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CORRESPONDENCE WITH LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU.
THE TRANSLATION OF THE ILIAD, AND GAY'S CONGRATULATORY POEM. BANISHMENT OF ATTERBURY.
FOR Some years the translation of the Iliad formed the chief occupation of Pope. A volume appeared annually from 1715 to 1718. But during this time he visited and corresponded largely, and was busy with his garden and grotto.
One of the poet's neighbours at Twickenham was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. They had, as we have seen, met some years before, and Pope's acquaintance with this accomplished and fascinating woman soon assumed the form and pressure of a real, though transient, passion. It was consistent with the extravagant exotic gallantry of that period that married ladies submitted to be addressed by the wits and men of fashion in the language of love and admiration. Pope, though little blessed with the figure, had the set phrase of a worshipper of this kind, and Lady Mary was his darling theme and object. She was two years younger than her poetical admirer. She had, according to one account, received a classical education with her brother, and been taught Latin and Greek by his tutor; but she told Spence that she had picked up a knowledge of Latin herself, assisted, probably, by hints of instruction from Bishop Burnet, who superintended her studies, and under whose eye she had
LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU.
translated a Latin version of Epictetus. The ponderous romances of Clelia, Cassandra, Astrea, &c., were more eagerly devoured, and her youthful beauty accustomed her to admiration. When only eight years old her father had sent for her to the Kit-cat Club; she was nominated as a toast, her health drunk, and her name engraved in due form on a drinking glass; and she was passed "from the lap of one poet, or patriot, or statesman, to the arms of another, was feasted with sweetmeats, overwhelmed with caresses, and, what perhaps already pleased her better than either, heard her wit and beauty extolled on every side."1 Lady Mary wrote verses; her Town Eclogues possess considerable smartness, and some of her smaller pieces make a nearer appreach to poetry. For town ballads and vers de société she was unrivalled; and as she knew all the scandal passing in high life, she was never at a loss for a subject. To this facility with the pen she added a more dangerous fluency of speech. She was lively, witty, and pointed in conversation -too clever and sarcastic to be always prudent-too fond of admiration to be always guarded-yet so superior in intellectual and personal attractions to all around her, that her first appearance at Court is marked as one of the wonders of the day. She had come to St. James's on the accession of George I., her husband, Edward Wortley, the friend of Addison and Steele, having obtained, through the influence of his cousin, Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax, an appointment as one of the Commissioners of the Treasury. In June, 1716, Mr. Wortley resigned this office, in order to proceed as ambassador to the Porte. Lady Mary was to accompany him, and by accident Pope was the last person she happened to see before quitting England. To this interview he alludes in his first letter to her, written in August, 1716:
"In what manner did I behave the last hour I saw you? What degree of concern did I discover when I felt a misfortune, which I hope you will never feel, that of parting from what one most esteems? For if my parting looked but like that of your common acquaintance, I am the greatest of all the hypocrites that ever decency made. Í
1 Introductory Anecdotes (by Lady Louisa Stuart) to Lord Wharncliffe's edition of Letters and Works of Lady M. W. Montagu.
never since pass by the house but with the same sort of melancholy that we feel upon seeing the tomb of a friend, which only serves to put us in mind of what we have lost. I reflect upon the circumstances of your departure, your behaviour in what I may call your last moments; and I indulge a gloomy kind of satisfaction in thinking you gave some of those last moments to me. I would fain imagine this was not accidental, but proceeded from a penetration which I know you have in finding out the truth of people's sentiments, and that you were not unwilling the last man that would have parted with you should be the last that did."
Lady Mary met this half-disguised declaration in a sensible, prosaic spirit:
Perhaps you'll laugh at me," she replies, "for thanking you very gravely for all the obliging concern you express for me. 'Tis certain that I may, if I please, take the fine things you say to me for wit and raillery; and, it may be, it would be taking them right. But I never in my life was half so well disposed to believe you in earnest as I am at present; and that distance, which makes the continuation of your friendship improbable, has very much increased my faith in it.”
And the lady then goes on to describe some performances she had witnessed at the Opera, at Vienna. Pope continued the correspondence with increasing warmth, considering Lady Mary as "a glorious, though remote being," to whom he must send addresses and prayers. Those addresses are all conceived in a spirit of romantic gallantry, but abound in pruriencies both of thought and expression. In 1717, when the collected edition of his works was published, and the third volume of the Iliad was issued, he sent them to Lady Mary to Constantinople. "There are few things in them," he observes, "but what you have already seen, except the Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard, in which you will find one passage that I cannot tell whether to wish you should understand or not." The passage alluded to was, no doubt, the concluding lines:
"And sure if Fate some future bard should join
LETTERS TO LADY MARY.
