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ming-birds' nests. It was. in fact, a gorgeous example of
the kind of architecture with which the cit delighted to
adorn his country box. The hobby, whether in good taste
or not, gave Pope never-ceasing amusement ; and he wrote
some characteristic verses in its praise.

In his grotto, as he declares in another place, he could
sit in peace with his friends, undisturbed by the distant
din of the world.

" There my retreat the best companions grace,
Chiefs out of war, and statesmen out of place ;
There St. John mingles with my friendly bowl
The feast of reason and the flow of soul ;
And he whose lightning pierced the Iberian lines
Now forms my quincunx and now ranks my vines,
Or tames the genius of the stubborn plain
Almost as quickly as he conquer'd Spain."

The grotto, one would fear, was better fitted for frogs than
for philosophers capable of rheumatic twinges. But de-
G 5


ducting what we please from such utterances on the score
of affectation, the picture of Pope amusing himself with
liis grotto and his plantations, directing old John Searle,
his gardener, and conversing with the friends whom he
compliments so gracefully, is, perhaps, the pleasantest in
his history. He was far too restless and too keenly inter-
ested in society and literature to resign himself permanent-
ly to any such retreat.

Pope's constitutional irritability kept him constantly on
the wing. Though little interested in politics, he liked to
be on the edge of any political commotion. He appeared
in London on the death of Queen Caroline, in 1737 ; and
Bathurst remarked that " he was as sure to be there in a
bustle as a porpoise in a storm." " Our friend Pope,"
said Jervas not long before, "is off and on, here and there,
everywhere and nowhere, a son ordinaire, and, therefore as
well as we can hope for a carcase so crazy." The Twick-
enham villa, though nominally dedicated to repose, became,
of course, a centre of attraction for the interviewers of the
day. The opening lines of the Prologue to the Satires
give a vivacious description of the crowds of authors who
rushed to " Twitnam," to obtain his patronage or counte-
nance, in a day when editors were not the natural scape-
goats of such aspirants.

" What walls can guard me, or what shades can hide ?
They pierce my thickets, through my grot they glide ;
By land, by water, they renew the charge ;
They stop the chariot and they board the barge :
No place is sacred, not the church is free,
E'en Sunday shines no Sabbath-day to me."

Ana even at an earlier period he occasionally retreated
*com the bustle to find time for his Homer. Lord Har-


court, the Chancellor in the last years of Queen Anne, al-
lowed him to take up his residence in his old house of
Stein ton Harcourt, in Oxfordshire. He inscribed on a
pane of glass in an upper room, "In the year 1718 Al-
exander Pope finished here the fifth volume of Homer."
In his earlier days he was often rambling about on horse-
back. A letter from Jervas gives the plan of one such
jaunt (in 1715), with Arbuthnot and Disney for com-
panions. Arbuthnot is to be commander -in -chief, and
allows only a shirt and a cravat to be carried in each
traveller's pocket. They are to make a moderate jour-
ney each day, and stay at the houses of various friends,
ending ultimately at Bath. Another letter of about the

O *

same date describes a ride to Oxford, in which Pope is
overtaken by his publisher, Lintot, who lets him into vari-
ous secrets of the trade, and proposes that Pope should
turn an ode of Horace whilst sitting under the trees to
rest. "Lord, if you pleased, what a clever miscellany
might you make at leisure hours !" exclaims the man

^ *<

of business ; and though Pope laughed at the advice, we
might fancy that he took it to heart. He always had
bits of verse on the anvil, ready to be hammered and pol-
ished at any moment. But even Pope could not be always
writing, and the mere mention of these rambles suggests
pleasant lounging through old-world country lanes of the
quiet century. We think of the roadside life seen by
Parson Adams or Humphry Clinker, and of which Mr.
Borrow caught the last glimpse when dwelling in the
tents of the Romany. In later days Pope had to put
his "crazy carcase" into a carriage, and occasionally came
in for less pleasant experiences. Whilst driving home one
night from Dawley, in Bolingbroke's carriage and six, he
was upset in a stream. He escaped drowning, though the


water was " up to the knots of his periwig," but he was
so cut by the broken glass that he nearly lost the use of his
rio;iit hand. On another occasion Spence was delighted by
the sudden appearance of the poet at Oxford, "dreadful-
ly fatigued;" he had good-naturedly lent his own chariot

j a *

to a lady who had been hurt in an upset, and had walked
three miles to Oxford on a sultry day.

