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first one of great force-a truth from the dark side of humanity, the wasting malady of selfishness:
"Sick of herself through very selfishness."
The other, a beautiful expression of the sense of a good Providence :
"Or wanders, heaven-directed, to the poor."
There is another description of lines in Pope, as favourite in the way of quotation as any: I mean those which express in smooth verse some truism, or commonplace sentiment, or something the very tameness of which makes it untrue. What line has been quoted so often?-you may see it even on tombstones
"An honest man's the noblest work of God."
Does anybody think so? Is honesty so rare? Has it so much of heroism in it, or so much of saintliness, that it is God's noblest work? Surely, the poet must have uttered it in contempt of his fellow-men-must have meant it in
And here we may see what disqualified Pope from being the great moral poet he aspired to be-from being a great poet of the first rank. Whatever was his power of imagination, of fancy, his command of language, or flow of verse, his genius had not that spiritual healthfulness which is a characteristic of our greatest English poets. There is, running through all the writings of Pope, a large vein of misanthropy. It was his habit to proclaim contempt of the world, antipathy to his fellow-beings, except a few choice friends, whom he clung to most faith fully. It is not with such morbid feeling that a poet can
From this criticism I venture to note an earnest dissent.
W. B. R.
either study or expound human nature. His ministry is to inspire his fellow-beings with high and happy emotions, to foster a just sense of the dignity of human nature, to make man lowly wise, to cheer him amid his frailties, not to depress him, to animate his heart with faith, and hope, and love, not to chill and harden it with discontent and hatred. Instead of aggravating all that is dark and forlorn in man's mingled nature, it belongs to the poet, of all others, to show that while the son of earth is lying on the earth, lonely, benighted, his head pillowed on a stone, thoughts of a better life, the soul's celestial aspirations, are ascending and descending over him, like angels in the patriarch's dream. For such, the poet's truest ministry, Pope's temperament was unhappily constituted. In a letter to Bishop Atterbury-a serious letter on a serious occasion-addressed to that prelate on the eve of his exile, he asks, “What is every year of a wise man's life but a censure or critic on the past? Those whose date is the shortest, live long enough to laugh at one-half of it: the boy despises the infant, the man the boy, the philosopher both, and the Christian all."* What could have been that notion of philosophy, what that notion of Christianity, which could make one of its attributes contempt, that infirmity of the morbid mind, in the eye of divine wisdom a vice! How different, too, such contempt of the past periods of one's life, from that deeper wisdom which inculcates the moral continuity of our being, showing how important it is for the growth of our spiritual nature that we should so dwell in each partition of our earthly time. that we may move on from one to the other with happy
*Letter, May 17th, 1723. Roscoe's Pope, vol. ix. p. 241.
memories of the past-with happy consciousness of its abiding influences!
"The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety."
It is a characteristic view of human life which Pope gives in such a passage as this:
"Behold the child, by nature's kindly law,
Scarfs, garters, gold, amuse his riper age,
And beads and prayer-books are the toys of age:
Till tired he sleeps, and life's poor play is o'er."
The "rattle," a "straw," "scarfs, garters, gold, beads, and prayer-books," equally toys and baubles, and ending alike in weariness, and then death or sleep. What a picture of life! what a picture for a poet, whose duty is to dignify and elevate, to draw, of the life of man, who with all his infirmities, is an immortal, gifted with a soul, precious in the sight of his Creator, and not unworthy the awful ransom of the Redeemer's blood! A great moral poet does not so teach. "Life's poor play!" Such is this didactic poet's deliberate doctrine. The image is Shakspeare's, but with a most significant difference :
"Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
There may be noted a coincidence between these familiar lines of Wordsworth and those of Milton:
"The childhood shows the man,
As morning shows the day."
Paradise Regained, B. 4, v. 220. W. B. R.
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
But mark the dramatic truth, when you see what voice speaks thus; it is the utterance of the agony of a bloodstained conscience, whose guilt has so wasted out all its humanity, that it would fain lose all belief in life's realities.
The sophisticated state of society in which Pope lived, and the morbid excess of his critical powers, show themselves in his treatment of womanly character: it is full of querulousness, and sarcasm, perverse in sentiment and in morals. He exhorts a female friend
"Not to quit the free innocence of life,
For the dull glory of a virtuous wife."
What a line for a poet to utter! and what a contrast to those bright images of womanly heroism and beauty which the older poets delighted to picture in marriage ! When Pope begins a healthier strain in that sweet couplet
"O blest with temper, whose unclouded ray
see what straightway it declines to,-such a tribute to womanly character as this, that a sister can be unenvious of a sister's beauty, and that a mother can hear unaggrieved the love that is given to a daughter, and that a wife's merit is to win a way for her own will by a crafty self-control and a refined dissimulation:
"She who can love a sister's charms, or hear
Charms by accepting, by submitting sways,
When the household emotion of filial piety got the better of the worldly want of feeling and the artifices of society, Pope's heart spoke in the lines alluding to his mother, beautiful for their truth of feeling:
"Oh, friend, may each domestic bliss be thine!
Be no unpleasing melancholy mine!
Me let the tender office long engage
To rock the cradle of declining age;
With lenient arts extend a mother's breath
Make languor smile, and smooth the bed of death,
There was an influence over the mind of Pope, which must be alluded to as belonging to the literary history of the times I refer to the overshadowing and malignant influence of the friendship of Lord Bolingbroke-a man whose brilliant talents do not redeem his memory from the reproach of corrupt statesmanship, and the more enduring agency of evil which he exercised as one of the leading deistical writers of the eighteenth century. That influence often intercepted the light of revelation. You may see not unfrequently playing on the surface of Pope's fancy the shadows that were cast by the restless leaves of the poison-tree of a godless philosophy.*
*It may be hazardous, even as a matter of criticism, to express an opinion favourable to Bolingbroke, yet no one can read a page of his matchless English-any page taken at random from that greatest of political apologies, the letter to Wyndham-without enthusiastic admiration of his art of style, and without admitting it to be the perfection of written eloquence. Such is the opinion of Lord Mahon in his excellent delineation of his character. (History of England, vol. ii. p. 27.) Another writer of our day says justly: "The best test to use,