He had pointed out the same lines to Martha Blount before the publication of the volume: "The Epistle of Eloise," he said, "grows warm, and begins to have some breathings of the heart in it, which may make posterity think I was in love. I can scarce find in my heart to leave out the conclusion I once intended for it." Perhaps the conclusion was then different from the form in which it now appears. In its present shape it could not apply to Martha Blount, whose absence for years the poet was never condemned to deplore, though some of his friends would have considered such an event no very unwelcome privation. Lady Mary received the poetical honour as she received the prose compliments, with vague and general acknowledgments, and with a recital of the objects that engaged her diligent curiosity abroad. Her letters are natural and unaffected, and it must be admitted contrast favourably with those of the poet. At length Mr. Wortley was recalled from his foreign embassy, and commenced his journey from Constantinople in June, 1718. Pope was transported with the prospect of Lady Mary's return, and seems even to have contemplated a journey to Italy to meet her. His dread of the sea was forgotten; and Teresa and Martha Blount were also forgotten. To Lady Mary he writes:
"I have been mad enough to make all the inquiry I could at what time you set out, and what route you were to take. If Italy run yet in your thoughts, I hope you'll see it in your return. If I but knew you intended it, I'd meet you there, and travel back with you. I would fain behold the best and brightest thing I know in the scene of ancient virtue and glory; I would fain see how you look on the very spot where Curtius sacrificed himself for his country; and observe what difference there would be in your eyes when you ogled the statue of Julius Cæsar and Marcus Aurelius. Allow me but to sneak after you in your train, to fill my pockets with coins, or to lug an old busto behind you, and I shall be proud beyond expression. Let people think if they will, that I did all this for the pleasure of treading on classic ground; I would whisper other reasons in your ear. The joy of following your footsteps would as soon carry me to Mecca as to Rome; and let me tell you as a friend, if you are really disposed to embrace the Mahometan religion, I'll fly on pilgrimage with you thither.”
A few months afterwards he wrote again, expressing a
wish to meet Lady Mary in Italy, but she did not receive the communication till she had reached Dover, November 1, 1718, on her return to England. Pope was then at Stanton Harcourt, working diligently at his translation of Homer; but of course he addressed a letter of congratulation to Lady Mary, welcoming her to her native shores. Her near approach seems to have somewhat sobered the enthusiastic poet. His letter on this occasion is much less ardent than the preceding epistles, and is chiefly filled with a description of the old gothic house in which he resided. Another copy of this letter, with a different introduction, and some alterations, was printed by Pope as addressed to Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham. He had written it with great care, and studied picturesque effect, and the piece altogether is a fine specimen of local painting. The old steward is an excellent portrait.
DEAR MADAM,—It is not possible to express the least part of the joy your return gives me; time only and experience will convince you how very sincere it is. I excessively long to meet you, to say so much, so very much to you that I believe I shall say nothing. I have given orders to be sent for the first minute of your arrival, which I beg you will let them know at Mr. Jervas's. I am fourscore miles from London, a short journey compared to that I so often thought at least of undertaking, rather than die without seeing you again. Though the place I am in is such as I would not quit for the town, if I did not value you more than any, nay, everybody else there; and will be convinced how little the town has engaged my affections in your absence from it, when you know what a place this is which I prefer to it. I shall, therefore, describe it to you at large as the picture of a genuine ancient country seat.
"You must expect nothing regular in my description of a house that seems to be built before rules were in fashion. The whole is so disjointed, and the parts so detached from each other, and yet so joining again, one cannot tell how, that in a poetical fit you would imagine it had been a village in Amphion's time, when twenty cottages had taken a dance together, were all out, and stood still in amazement ever since. A stranger would be grievously disappointed who should ever think to get into this house the right way. One would expect, after entering through the porch, to be let into the hall;-alas! nothing less; you find yourself in a brewhouse. From the parlour you think to step into the drawing-room; but upon opening the iron-nailed door, you are convinced by a flight of birds about your ears, and a cloud of dust in your eyes, that it is the