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characteristic, we must admit that the "dignity" is often
false ; it rests upon mere mouthing instead of simplicity
and directness, and suggests that Pope might have ap-
proved the famous emendation " he died in indigent cir-
cumstances," for " he died poor." The same weakness is
perhaps more annoying when it leads to sins of commis-
sion. Pope never scruples to amend Homer by little epi-
grammatic amplifications, which are characteristic of the

7 1 POPE. [CHAP.

r..iiU'iiiporary rhetoric. A single illustration of a fault
sullieieiitlv notorious will be sufficient. AVhen Nestor, in
the eleventh hook, rouses Diomed at night, Pope naturally
smoothes down the testy remark of the sleepy warrior;
l>ut In 1 tries to improve Nestor's directions. Nestor tells
Diomed, in most direct terms, that the need is great, and
that he must go at once and rouse Ajax. " In Pope's trans-
lation we have

"Each single Greek in this conclusive strife
Stands on the sharpest edge of death or life ;
Yet if my years thy kind regard engage,
Employ thy youth as I employ my age ;
Succeed to these my cares, and rouse the rest ;
He serves me most who serves his country best."

The false air of epigram which Pope gives to the fourth
line is characteristic ; and the concluding tag, which is
quite unauthorized, reminds us irresistibly of one of the
rhymes which an actor always spouted to the audience by
way of winding up an act in the contemporary drama.
Such embroidery is profusely applied by Pope wherever
he thinks that Homer, like Diomed, is slumbering too
deeply. And, of course, that is not the way in which
Nestor roused Diomed or Homer keeps his readers awake.
Such faults have been so fully exposed that we need not
dwell upon them further. They come to this, that Pope
was really a wit of the days of Queen Anne, and saw only
that aspect of Homer which was visible to his kind. The
poetic mood was not for him a fine frenzy for good sense
must condemn all frenzy but a deliberate elevation of the
bard by high-heeled shoes and a full-bottomed wig. Seas
Mini mountains, being invisible from Button's, could only
be de<eribcd by worn phrases from the Latin grammar.
Kven his narrative must be full of epigrams to avoid the

in.] POPE'S HOMER. 75

one deadly sin of dulncss, and his language must be dec-
orous even at the price of being sometimes emasculated.
But accept these conditions, and much still remains. After
all, a wit was still a human being, and much more nearly
related to us than an ancient Greek. Pope's style, when
he is at his best, has the merit of being thoroughly alive ;
there are no dead masses of useless verbiage ; every ex-
crescence has been carefully pruned away ; slovenly para-
phrases and indistinct slurrings over of the meaning have
disappeared. He corrected carefully and scrupulously, as
his own statement implies, not with a view of transferring
as large a portion as possible of his author's meaning to
his own verses, but in order to make the versification as
smooth and the sense as transparent as possible. We have
the pleasure which we receive from really polished oratory ;
every point is made to tell; if the emphasis is too often
pointed by some showy antithesis, we are at least never un-
certain as to the meaning; and if the versification is often

O '

monotonous, it is articulate and easily caught at first sight.
These are the essential merits of good declamation, and it
is in the true declamatory passages that Pope is at his
best. The speeches of his heroes are often admirable, full
of spirit, well balanced and skilfully arranged pieces of
rhetoric not a mere inorganic series of observations.


Undoubtedly the warriors are a little too epigrammatic
and too consciously didactic ; and we feel almost scan-
dalized when they take to downright blows, as though
Walpole and St. John were interrupting a debate in the
House of Commons by fisticuffs. They would be better
in the senate than the field. But the brilliant rhetoric im-
plies also a sense of dignity which is not mere artificial
mouthing. Pope, as it seems to me, rises to a level of sus-
tained eloquence when he has to act as interpreter for the


direct expression of broad, magnanimous sentiment. Clas-
sical critics may explain by what shades of feeling the
ari^t'MT.-itic grandeur of soul of an English noble differed
from the analogous quality in heroic Greece, and find the
difference reflected in the "grand style" of Pope as com-
pared with that of Homer. But Pope could at least as-
sume with admirable readiness the lofty air of superiority
to personal fears, and patriotic devotion to a great cause,
which is common to the type in every age. His tendency
to didactic platitudes is at least out of place in such cases,
and his dread of vulgarity and quaintness, with his genuine
feeling for breadth of effect, frequently enables him to be
really dignified and impressive. It will, perhaps, be suffi-
cient illustration of these qualities if I conclude these re-
marks by giving his translation of Hector's speech to
Polydamas in the twelfth book, with its famous tig
g apvreadai Trepl

