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Treasurer and the other Secretary of State (see Advertisement to Sat. and Ep. 1. p. 37). The tone of this Advertisement is apologetic. He endeavours in it to draw a distinction between satire and libel, like a man who began to suspect himself of having been guilty of the latter. There is not,' he says, “in the world a greater error than that which fools are so apt to fall into, and knaves with good reason to encourage, the mistaking a satirist for a libeller; whereas to a true satirist nothing is so odious as a libeller, for the same reason as to a man truly virtuous nothing is so hateful as a hypocrite.
The distinction which Pope here insists upon, he never observed in his own practice. His more elaborate portraits are so many virulent and abusive lampoons. In his. savage assaults on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and on Lord Hervey, he passed the bounds of the rules of decorum recognised, not to say in refined, but in decent society. His verses on Addison violate only truth and good feeling. But it is not only in his individual portraits that he is carried beyond the limits of civility, his whole satire is pitched in a key which good taste is compelled to disown. It is trenchant and direct. It does not play, but wound. It is not merely caustic, it is venomous. It betrays a spiteful purpose in the satirist.
Of this fault there were two principal causes; one in the manners of the age, the other in the temperament of the poet.
1. A writer who, like Pope, treats social and personal themes must do so in the tone of the society for which he writes. All poetry, in the time of Pope, was written not for the country, but for the "Town.' Even the Essay on Man reflects, in its subject, the theological turn of coffee-house discussion. The Satires and Epistles keep still closer to the tone and topics of London conversation. All the evidence we have goes to shew that in the reign of George II, the finer and more delicate graces did not flourish, or were dying out. The passions of political party occupied all minds. At no period since the great Civil War had the spirit of faction so possessed the English nation. Everything else merged in it. The violence of the
parliamentary struggle engendered a violence of language which lost in refinement what it gained in energy. The character of the great ministerial leader, Sir Robert Walpole, resolute, clear-sighted, and with a thorough knowledge of the world, but coarse, vulgar, and without tincture of letters or culture, is typical of the men by whom he was supported and opposed. Learning was at the lowest ebb. Art existed as portrait-painting or caricature. Literature was a mere arena of partisan warfare. Poetry had degenerated into rhymed pamphlets. The public, barbarised by the gladiatorial spectacle of politics, could relish nothing but blows, and blows were then most applauded when they drew blood. It was impossible that Pope, who desired popularity, should escape the infection. He accordingly wrote Satires; or, if he wrote Epistles or Essays, they were satires only not in name. And in his satire there was no occasion for him to respect the feelings of his enemies, for no one else thought of doing so. The only justification of Pope's outrageous personalities is, that such was the habitual dialect of the contemporary press. And the press only followed the lead of general conversation. In 1720 it was one of the good effects of the South Sea mania that it diverted the talk of the town from the fury of politics. Digby writes (D. to Pope, 9 July, 1720), 'The London language and conversation is, I find, quite changed since I left it only three months ago.
I hope this will calm all party rage, and introduce more humanity than has of late prevailed in conversation. It was sufficient to belong to the Court party to earn a stinging couplet from Pope's pen. His praise was equally blind, for it is bestowed on all Tories, or the Country party as they began to call themselves, without distinction. The Satires were so far of external origin. They were not prompted by the 'satiric heart,' but by the prevailing fashion of the Walpolian era, the fashion of unrestrained invective. Pope was conscious of a talent for caustic effects, conscious that he could do better than any one what every one else was doingsting with epigram.
2. A second and concurrent cause of Pope's satirical poetry
is to be found in the personal temperament and situation of the poet. On this point conflicting opinions have been advanced by critics and editors. While some consider Pope as a malignant libeller, others have treated his satirical language as a mere current form of literature, one of his many affectations. Either of these views appears to be too general and absolute.
