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Lecture the Twenty-Sirth.



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one of the most conspicuous of them, was Alexander Pope—a poet, the ease, fluency, and accuracy of whose numbers, has placed him at the very head of the class to which he belongs.

ALEXANDER POPs was the son of a respectable draper,

was born in the city of London, on the twenty-second of May, 1688. Being, from his infancy, of a very delicate frame, he was taught to read at home, by a maiden aunt, and he learned to write by imitating the letters of the little school manual from which he had learned them, and the other primary works that the studies of his childhood placed in his hands. His father, having acquired an independent fortune, retired to Binfield, in Windsor Forest, and as he belonged to the Roman Church, the future poet was placed under the care of one Taverner, the family priest, by whom he was taught the rudiments of the Latin and Greek languages, at the same time. From Taverner's care, Pope was removed to a Catholic seminary at Twyford, near Winchester, and thence to a school near Hyde Park Corner; but he must have been very unfortunate in his teachers, or of uncertain temper; for before he had reached the twelfth

of his

age, he quit school altogether, returned to his father's house, and resolved to educate himself.

But we are not to infer that he was inattentive to his studies ; for the whole of his early life was that of a severe student. He was a poet in his childhood; and in reference to this circumstance he remarks—

As yet a child, and all unknown to fame,
I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.

Pope early read the works of Spenser, Waller, and Dryden, but he greatly preferred those of the latter; and while a mere boy prevailed upon a friend to accompany him to a celebrated coffee-house, which Dryden was in the habit of frequenting, that he might have the gratification of seeing an author whom he so enthusiastically admired. His first serious poetic efforts were in the epic and the dramatic way; but a little reflection convinced him that these productions were not worth preserving, and he therefore destroyed them. In 1704, when only sixteen years of age, he wrote his Pastorals and his Imitations of Chaucer. These performances placed him before his friends as an author, and introduced him to the acquaintance of the most eminent literary men of the day. The ‘Pastorals’ were confined to private circulation until 1709, when they were published in the same volume with those of Philips.

In 1711, when Pope was in the twenty-third year of his age, appeared his Essay on Criticism, though it is said to have been written two years earlier. This is, perhaps, the finest piece of argumentative poetry in the English language. The maturity of judgment that it exhibits is truly wonderful. The author's style was now thoroughly formed. His versification was based upon that of Dryden, but he gave to the heroic couplet a peculiar grace and melody as will at once be perceived from the following passage :

Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is Pride, the never-failing vice of fools.
Whatever nature has in worth denied,
She gives in large recruits of needful Pride!
For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find
What wants in blood and spirits, swell’d with wind
Pride, when Wit fails, steps in to our defence,
And fills up all the mighty void of sense.
If once right reason drives that cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless day.
Trust not yourself; but, your defects to know,
Make use of every friend—and every foe.
A little learning is a dangerous thing !
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind,
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
But more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise !
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
Th' eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last
But, those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen'd way;
Th' increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise !

The 'Essay on Criticism' was soon followed by the Rape of the Lock, which is, in the judgment of Dr. Johnson, the most airy, the most ingenious, and the most delightful, of all Pope's compositions. The circumstance which elicited the poem was the following :-Lord Petre, the lover of a celebrated beauty, Miss Arabella Fermor, playfully stole a lock of her hair —an act that assumed so offensive an aspect to the lady and her friends that it caused an estrangement between the families. Pope's design in writing his poem was to turn the whole affair into a jest,' and laugh them together again ;' but though he did not succeed in effecting that object, yet, by the effort, he added greatly to his own reputation.

The machinery of the poem, founded upon the Rosicrucian theory, that the elements are inhabited by spirits, which they called sylphs, gnomes, nymphs, and salamanders, was added at the suggestion of Dr. Garth and some other of his friends. Sylphs had been previously mentioned as invisible attendants on the fair, and the idea is shadowed forth in Shakspeare's · Ariel, and the amusements of the fairies in the Midsummer Nights' Dream. But Pope has blended the most delicate satire with the most lively fancy, and produced the most brilliant mock-heroic-poem ever written. The following descriptions of the lady's toilet, and of Belinda are fair specimens of the work :

And now, unvailed, the toilet stands displayed,
Each silver vase in mystic order laid;
First, robed in white, the nymph intent adores,
With head uncovered, the cosmetic powers.
A heavenly image in the glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her eye she rears ;
The inferior priestess, at her altar's side,
Trembling, begins the sacred rites of pride.
Unnumbered treasures ope at once, and here
The various offerings of the world appear;
From each she nicely culls with curious toil,
And decks the goddess with the glittering spoil.
This casket India's glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box:
The tortoise here and elephant unite,
Transform’d to combs, the speckled and the white.
Here files of pins extend their shining rows,
Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux.
Now awful beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms,
Repairs her smiles, awakens every grace,
And calls forth all the wonders of her face;
Sees by degrees a purer blush arise,
And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes.
The busy sylphs surround their darling care,
These set the head, and those divide the hair;
Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown,
And Betty's praised for labours not her own.


Not with more glories, in the ethereal plain,
The sun first rises o'er the purpled main,
Than issuing forth, the rival of his beams
Launched on the bosom of the silver Thames.
Fair nymphs and well-dress'd youths around her shone,
But every eye was fixed on her alone.
On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore.
Her lively looks a sprightly mind disclose,
Quick as her eyes, and as unfixed as those.
Favours to none, to all she smiles extends;
Oft she rejects, but never once offends.
Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazer strike,
And, like the sun, they shine on all alike.
Yet graceful ease, and sweetness void of pride,
Might hide her faults, if belles had faults to hide;
If to her share some female errors fall,
Look on her face and you 'll forget them all.

This nymph, to the destruction of mankind,
Nourished two locks, which graceful hung behind
In equal curls, and well conspired to deck
With shining ringlets, the smooth ivory neck.
Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains,
And mighty hearts are held in slender chains.
With hairy springes we the birds betray,
Slight lines of hair surprise the finny prey;
Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair.


The Temple of Fame, and the Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady, were next published; and in 1713, appeared his Windsor Forest, which was chiefly written as early as 1704. The latter poem was evidently founded on Denham's 'Cooper's Hill,' but it far excels the original. Pope was, properly speaking, no mere descriptive poet. He made the picturesque subservient to views of historical events, or to sketches of life and morals. Most of the Windsor Forest being composed in his earlier years, amid the shades of those noble woods which he selected for the theme of his verse, there is, in this poem, a greater display of sympathy with external objects, than in any of his other works. The lawns and glades of the forest, the russet plains, and blue hills, and even the 'purple dyes of the wild heath, had deeply impressed his young imagination. His account of the dying pheasant is a finished picture :

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See! from the brake the whirring pheasant springs
And mounts exulting on triumphant wings :
Short is his joy, he feels the fiery wound,
Flutters in blood, and panting beats the ground.
Oh! what avail his glossy varying dyes,
His purple crest and scarlet-circled eyes;

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