" To him then Hector with disdain return'd ;
(Fierce as he spoke, his eyes with fury burn'd)
Are these the faithful counsels of thy tongue ?
Thy will is partial, not thy reason wrong ;
Or if the purpose of thy heart thou sent,
Sure Heaven resumes the little sense it lent
"What coward counsels would thy madness move
Against the word, the will reveal'd of Jove ?
The leading sign, the irrevocable nod
And happy thunders of the favouring God ?
These shall I slight ? And guide my wavering mind
Hy \v;mdYing birds that flit with every wind?
^ e vagrants of the sky ! your wings extend
Or where the suns arise or where descend ;
To right or left, unheeded take 3 T our way,
While I the dictates of high heaven obey.
Without a sigh his sword the brave man draws,
And asks no omen but his country's cause.

in.] POPE'S HOMER. 77

But why should'st thou suspect the war's success?

None fears it more, as none promotes it less.

Tho' all our ships amid yon ships expire,

Trust thy own cowardice to escape the fire.

Troy and her sons may find a general grave,

But thou canst live, for thou canst be a slave.

Yet should the fears that wary mind suggests

Spread their cold poison through our soldiers' breasts,

My javelin can revenge so base a part,

And free the soul that quivers in thy heart."

The six volumes of the Iliad were published during the
years 1715-1720, and were closed by a dedication to Con-
greve, who, as an eminent man of letters, not too closely
connected with either Whigs or Tories, was the most ap-
propriate recipient of such a compliment. Pope was en-
riched by his success, and no doubt wearied by his labours.
But his restless intellect would never leave him to indulge
in prolonged repose, and, though not avaricious, he was
not more averse than other men to increasing his for-


tune. He soon undertook two sufficiently laborious


works. The first was an edition of Shakspeare, for
which he only received 21 11. 10,?., and which seems to
have been regarded as a failure. It led, like his other
publications, to a quarrel to be hereafter mentioned, but
need not detain us at present. It appeared in 1725, when
he was already deep in another project. The success of
the Iliad naturally suggested an attempt upon the Odyssey.
Pope, however, was tired of translating, and he arranged for
assistance. He took into alliance a couple of Cambridge
men, who were small poets capable of fairly adopting his
versification. One of them was William Broome, a cler-
gyman who held several livings and married a rich widow.
Unfortunately his independence did not restrain him from
writing poetry, for which want of means would have been


the >nlv Hitlieiriit excuse. lie was a man of sonic class-
ii-:il attainments, ;uid had helped Pope in compiling- notes
to tin- Iliad from Eustathius, an author whom Pope
have been scarce!} 7 able to read without such as-
Elijah Fenton, his other assistant, was a Cam-
bridge man who had sacrificed his claims of preferment
lv becoming a non-juror, and picked up a living- partly
bv writing and chiefly by acting as tutor to Lord Orrery,

J */ * '

and afterwards in the family of TrumbalPs widow. Pope,
who introduced him to Lady Trumball, had also intro-
duced him to Craggs, who, when Secretary of State, felt
his want of a decent education, and wished to be polished
by some competent person. He seems to have been a
kindly, idle, honourable man, who died, says Pope, of in-
dolence, and more immediately, it appears, of the gout.
The alliance thus formed was rather a delicate one, and
was embittered by some of Pope's usual trickery. In is-
suing his proposals he spoke in ambiguous terms of two
friends who were to render him some undefined assist-
ance, and did not claim to be the translator, but to have
undertaken the translation. The assistants, in fact, did
half the work, Broome translating eight, and Fenton four,
out of the twenty -four books. Pope was unwilling to
acknowledge the full amount of their contributions; he
peisuaded Broome - a weak, good-natured man to set
his hand to a postscript to the Odyssey, in which only
three books are given to Broome himself, and only two
t> I'Ynton. When Pope was attacked for passing off
other people's verses as his own, he boldly appealed to this
statement to prove that he had only received Broome's
help in three books, and at the same time stated the
who],* amount which he had paid for the eight, as though
it had been paid for the three. When Broome, in spite

