Page images
[blocks in formation]

Of the lady we do not hear again (unless it be to her that Pope alludes in a letter to Martha Blount, September 7, 1733, in which he mentions that he had dreamt all night of a lady who dwelt "a little more than, perhaps, was right" on his spirits, and who had been ill-used by her sister); but it is possible that her story, idealised by poetic fancy, and elevated by the addition of fictitious circumstances, formed the chief, if not the only actual model for his immortal Elegy. Buckingham's lines suggested the outline of the picture, Mrs.

[ocr errors]

too quick by an hour or two. I met him here, and there ensued an excellent discourse of quackery: Dr. Shadwell was mentioned with honour, and we had a word or two in private. Lady Arran walked a whole hour abroad without dying after it, at least in the time I stayed, though she seemed to be fainting, and had convulsive motions in her head several times. This day my father took a great deal of care to send after me a letter which contained certain advices from my friend- -[name effaced] where[effaced] to be met with in a civil house at Oxford. I defy them and all their arts. I love no meat but ortolans, and no women but you—though, indeed, that's no proper comparison but for fat duchesses; for to love you is as if one should wish to eat angels or drink cherubim broth. I arrived at Mr. Doncastle's by Tuesday noon, having fled from the face (I wish I could say the horned face) of Mr. Weston, who dined that day at my brother's. I have seen my farmer and the gold ring, which I forgot, on his finger. I have sent to Sir W. Compton, and passed the rest of the day in those woods where I have so often enjoyed an author and a book; and begot such sons upon the Muses as I hope will live to see their father, what he never was yet, an old and a good man. I made a hymn as I passed through these groves; it ended with a deep sigh which I will not tell you the meaning of.

"All hail! once pleasing, once inspiring shade,

Scene of my youthful loves, and happier hours!
Where the kind Muses met me, as I stray'd,

And gently press'd my hand, and said, Be ours.
Take all thou e'er shalt have, a constant Muse:

At court thou may'st be liked, but nothing gain;
Stocks thou may'st buy and sell, but always lose;
And love the brightest eyes, but love in vain.

"On Thursday I went to Stonor, which I have long had a mind to see since the romantic description you gave me of it. The melancholy which my wood and this place have spread over me, will go near to cast a cloud upon the rest of my letter, if I don't make haste to conclude it here. I know you wish my happiness so much, that I would not have you think I have any other reason to be melancholy; and after all, he must be a beast that is so, with two such fine women for his friends. "Tis enough to make any creature easy, even such an one as your humble servant."-(No signature.)

We wonder Pope had the heart to leave out the fine verses.

Weston's misfortunes and the poet's admiration of her gave it life and warmth, and imagination did the rest.

Mrs. Weston, of Sutton, then, was the "Unfortunate Lady" of the printed correspondence. Her history was purposely left in obscurity-shrouded by Pope in poetical mystery and indistinctness, whether or not intended by him to be associated with his Elegy. But in the correspondence we have also an "Unhappy Lady"-so styled by Pope in the table of contents—and of her we learn something from the same source, to which we are indebted for our knowledge of the former. The "Unhappy Lady" was a relation of the Carylls, a Mrs. Cope, whose husband, an officer in the army, had basely deserted his wife, and left her destitute. Pope first met the lady in 1712, and was charmed with her conversation. When her evil days came, he proved a warm and generous friend. He interested Caryll and others in her behalf, and when ultimately she settled in France, in poverty and distress, he made an allowance to her of 207. a year. The lady died, after acute suffering, from cancer in the breast, in 1728, and the poet then stood engaged to the Abbé Southcote, his early friend, for a sum of 20%., due for surgeons and necessaries in the last days of Mrs. Cope's illness. "This sum," he says, "is all I think myself a loser by, because it does her no good."2 "29 Pope had been misinformed with respect to Mr. Caryll's conduct towards this lady, and wrote to him the letter which he entitled, "To Mr. C, expostulatory on the hardships done an unhappy lady," &c. Mr. Caryll explained to the entire satisfaction of the poet: he had, in fact, like his friend, allowed the lady 201. a year; and Pope expressed his joy that the "little shadow of misconstruction" between them had been removed. One circumstance only was wanting to complete and crown the honour due to him from this transaction. As he had resolved on publishing his remonstrance to Caryll, he should also have printed his subsequent letter, in which he acknowledged his error and acquitted his old friend of all blame. Justice to the memory of Mr. Caryll, then recently deceased, and, still more, regard for the feelings of his widow and children, demanded that such an explanation should be given; but it would almost

