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" Then * * tried, but hardly snatch'd from sight
Instant buoys up, and vises into light :
He bears no token of the sable streams,
And mounts far off amongst the swans of Thames."

V note applied the lines to Hill, with whom he had had a

128 POPE. [CHAP.

misunderstanding. Hill replied to these assaults
l>\ a ponderous satire in verse upon "tuneful Alexis; 1 ' it
had, however, some tolerable lines at the opening-, imi-
tated from Pope's own verses upon Addison, and attrib-
uting to him the same jealousy of merit in others. Hill
soon afterwards wrote a civil note to Pope, complaining
of the passage in the Dunciad. Pope might have relied
upon the really satisfactory answer that the lines were, on
the whole, complimentary ; indeed, more complimentary
than true. But with his natural propensity for lying, he
resorted to his old devices. In answer to this and a sub-
sequent letter, in which Hill retorted with unanswerable
force, Pope went on to declare that he was not the author
of the notes, that the extracts had been chosen at random,
that he would '"use his influence with the editors of the
Dunciad to get the notes altered ;" and, finally, by an in-
genious evasion, pointed out that the blank in the Dunciad
required to be filled up by a dissyllable. This, in the
form of the lines as quoted above, is quite true, but in the
first edition of the Dunciad the first verse had been

" H - tried the next, but hardly snatch'd from sight."

Hill did not detect this specimen of what Pope somewhere
calls " pretty genteel equivocation." He was reconciled to
Pope, and taught the poor poet by experience that his
friendship was worse than his enmity. He wrote him let-
ters of criticism ; he forced poor Pope to negotiate for
him with managers and to bring distinguished friends to
the performances of his dreary plays ; nay, to read through,
"i 1 to say that he had read through, one of them in manu-
script four times, and make corrections mixed with elabo-
rate eulogy. No doubt Pope came to regard a letter from
Hill with terror, though Hill compared him to Horace and


Juvenal, and hoped that he would live till the virtu
which his spirit would propagate became as general as tin-
esteem of his genius. In short, Hill, who was a florid flat-
terer, is so complimentary that we are not surprised to
find him telling Richardson, after Pope's death, that the
poet's popularity was due to a certain " bladdery swell of
management." "But," he concludes, "rest his memory

o */

in peace ! It will very rarely be disturbed by that time he
himself is ashes."

The war raged for some time. Dennis, Smedley, Moore-
Smythe,Welsted, and others, retorted by various pamphlet-,
the names of which were published by Pope in an appen-
dix to future editions of the Dunciad, by way of proving
that his own blows had told. Ladv Marv was credited,

+t v

perhaps unjustly, with an abusive performance called a
" Pop upon Pope," relating how Pope had been soundly
whipped by a couple of his victims of course a pure fic-
tion. Some such vengeance, however, was seriously threat-
ened. As Pope was dining one day at Lord Bathurst's,
the servant brought in the agreeable message that a young
man was waiting for Mr. Pope in the lane outside, and
that the young man's name was Dennis. He was the son
of the critic, and prepared to avenge his father's wrongs;
but Bathurst persuaded him to retire, without the glory of
thrashing a cripple. Reports of such possibilities wen-
circulated, and Pope thought it prudent to walk out with
his big Danish dog Bounce and a pair of pistols. Spence
tried to persuade the little man not to go out alone, but
Pope declared that he would not go a step out of his way
for such villains, and that it was better to die than to live
in fear of them. He continued, indeed, to give fresh prov-
ocation. A weekly paper, called the Grub-street Journal,
was started in January, 1730, and continued to appear till

[30 POPE. [CHAP.

the end of 1737. It included a continuous series of epi-
grams and abuse, in the Scriblerian vein, and aimed against
tin- heroes of the Dundad, amongst whom poor James
Moore- Sm\ the seems to have had the largest share of
:\\>\\- . It was impossible, however, for Pope, busied as he
was in literature and society, and constantly out of health,
to be the efficient editor of such a performance; but
though he denied having any concern in it, it is equally
out of the question that any one really unconnected with
Pope should have taken up the huge burden of his quar-
rels in this fashion. Though he concealed, and on occa-


sions denied his connexion, he no doubt inspired the edi-
tors and contributed articles to its pages, especially during
its early years. It is a singular fact or, rather, it would
have been singular, had Pope been a man of less abnormal
character that he should have devoted so much energy to


