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ing, that of being brought into communion with an intellect and a moral nature of peculiar sensibility, which both perceive and feel more keenly and more warmly than our own? The intensity with which he realises the phenomena by which he is encompassed compels, as it were, the poet to speak when other men remain silent. Where this sensibility is allied to a vigorous and energetic nature it is sometimes subdued and tamed to practical and material purposes. A great reformer, a great philanthropist, a great martyr, is very likely to possess a share of this poetic quality. But where it is not so kept down and concentrated on special objects, one of two things happens: either it converts its possessor into a dreamy, discontented man, who goes down to his grave misunderstood, or it overflows in speech, in which case it may take the form of either verse or prose, according as the writer have or have not the natural gift of numbers. If he have, then his utterance is poetry.
Now by what classes of phenomena the mind of such a man is most impressed will depend very greatly upon the character of the age in which he lives. If our own conclusions are correct, he will neither be more nor less of a poet for choosing one class rather than another. That poets should differ among themselves, both in the intensity with which they feel and in the power with which they represent, is only to be expected; and it is likewise true that the most salient phenomena of to-day may be less susceptible of poetic treatment than those of to-morrow. But though judgment were to be given against Pope under each of these heads, it would not affect the position we desire to establish. It is then universally admitted, that from the Restoration nearly to the French Revolution, town-life, society, manners, formed the chief objects of attraction with the educated and intelligent classes. That is a perfectly trite and universally recognised fact. Several causes conspired, first to produce, and afterwards to prolong, this state of things. The havoc of
the civil war had dipped deeply into the feudal importance of the country gentlemen. To be a country gentleman and to live exclusively in the country was no longer so dignified an existence as it had been in the good old times before the Flood. Then came the Revolution, and with it the elevation of the commercial classes to quite a new social standing, while the gentry were depressed still further, as being not only poor but disaffected. Thus by degrees a great gulf grew up between town and country. And as the proud and powerful Whig nobility combined with the opulent middle classes to make London the centre of fashion, the_ arbitress of letters, and the road to fortune, to London hurried every youth of promise who could Scrape together a guinea to save him from starving on the way. Once settled in London, he was not taken into the retinue of some elegant patrician in whose train he might have annually revisited the woods and streams which he had left, and kept alive those rural sympathies which seem inherent in Englishmen those days were gone by. He must now hide himself in a Grub-street garret, and work for Grub-street wages, till he died of famine or despair, or by some unusually lucky hit contrived to get his head and shoulders above the struggling and tearing crowd. During this process all his country tastes were pretty well trodden out of him, and his ideas and reminiscences of the country became gradually levelled to the conventional generalities of the town. Thus town and country came, practically at all events, to be separated from each other as Attica and Boeotia. It was still of course the fashion to write of purling streams and whispering woods, but few of those who praised them went beyond Hyde Park to listen to them. Country life for the time had lost all its moral dignity. The fields and villages were supposed to be the residence only of clowns, boors, and fox-hunters. The town, the club, the court, these were the homes of real refinement and correct taste. The noblest study of
mankind was man.' The country was useful to the poet as a kind of market-garden, affording him a daily supply of vegetable illustrations; but nothing more.
We have perhaps expended too many words upon so well-known a feature in English literature as the absolute predominance during the eighteenth century of the moral and social over the natural world in all its various productions. So, however, it was; and a keenly sensitive nature like Alexander Pope's at once took the impress of the age. Manners and morals were its Alpha and Omega, and they were the Alpha and Omega of Pope. The temporary demoralisation of society, a natural consequence of the confusion of men's ideas which attends revolutions in general, and of that mercenary system of government which followed our own in particular, was in his eyes a real, glaring, monstrous evil, with which it behoved him to do battle. He realized the phenomena of the period with all that intensity of which we have already spoken. And this acute sensibility, wedded to his unrivalled gift of versification, made him the poet which he is. It has been said by an accomplished critic to whom we have already referred, that Pope's moral indignation was not sincere. This is a hard saying. He was pure in an age of great licentiousness. He was honest in
an age of gross venality. When the country was governed by corruption, when the public debt was on the increase, when our fleets and armies were disgraced, Pope, who was not a politician, sincerely believed himself a patriot. We at least see no difficulty in accepting his satire as genuine. But perhaps the best proof that it was so is the real power which he wielded. It is impossible to believe that this could have been won by an impostor. Either sheer malice or assumed virtue would have been detected and laughed at. Pope must have had faith in his own denunciations of vice, for others to have had faith in him. Pope then, we say, like other writers hereafter to be noticed, living wholly in the town, and recognizing in society all that was valuable in life, found in the contemplation of social phenomena that food for his poetical sensibility which other poets have derived from widely different spheres of observation. With this key to the origin and purpose of his writings we shall hardly say-as is too often said by those who do not sufficiently consider whether their failure to appreciate Pope may not lie within themselves, and arise out of the wholly uncongenial state of thought in which they have been brought up-that such passages as the following are merely versified rhetoric:
If parts allure thee, think how Bacon shin'd,
From ancient story learn to scorn them all:
The trophy'd arches story'd halls invade,
Or the character of Atossa :
Full sixty years the world has been her trade
Or the following grand invective against the court of George the Second :
Vice is undone if she forgets her birth,
Before her dance; behind her crawl the old!