in.] POPE'S HOMER. 79

of his subservience, became a little restive under this treat-
ment, Pope indirectly admitted the truth by claiming only
twelve books in an advertisement to his works, and in a
note to the Dunciad, but did not explicitly retract the
other statement. Broome could not effectively rebuke
his fellow-sinner. He had, in fact, conspired with Pope
to attract the public by the use of the most popular
name, and could not even claim his own afterwards. lie
had, indeed, talked too much, according to Pope ; and the
poet's morality is oddly illustrated in a letter, in which he
complains of Broome's indiscretion for letting out the se-
cret ; and explains that, as the facts are so far known, it
would now be " unjust and dishonourable " to continue
the concealment. It would be impossible to accept more
frankly the theory that lying is wrong when it is found
out. Meanwhile Pope's conduct to his victims or accom-
plices was not over-generous. He made over 3500/. after
paying Broome 500/. (including 100/. for notes) and Fen-
ton 200/. that is, 50/. a book. The rate of pay was as
high as the work was worth, and as much as it would
fetch in the open market. The large sum was entirely
due to Pope's reputation, though obtained, so far as the
true authorship was concealed, upon something like false
pretences. Still, we could have wished that he had been
a little more liberal with his share of the plunder. A
coolness ensued between the principal and his partners in
consequence of these questionable dealings. Fenton seems
never to have been reconciled to Pope, though they did not
openly quarrel, and Pope wrote a laudatory epitaph for him
on his death in 1730. Broome a weaker man though
insulted by Pope in the Dunciad and the Miscellanies, ac-
cepted a reconciliation, for which Pope seems to have been,/,

80 POPE. [CHAP. in.

ea^er, perhaps feeling some touch of remorse for the inju-
ries which he had inflicted.

The shares of the three colleagues in the Odyssey are
not to be easily distinguished by internal evidence. On
trying the experiment by a cursory reading, I confess
(though a critic does not willingly admit his fallibility)
that I took some of Broome's work for Pope's, and,
though closer study or an acuter perception might dis-
criminate more accurately, I do not think that the dis-

V *

tinction would be easy. This may be taken to confirm
the common theory that Pope's versification was a mere
mechanical trick. Without admitting this, it must be ad-
mitted that the external characteristics of his manner were
easily caught ; and that it was not hard for a clever versi-


fier to produce something closely resembling his inferior
work, especially when following the same original. But
it may be added that Pope's Odyssey was really inferior

J *>//

to the Iliad, both because his declamatory style is more
out of place in its romantic narrative, and because he was
weary and languid, and glad to turn his fame to account
without more labour than necessary. The Odyssey, I
may say, in conclusion, led to one incidental advantage.
It was criticised by Spence, a mild and cultivated scholar,
who was professor of poetry at Oxford. His observations,
according to Johnson, were candid, though not indicative

^j * * ^j

of a powerful mind. Pope, he adds, had in Spence the
first experience of a critic " who censured with respect
and praised with alacrity." Pope made Spence's acquaint-
ance, recommended him to patrons., and was repaid with
warm admiration."

it had



WHEN Pope finished his translation of the Iliad, he was
congratulated by his friend Gay in a pleasant copy of
verses marked by the usual bonhomie of the fat, kindly
man. Gay supposes himself to be welcoming his friend
on the return from his long expedition.

" Did 1 not see thee when thou first sett'st sail,
To seek adventures fair in Homer's land ?

Did I not see thy sinking spirits fail,

And wish thy bark had never left the strand ?

Even in mid ocean often didst thou quail,
And oft lift up thy holy eye and hand,

Praying to virgin dear and saintly choir

Back to the port to bring thy bark entire."

And now the bark is sailing up the Thames, with bells
ringing, bonfires blazing, and " bones and cleavers " clash-
ing. So splendid a show suggests Lord Mayor's Day, but,
in fact, it is only the crowd of Pope's friends come to
welcome him on his successful achievement; and a long
catalogue follows, in which each is indicated by some ap-
propriate epithet. The list includes some doubtful sym-
pathizers, such as Gildon, who comes " hearing thou hast
riches," and even Dennis, who, in fact, continued to growl
out criticisms against the triumphant poet. Steele, too,
and Tickell,


