while the artificial method proceeds from a princi
ple the reverse of this, making the spirit lackey the
form.

Waller preaches up this new doctrine in the
epilogue to the " Maid's Tragedy " :

" Nor is 't less strange such mighty wits as those
Should use a style in tragedy like prose ;
Well-sounding verse, where princes tread the stage,
Should speak their virtue and describe their rage."

That it should be beneath the dignity of princes
to speak in anything but rhyme can only be paral
leled by Mr. Puff's law that a heroine can go deco
rously mad only in white satin. Waller, I sup
pose, though with so loose a thinker one cannot be
positive, uses " describe " in its Latin sense of lim
itation. Fancy Othello or Lear confined to this
go-cart ! Phillips touches the true point when he
says, " And the truth is, the use of measure alone,
without any rime at all, would give more scope and
liberty both to style and fancy than can possibly
be observed in rime." 1 But let us test Waller's
method by an example or two. His monarch made
reasonable, thus discourses :

" Courage our greatest failings does supply,
And makes all good, or handsomely we die.
Life is a thing of common use ; by heaven
As well to insects as to monarchs given ;
But for the crown, 't is a more sacred thing ;

1 Preface to the Theatrum.



POPE 23

1 11 dying lose it, or I '11 live a king.

Come, Diphilus, we must together walk

And of a matter of importance talk." [Exeunt.

Blank verse, where the sentiment is trivial as here,
merely removes prose to a proper ideal distance,
where it is in keeping with more impassioned parts,
but commonplace set to this rocking-horse jog
irritates the nerves. There is nothing here to re
mind us of the older tragic style but the exeunt at
the close. Its pithy conciseness and the relief
which it brings us from his majesty's prosing give
it an almost poetical savor. Aspatia's reflections
upon suicide (or " suppressing our breath," as she
calls it), in the same play, will make few readers
regret that Shakespeare was left to his own unas
sisted barbarism when he wrote Hamlet's soliloquy
on the same topic :

" 'T was in compassion of oar woe
That nature first made poisons grow,
For hopeless wretches such as I
Kindly providing means to die :
As mothers do their children keep,
So Nature feeds and makes us sleep.
The indisposed she does invite
To go to bed before 'tis night."

Correctness in this case is but a synonym of mo
notony, and words are chosen for the number of
their syllables, for their rubbishy value to fill-in,
instead of being forced upon the poet by the mean
ing which occupies the mind. Language becomes
useful for its diluting properties, rather than as
the medium by means of which the thought or
fancy precipitate themselves in crystals upon a



24 POPE

connecting thread of purpose. Let us read a few
verses from Beaumont and Fletcher, that we may
feel fully the difference between the rude and the
reformed styles. This also shall be a speech of As-
patia's. Antiphila, one of her maidens, is working
the story of Theseus and Ariadne in tapestry, for
the older masters loved a picturesque background
and knew the value of fanciful accessaries. Aspa-
tia thinks the face of Ariadne not sad enough :

" Do it by me,

Do it again by me, the lost Aspatia,
And yon shall find all true but the wild island.
Suppose I stand upon the seabeach now,
Mine arms thus, and my hair blown with the wind,
Wild as that desert ; and let all about me
Be teachers of my story. Do my face
(If ever thou hadst feeling of a sorrow)
Thus, thus. Antiphila ; strive to make me look
Like sorrow's monument ; and the trees about me
Let them be dry and leafless ; let the rocks
Groan with continual surges ; and behind me
Make all a desolation."

What instinctive felicity of versification ! what sob
bing breaks and passionate repetitions are here !

We see what the direction of the new tendency
was, but it would be an inadequate or a dishonest
criticism that should hold Pope responsible for the
narrow compass of the instrument which was his
legacy from his immediate predecessors, any more
than for the wearisome thrumming-over of his tune
by those who came after him and who had caught
his technical skill without his genius. The question
properly stated is, How much was it possible to
make of the material supplied by the age in which



