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Bolingbroke, Peterborough, and Bathurst, Pope's most ad-
mired friends, were all more or less flagrantly licentious;
and Swift's mysterious story shows that if he could love a, his love might be as dangerous as hatred. In such
a school, Pope, eminently malleable to the opinions of his
companions, was not likely to acquire a high standard of
sentiment. His personal defects were equally against him.
His frame was not adapted for the robust gallantry of the


time. He wanted a nurse rather than a wife; and if his
infirmities might excite pity, pity is akin to contempt as
well as to love. The poor little invalid, brutally abused
for his deformity by such men as Dennis and his friends,
was stuno- bevond all self-control by their coarse laughter,

/ /

and by the consciousness that it only echoed, in a more
brutal shape, the judgment of the fine ladies of the time.
His language about women, sometimes expressing coarse
contempt and sometimes rising to ferocity, is the reaction
of his morbid sensibility under such real and imagined

Such feelings must be remembered in speaking briefly
of two love affairs, if they are such, which profoundly af-
fected his happiness. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is
amongst the most conspicuous figures of the time. She
bad been made a toast at the Kitcat Club at the age of
eight, and she translated Epictetus (from the Latin) before
she was twenty. She wrote verses, some of them amaz-
ingly coarse, though decidedly clever, and had married
Mr. Edward Wortley Montagu in defiance of her father's
will, though even in this, her most romantic proceeding,
there are curious indications of a respect for prudential
considerations. Her husband was a friend of Addison's,
and a AVhig ; and she accompanied him on an embassy to
Constantinople in 1716-17, where she wrote the excel-
lent letters published after her death, and whence she im-
ported the practice of inoculation, in spite of much oppo-
sition. A distinguished leader of society, she was also a
woman of shrewd intellect and masculine character. In
1739 she left her husband, though no quarrel preceded or
followed the separation, and settled for many years in Ita-
ly. Her letters are characteristic of the keen woman- of


the world, with an underlying vein of nobler feeling, per-

102 POPE. [CHAP.

\vrtrd by harsh experience into a prevailing cynicism.
I'.-pe had made her 'acquaintance before she left England,
lit- wrote poems to her and corrected her verses till she
cruel I v refused his services, on the painfully plausible
ground that he would claim all the good for himself and
leave all the bad for her. They corresponded during her
first absence abroad. The common sense is all on the
lady's side, whilst Pope puts on his most elaborate man-
ners and addresses her in the strained compliments of old-
fashioned gallantry. He acts the lover, though it is obvi-
ously mere acting, and his language is stained by indeli-
cacies, which could scarcely offend Lady Mary, if we may
judge her by her own poetical attempts. The most char-
acteristic of Pope's letters related to an incident at Stanton
Harcourt. Two rustic lovers were surprised by a thunder-
storm in a field near the house ; they were struck by light-
ning, and found lying dead in each other's arms. Here
was an admirable chance for Pope, who was staying in the
house with his friend Gav. He wrote off a beautiful let-


ter to Lady Mary, 1 descriptive of the event a true prose
pastoral in the Strephon and Chloe style. He got Lord
Harcourt to erect a monument over the common grave of
the lovers, and composed a couple of epitaphs, which he
submitted to Lady Mary's opinion. She replied by a
cruel dose of common sense, and a doggerel epitaph, which
turned his fine phrases into merciless ridicule. If the
lovers had been spared, she suggests, the first year might

Pope, after his quarrel, wanted to sink his previous intimacy with
Lady Mary, and printed this letter as addressed by Gay to Fortescue,
adding <>ne to the innumerable mystifications of his correspondence.
Mr. Mov Thomas doubts also whether Lady Mary's answer was really
sent at tin- assigned date. The contrast of sentiment is equally char-
in any case.


probably have seen a beaten wife and a deceived husband,
cursing their marriage chain.

"Now they arc happy in their doom,
For Pope has writ upon their tomb."