*' Whose skiff (in partnership they say)
Srt forth for Greece but founder'd on the way,"

would not applaud very cordially. Addison, their com-
mon hero, was beyond the reach of satire or praise. Par-
nell, who had contributed a life of Homer, died in 1718;
and Rowe and Garth, sound Whigs, but friends and often
boon companions of the little papist, had followed. Swift
was breathing " Boeotian air" in his deanery, and St. John
was " confined to foreign climates " for very sufficient rea-
sons. Any such roll-call of friends must show melan-
choly gaps, and sometimes the gaps are more significant
than the names. Yet Pope could boast of a numerous
body of men, many of them of high distinction, who were
ready to give him a warm welcome. There were, indeed,
few eminent persons of the time, either in the political or
literary worlds, with whom this sensitive and restless little
invalid did not come into contact, hostile or friendly, at
some part of his career. His friendships were keen and
his hostilities more than proportionally bitter. We see
his fragile figure, glancing rapidly from one hospitable
circle to another, but always standing a little apart ; now
paying court to some conspicuous wit, or philosopher, or
statesman, or beauty ; now taking deadly offence for some
utterly inexplicable reason ; writhing with agony under
clumsy blows which a robuster nature would have met
with contemptuous laughter; racking his wits to contrive
exquisite compliments, and suddenly exploding in sheer
Billingsgate; making a mountain of every mole-hill in his
pilgrimage ; always preoccupied with his last literary proj-
ect ; and yet finding time for innumerable intrigues, for
carrying out schemes of vengeance for wounded vanity,
and for introducing himself into every quarrel that was
un around him. In all his multifarious schemes


and occupations he found it convenient to cover himself
by elaborate mystifications, and was as anxious (it would
seem) to deceive posterity as to impose upon contempora-
ries ; and hence it is as difficult clearly to disentangle the
twisted threads of his complex history as to give an in-
telligible picture of the result of the investigation. The
publication of the Iliad, however, marks a kind of central
point in his history. Pope has reached independence,
and become the acknowledged head of the literary world ;
and it will be convenient here to take a brief survey of
his position, before following out two or three different
series of events, which can scarcely be given in chronolog-
ical order. Pope, when he first came to town and follow-
ed Wychcrley about like a dog, had tried to assume the
airs of a rake. The same tone is adopted in many of his
earlier letters. At Binfield he became demure, correct,
and respectful to the religious scruples of his parents. In
his visits to London and Bath he is little better than one
of the wicked. In a copy of verses (not too decent) writ-
ten in 1715, as a " Farewell to London," he gives us to
understand that he has been hearing the chimes at mid-
night, and knows where the bona-robas dwell. He is
forced to leave his jovial friends and his worrying pub-
lishers "for Homer (damn him!) calls." He is, so he

assures us,

" Still idle, with a busy air

Deep whimsies to contrive ;
The gayest valetudinaire,
Most thinking rake alive."

And he takes a sad leave of London pleasures.

" Luxurious lobster nights, farewell,

For sober, studious days !
And Burlington's delicious meal
For salads, tarts, and pease."


Writing from Bath a little earlier, to Teresa and Martha
Blonnt, he employs the same jaunty strain. " Every one,"
he says, " values Mr. Pope, but every one for a different
reason. One for his adherence to the Catholic faith, an-
other for his neglect of Popish superstition ; one for his
good behaviour, another for his whimsicalities ; Mr. Tit-
comb for his pretty atheistical jests; Mr. Gary 11 for his
moral and Christian sentences ; Mrs. Teresa for his reflec-
tions on Mrs. Patty ; Mrs. Patty for his reflections on Mrs.
Teresa." He is an " agreeable rattle ;" the accomplished
rake, drinking with the wits, though above boozing with
the squire, and capable of alleging his drunkenness as an
excuse for writing very questionable letters to ladies.

Pope was too sickly and too serious to indulge long in
such youthful fopperies. He had no fund of high spirits
to draw upon, and his playfulness was too near deadly ear-
nest for the comedy of common life. He had too much
intellect to be a mere fribble, and had not the strong ani-
mal passions of the thorough debauchee. Age came upon
him rapidly, and he had sown his wild oats, such as they
were, while still a young man. Meanwhile his reputation
and his circle of acquaintances were rapidly spreading, and
in spite of all his disqualifications for the coarser forms of
conviviality, he took the keenest possible interest in the
life that went on around him. A satirist may not be a


