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That among the moderns, their success has been greatest who have most endeavoured to make these ancients their pattern. The most considerable genius appears in the famous Tasso, and our Spenser. Tasso, in his Aminta, as far excelled all pastoral writers, as in his Gierusalemme, he has outdone the epic poets of his own country. But as this piece seems to have been the original of a new sort of poem, the pastoral comedy in Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the ancients. Spenser's Calender, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the most complete work of this kind which any nation has produced ever since the time of Virgil; but this he said before Mr. Pope's Pastorals appeared.
Mr. Walsh pronounces on our Shepherd's boy (as Mr. Pope called himself, the following judgment, in a letter to Mr. Wycherley:
“ The verses are very tender and easy. The Author seems to have a particular genius for that kind of poetry, and a judgment that much exceeds the years you told me he was of. It is no flattery at all to say that Virgil had written nothing so good at his age. I shall take it as a favour if you will bring me acquainted with him; and if he will give himself the trouble, any morning, to call at my house, I shall be very glad to read the verses with him, and give him my opinion of the particulars more largely than I can well do in this letter.”
Thus early was Mr. Pope introduced to the acquaintance of men of genius, and so improved every advantage, that he made a more rapid progress towards a consummation in fame than any of our former English poets. His Messiah, his Windsor Forest, (the first part of which was written at the same time with his pastorals) his Essay on Criticism in 1709, and his Rape of the Lock in 1712, established his poetical character in such a manner that he was called upon by the public voice to enrich our lan. guage with the translation of the Iliad, which he be. gan at twenty-five, and executed in five years. This was published for his own benefit, by subscription, the only kind of reward which he received for his writings, which do honour to our age and country, his religion rendering him incapable of a place, which the Lord Treasurer Oxford used to express his concern for, but without offering him a pension, as the Earl of Halifax and Mr. Secretary Craggs afterwards did, though Mr. Pope declined it.
The reputation of Mr. Pope gaining every day upon the world, he was caressed, flattered, and railed at, according as he was feared or loved by different persons. Mr. Wycherley was among the first authors of established reputation who contributed to advance his fame, and with whom he for some time lived in the most unreserved intimacy. This poet in nis old age, conceived a design of publishing his poems; and as he was but a very imperfect master of numbers, he intrusted his manuscripts to Mr. Pope, and submitted them to his corrections. The freedom which our young bard was under a necessity to use, in order to polish and refine what was in the original rough, unharmonious, and indelicate, proved disgustful to the old gentleman, then near seventy, who perhaps was a little ashamed that a boy at sixteen should so severely correct his works. Letters of dissatisfaction were written by Mr. Wycherley, and at last he informed him, in few words, that he was going out of town, without mentioning to what place, and did not expect to hear from him till he came back. This cold indifference extorted from Mr. Pope a protestation, that nothing should induce him ever to write to him again. Notwithstanding this peevish behaviour of Mr. Wycherley, occasioned by jealousy and infirmities, Mr. Pope preserved a constant respect and reverence for him while he lived, and after his death lamented him. In 9 letter
to Edward Blount, Esq. written immediately upon the death of this poet, he has there related some anecdotes of Wycherley, which we shall here insert.
“ Dear Sir,
I know of nothing that will be so interesting to you at present as some circumstances of the last act of that eminent comic poet, and our friend, Wycherley. He had often told me, as I doubt not he did all his acquaintance, that he would marry as soon as his life was despaired of; accordingly, a few days before his death he underwent the ceremony, and joined together those two sacraments, which wise men say should be the last we receive; for, if you observe, matrimony is placed after extreme unction in our catechism, as a kind of hint as to the order of time in which they are to be taken. The old man then lay down satisfied in the conscience of having, by this one act, paid his just debts, obliged a woman who, he was told, had merit, and shown an heroic resentment of the ill usage of his next heir. Some hundred pounds which he had with the lady discharged those debts ; a jointure of four hundred a year made her a recompense ; and the nephew he left to comfort himself, as well as he could, with the miserable remains of a mortgaged estate. I saw our friend twice after this was done, less peevish in his sickness than he used to be in his health, neither much afraid of dying, nor (which in him had been more likely) much ashamed of marrying. The evening before he expired he called his young wife to the bed-side, and earnestly entreated her not to deny him one request, the last he should ever make: upon her assurance of of consenting to it, he told her, “My dear, it is only this, that you will never marry an old man again. I cannot help remarking, that sickness, which often destroys both wit and wisdom, yet seldom has power to remove that talent we call humour : Mr. Wycher
ley showed this even in this last compliment, though I think his request a little hard ; for why should he bar her from doubling her jointure on the same easy
One of the most affecting and tender compositions of Mr. Pope, is his Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, built on a true story. We are informed in the Life of Pope, for which Curl obtained a patent, that this young lady was a particular favourite of the poet, though it is not ascertained whether he himself was the person from whom she was removed. This young lady was of very high birth, possessed an opulent fortune, and under the tutorage of an uncle, who gave her an education suitable to her titles and pretensions. She was esteemed a match for the greatest peer in the realm, but in her early years she suffered her heart to be engaged by a young gentleman, and in consequence of this attachment, rejected offers made to her by persons of quality, seconded by the solicitations of her uncle. Her guardian, being surprised at this behaviour, set spies upon her, to find out the real cause of her indifference. IIer correspondence with her lover was soon discovered, and, when urged upon that topic, she had too much truth and honour to deny it. The uncle finding that she would make no efforts to disengage her affection, after a little time forced her abroad, where she was received with a ceremony due to her quality, but restricted from the conversation of every one but the spies of this severe guardian, so that it was impossible for her lover even to have a letter delivered into her hands. She languished in this place a considerable time, bore an infinite deal of sickness, and was whelmed with the profoundest sorrow. Nature being wearied out with continual distress, and being driven at last to despair, the unfortunate lady, as Mr. Pope justly calls her, put an end to her own life, having
bribed a maid-servant to procure her a sword. She was found upon the ground weltering in her blood. The severity of the laws of the place, where this fair unfortunate perished, denied her Christian burial, and she was interred without solemnity, or even any attendants to perform the last offices of the dead, except some young people of the neighbourhood, who saw her put into common ground, and strewed the grave with flowers.
The poet, in the Elegy, takes occasion to mingle with the tears of sorrow, just reproaches upon her cruel uncle, who drove her to this violation.
But thou, false guardian of a charge too good,
The conclusion of this elegy is irresistibly affecting.
So peaceful rests, without a stone, a name
No poem of our author's more deservedly obtained him reputation than his Essay on Criticism. Mr. Ada dison in his Spectator, No. 253, has celebrated it with such profuse terms of admiration, that it is really astonishing to find the same man endeavouring afterwards to diminish that fame he had contributed to raise so high.
“ The Art of Criticism,” says he, “which was publighed some months ago, is a master-piece in its kind. The observations follow one another, like those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical re