Page images

A. But why then publish? P. Granville the polite, And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write; Well-natured Garth inflamed with early praise, And Congreve loved, and Swift endured my lays; The courtly Talbot, Somers, Sheffield, read,

Even mitred Rochester would nod the head, 140


Ver. 135. But why then publish ?] To the three first names that` encouraged his earliest writings, he has added other friends, whose acquaintance with him did not commence till he was a poet of established reputation. From the many commendations which Walsh, and Garth, and Granville bestowed on his Pastorals, it may fairly be concluded how much the public taste has been improved, and with how many good compositions our language has been enriched since that time. When Gray published his exquisite Ode on Eton College, his first publication, little notice was taken of it but I suppose no critic can be found that will not place it far above Pope's Pastorals. Warton.

That Gray's Ode on Eton College was received with indifference is certainly no proof of the improvement of the public taste; nor does there seem much propriety in commending it here, in order to depreciate Pope's Pastorals, to which it bears no resemblance.

Ver. 139. Talbot, &c.] All these were patrons or admirers of Mr. Dryden; though a scandalous libel against him, entitled, Dryden's Satire to his Muse, has been printed in the name of the Lord Somers, of which he was wholly ignorant.

These are the persons to whose account the author charges the publication of his first pieces: persons with whom he was conversant (and he adds beloved) at 16 or 17 years of age; an early period for such acquaintance. The catalogue might be made yet more illustrious, had he not confined it to that time when he writ the Pastorals and Windsor Forest, on which he passes a sort of censure in the lines following:

"While pure description held the place of sense," &c. Pope. Every word and epithet here used is exactly characteristical, and peculiarly appropriated, with much art, to the temper and manner of each of the persons here mentioned; the elegance of


And St. John's self (great Dryden's friends before).
With open arms received one poet more.
Happy my studies, when by these approved!
Happier their author, when by these beloved?
From these the world will judge of men and books,
Not from the Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cooks.

Soft were my numbers; who could take offence,
While pure description held the place of sense?
Like gentle Fanny's was my flowery theme,
A painted mistress, or a purling stream.



Lansdown, the open free benevolence and candour of Garth, the warmth of Congreve, the difficulty of pleasing Swift, the very gesture (as I am informed) that Atterbury used when he was pleased, and the animated air and spirit of Bolingbroke. Warton. Ver. 146. Burnets, &c.] Authors of secret and scandalous history. Pope.

Ver. 146. Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cooks.] By no means authors of the same class; though the violence of party might hurry them into the same mistakes. But if the first offended this way, it was only through an honest warmth of temper, that allowed too little to an excellent understanding. The other two, with very bad heads, had hearts still worse. Warburton.

Ver. 148. While pure description held the place of sense?] He uses pure equivocally, to signify either chaste or empty; and has given in this line what he esteemed the true character of descriptive poetry, as it is called; a composition, in his opinion, as absurd as a feast made up of sauces. The office of a picturesque imagination is to brighten and adorn good sense; so that to employ it only in description, is like children's delighting in a prism for the sake of its gaudy colours; which, when frugally managed and artfully disposed, might be made to unfold and illustrate the noblest objects in nature. Warburton.


Ver. 150.] A painted meadow, or a purling stream, is a verse of Mr. Addison, Ver. 150.] A painted mistress, or a purling stream.] Meaning the Rape of the Lock, and Windsor Forest. Warburton.

Yet then did Gildon draw his venal quill;
I wish'd the man a dinner, and sate still.
Yet then did Dennis rave in furious fret;
I never answer'd, I was not in debt.


Ver. 151. Yet then did Gildon] It is with difficulty we can forgive our author for upbraiding these wretched scribblers for their poverty and distresses, if we do not keep in our minds the grossly abusive pamphlets they published; and, even allowing this circumstance, we ought to separate rancour from reproof:

"Cur tam crudeles optavit sumere pœnas?". Warton. Gildon was born at the village of Gillingham, near Shaftesbury, in Dorsetshire. Pope's "wishing him a dinner," is not exactly understood. The expressions are thought unfeeling, as meant to upbraid him with his poverty; but the truth is, Gildon in his essays says, his sole motive for writing was "necessity." It cannot be said, that it is cruel to "wish a man a dinner," who professes he writes to get one.

A few more words concerning this obscure writer may not be unacceptable. He was sent to Douay, to the English college of secular priests there, to be made a priest; but his inclinations led him another way. He came to London, spent his property, and endeavoured to repair his fortune by writing abusive pamphlets. Bowles.

