« AnteriorContinuar »
Matthew Arnold's really rather offhand judgement, already referred to, set a new and unfortunate tone for Pope-criticism in the later nineteenth century, from which the twentieth was slow to emancipate itself. The studies of Lytton Strachey and Dame Edith Sitwell, written during the period of reaction against Victorianism which followed the First World War, read to-day somewhat like the efforts of literary dandies, self-consciously embracing an unpopular position. More substantial work, however, was to be done by such critics and scholars as Professor Bonamy Dobrée, Professor Geoffrey Tillotson, Mr. Norman Ault and Professor John Butt. To these we may add the highly individual, but imaginative and stimulating interpretation of Mr. G. Wilson Knight. The fresh and much more balanced and informed appreciation of Pope that has thus grown up, is typified by the magnificent Twickenham Edition of his writings to whose extremely full notes I must acknowledge my indebtedness. It is an edition fully worthy of a great poet.
For Pope's reputation to-day once more stands high-probably higher than it has for two centuries. Although the values of the twentieth century are very different from those of the eighteenth, we nevertheless need to make less of a historical adjustment of attitude than did our grandparents to appreciate his poetry. We have seen the harm which, carried to extremes, Romantic emotional self-indulgence can bring out, and are the more disposed to accept writing which, though passion is not banished from it, nevertheless remains cool, detached and ironic—yet at the same time morally committed. Furthermore, as we have already remarked, Pope's strenuous opposition in his maturer work to the corruption of standards brought about by the commercialization of literature remains of immense contemporary urgency. Pope is a poet who can be read and re-read with increasing pleasure. At first one is probably most taken with the brilliance of his wit and the immense technical skill of his versification. But as one gets to know his poetry better, and as one's own experience of life increases, one is more and more struck by the truth and accuracy—often the daring accuracy-of his insights into human nature and society. "The proper study of mankind,' he wrote, “is Man.' Of the study of Man, as a social being, his own poetry remains a magnificent exemplar. It is complemented, not abrogated, by the additional study which the great Romantics were to make of Man as the eternal solitary.
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING
The Poems of Alexander Pope (The Twickenham Edition, General Editor
John Butt, Six Volumes, 1940-60; One volume edition, 1963). Samuel Johnson, ‘Life of Pope' in Lives of the Poets, edited by G. Birkbeck
Hill (Oxford, 1905).
As well as a general analysis of 18th century culture, contains a free interpretation of The Rape of the Lock.
The Fourth Pastoral
Daphne is Dead
Ye gentle Muses, leave your crystal spring,
’T is done, and nature's various charms decay,
For her the flocks refuse their verdant food,
No grateful dews descend from ev'ning skies,