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Or who in sweet vicissitude appears,
But what are these to great Atossa's mind ?
No; He's for ever in a smiling mood ;
He's like themselves ; or how could he be good ?” From Young, Sat. 5. The person Pope intended to ridicule was the Duchess of Montague.--Warton.
Ver. 115. great Atossa's mind ?] Atossa is a name mentioned in Herodotus, and said to be a follower of Sappho. She was daughter of Cyrus and sister of Cambyses, and married Darius. She is also named in the Persæ of Æschylus. She is said to be the first that wrote Epistles. See Bentley on Phalaris, p. 385, and Dodwell against Bentley.—Warton.
Ver. 120. Yet is, whate'er she hates] These spirited lines, that paint a singular character, are designed for the famous Duchess of Marlborough, whom Swift had also severely satirized in the Examiner. Her beauty; her abilities, her political intrigues, are sufficiently known. The violence of her temper frequently broke out into wonderful and ridiculous indecencies. In the last illness of the great Duke her husband, when Dr. Mead left his chamber, the Duchess, disliking his advice, followed him down stairs, swore at him bitterly, and was going to tear off his periwig. Her friend Dr. Hoadley, Bishop of Winchester, was present at this scene. These lines were shown to her Grace as if they were intended for the portrait of the Duchess of Buckingham; but she soon stopped the person who was reading them to her, as the Duchess of Portland informed me, and called out aloud, “ I cannot be so imposed upon : I see plainly enough for whom they are designed :" and abused Pope most plentifully on the subject, though she was afterwards reconciled to him, and courted him, and gave him a thousand pounds to suppress this portrait, which he accepted, it is said, by the persuasion of Mrs. M. Blount ; and, after the Duchess's death, it was printed in a folio sheet, 1746, and afterwards here inserted with those of Philomedé and Cloe. This is the greatest blemish? in our Poet's moral character. These three portraits are all animated with the most poignant wit. That of Cloe is particularly just and happy, who is represented as content merely and only to dwell in decencies, and satisfied to avoid giving offence ; and is one of those many insignificant and useless beings,
1 A blemish! call it rather, if it be fact, the most shameful dereliction of every thing that was manly and honourable.-Bowles.
No thought advances, but her eddy brain
130 Her every turn with violence pursued, No more a storm her hate than gratitude: To that each passion turns, or soon or late; Love, if it makes her yield, must make her hate: Superiors ? death! and equals ? what a curse ! 135 But an inferior not dependant? worse.
“ Who want, as thro' blank life they dream along,
Sense to be right, and passion to be wrong.". As says the ingenious author of the Universal Passion ; a work that abounds in wit, observation on life, pleasantry, delicacy, urbanity, and the most well-bred raillery, without a single mark of spleen and ill-nature. These were the first characteristical satires in our language, and are written with an ease and familiarity of style very different from this author's other works. The four first were published in folio, in the year 1725; and the fifth and sixth, 1727.–Warton.
The character of Atossa was certainly designed for the Duchess of Marlborough, and that it was shown to her as intended for the Duchess of Buckingham may probably be true, but that Pope accepted a bribe to suppress it, is a calumny which requires no other refutation than the independence of his character and the uniform integrity of his life. The manner in which this story is brought forward by one of his editors as “the greatest blemish in our poet's moral character," and represented by another, “ IF IT IS FACT," as “the most shameful dereliction of every thing that was manly and honourable,” is, to say the least of it, totally inconsistent with the character of an Editor, whose duty it is to defend his author against all accusations, not supported by competent and authentic proof. It does not appear that these vigorous and sarcastic lines were printed till after the death of both Pope and the Duchess, both of whom died in the same year, 1744.
After ver. 122 in the MS.
Oppress’d with wealth and wit, abundance sad!
