Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

honoured old age, from the toil of business, and seeking amusements more quiet and suited to his declining years, than his stag-hounds and the society of his country neighbours afforded ; a similarity, in some respect, of circumstances, might have tended to render the elder Pope and himself agreeable to each other. Their stations of life were different, but they had both “ left the croud,” and experienced the truth of the sentiment of La Bruyere, thus expressed by the tender Cowper,

“ How sweet, how palling sweet is folitude !
“ But grant me still a friend in my retreat,
Whom I may whisper “Solitude is sweet."

Sir William, who had been in high political employment during the reign of King William, with cultivated manners, benevolent disposition, good sense, mixed with love of literature, exhibited, at the close of life, in the shades of his native forest, that fair example to Society, a country gentleman of education and knowledge of the world, dispensing hospitality, and cheering with kindness, intelligence, and liberality, the parish in which he was born, and where his bones were finally to be laid. To the ho. nour of such a man, let it be recorded, that his name is yet remembered with veneration by many of the inhabitants of the adjacent parishes. They point to the church where his remains repose, and seem to feel

a kind of pride that the noble mansion and domains of his ancestors still remain in the possession of his descendants.

Here (1704), he first saw, in manuscript, the Pastorals of Pope. It may not be carrying the fancy too far, to suppose, that such subjects, treated so melodiously, might have been peculiarly in unison with Sir William's sentiments and circumstances.

The stripling minstrel of Binfield was, of course, applauded, and received with the greatest kindness.

Under such auspices began the poetical career of Pope: the manuscript of his Pastorals was circulated among those who were considered as competent judges, and the dawn of genius was hailed by all men of acknowledged taste in literature. Wycherley, who lived near, and had himself grown“ old in rhyme," was enthusiastic in his admiration. This celebrated wit, now in his 6th year, who to his last scene continued the farce of rhyme and ribaldry, thinking, no doubt, that Pope was like something inspired, cultivated his friendship, with the highest professions of admiration and esteem, chiefly with a view of having his own inferior compo. sitions corrected and elevated by such a genius. During this intercourse, the applause and compliments which they mutually bestowed on each other were not less ridiculous, than a friendship between a sentimental liber.

tine

a 4

tine and a young man perfectly ignorant of the world was unnatural. Lady M. W. Montagu says, “ Pope courted Wycherley as he did other rich old men, with a view of a legacy.” It was not likely, however, that at this age he should have been so coldly and selfishly pru. dent. It was sufficient that he was young, and flattered by a person who had gained a kind of celebrity. He says, in his first letter, and probably with truth," it was certainly a great satisfaction to me to see and converse with a man, whom in his writings I had so long known with pleasure.”—Dec. 26, 1704.

Of a friendship so uncongenial, and begun with such circumstances, a little knowledge of human nature may easily anticipate the conclusion. Unfortunately, after great pains had been taken with Wycherley's verses, which had been the pride and labour of a long life, the young critic seriously advised him, when all was done, to turn them INTO PROSE!! This wound, which Pope, no doubt, gave unconsciously, was never entirely healed. Some faint attempts were made to renew the original kindness, but their friend lhip could not be re-established, and the superannuated bard died not long after.

By Wycherley the Pastorals in manuscript were shewn to Cromwell, and by Cromwell to Walsh.

After having been more widely circulated, and as highly applauded, the pastoral strain was succeeded by the descriptive ; at least the descriptive poem of

Windsor

Windsor Forest was now begun, but not finished

till 1713

There was a particular beech-tree, under which Pope used to sit; and it is the tradition of the place, that under that tree he composed the Windsor Forest. The original tree being decayed, Lady Gower of Bill-hill had a memorial carved upon the bark of an. other immediately adjoining : “ Here Pope sang.”The marks are visible to this day, but are fast wearing out. During Lady Gower's life, the letters were new cut every three or four years.

Such was the early progress of this great writer's reputation.

The Pastorals, which had been four years circulated in manuscript, were published when he was twenty years

of age, having been written at fixteen (1709). The letter of old Jacob Tonson, who offered his press, is extant; and as it is characteristic, it is here inserted,

66 SIR,

« I have lately seen a Pastoral of yours, in Mr. Wallh's and Congreve's hand, which is extremely fine, and is approved by the best judges in poetry: I remember I have formerly seen you in my shop, and am sorry I did not improve my acquaintance with you. If you design your poem for the press, no one shall be more careful in printing it, nor no one can give greater encouragement to it than, Sir," &c.

The most extraordinary productions said to have been written so early as his fourteenth year must not be passed over. These were the Alterations from Chaucer's Wife of Bath, and the translation of Ovid's Epistle from Sappho to Phaon. Dr.Warton says, that from his profession " he had seen compositions of youths of fixteen years old, far beyond the Pastorals in point of genius and imagination, though not of correctness." But I fear not to affert, that he never could have seen any compositions of boys of that age so perfect in versification, so copious, yet so nice in expression, so correct, so spirited, and so finished, as these alterations and translations. : It is most probable they were corrected and heightened when the taste of the author was matured; and when he was in a greater degree master of that " copia verborum,” which gives so beautiful a precision to his language, and forms one of the chief characteristical excellencies of his poetry. He had already without success attempted the bolder flight of the Epic song (1708), and, like Icarus, (Jule ceratis, &c.) found himself unequal to the effort. He says very classically,

-Cynthius aurem
Vellit, & admonuit -

Having, however, obtained so much distinction, he essayed to cope for the lyric palm with Dryden, and published haud passibus æquis, the Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, and, not long afterwards, the Choruses

for

« EdellinenJatka »