29 Athenæum, July 22, 1854.

[blocks in formation]

seem that no material act of Pope's life, and no publication from his pen, could be free from misconception or stratagem. To have published Mr. Caryll's explanation would have shown himself to be in error; to have withheld his own expostulatory letter would have deprived him of an opportunity of displaying his superior benevolence; and against both of these vanity protested. Such instances of active and disinterested sympathy as the cases of the ladies afford, are, however, highly honourable to Pope. Amidst all the levities of youth and the eager thirst for distinction, he cherished generous feelings, which were developed in acts of true kindness and substantial assistance.




THE measured harmony and correctness of Pope's numbers would seem to infer a kindred taste for music, and he flattered himself that he had a "good ear." It does not appear, however, that he had any knowledge of the principles or science of music; and if the statement be correct that he inquired of Arbuthnot whether the applause bestowed on Handel was really deserved, his taste must also have been defective. He had not, like Milton or Gray, a key to the higher powers and charms of musical combination and proportions. A delicate and acute perception of metrical harmony often exists where there is none for musical harmony. It is more allied to cul

tivated taste and intellect than to the ear; and the name of Pope must be added to the list of poets (including Scott and Byron) who derived none of their inspiration from this most elevating and unsensual of the fine arts. He had, however, from his earliest days, evinced a taste for drawing. His childish imitation of the printed characters in books may be considered an indication of this predilection; and he afterwards proceeded to sketches in India ink, some of which still remain. His father (as we are told by Davies in his Life of Garrick) intended that Pope should become an artist; the study of medicine was also proposed; but painting must have been more congenial; and no doubt the example of Samuel Cooper, who had risen by his art to be the favourite of princes, would be often talked of at Binfield. On the



walls of the house were some of Cooper's works; even the "grinding-stone and muller," bequeathed by the artist's widow, were suggestive. The experiment was now to be tried. About the beginning of 1713 apparently Pope placed himself under Charles Jervas, better known as the friend of Pope, Steele, and Swift, and as the translator of Don Quixote, than for talent or originality as a painter. Kneller, under whom Jervas had studied, stood higher as an artist; the superiority is undoubted; but Sir Godfrey's vanity and absurdity, and the extent of his engagements, forbade any very close association or companionship. Jervas was scarcely less vain; but he seems to have been friendly, good-hearted, and, in the main, judicious. He was also popular and fashionable -recommendations no less prized in the Forest than in the neighbourhood of St. James's. Jervas gave the poet "daily instructions and examples" for about a year and a half. The mornings, he said, were employed in painting; the evenings in conversation; and we may owe some of the artistic effects in the Epistle of Eloisa, and other poems, to these morning lessons in the management of light, and shade, and colour. It is pleasing to contemplate the picture drawn by Pope in his Epistle to Jervas, of their mutual labours and congenial studies-poetry, however, being decidedly the ambition of the one as art was of the other. Indeed, the year 1713 was one of the busiest of Pope's literary periods, and painting could only have had a subordinate share of his time and attention. We find him thus writing to Gay, August 23, 1713:

I have been near a week in London, where I am like to remain till I become, by Mr. Jervas's help, elegans formarum spectator. I begin to discover beauties that were till now imperceptible to me. Every corner of an eye, or turn of a nose or ear, the smallest degree of light or shade on a check or in a dimple, have charms to distract me. I no longer look upon Lord Plausible as ridiculous for admiring a lady's fine tip of an ear and pretty elbow, as the 'Plain Dealer' has it; but I am in some danger even from the ugly and disagreeable, since they may have their retired beauties in one part or other about them. You may guess in how uneasy a state I am, when every day the performances of others appear more beautiful and excellent, and my own more despicable. I have thrown away three Dr. Swifts, each of which was once my vanity, two Lady Bridgewaters, a Duchess of Montague, half a dozen earls, and one Knight of the Garter."

« PreviousContinue »