On Lady Mary's return the intimacy was continued.
She took a house at Twickenham. He got Kneller to
paint her portrait, and wrote letters expressive of humble
adoration. But the tone which did well enough when the


pair were separated by the whole breadth of Europe, was
less suitable when they were in the same parish. After a
time the intimacy faded and changed into mutual antipa-
thy. The specific cause of the quarrel, if cause there was,
has not been clearly revealed. One account, said to come
from Lady Mary, is at least not intrinsically 1 improbable.
According to this story, the unfortunate poet forgot for a
moment that he was a contemptible cripple, and forgot also
the existence of Mr. Edward Wortley Montagu, and a pas-
sionate declaration of love drew from the lady an " immod-
erate fit of laughter." Ever afterwards, it is added, he was
her implacable enemy. Doubtless, if the story be true,
Lady Mary acted like a sensible woman of the world, and
Pope was silly as well as immoral. And yet one cannot
refuse some pitv to the unfortunate wretch, thus rouo-hlv

L V ~ V

jerked back into the consciousness that a fine lady might
make a pretty plaything of him, but could not seriously
regard him with anything but scorn. "Whatever the pre-
cise facts, a breach of some sort might have been antici-

1 Mr. Moy Thomas, in his edition of Lady Mary's letters, considers
this story to be merely an echo of old scandal, and makes a different
conjecture as to the immediate cause of quarrel. His conjecture
seems very improbable to me ; but the declaration story is clearly of
very doubtful authenticity.

104 POPE. [CHAP.

pated. A inline of gallantry in which the natural parts
arc inverted, and the gentleman acts the sentimentalist to
the la<lv's performance of the shrewd cynic, is likely to have
awkward iv-nlN. Pope brooded over his resentment, and
years afterwards took a revenge only too characteristic.
The lirst of his imitations of Horace appeared in 1733.
It contained a couplet, too gross for quotation, making the
most outrageous imputation upon the character of "Sap-
pho." Now, the accusation itself had no relation whatever
cither to facts or even (as I suppose) to any existing scan-
dal. It was simply throwing filth at random. Thus,
when Lady Mary took it to herself, and applied to Pope
through Peterborough for an explanation, Pope could
make a defence verbally impregnable. There was no rea-
son why Lady Mary should fancy that such a cap fitted ;
and it was far more appropriate, as he. added, to other
women notorious for immorality as well as authorship. In
fact, however, there can be no doubt that Pope intended
his abuse to reach its mark. Sappho was an obvious name
for the most famous of poetic ladies. Pope himself, in
one of his last letters to her, savs that fragments of her


writing would please him like fragments of Sappho's;
and their mediator, Peterborough, writes of her under the
same name in some complimentary and once well-known
verses to Mrs. Howard. Pope had himself alluded to her
as Sappho in some verses addressed (about 1722) to an-
other lady, Judith Cowper, afterwards Mrs. Madan, who
was for a time the object of some of his artificial gal-
lantry. The only thing that can be said is that his
abuse- was a sheer piece of Billingsgate, too devoid of
plausibility to be more than an expression of virulent
hatred. lie was like a dirty boy who throws mud from


an ambush, and declares that he did not see the victim be-
spattered. 1

A bitter and humiliating quarrel followed. Lord Her-
vcy, who had been described as " Lord Fanny," in the
same satire, joined with his friend, Lady Mary, in writing
lampoons upon Pope. The best known was a copy of
verses, chiefly, if not exclusively, by Lady Mary, in which
Pope is brutally taunted with the personal deformities
of his " wretched little carcase," which, it seems, are the
only cause of his being " unwhipt, unblanketed, unkicked."
One verse seems to have stung him more deeply, which
says that his "crabbed numbers" are

" Hard as his heart and as his birth obscure."

To this and other assaults Pope replied by a long letter,
suppressed, however, for the time, which, as Johnson says,
exhibits to later readers " nothing but tedious malignity,"
and is, in fact, a careful raking together of everything
likely to give pain to his victim. It was not published
till 1751, when both Pope and Hervey were dead. In
his later writings he made references to Sappho, which
fixed the name upon her, and amongst other pleasant in-

1 Another couplet in the second book of the Dunciad about " hap-
less Monsieur" and "Lady Maries," was also applied at the time to
Lady M. W. Montagu : and Pope in a later note affects to deny, thus
really pointing the allusion. But the obvious meaning of the whole
passage is that " duchesses and Lady Maries " might be personated
by abandoned women, which would certainly be unpleasant for them,
but does not imply any imputation upon their character. If Lady
Mary was really the author of a "Pop upon Pope" a story of
Pope's supposed whipping in the vein of his own attack upon Den-
nis, she alreadv considered him as the author of some scandal. The


line in the Dunciad was taken to allude to a story about a M. Remond
which has been fully cleared up.

