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is significant that Swift was visiting Pope while he wrote parts of this satirel While it is to be regretted that Pope used his great talents to' impale his insignificant victims upon the envenomed spear of his wit, it is undoubtedly true that he had great provocation. We are familiar with his thrusts and cuts, but forget that his enemies had lashed him unmercifully, not sparing to taunt him with his bodily infirmities. Over-refinement was not the weakness of an age that amused itself by applying these nicknames upon the frail poet -"An Ape," "Poet Bug," “The Wasp of Twickenham."
An Essay on Man. — This poem, pronounced by Voltaire the most useful and sublime didactic poem ever written in any language, consists of four parts or epistles, making a total of 1304 lines. The first epistle was published anonymously in 1733. Originally Pope had planned to write a comprehensive series of which the Essay on Man was to be the first part, the other parts treating of Knowledge and its limits, of Government, and the final work of the eight or nine branches of Morality.
As the Dunciad shows the influence of Swift, so the Essay on Man shows that of Lord Bolingbroke, to whom the Essay is dedicated.
Bolingbroke had been a prominent politician and man of great social influence, but had been exiled. Upon his return he had settled near Uxbridge, where he indulged his taste for philosophy. Here he was frequently visited by Pope, who was dazzled by the brilliant but superficial thought of this distinguished man.
In a letter to Swift of August, 1731, Bolingbroke writes, “Does Pope talk to you of the noble work which, at my instigation, he has begun in such a manner that he must be convinced by this time I judged better of his talents than he did ?” He then gives an outline of the four parts, three of which had already been written.
The first epistle treats of the nature and state of man with respect to the universe. Man is finite, his knowledge imperfect, like the beast he is most fortunate when ignorant of the future.
"The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed today,
And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood.” The second epistle discusses the nature and state of man with respect to himself as an individual. It begins with the familiar
“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man." The third treats of the nature and state of man with respect to society, and the last discusses the nature and state of man with respect to happiness. He concludes that“ Virtue alone is happiness below.”
Pope was not an original thinker, nor was his mind of that order which can absorb the thoughts of others and construct them into a unified comprehensive system. The thoughts in the Essay on Man, like those in the earlier Essay on Criticism, have been culled from the writings of others. In addition to the personal influence of Bolingbroke, Pope was indebted to the Characteristics of Shaftesbury, the Origin of Evil of King, and the Essays of Leibnitz. Pope was not great enough to digest these ideas and then reproduce them in a unified philosophy of
Consequently the chief merit of the poem consists in the exquisite art with which he has given finality of expression to common ideas. The following well known lines are found in this Essay:
“ All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
“ Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
“Honor and shame from no Condition rise;
“Worth makes the man, and want of it, the fellow;
“Order is Heaven's first law."
“What's fame? a fancy'd life in others' breath."
Of the many
Epistles and Satires. — Pope has written a number of poetic epistles and satires, many of which are in imitation of Horace. In this kind of composition Pope is at his best. writings of this class we shall select for our notice but two, The Epistle to Arbuthnot, and the second epistle in the Moral Essays, Of the Characters of Women.
The Epistle to Arbuthnot, a poem of 419 lines first published in 1735, should be read by every student of Pope, for it is not only a brilliant piece of satire, but it is more autobiographical than any other of his poems. It opens with an invective against the poetasters who come to him with their doggerel, asking for advice and corrections,
“Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand,
No place is sacred, not the church is free;
After defending himself against the charge of cruelty by saying, “No creature smarts so little as a fool,” he gives us this bit of autobiography:
“Why did I write? What sin, to me unknown,
After the famous satire on Addison, already quoted, appear the lines on Bubo, said to be Lord Halifax. Then we have another touch of autobiography:
Oh, let me live my own, and die so too!
Then comes the bitterest of all his satirical sketches, the one on Sporus, said to be Lord Hervey, whom Pope calls "a bug with gilded wings," "this painted child of dirt,” “familiar Toad," "one vile Antithesis," and an "amphibious thing."
“ Eternal smiles his emptiness betray,
A Cherub's face, a reptile all the rest;
Wit that can creep, and pride that licks the dust."
In this same epistle are some of the tenderest lines written by Pope. The knowledge that they were published two years after the death of his mother need not cause us to question the genuineness of his filial affection.
“ Me let the tender office long engage
And keep awhile one parent from the sky." The Characters of Women. — This epistle appeared about a month after the one on Arbuthnot. It is generally understood that the lady to whom the epistle is addressed is Martha Blount, or Patty, the woman who plays a large part in the life and affec
tion of Pope. Pope said in a letter to a friend that the lady had modestly insisted that her name be suppressed. In the advertisement to the first edition Pope insisted that no characters were taken from life. This may be true as the first edition did not contain the characters of Atossa, Philomede, and Chloe-assumed names to designate Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough, Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough, and Lady Suffolk. His characterization of Atossa has an added interest owing to the rumor that Pope had received £1000 from the Duchess of Marlborough with the understanding that the lines should be suppressed. The lines did not appear until after Pope's death. Whether the Duchess had made a compact with Pope, and whether he was guilty of base perfidy in inserting the lines, are questions that have been much discussed by the critics.
The satire begins,
“Nothing so true as what you once let fall:
While it is to be noted that the second line is supposed to be the language of Patty Blount, yet the sentiment is approved by Pope. If women have no characters at all why write a long satire on the characters of women? Atossa is depicted as one who
“ Shines in exposing knaves and painting fools,
.. without one distress,
The conclusion of the satire contains a fine tribute to Patty, but not a high conception of womankind, for
Woman's at best a contradiction still.”
Bolingbroke and Johnson considered this the finest of his satires, but modern critics, with the memory of the noble conceptions of woman from the great souls of Spenser, Shakspere, Tennyson, and Browning, deny Pope's power to portray the characters of women. We are ready to agree with De Quincey's verdict