And offer country, parent, wife, or son!
Hear her black trumpet through the land proclaim,
In soldier, churchman, patriot, man in pow'r,
Yet may this verse (if such a verse remain)
The reader will be pleased to understand that we are here expressing no opinion whatever on the absolute justice of this satire. It is quite sufficient for the vindication of Pope's genius if he really believed that the government of the day was unduly truckling to foreign powers. That men of much greater political knowledge than himself, and of undoubted political honesty, did believe this no impartial student of that period can fairly doubt. Johnson's 'London,' which remarkably enough was published on the very same day as Pope's satire from which the above lines are taken, is full of similar complaints. The popularity of London, though from the pen of an unknown author, was immense. And this sufficiently shows that in the then heated temper of the public mind the misgovernment attributed to Walpole was honestly credited, and was the cause of unfeigned dissatisfaction. We lay the more stress upon this point that, according to our own hypothesis, the sincerity of Pope's satire is, if not the only, still most available test we have of the genuineness of his poetry. As it is of the essence of that hypothesis that the poetical genius may, to borrow a term from Aristotle, ergize' in satire, just as much as in any other walk of literature, to contend that moral poetry is just as much poetry as epic, tragic, or lyric, would be only to reargue the same question under another name.
Our own answer to the question propounded at page 79 is now made manifest. It is not in virtue of their respective subjects that the epic, the drama, and the lyric are poetry, but in virtue of some one quality which over and above these they all possess in common. This quality is not, we have asserted, the presence of the inventive or creative faculty alone, nor of imagination, nor yet of the power to kindle the passions and stir the blood; because
all these faculties have been, and still are, exhibited by prose writers. The more satisfactory distinction as we have ventured to suggest between prose and poetry is to be found in the keener sensibility to the phenomena of the world around them, be they moral or material, by which certain men are distinguished; and we have said that such sensibility reacting on a nature contemplative rather than practical, and allied with the inborn gift of harmonious utterance, does, in all circumstances, and to whatever themes he may adress himself, constitute the true poet. In one age, it will be one aspect of human life; in another, another which arrests his attention and inspires his verse. But all aspects alike may in turn produce their bard, and swell the common capital of poetry.
While on this subject we must say a word or two on another point, to which most writers upon Pope have thought it necessary to give great prominence, though it has always seemed to us that a most disproportionate fuss has been made about it. Our readers may remember the following passage in Macaulay's essay upon Byron :
It seems to be taken for granted, that there is some incompatibility, some antithesis between correctness and creative power. We rather suspect that this notion arises merely from an abuse of words, and that it has been the parent of many of the fallacies which perplex the science of criticism.
What is meant by correctness in poetry? If by correctness be meant the conforming to rules which have their foundation in truth and in the principles of human nature, then correctness is only another name for excellence. If by correctness be meant the conforming to rules purely arbitrary, correctness may be another name for dulness and absurdity.
An art essentially imitative ought not surely to be subjected to rules which tend to make its imitations less perfect than they otherwise would be; and those who obey such rules ought to be called, not correct, but incorrect artists. The true way to
judge of the rules by which English poetry was governed during the last century is to look at the effects which they produced.
How vigorously the noble critic then proceeds to annihilate the disciples of this creed will doubtless be remembered also. But there is a subtler pen than Lord Macaulay's which has gone further in the same direction, and dealt out the most unsparing damnation upon Pope as the most incorrect and untruthful of all poets. We do not here propose to examine in detail all the instances adduced by De Quincey of Pope's untruthfulness. Some of them are pure assumptions; some seem founded on what looks like a wilful ignorance of the poet's meaning; others are hypercritical to the last degree, and altogether overlook the difference between literal and moral truthfulness. We will however take one or two of them by way of introducing and explaining the few remarks we have to make. The celebrated description of the death-bed of Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, is condemned for being wilfully untrue to facts; and Pope's attempted analogy between the conquest of Greece by Rome preceding the civilization of Rome by Greece, and the conquest of France by England preceding the civilization of England by France, is condemned for the same reason. Now both of these famous passages may have been written with that inattention to literal ac
curacy which was characteristic of
Behold what blessings wealth to life can lend !
are the two lines which carry the reader forward from Hopkins to Villiers. Is not the conclusion obvious, that Pope never meant us to understand that the duke died in poverty, the design with which De Quincey specially and severely reproached him? In fact, his own moral required that the duke should have been rich, and not poor, as De Quincey erroneously supposes. On his death his thousands were ' useless' to him. That is the point we feel convinced which Pope himself intended to make. It might not have been worth making; but that is another matter. De Quincey's
assertion that for the sake of effect Pope represented a man who had £60,000 a year dying a pauper is, we are convinced, groundless. Again, in the parallel drawn between France and England, and Greece and Rome, Pope is not professing any exact historical accuracy. He merely meant that as in one generation we had influenced France by our arms, so she in turn sometime afterwards exercised a considerable influence on our literature. The resemblance in each case was near enough for men who habitually saw Cato played in a full-bottomed wig, and Roxana in a hoop and patches.