106 POPE. [CHAP.

Himati'ns, speaks of a weakness which she shared with
L)r. Johnson an inadequate appreciation of clean linen.
M-re malignant accusations are implied both in his ac-
knowledged and anonymous writings. The most fero-
cious of all his assaults, however, is the character of
Spurns, that is, Lord Hervey, in the epistle to Arbuthnot,
\\liere he seems to be actually screaming with malignant
furv. He returns the taunts as to effeminacy, and calls

V *

his adversary a " mere white curd of asses' milk," an in-
nocent drink, which he was himself in the habit of con-


We turn gladly from these miserable hostilities, dis-
graceful to all concerned. Were any excuse available for
Pope, it would be in the brutality of taunts, coming not
onlv from rough dwellers in Grub-street, but from the
most polished representatives of the highest classes, upon
personal defects, which the most ungenerous assailant
might surely have spared. But it must also be granted
that Pope was neither the last to give provocation, nor at
all inclined to refrain from the use of poisoned weapons.

The other connexion of which I have spoken has also
its mvstcrv like evervthinsf else in Pope's career. Pope

* v / CJ 1 L

had been early acquainted with Teresa and Martha Blount.
Teresa was born in the same year as Pope, and Martha
two years later. 1 They were daughters of Lister Blount,
of Mapledurham ; and after his death, in, 1710, and the
marriage of their only brother, in 1V11, they lived with

The statements as to the date of the acquaintance are contra-
dictory. Martha told Spence that she first knew Pope as a "very
little <rirl," but added that it was after the publication of the Essay
on f W//V/.S///, -when she was twenty-one ; and at another time, that
it was after he had begun the Iliad, which was later than part of the
pulili-hed correspondence.


their mother in London, and passed much of the summer
near Twickenham. They seem to have been lively young
women who had been educated at Paris. Teresa was the
most religious, and the greatest lover of London society.
I have already quoted a passage or two from the early
letters addressed to the two sisters. It has also to be said
that he was Q'uiltv of writing to them stuff which it is in-

C7 / O

conceivable that any decent man should have communi-
cated to a modest woman. They do not seem to have
taken offence. He professes himself the slave of both al-
ternately or together. " Even from my infancy." he says
(in 1714), " I have been in love with one or other of you
week by week, and my journey to Bath icll out in the
37 6th week of the reign of my sovereign lady Sylvia.
At the present writing hereof, it is the 389th week of the
reign of your most serene majesty, in whose service I was
listed some weeks before I beheld your sister." He had
suggested to Lady Mary that the concluding lines of Eloi-
sa contained a delicate compliment to her; and he char-
acteristically made a similar insinuation to Martha Blount
about the same passage. Pope was decidedly an econo-
mist even of his compliments. Some later letters are in
less artificial language, and there is a really touching and
natural letter to Teresa in regard to an illness of her sis-
ter's. After a time, we find that some difficulty has arisen.


He feels that his presence gives pain ; when he comes he
either makes her (apparently Teresa) uneasy, or he sees
her unkind. Teresa, it would seem, is jealous, and disap-
proves of his attentions to Martha. In the midst of this
we find that in 1717 Pope settled an annuity upon Teresa
of 40/. a year for six years, on condition of her not being
married during that time. The fact has suo-o-ested vari-

o ^^

ous speculations, but was, perhaps, only a part of some


family arrangement, made convenient by the diminished
fortunes of the ladies. Whatever the history, Pope grad-
uallv became attached to Martha, and simultaneously came
to regard Teresa with antipathy. Martha, in fact, became
bv degrees almost a member of his household. His cor-
respondents take for granted that she is his regular com-
panion. He writes of her to Gay, in 1730, as "a friend
a woman friend, God help me ! - - with whom I have
spent three or four hours a day these fifteen years." In
his last years, when he was most dependent upon kind-
ness, he seems to have expected that she should be in-
vited to a'ny house which he was himself to visit. Such a
close connexion naturally caused some scandal. In 1725
he defends himself against " villanous lying tales ' ! of
this kind to his old friend Caryll, with whom the Blounts
were connected. At the same time he is making bitter
complaints of Teresa. lie accused her afterwards (1729)
of having an intrigue with a married man, of " strik-
ing, pinching, and abusing her mother to the utmost
shamefulness." The mother, he thinks, is too meek to
resent this tyranny, and Martha, as it appears, refuses to
believe the reports against her sister. Pope audaciously
suggests that it would be a Q'ood thino- if the mother

