« PreviousContinue »
HALIFAX A PRETENDER TO TASTE.
manuscript of Pope's first book, he seems to have had an opportunity of hearing it read. Lord Halifax desired to have the pleasure of hearing the first two or three books read at his house. Pope complied; and Addison, Congreve, and Garth were present. The noble lord hinted objections to certain passages, and Pope was perplexed how to act upon such loose and general observations. Garth laughed at his embarrassment. "Leave them just as they are," he said; call on Lord Halifax two or three months hence, thank him for his amendments, and then read the passages, as if you had altered them." Pope made the experiment with complete success. "Ay, now, Mr. Pope, they are perfectly right! nothing can be better." Halifax must, indeed, have been only a "pretender to taste," as Pope said, if this anecdote be true; but it seems like an after-dinner story, which Spence may have misunderstood.14
In the satire on Addison, which we have quoted, are two lines afterwards omitted:
"Who, if two wits on rival themes contest,
Approves of each, but likes the worst the best."
In the Miscellanies this couplet was retained, and we must therefore suppose that, up to 1727, Pope believed, whatever casual suspicions he might throw out to the contrary, that Tickell was really the author of the translation that bore his name. How he came afterwards to adopt the opinion that the translation was Addison's, is imperfectly explained in the poet's conversations with Spence. Dr. Young had expressed his surprise that Tickell could have made a translation of the first book of the Iliad at Oxford (where, according to Pope, Addison said it was executed) without his being aware of the fact, as they used to communicate to each other whatever
"Spence, p. 134. In the original letter to Halifax, thanking him for his patronage, Pope said: "I beg you will not forget Homer if you can spare an hour to attend to his cause. I leave him with you in that hope." Pope omitted this passage in publishing the letter. It is dated December 3, 1714. (Original in British Museum, and Cunningham's edition of Johnson's Lives.) In the preface to the Iliad, Pope said: "The Earl of Halifax was one of the first to favour me; of whom it is hard to say whether the advancement of the polite arts is more owing to his generosity or his example." The words of such complimentary addresses to the great must not be weighed too nicely.
verses they wrote, even to the least trifles, and Tickell could not have been busied in so long a work there, without his knowing something of the matter. Steele also, after he quarrelled with Tickell, expressed his belief that Addison was the translator; and this surprise of Young, and the statement by Steele, made it highly probable to Pope that there was some underhand dealing. Spence adds, that "when the subject was introduced in conversation between Mr. Tickell and Mr. Pope by a third person, Tickell did not deny it, which, considering his honour, and zeal for his departed friend, was the same as owning it." Spence was incapable of wilful misrepresentation, but he must be wrong in his conclusion. Tickell, knowing Pope's feelings on the subject, and the excessive irritability of his temper on all questions affecting his literary character, may have evaded the question or remained silent; but it is impossible that he could ever have assented to a statement so personally degrading and so dishonourable, both to himself and to Åddison. The papers of the Tickell family, still existing, prove that the version of the first Iliad was Tickell's own, and was so considered by his friends at the time; and that he had entered into an agreement with a bookseller for the translation of the whole poem, in anticipation of which he had prepared remarks on the poetry of Homer, to be prefixed as a preface to the work.15 The splendid success of Pope deterred him from prosecuting either the Iliad or the Odyssey. Spence records the following statement made by Pope regarding the misunderstanding with Addison:
Philips seems to have been encouraged to abuse me in coffeehouses and conversations: Gildon wrote a thing about Wycherley, in which he had abused both me and my relations very grossly. Lord Warwick himself told me one day, that it was in vain for me to endeavour to be well with Mr. Addison; that his jealous temper would never admit of a settled friendship between us; and to convince me of what he had said, assured me that Addison had encouraged Gildon to publish those scandals, and had given him ten guineas after they were published. The next day, while I was heated with what I had heard, I wrote a letter to Mr. Addison, to let him know that I
15 Memoirs of Addison, by Lucy Aikin.
QUARREL WITH ADDISON.
was not unacquainted with this behaviour of his, that if I was to speak severely of him in return for it, it should not be in such a dirty way; that I should rather tell him fairly of his faults, and allow his good qualities; and that it should be something in the following manner. I then subjoined the first sketch of what has since been called my satire on Addison. He used me very civilly ever after; and never did me any injustice that I know of from that time to his death, which was about three years after." 16
A different account of the origin of the satire is given by Ayre, in his Memoir of Pope. Ayre relates, with circumstantial detail, the particulars of a conference which he says took place some years after 1714, between Addison and Pope, at the instance of Sir Richard Steele, at which Gay also was present. As all the biographers of the poet place confidence in this description, we shall quote it:
"Sir Richard Steele begged him (Addison) to perform his promise in making up the breach with Mr. Pope, and Mr. Pope desired the same, as well as to be made sensible how he had offended; said the translation of Homer, if that was the great crime, was at the request and almost command of Sir Richard Steele; and entreated Mr. Addison to speak candidly and friendly, though it might be with ever so much
16 Spence, p. 149. Wycherley died in December, 1715, and Gildon's life of him would be published immediately afterwards, while the death of the comic dramatist was recent. In support of the charge against Gildon, Pope altered the epithet "meaner quill" to "venal quill," but this alteration was not made till many years after Addison's death, and Gildon also was dead before it appeared. Pope cites the authority of Lord Burlington, and Spence that of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Dr. Trapp, in proof of his assertion that the satire was written in Addison's lifetime. Lady Mary, however, in one of her letters to the Countess of Bute (July 20, 1755) mentions her disgust at seeing Addison "lampooned after his death, by the same man who paid servile court to him while he lived." Pope's positive assertion and his appeal to Lord Burlington ought to outweigh this testimony. It is nevertheless singular that we should not hear of the verses written in 1716 before 1722-that neither Pope nor Addison should have shown them-and that they should have remained so long in the poet's hands without undergoing the revision afterwards bestowed upon them. As first published, they have the appearance, not of lines written against Addison in the heat of resentment, after a recent injury, but of what they were entitled in the Miscellanies, a fragment of a satire. Of all that Pope says he wrote and addressed to Addison, only one letter (which Pope did not publish, ante, p. 56) seems to have been found among Addison's papers as preserved by Tickell.