this paltry subterranean warfare against the objects of his
. omplex antipathies. Pope was so anxious for conceal-
ment, that he kept his secret even from his friendly legal
adviser, Fortescue ; and Fortescue innocently requested
Pope to get up evidence to support a charge of libel
iLL'ainst his own organ. The evidence which Pope collect-
ed in defence of a quack-doctor, Ward was not, as we
may suppose, very valuable. Two volumes of the Grub-
Direct Journal were printed in 1737, and a fragment or
two was admitted by Pope into his works. It is said, in
the preface to the collected pieces, that the journal was
killed by the growing popularity of the Gentleman's Mag-

,'>', which is accused of living by plunder. But in truth
the reader will infer that, if the selection includes the best
pieces, the journal may well have died from congenital

The Dunc'wJ was yet to go through a transformation,


and to lead to a new quarrel; and though this happened
at a much later period, it will be most convenient to com-
plete the story here. Pope had formed an alliance with
Warbnrton, of which I shall presently have to speak; ;md
it was under YVarlmrtoivs influence that he resolved to add
a fourth book to the Dunciad. This supplement seems t<
have been really made up of fragments provided for anoth-
er scheme. The Essay on Man- -to be presently men-
tioned was to be followed by a kind of poetical essay
upon the nature and limits of the human understanding,
and a satire upon the misapplication of the serious facul-
ties. 1 It was a design manifestly beyond the author's


powers; and even the fragment which is turned into the
fourth book of the Dunciad takes him plainly out of his
depth. He was no philosopher, and therefore an incom-
petent assailant of the abuses of philosophy. The fourth
book consists chiefly of ridicule upon pedagogues who
teach words instead of things; upon the unlucky "vir-
tuosos " who care for old medals, plants, and butterflies-
pursuits which afforded an unceasing supply of ridicule to
the essayists of the time; a denunciation of the corruption
of modern youth, who learn nothing but new forms of

v O

vice in the grand tour ; and a fresh assault upon Toland,
Tindal, and other freethinkers of the day. There were
some passages marked by Pope's usual dexterity, but the
whole is awkwardly constructed, and has no very intelligi-
ble connexion with the first part. It was highly admired
at the time, and, amongst others, by Gray. He specially
praises a passage which has often been quoted as repre-
senting Pope's highest achievement in his art. At the
conclusion the goddess Dulness yawns, and a blight falls

1 See Pope to Swift, March '2:>, 1736.

182 POPE. [CHAP.

upon art. science, and philosophy. I quote the lines,
which Pope himself could not repeat without emotion,
and which have received the highest eulogies from John-
-Mii and Thackeray.

" In vain, in vain the all-composing Hour
Resistless falls ; the Muse obeys the Power
She tomes ! she comes ! the sable throne behold
Of night primeval and of chaos old !
Before her Fancy's gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rainbows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires,

As one bv one, at dread Medea's strain,

The sickening stars fade off the ethereal plain
As Argus' eyes by Hermes' wand oppress'd
Closed one by one to everlasting rot ;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after art goes out, and all is night.
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of casuistry heaped o'er her head!
Philosophy, that lean'd on heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Meta physic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense !
Sec Mystery to Mathematics fly !
In vain ! They gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Ki-ligion, blushing, veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos ! is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word ;
Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall,
And universal darkness buries all."

["he most conspicuous figure in this new Dunciad (pub-
li>li - d Maivli, 174^)1 i* Bcntley taken as the representa-


