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THEORY OF A RULING PASSION
and Arbuthnot. Then there are the theological and moral controversies. One little circumstance that has not been remarked probably contributed to set Pope at work in this new direction. In the year in which he finished his “ Odyssey” Young, afterward the author of “Night Thoughts," published a satire called “The Universal Passion, or The Love of Fame." It is a very unequal production, but it was immensely popular for a time. This may have excited Pope's emulation, more particularly seeing that the satirist-Pope having then been engaged for ten years on Homer—asked, Why slumbers Pope ?
As regards the substance. If you wish to make a study of the “Essay on Man," which professes to furnish in verse a
em of natural theology, I would recommend you to Mark Pattison's edition. Moral maxims tend to become antiquated. Pope's are old enough to be commonplace, but not old enough to be quaint. In the “Moral Essays” the one you may perhaps find the most interesting is that on
" The Characters of Women." His standpoint is stated with perfect candor in the opening lines :
'Nothing so true as what you once let fall,
And again in the lines :
“In men, we various ruling passions find ;
In these statements Pope repeats a commonplace of his day, and if objection be taken to them, we must bear in mind that we are not to look in satire for sober, strict
truth, but rather for brilliant paradoxes. The theory of a Ruling Passion is probably a correct one, and it has been misunderstood by adverse critics. Macaulay, in his essay on Mme. D’Arblay, calls it a silly notion, his own theory being that each man is a compound of desires often at war with one another, one having the ascendancy sometimes, and sometimes another, each uppermost by turns like the spokes of a running wheel, or the sails of a windmill, or balls playing in a fountain. Where is Shylock's ruling passion ? he asks.
Or Othello's? or Henry V.'s?
The theory is declared to be at variance with the diversity of nature. Rightly understood, it was not so. Its advocates only contended that, however various might be the passions of mankind, however often they might come in conflict, still there was one before which, when it came to a fight, every other yielded. Understanding the theory in this way, we should have no hesitation in saying that Shylock had a ruling passionthe hatred of a persecuted race for its persecutors. Even his love of money gives way before this, as bis affection for his daughter gives way before his love of money. The strength of his ruling passion is indeed indicated by its triumph over the passion next to the throne when the two come in conflict. He has few opportunities, only one indeed in the course of the play, of obtaining substantial gratification for it; that one he eagerly and fiercely seizes on.
It cannot, of course, be said that such a passion is the key to all the mysteries of a man's nature; that is, of course, a rhetorical expression. But a knowledge of it may be a clue to the secret of a man's deviations from the rules of ordinary prudence or ordinary good feeling. It is seldom that one overgrown propensity swallows up all the rest. True ; but unless this is the case the character attracts no interest, because it possesses no singularity, nothing to distinguish it from the mass of man
THEORY OF A RULING PASSION
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kind, whose ruling passion is selfishness tempered by sympathetic impulse, and fear of what people will say and do. That this is the right interpretation of the theory you can prove by taking Pope's examples. It explains a man's singularities ; gives unity to his peculiarities as distinguished from others.
I PROPOSE to-day to run rapidly over the poetry of the forty years, roughly speaking, between Pope and Cowper, Crabbe and Burns, dwelling more particularly on the poetry of Gray and Collins. This period is generally and justly regarded as one of the most barren in our literature. The poems that have any interest, except for the antiquary, are few and far between. Collins and Gray wrote very little, very much less than any poets of equal rank in literature; the one dying young, and the other composing at rare intervals. Small as their poetry is in amount, it stands out above the level of the time, owing to its originality and individuality; all the others may be roughly classed as imitators either of Pope or of Thomson, or of both.
If we look at the works of the young poets who ventured to publish during the last years of Pope's life, what principally strikes us is that, with the exception of Gray and Collins, the ablest of them were guided in their aims by the poetical ambitions of Queen Anne society. One youth, a London merchant, Richard Glover, was bold enough to attempt what Pope shrank from, the composition of a great epic. The subject was taken from Greek history, but the poet throughout had an allusive eye to contemporary politics. This reference to practical affairs was thoroughly in the Queen Anne spirit, when the poets, as I explained to you, being
intimate companions of public men, took sides in party conflicts, and kept in view the assistance of their friends at least as much as the satisfaction of the poetical aspirations of their readers. Glover's hero was Leonidas, the Spartan king who sacrificed himself at Thermopylæ to hold in check the Persian invaders of Greece; and the grasping tyrant Xerxes was the great enemy against whom the hero had to contend. But Glover the poet was an ally of the politicians opposed to Sir Robert Walpole, and one of the accusations against this Minister, urged most persistently by the Opposition to drive him from power, was that he truckled to the power of Spain, meekly negotiating and compromising British interests when a true patriot would have had recourse to war. Hence when Glover wrote in denunciation of the power of Persia, it was the power of Spain that he had in his mind's eye; and when he eloquently expounded through Spartan senators the true duty of a patriot, the readers were expected to apply this as an argument against Sir Robert Walpole. “The plan and purpose of 'Leonidas,'” it was said, “is to show the superiority of freedom over slavery, and how much virtue, public spirit, and liberty are preferable both in their nature and effects to riches, luxury, and the insolence of power.” Incidentally the poet found opportunity to discuss many of the burning questions-treatment of the non-combatants in war, superiority of a citizen army over mercenaries.
“ Leonidas” had thus great temporary popularity. Viewed simply as an artistic production, its great novelty was that, although professing to be a great epic, it had no supernatural machinery. “Never was an epic poem," Lord Lyttelton wrote, “ which had so near a relation to
He has neither fighting gods nor scolding goddesses ; neither miracles nor enchantments; neither monsters nor giants in his work; but whatever human nature can afford that is most astonishing, marvellous, and sublime.” The metre of the poem was