"Non injussa cano."
POET. I sing of POPE--
FRIEND. What, POPE, the Twitnam Bard,
Whom Dennis, Cibber, Tibbald push'd so hard!
POPE of the Dunciad! POPE who dar'd to woo,
And then to libel, Wortley-Montagu!
POPE of the Ham-walks story--
P. Scandals all!
Scandals that now I care not to recall.
Surely a little, in two hundred Years,
One may neglect Contemporary Sneers:--
Surely Allowance for the Man may make
That had all Grub-street yelping in his Wake!
And who (I ask you) has been never Mean,
When urged by Envy, Anger or the Spleen?
No: I prefer to look on POPE as one
Not rightly happy till his Life was done;
Whose whole Career, romance it as you please,
Was (what he call'd it) but a "long Disease:"
Think of his Lot,--his Pilgrimage of Pain,
His "crazy Carcass" and his restless Brain;
Think of his Night-Hours with their Feet of Lead,
His dreary Vigil and his aching Head;
Think of all this, and marvel then to find
The "crooked Body with a crooked Mind!"
Nay rather, marvel that, in Fate's Despite,
You find so much to solace and delight,--
So much of Courage, and of Purpose high
In that unequal Struggle not to die.
I grant you freely that POPE played his Part
Sometimes ignobly--but he lov'd his Art;
I grant you freely that he sought his Ends
Not always wisely--but he lov'd his Friends;
And who of Friends a nobler Roll could show--
Swift, St. John, Bathurst, Marchmont, Peterb'ro',
P. Well (entre nous),
Most that he said of Addison was true.
Plain Truth, you know--
FR. Is often not polite
(So Hamlet thought)--
P. And Hamlet (Sir) was right.
But leave POPE'S Life. To-day, methinks, we touch
The Work too little and the Man too much.
Take up the Lock, the Satires, Eloise--
What Art supreme, what Elegance, what Ease!
How keen the Irony, the Wit how bright,
The Style how rapid, and the Verse how light!
Then read once more, and you shall wonder yet
At Skill, at Turn, at Point, at Epithet.
"True Wit is Nature to Advantage dress'd"--
Was ever Thought so pithily express'd?
"And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line"--
Ah, what a Homily on Yours ... and Mine!
Or take--to choose at Random--take but This--
"Ten censure wrong for one that writes amiss."
FR. Pack'd and precise, no Doubt. Yet surely those
Are but the Qualities we ask of Prose,
Was he a POET?
P. Yes: if that be what
Byron was certainly and Bowles was not;
Or say you grant him, to come nearer Date,
What Dryden had, that was denied to Tate--
FR. Which means, you claim for him the Spark divine,
Yet scarce would place him on the highest Line--
P. True, there are Classes. POPE was most of all
Akin to Horace, Persius, Juvenal;
POPE was, like them, the Censor of his Age,
An Age more suited to Repose than Rage;
When Rhyming turn'd from Freedom to the Schools,
And shock'd with Licence, shudder'd into Rules;
When Phoebus touch'd the Poet's trembling Ear
With one supreme Commandment Be thou Clear;
When Thought meant less to reason than compile,
And the Muse labour'd ... chiefly with the File.
Beneath full Wigs no Lyric drew its Breath
As in the Days of great ELIZABETH;
And to the Bards of ANNA was denied
The Note that Wordsworth heard on Duddon-side.
But POPE took up his Parable, and knit
The Woof of Wisdom with the Warp of Wit;
He trimm'd the Measure on its equal Feet,
And smooth'd and fitted till the Line was neat;
He taught the Pause with due Effect to fall;
He taught the Epigram to come at Call;
FR. His Iliad!
P. Well, suppose you own
You like your Iliad in the Prose of Bohn,--
Tho' if you'd learn in Prose how Homer sang,
'Twere best to learn of Butcher and of Lang,--
Suppose you say your Worst of POPE, declare
His Jewels Paste, his Nature a Parterre,
His Art but Artifice--I ask once more
Where have you seen such Artifice before?
Where have you seen a Parterre better grac'd,
Or gems that glitter like his Gems of Paste?
Where can you show, among your Names of Note,
So much to copy and so much to quote?
And where, in Fine, in all our English Verse,
A Style more trenchant and a Sense more terse?
So I, that love the old Augustan Days
Of formal Courtesies and formal Phrase;
That like along the finish'd Line to feel
The Ruffle's Flutter and the Flash of Steel;
That like my Couplet as compact as clear;
That like my Satire sparkling tho' severe,
Unmix'd with Bathos and unmarr'd by Trope,
I fling my Cap for Polish--and for POPE!