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tried in a still more imposing fashion. The House of
Lords had recently decided that it was a breach of privi-
lege to publish a peer's letters without his consent. Pope
availed himself of this rule to fire the most sounding of


blank shots across the path of the piratical Curll. He was
as anxious to allow the publication, as to demand its sup-
pression in the most emphatic manner. Accordingly he
got his friend, Lord Hay, to call the attention of the peers
to Curll's advertisement, which was so worded as to imply
that there were in the book letters from, as well as to,
peers. Pope himself attended the house " to stimulate
the resentment of his friends." The book was at once
seized by a messenger, and Curll ordered to attend the
next dav. But on examination it immediately turned out

/ *

that it contained no letters from peers, and the whole
farce would have ended at once but for a further trick.
Lord Hay said that a certain letter to Jervas contained a
reflection upon Lord Bnrlino-ton. Now the letter was
found in a first batch of fifty copies sent to Curll, and
which had been sold before the appearance of the Lords'


nio-t'iiuvr. But the letter had been suppressed in a sec-
ond bat rh of 190 copies, which the messenger was just in
time to >ei/e. Pope had of course foreseen and prepared

till- iv-lllt.

The, whole proceeding in the Lords was thus rendered
abortive. The books were restored to Curll, and the sale
continued. But the device meanwhile had recoiled upon
its author; the very danger against which he should have
"uarded himself had now occurred. IIo\v were the letters


procured ? Xot till Curll was coining up for examination
does it seem to have occurred to Pope that the Lords
would inevitably ask the awkward question. He then
saw that CurlTs answer might lead to a discovery. He

O *

wrote a letter to Curll (in Smythe's name) intended to
meet the difficulty. He entreated Curll to take the whole


of the responsibility of procuring the letters upon himself,
and by way of inducement held out hopes of another vol-
ume of correspondence. In a second note he tried to
throw Curll off the scent of another significant little fact.
The sheets (as I have mentioned) were partly made up
from the volume of AVychcrley correspondence ;' this
would give a clue to further inquiries ; P. T. therefore al-
lowed Smytlie to say (ostensibly to show his confidence in
Curll) that he (P. T.) had been employed in getting up
the former volume, and had had some additional sheets
struck off for himself, to which he had added letters sub-
sequently obtained. The letter was a signal blunder.
Curll saw at once that it put the game in his hands. He
was not going to tell lies to please the slippery P. T., or
the short squat lawyer-clergyman. He had begun to see

Tliis is proved l.y a note referring to "the present edition of the
I"-tlmin<ms works of Mr. Wycherley," which, by an oversight, was

allowed to remain in the Curll volume.


through the whole manoeuvre. lie went straight off to
the Lords' committee, told the whole story, and produced
as a voucher the letters in which P. T. begged for secrecy.
Curll's word was good for little by itself, but his story
huni;- too-other, and the letter confirmed it. And if, as now

o o '

seemed clear, Curll was speaking the truth, the question
remained, who was P. T., and how did he get the letters?
The answer, as Pope must have felt, was only too clear.

But Curll now took the offensive. In reply to another
letter from Smythe, complaining of his evidence, he went
roundly to work; he said that he should at once publish
all the correspondence. P. T. had prudently asked for
the return of his letters ; but Curll had kept copies, and
was prepared to swear to their fidelity. Accordingly he
soon advertised what was called the Initial Correspondence.
Pope w r as now caught in his own trap. He had tried to
avert suspicion by publicly offering a reward to Smythe
and P. T., if they would " discover the whole affair."
The letters, as he admitted, must have been procured either
from his OW T II library or from Lord Oxford's. The corre-


spondence to be published by Curll would help to identify
the mysterious appropriators, and whatever excuses could
be made ought now to be forthcoming. Pope adopted a
singular plan. It w 7 as announced that the clergyman con-
cerned with P. T. and Curll had " discovered the whole
transaction." A narrative was forthwith published to an-
ticipate Curll and to clear up the mystery. If good for
anything, it should have given, or helped to give, the key
to the great puzzle the mode of obtaining the letters.
There was nothing else for Smythe or P. T. to " discover."
Readers must have been strangely disappointed on finding
not a single word to throw light upon this subject, and

