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There shall the morn her earliest tears bestow,
The ground, now sacred by thy relics made.12 He wrote as he saw. When he saw good, he sang of it; and inspiration, descending, illuminated fond regret as magically as condemnation. Few epitaphs surpass in pathetic ingenuity the Harcourt one:
To this sad shrine, whoe'er thou art, draw near ;
And with a father's sorrows mix his own ! 13 The accustomed snarl could be exchanged for a soul-stirring tribute to desert, even in a peer :
And you, brave Cobham ! to the latest breath
'O save my country, Heaven !' shall be your last.14 Or some thirty decasyllabics would raise an eternal monument to a humble citizen of a country town :
But all our praises why should lords engross ?
Where age and want sit smiling at the gate ;
Him portion'd maids, apprentic'd orphans blest,
sick ? The Man of Ross relieves,
And what ? no monument, inscription, stone,
Of rich and poor makes all the history.1 How generously, delicately, can this misanthrope, manipulating a stiff and starched measure, mingle admiration with commiseration for the victim of a Court, the great singer, who
taught to join
The long majestic march, and energy divine ; and warm tears with both for yet another poet-plaything of fashion, whom it had fondled and would have starved :
Bless'd be the great! for those they take away,
Neglected die, and tell it on his tomb.17 How he devoted his heart and his Muse to any who had shown him kindness—the prouder of their friendship if they were in disgrace, and persecuted !—to Harley alike, and his successful rival, all-accomplished St. John, in their common fate ; to the attainted Bishop :
How shin'd the soul, unconquer'd, in the Tower ! 18 to him,
Whose lightning pierc'd th' Iberian lines,19 to Swift, flicked with a caress :
who charms us with his spleen,20
to the mother, who had watched over his troubled childhood; and to the physician :
Friend to my life, which did not you prolong,
The world had wanted many an idle song ; without whose affectionate art and care even his faithful Muse would have been too hard tasked,
To help me through this long disease my life : 22 No wonder that he ruled ; an absolute monarch. More than half a recluse, waging incessant war with society, he all the while possessed the genius of it in the most vivid, elastic form. He had an instinct for penetrating its breast, and for lighting up its most secret recesses. No one who aspires to reach the heart and brain of the eighteenth century can neglect the study of him ; of the man in and through his works. He is its foremost representative. Of a large field in its development he was, in fact, owner and creator. We are continually speaking him ; using his wit and wisdom. His conquests, in connexion especially with his favourite weapon in making them, had indeed an ill side. His own generation, and that which succeeded, like savage artists enraptured by the exactness of Birmingham machine goods, were overcome by the regularity, seldom broken, of his smooth rhythm. The small fry of minor poets easily caught the trick of the measure. They mimicked cheaply his cynicism in attacking fashion, while infusing servility. He had used his apparatus ; and it used them. For apprentices, without his ' musical finesse ’-without the fang and poison-bag behind-above all, without the soul-poetry was degraded into
a mere mechanic art; And every warbler had his tune by heart.23 Finally, a long-suffering age rebelled, and flung the tyrant-engine into outer darkness, where it was picked up
by University prizemen and the like. The author of its excessive acceptance, it cannot be denied, suffered in fame from being confounded with his uninspired followers. It was but a partial obscuration. Goldsmith, Rogers, Campbell, Byron, from time to time reminded the world that the measure Pope was accused of having stereotyped wants only a meaning and a mind at its back to be a living voice again. It is, and always has been, the same with himself. In direct contradiction of the law that nothing in literature is mortal like fashion, Pope's Muse seemed to be nothing, at her prime, if not in the fashion, yet never dies. She may close her eyes, as if having drawn her last breath. In favouring circumstances, even at the spurn of an insolent hoof, she returns in an instant to lusty life. I open a volume of Pope, with a sigh at its stilted, artificial, superannuated, icy rhetoric ; within five minutes the mildew dries off, the dust has flown, the frost melts ; the page sparkles again, with its own poetic standard re-established ; I could almost believe that the epigrammatic vitriol was a gush of spontaneous melody, that the writer might have been Byron, or Tennyson, if only he had been born a century or so later, and had willed the metempsychosis.
And for the man himself—listen to every sneer and curse ; to every half-stifled groan; to every appeal for a licence to be perverse; to every muttered whisper how grateful he would have been, had nature but fashioned him kindly ;and resist, if you can, the impulse to assent, admire, forgive -yes, and even love!
The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope (Aldine British Poets). Three vols. William Pickering, 1835.
1 To Lord Bathurst, Epistle III. 2 To Dr. Arbuthnot, Satires, Prologue. 3 Ode for Music on St. Cecilia's Day. * An Essay on Man, Epistle I. 5 The Rape of the Lock, Canto iii.
6 Ibid., Canto iv.
7 Ibid., Canto ii. 8 An Essay on Man, Epistle II. • Moral Essays, Epistle II. 10 Ibid., Epistle I, Part üü.
11 Ibid., Epistle III. Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady. 13 On the Hon. Simon Harcourt. 14 Moral Essays, Epistle I, Part iii. 15 Ibid., Epistle III. 16 The First Epistle of the Second Book of Horace. 11 Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, Prologue to the Satires. 18 Epilogue te the Satires, Dialogue ii. 19 The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace. 20 Moral Essays, Epistle I 21 Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, Prologue, &c. 22 Ibid.
Cowper, Table Talk.