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It is a simple truth that the writers from whom this volume derives its name were much concerned with vexing somebody; malice is an essential ingredient of what we mean by "wit," and this, the cynical may say, will explain why my mind was so much engaged with this subject while I was editing the Nation in its unreformed days. If so, I am still unrepentant; I even think that nothing would be a more wholesome tonic for our modern surfeit of sentimentalism than a little of the saving grace of malice, and that amidst the welter of humanitarian optimism a proper counter-irritant might be found in Swift's "great foundation of misanthropy." I do not mean to uphold the method of Pope and Swift as in itself the highest form of criticism. Boileau, for example, has the keenest satire, and at the same time shows very little malice, such as we find it among the wits of Queen Anne. The satire of Horace is genial rather than malicious. Dr. Johnson, though he lacks the epigrammatic point of other writers, can do fairly well on occasion and is free also of personal spite. This indeed is one reason why the age of Johnson rather than that of Pope is the true Augustan age of England, so far as she had one.

But our own day has its peculiar weakness, and would take no harm from the application of special remedies. We suffer from a murky surfeit of self-flattery and sham philanthropy, and a

little of the opposite excess might help to clear the air. Some balance of sanity might be struck out from these clashing extremes of flattery and detraction applied to human nature; or, at least, if balance is not to be attained in that way, the result would be mightily amusing. There are several people in the world who need to be vexed.

Certainly the literary atmosphere would be wonderfully cleared by the reappearance of a Pope. Imagine what a Dunciad the wicked little man might compose to-day; what havoc he would work among those novelists and dramatists who divulge their prurience under the guise of reform and champion licence as the liberty of prophesying. What a flutter he would stir up in the dovecote of our mutually admiring poets, whether imagist, symbolist, anthologist, vers-libriste, or however else ticketed. He knew them when he wrote his Imitation of Horace:

In vain, bad rhymers all mankind reject,
They treat themselves with most profound respect;
'T is to small purpose that you hold your tongue,
Each, praised within, is happy all day long.

Malice is an excellent medicine for self-complaisance in the artist; it is a good purgation also for cant and humbug in high places. Fancy, if you dare, what a flow of satire would emanate from our new Twickenham when some solemn college president had been advocating lower

standards of education under the plea that we must train men for service that blessed word.

"Service!" he cries; "we train the budding mind
Itself to lose and serve all human kind;
A little learning is a dangerous thing,

Come not to college, or no Latin bring." But there is higher game than the silk-robed tyrant of academic senates, and education was not, and is not, the only field in which the charlatan makes capital of the seductive phrases of idealism. Suppose a convocation in Pope's day was met to settle the affairs of the world and to establish peace and good will among men; suppose then that Pope should read in a most respectable magazine such comment as this on the secret proceedings of the guiding committee: “The task of the three men is made easier for them by the fact that the world gives them a blank check for expenses. No errors they can make, so far as we can imagine, can conceivably compare with the tragic errors of statesmanship before the war." I suspect that the “paper-saving" poet would have used the back of this blank check for other purposes than endorsement. He might have found it a convenient place for asking, not in blank verse, whether this was a particularly happy time for abjuring reason and common sense and critical control, because some one else had blundered. I seem to remember that the "wits” had bad words for the type of egotist and saviour of

mankind, now become so popular among the signers of blank checks.

Behold the statesman, of mankind the friend,
Who claims your vote that wars may have an end;
Lets loose the passions and unchains the storm,
While crying still the blessings of reform.
Peace on his lips and faction in his heart,
Though Europe totter, he will play his part.
He bears no brother near him on the throne,
Who would be saviour of mankind alone.
Fame little reckons what her minions do;
Flatter the mob, the mob will flatter you.

P.E. M. Princeton, N.J.,

1 May, 1919

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