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both been honourable rivals, and Juba, the once rejected suitor of Marcia, Cato's daughter, romantically rescues her from the clutches of Sempronius in disguise and finds that she has loved him all the time. Thus, in the consecrated form of a Roman tragedy, the public enjoyed that grandiose, if unsubstantial, projection of character which they admired in Milton, together with the sentimental chivalry of a French romance. To modern taste, the diction is hopelessly declamatory, and the plot full of absurdities. But the ordinary reader of the eighteenth century would almost regard such artificiality as inevitable in a play which has strictly observed the unities, contains a 'reversal of intention' and a 'recognition' and abounds in crisp and quotable epigrams.
Meanwhile, Steele plunged into politics and, after much pamphleteering, was expelled from the House of Commons for uttering seditious libels. In 1714, he returned to literature and started several periodicals, especially The Guardian, to which Addison contributed fifty-one papers; and, in 1722, he produced his last complete comedy, The Conscious Lovers. Though the plot is largely borrowed from Terence's Andria and, where original, abounds in more glaring improbabilities than his earlier work, the play is remarkable because it resumes in brief all Steele's best ideas on life and character. We have the sketch of servants whose natural freshness is being gradually tainted by the corrupt and contagious air of lackeydom2; we have satire on marriages of convenience, duelling and the chicanery of the law; a glance at the opposition between the hereditary gentry and the rising commercial class; while, in Bevil junior, Steele portrays his ideal of a gentleman, chivalrous and honourable to women, considerate to men, respectful to his father and self-controlled amid the riotous pleasures of the capital.
Steele and Addison produced other work3 separately. But, when they ceased to collaborate in The Spectator, which was subsequently continued by one of their circle, both became authors of secondary importance. Their task was already done. The peculiar circumstances of their lives gave them an unrivalled opportunity of observing the movement of their time. Thanks to a certain conventionality of intellect, coupled with amazing
1 The πepiñéteia and åvayvúpious of Aristotle; see Politics, ed. Butcher, S. H., 3rd ed. 1902.
2 Besides the scenes in which Tom and Phillis appear, see the episode of the footboy newly arrived in London, act v, sc. 2.
3 See bibliography.
cleverness, they became the heart of this movement, and made it literature. In this sense, they collaborated with their age. As a comparison between the two writers is almost inevitable, it may be said, in conclusion, that Steele was the more original and Addison the more effective. Steele conceived the periodical essay, but never perfected it; he accidentally discovered the short story and verged upon the domestic novel, without substantially influencing the development of either genre. This ineffectiveness was partly due to his volatile nature and somewhat unstable life, but it was also largely due to the presence of Addison. That successful and self-contained mentor seems to have unconsciously restrained Steele's initiative. But, while he curbed his companion's talents, he displayed the utmost efficiency in the use of his own and, without any deep fund of ideas or sympathy, raised Steele's conception of an essay to a degree of perfection never since surpassed. The Londoners of queen Anne's reign chiefly valued The Spectator for Addison's humorous papers and religious dissertations. The modern student most admires its accuracy and penetration, and the true and long-enduring picture which it gives of middle class culture and character.
E. L. IX. CH. II.
THE great writer of whom this chapter treats was a man of real poetic genius, the growth and direction of which were powerfully affected by his physical constitution, his circumstances and the character of the age. None of his achievements belong to the very highest forms of poetry. Where he excelled, his pre-eminence is beyond dispute; yet his deficiency in qualities more prized by a later generation has imperilled his very right to be regarded as a poet. On certain points, all are practically agreed. Pope is a memorable example of a conscious literary artist, the type in our country of the classical spirit; rarely has a poet shown himself a truer or more delicate representative of his own time. Even did his work no longer appeal to us by its enduring merit, he must escape neglect because of his part in England's literary development.
Pope's true position has not always been recognised. He has been viewed from the standpoint of periods out of sympathy with his excellences and impatient of his defects, and his influence has been regarded as a monstrous barrier restraining all deep and natural emotion until swept away by the torrent of the romantic revival. He has figured as one who left the free air of heaven for the atmosphere of the coffeehouse, as the first to introduce a mechanical standard of poetry, owing its acceptance to the prosaic tone of his day. Attention to the historic side of literature has brought sounder views. It is urged that, far from making nature give way to art, he shared the reaction, not confined to England, against an artificial mode, and stood in a real sense for a return to nature. Rather than having been the originator of a movement, he represents its climax, as he carried to completion a work already begun.
