Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Pope for some years after his removal to Twickenham in 1718. His weakly frame could not stand the wear and tear of city life, as authors then lived. Thoroughly sick of spending night after night till two or three o'clock over punch and Burgundy, in rooms choking with tobacco smoke, the poet wisely separated himself from the hard-living set, to which he had at first belonged, and gave up his spare hours to the pure enjoyments of his garden and

his grotto.

A.D.

The publication of his Miscellanies (1727-8), in which Swift also took a share, brought round the heads of the offending authors an angry swarm of scribblers, buzzing like wasps whose nest has been rashly invaded. Then the real power of the crippled poet flashed out in full lustre. Seizing each wretched insect with the firm yet delicate hold of a skilful entomologist, he ruthlessly pinned

it, in the full gaze of the world's scorn, on the sheets of 1729 the immortal Dunciad. There the unfortunate creatures

still hang and wriggle; and there, while English books

are read, they shall remain. This epic of “ Dunces (hence its name) celebrates the accession of a king--at first Shaksperian Theobald, but in a later edition dramatic Cibber—to the vacant throne of Dulness, and describes the sports of authors, booksellers, and critics, before the newly crowned monarch. The fourth and last book is terribly severe upon the trifling education of the day, the “ black blockade” of college dons suffering not a little from the satiric lash. The literary profession did not recover for many a day from the onslaught of this bitter pen. To starve in a Grub Street garret became, in the opinion of the public, the sure destiny of every man who took to letters for a livelihood; and even now, when poets sometimes get their guinea a line, the name has not altogether lost, in the minds of many an honest. merchant or yeoman, its old associations with threadbare coats, a tendency to drink, and a general lack of half-crowns.

The “ Dunciad,” first published in 1728, was enlarged in the following year; and in 1742 was completed by the addition of the fourth book. The dethronement of Theobald, to make room for Cibber, proved a great blunder; for the satiric lines, which

6

PERSONAL TRAITS OF POPE.

279

pierced poor Theobald to the bone, fell blunt and pointless off a man of totally different character.

A frequent visitor at the Twickenham villa was Lord Bolingbroke, well known as a politician, a libertine, and a sceptic. Gradually the poison of his talk found its way into Pope's mind, and a metrical system of morals, The Essay on Man, sprang from the envenomed seeds. Condemning the opinions of the Essay, we cannot but admire its versification; but let us not forget that deadly serpents often lie coiled under the freshest leaves and sweetest blossoms of poetry.

Graceful and flowing Imitations of Ilorace were among Pope's latest works. Through all this poet's life of fifty-six years he was delicate and frail. The wonder is that soul and body kept together so long. When the poor little man got up in the morning, , he had to be sewe into stiff canvas stays, without which he could not stand erect; his thin body was wrapped in fur and flannel; and his meagre legs required three pairs of stockings to give them a respectable look. After he grew bald, which happened early in life, a velvet cap became his favourite head-dress. On company days he wore a black velvet coat, a tie-wig, and a little sword. When he stayed with a friend, all the servants were kept in a bustle to answer Mr. Pope's never-ceasing calls. The house was roused up at night to make him coffee, or bring him paper, lest he might lose a happy thought. Poor fellow ! his fussiness was a foible easily pardoned; and as to his temper, when we remember that his life-to use his own sad words— one long disease," we can overlook the acid and the sting in remembrance of the pain. The little spider-so he describes his own meagre figure —that could spin webs of verse so brilliant and so deadly, lived with simple elegance upon £800 a year; paring his housekeeping with, perhaps, too close a hand, but cherishing to the last beneath his kindly roof the good old mother whom he loved so well. His death took place at Twickenham on the 30th of

1744 May, 1744. Asthma and other diseases had so worn away his strength, that the moment of his decease could not be perceived

a

-was

A.D.

