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17. Extract from THE FOURTH PASTORAL
Pope's Pastorals first appeared in 1709. According to Pope's own account they were originally written when he was sixteen. Though they were revised later, there is no reason to doubt this. Pope prefixed to the poems a Discourse on Pastoral Poetry in which he sets forth his ideas as to the nature of the form. 'If we would copy Nature,' he writes, ‘it may be useful to take this Idea along with us, that pastoral is an image of what they call the Golden Age. So that we are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really but as they may be conceiv'd then to have been; when the best of men follow'd the employment.' We are not therefore to expect anything approaching realism in these poems, but an idealized picture of nature. This does, however, permit of several touches of genuine observation. I have given here the lament for Daphne from the Fourth Eclogue, Winter, which will stand by itself, almost as a lyric. Each of the pastorals represents one of the four seasons, and is dedicated to a different patron. Winter is dedicated to the poet and critic Walsh, who had early befriended and encouraged Pope. Daphne is a friend of Walsh, Miss Tempest, who died in 1703.
19. Extract from WINDSOR FOREST
First published in 1713. The first part of the poem was written earlier, probably about the same period as the Pastorals, and to this Pope later added the concluding section, celebrating the Peace of Utrecht, and prophesying England's future greatness through the peaceable expansion of trade. Windsor Forest, which celebrates the countryside in which Pope's adolescent years were spent, may be considered partly as a topographical poem in the line of descent from Denham's Cooper's Hill, partly as a poem more ambitiously modelled on Virgil's Georgics. Its descriptions of landscape recall the paintings of Claude and his school, and we remember that Pope was himself an amateur painter. His painterly eye is also evinced in the extract given here.
Extracts from AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM
First published 1711, this poem may be read as a young writer's attempt to formulate some of his leading ideas on literary questions. It is eclectic in tone, borrowing freely from earlier critics, especially the seventeenth-century French Neo-classicists, and attempting to reconcile varying points of view, often by way of paradox. This leads to apparent inconsistencies of argument,
and Pope is further hampered by the lack of a precise critical vocabulary in the modern sense, so that such leading terms as Nature and Wit tend to shift their meaning disconcertingly. But read with a realization of these factors, the poem yields much of permanent value, expressed with a brilliant concision. Of the extracts given here, the first two are central to an understanding of Pope's point of view. The third is also a technical tour de force in which Pope illustrates in the lines themselves the effects of versification he is discussing. 1.374. Timotheus: the celebrated musician and poet of antiquity, whose power over the passions is the subject of Dryden's Alexander's Feast. 1.376. Son of Libyan Jove: Alexander the Great, who claimed that his real father was the god Jupiter Ammon, whose famous oracle was situated on an oasis in the Libyan desert.
24. THE RAPE OF THE LOCK
The Rape of the Lock was first published in Lintot's Miscellany in 1712, in two Cantos. The enlarged version in five Cantos (the additions including the entire machinery of the sylphs) was published in 1714. The occasion of the poem was an incident in the circle of Pope's Roman Catholic friends. Rober Lord Petrie (the Baron) had cut off a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor's (Belinda) hair. This gave rise to a good deal of bad blood between their respective families, and John Caryll, a friend of both as well as of Pope, suggested that the latter should assist in effecting a reconciliation by writing a poem in which the whole affair was made light of. The result is a masterpiece of rococo fantasy and light raillery. It is very absurd (yet it has been done) to read the inature satirist and moralist of the later poems into this, after all, very youthful, though magnificently accomplished piece. One must remember that at the time of its composition Pope was still on fairly close terms of friendship with Addison and his circle. The tone of the poem is not far from that of some of the Spectator papers. Its moral is 'Keep good humour'; and it is also imbued with a profoundly poetical sense of the beauty as well as of the transience of the admittedly artificial world which it celebrates.
CANTO I. 1.56. Ombre: a card game now obsolete; in Pope's time a particularly fashionable game among ladies.
