« ForrigeFortsett »
Horace can laugh, is delicate, is clear ;
but not the talent of abuse;
ÉPISTLE TO DR. ARBUTHNOT.
An Apology for Himself and his Writings.
Ep. to Dr. Arbuthnot.] At the time of publishing this Epistle, the Poet's patience was exhausted by the endless impertinence of Poetasters of all ranks and conditions ; as well those who courted his favour, as those who envied his reputation. So that now he had resolved to quit his hands of both together, by the publication of a Dunciad. This design he communicated to his excellent friend Dr. ARBUTHNOT; who, although as a man of Wit and Learning he might not have been displeased to see their common injuries revenged on this pernicious Tribe ; yet, as our Author's friend and physician, he was solicitous of his ease and health ; and therefore unwilling he should provoke so large and powerful a party.
Their difference of opinion, in this matter, gives occasion to the following Dialogue. Where, in a natural and familiar detail of all his Provocations, both from flatterers and slanderers, our Author has artfully interwoven an Apology for his moral and poetic Character.
For after having told his case, and humorously applied to his Physician in the manner one would ask for a receipt to kill Vermin, he straight goes on, in the common character of askers of advice, to tell his Doctor, that he had already taken his party, and determined of his remedy. But ufing a preamble, and intro. ducing it in the way of Poets), with a fimile, in which the names of Kings, Queens, and Minifiers of State happen to be men. tioned, his Friend takes the alarm, and begs him to forbear; advises him to stick to his subject, and to be easy under so com. mon a calamity.
To make so light of his disaster provokes the Poet: he breaks the thread of his discourse, which was to lead his Friend gently, and by degrees, into his project; and abruptly tells him the application of his fimile at once,
« Out with it, DUNCIAD! let the secret pass,” &c. But recollecting the humanity and tenderness of his Friend, which, he apprehends, might be a little shocked at the apparent
severity of such a proceeding, he affures him, that his good-nature is alarmed without cause; for that nothing has less feeling than this sort of offenders ; which he illustrates in the Examples of a damn’d Poet, a detected Slanderer, a Table-Parafite, a Church. Buffoon, and a Party-Writer (from ver. 1. to 101.)
But, in this enumeration, coming again to Names, his Friend once more stops him; and bids him consider what hoftilities this general attack would set on foot. So much the better, replies the Poet ; for, considering the ftrong antipathy of bad to good, enemies they will always be, either open or secret: and it admits of no question, but a Slanderer is less hurtful than a Flatterer. For, says he, (in a pleasant Simile addressed to his Friend's profeffion)
“ Of all mad creatures, if the learn'd are right,
It is the Naver kills, and not the bite." And how abject and excessive the flattery of these creatures was, he shews, by observing, that they praised him even for his infirmities; his bad health, and his inconvenient shape (ver. 100 to 125.)
But still it might be said, that if he could bear this evil annexed to Authorship no better, he should not have written at all. To this he answers, by lamenting the natural bent of his disposition ; which, from his very birth, had drawn him towards Poetry so strongly, as if it were in execution of some secret decree of Hea. ven for crimes unknown. But though he offended in becoming an Author, he offended in nothing else. For his early verses were perfectly innocent and harmless,
“ Like gentle Fanny's was my flowing theme,
A painted mistress, or a purling stream.” Yet even then, he tells us, two enraged and hungry Critics fell upon him without any provocation. But this might have been borne, as the conimon lot of distinction. But it was his peculiar illfortune to create a jealousy in One; whom, not only many good offices done by our Author to him and his friends, but a fimilitude of genius and studies might have inclined to a reciprocal affection and support: On the contrary, that otherwise amiable person, being, by nature, timorous and suspicious; by education, a party: man ; and, by circumstances of fortune, beset with flatterers and pick-thanks; regarded our Author as his Rival, set up by a contrary Faction, with views destructive of public liberty, and that Person's reputation. And all this, with as little provocation from Mr. Pope's conduct in his poetic, as in his civil character.
- B 4
For though he had got a Name (the reputation of which he agreeably rallies, in the description he gives of it) yet he never, even when molt in fashion, set up fora Patron, or a Dictator amongst the Wits; but still kept retired in his usual privacy; leaving the whole Casialian fiate, as he calls it, to a Mock Mecenas, whom he next describes (ver. 124. to 261.)
And, ftruck with the sense of that dignity and ea é which support the character of a true Poet, he breaks out into a passionate vow for a continuance of the full Liberty inseparable from it. And to thew how well he deserves it, and how safely he might be truited with it, he concludes his wish with a description of his temper and disposition (ver 26€ to 271.)
This naturally leads him to complain of his Friends, when they consider him in no other view than that of an Author; as if he had neither the same right to the enjoyments of life, the same concern for his highest interests, or the same dispositions of bene. volence, with other people.
Besides, he now admonishes them, in his turn, that they do not consider to what they expose him, when they urge him to write on; namely, to the suspicions and the displeasure of a Court ; who are made to believe, he is always writing; or at least to the foolish criticisms of court-lycophants, who pretend to find him, by his style, in the immoral libels of every idle scribler: though he, in the mean time, be so far from countenancing such worthless trash in others, that he would be ready to execrate even his own beft vein of poetry, if made at the expence of Truth and Innocence:
“ Curit be the verse, how well foe'er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy man my foe:
Or from the soft-ey'd Virgin steal a tear." Sentiments, which no effort of genius, without the concurrence of the heart, could have expressed in strains so exquisitely sublime. That the sole object of his resentment was vice and bafenes: In the detection of which, he artfully takes occasion to speak of that by which he himself had been injured and offended : and concludes with the character of One who had wantonly outraged him, and in the most sensible manner (ver. 270 to 334.)
And here, moved again with fresh indignation at his flanderers, he takes the advice of Horace, sume fuperbiam quafitam merilis, and draws a fine picture of his moral and poetic conduct through life. In which he shews that not fame, but Virtue, was the constant object of his ambition : that for this he opposed himself to all the violence of Cabals, and the treacheries of Courts: the various iniquities of which having distinctly specified, he sums them up in that mott atrocious and sensible of all (ver. 333 to 360.),
6. The whisper, that to greatness still too near,
Perhaps yet vibrates on his Sov'r Eign's ear.
For thee, fair Virtue! welcome ev'n the lait.”' But here again his Friend interrupts the strains of his divine en. thusiasm ; and delires him to clear up one objection made to his Conduct at Court. “ Thac it was inhumane to insult the Poor, “ and ill breeding to affront the Great.” To wlich he replies, That indeed in his pursuit of Vice, he rarely corfidered how Knavery was circumstanced; but followed it, with his vengeance, indif. ferently, whether it led to the Pillory, or the Drawing-Rooni (ver. 359 to 363.).
But lell this should give his Reader the idea of a favage in. tractable virtue, which could bear with nothing, and would pardon nothing, he takes to himself the frame of owning that he was of fu ealy a nature, as to be duped by the slendereft appearances ; a pretence to virtue in a wilty woman: so forgiving, that he had fought out the object of his beneficence in a personal enemy: fo humble, that he had submitted to the conversation of bad poets : and so forbearing, that he had curbed in his resentment under the most shocking of ail provocations, abuses on his Father and Mother (ver. 367 to 388.).
This naturally leads him to give a short account of their births, fortunes, and dispositions; which ends with the tendereit wishes for the happini ss of his Friend; intermixed with the most pa. thetic description of that filial Piery, in the exercise of which he makus his own happiness to consist :
Me, let the tender office long engage