« PreviousContinue »
❝to it, he told her, "My dear, it is only this, that ❝ you will never marry an old man again.” I cannot "help remarking, that sickness, which often destroys "both wit and wisdom, yet seldom has power to re"move that talent we call humour: Mr. Wycherley "showed this even in this last compliment; though I "think his request a little hard; for why should he "bar her from doubling her jointure on the same easy ❝ terms?"
One of the most affecting and tender compositions of Mr. Pope is his "Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady," built on a true story. We are informed in the Life of Pope, for which Curl obtained a patent, that this young lady was a particular favourite of the poet, though it is not ascertained whether he himself was the person from whom she was removed. This young lady was of very high birth, possessed an opulent fortune, and under the tutelage of an uncle, who gave her an education suitable to her titles and pretensions. She was esteemed a match for the greatest peer in the realm, but in her early years she suffered her heart to be engaged by a young gentleman, and, in consequence of this attachment, rejected offers made to her by persons of quality, seconded by the solicitations of her uncle. Her guardian, being surprised at this behaviour, set spies upon
her, to find out the real cause of her indifference. Her correspondence with her lover was soon discovered, and when urged upon that topic, she had too much truth and honour to deny it. The uncle, finding that she would make no efforts to disengage her affection, after a little time forced her abroad, where she was received with a ceremony due to her quality, but restricted from the conversation of every one but the spies of this severe guardian, so that it was impossible for her lover even to have a letter delivered into her hands. She languished in this place a considerable time, bore an infinite deal of sickness, and was overwhelmed with the profoundest sorrow. Nature being wearied out with continual distress, and being driven at last to despair, the unfortunate lady, as Mr. Pope justly calls her, put an end to her own life, having bribed a maid-servant to procure her a sword. She was found upon the ground weltering in her blood. The severity of the laws of the place, where this fair unfortunate perished, denied her christian burial, and she was interred without solemnity, or even any attendants to perform the last offices of the dead, except some young people of the neighbourhood, who saw her put into common ground, and strewed the grave with flowers.
The poet, in the elegy, takes occasion to mingle with the tears of sorrow, just reproaches upon her cruel uncle, who drove her to this violation.
But thou, false guardian of a charge too good,
The conclusion of this elegy is irresistibly affecting.
So peaceful rests, without a stone, a name,
A heap of dust alone remains of thee;
'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be!
No poem of our author's more deservedly obtained him reputation than his Essay on Criticism. Mr. Addison, in his Spectator, No. 253, has celebrated it with such profuse terms of admiration, that it is really astonishing to find the same man endeavouring after wards to diminish that fame he had contributed to raise so high.
"The Art of Criticism," says he, " which was pub«lished some months ago, is a master-piece in its
"kind. The observations follow one another, like "those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that me"thodical regularity which would have been requisite ❝in a prose writer. They are some of them uncom(6 mon, but such as the reader must assent to when he "sees them explained with that elegance and perspi"cuity with which they are delivered. As for those "which are the most known, and the most received, "they are placed in so beautiful a light, and illustra❝ted with such apt allusions, that they have in them "all the graces of novelty, and make the reader, who "was before acquainted with them, still more con"vinced of their truth and solidity. And here give "me leave to mention what Monsieur Boileau has so "well enlarged upon in the preface to his works, that “wit and fine writing do not consist so much in ad"vancing things that are new, as in giving things that "are known an agreeable turn. It is impossible for
us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make "observations in criticism, morality, or any art and "science, which have not been touched upon by others. "We have little else left us but to represent the com"mon sense of mankind in more strong, more beauti"ful, or more uncommon lights. If a reader exa"mines Horace's Art of Poetry, he will find but few (6 precepts in it which he may not meet with in Aris"totle, and which were not commonly known by all
the poets of the Augustan age. His way
ing and applying them, not his invention of them, is
what we are chiefly to admire.
"Longinus, in his Reflections, has given us the same kind of sublime which he observes in the seve"ral passages which occasioned them. I cannot but "take notice that our English author has, after the same manner, exemplified several of his precepts " in the very precepts themselves.” He then produces some instances of a particular kind of beauty in the numbers, and concludes with saying, “That we have "three poems in our tongue of the same nature, and "each a master-piece in its kind; the Essay on Trans"lated Verse, the Essay on the Art of Poetry, and the "Essay on Criticism."
Addison and Pope were now at the head of poetry and criticism; and both in such a state of elevation, that, like the two rivals in the Roman state, one could no longer bear an equal, nor the other a superior. Of the gradual abatement of kindness between friends, the beginning is often scarcely discernible by themselves, and the process is continued by petty provocations, and incivilities sometimes peevishly returned, and sometimes contemptuously neglected, which would escape all attention but that of pride, and drop from any memory but that of resentment. That the quarrel of these two wits should be minutely deduced is not