1.115. Shock: Belinda's lap-dog.
CANTO III. 1.33. Matadore: Any of the three best trumps at Ombre. 1.49. Spadillio: The ace of spades, the first trump at Ombre.
1.51. Manillio: The deuce of trumps, when trumps are black. 1.53. Basto: The ace of clubs.
1.61. Pam: the knave of clubs, the highest card at Five-card Loo. 1.62. Lu: the game of Loo, another old card game related to whist.
1.92. Codille: a term used at Ombre when the game is lost by the challenger. 1.165. Atalantis: The New Atalantis, a scandalous roman à clef published in 1709 by Mrs. Manley (1663–1724).
Bohea: black China tea.
CANTO IV. l.156. CANTO V. 1.125. Rome's great founder: Romulus was said to have ascended alive to heaven where he became a god.
1.129. Berenice's lock: Berenice, the wife of Ptolemy Euergetes, King of Egypt, cut off her hair and dedicated it to Venus as an offering for her husband's safe return from the wars. When he came back the hair was missing, and was said to have been transported to heaven where it became the constellation Coma Berenices.
1.136. Rosamonde's lake: a pond in St. James' Park. It was said to be a fashionable location for despairing lovers' suicides.
1.137. Partridge: John Partridge, the astrologer and almanac maker satirized by Swift in the Bickerstaff Papers.
49. ELEGY TO THE MEMORY OF AN UNFORTUNATE LADY
First printed in Pope's Works in 1717. Various attempts have been made in Pope's own day and since to identify the Lady with one whose story was actually known to Pope, but it would seem that the poem is mainly fictitious in character. The Elegy is to be read as, like Eloisa to Abelard, an exercise in 'pre-Romantic' sensibility. Professor Geoffrey Tillotson relates the poem to the 'she-tragedies' of Nicholas Rowe. We might also compare it with Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe.
1.20. lamps in sepulchres: it was said that ancient tombs sometimes contained perpetually burning lamps, which were found to be still alight when the tomb was opened even after many centuries.
SI. ELOISA TO ABELARD
First published in 1717, Eloïsa to Abelard is based on John Hughes' translation (1713) of various recent French versions and adaptations of the original Latin letters attributed to Eloïsa. The historical events from which these arose belong to the beginnings of the twelfth century. Peter Abelard (1079–1142), the great medieval scholastic philosopher, was tutor to Eloïsa (or Heloise), the niece of Fulbert, a Canon of Notre Dame, in whose house he lodged. They became lovers, and Fulbert, his jealousy aroused, caused them to be separated, and Abelard to be emasculated. This tragic story is treated by Pope in the form of a heroic epistle, on the model of Ovid's Heroides. He had already translated the Ovidian Sappho to Phaon.
Once one has come to accept the conventions of Augustan diction, Eloïsa to Abelard emerges as a poem of genuine and passionate feeling. Not only in its elaboration of sensibility, but also in its ‘Gothic' imagery, it points the way to much later development in eighteenth-century and even Romantic poetry. Pope's Roman Catholic background must also be taken into account in considering his handling of this medieval theme. I believe that the poem
should be read in the context of Jansenist theology, as illustrating, like some of Racine's tragedies, the conflict of Nature and Grace, with Nature winning all along the line.
1.348. Paraclet's white walls: Eloïsa was abbess of the convent of the Paraclete which Abelard had founded for her.
62. Extracts from AN ESSAY ON MAN
First published in full in 1734. The Essay on Man was originally intended as the first part of a much longer and more ambitious work, which was never completed, but is partly represented by the Moral Essays, which in editions of Pope's works up to 1736 formed the second book of the Ethick Epistles, of which the Essay on Man was treated as the first Book. The title of the poem as it stands is therefore slightly misleading. For it treats of Man only in general terms in his relation to Nature, while the rest of the work was to consider him more particularly in relation to economics, ethics, aesthetics, education and government. The Essay on Man is generally held to derive its main arguments from Lord Bolingbroke, to whom, as ‘guide, philosopher and friend' it is dedicated. Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke (1678-1751), the Tory statesman, had returned from exile in France (whence he had fled on the accession of George I) in 1723, and had joined the opposition to Walpole's Government. As a man of letters he was closely associated with both Pope and Swift. His philosophy was deistic; but it does not appear that Pope intended his poem to run counter to orthodoxy. Much of it—especially the image of the Great Chain of Being-belongs to the central tradition of Mediaeval and Renaissance Christian thinking, and the influence of Pascal and Fénelon is also apparent in several passages.