live of a pedant rampant. Bentley is, I think, the only
man of real genius of whom Pope has spoken in terms
implying gross Disappreciation. With all his faults, Pope
was a really fine judge of literature, and has made fewer
blunders than such men as Addison, Gray, and Johnson,
infinitely superior to him in generosity of feeling towards
the living. He could even appreciate Bentley, and had
written, in his copy of Bentley's Miltcn, " Pulchre, bene,
recte" against some of the happier emendations in the
great critic's most unsuccessful performance. The assault
in the Dunciad is not the less unsparing and ignorantly
contemptuous of scholarship. The explanation is easy.
Bentley, who had spoken contemptuous^ of Pope's Ho-
mer, said of Pope, " the portentous cub never forgives."
But this was not all. Bentley had provoked enemies by
his intense pugnacity almost as freely as Pope by his sneak-
ing malice. Swift and Atterbury, objects of Pope's friend-
ly admiration, had been his antagonists, and Pope w T ould
naturally accept their view of his merits. And, moreover,
Pope's great ally of this period had a dislike of his own
to Bentley. Bentley had said of Warburton that he was
a man of monstrous appetite and bad digestion. The re-
mark hit Warburton's most obvious weakness. Warbur-
ton, with his imperfect scholarship, and vast masses of
badly assimilated learning, was jealous of the reputation
of the thoroughly trained and accurate critic. It was the
dislike of a charlatan for the excellence which he endeav-
oured to simulate. Bolingbroke, it may be added, was
equally contemptuous in his language about men of learn-
ing, and for much the same reason. He depreciated what
he could not rival. Pope,- always under the influence of
some stronger companions, naturally adopted their shallow-
prejudices, and recklessly abused a writer who should have

134 POPE. [CHAP.

beeE ;< ' "ionized as amongst the most effective combatants
;i"-.Vm>t diilncss.


Bent ley died a few months after the publication of the
Dum-i'iiit. But Pope found a living antagonist, who suc-
ceeded in giving him pain enough to gratify the vilified
dun'.-. - . This was Collev Gibber most livelv and mercu-

*/ /

rial of art'trs author of some successful plays, with too lit-
tle stuff in them for permanence, and of an Apology for
his own Life, which is still exceedingly amusing as well as
useful for the history of the stage. Pie was now approaching
seventy, though he was to survive Pope for thirteen years,
and as good-tempered a specimen of the lively, if not too
particular, old man of the world as could well have been
found. Pope owed him a grudge. Gibber, in playing
the Rehearsal, had introduced some ridicule of the un-
lucky Three Hours after Marriage. Pope, he says, came
behind the scenes foaming and choking with fury, and for-
bidding Gibber ever to repeat the insult. Gibber laughed
at him, said that he would repeat it as long as the Rehear-
sal was performed, and kept his wqrd. Pope took his re-
venge by many incidental hits at Gibber, and Gibber made
a good-humoured reference to this abuse in the Apology.
Hereupon Pope, in the new D unclad, described him as
reclining on the lap of the goddess, and added various
personalities in the notes. Gibber straightway published
a letter to Pope, the more cutting because still in perfect
good-humour, and told the story about the original quar-
rel. He added an irritating anecdote in order to provoke
the poet still further. It described Pope as :'ntroduced
i.y ( ' and Lord Warwick to very bad company. The
ry was one which could only be told by a graceless old
'.'{Mv^ntative of the old school of comedy, but it hit its
mark. The two Kichardsons once found Pope reading


one of Gibber's pamphlets, lie said, " These tilings are
my diversion ;" but thev saw his features writhing with
ano-uish, and VOUIIG; Richardson, as thcv went home, ol>-

O v o tf

served to his father that he hoped to be preserved from
such diversions as Pope had enjoyed. The- poet resolved
to avenge himself, and he did it to the lasting injury of
his poem. He dethroned Theobald, who, as a plodding
antiquarian, was an excellent exponent of dulness, and in-
stalled Gibber in his place, who might be a representative
of folly, but was as little of a dullard as Pope himself.
The consequent alterations make the hero of the poem a
thoroughly incongruous figure, and greatly injure the gen-
eral design. The poem appeared in this form in 1743,
with a ponderous prefatory discourse by Ricardus Aris-
tarchus, contributed by the faithful Warbnrton, and illus-
trating his ponderous vein of elephantine pleasantry.

Pope was Hearing the grave, and many of his victims
had gone before him. It was a melancholy employment
for an invalid, breaking down visibly* month by month ;
and one might fancy that the eminent Christian divine
might have used his influence to better purpose than in
fanning the dying flame, and adding the strokes of his
bludgeon to the keen stabs of Pope's stiletto. In the
fourteen years which had elapsed since the first Dunciad,
Pope had found less unworthy employment for his pen;
but, before dealing with the works produced at this time,
which include some of his highest achievements, I must


tell a story which is in some ways a natural supplement
to the war with the dunces. In describing Pope's en-
tangled history, it seems most convenient to follow each
separate line of discharge of his multifarious energy, rath-
er than to adhere to chronological order.
K 7



I HAVE now to describe one of the most singular series


of transactions to be found in the annals of literature. A
complete knowledge of tbeir various details has only been
obtained by recent researches. I cannot follow within my
limits of space all the ins and outs of the complicated
labyrinth of more than diplomatic trickery which those
researches have revealed, though I hope to render the main
facts sufficiently intelligible. It is painful to track the
strange deceptions "of a man of genius as a detective un-
ravels the misdeeds of an accomplished swindler ; but with-
out telling the story at some length, it is impossible to give
a faithful exhibition of Pope's character.

