Page images
PDF
EPUB

those little arts of literary warfare. Your letter is at once argumentative, manly, good-humored, and eloquent.

I am afraid, that if those whom I have lately encountered might have thought that: “your Lordship would decide the contest at once,”-in short, “hit the nail in the head, and Bowles in the head also,”—they will be somewhat disappointed.

But, be this as it may, I can say, with great truth, that if it be an honor to have such a character for an opponent, it is a duty incumbent on me to endeavour to show myself not unworthy, my Lord, of such notice, by meeting your objections in the same spirit.

Your observations, in answer to what I said of parts of Pope's moral character, may be comprised in few words. It was far from my heart to charge him with a “libertine sort of love," on account of the errors or frailties of youth. I disdained, in the Life of Pope, to make any allusion to Cibber's well-known anecdote. It would have been fanatic or hypocritical in me to have done so. When I spoke of his libertine kind of love," I alluded to the general tone of his language to Lady Mary, and many of the ladies with whom he corresponded from youth to age. I suppressed with indignation, the Imitation of Horace, which I believe be wrote-the most obscene and daring piece of profligacy that ever issued from the press, since the days of Charles the Second. I deduced no trait of his character from it, thongh it was not written when youth and gaiety might, in some measure, have palliated the offence, but when he was forty-two years of age. But though I had no tincture, I hope, in my feeling, of hypocrisy, or fanaticism, I thought it a duty to society to touch on one prominent feature in his character, which shows itself in his correspondence.

As to the omission of the fact of his benevolence to SAVAGE, it was inadvertence--culpable, I confess: but if

I have spoken of his “general benevolence," I may be par . doned, I hope, for ap onission, which, at all events, was not intentional; but on which your Lordship’s animadversion I own to be justo," al 11

“Should some more sober britic come abroad,

If wrong, I smile; if righi, I kiss the rod." Having touched on these points, I advance to meet your Lordship on the ground of those principles of poetical criticism, by which I adventured to estimate Pope's rank and station in his art.'

? If I cannot prove those principles invulnerable, even when

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

your Lordship assails them; if I cannot answer all your arguments as plainly and as distinctly as you have adduced them; the appellation “invariable” I shall instantly discard; but saying,- if I fall, it is Æneæ dextrâ.

On the contrary, if meeting any arguments fairly, I tum them against you; if, without avoiding the full force of any, I rebut them satisfactorily; I shall bave more reason than ever to think those principles INVARIABLE, which even Lord Byron cannot overturn.

It is singular that in the latter part of my vindication from the charges of the Quarterly Review, I had quoted your own poetry, my Lord, to prove those very principles which your Lordship's criticism is employed to destroy.

One thing will give me satisfaction. If you, having descended into this contest, comprehend me, I shall not probably be misrepresented by others. But, as much misrepresentation on the subject has taken place, and some miscon* eeptions, from which I think I shall show that your Lordship is not exempt; I shall first place before your Lordship, and the public, my sentiments, as they stand recorded in the tenthi volume of Pope's Works. They are these : I have often quoted them in part, but I find it, in consequence of so many misconceptions, necessary to transcribe the greater part, that my principles may be seen in connection, and under one view.

“I presume it will readily be granted, that all images drawn from what is beautiful or sublime in the works of NA*TURE, are more beautitul and sublime than any images drawn from ART;' and that they are therefore, per se, more poetical.

“ In like manner, those PASSIONS of the human heart, which belong to Nature in general, are, per se, more adapted to the HighER SPECIES of Poetry, than those which are derived from incidental and transient MANNERS. A description of a Forest is more poetical than a description of a cultivated Garden; and the Passions which are pourtrayed in the Epistle of an Eloisa, render such a poem more poetical, (whatever might be the difference of merit in point of execution) intrinsically more poetical, than a poem founded on the characters, incidents, and modes of urtificial life; for instance, the Rape of the Lock.

“If this be admitted, the rule by which we would estimate Pope's general poetical character would be obvious.

Let me not, however, be considered as thinking that the subject alone constitutes poetical excellency. The erecution is to be taken into consideration at the same time; for, with

Lord Harvey, we might fall asleep over the “ Creation" of Blackmore, but be alive to the touches of animation and satire in BOILEAU.

The subject, and the execution, therefore, are equally to be considered ;-the one respecting the Poetry,--the other, the art and powers of the poet. The poetical subject, and the art and talents of the poet, should always be kept in mind; and I imagine it is for want of observing this rule, that so much bas been said, and so little understood, of the real ground of Pope's character as a poet.

"If you say he is not one of the first poets that England, and the polished literature of a polished æra can boast,

• Recte necne crocos foresqué perambulat Atti
Fabula si dubitem, clamant perisse podorem

Cuncti pene patres.' “If you say that he stands poetically pre-eminent, in the highest sense, you must deny the principles of criticism, which I imagine will be acknowledged by all.