280

SPECIMEN OF POPE'S VERSE. Pope's Letters, first published, as he tried to make the world believe, against his will, are well worth the reading; but his finest piece of prose is the Preface to his edition of Shakspere. Two of his well-known works have not yet been named-Windsor Forest and the Dying Christian to his Soul. The former, bright with hues caught in woodland rambles, presents glowing pictures of the scenery and sports which he had witnessed in the green glades of Windsor during the days of his dreamy, studious boyhood. The latter, perhaps the feeblest effort of his great pen, is a stiff and puerile rendering of the Emperor Adrian's last trembling sigh.

a

FROM "THE RAPE OF THE LOCK."

For lo! the board with cups and spoons is crowned,
The berries crackle, and the mill turns round:
On shining altars of Japan they raise
The silver lamp; the fiery spirits blaze:
From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide,
While China's earth receives the smoking tide;
At once they gratify their scent and taste,
And frequent cups prolong the rich repast.
Straight hover round the fair her airy band :
Some, as she sipped, the fuming liquor fanned ;
Some o'er her lap their careful plumes displayed,
Trembling and conscious of the rich brocade.
Coffee (which makes the politician wise,
And see through all things with his half-shut eyes)
Sent up in vapours to the baron's brain
New stratagems the radiant lock to gain.
Ah! cease, rash youth; desist ere 'tis too late;
Fear the just gods, and think of Scylla's fate!
Changed to a bird, and sent to flit in air,
She dearly paid for Nisus' injured hair!

But when to mischief mortals bend their will,
How soon they find fit instruments of ill !
Just then, Clarissa drew, with tempting grace,
A two-edged weapon from her shining case;
So ladies, in romance, assist their knight,
Present the spear, and arm him for the fight.
He takes the gift with reverence, and extends
The little engine on his fingers' ends;
This just behind Belinda's neck he spread,
As o'er the fragrant steams she bent her head.

SPECIMEN OF POPE'S VERSE.

281

Swift to the lock a thousand sprites repair,
A thousand wings, by turns, blow back the hair!
And thrice they twitched the diamond in her ear;
Thrice she looked back, and thrice the foe drew near.
Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought
The close recesses of the virgin's thought:
As on the nosegay in her breast reclined,
He watched the ideas rising in her mind,
Sudden be viewed, in spite of all her art,
An earthly lover lurking at her heart.
Amazed, confused, he found his power expired,
Resigned to fate, and with a sigh retired.

The peer now spreads the glittering forfex wide
To enclose the lock; now joins it, to divide.
E'en then, before the fatal engine closed,
A wretched Sylph too fondly interposed ;
Fate urged the shears, and cut the Sylph in twain
(But airy substance soon unites again),
The meeting points the sacred hair dissever
From the fair head, for ever, and for ever!

[blocks in formation]

THE life of the famous Dean Swift is a great tragedy. Through all the acts a dark gigantic genius moves, an intellectual Saul, towering by head and shoulders above his fellows, and possessed of an evil spirit, which does not quite abandon its wretched prey even when a pall of darkness settles on his ruined mind, and that dreadful silence of three years begins to unfold itself between a lurid life and the slumber of the narrow grave.

Swift was a Dublin man by birth, being born there in Hoey's Court in 1667. But his parents and his ancestors were English. His father, a mere bird of passage in Dublin, where he had come in the hope of getting some practice as a lawyer, died seven months before Jonathan's birth. At his uncle's expense he went to Kilkenny School, and then to Trinity College, Dublin ; but in neither did he distinguish himself above the average run of students.

Indeed, his degree of B.A. was of the lowest class, a narrow escape from the disgrace of being plucked, which roused him to studious resolves. And to the steady industry of the next seven years he owed almost all the learning he ever had.

Dependence had all this while been burning like an acrid poison into the proụd boy's soul.

But his lessons in the hard school of adversity were not yet over.

His uncle's death in 1688 flung him upon the world, and forced him to seek a shelter at Moor Park in the household of Sir William Temple, with whom his mother was slightly connected. Here for many years Swift continued to eat

ز

« PreviousContinue »