Page images


To Mr. POPE.


June 1, 1712.


AM at a folitude *, an house between Hampftead and London, wherein Sir Charles Sedley died. This circumftance fet me a thinking and ruminating upon the employments in which men of wit exercise themselves. It was faid of Sir Charles, who breathed his laft in this room,


"Sedley has that prevailing gentle art,

"Which can with a refiftlefs charm impart "The loofeft wishes to the chastest heart; "Raife fuch a conflict, kindle fuch a fire "Between declining virtue and defire, "Till the poor vanquish'd maid diffolves away, "In dreams all night, in fighs and tears all day." This was an happy talent to a man of the town; but, I dare fay, without prefuming to make uncharitable conjectures on the author's prefent condition, he would rather have had it faid of him that he prayed,

"Oh thou my voice infpire, "Who touch'd Isaiah's hallow'd lips with fire!"

I have turned to every verfe and chapter, and think you have preferved the fublime heavenly

*It is to be feared there were too many pecuniary reafons for this temporary folitude.

† About eight or nine years before the date of this letter.



fpirit throughout the whole, especially at"Hark a glad voice"-and-" The lamb with "wolves fhall graze."-There is but one line which I think below the original :

"He wipes the tears for ever from our eyes." You have expreffed it with a good and pious, but not fo exalted and poetical a spirit as the prophet, "The Lord God will wipe away tears "from off all faces." If you agree with me in this, alter it by way of paraphrase or otherwise, that, when it comes into a volume, it may be amended. Your poem is already better than the Pollio. I am your, &c. RICH. STEEle.

[blocks in formation]

June 18, 1712.


YOU have obliged me with a very kind letter, by which I find you shift the scene of your life from the town to the country, and enjoy that mixed state which wife men both delight in and are qualified for. Methinks the moralifts and philofophers have generally run too much into extremes, in commending entirely either folitude, or public life. In the former, men for the most part grow useless by too much reft; and in the latter, are destroyed by too much

much precipitation; as waters, lying ftill, pu trify, and are good for nothing, and running violently on do but the more mischief in their paffage to others, and are fwallowed up and loft the fooner themselves. Thofe indeed, who can be useful to all ftates, fhould be like gentle streams, that not only glide through lonely vallies and forefts amidft the flocks and the fhepherds, but vifit populous towns in their courfe, and are at once of ornament and service to them. But there are another fort of people who feem defigned for folitude; fuch, I mean, as have more to hide than to fhew. As for my own part, I am one of thofe of whom Seneca fays, "tam umbratiles funt, ut putent in turbido effe "quicquid in luce eft." Some men, like fome pictures, are fitter for a corner than a full light; and, I believe, fuch as have a natural bent to folitude (to carry on the former fimilitude) are like waters, which may be forced into fountains, and, exalted into a great height, may make a poble figure, and a louder noife; but, after all, they would run more fmoothly, quietly, and plentifully, in their own natural course upon the ground. The confideration of this would

*The foregoing fimilitudes Mr. Pope had put into verfe fome years before, and inferted into Mr. Wycherley's poem on "Mixed Life." We find them in the verfification very diftinct from the rest of that poem. See his Pofthumous Works, 8vo. PP. 3 and 4.




[ocr errors]

make me very well contented with the poffeffion
only of that quiet which Cowley calls the com-
panion of obfcurity. But whoever has the Mufes
too for his companions, can never be idle
enough to be uneafy. Thus, Sir, you fee I
would flatter myself into a good opinion of my
own way of living. Plutarch.just now told me,
that it is in human life as in a game at tables,
where a man may with for the highest caft, but,
if his chance be otherwise, he is e'en to play it
as well as he can, and to make the best of it. I
am your, &c.

[blocks in formation]

July 15, 1712.


OU formerly obferved to me, that nothing made a more ridiculous figure in a man's life, than the difparity we often find in him fick and well: thus one of an unfortunate conftitution is perpetually exhibiting a miferable example of the weakness of his mind, and of his body, in their turns. I have had frequent opportunities of late to confider myself in these different views, and, I hope, have received some advantage by it, if what Waller fays be true, that

The foul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd, "Lets in new light thro' chinks that time has made.”


[ocr errors]

Then furely fickness, contributing no less than old age to the fhaking down this scaffolding of the body, may difcover the inward ftructure more plainly. Sickness is a fort of early old age: it teaches us a diffidence in our earthly ftate, and infpires us with the thoughts of a future, better than a thousand volumes of philofophers and divines. It gives fo warning a concuffion to thofe props of our vanity, our strength and youth, that we think of fortifying ourselves within, when there is fo little dependance upon our outworks. Youth, at the very best, is but a betrayer of human life in a gentler and smoother manner than age: it is like a ftream that nourishes a plant upon a bank, and caufes it to flourish and bloffom to the fight, but at the fame time is undermining it at the root in fecret. My youth has dealt more fairly and openly with me: it has afforded feveral prospects of my danger, and given me an advantage not very common to young men, that the attractions of the world have not dazzled me very much; and I begin, where moft people end, with a full conviction of the emptiness of all forts of ambition, and the unfatisfactory nature of all human pleasures. When a finart fit of fickness tells me this fcurvy tenement of my body will fall in a little time, I am e'en as unconcerned as was that honeft Hibernian, who, being in bed in the great ftorm fome years ago, and told the


« PreviousContinue »