Offend her, and she knows not to forgive;
Ver. 139. But die, and she'll adore you—] “ It is seldom," says Mr. Walpole,“ the public receives information on princes and favourites from the fountain-head. Flattery or invective is apt to pervert the relation of others. It is from their pens alone, whenever they are so gracious, like the lady in question, as to have a passion for fame and approbation, that we learn exactly how trifling, and foolish, and ridiculous their views and actions were, and how often the mischief they did proceeded from the most inadequate causes. We happen to know indeed, though he was no author, that the Duke of Buckingham's repulses, in very impertinent amours, involved King James and King Charles in national quarrels with Spain and France. From her Grace of Marlborough we may collect, that Queen Anne was driven to change her ministry, and, in consequence,
the fate of Europe, because she dared to affect one bed-chamber woman as she had done another. The Duchess could not comprehend how the cousins, Sarah Jennings and Abigail Hill, could ever enter into competition, though the one did but kneel to gather up the clue of favour which the other had haughtily tossed away, and which she could not recover by putting the Whole Buty of Man into the Queen's hands to teach her friendship. This favourite Duchess, who, like the proud Duke of Espernon, lived to brave the successors in a court where she had domineered, wound up her capricious life, where it seems she had begun it, with an apology for her conduct. The piece, though weakened by the prudence of those who were to correct it, though maimed by her Grace's own corrections, and though great part of it is rather the annals of a wardrobe than of a reign, yet has still curious anecdotes, and a few of those sallies of wit which fourscore years of arrogance could not fail to produce in so fantastic an understanding. And yet, by altering her memoirs as often as her will, she disappointed the public as much as her own family. However, the chief objects remain; and one sees exactly how Europe and the back-stairs took their places in her imagination and in her narrative. The Revolution left no impression on her mind, but of Queen Mary turning up bed-clothes and the Protestant Hero, but of a selfish glutton who devoured a dish of peas from his sister-in-law. Little circumstances indeed convey the most characteristical ideas ; but the choice of them may as often paint the genius of the writer as of the person represented. Mrs. Abigail Hill is not the only person transmitted to posterity with marks of the Duchess's resentment. Lord Oxford, 'honest Jack Hill
, the ragged boy, the Quebec General,' and others, make the same figure in her history that they did in her mind :-sallies of passion, not to be wondered at in one who has sacrificed even the private letters of her mistress and benefactress. The Queen gave her a picture in enamel, set with diamonds. The Duchess took off the diamonds, and gave the picture to a Mrs. Higgins to be sold."-Warton.
By wealth of followers! without one distress,
Pictures like these, dear Madam, to design,
“Yet Cloe sure was form'd without a spot.”—
Ver. 150. Or wanders, heaven-directed, &c.] Alluding and referring to the great principle of his Philosophy, of which he never loses sight, and which teaches, that Providence is incessantly turning the evils, arising from the follies and vices of men, to general good.- Warburton.
Ver. 157. “ Yet Cloe sure, &c.] The purpose of the Poet in this character is important : it is to show, that the politic or prudent government of the Passions is not enough to make a character amiable, nor even to secure it from being ridiculous, if the end of the government be not pursued; which is the free exercise of the social appetites, after the selfish ones have been subdued ; for that if, though reason govern, the heart be never consulted, we interest ourselves as little in the fortune of such a character, as in any of the foregoing, which passions or caprice drive up and down at random.-Warburton.
After ver. 148 in the MS.
This death decides, nor lets the blessing fall
She, while her lover pants upon her breast,
One certain portrait may, I grant, be seen, Which heaven has varnish'd out, and made a Queen : THE SAME FOR EVER! and describ’d by all With truth and goodness, as with crown and ball. Poets heap virtues, painters gems at will,
185 And show their zeal, and hide their want of
skill. 'Tis well—but, artists! who can paint or write, To draw the naked is your true delight. That robe of quality so struts and swells, None see what parts of nature it conceals : 190
Ver. 180. when Cloe dies.] This highly-finished portrait was intended for Lady Suffolk, with whom, at the time he wrote it, he lived in a state of intimacy. At ver. 178, he alludes to a particular circumstance : Pope, being at dinner with her, heard her order her footman to put her in mind to send to know how Mrs. Blount, who was ill, had passed the night.Warton.
Ver. 181. One certain portrait-The same for ever ! &c.] This is entirely ironical, and conveys under it this general moral truth, that there is, in life, no such thing as a perfect character.—Warburton.
It does not appear that Pope intended in this passage to convey any such insipid meaning. His object is to show, that we must not attempt to judge of characters when surrounded by adventitious circumstances, nor take our ideas of women from queens and duchesses, who are always objects of fattery ; when, in truth,
“ A woman's seen in private life alone.”