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In the examples given by Pope in the foregoing Epistle, -his intention is not merely to display the effects of the ruling passion, as implanted in us by nature, but also its effects, as modified by reason, habit, and circumstance. The ruling passion of Wharton was by nature love of admiration, or, as Pope calls it, the lust of praise; but, as modified by the different situations in which he was placed, he was alternately patriotic and profligate, pious and dissolute; according as the part he acted seemed most likely to secure the applause of those around him. In Narcissa the same passion displayed itself in the love of dress. In the characters of the debauchee, the glutton and the miser, the ruling passion is selfishness; the direction or particular modification of it, sensuality, gluttony, and avarice. In these instances the ruling passion has received an unfavourable direction; but it is at the same time evident, that both the desire of admiration and the love of ourselves are propensities that by proper management might be directed to the best and noblest purposes.
On the other hand, we may presume the ruling passion of Lord Cobham, and of Fra. Paolo, whose expression Pope has adopted, to have been inflexibility or perseverance of character, which gave firmness and consistency to that love of their country which was ingrafted upon it. This was in fact one of those crops of honesty to which Pope has referred in his Essay on Man, (Ep. ii. 1. 185) as founded on obstinacy, which would have afforded a similar support to any other particular tendency that might have been either accidentally or intentionally superinduced. This Epistle gave rise to a correspondence between Pope and Lord Cobham, which deserves insertion here; not only as it shews the friendly confidence that subsisted between them, but as it demonstrates that his Lordship understood the sense in which Pope considered the ruling passion, as modified by circumstances, and to which many of the instances he has given at the close of his Epistle, would not otherwise have applied.
“ Stowe, Nov. 1, 1733. “ Though I have not modesty enough not to be pleased with your extraordinary compliment, I have wit enough to know how little I deserve it. You know all mankind are putting themselves
upon the world for more than they are worth, and their friends are daily helping the deceit. But I am afraid I shall not pass for an absolute patriot. However, I have the honour of
having received a public testimony of your esteem and friendship; and am as proud of it as I could be of any advantage which could happen to me. As I remember, when I saw the brouillon of this Epistle, it was perplexed. You have now made it the contrary; and I think it is the clearest and the cleanest of all
have wrote. Don't
you have bestowed too many lines on the old lecher. The instance itself is but ordinary, and I think should be shortened or changed. Thank you; and believe me to be most sincerely yours,
That Pope followed his Lordship's advice and made an alteration in this character, is apparent from the next letter.
“ I like your lecher better now 'tis shorter ; and the glutton is a very good epigram. But they are both appetites that from nature we indulge, as well for her ends as our pleasure. A Cardinal, in his way of pleasure, would have been a better instance. What do you think of an old lady dressing her silver locks with pink, and ordering her coffin to be lined with white quilled satin with gold fringes? or Counsellor Vernon, retiring to enjoy himself with five thousand a year, which he had got, and returning to the Chancery, to get a little more, when he could not speak so loud as to be heard ? or a judge turned out, coming again to the bar? I mean that a passion or habit, that has not a natural foundation, falls in better with your subject, than any of our natural wants, which in some degree we cannot avoid pursuing to the last; and if a man has spirits or appetite enough to take a bit of either kind at parting, you may condemn him, but you would be glad to imitate him.