pleasant companion, but he must frequent society ; he
must be on the watch for his natural prey ; he must de-
scribe the gossip of the day, for it is the raw material
from which he spins his finished fabric. ,Pope, as his
writings show, was an eager recipient of all current ru-
mours, whether they affected his aristocratic friends or the
humble denizens of Grub - street. Fully to elucidate his
poems, a commentator requires to have at his fingers' ends


the whole ckronigue scandaleuse of the day. With such
tastes, it was natural that, as the subscriptions for his
Homer began to pour in, he should be anxious to move
nearer the great social centre. London itself might be too
exciting for his health and too destructive of literary lei-
sure. Accordingly, in 1716, the little property at Binfield
was sold, and the Pope family moved to Mawson's New
Buildings, on the bank of the river at Chiswick, and " un-
der the wing of my Lord Burlington." He seems to have
been a little ashamed of the residence ; the name of it
is certainly neither aristocratic nor poetical. Two years
later, on the death of his father, he moved up the river to
the villa at Twickenham, which has always been associated
with his name, and was his home for the last twenty-five
years of his life. There he had the advantage of being
just on the boundary of the great world. He was within
easy reach of Hampton Court, Richmond, and Kew ; places
which, during Pope's residence, were frequently glorified
by the presence of George II. and his heir and natural
enemy, Frederick, Prince of Wales. Pope, indeed, did not
enjoy the honour of any personal interview with royalty.

George is said to have called him a verv honest man after


reading his Dunciad; but Pope's references to his Sover-
eign were not complimentary. There was a report, refer-
red to by Swift, that Pope had purposely avoided a visit
from Queen Caroline. He was on very friendly terms
with Mrs. Howard afterwards Lady Suffolk the pow-
erless mistress, who was intimate with two of his chief
friends, Bathurst and Peterborough, and who settled at
Marble Villa, in Twickenham. Pope and Bathurst helped
to lay out her grounds, and she stayed there to become a
friendly neighbour of Horace Walpole, who, unluckily for
lovers of gossip, did not become a Twickenhamite until


throe vrars after Pope's death. Pope was naturally more
allied with the Prince of Wales, who occasionally visited
him, and became intimate with the band of patriots and
enthusiasts who saw in the heir to the throne the coming
"patriot king." Bolingbroke, too, the great inspirer of
the opposition, and Pope's most revered friend, was for
ten years at Dawley, within an easy drive. London was
easily accessible by road and by the river which bounded
his lawn. His waterman appears to have been one of the
regular members of his household. There he had every
opportunity for the indulgence of his favourite tastes.
The villa was on one of the loveliest reaches of the Thames,
not yet polluted by the encroachments of London. The
house itself was destroyed in the beginning of this centu-
ry ; and the garden (if we may trust Horace Walpole) had
been previously spoilt. This garden, says Walpole, was a
little bit of ground of five acres, enclosed by three lanes.
"Pope had twisted and twirled and rhymed and harmo-
nized this, till it appeared two or three sweet little lawns,
opening and opening beyond one another, and the whole
surrounded with impenetrable woods." These, it appears,
were hacked and hewed into mere desolation by the next
proprietor. Pope was, indeed, an ardent lover of the ris-
ing art of landscape gardening ; he was familiar with
Bridgeman and Kent, the great authorities of the time,
and his example and precepts helped to promote the de-
velopment of a less formal style. His theories are partly
indicated in the description of Timon's villa.

"His gardens next your admiration call,
On every side you look, behold the wall !
Xo pleasing intricacies intervene,
No artful wildness to perplex the scene;
Grove nods at grove, each alley has a brother,
And half the platform just reflects the other."


Pope's taste, indeed, tolerated various old-fashioned ex-
crescences which we profess to despise. lie admired mock
classical temples and obelisks erected judiciously at the
ends of vistas. His most famous piece of handiwork, the
grotto at Twickenham, still remains, and is, in fact, a short
tunnel under the hi^h road to connect his grounds with


the lawn which slopes to the river. He describes, in a let-
ter to one of his friends, his "temple wholly comprised of
shells in the rustic manner," and his famous grotto so pro-
vided with mirrors that when the doors are shut it be-
comes a camera obscura, reflecting hills, river, and boats,
and when lighted up glitters with rays reflected from bits
of looking-glass in angular form. His friends pleased him
by sending pieces of spar from the mines of Cornwall and
Derbyshire, petrifactions, marble, coral, crystals, and hum-

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 21 of 44)