In the year 1726, when Pope had just finished his la-
bours upon Homer, Curll published the juvenile letters to
Cromwell. There was no mystery about this transaction.
( 'urll was the chief of all piratical booksellers, and versed
in every dirty trick of the Grub-street trade. He is de-
scribed in that, mad book, Amory's John B uncle, as tall, thin,
ungainly, white-faced, with light grey goggle eyes, purblind,

The evidence by which the statements in this chapter are sup-
ported is fully set forth in Mr. Ehvin's edition of Pope's Works, Vol.
I., and in the notes to the Orrery Correspondence in the third volume

of Irtt.T*.


splay-footed, and " baker-kneed." According to the same
queer authority, who professes to have lodged in Curll's
house, he was drunk as often as he could drink for noth-
ing, and intimate in every London haunt of vice. " His
translators lav three in a bed at the Pewter Platter Inn in


Ilolborn," and helped to compile his indecent, piratical, and
catchpenny productions. He had lost his ears for some
obscene publication ; but Amory adds, " to his glory,"
that he died " as great a penitent as ever expired." He
had one strong point as an antagonist. Having no char-
acter to lose, he could reveal his own practices without a
blush, if the revelation injured others.

Pope had already come into collision with this awkward
antagonist. In 1716 Curll threatened to publish the Town
Eclogues, burlesques upon Ambrose Philips, written by
Lady Mary, with the help of Pope and perhaps Gay. Pope,
with Lintot, had a meeting with Curll in the hopes of
suppressing a publication calculated to injure his friends.
The party had some wine, and Curll, on going home, was
very sick. He declared and there are reasons for believ-
ing his story that Pope had given him an emetic by way
of coarse practical joke. Pope, at any rate, took advantage
of the accident to write a couple of squibs upon Curll, re-
cording the bookseller's ravings under the action of the
drug, as he had described the ravings of Dennis provoked
bv Cato. Curll had his revenue afterwards : but mean-

/ O

while he wanted no extraneous motive to induce him to
publish the Cromwell letters. Cromwell' had given the
letters to a mistress, who fell into distress and sold ahem
to Curll for ten guineas.

The correspondence was received with some favom, snd
suggested to Pope a new mode of gratifying his vao'Vy.
An occasion soon offered itself. Theobald, the hero of

138 POFE. [CHAP.

the J)/i)trt<tJ, edited in 1728 the posthumous works of
\Yvcherlev. Pope extracted from this circumstance a far-
fetched excuse for publishing the Wycherley correspond-
ence. !!< said that it was due to Wycherley's memory to
prove, lv the publication of their correspondence, that the
posthumous publication of the works was opposed to their
author's wishes. As a matter of fact, the letters have no
tendency to prove anything of the kind, or, rather, they
support the opposite theory; but poor Pope was always a
hand-to-mouth liar, and took the first pretext that offered,
without caring for consistency or confirmation. His next
step was to write to his friend, Lord Oxford, son of Queen
Anne's minister. Oxford was a weak, good-natured man.
By cultivating a variety of expensive tastes, without the
knowledo-e to <niide them, he managed to run through a

O O ~ O

splendid fortune and die in embarrassment. His famous
library was one of his special hobbies. Pope now applied
to him to allow the Wycherley letters to be deposited in
the library, and further requested that the fact of their be-
ing in this quasi-public place might be mentioned in the
preface as a guarantee of their authenticity. Oxford con-
sented, and Pope quietly took a further step without au-
thority. He told Oxford that he had decided to make his
publishers say that copies of the letters had been obtained
from Lord Oxford. He told the same story to Swift,
speaking of the " connivance " of his noble friend, and
adding that, though he did not himself "much approve"
of the publication, he w 7 as not ashamed of it. He thus in-
U'liioiivly intimated that the correspondence, which he had
himself carefully prepared and sent to press, had been
printed without his consent by the officious zeal of Oxford
and the booksellers.

