Page images
PDF
EPUB

And bless their critic with a poet's fire.
An ardent judge, who zealous in his trust,
With warmth gives sentence, yet is always just;
Whose own examples strengthens all his laws;
And is himself that great sublime he draws.

Thus long succeeding critics justly reigned,
Licence repressed, and useful laws ordained.
Learning and Rome alike in empire grew;
And arts still followed where her eagles flew;
From the same foes, at last, both felt their doom,
And the same age saw learning fall, and Rome.'
Twith tyranny, then superstition joined,
As that the body, this enslaved the mind;
Much was believed, but little understood,
And to be dull was construed to be good;
A second deluge learning thus o'er-run,
And the monks finished what the Goths begun.

At length Erasmus—that great injured name,
(The glory of the priesthood, and the shame!)?
Stemmed the wild torrent of a barb'rous age,
And drove those holy Vandals off the stage.

But see! each muse in Leo's golden days, Starts from her trance, and trims her withered bays, Rome's ancient genius, o'er its ruins spread, Shakes off the dust, and rears his rev'rend head. Then sculptura and her sister-arts revive; Stones leaped to form, and rocks began to live; With sweeter notes each rising temple rung; A Raphael painted and a Vida sung. *

i There was a gradual declination of the light of literature and the arts, except what might be called occasional corruscations of supe. rior brilliancy from the genius of Tacitus, Juvenal, &c., from the time of Augustus to the tenth century, which seemed to envelop Europe in the darkness and ignorance of barbarism.

2 Erasmus was one of the greatest men of the sixteenth century. He was a student of the reviving learning of the Greeks, and translated many of the classical writers ;-above all the age owed him an excellent edition of the New Testament in Greek. Erasmus wroto against the corruptions of the Romish Church; and though he never left its pale, prepared the way for Luther by his “Enchiridion Militis Christiani.” Erasmus visited England, and while there stay, ed in the house of Sir Thomas More.

3 Leo X., son of Lorenzo de' Medici, was born at Florence 1475, and died 1521. He was very learned himself, and the encourager and patron of learned men. Italy possessed in his time the great poets Tasso and Ariosto; the historians Guicciardini and Machiavelli; Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Titian, painters. Leo enriched the libraries of Italy with valuable MSS., and encouraged the study of the classics.

4 Mark Jerome Vida was born at Cremona, 1470. He was a cele brated poet in his day, and one of the favorite learned men of Leo X His works were the Ars Poetica, Christiad, &c., &c.

Inmortal Vida: on whose honoured brow
The poet's bays and critic's ivy grow:
Cremona now shall ever boast thy name,
As next in place to Mantua, next in same!

But soon by impious arms from Latium chased,
Their ancient bounds the banished Muses passed;
Thence arts o'er all the northern world advance,
But critic-learning flourished most in France:
The rules a nation, born to serve, obeys;
And Boileau still in right of Horace sways.?
But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despised,
And kept unconquered, and uncivilized;
Fierce for the liberties of wit, and bold,
We still defy the Romans, as of old.
Yet some there were, among the sounder few
Of those who less presumed, and better knew, .
Who durst assert the juster ancient cause,
And here restored wit's fundamental laws.
Such was the muse, whose rules and practice tell,?
“Nature's chief master-piece is writing well.”
Such was Roscommon, not more learned than good,
With manners gen'rous as his noble blood;

i Boileau, a French writer and critic. His “ Art of Poetry” is his masterpiece. He was born 1636, and died 1711. His “Lutrin" and “Satires" are Standard French works. He was patronized by Louis

XIV.

2 “Essay on Poetry,” by the Duke of Buckingham. Our poet is not the only one of his time who complimented this essay, and its noble author. Mr. Dryden had done it very largely in the dedication to his translation of the Æneid : and Dr. Garth in the first edition of his “ Dispensary” says

“The Tiber now no courtly Gallus sees,

But smiling Thames enjoys his Normanbys; though afterwards omitted, when parties were carried so high in the reign of Queen Anne, as to allow no commendation to an opposite in politics. The Duke was all his life a steady adherent to the Church of England party, yet an enemy to the extravagant measures of the court in the reign of Charles II., on which account, after having strongly patronized Mr. Dryden, a coolness succeeded between them on that poet's absolute attachment to the court, which carried him some lengths beyond what the Duke could approve of. This nobleman's true character had been very well marked by Mr. Dryden before,

“The muse's friend, Himself a muse. In Sanadrin's debate

True to his prince, but not a slave of state."-Abs. and Achit. Our author was more happy, he was honoured very young with his friendship, and it continued till his death in all the circumstances of a familiar esteem.-Pope.

3 Lord Roscommon, the author of an “Essay on Translated Verse." He was more learned than Buckingham, and was educated by Bochart near Caen, in Normandy. He had formed a design for founding a society for refining and fixing the standard of Euglish, in which project his intimate friend Dryden was a principal assistant. He was born 1633, died 1684.

