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PROSE AND POETICAL TRANSLATIONS COMPARED
river's banks, waiting till the clothes should dry in the brightness of the sun. Anon, when they were satisfied with food, the maidens and the princess, they fell to playing at ball, casting away their tires, and among them Nausicaa of the white arms began the song." Very different this from the grandiloquent version by Brome, which Pope approved by using it as his own :
“ Then emulous, the royal robes they lave,
And plunge the vestures in the cleansing wave
With the primitive enjoyment described by Homer the poet did not evidently sympathize. The character either of the poet or of his audience was at fault : either the poet was insensible to the charms of such passages, or his audience would have considered them
When the Queen Anne poets wrote for the stage,-which must appeal to the sympathies of a wide circle,-and not for fashionable society, you find that the art of simple writing was not lost Half consciously the poets wrote differently for different audiences. True, Addison's “Cato" is a splendid example of the stilted style of the period, but there are here and there decided exceptions.
Gay's songs, in plays addressed, as plays must be to succeed, to a wider circle than the fashionable society of the time, show that the art of simple writing was not lost. In “'Twas when the seas were roaring” (from
“What d'ye Call It,” 1715), and in “Black-eyed Susan," occur such lines as these :
Gay had more of a gift for simple, fluent, easy, melodious song than any of his contemporaries. Yet, even in these, there is a touch of burlesque, an accent of insincerity, in the poet's assumed sympathy with the simple feelings of simple folk. In his “Pastorals " Gay made broad fun out of the superstitious ignorance and coarse sentiments of rustics : he had no eye, as Wordsworth bad, for the higher modes of feeling ; he saw only the rude defects incident to the hardness and narrowness of their lives, and these amused him. They amused fashionable people, and Gay, a fat, good-natured, simple-hearted man, petted and caressed and pensioned by great people all through his literary life, quite fell in with their humor,
There is one kind of poetry, mock-heroic or heroiccomical, for which the elevated Queen Anne style is peculiarly suited-in which its affectation and insincerity are not felt as faults, because affectation and insincerity are part of the humor in which the poet writes. Pope's poetic diction is seen in one of its happiest applications in the “Rape of the Lock," where trivial incidents, and little anxieties and interests, and pretty frivolities are purposely treated as matters of vast moment. Here, also, he found a theme well within the interests of his audience. I presume that you have
M. TAINE'S CRITICISM OF POPE
all read this charming poem, and have learned from your edition of it how it originated in a young lord's cutting off a lock of a lady's hair ; how this led to a coolness between the two families; how Pope was asked to write a poem on the subject to smooth over the quarrel; how the poem appeared in 1712, and was expanded before 1714 to the form in which we have it. It is a different sort of theme from the technical essays, and the translations and imitations of Virgil and Ovid and Chaucer, in which Pope had hitherto exerted himself—a theme directly suggested by the fashionable life of the time, by human nature as it lived and moved in the society of Queen Anne's days. Pope had a model in Boileau's “ Lutrin,” a model as regarded the form, but the subject was fresh and new ; it came to him from breathing life, and was not laboriously sought.
Pope has been charged with gross impoliteness in writing such a poem ; indeed, M. Taine found in it a coarseness akin to Swift's. "Pope,” wrote M. Taine, “ dedicates his poem to Mrs. Arabella Fermor with every kind of compliment. The truth is he is not polite ; a Frenchwoman would have sent him back his book, and advised him to learn manners ; for one commendation of her beauty she would find ten sarcasms upon her frivolity. . . In England it was not found too rude. Mrs. Arabella Fermor was so pleased with the poem that she gave away copies of it. . . But the strangest thing is that this trifling is, for Frenchmen at least, no badinage at all. It is not at all like lightness or gayety. Dorat, Gresset, would have been stupefied and shocked by it. We remain cold under its most brilliant hits. Now and then at most a crack of the whip arouses us, but not to laughter. These caricatures seem strange to us, but do not amuse. The wit is no wit : all is calculated, combined, artificially prepared ; we expect flashes of lightning, but at the last moment they do not descend. .. We say to ourselves now
that we are in China : that so far from Paris and Voltaire we must be surprised at nothing ; that these folks have ears different from ours; and that a Pekin mandarin vastly relishes kettle-music. Finally, we comprehend that, even in this correct age and this artificial poetry, the old style of imagination exists; that it is nourished, as before, by oddities and contrasts ; and that taste, in spite of all culture, will never become acclimatized ; that incongruities, far from shocking, delight it ; that it is insensible to French sweetness and refinements; that it needs a succession of expressive figures, unexpected and grinning, to pass before it ; that it prefers this coarse carnival to delicate insinuations ; that Pope belongs to his country, in spite of his classical polish and his studied elegancies; and that his unpleasant and vigorous fancy is akin to that of Swift."
This poem, which English critics of all schools agree in praising as a masterpiece of light, airy, gay extravagance,-marum sal, as Addison called it,-strikes M. Taine as a piece of harsh, scornful, indelicate buffoonery. For him it is a mere succession of oddities and contrasts, of expressive figures, unexpected and grinning—an example of English insensibility to French sweetness and refinement. What especially offends his delicate sense is the bearishness of Pope's laughter at an elegant and beautiful woman of fashion. Pope describes with a grin on his face all the particulars of the elaborate toilet with which Belinda prepared her beauty for conquest, and all the artificial airs and graces with which she sought to bewitch the heart of susceptible man. The Frenchman listens without sympathy, without appreciation, with the contemptuous wonder of a wellbred man at clownish buffoonery. He sees nothing to laugh at in a woman spending three hours over her toilet. Is she not preparing a beautiful picture for him ? She cannot do this without powders and washes and paint-pots. What is there to laugh at in this? It is a
M. TAINE'S CRITICISM OF POPE
mere matter of fact. The entire surrender of the female heart to little artifices for little ends does not strike him as ludicrous. His delight in the finished picture, the elegant, graceful, captivating woman, hallows every ingredient used in the making of it. It is not polite to laugh at a woman.