merely a long account of the negotiations between Curll
" 23

144 POPE. [CHAP.

and P. T. The narrative might serve to distract attention
fi-Min the main point, which it clearly did nothing to elu-
cidate. But Curll now stated his own case. He reprint-
ed the narrative with some pungent notes ; he gave in
full some letters omitted by P. T., and he added a story
\\liich was most unpleasantly significant. P. T. had spo-
ken, as I have said, of his connexion with the AYycherley
volume. The object of this statement was to get rid of
an awkward bit of evidence. But Curll now announced,
on the authority of Gilliver, the publisher of the volume,
that Pope had himself bought up the remaining sheets.
The inference was clear. Unless the story could be con-
tradicted, and it never was, Pope was himself the thief.
The sheets common to the two volumes had been traced
to his possession. Nor was there a word in the P. T. nar-
rative to diminish the force of these presumptions. In-
deed it was curiously inconsistent, for it vaguely accused
Curll of stealing the letters himself, whilst in the same

c? *

breath it told how he had bought them from P. T. In


fact, P. T. was beginning to resolve himself into thin air,


like the phantom in the Dunciad. As he vanished, it re-
quired no great acuteness to distinguish behind him the
features of his ingenious creator. It w r as already believed
at the time that the whole affair was an elaborate contriv-
ance of Pope's, and subsequent revelations have demon-
strated the truth of the hypothesis. Even the go-between
Smythe was identified as one James Worsdale, a painter,
actor, and author, of the Bohemian variety.

Though Curll had fairly won the game, and Pope's
intrigue was even at the time sufficiently exposed, it
seems to have given less scandal than might have been
expected. Probably it was suspected only in literary cir-
cles, and perhaps it might be thought that, silly as was the


elaborate device, the disreputable Curll was fair game for
his natural enemy. Indeed, such is the irony of fate,
Pope Avon credit with simple people. The effect of tin-
publication, as Jjohnson tells us, was to fill the nation with
praises of the admirable moral qualities revealed in Pope-
letters. Amongst the admirers was Ralph Allen, who had
made a lar^e fortune by farming the cross -posts. II is
princely benevolence and sterling worth were universally
admitted, and have been immortalized bv the best con-


temporary judge of character. He was the original of
Fielding's Allworthy. Like that excellent person, he
seems to have had the common weakness of good men in
taking others too easily at their own valuation. Pope
imposed upon him, just as Blifil imposed upon his repre-
sentative. He was so much pleased with the correspond-
ence, that he sought Pope's acquaintance, and offered to
publish a genuine edition at his own expense. An au-
thoritative edition appeared, accordingly, in 1737. Pope
preferred to publish by subscription, which does not seem
to have filled very rapidly, though the work ultimately
made a fair profit. Pope's underhand manoeuvres were
abundantly illustrated in the history of this new edition.

V /

It is impossible to give the details ; but I may briefly state
that he w r as responsible for a nominally spurious edition
which appeared directly after, and was simply a reproduc-
tion of, Curll's publication. Although he complained of
the garbling and interpolations supposed to have been due
to the wicked Curll or the phantom P. T.,and although he
omitted in his avowed edition certain letters which had
given offence, he nevertheless substantially reproduced in
it Curll's version of the letters. As this differs from the
originals which have been preserved, Pope thus gave an
additional proof that he was really responsible for Curll's

11,; POPE. [CHAP.

supposed garbling. This evidence was adduced with con-
force by Bowles in a later controversy, and would
enough by itself to convict Pope of the imputed de-
ception. Finally, it may be added that Pope's delay in
producing his own edition is explained by the fact that it
contained many falsifications of his correspondence with
< 'arvll, and that he delayed the acknowledgment of the
genuine character of the letters until Caryll's death re-
moved the dano-er of detection.


The whole of this elaborate machinery was devised in


order that Pope might avoid the ridicule of publishing his
own correspondence. There had been few examples of a
similar publication of private letters ; and Pope's volume,
according to Johnson, did not attract vcrv much attention.