POPE 25

he lived ? and how much did he make of it ? Thus
far, among the great English poets who preceded
him, we have seen actual life represented by Chau
cer, imaginative life by Spenser, ideal life by
Shakespeare, the interior life by Milton. But as
everything aspires to a rhythmical utterance of it
self, so conventional life, itself a new phenomenon,
was waiting for its poet. It found or made a most
fitting one in Pope. He stands for exactness of
intellectual expression, for perfect propriety of
phrase (I speak of him at his best), and is a strik
ing instance how much success and permanence of
reputation depend on conscientious finish as well as
on native endowment. Butler asks,

" Then why should those who pick and choose
The best of all the best compose,
And join it by Mosaic art,
In graceful order, part to part,
To make the whole in beauty suit,
Not merit as complete repute
As those who, with less art and pain,
Can do it with their native brain ? "

Butler knew very well that precisely what stamps
a man as an artist is this power of finding out what
is " the best of all the best."

I confess that I come to the treatment of Pope
with diffidence. I was brought up in the old super
stition that he was the greatest poet that ever
lived ; and when I came to find that I had instincts
of my own, and my mind was brought in contact
with the apostles of a more esoteric doctrine of
poetry, I felt that ardent desire for smashing the
idols I had been brought up to worship, without



26 POPE

any regard to their artistic beauty, which character
izes youthful zeal. What was it to me that Pope
was called a master of style ? I felt, as Addison
says in his Freeholder when answering an argu
ment in favor of the Pretender because he could
speak English and George I. could not, " that I did
not wish to be tyrannized over in the best Eng
lish that ever was spoken." The young demand
thoughts that find an echo in their real and not
their acquired nature, and care very little about the
dress they are put in. It is later that we learn to
like the conventional, as we do olives. There was
a time when I could not read Pope, but disliked
him on principle, as old Roger Ascham seems to
have felt about Italy when he says, " I was once in
Italy myself, but I thank God my abode there was
only nine days."

But Pope fills a very important place in the his
tory of English poetry, and must be studied by
every one who would come to a clear knowledge of
it. I have since read over every line that Pope
ever wrote, and every letter written by or to him,
and that more than once. If I have not come to
the conclusion that he is the greatest of poets, I be
lieve that I am at least in a condition to allow him
every merit that is fairly his. I have said that
Pope as a literary man represents precision and
grace of expression; but as a poet he represents
something more, nothing less, namely, than one
of those eternal controversies of taste which will
last as long as the imagination and understanding
divide men between them. It is not a matter to be



POPE 27

settled by any amount of argument or demonstra
tion. There are born Popists or Wordsworthians,
Lockists or Kantists, and there is nothing more to
be said of the matter.

Wordsworth was not in a condition to do Pope
justice. A man brought up in sublime mountain
solitudes, and whose nature was a solitude more
vast than they, walking an earth which quivered
with the throe of the French Revolution, the child
of an era of profound mental and moral movement,
it could not be expected that he should be in sym
pathy with the poet of artificial life. Moreover, he
was the apostle of imagination, and came at a time
when the school which Pope founded had degener
ated into a mob of mannerists who wrote with ease,
and who with their congenial critics united at once
to decry poetry which brought in the dangerous
innovation of having a soul in it.

But however it may be with poets, it is very cer
tain that a reader is happiest whose mind is broad
enough to enjoy the natural school for its nature,
and the artificial for its artificiality, provided they
be only good of their kind. At any rate, we must
allow that the man who can produce one perfect
work is either a great genius or a very lucky one ;
and so far as we who read are concerned, it is of
secondary importance which. And Pope has done
this in the " Rape of the Lock." For wit, fancy,
invention, and keeping, it has never been surpassed.
I do not say there is in it poetry of the highest
order, or that Pope is a poet whom any one would
choose as the companion of his best hours. There



28 POPE

is no inspiration in it, no trumpet-call, but for pure
entertainment it is unmatched. There are two
kinds of genius. The first and highest may be said
to speak out of the eternal to the present, and must
compel its age to understand it ; the second under
stands its age, and tells it what it wishes to be told.
Let us find strength and inspiration in the one,
amusement and instruction in the other, and be
honestly thankful for both.

