« PreviousContinue »
And, struck with the sense of that dignity and ease which support the character of a true poet, he breaks out into a passionate vow for a continuance of the full liberty inseparable from it. And to shew how well he deserves it, and how safely he might be trusted with it, he concludes his wish with a description of his temper and disposition (ver. 260 to 271).
This naturally leads him to complain of his friends, when they consider him in no other view than that of an author; as if he had neither the same right to the enjoyments of life, the same concern for his highest interests, or the same dispositions of benevolence, with other people.
Besides, he now admonishes them, in his turn, that they do not consider to what they expose him, when they urge him to write on; namely, to the suspicions and the displeasure of a court, who are made to believe he is always writing; or at least to the foolish criticisms of court-sycophants, who pretend to find him, by his style, in the immoral libels of every idle scribbler: though he, in the mean time, be so far from countenancing such worthless trash in others, that he would be ready to execrate even his own best vein of poetry, if made at the expense of truth and innocence:
"Curs'd be the verse, how well soe'er it flow,
Or from the soft-eyed virgin steal a tear."
Sentiments, which no effort of genius, without the concurrence of the heart, could have expressed in strains so exquisitely sublime. That the sole object of his resentment was vice and baseness; in the detection of which, he artfully takes occasion to speak of that by which he himself had been injured and offended: and concludes with the character of one who had wantonly outraged him, and in the most sensible manner (ver. 270 to 334).
And here, moved again with fresh indignation at his slanderers, he takes the advice of Horace, sume superbiam quæsitam meritis, and draws a fine picture of his moral and poetic conduct through life. In which he shews that not fame, but VIRTUE, was the constant object of his ambition: that for this he opposed himself to allthe violence of cabals, and the treacheries of courts: the various iniquities of which having distinctly specified, he sums them up in that most atrocious and sensible of all (ver. 333 to 360):
"The whisper, that to greatness still too near,
For thee, fair Virtue! welcome even the last."
But here again his friend interrupts the strains of his divine enthusiasm, and desires him to clear up one objection made to his conduct at court: "that it was inhumane to insult the poor, and ill breeding to affront the great." To which he replies, that indeed in his pursuit of Vice, he rarely considered how knavery was circumstanced; but followed it, with his vengeance, indifferently, whether it led to the pillory or the drawing-room (ver. 329 to 368).
But lest this should give his reader the idea of a savage intractable virtue, which could bear with nothing, and would pardon nothing, he takes to himself the shame of owning that he was of so easy a nature, as to be duped by the slenderest appearances; a pretence to virtue in a witty woman: so forgiving, that he had sought out the object of his beneficence in a personal enemy: so humble, that he had submitted to the conversation of bad poets: and so forbearing, that he had curbed in his resentment under the most shocking of all provocations, abuses on his Father and Mother (ver. 367 to 388).
This naturally leads him to give a short account of their births, fortunes, and dispositions, which ends with the tenderest wishes for the happiness of his friend; intermixed with the most pathetic description of that filial piety, in the exercise of which he makes his own happiness to consist:
Me, let the tender office long engage
To rock the cradle of reposing age;
With lenient arts extend a mother's breath,
Make languor smile, and smooth the bed of death;
And keep a while one parent from the sky!"
And now this incomparable poem, which holds so much of the DRAMA, and opens with all the disorder and vexation that every kind of impertinence and slander could occasion, concludes with the utmost calmness and serenity, in the retired enjoyment of all the tender offices of FRIENDSHIP and PIETY (ver. 387 to the end).
FIRST PUBLICATION OF THIS EPISTLE.
THIS paper is a sort of bill of complaint, begun many years since, and drawn up by snatches, as the several occasions offered. I had no thoughts of publishing it, till it pleased some persons of rank and fortune [the authors of Verses to the Imitator of Horace, and of an Epistle to a Doctor of Divinity from a Nobleman at Hampton Court to attack, in a very extraordinary manner, not only my writings (of which, being public, the public is judge) but my person, morals, and family, whereof, to those who know me not, a truer information may be requisite. Being divided between the necessity to say something of myself, and my own laziness to undertake so awkward a task, I thought it the shortest way to put the last hand to this Epistle. If it have any thing pleasing, it will be that by which I am most desirous to please, the truth and the sentiment; and if any thing offensive, it will be only to those I am least sorry to offend, the vicious or the ungenerous.
Many will know their own pictures in it, there being not a circumstance but what is true; but I
have for the most part spared their names, and they may escape being laughed at, if they please.
I would have some of them know, it was owing to the request of the learned and candid friend to whom it is inscribed, that I make not as free use of theirs as they have done of mine. However, I shall have this advantage and honour on my side, that whereas, by their proceeding, any abuse may be directed at any man, no injury can possibly be done by mine, since a nameless character can never be found out, but by its truth and likeness.
PROLOGUE TO THE SATIRES.
P.SHUT, shut the door, good John! fatigued I
Tie up the knocker, say I'm sick, I'm dead.
Fire in each eye and papers in each hand,
Ver. 1. Shut, shut the door, good John!] John Searl, his old and faithful servant, whom he has remembered, under that character, in his will: of whose fidelity, Dodsley, from his own observation, used to mention many pleasing instances. His wife was living at Eccleshall, 1783, ninety years old, and knew many anecdotes of Pope. Warton.
Ver. 1. Shut, shut the door,] This abrupt exordium is animated and dramatic. Our poet, wearied with the impertinence and slander of a multitude of mean scribblers that attacked him, suddenly breaks out with this spirited complaint of the ill-usage he had sustained. This piece was published in the year 1734, in the form of an Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot. It is now given as a Dialogue, in which a very small share, indeed, is allotted to his friend. Arbuthnot was a man of consummate probity, integrity, and sweetness of temper: he had infinitely more learning than Pope or Swift, and as much wit and humour as either of them. He was an excellent mathematician and physician, of which his letter on the