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OF THE USE OF RICHES:
ALLEN, LORD BATHURST.
The following original Letter of Lord Bathurst to Pope, will shew the great respect and kindness he had for him. It is taken from the autographs of the Odyssey and Iliad, preserved in the British Museum, which are written chiefly on the backs of various letters :
Bowles. “ I will not fail to attend Mrs. Howard upon Marble Hill next Tuesday; but Lady Bathurst is not able to come at this time, which is no small mortification to her. I hope I shall persuade John Gay to come hither to me, for I really think such a wintry summer as this should be passed altogether in society by a chimneycorner ; but I believe I should not lie, if I assured you that I would quit the finest walk on the finest day in the finest garden, to have your company at any time. This is saying a great deal more than is commonly understood by one. I am
Your most faithful humble servant,
“ None of my works," said Pope to Mr. Spence, “was more laboured than my Epistle on the Use of Riches.” It does indeed abound in knowledge of life, and in the justest satire. It has also the additional merit of touching on a subject that never occurred to former satirists. And though it was difficult to say any thing new about avarice, “a vice that has been so pelted," says Cowley, “ with good sentences," yet has our author done it so successfully, that this Epistle, together with Lord Bacon's thirty-third Essay, contains almost all that can be said on the use and abuse of riches, and the absurd extremes of avarice and profusion. But our Poet has enlivened his
so many various characters, pictures, and images, as may entitle him to claim the preference over all that have treated on this tempting subject, down from the time of the Plutus of Aristophanes. That very lively and amiable old nobleman, the late Lord Bathurst,
“ that he was much surprised to see, what he had with repeated pleasure so often read as an Epistle addressed to himself, in this edition converted into a dialogue, in which," said he, “I perceive I make but a shabby and indifferent figure, and contribute very little to the spirit of the dialogue, if it must be a dialogue; and I hope I had generally more to say for myself in the many charming conversations I used to hold with Pope and Swift, and
my old poetical friends.” In truth we may make the same objection that Perrault is said to have done to the tenth satire of Boileau ; “l'auteur oublie quelquefois que c'est un dialogue qu'il compose." I cannot forbear adding, that Cicero gives to his friend Atticus a very small share in those dialogues in which he himself is represented as a speaker.
As the first of these moral Epistles is a commentary on the idea of the Ruling Passion as it is stated in the Essay on Man, so the ensuing Epistle may be considered as an illustration of another favorite doctrine of the poet ; that by the arrangements and course of Providence the general order of things is not only maintained, but the errors and even the vices of mankind are either counteracted, or converted into positive good :
“ Each individual seeks a different goal,
But heaven's great view is one, and that the whole;
That disappoints th' effect of every vice.” This truth he here undertakes further to elucidate by considering the use and abuse of riches, in a dialogue between himself and Lord Bathurst, to whom it is addressed, and in which the part taken by his Lordship serves as might be expected) rather to elicit the sentiments of the Poet than to display his own. In the prosecution of this plan, he first considers what have been the consequences to society of the introduction of a medium of exchange for the necessaries and commodities of life, which is capable of being accumulated in large masses. This medium he denominates gold, (rather as a sign of value in general, than in its peculiar sense) and the accumulation of it is characterized as riches. He could not however but perceive, that this sign of value might exist in any other form; and after shewing by a succession of the most lively images the advantages and disadvantages of gold, he adverts to the great extension of this medium of exchange by the means of paper-credit, the effects of which he describes with infinite spirit and vivacity; contrasting the rapidity with which “our fates and fortunes are scattered," and the ends of corruption obtained, with the inconveniences that must have arisen, when these purposes could only be effected by an actual interchange of the substantial articles of life. Having thus adverted to the uses and abuses of riches, he next refers to the different motives by which men are led to accumulate; all which he considers as the effects of the Ruling Passion, which, when uncontrolled by reason, are little short of insanity or madness. (See Warburton's note on ver. 151.)
He then enters on his principal subject, and demonstrates that the evils that accrue to society from the effects even of the most sordid avarice, are alleviated, obviated, or rendered positively beneficial to others, by the course of Providence; which, both in the natural and moral world, renders all extremes subscrvient to general use. This is strikingly illustrated in the example of Cotta and his son, in which the wealth accumulated by the father goes, by the extravagance of his heir, to the service of his country; (but see Note on ver. 218). After having thus exemplified the abuses of
riches, he undertakes to demonstrate the proper use of them; which he exhibits in the character of the Man of Ross, whom he has immortalized by the noblest monument that ever genius raised to virtue. The remaining characters of Villars, Sir John Cutler, and Sir Balaam, are intended to enforce what has before been stated; and serve to demonstrate, not only the “ impotence of wealth,” but the pernicious consequences to which it so frequently leads.