The very earliest of Pope's productions give indi
cations of that sense and discretion, as well as wit,
which afterward so eminently distinguished him.
The facility of expression is remarkable, and we
find also that perfect balance of metre, which he
afterward carried so far as to be wearisome. His
pastorals were written in his sixteenth year, and
their publication immediately brought him into no
tice. The following four verses from his first pas
toral are quite characteristic in their antithetic
balance :

" 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 ! "

The sentiment is affected, and reminds one of that
future period of Pope's Correspondence with his
Friends, when Swift, his heart corroding with dis
appointed ambition at Dublin, Bolingbroke raising
delusive turnips at his farm, and Pope pretend
ing not to feel the lampoons which imbittered his
life, played together the solemn farce of affecting
indifference to the world by which it would have



POPE 29

agonized them to be forgotten, and wrote letters
addressed to each other, but really intended for that
posterity whose opinion they assumed to despise.

In these pastorals there is an entire want of na
ture. For example, in that on the death of Mrs.
Tempest :

" Her fate is whispered by the gentle breeze
And told in sighs to all the trembling trees ;
The trembling trees, in every plain and wood,
Her fate remunnur to the silver flood ;
The silver flood, so lately calm, appears
Swelled 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 ! "

All this is as perfectly professional as the mourn
ing of an undertaker. Still worse, Pope material
izes and makes too palpably objective that sympa
thy which our grief forces upon outward nature.
Milton, before making the echoes mourn for Lyci-
das, puts our feelings in tune, as it were, and hints
at his own imagination as the source of this emo
tion in inanimate things,

" But, O the heavy change now thou art gone ! "

In "Windsor Forest" we find the same thing
again :

"Here his first lays majestic Denham sung,
There the last numbers flowed from Cowley's tongue ;
O early lost, what tears the river shed
When the sad pomp along his banks was led !
His drooping swans on every note expire,
And on his willows hung each muse's lyre ! "

In the same poem he indulges the absurd conceit
that,

" Beasts urged by us, their fellow-beasts pursue,
And learn of man each other to undo ' ' i



30 POPE

and in the succeeding verses gives some striking
instances of that artificial diction, so inappropriate
to poems descriptive of natural objects and ordi
nary life, which brought verse-making to such a
depth of absurdity in the course of the century.

" With slaughtering guns, the unwearied fowler roves
Where frosts have whitened all the naked groves ;
Where doves in flocks the leafless trees o'ershade,
And lonely woodcocks haunt the watery glade ;
He lifts the tube and levels with his eye,
Straight a short thunder breaks the frozen sky :
Oft as in airy rings they skim the heath,
The clamorous lapwings feel the leaden death ;
Oft as the mounting larks their notes prepare,
They fall and leave their little lives in air."

Now one would imagine that the tube of the fowler
was a telescope instead of a gun. And think of
the larks preparing their notes like a country
choir ! Yet even here there are admirable lines,

' ' Oft as in airy rings they skim the heath, "
" They fall and leave their little lives in air,"

for example.

In Pope's next poem, the " Essay on Criticism,"
the wit and poet become apparent. It is full of
clear thoughts, compactly expressed. In this poem,
written when Pope was only twenty-one, occur
some of those lines which have become proverbial ;
such as

" A little learning is a dangerous thing " ;

" For fools rush in where angels fear to tread " ;

" True wit is Nature to advantage dressed,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."

- For each ill author is as bad a friend."



POPE 81

In all of these we notice that terseness in which
(regard being had to his especial range of thought)
Pope has never been equalled. One cannot help
being struck also with the singular discretion which
the poem gives evidence of. I do not know where
to look for another author in whom it appeared so
early, and, considering the vivacity of his mind
and the constantly besetting temptation of his wit,
it is still more wonderful. In his boyish corre
spondence with poor old Wycherley, one would
suppose him to be the man and Wycherley the
youth. Pope's understanding was no less vigorous
(when not the dupe of his nerves) than his fancy
was lightsome and sprightly.

I come now to what in itself would be enough to
have immortalized him as a poet, the " Rape of the
Lock," in. which, indeed, he appears more purely
as poet than in any other of his productions. Else
where he has shown more force, more wit, more
reach of thought, but nowhere such a truly artistic
combination of elegance and fancy. His genius
has here found its true direction, and the very
same artificiality, which in his pastorals was un-
pleasing, heightens the effect, and adds to the gen
eral keeping. As truly as Shakespeare is the poet
of man, as God made him, dealing with great pas



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