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No figure in literature, not even Dr. Johnson, is better known to us than the one-sided spider-armed dwarf, who for nearly a century ruled over the Anglo-Saxon mind. He was so weak as to be unable to dress himself without help, and he could scarcely stand upright till he was laced into an armor made of stiff can
His features wore an expression of habitual pain brightened up by a penetrating eye. His personal habits had the eccentricities of poet and invalid. His servant was called up four times in one winter night to supply him with paper, lest he should lose an idea. He took great pride in his famous grotto at Twickenham, a tunnel turned into an art-temple by the aid of a few shells. Here he loved to receive his friends Swift, Bolingbroke, Gay, and the other wits of the time. He has secured the good-will of Americans by having gone to sleep at his own table, when the Prince of Wales was talking poetry to him.
Pope's character excites a singular mixture of feelings, and is as full of contrasts as his satires. An invalid, but the most laborious of men. Always the *subject of some stronger nature, Addison, Swift, Bolingbroke, even Warburton, but a subject far more powerful than his king. A portentous cub,” as Bentley calls him, at whose school the cleverest men for a century came to receive a final polish. A tender heart, whose chief delight was in the torture of his fellows. A feeble dwarf, fighting against a world in arms. A dependent feminine nature, whose enmity was more feared than the thunderbolts of Jove!
The key to these contradictions is not far to seek, -a genius fretted nearly to madness by its prison-house of pain and deformity. Pope's life was one long effort to make "defect perfection” by the magic of genius.
In one relation of life his conduct was thoroughly lovable,- he was the best of sons. His mother lived under his watchful care until eleven years before his death, and all his many allusions to his parents breathe the strength and simplicity of true poetry.
Pope's reputation has withstood many attacks since Cowper said that he
“Made poetry a mere mechanic art,
Judged by a crucial test, — the amount of verbal legal tender stamped with his name, - Pope as a writer ranks second only to Shakespeare. No author is more often unconsciously quoted. Yet few of his admirers now claim for him a place among the higher order of singers.
Pope is, however, easily the chief of wits, in the wide sense of the word in his day. Wit, of which the wit was the personification, implied correctness, brilliancy, taste, skill, climax, all the charms of writing, except the “grace beyond the reach of art,” which it would doubtless have included if it could. The product of what we call polite society, the wit, as an ideal, has always had an ardent following in France, as it also had in England during the century after Milton, when England was under the influence of French taste.
As wit, satirist, and artist in words, Pope stands first, without second, among all writers.
1.- POPE'S APOLOGY FOR HIMSELF.
[The purpose of this “ Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot" is thus stated by the poet himself: “It is a sort of bill of complaint, begun many years since, and drawn up by snatches, as the several occasions offered. I had no thoughts of publishing it, till it pleased some persons to attack, in a very extraordinary manner, not only my writings (of which, being public, the public is judge), but ny person, morals, and family, whereof, to those who know me not, a truer information may be requisite. If the epistle have any thing pleasing, it will be that by which I am most desirous to please, the truth and the sentiment; and if any thing offensive, it will be only to those I am least sorry to offend, the vicious or the ungenerous.”]
Shut, shut the door, good John !1 fatigued I said;
What walls can guard me, or what shades can hide? They pierce my thickets, through my grot they glide ;4
1 good John. John Searle, for 4 They pierce ... they glide. many years the faithful servant of The grounds of Pope's villa at Pope.
Twickenham, altogether about five 2 The dog-star rages. The poet acres, were cut in two by the turnfigures the influence of the dog-star pike road leading from London to (Sirius) as inflaming the brains of Hampton Court. To obviate the the writers whom he is about to awkwardness of crossing this road, satirize.
he had an underground passage 3 All Bedlam, or Parnassus. constructed at an expense of £1,000.
Bedlam," a madhouse; “Parnas- It terminated in a kind of open' sus," a mountain in Greece sacred temple, wholly composed of to Apollo and the Muses, but here shells in the rustic manner.” This meaning the whole crew of poet- was my grot. My thicket is a shrubasters.
bery called “The Grove."
By land, by water, they renew the charge,
Friend to my life!2 (which did not you prolong,
Nine years! cries he, who high in Drury-lane, Lulled by soft zephyrs through the broken pane, Rhymes 8 ere he wakes, and prints before term ends, Obliged by hunger, and request of friends :
a district in London 6 Keep ... nine years. This which was a refuge for debtors. saving counsel is given by Horace
2 Friend to my life. Dr. Arbuth- in his Ars Poetica. not. (See Introduction.)
7 Drury-lane. A London haunt 3 nostrum. See Glossary.
of poor authors. 4 this plague. Explain.
8 rhymes, makes verses. 5 to judge, to give opinion on 9 before term ends, before the the manuscripts of the poetasters.
end of the London season.
“The piece, you think, is incorrect? why, take it; I'm all submission : what you'd have it, make it.”
Three things another's modest wishes bound,
Pitholeon 1 sends to me: “ You know his Grace
Bless me! a packet. “ 'Tis a stranger sues, ,
One dedicates in high heroic prose, And ridicules beyond a hundred foes.
1 Pitholeon, the name of one of 4 demurs. See Webster. Horace's imaginary literary bores. go snacks. Explain.
2 Curll, a London bookseller. 6 ridicules . .. foes: that is,
3 Lintot. Bernard Lintot, Pope's makes Pope more ridiculous than a own publisher.
hundred enemies could do.