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Pope's habitual severity in speaking of the female character does no honor to his understanding, his knowlege of life, or his sense of what was due to society. From the higher ranks of the sex in England he appears to have always received the respect paid to genius, though he was naturally thwarted in all expectation of that value for his person which was so willingly given to his mind. His passion for lady Wortley Montague, which unfortunately laid him at the mercy of a witty woman of fashion, who, if she esteemed the poet, palpably laughed at the admirer; and his platonic intercourse with the Blunt family gradually sinking into the dependency of an invalid, may have soured his recollections of woman.
The character of Atossa in this epistle laid him under some imputation : the old duchess of Marlborough, for whom it was evidently drawn, was long said to have paid him a thousand pounds for its suppression : but there is no evidence for the story; and the character never appeared in print until 1746, two years after the death of both parties ; Pope and the duchess dying in 1744. Bolingbroke always pronounced this epistle the master-piece of its author : it is perhaps but a collection of epigrams; yet of epigrams unrivalled for variety and poignancy, for elegance of language, and graphic discrimination of character.
ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE II.
Of the characters of women only, as contradistinguished from
the other sex. That these are yet more inconsistent and incomprehensible than those of men, of which instances are given, even from such characters as are plainest and most strongly marked; as in the affected, ver. 7 to 21. The soft-natured, v. 29 to 37. The whimsical, v. 53 to 86. The wits and refiners, v. 87. The stupid and silly, v. 101. The capricious and passionate, v. 115. The decent and cold, v. 157. How contrarieties run through them all. But though the particular characters of this sex are more various than those of men, the general characteristic, as to the ruling passion, is more uniform and confined. In what that lies, and whence it proceeds, v. 207. Men are best known in public life, women in private, v. 215. What are the aims and the fate of the sex, both as to power and pleasure, v. 219. Advice for their true interest, v. 257. The picture of an estimable woman, made up of the best kind of contrarieties, v. 269, &c.