severity, rather than by keeping up any forms of complaisance to correct any of his faults. This Mr. Pope spoke in such a manner as plainly showed he thought Mr. Addison the aggressor, and expected him to condescend and own himself the cause of the breach between them. But he was deceived; for Mr. Addison, without appearing to be in anger, though quite overcome with it, began a formal speech, said that he had always wished him well, and often had endeavoured to be his friend, and as such advised him, if his nature was capable of it, to divest himself of part of his vanity, which was too great for his merit; said that he had not arrived yet to that pitch of excellence he might imagine, or think his most partial readers imagined; said when he and Sir Richard Steele corrected his verses they had a different air; he reminded Mr. Pope of the amendments of a line in the poem called Messiah, by Sir Richard Steele. [See note to the Messiah.] He proceeded to lay before him all the mistakes and inaccuracies hinted at by the crowd of scribblers and writers, some good, some bad, who had attacked Mr. Pope, and added many things which he himself objected to; speaking of Mr. Pope's Homer, he said to be sure he was not to blame to get so large a sum of money, but it was an ill-executed thing, and not equal to Tickell's, who had all the spirit of Homer. This afterwards appeared to be wrote by Mr. Addison, though Tickell's name was made use of. Mr. Addison concluded, still in a low hollow voice of feigned temper, that he was not solicitous about his own fame as a poet, but of truth; that he had quitted the Muses to enter into the business of the public; and all that he spoke was through friendship and a desire that Mr. Pope, as he would do if he was much humbler, might look better to the world. Mr. Gay spoke a few words in answer before Mr. Pope, but his expectations from the Court made him very cautious. It was not so with our poet: he told Mr. Addison he appealed from his judgment, did not esteem him able to correct him, and that he had long known him too well to expect any friendship; upbraided him with being a pensioner from his youth, sacrificing the very learning that was purchased with the public money to a mean thirst of power; that he was sent abroad to encourage literature, and had always endeavoured to cuff down new-fledged merit. At last the contest grew so warm, that they parted without any ceremony, and Mr. Pope immediately wrote those verses which are not thought by all to be a very false character of Mr. Addison."
We have no hesitation in setting this down as an "Imaginary Dialogue," though one not quite in the style of Mr. Walter Savage Landor. Ayre's work contains several of a kindred description, in which the biographer compounds scenes and characters out of fragments of Pope's poetry and
MISREPRESENTATIONS IN AYRE'S MEMOIR.
correspondence,17 sometimes hitting upon a sort of blundering likeness, but generally running into the most puerile extravagance and absurdity. Every circumstance in the narrative we have quoted is at variance either with fact or with probability. The whole is, in the first place, contrary to Pope's own statement of the circumstances; secondly, it is untrue that Pope undertook his translation at the request or command of Sir Richard Steele, and he never could have made such a declaration; thirdly, the style and language of Addison's "formal speech" is ridiculously opposed to his wellknown character and habits; and lastly, at the time of the
17 Some of these are very ludicrous and absurd. In one letter, for example, Pope rallies his fair correspondent, Teresa Blount, on her delight in war, the insurrection of 1715 having then excited all classes. He tells her, in raillery, that she may soon see gallant armies, encampments, standards waving over her brother's corn-fields, and the windings of the Thames about Mapledurham stained with the blood of men. Ayre takes this literally, and believing it to be addressed to Martha, not Teresa Blount (of whose existence he was apparently not aware), he says, "Mrs. Blount had always a very gallant spirit; she would often wish to see such sights as armies, encampments,and standards waving over her brother's grounds and fields, and would talk of battles and bloodshed as familiar as if she was noways afraid of them, which some other ladies used to call barbarity, and wonder how she could talk or even think of such cruel things without tears and aching heart. 'Oh,' she would make answer, 'it would be a glorious sight; so many fine officers, fine gentlemen, fine soldiers, fine colours, fine horses, 'twould be a prodigious pleasure to see!" Pope also eulogises the conduct of the Earl of Oxford, saying he might seem above man, if he had not just now voided a stone to prove him subject to human infirmities. "The utmost weight of affliction from ministerial power and popular hatred were almost worth bearing for the glory of such a dauntless conduct as he has shown under it." Ayre again transfers this from the poet to Martha Blount. "She was particularly concerned at the fall of the late Earl of Oxford, for whom she had the greatest respect and veneration imaginable, and suffered very much with him, when he had the great weight of affliction to bear, both from princely power and popular hatred; nothing comforted her but the dauntless conduct he showed under it, though he then laboured with the racking pains of the stone, one of which, a very considerable one, he at that time voided." In the same manner Ayre prattles about Pope's "Unfortunate Lady," as if he knew the whole of the mysterious story, and adds to it his usual garnishing of small facts invented for the occasion. Several other cases might be cited, in which Pope's letters and notes to his poems have undergone the same curious transformation. The fable of Addison's conference with Pope is chiefly manufactured out of the letters of Pope and Jervas, August, 1714.