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“Nobles and beralds by your leave,
Can Bourbon or Nassau go bigher.” But he does not often descend to so much levity as this, his wing is generally in a higher atmosphere. Sir Walter Scott observes that in the powers of approaching and touching the finer feelings of the heart, he has never been excelled, if indeed he has ever been equalled.
Prior wrote a parody called “ Erle Robert's Mice,” but Pope is more prolific than any other poet in such productions. His earlier taste seems to have been for imitation, and he wrote good parodies on Waller and Cowley, and a bad travesty on Spencer. “ January and May” and “The Wife of Bath ” are founded upon Chaucer's Tales. Pope did not generally indulge in travesty, his object was not to ridicule his original, but rather to assist himself by borrowing its style. His productions are the best examples of parodies in this latter and better sense. Thus, he thought to give a classic air to his satires on the foibles of his time by arranging them upon the models of those of Horace. In his imitation of the second Satire of the second Book we have“ He knows to live who keeps the middle state, And neither leans on this side nor on that, Nor stops for one bad cork his butler's pay, Swears, like Albutius, a good cook away, Nor lets, like Nævius, every error pass, The musty wine, foul cloth, or greasy glass.”
There is a slight amount of humour in these adaptations, and it seems to have been congenial to the poets mind. Generally he was more turned to philosophy, and the slow measures he adopted were more suited to the dignified and pompous, than to the playful and gay. Occasionally, however, there is some sparkle in his lines, and, we read in “The Rape of the Lock ”
“Now love suspends his golden scales in air,
Again, his friend Mrs. Blount found London rather dull than gay“She went to plain work and to purling brooks,
Old-fashioned halls, dull aunts, and croaking rooks,
He was seldom able to bring a humorous sketch to the close without something a little objectionable. Often inclined to err on the side of severity, he was one of those instances in which we find acrimonious feeling associated with physical infirmity. “The Dunciad” is the
principal example of this, but we have many others—such as the epigram:
“ You beat your pate and fancy wit will come,
Knock as you please, there's nobody at home.” At one time he was constantly extolling the charms of Lady Wortley Montagu in every strain of excessive adulation. He wrote sonnets upon her, and told her she had robbed the whole tree of knowledge. But when the ungrateful fair rejected her little crooked admirer, he completely changed his tone, and descended to lampoon of this kind“Lady Mary said to me, and in her own house,
I do not care for you three skips of a louse; I forgive tbe dear creature for what she has said, For ladies will talk of what runs in their head.” He is supposed to have attacked Addison under the name of Atticus. He says that "like the Turk he would bear no brother near the throne,” but that he would “ View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
And hate for arts that caused himself to rise,
Pope at first praised Ambrose Philips, and said he was “a man who could write very nobly," but afterwards they became rivals, and things went so far between them that Pope called Philips “a rascal,” and Philips hung up a rod with which he said he would chastise Pope. He probably had recourse to this kind of argument, because he felt that he was worsted by his adversary in wordy warfare, having little talent in satire. In fact, his attempts in this direction were particularly clumsy as“On a company of bad dancers to good music.”
“How ill the motion with the music suits !
So Orpheus fiddled, and so danced the brutes." Still there is a gaiety and lightness about many of his pieces. The following is a specimen of his favourite style. Italian singers, lately introduced, seem to have been regarded by many with disfavour and alarm.
TO SIGNORA CUZZONI.
Leave the Britons rough and free.” To parody a work is to pay it a compliment, though perhaps unintentionally, for if it were not well known the point of the imitation would be lost. Thus, the general appreciation of Gray's “ Elegy” called forth several
humorous parodies of it about the middle of the last century. The following is taken from one by the Rev. J. Duncombe, Vicar of Bishop Ridley's old church at Herne in Kent. It is entitled “An Evening Contemplation in a College.” “The curfew tolls the hour of closing gates, With jarring sound the porter turns the key, Then in his dreamy mansion, slumbering waits,
And slowly, sternly quits it—though for me. “Now shine the spires beneath the paly moon,
And through the cloister peace and silence reign,
Or copious bowls inspire a jovial strain.
The droning music of his vocal nose.
The peaceful fellows of the college sleep.
The noisy servants rattling o'er their head,
Unfelt the plagues of matrimonial life.
Oft have the benches bowed beneath their weight,
How smoke the cutlets on their crowded plate ! “Oh! let not Temperance too disdainful hear
How long their feasts, how long their dinners last;