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ART. IX. The Works of Alexander Pope Esq., in Verse and Prose;
containing the principal Notes of Drs Warburton and Warton : to which are added seme Original Letters. By the Rev. William Lisle Bowles. 10 volumes 8vo. London. 1806.
There is something very perverse in the irregularity with 1 which fortune distributes to literary men their chief sustenance-reputation. To some she gives full measure, and present payment; they live with nobles, and are buried among kings; they are worshipped by friends and flatterers; they exercise a sort of tyranny over the public taste, and the credit of their contemporaries; and after multiplying their acknowledged writings without any stint, but that which their own'indolence or discretion may impose, there is still an abundant harvest remaining of private correspondence, and whole volumes of ana and anecdotes are hashed up out of their sayings. A less fortunate class have nothing in this world to comfort them, but that last solace of poor poets and scholars—the hope of posthumous fame from a wiser posterity; and, to take off again from even this scanty pittance, they must be aware that posterity, even if it showers applause upon their labours, may be able to trace little more of themselves than could be discovered of P. P. clerk of the parish; that he walked about with a black and white cat, and swallowed loaches. Homer is, in fact, only a shorter expression for the anonymous author of the Iliad; we have just a trifle more about Pindar; we have some little light respecting Virgil; can tell still more of Shakespeare; and a good deal about Milton. But the three writers, of our own country at least, who seem to bask in the fullest sunshine of reputation, are Pope, Swift, and Johnson. They have fallen into the hands of portrait-painters, who think shadow unnecessary, and disdain that discreet management of the pencil, which keeps down certain parts of the picture, were it only to give relief to others. We own that the public are againsi us, who seem to crave insatiably for these literary morsels : but it does appear to us, that a man may have too much said about him, as well as too little ; and that many a distinguished character may be the loser by showing the world, amidst all the blaze of hot-pressed paper, in what terms he gave orders to his steward, and with what compliments he returned thanks for a haunch of venison. Indeed, we almost doubt whether the possible existence of future Nicholses, Malones, and Chalmerses, events against which we see no security, is not a drawback upon literary exertion; and we put it to any modest young man who intends to obtain immortal renown, whether the consciousness that he is Cc4
of Pope irksome anas his weglass, that
living, like the Bonzes, in a house of glass, that all his loose sayings are sure to be as eternal as his writings, does not inspire, from time to time, an irksome and painful sensation.
The works of Pope were published soon after his death, by his friend and executor Warburton, in nine volumes, containing as well those poems upon which his fame most depends, as a collection of letters, copious enough, one would think, to satisfy the public curiosity for such compositions. By degrees, a few trilling poems, and some more letters became public : and Dr Joseph Warton, in 1797, added these, with as much more as he could scrape together, to Warburton's edition; cutting down, at the same time, his own essay on the writings and genius of Pope, published 1761, into shreds and patches of notes, which he interspersed with those of Warburton. Mr Bowles has now republished Warton's edition, with a few letters which were not included in it. His own share of this edition consists of a life, a variety of notes, in addition to those of the preceding editors, and concluding observations on the poetical character of Pope.
The partiality of editors is not more notorious than natural. If an author is as a parent to his works, an editor is at least a guardian ; he is loco parentis ; and while he is bound to protect the inheritance from wrong, may be expected also to feel some little tenderness for the heir. There have been those, however, who, from this weakness, have seemed to lye under the opposite bias, and have endeavoured, rather to dispossess the world of too favourable an idea of their author, than to varnish over his failings. Of Pope's three critical commentators, Warburton is an indiscriminate and sophistical eulogist; Warton is, generally, candid and impartial; but Mr Bowles, we think, almost always evinces an adverse prepossession. The tone, indeed, of his own poetical feelings is so little in unison with his author, that one is led to wonder that he should have taken upon him a labour, the burthen of which could not have been alleviated by much zeal and interest about his subject.
The life of Pope is one of the finest, as well as most elaborate, which Johnson has written. He seems to have been more on his guard than was usual with him, against a secret ill-will, and perhaps jealousy, which he had imbibed ; and, in the present state of public opinion respecting Pope, that suffrage may be deemed favourable, which would have been spurned half a century since as the fruit of bad tiste or malignity. If he has left on the mind an impression of dislike towards Pope's moral character, the cause, we fear, must be found rather in the plain truth of his story, than in his own commentary. Mr Bowles is more studious in bringing forward and dwelling upon the blemishes of his
author's disposition ; but, in fact, they speak pretty plainly for themselves; and we stand in need of no guide-post to direct our contempt towards duplicity and cowardice. Perhaps, however, an editor might have done more for the brighter parts of the subject, and pointed out more fully that remarkable sensibility and tenderness of heart, which beamed through Pope's natural selfishness, and turned his connexions, even with the great, into real and ardent friendships.
The following account of the 'Unfortunate Lady,' is cua rious.
• The story which was told to Condorcet by Voltaire, and by Condorcet to a gentleman of high birth and character, from whom I receive ed it, is this. • That her attachment was not to Pope, or to any Englithman of inferior degree ;' but to a young French prince of the blood. royal, Charles Emmanuel Duke of Berry, whom, in early youth, the had met at the court of France. In 1710, if we give this date io the elegy, the Duke of Berry must have been in his twenty-fourth year, being boro 1686.
• The verses certainly seem unintelligible, unless they allude to some coonexion, to which her highest hopes, though nobly connected herself, could not aspire. What other sense can be given to these words ?