A man of such brilliant wit, familiar with so many social
circles, should have been a charming companion. It must,
however, be admitted that the accounts which have come
down to us do not confirm such preconceived impressions.
Like his great rival, Addison, though for other reasons, he
was generally disappointing in society. Pope, as may be
guessed from Spence's reports, had a large fund of inter-
esting literary talk, such as youthful aspirants to fame
would be delio-hted to receive with reverence ; he had

o *

the reputation for telling anecdotes skilfully, and we may
suppose that when he felt at ease, with a respectful and
safe companion, he could do himself justice. But he must
have been very trying to his hosts. He could seldom lay
aside his self-consciousness sufficiently to write an easy let-
ter; and the same fault probably spoilt his conversation.
Swift complains of him as a silent and inattentive com-
panion, lie went to sleep at his own table, says Johnson,
when the Prince of Wales was talking poetry to him
certainly a severe trial. He would, we may guess, be silent
till he had something to say worthy of the great Pope, and
would then doubt whether it was not wise to treasure it
up for preservation in a couplet. His sister declared that
she had never seen him laugh heartily ; and Spence, who
records the saying, is surprised, because Pope was said to
have been very lively in his youth ; but admits that in
later years he never went beyond a " particular easy


smile." A hearty laugh would have sounded strangely
from the touchy, moody, intriguing 1 little man, who could
" hardly drink tea without a stratagem." His sensitive-
ness, indeed, appearing by his often weeping when he read
moving passages ; but we can hardly imagine him as ever
capable of genial self-abandonment.

His unsocial habits, indeed, were a natural consequence
of ill-health. He never seems to have been thoroughly
well for many days together. He implied no more than
the truth when he speaks of his Muse as helping him
through that " long disease, his life." Writing to Bath-
urst in 1728, he says that he does not expect to enjoy any
health for four days together ; and, not long after, Bath-
urst remonstrates with him for his carelessness, asking
him whether it is not enough to have the headache for
four days in the week and be sick for the other three. It
is no small proof of intellectual energy that he managed
to do so much thorough work under such disadvantages,
and his letters show less of the invalid's querulous spirit
than we might well have pardoned. Johnson gives a
painful account of his physical defects, on the authority
of an old servant of Lord Oxford, who frequently saw
him in his later years. He was so weak as to be unable
to rise to dress himself without help. He was so sensi-
tive to cold that he had to wear a kind of fur doublet
under a coarse linen shirt ; one of his sides w r as con-
tracted, and he could scarcely stand upright till he was
laced into a boddice made of stiff canvas : his le^s were


so slender that he had to wear three pairs of stockings,
which he was unable to draw on and off without help.
His seat had to be raised to bring him to a level with
common tables. In one of his papers in the Guardian
he describes himself apparently as Dick Distich : " a live-


ly little creature, with long legs and arms ; a spider 1 is
no ill emblem of him ; he has been taken at a distance
for a small windmill." His face, says Johnson, was " not
displeasing," and the portraits are eminently characteris-
tic. The thin, drawn features wear the expression of ha-
bitual pain, but are brightened up by the vivid and pene-
trating eye, which seems to be the characteristic poetical

It was, after all, a gallant spirit which got so much work
out of this crazy carcase, and kept it going, spite of all its
feebleness, for fifty-six years. The servant whom Johnson
quotes said that she was called from her bed four times in
one night, " in the dreadful winter of Forty," to supply
him with paper, lest he should lose a thought. His con-
stitution was already breaking down, but the intellect was
still striving to save every moment allowed to him. His
friends laughed at his habit of scribbling upon odd bits of
paper. " Paper -sparing" Pope is the epithet bestowed
upon him by Swift, and a great part of the Iliad is writ-
ten upon the backs of letters. The habit seems to have
been regarded as illustrative of his economical habits ; but
it was also natural to a man who was on the watch to turn
every fragment of time to account. If anything was to
be finished, he must snatch at the brief intervals allowed
by his many infirmities. Naturally, he fell into many of
the self-indulgent and troublesome ways of the valetudi-
narian. He was constantly wanting cotfee, which seems to
have soothed his headaches; and for this and his other
wants he used to wear out the servants in his friends'
houses by " frequent and frivolous errands." Yet he was
apparently a kind master. His servants lived with him

