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POPE RETALIATES ON STEELE
was the eldest born of Spenser. Pope was never menţioned as a pastoral poet, though a few lines were quoted from one of his imitations of Chaucer.
Now, Pope was bitterly angry at this, and he took what Mr. Elwin considers a mean revenge. He sent to Steele a paper professing to be a continuation of the papers on Pastoral Poetry, reviewing the poems of Mr. Pope by the light of these principles. Ostensibly Pope was censured for breaking these rules, and Philips was praised for observing them. It was a most cutting piece of irony, passages being cited from Philips where he had complied with all the precepts of the Guardian, and yet had written the most insipid commonplace. Pope himself, though ostensibly condemned, was really exalted, being described in one place as having “ deviated into downright poetry.”
When the paper was sent to him, Steele, misled by the opening sentences, was at first unwilling to publish a direct attack on Pope, and asked Pope's leave to print it, which was graciously granted.
Elwin severely condemns this as a mean, spiteful, underhand trick, and declares that Pope’s vanity made him the aggressor. I own to having some sympathy with the fun of the thing ; but, apart from that, I don't think that Mr. Elwin has made out that Pope was the aggressor. In spite of his labored argument, he has omitted several cardinal circumstances, allowing, as is his custom, a few points to carry him away, while he does not look at the whole,
The papers in the Guardian were really a covert attack on Pope. What were the circumstances ? Pope's "Windsor Forest,” a pastoral, appeared in the beginning of March. It contained a eulogy of the Peace of Utrecht, the great achievement of the Tory Ministry, to which Steele and Addison and the Whig coterie were far from friendly. A few weeks afterward appeared a series of papers on Pastoral Poetry, in which Pope was studiously
ignored, and a feeble poetaster, his rival in that kind of poetry, extravagantly lauded. I should call that mean and underhand, and Pope's method of retaliation strikes me as simply highly ingenious and amusing, and not unfair. A magnanimous man would have passed by the slight without notice; but if a man did condescend to notice it, as Pope did, his crime was not of a very black dye. He only hoisted the enemy with their own petard.
ESSAY ON CRITICISM”-SUPPOSED TYRANNY OF POPE-ATTITUDE OF POPE, GRAY, ETC., TOWARD CLASSICAL TRADITIONREVIEW OF THEORIES ACCOUNTING FOR THE POETIC STERILITY OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Our starting-point to-day, the “Essay on Criticism," was published in 1711, midway between the “ Pastorals” and “Windsor Forest."
An excellent rule occurs at l. 253 :
“Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.
What was Pope's end ? He wrote the 66
Essay on Criticism for the entertainment of the cultivated people, men and women of wit and learning in his time, who were greatly interested in the art of poetry. It belongs to the class of poems called Didactic, but the object of such poems is not instruction, even when they state and illustrate rules of conduct. The object of poetry is to give immediate pleasure. When Virgil wrote his “Georgics,” his object was not to lay down practical rules for the husbandman, but to present a beautiful picture of country life. Darwin's “Botanic Garden"
was meant, not to serve the same purpose as lectures on botany, but to give pretty pictures of plants and their habits. So in Pope's “Essay on Man” his object is not to write an ethical or theological treatise, but to give pointed and brilliant expression to certain
views of man's character, of his position in the universe, and of his destiny. This might be indirectly instructive, by furnishing people with striking and easily remembered reflections as maxims of conduct, but the poet's primary purpose was to charm and delight by the novelty of his expression.
In the “Essay on Criticism” his purpose is less lofty-he did not strive to lead his readers into the same lofty region of delightful emotion. His purpose was simply to condense, methodize, and give as perfect and novel expression as he could to floating opinions about the poet’s aims and methods, and the critic's duties to
“What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."
He was keenly interested in the subject himself, as day by day he read and meditated on the subject in his quiet home at Binfield ; and so were his acquaintances. He took for granted that the town, the coffee-houses, and the drawing-rooms would also be interested ; and he was not disappointed. The work excellently served its primary purpose of giving pleasure to the town.
He expounded many commonplaces so admirably, 60 perfectly, so happily, that ever since they have been quoted in the form he gave them, e. g.:
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”—1. 625.
With loads of learned lumber in his head."-1. 612.
“Good-nature and good-sense must ever join ;
To err is human; to forgive, divine."-1. 525.
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance."-1 362.
Expression is the dress of thought.”—1. 318.
But the joint force and full result of all.”—1. 245.
“A little learning is a dang'rous thing.”—1. 215.
Tas - and hout
Now, a writer who makes expressions by means of smart epigram, startling instances, and brilliant illustration his chief aims, and chooses topics of knowledge and opinion rather than feeling, is not, strictly speaking, a poet, even if he writes in verse. We do not call him a poet, but a rhetorician. We call a man a poet who touches our feelings by means of words, as a painter or a sculptor does by painted canvas or chiselled stone. But rhetoricians in verse are capable of giving us much delight by presenting our beliefs in new and unexpected lights, and this was what Pope did in his "Essay on Criticism.” We do not always find ourselves in agreement with the opinions expressed, but the expression is always vivid, and often most felicitous.
Johnson criticises Pope's precept regarding the use of representative metre," as stated in the lines :
" 'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound should seem an echo to the sense.”
“This notion,” says Johnson, “has produced, in my opinion, many wild conceits and imaginary beauties. All that can furnish this representation are the sounds of the words considered singly, and the time in which they are pronounced.”
Here he makes the mistake of assuming that the rhythm is determined solely by the number of accented and unaccented syllables—by the pauses and the syllables in and out of accent. He quotes a passage in which the numbers are the same as in Pope's translation of Homer's description of Sisyphus rolling the stone up the hill. In the description of Sisyphus the sound seems adapted to the sense, and yet here is another set of verses in the same number which do not convey the