"In speaking of the poetical subject, and the powers of execution; with regard to the first, Pope cannot be classed among the highest orders of poets; with regard to the second, none ever was his superior. It is futile to expect to judge of one.composition by the rules of another. To say that Pope, in this sense, is not a Poet, is to say that a didactic Poem is not a Tragedy, and that a Satire is not an Odé. Pope must be judged according to the rank in which he stands, among those whose delineations are taken more from manners than from NATURE. When I say that this is his predominant character, I must be insensible to every thing exquisite in poetry, if I did not except, instanter, the Epistle of Eloisa : but this can only be considered according to its class; and if I say that it seems to me superior to any other of the kind, to which it might fairly be compared, such as the Epistles of Ovid, Propertius, Tibullus, (I will not mention Drayton, and Pope's numerous subsequent Imitations ;) but when this transcendent poem is compared with those which will bear the comparison, I shall not be deemed as giving reluctant praise, when I declare my conviction of its being infinitely superior to every thing of the kind, ancient or modern.

* In this poem, therefore, Pope appears on the high ground of the Poet of Nature; but this certainly. is not his general. character. In the particular instance of this poem, how distinguished and superior does he stand! It is suificient that nothing of the kind has ever been produced equal to it, for pathos, painting, and melody,"

Before I proceed, it will save myself and your Lordship VOL. XVIII. Pani. NO. XXXVI.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

some trouble, if I request you to remember, in casting your eye on this portion of the estimate of Pope's 'poetical character, four material points.

1st. I speak not of NATURE GENERALLY, but of images SUBLIME or BEAUTIFUL in Nature; and if your Lordship had only kept this circumstance in recollection, you would have seen, that your pleasant pictures of “the Hog in the high wind,” the footman's livery, the Paddington Canal, and the pigsties, the horse-pond, the slop-basin, or ANY OTHER vessel, all must go for nothing ; for natural as these images might be, they are neither " sublime or beautiful;” and notwithstanding the pleasantry and wit with which they are associated in your Lordship's imagination,

“ It grieves' ine inuch, the clerk might say again,

Who WRITES SO well, should ever WRITE IN VAIN." 2d. You will observe, that the proposition, Images from what is sublime or beautiful in Nature, per se," abstractedly, are connected with what follows, viz. the "PASSIONS which belong to Nature" in general, not to Man, a's living at one period, but to the human heart in general, to Nature of all ages.

3dly. You will observe, that, in speaking of the subject and execution of a poem, I do not pass over the execution ; for otherwise, Blackmore would be a greater poet' than Pope :--and if your Lordship had remembered this point, you would not have supposed I could ever consider Fenton, or any other tragedian of the kind, as great a poet as Pope, though Fenton wrote a successful tragedy, and Pope, satires, &c.

And, 4thly. You will observe, that, in execution I think no poet was ever superior to Pope; though your Lordship thinks the erecution all, and I do not, for reasons which will be given.

I now beg to place before you what follows, requesting you to observe that I most freely admit Pope's unquestioned rank in the pathetic part of poetry, concerning which my concluding remark was,-"In the particular instance of this poem, how distinguished and SUPERIOR does he stand. It is sufficient that nothing of the kind ever has been produced, EQUAL TOIT for PATHOS, PAINTING, and MELODY!!

To the first part I called Mr. Campbell's particular attention before; but I am certain many mistakes would be prevented, if any opposer of another's opinion would only take the trouble to do him the justice of impartially examining what those opinions arc. I therefore think it necessary, before

[ocr errors]

1

[ocr errors]

I meet Lord Byron, to show where his most effective strokes seem to bit the hardest, and where they are wasted, not on ny theory, but on the winds. I must hope, therefore, the reader will a little farther follow me. After the word “ melody" my observations on Pope's

. poetical character proceed as follow:

“From this exquisite performance, which seems to stand as the boundary between the poetry derived from the great and primary feelings of Nature, and that derived from Art, to satire, whose subject wholly concerns existing manners, the transition is easy, but the idea painful. Nevertheless, as Pope has chosen to write satires and epistles, they must be compared, not as Warton bas, I think, injudiciously done with pieces of genuine poetry, but only with things of the same kind. To say that the beginning of one of Pope's satires is not poetical ; to say that you cannot find in it, if the words are transposed, the disjecti membra poeta,” is not criticism. The province of satire is totally wide; its career is in artificial life ; and therefore to say that satire is not poetry, is to say an epigram is not an elegy. Pope has written satires; that is, confined hịmself chiefly, as a poet, to those subjects with which, as it has been seen, he was most conversant; subjects taken from living man, from habits and mamers, more than from principles and passions.

“The career, therefore, which he opened to himself was in the second order in poetry; but it was a line pursued by Horace, Juvenal, Dryden, Boileau; and if in that line he stand the highest, upon these grounds we might fairly say, with Johnson, it is superfluous to ask whether Pope were a poet.

“ From the poetry, which, while it deals in local manners, exhibits also, as far as the subject would admit, the most exquisite embellishments of fancy, such as the machinery' of

the Rape of the Lock, we may proceed to those subjects which concern living man.'

“ The abstract philosophical view is first presented, as in the Essay on Man. The ground of such a poem is philosophy, not poetry: the poetry is only the coloring, if I may say so; and to the coloring the eye is chiefly attentive. Wo hardly think of the philosophy, whether it be good or bad; whether it be profound or specious; whether it evince deep thinking, or exhibit only in new and pompous array the babble of the Nurse.' Scarcely any one, till a controversy

In a note to this poem, the reason is given why Pope's airy spirits are inferior to Sha kespeare's.

« PreviousContinue »