It must be allowed that Pope is not animated by the genuine passion of the social reformer, the burning indignation against wrong and baseness of which Juvenal is often taken as the type. Pope was contented enough (De Quincey, Works, vol. ix. p. 21) with society as he found it; bad it might be, but it was good enough for him. It was the merest self-delusion if, at any moment, the instinct of glorying in his satiric mission persuaded him that in his case it might be said, “facit indignatio versum.” Pope having no internal principle of wrath boiling in his breast, being really in the most pacific and charitable frame of mind towards all scoundrels whatsoever, was a hypocrite when he conceited himself to be in a dreadful passion with offenders as a body.' Nor was he the cynic or misanthrope soured, like Swift, by disappointment, or goaded, like Churchill, by hard labour. Pope had not a bad heart. His filial piety and steadiness in his friendships are publicly attested, and his many private charities are equally well ascertained. But what Lord Chesterfield said of him (Characters) was equally true, ''he was the most irritable of the genus irritabile. You could never tell what would affront him, and he brooded over particular affronts, scheming revenge in verse. In such cases he was capable of the malice which thirsts for leaving wounds. All those bitter couplets were not impulse or fashion, but meditated stabs of personal vengeance. Besides, though Pope had been well used by the world, and in return liked the world well enough, we must remember that in the period to which the Satires and Epistles belong, he was peculiarly situated with regard to society. His world had been gradually narrowed by death and desertion. Pope had identified himself with the Tory party. During the plenitude of Sir Robert Walpole's power, which almost exactly
corresponds with the composition of these Satires (1732-1738), the Tory party had dwindled into comparative insignificance both in numbers and in consideration. Pope, too, was in personal relations, not with the whole Parliamentary opposition, but a small, and that the least popular, section of it. In 1727 Swift retired in disgust to his Irish exile, and returned no more. Bolingbroke, whom Pope looked up to as to a superior being, was not acceptable to his own party, and greatly to their relief withdrew in 1735 to his retirement in Touraine. The tone of the friends had become that of a party whose game was up. Pope' despairs of his country, and in his letters to Lord Marchmont, a young recruit whom the dazzling accomplishments of Bolingbroke had attracted, he writes as if virtue had departed from the earth, or was confined to the circle of friends to Bolingbroke, Marchmont, Lyttelton and himself. (See Marchmont Papers, 2. 219.) In such a position the best judgment becomes clouded, and men readily get to think honour and merit a monopoly of their set. The tone of the Satires and Epistles breathes some of the bitterness of a coterie, who glorify themselves and asperse mankind. Wherever in these pieces Pope is more genial, it is in recurrence to a former time, the period of his early prime, his first acquaintance with the 'wits' and the 'great,' with Swift, Harley, and St. John. Though only approaching fifty (“Why will you break the sabbath of my days?' Sat, and Ep. 3. 3) Pope was prematurely old, and had not moved forward with his age. The enumeration of his friends (Sat. and Ep. Prol. 135) is in the past tense, and is an enumeration of the friends of his youth. The times when he could say, 'I condescend sometimes to call a minister my friend,' were long behind him. Only the bitterness is applicable to his contemporaries. And for all outside his own circle he has nothing but bitterness. Some, indeed, were involved who were no longer living, as Addison and Halifax; but these pieces had been prepared long before. Pope was in no mood now to forgive the dead.
This union of tender reference to a more brilliant past, with bitter jealousy against the successful in the present, is the leading
contrast which gives life to. Pope's satire. In both, in the cherished memories as in the numerous resentments, he was equally sincere. This gives a reality to his words which satire has often wanted when directed against social follies in general, or abstract vices. In Juvenal's lines on Hannibal or Alexander we are always conscious of the absence of true passion. The indignation is theatrical. It is not so in Pope. There may be occasional passages of mere vague tirade for the sake of sustaining the character of moral censor. But in his satirical touches he is in earnest, and in his most severe couplets most so. Even what seem random generalities are often expressions of his real feeling. This reality cannot be felt by readers who are only slightly acquainted with the poet's history, and who are not aware how thoroughly Pope was penetrated by party passion. He truly believes that the Whigs are ruining the country, that the Court is a nest of sycophants, that the majority in the House of Peers is corrupt, and the City is made up of 'thieves, supercargos, sharpers, and directors. The same closely-drawn ties which obscured his judgment and confined his sympathies to a clique, save him from one of the defects to which satire is liable, viz. an universal indignation and undirected invective.
One requisite of satire, that it should be an expression of genuine feeling, and not an assumed indignation, is then found in Pope's satire. Into what a different region this raises his satire, may be seen by a comparison with the satires of his contemporary Young, or of his predecessors Hall and Donne. But it is not enough that the anger should be real, it is further requisite that it should be directed upon proper objects. Pope's expressions of hate and dislike were sincere, but were they just? The answer has been implied in what has been already said. Pope's judgments, whether he is speaking of historical characters or of his contemporaries, are most perverse. His allusions to historical personages in the Satires and Epistles are few, but enough to shew that he was ignorant of the existence of a tribunal of history, or of that universal jurisprudence which governs its awards. When he comes to speak of his contemporaries he has