~~ o c^

could be induced to retire to a convent, and is anxious to
persuade Martha to leave so painful a home. The same
complaints reappear in many letters, but the position re-
mained unaltered. It is impossible to say with any cer-
tainty what may have been the real facts. Pope's mania
for suspicion deprives his suggestions of the slightest
value. The onlv inference to be drawn is, that he drew

'lo>er to Martha Blount as vcars went bv, and was anx-

*.' V '

ious that she should become independent of her fami-
Tliis naturally led to mutual dislike and suspicion,


but nobody can now say whether Teresa pinched her
mother, nor what would have been her account of Martha's
relations to Pope.

Johnson repeats a story that Martha neglected Pope
" with shameful unkindness," in his later years. It is
clearly exaggerated or quite unfounded. At any rate, the
poor sickly man, in his premature and childless old age,
looked up to her with fond affection, pud left to her nearly
the whole of his fortune. His biographers have indulged
in discussions surely superfluous as to the morality of
the connexion. There is no question of seduction, or of
tampering with the affections of an innocent woman.
Pope was but too clearly disqualified from acting the part
of Lothario. There was not in his case anv Vanessa to


give a tragic turn to the connexion, which otherwise re-
sembled Swift's connexion with Stella. Miss Blount, from
all that appears, was quite capable of taking care of her-
self, and, had she wished for marriage, need only have in-
timated her commands to her lover. It is probable
enough that the relations between them led to very un-
pleasant scenes in her family ; but she did not suffer oth-
erwise in accepting Pope's attentions. The probability
seems to be that the friendship had become imperceptibly
closer, and that what began as an idle affectation of gal-
lantry was slowly changed into a devoted attachment, but
not until Pope's health was so broken that marriage would
then, if not always, have appeared to be a mockery.

Poets have a bad reputation as husbands. Strong pas-
sions and keen sensibilities may easily disqualify a man
for domestic tranquillity, and prompt a revolt against rules
essential to social welfare. Pope, like other poets from
Shakspeare to Shelley, was unfortunate in his love affairs ;
but his ill-fortune took a characteristic shape. He was

110 POPE. [CHAP. iv.

not carried away, like Byron and Burns, by overpowering
passions. Rather the emotional power which lay in his
ii.Vniv was prevented from displaying itself by his physical
infirmities, and his strange trickiness and morbid irritabil-
ity. A man who could not make tea without a stratagem,
could hardly be a downright lover. We may imagine
that he would at once make advances and retract them ;
that he would be intolerably touchy and suspicious ; that
every coolness would be interpreted as a deliberate insult,
and that the slightest hint would be enough to set his jeal-
ousy in a flame. A woman would feel that, whatever his
genius and his genuine kindliness, one thing was impossi-
ble with him that is, a real confidence in his sincerity;
and therefore, on the whole, it may, perhaps, be reckoned
as a piece of good fortune for the most wayward and ex-
citable of sane mankind that, if he never fully gained the
most essential condition of all human happiness, he yet
formed a deep and lasting attachment to a woman who,
more or less, returned his feeling. In a life so full of bit-
terness, so harassed by physical pain, one is glad to think,
even w T hilst admitting that the suffering was in great part
foolish self-torture, and in part inflicted as a retribution
for injuries to others, that some glow of feminine kindli-
iii - > might enlighten the dreary stages of his progress
through life. The years left to him after the death of his
mother were few and evil, and it would be hard to grudge
him such consolation as he could receive from the glances
of Patty Blount's blue eyes the eyes which, on Walpole's
testimony, were the last remains of her beauty.