This is, perhaps, hardly consistent with Johnson's other
assertion that it filled the nation with praises of his vir-
tue. In any case it stimulated his appetite for such
praises, and led him to a fresh intrigue, more successful,
and also more disgraceful. The device originally adopted
in publishing the Dunciad apparently suggested part of
the new plot. The letters hitherto published did not in-
clude the most interesting correspondence in which Pope
had been eno-ao-ed. He had been in the habit of writing


to Swift since their first acquaintance, and Bolingbroke
had occasionally joined him. These letters, which con-
nected Pope with two of his most famous contemporaries,
would be far more interesting than the letters to Cromwell

or Wycherley, or even than the letters addressed to Addi-
BOH and St. (]<>, which were mere stilted fabrications. How
mid they be got before the world, and in such a way as
to conceal his own complicity?

Pope had told Swift (in 1730) that he had kept some
ot the letters in a volume for his own secret satisfaction;



and Swift had preserved all Pope's letters along with tlios
of other distinguished men. Here was an attractive booty
for such parties as the unprincipled Curll ! In 1735 Curll
had committed his wicked piracy, and Pope pressed Swift
to return his letters, in order to " secure him against that
rascal printer/' The entreaties were often renewed, hut
Swift for some reason turned his deaf ear to the suedes-


tion. He promised, indeed (September 3, 1735), that the
letters should be burnt a most effectual security against
republication, but one not at all to Pope's taste. Pope
then admitted that, having been forced to publish some
of his other letters, he should like to make use of some
of those to Swift, as none would be more honourable to
him. Xav, he says, he meant to erect such a minute

, / ,t f

monument of their friendship as would put to shame all
ancient memorials of the same kind. 1 This avowal of his
intention to publish did not conciliate Swift. Curll next
published, in 1736, a couple of letters to Swift, and Pope
took advantage of this publication (perhaps he had indi-
rectly supplied Curll with copies) to urge upon Swift the
insecurity of the letters in his keeping. Swift ignored
the request, and his letters about this time began to show
that his memory w r as failing, and his intellect growing

Pope now applied to their common friend, Lord Orrery.
Orrery was the dull member of a family eminent for its
talents. His father had left a valuable library to Christ


Church, ostensibly because the son was not capable of
profiting by books, though a less creditable reason has

1 These expressions come from two letters of Pope to Lord Orrery
in March, 1737, and may not accurately reproduce his statements to
Swift ; but they probably represent approximately what he had

148 POPE. [CHAP.

been assigned. 1 The son, eager to wipe off the imputa-
tion, specially affected the society of wits, and was elab-
>r;itely polite both to Swift and Pope. Pope now got
( >nvry to intercede with Swift, urging that the letters
\\viv no longer safe in the custody of a failing old man.
- >nvry succeeded, and brought the letters in a sealed
p.-n'ket to Pope in the summer of 1737. Swift, it must
l>e added, had an impression that there was a gap of six
\ cars in the collection ; he became confused as to what
had or had not been sent, and had a vague belief in a
'great collection' of letters "placed in some very safe
hand." Pope, being thus in possession of the whole
correspondence, proceeded to perform a manoeuvre re-
M-mbling those already employed in the case of the
D unclad and of the P. T. letters. He printed the cor-
respondence clandestinely. He then sent the printed
volume to Swift, accompanied by an anonymous letter.
This letter purported to come from some persons who,
from admiration of Swift's private and public virtues,
had resolved to preserve letters so creditable to him, and
had accordingly put them in type. They suggested that
the volume would be suppressed if it fell into the hands
of Bolingbroke and Pope (a most audacious suggestion !),
and intimated that Swift should himself publish it. No
other copy, they said, was in existence. Poor Swift fell
at once into the trap. He ought, of course, to have con-
sulted Pope or Bolingbroke, and would probably have
done so had his mind been sound. Seeing, however, a
volume already printed, he might naturally suppose that,
in spite of the anonymous assurance, it was already too

1 It is said that the son objected to allow his wife to meet his
lutlin-V mistress.

e Ehvin's edition of Pope's Correspondence, iii., 399, note.


late to stop the publication. At any rate, lie at once sent
it to his publisher, Faulkner, and desired him to bring it
out at once. Swift was in that most melancholy state in
which a man's friends perceive him to be incompetent to
manage his affairs, and are yet not able to use actual re-
straint. Mrs. \Vhiteway, the sensible and affectionate
cousin who took care of him at this time, did her best
to protest against the publication, but in vain. Swift in-
sisted. So far Pope's device was successful. The printed
letters had been placed in the hands of his bookseller by
Swift himself, and publication was apparently secured.
But Pope had still the same problem as in the previ-
ous case. Thouo-h he had talked of erecting a monti-

O f

inent to Swift and himself, he was anxious that the mon-
ument should apparently be erected by some one else.
His vanity could only be satisfied by the appearance that
the publication was forced upon him. He had, therefore,
to dissociate himself from the publication by some protest
at once emphatic and ineffectual ; and, consequently, to
explain the means by which the letters had been surrep-
titiously obtained.