The hook (which was called the second vokime of \Vych-


erley's works) has entirely disappeared. It was advertised
at the time, but not a single copy is known to exi*. One
cause of this disappearance now appears to be that it had
no sale at first, and that Pope preserved the sheets for use
in a more elaborate device which followed. Oxford prob-
ably objected to the misuse of his name, as the fiction
which made him responsible was afterwards dropped.
Pope found, or thought that he had found, on the next oc-
casion, a more convenient cat's-paw. Curll, it could not
be doubted, would snatch at any chance of publishing more
correspondence ; and, as Pope was anxious to have his let-
ters stolen and Curll was ready to steal, the one thing nec-
essary was a convenient go-between, wlio could be disown-
ed or altogether concealed. Pope went systematically to
work. He began by writing to his friends, begging them
to return his letters. After Curll's piracy, he declared, he
could not feel himself safe, and should be unhappy till he
had the letters in his own custody. Letters were sent in,
though in some cases with reluctance; and Gary 11, in par-
ticular, who had the largest number, privately took copies
before returning them (a measure which ultimately secured
the detection of many of Pope's manoeuvres). This, how-
ever, was unknown to Pope. He had the letters copied
out ; after (according to his own stating) burning three-
fourths of them, and (as we are now aware) carefully edit-
ing the remainder, he had the copy deposited in Lord Ox-
ford's library. His object was, as he said, parti v to have
documents ready in case of the revival of scandals, and
partly to preserve the memory of his friendships. The
next point was to get these letters stolen. For this pur-
pose he created a man of straw, a mysterious " P. T.," who
could be personated on occasion by some of the underlines
employed in the underground transactions connected with

140 TOPE. [CHAP.

the Dunciad and the Grub-street Journal. P. T. began
liy writing to Curll in 1733, and offering to sell him a col-
l.-.-tion of Pope's letters. The negotiation went off for a
time, because P. T. insisted upon Curll's first committing
himself by publishing an advertisement, declaring himself
t> bo already in possession of the originals. Curll was too
warv to commit himself to such a statement, which would
have made him responsible for the theft ; or, perhaps, have
justified Pope in publishing the originals in self-defence.
The matter slept till March, 1735, when Curll wrote to
Pope proposing a cessation of hostilities, and as a proof of
good-will sending him the old P. T. advertisement. This
step fell in so happily with Pope's designs that it has been
suggested that Curll was prompted in some indirect man-
ner by one of Pope's agents. Pope, at any rate, turned it
to account. He at once published an insulting advertise-
ment. Curll (he said in this manifesto) had pretended to
have had the offer from P. T. of a large collection of
Pope's letters ; Pope knew nothing of P. T., believed the
letters to be forgeries, and would take no more trouble in


the matter. Whilst Curll was presumably smarting under
this summary slap on the face, the insidious P. T. stepped
in once more. P. T. now said that he was in possession
of the printed sheets of the correspondence, and the nego-
tiation went on swimmingly. Curll put out the required
advertisement; a " short, squat " man, in a clergyman's
gown and with barrister's bands, calling himself Smythe,
came to his house at night as P. T.'s agent, and showed
him some printed sheets and original letters; the bargain
was struck ; 240 copies of the book were delivered, and it
was published on May 12.

So far the plot had succeeded. Popo. had printed his
"wn correspondence, and had trickcc 1 Cur.- into publishing


the book piratically, whilst the public was quite prepared
to believe that Curll had performed a new piratical feat.
Pope, however, was now bound to shriek as loudly as he
could at the outrage under which he was suffering. lie
should have been prepared also to answer an obvious ques-
tion. Every one would naturally inquire how Curll had
procured the letters, which by Pope's own account were
safely deposited in Lord Oxford's library. AVithout, as it
would seem, properly weighing the difficulty of meeting
this demand, Pope called out loudly for vengeance. AA r hen
the Dunciad appeared, he had applied (as I have said) for
an injunction in Chancery, and had at the same time se-
cured the failure of his application. The same device was

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 25 of 44)