Pope's attitude was not one of revolt. His poetry did not disgust on its first appearance by deserting accepted models.
His immediate success proves how closely he was in touch with his contemporaries. In the directness and lucidity of his style, he improved his inheritance from Waller, Denham and Dryden. In the skill with which he elaborated the heroic couplet, he was indebted to these poets, above all to Dryden, as well as to the translations of Sandys. In the striving after simplicity, in the rejection of the extravagance of the so-called metaphysical poets, he instinctively followed an existing movement, precisely as the justness of thought and clarity of expression in Swift and Addison had an immediate ancestry. But, in prose and poetry alike, the qualities greatly admired in that period, and valuable in any, were won at the cost of others whose loss must be deplored, and poetry suffered most.
Alexander Pope was born in London, on 21 May 1688, of parents past middle age. They were devout Roman catholics; their son's adherence to this creed seems to have been prompted by filial affection. The accident of belonging to a proscribed church decided the course of his education. It is curious to reflect that, displaying such affinity for polish and precision, he should have missed a classical training. After brief schooling, he was taken home to Binfield, in Windsor forest, where his father had settled on retiring from his linendraper's business, and from about the age of twelve was largely self-taught. He grew up undersized, delicate and deformed, though we have testimony to the beauty of his voice and the brilliance of his eye. The presence of a fiery soul within this frail tenement was proved when, in an unliterary home, amid the languor of sickness and the lack of mental discipline, he developed a poetic genius, not fitful and uneven but inspired by a continual endeavour after the highest attainable in the form and music of his verse. Pope's own account of these early studies was:
When I had done with my priests, I took to reading by myself, for which I had a very great eagerness and enthusiasm, especially for poetry: and in a few years I had dipped into a great number of the English, French, Italian, Latin and Greek poets. This I did without any design but that of pleasing myself: and got the languages by hunting after the stories in the several poets I read 1.
Of his knowledge of Italian, there is little trace. His Greek was, certainly, not strong. In spite of some acquaintance with French literature, he never seems to have had any real familiarity with the language. With regard to scholarship, he was doubtless 'shady
1 Spence's Anecdotes, ed. Singer, S. W., 1820, p. 193.
in Latin'; but he was profoundly affected by the Roman poets, with whose style and ways of thought he showed a remarkable affinity. We everywhere feel the influence of the finish, dignity and sonorousness of Latin poetry.
Of his own countrymen, Waller, Spenser and Dryden were his favourites. While yet a child, he began to 'lisp in numbers.' At his first school, he was punished for lampooning his master; at the next, he tacked together speeches from Ogilby's Iliad to be acted by his companions. Shortly after, as he told Spence, he began an epic, Alcander Prince of Rhodes, and completed four books. This he destroyed in mature life. We hear, also, of a tragedy on St Geneviève. The satirical lines on the author of Successio (1712) were said by Pope to have been written at fourteen; but the earliest poem that has a place in his works is the Ode on Solitude, sent to Henry Cromwell in a letter of 1709, and there stated to have been composed when the author was not yet twelve; the lines, however, were retouched after transcription and further improved before their publication in 1735. The boy soon recognised the weakness of his own efforts and turned to translation. He was already familiar with attempts by others. In after years, he still spoke with rapture of the pleasure he had received as a boy from Ogilby's rendering of Homer. His own translation of the first book of Statius's Thebais was professedly made ‘almost in his childhood,' but corrected before publication. He also tried his hand on part of the Metamorphoses and began to submit Chaucer to a similar process. His half-sister remarked of these early years, 'I believe nobody ever studied so hard as my brother did. He did nothing else but write and read.' But Pope's literary judgment was not based solely on books. At a susceptible age, he formed a friendship with more than one man of mature years, knowledge of the world and taste for letters. Among the earliest of these was Sir William Trumbull, a retired diplomatist living near Binfield. Others were Wycherley, Henry Cromwell, a literary man about town, and William Walsh, styled by Dryden the best critic of our nation. Pope corresponded with these, sought their advice and submitted his verses. His Pastorals went from hand to hand and were complimented in flattering terms. Tonson offered to publish them, and, after some delay, they appeared in the sixth volume of his Miscellany, on 2 May 1709.
If we take Pope's own word, they had been composed when he was sixteen. Parts, at least, had been written a year or two later, and none assumed their final form until both numbers and language