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And I not strip the gilding off a knave,
Hear this and tremble! you who 'scape the laws.
And he whose lightning pierced the Iberian lines 1
Envy must own I live among the great,
1 Lord Peterborough.
The Reception of the "Imitation of Horace"Swift's Literary Ladies-Mrs. BarberCounter-attacks by Lady M. W. Montagu and Lord-Hervey-" Verses to the Imitator of Horace" and "Letter from a Nobleman”
HE Imitation created an even greater sensation in town than the Moral Epistles, enchanting the poet's admirers, but striking awe into the hearts of his enemies and detractors. Whatever a man's character, if he had offended the bard of Twickenham he was pretty certain to be branded as a knave or fool, and" damned to everlasting fame." From the unpublished letters in the Cæsar Correspondence we gain some idea of the adoration with which Pope, now at the height of his reputation, was regarded by his own intimates, and the effect which his satire produced on contemporary readers.
Early in this year Mrs. Madan, née Judith Cowper, wrote to Mrs. Cæsar to express her pleasure at being remembered after a long absence. Pope had apparently inquired whether she was alive or dead, for she continues:
"At the same time I own it to be a sensible
mortification to be forgotten by Mr. Pope, for so I must interpret his not knowing if such a one lives. I am, however, just to the valuable friendship he once expressed for me, and shall to the last moment of my life preserve the most grateful idea of it. He contributes to enliven my retirement and 'tis to reading him I owe that I have taste enough to be pleased with the verses you sent me. . . ." i
Young Lord Orrery, who prided himself upon his pronounced literary tastes, was a friend and correspondent of Mrs. Cæsar's, but he had not yet made the acquaintance of Mr. Pope. On February 24 of this year he wrote from Ireland :
"In one of your letters, madam, you mentioned Mr. Pope. I cannot but envy your happiness in having a friendship with the finest genius of our age, and I must own that, among the various misfortunes of my life, the want of being better known to him I reckon one of the greatest. To make some amends, therefore, for the want of a personal conversation, I am daily improving my acquaintance with his works, and when I can once venture to say I have gained an intimacy with them I shall begin to think you will really be pleased to find me what I
1 From the unpublished MS. The verses were probably the "Imitation of Horace." Mrs. Cæsar was sending copies round to her friends.
2 John, fifth Earl of Orrery and son of Charles Boyle, fourth Earl, who was the antagonist of Bentley. He desired to pose as a man of letters, and was ambitious of the friendship of writers. He wrote some "Remarks" on Swift and translated the "Letters" of Pliny.
Swift had a bad habit of giving his Dublin literary protégées, and even his friends' protégées, introductions to his London acquaintances. He was easily impressed by a very modest display of female learning, while intelligently applied flattery was a sure method of gaining his interest and help. Two or three years before the present date he had sent Pope some account of three learned ladies of Dublin. First, there was Mrs. Grierson, a young woman, still in the twenties, who is described as a very good Latin and Greek scholar.' She had lately published a fine edition of Tacitus, with a Latin dedication to the Lord-Lieutenant. Then there was Mrs. Barber, wife of a woollen-draper, who was Dublin's chief poetess, and "upon the whole, has no ill genius." 2 Lastly, there was Mrs. Sykins, who had a very good taste in poetry, had read much, and written one or two things with applause. The three ladies were all friends and favourites of Dr. Delany, and at his desire Swift gave two out of the three introductions to people in London. First came Mrs. Sykins, with a passport from Swift to have the honour and happiness of seeing Pope, "because she has already seen the estrich [sic], which is the only rarity at present in this town, and her ambition is to boast of having been well received by you upon her return; and I
1 She was the wife of a Scotch bookseller, George Grierson, who was George II.'s printer in Ireland. Though the daughter of poor peasants, she is said to have been well read in history, divinity, philosophy, and mathematics! She died in 1733, aged only twenty-seven.
2 Mary Barber (c. 1690-1757). She published "Poems on Several Occasions" in 1734. Later, she and her husband settled at Bath, where they started a lodging-house.
do not see how you can well refuse to gratify her, for if a Christian will be an estrich, and the only estrich in the kingdom, he must suffer himself to be seen, and, what is worse, without money."
Mrs. Sykins did not succeed in seeing Pope, though he was willing to be seen.1 She was followed by Mrs. Barber, the poetess, to whom Swift said that he should give no recommendations, at any rate, to Twickenham. But by the time she arrived in town to solicit subscriptions to a volume of her poems the dean had forgotton his prudent resolutions, for she came armed with excellent introductions. She actually had the temerity to request Pope to "correct" her verses, but this he declined to do, though he promised to try and get his friends to subscribe for her book. Mrs. Barber had not long been in London before the queen received two letters about her, one purporting to come from Swift, and signed with his name, though the contents were not in his handwriting. In this counterfeit letter the queen's patronage was solicited for Mrs. Barber, who was represented as "the best female poet of this or perhaps of any age-a woman whose genius is honoured by every man of genius in this kingdom, and honoured or envied by every man of genius in England."
The letter was returned to Swift by Pope, who obtained it from Lady Suffolk. Swift explained that Mrs. Barber was almost a stranger to him, and
1 She came to Twickenham one wet evening, and sent in her letter to Pope. He wrote that he would be at home all the next day at her service, and offered to send a chariot for her. But the next morning she returned to London, without having seen the "estrich."