IN the Dunciad, published soon after the Odyssey, Pope
laments ten years spent as a commentator and translator.
He was not without compensation. The drudgery for
the latter part of his task must have been felt as drudgery
once over, he found himself in a thoroughly independent
position, still on the right side of forty, and able to devote
his talents to any task which might please him. The task
which he actually chose was not calculated to promote his
happiness. We must look back to an earlier period to ex-
plain its history. During the last years of Queen Anne,
Pope had belonged to a "little senate" in which Swift
was the chief figure. Though Swift did not exercise

o o

either so gentle or so imperial a sway as Addison, the
cohesion between the more independent members of this
rival clique was strong and lasting. They amused them-
selves by projecting the Scriblerus Club, a body which
never had, it would seem, any definite organization, but
was held to exist for the prosecution of a design never
fully executed. Martinus Scriblerus was the name of an
imaginary pedant a precursor and relative of Dr. Dryas-
dust whose memoirs and works were to form a satire
upon stupidity in the guise of learning. The various
members of the club were to share in the compilation ;
and if such joint-stock undertakings were practicable in
6 21

112 POPE. [CHAP.

literature, it would be difficult to collect a more brilliant
set of contributors. After Swift the terrible humourist
of whom we ean hardly think without a mixture of hor-
ror and compassion the chief members were Atterbury,
Arbuthnot, Gay, Parnell, and Pope himself. Parnell, an
amiable man, died in 171 7, leaving works which were ed-
ited 1>\ Tope in 1722. Atterbury, a potential "Wolsey or
Laud born in an uncongenial period, was a man of fine lit-
erary taste a warm admirer of Milton (though he did ex-
hort Pope to put Samson Agonistes into civilised costume
-one of the most unlucky suggestions ever made by mor-
tal man), a judicious critic of Pope himself, and one who
had already given proofs of his capacity in literary warfare
by his share in the famous controversy with Bentley.
Though no one now doubts the measureless superiority of
Bentley, the clique of Swift and Pope still cherished the
belief that the wit of Atterbury and his allies had triumph-
ed over the ponderous learning of the pedant. Arbuthnot,
whom Swift had introduced to Pope as a man who could
do everything but walk, was an amiable and accomplished
physician. He was a strong Tory and High-Churchman,
and retired for a time to France upon the death of Anne
and the overthrow of his party. He returned, however, to
England, resumed his practice, and won Pope's warmest
irrntitude by his skill and care. He was a man of learn-
ing, and had employed it in an attack upon Woodward's
geological speculations, as already savouring of heterodoxy.
He possessed also a vein of genuine humour, resembling
that of Swift, though it has rather lost its savour, perhaps,
because it was not salted by the Dean's misanthropic bit-
t * -mess. If his good humour weakened his wit, it gained
him the affections of his friends, and was never soured by
tin- sufferings of his later years. Finallv, John Gav, though

*/ */ * * o


fat, lazy, and wanting in manliness of spirit, bad an illim-
itable flow of good-tempered banter ; and if he could not
supply the learning of Arbutlmot, he could give what was
more valuable, touches of fresh natural simplicity, which
still explain the liking of his friends. Gay, as Johnson
says, was the general favourite of the wits, though a play-
fellow rather than a partner, and treated with more fond-
ness than respect, Pope seems to have loved him better
than any one, and was probably soothed by his easy-going,
unsuspicious temper. They were of the same age ; and
Gay, who had been apprenticed to a linen-draper, managed
to gain notice by his poetical talents, and was taken up by
various great people. Pope said of him that he wanted
independence of spirit, which is indeed obvious enough.
He would have been a fitting inmate of Thomson's Castle


of Indolence. He was one of those people who consider
that Providence is bound to put food into their mouths
without giving them any trouble ; and, as sometimes hap-
pens, his draft upon the general system of things was hon-
oured. He was made comfortable by various patrons ; the
Duchess of Queensberry petted him in his later years, and
the duke kept his money for him. His friends chose to
make a grievance of the neglect of Government to add to
his comfort by a good place ; they encouraged him to re-
fuse the only place offered as not sufficiently dignified;
and he even became something of a martyr when his Polly,
a sequel to the Beggars' Opera, was prohibited by the Lord
Chamberlain, and a good subscription made him ample
* amends. Pope has immortalized the complaint by lament-
ing the fate of " neglected genius " in the Epistle to Ar-
buthnot, and declaring that the " sole return " of all Gay's
"blameless life" was

" My verse and Queensberry weeping o'er thy urn."

114 POPE. [CHAP.

Pope's alliance "with Gay bad various results. Gay con-
tinued the war with Ambrose Philips by writing burlesque
pastorals, of which Johnson truly says that they show "the
effect of reality and truth, even when the intention was to
show them grovelling and degraded." They may still be
glanced at with pleasure. Soon after the publication of

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 23 of 44)