The same comparison is made by Cibber in a rather unsavoury


till they became friends, and he took care to pay so well
the unfortunate servant whose sleep was broken by his
calls, that she said that she would want no wages in a
family where she had to wait upon Mr. Pope. Another
form of self-indulgence was more injurious to himself.
He pampered his appetite with highly -seasoned dishes,
and liked to receive delicacies from his friends. His
death was imputed by some of his friends, says Johnson,
to " a silver saucepan in which it was his delight to eat
potted lampreys." He would always get up for dinner,
in spite of headache, when told that this delicacy was pro-
vided. Yet, as Johnson also observes, the excesses cannot
have been very great, as they did not sooner cut short
so fragile an existence. " Two bites and a sup more than
your stint," says Swift, " will cost you more than others
pay for a regular debauch."

At home, indeed, he appears to have been generally ab-
stemious. Probably the habits of his parents' little house-
hold were very simple ; and Pope, like Swift, knew the
value of independence well enough to be systematically eco-
nomical. Swift, indeed, had a more generous heart, and
a lordly indifference to making money by his writings,

*/ o * / o

which Pope, who owed his fortune chiefly to his Homer,
did not attempt to rival. Swift alludes, in his letters to an
anecdote, which we may hope does not represent his habit-
ual practice. Pope, it appears, was entertaining a couple
of friends, and when four glasses had been consumed from
a pint, retired, saying, " Gentlemen, I leave you to your
wine." " I tell that story to everybody," says Swift, " in
commendation of Mr. Pope's abstemiousness;" but he tells
it, one may guess, with something of a rueful countenance.
At times, however, it seems that Pope could give a "splen-
did dinner," and show no want of the " skill and elegance


which such performances require." Pope, in fact, seems
to have shown a combination of qualities which is not un-
common, though sometimes called inconsistent. He val-


ued money as a man values it who has been poor and feels
it essential to his comfort to be fairly beyond the reach of
want, and was accordingly pretty sharp at making a bar-
gain with a publisher or in arranging terms with a collab-
orator. But he could also be liberal on occasion. John-
son savs that his whole income amounted to about 800/. a


year, out of which he professed himself able to assign 100/.
to charity ; and though the figures are doubtful, and all
Pope's statements about his own proceedings liable to sus-
picion, he appears to have been often generous in helping
the distressed with money, as well as with advice or rec-
ommendations to his powerful friends. Pope, by his in-
firmities and his talents, belonged to the dependent class
of mankind. He was in no sense capable of standing firm-
ly upon his own legs. He had a longing, sometimes pa-
thetic and sometimes humiliating, for the applause of his
fellows and the sympathy of friends. "With feelings so
morbidly sensitive, and with such a lamentable incapacity
for straightforward openness in any relation of life, he was
naturally a dangerous companion. He might be brooding
over some fancied injury or neglect, and meditating re-
venge, when he appeared to be on good terms ; when really
desiring to do a service to a friend, he might adopt some
tortuous means for obtaining his ends, which would con-
vert the service into an injury ; and, if he had once become
alienated, the past friendship would be remembered by him
as involving a kind of humiliation, and therefore supplying
additional keenness to his resentment. And yet it is plain
that throughout life he was always anxious to lean upon
some stroii^vr nature; to have a sturdy supporter whom


he was too apt to turn into an accomplice; or at least to
have some good-natured, easy-going companion, in whose
society he might find repose for his tortured nerves. And
therefore, though the story of his friendships is unfortu-
nately intertwined with the story of bitter quarrels and in-
defensible acts of treachery, it also reveals a touching de-
. sire for the kind of consolation which would be most val-
uable to one so accessible to the pettiest stings of his ene-
mies. He had many warm friends, moreover, who, by good
fortune or the exercise of unusual prudence, never excited
his wrath, and whom he repaid by genuine affection.
Some of these friendships have become famous, and will
be best noticed in connexion with passages in his future
career. It will be sufficient if I here notice a few names,
in order to show that a complete picture of Pope's life, if
it could now be produced, would include many figures of
which we only catch occasional glimpses.