The first aim was unexpectedly difficult. Faulkner
turned out to be an honest bookseller. Instead of shar-
ing Curll's rapacity, he consented, at Mrs. Whiteway's re-
quest, to wait until Pope had an opportunity of express-
ing his wishes. Pope, if he consented, could no longer
complain ; if he dissented, Faulkner would suppress the
letters. In this dilemma, Pope first wrote to Faulkner
to refuse permission, and at the same time took care that
his letter should be delayed for amonth. He hoped that
Faulkner would lose patience, and publish. But Faulk-
ner, with provoking civility, stopped the press as soon as
he heard of Pope's objection. Pope hereupon discovered

l.-.i POPE. [CHAP.

that the letters were certain to be published, as they were
already printed, and doubtless by some mysterious "con-
federacy of people " in London. All he could wish was
to revise them before appearance. Meanwhile he begged
Lord Orrery to inspect the book, and say what he thought
of it. "Guess in what a situation I must be," exclaimed
this sincere and modest person, " not to be able to see
what all the world is to read as mine !" Orrery was quite
as provoking as Faulkner. He got the book from Faulk-
ner, read it, and instead of begging Pope not to deprive
the world of so delightful a treat, said, with dull inteo -

o ' ' o

rity, that he thought the collection " unworthy to be pub-
lished." Orrery, however, was innocent enough to accept
Pope's suggestion, that letters which had once got into
such hands would certainly come out sooner or later.
After some more haggling, Pope ultimately decided to
take this ground. He would, he said, have nothing to
do with the letters ; they would come out in any caso ;
their appearance would please the Dean, and he (Pope)
would stand clear of all responsibility. He tried, indeed,
to get Faulkner to prefix a statement tending to fix the
whole transaction upon Swift ; but the bookseller de-
clined, and the letters ultimately came out with a sim-
ple statement that they were a reprint.

Pope had thus virtually sanctioned the publication.
He was not the less emphatic in complaining of it to
his friends. To Orrery, who knew the facts, he repre-
sented the printed copy sent to Swift as a proof that
the letters were beyond his power; and to others, such
as his friend Allen, hekept silence as to this copy alto-
-.ivthcr ; and gave them to understand that poor Swift
or sonic member of Swift's familv was the prime mover
in the business. His mystification had, as before, driven



him into perplexities upon which he had never calculate. 1
In fact, it was still more difficult here than in the previous
case to account for the original misappropriation of the
letters. \Yho could the thief have been ? Orrery, as we

*/ '

have seen, had himself taken a packet of letters to Pope,
which would be of course the letters from Pope to Swift.
The packet being sealed, Orrery did not know the con-
tents, and Pope asserted that he had burnt it almost as
soon as received. It was, however, true that Swift had
been in the habit of showing the originals to his friends,
and some might possibly have been stolen or copied by
designing people. But this would not account for the
publication of Swift's letters to Pope, which had never
been out of Pope's possession. As he had certainly been
in possession of the other letters, it was easiest, even for
himself, to suppose that some of his own servants were
the guilty persons ; his own honour being, of course, be-
yond question.