As a poem, the Essay on Man is eminently readable, and has proved almost too eminently quotable. But it has been severely criticized for the weakness of its philosophical arguments and by none more severely than by Dr. Johnson, otherwise one of Pope's greatest admirers. It is true that the Christian Stoicism of the author of Rasselas comprehends a tragic vision which comes nearer to the heart of the human condition than do the naturalistic religious arguments of the Essay; but the latter has its own brilliance, informed as it is by a dual sense of the unity and harmony of Nature and the folly and littleness of human pride. The second and third of the extracts given here illustrate this. The first is included both for its intrinsic charm and for its characteristic expression of an optimistic scepticism.
1.99. The poor Indian: Pope's Indian is, of course, an American Indian, living in a state of primitive innocence.
1.107. Where slaves once more their native land behold: it was said that the slaves on the West Indian plantations believed that after their deaths their spirits would travel under sea to their native countries.
66. EPISTLE TO A LADY
This poem was first published in 1734. In Pope's Collected Works of 1735 it became the second of the Ethick Epistles Book II. The lady was Martha Blount (1690–1763). With her sister Teresa, she first met Pope about 1705, and she became his intimate and lifelong friend.
This poem forms a complement (suggested, it is said, by Martha Blount herself) to that immediately preceding it in the Ethick Epistles, ‘On the Characters of Men'. In that poem Pope had treated of man psychologically in terms of the Ruling Passion. He finds it necessary to modify this theory in relation to women, whose characters he holds to be less positive than those of men. This will hardly satisfy many modern readers. But it seemed worth while to include the poem in its entirety. It furnishes a gallery of Popean satirical portraits, while the charm and gallantry of the concluding compliment to Martha Blount is equally characteristic.
1.7. Arcadia's Countess: Sir Philip Sidney wrote his Arcadia for his sister Mary, Countess of Pembroke; Pope's contemporary, the wife of the eighth Earl, is said to have had herself depicted in the attitudes mentioned here.
1.24. Sappho: here, as in the Epistle to Arbuthnot, Pope uses this name for Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1782). This prominent woman of letters was at one time on terms of close friendship with Pope, but he subsequently quarrelled bitterly with her. Her dirty personal habits were notorious.
1.63. Taylor: Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667). Bishop of Down, author of Holy Living and Holy Dying, still a devotional classic.
1.63. Book of Martyrs: Fox's great work, dealing largely with the sufferings of the Protestant martyrs under Queen Mary Tudor, remained standard popular religious reading till at least the end of the nineteenth century. 1.64. His Grace: Philip, Duke of Wharton (1698–1731), a Whig politician, who subsequently espoused the cause of the Old Pretender. Pope attacked him for his inconsistency in the Epistle to Lord Cobham.
1.64. Chartres: Francis Chartres (d. 1731), notorious for his vices and his avarice; he is said to have been on good terms with the Duke of Wharton. 1.78. Tall Boy: a foolish young man; a character in Richard Brome's comedy The Jovial Crew (1641).
1.78. Charles: a common name for a footman.
1.107. Her Grace: according to Wharton, Mary Churchill, Duchess of Montagu (1689-1751). But no precise identification can be proved. 1.110. Ratafie: Ratafia, a kind of cherry, peach or apricot stone brandy. 1.115. Atossa: Pope's contemporaries generally took this character to be Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and former favourite of Queen Anne. It seems almost certain, however, that Pope had Katherine Darnley, Duchess of Buckinghamshire (1682–1743), in mind. Mr. F. W. Bateson, the editor of Epistles to Several Persons in the Twickenham Edition of Pope's