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The world shall in its atoms end,
To this the beauty of your frame.
When on my sickly couch I lay,
With vigour and delight perform’d.12 'Her Friendship’! The only thing about her he seems not to have learnt till it was too late was that her friendship was a woman's love ; and that she thirsted for his love in return. Somehow that was an emotion nature would appear to have denied, or to have failed to ripen in, him. With it his big soul might have borne twenty-fold, a hundred-fold, the meagre poetic harvest it has chosen to yield.
A few pages of genuine, if undressed, poetry, out of some seven hundred devoted, otherwise, partly, to scorching up, or freezing, but, mainly, to miscellaneous mocking at things sacred and profane, equally at natural necessities and at social corruptions of human life! Still, a score or two. If only he had been as enthusiastic for virtue as he was scornful of imposture, had opened his eyes to see visions, had gazed at the stars instead of raking in mud!
The Poems of Dr. Jonathan Swift (Johnson's Poets, vols. xlii, xliii, xliv. London, 1790).
i The Journal of a Modern Lady.
* Irish Bishops ; a late famous General; The Upright Judge; The Yahoo's Overthrow; John Dennis's Invitation to Richard Steele.
3 To the Earl of Peterborough, st. 11.
What a fiery spirit in those fetters of rhyming heroics ! How bravely still the carcass, only half dead, clanks its chains by the busy highway, with a sneer, a jeer, a curse at the law and order to which its creaking bones testify ! Defiance is writ large over Pope's whole life and genius. He trampled on the pretensions of the least flexible of all the instruments of poetry to regulate his intellect or temper. He scorned the physical checks of abiding pain racking his incubus of a body. He paraded a persecuted faith, when no longer really his, in the face of an intolerant age. Who can look up at London’s glaring, staring column without a thought of admiration for the puny, professing Papist, who ventured to affront the tall bully lifting its brazen head with a lie !1 In death as in life he lorded it over an age, and compels literature still to trace its lineage through him. His sovereignty may have ceased to be acknowledged; the memory of it has ingrained itself in the language. We perpetually are using coinage stamped with his image.
He had his vices. They were no mere accidents of physical ailments, transient moods, circumstance. They were essentially his own, bred and born in the bone. He had fondled and nursed them. Unless in a narrow circle of intimates—and then sometimes-he was venomous as a wasp, fascinatingly spiteful as a humming-bird. Seldom did he forgive an injury, and never a slight. Lady Mary made an enemy of him for life by her virtue, Queen Caroline
by coquetting with other wits, and Ambrose Philips by daring to emulate his Pastorals. Much of the scornfulness, wholly justifiable as criticism, in the tremendous Dunciad has the sourness of a personal grievance. Literature, which has gained by a matchless hurricane of explosive bullets, has never discovered a rational explanation of the outburst against Addison ;
Were there one whose fires
Who would not weep if Atticus were he ? ? I have often wondered at the apparent serenity with which acquaintances stood the ordeal. They must have continually felt themselves in front of a masked battery of spitfire suspicion, ready at any moment, on any or no pretext, to open, and shatter them to pieces.
His poetical deficiencies were as deeply rooted. For wild, natural beauty he had no genuine feeling. Windsor Forest
itself—a wonderful work for a boy-indicates little or none, though he was too diffident of his footing with nature to stumble into blunders. With freedom for the most part from incongruous absurdities, the barrenness of his favourite Pastorals is dreadful. He could have written for the purpose to as much effect when, at the age of twelve, he hymned Solitude. For so dexterous a craftsman, for so great a genius, it is extraordinary how helpless he was outside his habitual forms, and how insensible he seems to be to the incapacity. Occasionally he tried other metres than the heroic with deplorable results. The Universal Prayer is sustained and justified by fine thoughts, rather philosophical than strictly poetical. The Ode for Music on St. Cecilia’s Day, lauded once as only second to, if not the equal of, Alexander's Feast, has reached its proper dead level in opinion now. The last four lines alone rise above mediocrity. We have learnt better than to waste applause on such as
Music can soften pain to ease,
Playing his own special instrument he turns out very different work from that of St. Cecilia's poetaster. In his hands the decasyllabic couplet became a full orchestra. He had trained it to barb an epigram in every second line. For him it could expound a theology:
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,