To him the wit of Greece and Rome was known,
And ev'ry author's merit, but his own.
Such late was Walsh?—the muse's judge and friend,
Who justly knew to blame or to commend;
To failings mild, but zealous to desert;
The clearest head and the sincerest heart.
This humble praise, lamented shade! receive,
This praise at least a grateful muse may give;
The muse, whose early voice you taught to sing,
Prescribed her heights, and pruned her tender wing,
(Her guide now lost) no more attempts to rise,
But in low numbers short excursions tries:
Content, if hence th' unlearned their wants may view,
The learned reflect on what before they knew:
Careless of censure, nor too fond of fame;
Still pleased to praise, yet not afraid to blame,
Averse alike to flatter, or offend;
Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to men..

1 Walsh was born 1663, died 1709. He was a very inferior writer, but he was of immense service to Pope by pointing out to him that he might excel any of his predecessors by studying correctness,

THE RAPE OF THE LOCK:

AN HEROI-COMICAL POEM.

Nolueram, Belinda, tuos violare capillos:
Sed juvat, hoc precibus me tribuisse tuis.2

MART., Epigr. XII., 84,

[merged small][ocr errors]

TO MRS. ARABELLA FERMOR. 3 Madam,— It will be in vain to deny that I have some regard for this piece, since I dedicate it to you. Yet, you may bear me witness, it was intended only to divert a few young ladies, who have good sense and good humour enough to laugh not only at their sex's little unguarded follies, but at their own. But as it was communicated with the air of a secret, it soon found its way into the world. An imperfect copy having been offered to a bookseller, you had the good nature for my sake to consent to the publication of one more correct. This I was forced to, before I had executed half my design, for the machinery was entirely wanting to complete it.

1 “ The Rape of the Lock," says De Quincey, “is the most ex. quisite monument of playful fancy that universal literature offers.” The stealing of the lock of hair appears to have been a fact, as Pope in Spence says that it “ was taken too seriously, and caused an estrangement between the two families, though they had lived so long in great friendship before."

2 It appears, by this motto, that the following poem was written or published at the lady's request. But there are some further circumstances not unworthy relating. Mr. Caryll (a gentleman who was secretary to Queen Mary, wife of James II., whose fortunes ho followed into France, author of the comedy of “Sir Solomon Sin. gle." and of several translations in Dryden's Miscellanies) originally proposed the subject to him in a view of putting an end, by this piece of ridicule, to a quarrel that was risen between two noble families, those of Lord Petre and of Mrs. Fermor, on the trifling occasion of his having cut off a lock of her hair. The author sent it to the lady, with whom he was acquainted; and she took it so well as to give about copies of it. That first sketch (we learn from ne of his letters) was written in less than a fortnight, in 1711, in two cantos only, and it was so printed; first, in a miscellany of Bern, Lintot's, without the name of the author. But it was received so well that he ma le it more considerable the next year by the addition of the machinery of the sylphs, and extended it to five cantos. . . This insertion he always esteemed, and justly, the greatest effort of his skill and art as a poet.- Warburton,

3 Mrs., not Miss, was prefixed to the names of unmarried ladies at that period as well as to those of married ones. Miss was used only for children and young girls not quite grown up. Arabella Fermor married Mr. Perkins of Upton Court, near Reading, in 1714. She died 1738,

The machinery, madam, is a term invented by the critics, to signify that part which the deities, angels, or demons are made to act in a poem. For the ancient poets are in one respect like many modern ladies: let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance. These machines I determined to raise on a very new and odd foundation, the Rosicrucian doctrine of spirits.

I know how disagreeable it is to make use of hard words before a lady; but it is so much the concern of a poet to have his works understood, and particularly by your sex, that you must give me leave to explain two or three difficult terms.

The Rosicrucians are a people I must bring you acquainted with. The best account I know of them is in a French book called Le Comte de Gabalis," which both in its title and size is so like a novel, that many of the fair sex have read it for one by mistake. According to these gentlemen, the four elements are inhabited by spirits, which they call sylphs, gnomes, nymphs, and salamanders. The gnomes or demons of earth delight in mischief; but the sylphs, whose habitation is in the air, are the best-conditioned creatures imaginable. For they say, any mortals may enjoy the most inti. mate familiarities with these gentle spirits, upon a condition very easy to all true adepts, an inviolate preservation of chastity.

As to the following cantos, all the passages of them are as fabulous as the vision at the beginning, or the transformation at the end; (except the loss of your hair, which I always mention with reverence. The human persons are as fictitious as the airy ones; and the character of Belinda, as it is now managed, resembles you in nothing but in beauty.

If this poem had as many graces as there are in your person, or in your mind, yet I could never hope it should pass through the world half so uncensured as you have done. But let its fortune be what it will, mine is happy enough, to have given me this occasion of assuring you that I am, with the truest esteem, Madam, Your most obedient, humble servant,

A. POPE.

1 Written by the Abbe Villars. He was assassinated by robbers before the work was finished.

2 Miss Fermor had been very much pained by being thought to have afforded the portrait of Belinda in her own person. The fol. lowing lines by Scott explain the doctrine of the Rosicrucians :

These be tho adept's doctrines-every element
Is peopled with its separate race of spirits.
The airy Sylphs on the blue ether float;
Deep in the earthly cavern skulks the Gnome;
The sea-green Naiad skims the ocean-billow.
And the fierce fire is yet a friendly home
To its peculiar sprite-the Salamander.

Walter Scott.

« PreviousContinue »