Pope, as I have said, though most closely connected with
the Tories and Jacobites, disclaimed any close party con-
nexion, and had some relations with the Whi^s. Some
courtesies even passed between him and the great Sir Rob-
ert Walpole, whose interest in literature was a vanishing
quantity, and whose bitterest enemies were Pope's greatest
friends. Walpole, however, as we have seen, asked for
preferment for Pope's old friend, and Pope repaid him
with more than one compliment. Thus, in the Epilogue
to the Satires, he says,


" Seen him I have, but in his happier hour
Of social pleasure, ill exchanged for power.
Seen him, encumber'd with the venal tribe,
Smile without art and win without a bribe."

Another Whig statesman for whom Pope seems to have
entertained an especially warm regard was James Cracrgs,



Addison's successor as Secretary of State, who died whilst
under suspicion of peculation in the South Sea business
(iTiM). The Whig connexion might have been turned to
account. Craggs, during his brief tenure of office, offered
Pope a pension of 300/. a year (from the secret service
money), which Pope declined, whilst saying that, if in want
of money, he would apply to Craggs as a friend. A ne-
gotiation of the same kind took place with Halifax, who
aimed at the glory of being the great literary patron. It
seems that he was anxious to have the Homer dedicated
to him, and Pope, being unwilling to gratify him, or, as
Johnson says, being less eager for money than Halifax for
praise, sent a cool answer, and the negotiation passed off.
Pope afterwards revenged himself for this offence by his
bitter satire on Bufo in the Prologue to his Satires, though
he had not the courage to admit its obvious application.

Pope deserves the credit of preserving his independence.
He would not stoop low enough to take a pension at the
price virtually demanded by the party in power. He was
not, however, inaccessible to aristocratic blandishments,
and was proud to be the valued and petted guest in many
great houses. Through Swift he had become acquainted
with Oxford, the colleague of Bolino-broke, and was a fre-

O O '

quent and intimate guest of the second Earl, from whose
servant Johnson derived the curious information as to his
habits. Ilarcourt, Oxford's Chancellor, lent him a house
whilst translating Homer. Sheffield, the Duke of Buck-
ingham, had been an early patron, and after the duke's
death, Pope, at the request of his eccentric duchess, the il-
legitimate daughter of James II., edited some of his works,
and got into trouble for some Jacobite phrases contained
in them. His most familiar friend among the opposition
magnates was Lord Bathurst, a man of uncommon vivacity


and good-humour. He was born four years before Pope,
and died more than thirty years later, at the age of ninety-
one. One of the finest passages in Burke's American
speeches turns upon the vast changes which had taken
place during Bathurst's lifetime. lie lived to see his son
Chancellor. Two years before his death the son left the


father's dinner-table with some remark upon the advantage
of regular habits. " Now the old gentleman's gone," said
the lively youth of eighty-nine to the remaining guests,
"let's crack the other bottle." Bathurst delio-hted in


planting, and Pope in giving him advice, and in discuss-
ing the opening of vistas and erection of temples, and
the poet was apt to be vexed when his advice was not

Another friend, even more restless and comet-like in his
appearances, was the famous Peterborough, the man who
had seen more kings and postilions than any one in Eu-
rope ; of whom Walsh injudiciously remarked that he had
too much wit to be entrusted with the command of an
army; and whose victories, soon after the unlucky remark
had been made, were so brilliant as to resemble strategical
epigrams. Pope seems to have been dazzled by the amaz-
ing vivacity of the man, and has left a curious description
of his last days. Pope found him on the eve of the vov-

V i. /

age in which he died, sick of an agonizing disease, crying
out for pain at night, fainting away twice in the morning,
lying like a dead man for a time, and in the intervals of
pain giving a dinner to ten people, laughing, talking, de-
claiming against the corruption of the times, giving direc-
tions to his workmen, and insisting upon going to sea in a
yacht without preparations for landing anywhere in par-
ticular. Pope seems to have been specially attracted by
such men, with intellects as restless as his own, but with


infinitely more vitality to stand the consequent wear and

\Ve should be better pleased if we could restore a vivid
imauv of the inner circle upon which his happiness most
intimately depended. In one relation of life Pope's con-
duct was not only blameless, but thoroughly loveable. He
was, it is plain, the best of sons. Even here, it is true, he
is a little too consciously virtuous. Yet when he speaks
of his father and mother there are tears in his voice, and
it ?.s impossible not to recognize genuine warmth of heart.