Ver. 153. Yet then did Dennis] I cannot help thinking that poor Dennis was hardly used. He was a scholar, had a liberal education, and had been in his early youth, a companion of those who were distinguished for rank and literature. Being at first countenanced, and having a considerable share of learning and ingenuity, he was no doubt mortified and galled, to find the stream of popular applause turned almost exclusively towards one poet. On this account, his strictures, though often just, are marked with asperity and coarseness, as he was evidently chagrined at the success which he could not gain himself. Hence his coarse and contemptuous treatment of Addison's Cato, and Pope's Essay on Man; but we must admit that many of his observations were well founded, and that they evince considerable classical knowledge, as well as shrewdness. Bowles.

If want provoked, or madness made them print, 155 I waged no war with Bedlam or the Mint.


Did some more sober critic come abroad; If wrong, I smiled; if right, I kiss'd the rod. Pains, reading, study, are their just pretence, And all they want is spirit, taste, and sense. Commas and points they set exactly right, And 'twere a sin to rob them of their mite. Yet ne'er one sprig of laurel graced these ribalds, From slashing Bentley down to piddling Tibalds :


Ver. 163. Yet ne'er one sprig] Swift imbibed from Sir W. Temple, and Pope from Swift, an inveterate and unreasonable aversion and contempt for Bentley, whose admirable Boyle's Lectures, Remarks on Collins's Emendations of Menander and Callimachus, and Tully's Tuscul. Disp.; whose edition of Horace, and, above all, Dissertations on the Epistles of Phalaris, (in which he gained the most complete victory over a whole army of wits,) all of them exhibit the most striking marks of accurate and extensive erudition, and a vigorous and acute understanding. He degraded himself much by his strange and absurd hypothesis of the faults which Milton's amanuensis introduced into that poem. But I have been informed that there was still an additional cause for Pope's resentment: that Atterbury, being in company with Bentley and Pope, insisted upon knowing the Doctor's opinion of the English Homer; and that, being earnestly pressed to declare his sentiments freely, he said, "The verses are good verses, but the work is not Homer; it is Spondanus." It may, however, be observed, in favour of Pope, that Dr. Clarke, whose critical exactness is well known, has not been able to point out above three or four mistakes in the sense throughout the whole Iliad. The real faults of that translation are of another kind: they are such as remind us of Nero's gilding a brazen statue of Alexander the Great, cast by Lysippus. Pope, in a letter which Dr. Rutherforth shewed me at Cambridge in the year 1771, written to a Mr. Bridges at Fulham, mentions his consulting Chapman and Hobbes, and talks of "their authority,

Each wight who reads not, and but scans and


Each word-catcher that lives on syllables,



rity, joined to the knowledge of my own imperfectness in the language, over-ruled me." These are the very words which I transcribed at the time. Warton.

Ver. 163. these ribalds,] How deservedly this title is given to the genius of PHILOLOGY, may be seen by a short account of the manners of the modern Scholiasts.

When in these latter ages, human learning raised its head in the west, and its tail, verbal criticism, was, of course, to rise with it, the madness of critics soon became so offensive, that the grave stupidity of the monks might appear the more tolerable evil. J. Argyropylus, a mercenary Greek, who came to teach school in Italy, after the sacking of Constantinople by the Turks, used to maintain that Cicero understood neither philosophy nor Greek: while another of his countrymen, J. Lascaris by name, threatened to demonstrate that Virgil was no poet. Countenanced by such great examples, a French critic afterwards undertook to prove that Aristotle did not understand Greek, nor Titus Livius, Latin. It has been since discovered that Josephus was ignorant of Hebrew; and Erasmus so pitiful a linguist, that, Burman assures us, were he now alive, he would not deserve to be put at the head of a country school: and even since, it has been found out that Pope had no invention, and is only a poet by courtesy. For though time has stripped the present race of pedants of all the real accomplishments of their predecessors, it has conveyed down this spirit to them, unimpaired; it being found much easier to ape their manners, than to imitate their science. However, those earlier RIBALDS raised an appetite for the Greek language in the west; insomuch, that Hermolaus Barbarus, a passionate admirer of it, and a noted critic, used to boast, that he had invoked and raised the devil, and puzzled him into the bargain, about the meaning of the Aristotelian ENTEAEXEIA. Another, whom Balzac speaks of, was as eminent for his Revelations; and was wont to say, that the meaning of such or such a verse in Persius, no one knew but GOD and himself. While the celebrated Pomponius Lætus, in excess of veneration for antiquity, became a real Pagan; raised


« PreviousContinue »