To meet these difficulties, Pope made great use of some
stray phrases dropped by Swift in the decline of his mem-
ory, and set up a story of his having himself returned some
letters to Swift, of which important fact all traces had
disappeared. One characteristic device will be a suffi-
cient specimen. Swift wrote that a great collection of
" my letters to you " is somewhere " in a safe hand." He
meant, of course, " a collection of your letters to me "
the only letters of which he could know anything. Ob-
serving the slip of the pen, he altered the phrase by writ-
ing the correct w T ords above the line. It now stood

" your . me . . ,

letters to Pope laid great stress upon this, m-
my you."

terpreting it to mean that the "great collection " included

letters from each correspondent to the other the fact be-

l.vj POPE. [CHAP.

ini^ that Swift had only the letters from Pope to himself.
The .tmisMon of an erasure (whether by Swift or Pope)
caused the whole meaning to be altered. As the great
dillicultv was to explain the publication of Swift's letters
to Pope, this change supplied a very important link in the
evidence. It implied that Swift had been at some time in
possession of the letters in question, and had trusted them
to some one supposed to be safe. The whole paragraph,
meanwhile, appears, from the unimpeachable evidence of
Mrs. Whitewav, to have involved one of the illusions of

J *

memory, for which he (Swift) apologizes in Jie letter from
which this is extracted. By insisting upon this passage,
and upon certain other letters dexterously confounded
with those published, Pope succeeded in raising dust
enough to blind Lord Orrery's not very piercing intelli-
gence. The inference which he desired to suggest was
that some persons in Swift's family had obtained posses-
sion of the letters. Mrs. AVhitcway, indeed, met the sug-
gestion so clearly, and gave such good reasons for assign-
ing Twickenham as the probable centre of the plot, that
she must have suspected the truth. Pope did not venture
to assail her publicly, though he continued to talk of treach-
erv or evil influence.


To accuse innocent people of a crime which you know
yoinsclf to have committed is bad enough. It is, perhaps,
even baser to lay a trap for a friend, and reproach him for
falling into it. Swift had denied the publication of the
letters, and Pope would have had some grounds of com-
plaint had he not been aware of the failure of Swift's
mind, and had he not been himself the tempter. His po-
rtion, however, forced him to blame his friend. It was a
necessary part of his case to impute at least a breach of
confidence to his victim. He therefore took the attitude


it must, one hopes, have cost him a blush of one who
is seriously aggrieved, but who is generously anxious t<>
shield a friend in consideration of his known infirmitv.


lie is forced, in sorrow, to admit that Swift has erred, but
he will not allow himself to be annoyed. The most humil-
iating words ever written by a man not utterly vile, must
have been those which Pope set down in a letter to Nugent,
after giving his own version of the case: "I think I can
make no reflections upon this strange incident but what
are truly melancholy, and humble the pride of human
nature. That the greatest of geniuses, though prudence
may have been the companion of wit (which is very rare)
for their whole lives past, may have nothing left them but
their vanity. No decay of body is half so miserable."
The most audacious hypocrite of fiction pales beside this.
Pope, condescending to the meanest complication of lies to
justify a paltry vanity, taking advantage of his old friend's
dotage to trick him into complicity, then giving a false ac-
count of his error, and finally moralizing, with all the airs
of philosophic charity, and taking credit for his generosity,
is altogether a picture to set fiction at defiance.

I must add a remark not so edifying. Pope went down
to his grave soon afterwards, without exciting suspicion
except among two or three people intimately concerned.
A whisper of doubt was soon hushed. Even the biogra-
phers who were on the track of his former deception did
not suspect this similar iniquity. The last of them, Mr.
Carruthers, writing in 1857, observes upon the pain given
to Pope by the treachery of Swift a treachery of course
palliated by Swift's failure of mind. At last Mr. Dilke
discovered the truth, which has been placed beyond doubt
by the still later discovery of the letters to Orrery. The
moral is, apparently, that it is better to cheat a respectable

1 .vi POPE. [CHAP.

man than a rogue; for the respectable tacitly form a so-
for mutual support of character, whilst the open
will be only too glad to show that you are even such
an i >n' as himself.

It was not probable that letters thus published should
be printed with scrupulous accuracy. Pope, indeed, can
scarcely have attempted to conceal the fact that they had
been a c;ood deal altered. And so lono- as the letters were


regarded merely as literary compositions, the practice was
at least pardonable. But Pope went further; and the full
extent of his audacious changes was not seen until Mr.


Dilke became possessed of the Caryll correspondence. On
comparing the copies preserved by Caryll with the letters
published by Pope, it became evident that Pope had re-
garded these letters as so much raw material, which he
might carve into shape at pleasure, and with such altera-

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 26 of 44)