" Me let the tender office long engage
To rock the cradle of reposing age,
With lenient arts extend a mother's breath,
Make languor smile, and soothe the bed of death,
Explore the thought, explain the asking eye,
And keep awhile one parent from the sky!" 1

Such verses are a spring in the desert, a gush of the
true feeling, which contrasts with the strained and facti-
tious sentiment in his earlier rhetoric, and almost forces us
to love the writer. Could Pope have preserved that high-
er mood, he would have held our affections as he often
delights our intellect.

Unluckily we can catch but few glimpses of Pope's
family life ; of the old mother and father and the affec-
tionate nurse, who lived with him till 1721, and died dur-
ing a dangerous illness of his mother's. The father, of
whom we hear little after his early criticism of the son's
bad "rhymes," died in 1717; and a brief note to Martha
Blount gives Pope's feelings as fully as many pages : " My

1 It is curious to compare these verses with the original copy con-
tained in a letter to Aaron Hill. The comparison shows how skilful-
ly Pope polished his most successful passages.


poor father died last night. Believe, since I don't forget
you this moment, I never shall. 1 ' The mother survived
till 1733, tenderly watched by Pope, who would never be
lon<x absent from her, and whose references to her are uni-

O '

formly tender and beautiful. One or two of her letters
are preserved. " My Deare, A letter from your sister
just now is come and gone, Mr. Mennock and Charls Rack-
itt, to take his leve of us ; but being nothing in it, doe
not send it. . . . Your sister is very well, but your broth-
er is not. There's Mr. Blunt of Maypell Durom is dead,
the same day that Mr. Ingleficld died. My servis to Mrs.
Blounts, and all that ask of me. I hope to here from you,
and that you are well, which is my dalye prayers ; this
with my blessing." The old lady had peculiar views of
orthography ; and Pope, it is said, gave her the pleasure
of copying out some of his Homer, though the necessary
corrections gave him and the printers more trouble than
would be saved by such an amanuensis. Three days after

/ J

her death he wrote to Richardson, the painter. " I thank
God," he savs, " her death was as easy as her life was in-

*/ i/

nocent ; and as it cost her not a groan, nor even a sigh,
there is yet upon her countenance such an expression of
tranquillity, nay, almost of pleasure, that it is even envia-
ble to behold it. It would afford the finest image of a
saint expired that ever painter drew, and it would be the
greatest obligation which ever that obliging art could ever
bestow upon a friend, if you would come and sketch it
for me. I am sure if there be no very prevalent obstacle,
you will leave anv common business to do this, and I shall

* /

hope to see you this evening as late as you will, or to-mor-
row morning as early, before this winter flower is faded."
Swift's comment, on hearing the news, gives the only con-
solation which Pope could have felt. " She died in ex-

100 POPE. [CHAP.

trcme old a^e," lie writes, " without pain, under the care
of the most dutiful son I have ever known or heard of,
which is a felicity not happening to one in a million."
And with her death, its most touching and ennobling in-
fluence faded from Pope's life. There is no particular
merit in loving a mother, but few biographies give a more
striking proof that the loving discharge of a common duty
may give a charm to a whole character. It is melancholy
to add that we often have to appeal to this part of his
story, to assure ourselves that Pope was really deserving
of some affection.

The part of Pope's history which naturally follows
brings us again to the region of unsolved mysteries. The
one prescription which a spiritual physician would have
suggested in Pope's case would have been the love of a
good and sensible woman. A nature so capable of tender
feeling and so essentially dependent upon others, might
have been at once soothed and supported by a happy do-
mestic life ; though it must be admitted that it would
have required no common qualifications in a wife to calm
so irritable and jealous a spirit. Pope was unfortunate in
his surroundings. The bachelor society of that day, not
only the society of the AVycherleys and Crom wells, but the
more virtuous society of Addison and his friends, was cer-


tainly not remarkable for any exalted tone about women.

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 22 of 44)