“ Why bade ye, elle, ye powers, her foul aspire
“ The glorious fault of angels and of gods!” . She was herself of a noble family, or there can be no meaning in the line,
" That once had honour, virtue, titles, fame.” Under the idea here suggested, a greater propriety is given to the verse, which otherwise appears so tame and cominon place,
“ 'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be.” Vol. I. p. xxxii. Mr Bowles justifies Addison, at some length, from the charge which Pope and all the world, since the publication of Pope's lines on Atticus, have brought against him, of disingenuously writing a translation of the first Iliad in Tickell's name. There is a similar defence of Addison in Bishop Hurd's Life of Warburton, which Mr Bowles has not quoted; it is said to have been satisfactory to Warburton himself.
The passion of Pope for the Misses Blount, which is almost passed over by Johnson, is put in a striking light by Mr Bowles.
• A friendly but indefinite connexion, a ftrange mixture of passion, gallantry, licentiousness, and kindness, had long taken place between himlelf and the Miss Blounts. It has been said, that Teresa was the firit object of his attention. For some time his partiality seems to have been wavering. He was consulted, and interested himself in the affairs of the family ; for the father died in 1710. After some misunderstand
ing, mutual bickerings, and complaints with Teresa, he finally set his heart on Martha. She was neither so handsome nor intelligent as her fifter ; and, to be admired by a man so celebrated as a wit, was the more grateful, as it flattered her understanding, the point in which she was mont deficient.'
The curious letters which passed between him and her sister Teresa, published in the tenth volume, will show the decline and termination of their connexion, as well as evince how much he felt on the occasion.
As these letters are without date, we cannot say exactly when they were written. Pope seems to have fixed his regard solely on Martha so early as 1714; for he says, in one letter,
" In these overflowings of my heart, I pay you my thanks for those two obliging letters you favoured me with, of the 18th and 24th inftant. That which begins with “ My charming Mr Pope ! ” was a delight 'o me beyond all expression. You have at last entirely gained the conquest over your fair fifter. 'Tis true, you are not handsome, for you are a woman, and think you are not ; but this good humour and tenderness for me has a charm that cannot be refifted. That face must needs be irrefiftible, which was adorned with smiles even when it could pot see the coronation.”
.. Though it is hardly worth noticing, my opinion is, that after this letter, the public appearance of Teresa in town at the coronation, reviv. ed all his suppressed tenderness; and the most dire& addresses to Martha were not conceived till after the coolness of Lady Mary, and the death of the brother in 1726.
• Pope, however, was in this respe&t a politician ; and he carefully, to the family at least, avoided any expression in his letters that might be construed into a dire& avowal; and when his warmth sometimes betrayed him, he generally contrived to make old Mrs Blount and her other daughter parties, so that whatever was said might appear only the dictates of general kindness.
• On the death of their brother his intimate friend and correspond. ent, he seems to speak more openly his undisguised sentiments to Martha, who from this time became his confidadt, having admitted a connexion which fubje&ed her to some ridicule, but which ended only with his life. Pope was now in his 38th year. He was never indifferent to female society; and though his good sense prevented bim, conscious of so many personal jufirmities, from marrying, yet he felt the want of that sort of reciprocal teoderness and confidence in a female, to whom he might freely communicate his thoughts, and on whom, in sickness and informity, he could rely. All this Martha Blount became to him : by degrees she became identified with his existence. She partook of his disappointments, his vexations, and his comforts. Wherever he went, his correspondence with her was never remitied; and when the warmth of gallantry was over, the cherished idea of kindness and regard remained.' I. p. lxix.
Of this remarkable attachment, which enslaved the whole heart
of Pope, and rendered every other feeling, whether of self-interest, or friendship, subservient, we would speak with more pity than ridicule. That any criminal intercourse subsisted between them, as Mr Bowles inquires, (Life, p. cxxviii.), is highly improbable. She appears to have been a woman of a little mind and violent temper, incapable of estimating the honour which was conferred on her by the attachment of Pope, and careless of those feelings, which her caprice and peevishness kept in perpetual irritation. The letters that are now published, are among the most humiliat. ing we have ever read. They present us with the picture of a man of fine genius and exquisite sensibility; and acting, in this instance, without art or affectation, chained at the footstool of two paltry girls. The following is a specimen out of many.
" TO THE MISSES BLOUNT. i LADIES,
Thursday morn. • Pray think me sensible of your civility and good meaning, in ak. ing me to come to you.
You will please to consider, that my coming, or not, is a thing in. different to both of you. But God kuows it is far otherwise to me, with respect to one of you.
• I scarce ever come, but one of two things happens, which equally affias me to the soul: either I make her uneasy, or I see her unkind.
• If she has any tenderness, I can only give her every day trouble and melancholy. If she has none, the daily light of so undeserved a coldness must wound me to death. : . It is forcing one of us to do a very hard and very unjuft thing to the other.
• My continuing to see you will, by turns, teaze all of us. My ftay. ing away cao at worst be of ill consequence only to myself.
. And if one of us is to be sacrificed, I believe we are all three agreed who shall be the person.' Vol. X. p. 84.
We shall now make a few desultory strictures upon Mr Bowles's notes.
Vol. II. p. 377. "I am inclined to think, by Roxana was meant the Dutchess of Marlborough; this is my idea; but it is of little consequence to illustrate a poem, which Pope, perhaps, never wrote.' The poem, entitled Roxana, is a flimsy jeu d'esprit, quite unlike Pope, and probably written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. But Mr Bowles's notion, that Roxana was meant for the Dutchess of Marlborough, is marvellously absurd. Was she
a prude,' who, • in glowing youth, when nature bids be gay,' sought sermons, and with a mien severe, 'censured her neighbours, and said daily prayer?'
Vol. IV. p. 55. Can Sporus feel? - In the first edition, Pope had the name Paris, instead of Sporus; it seems a more suitable name. There is, I believe, no account why it was altered.' Mr