« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
All that is left us is to recommend our productions by the imitation of the ancients; and it will be found true, that in every age, the highest character for sense and learning has been obtained by those who have been most indebted to them. For, to say truth, whatever is very good sense, must have been common sense in all times; and what we call learning, is but the knowledge of the sense of our predecessors. Therefore they who say our thoughts are not our own, because they resemble the ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our fathers: and, indeed, it is very unreasonable that people should expect us to be scholars, and yet be angry to find us so."
I fairly confess that I have served myself all I could by reading; that I made use of the judgment of authors dead and living; that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errors, both by my friends and enemies: but the true reason these pieces are not more correct, is owing to the consideration how short a time they, and I, have to live."
in a dead tongue can alone secure a worthy audience, is altogether chimerical. The literature of living languages has the ascendancy, and Shakespeare is more read, and better appreciated, than Eschylus and Sophocles.
1 I have frequently heard Dr. Young speak with great disapprobation of the doctrine contained in this passage, with a view to which he wrote his discourse on Original Composition.— WARTON.
The assertion of Pope is in the face of the facts. All the greatest names in modern literature have a marked originality, and those authors who have imitated the ancients, except in subordinate circumstances, have usually produced tame and lifeless compositions, which were speedily forgotten.
2 The sophistry is transparent. A man may be a scholar without being a plagiarist or an imitator.
3 Here followed in the first edition, "and that I expect not to be excused in any negligence on account of youth, want of leisure, or any other idle allegations." This was inconsistent with his request, at the conclusion of his preface, that those who condemned his poems would remember his youth when he composed them. After the omitted sentence he had added in the manuscript, "I have ever been fearful of making an ill present to the world, for which I have as much respect as most poets have for themselves. What I thought incorrect I suppressed; and what I thought most finished I never published but with fear and trembling."
4 From hence to the end of the paragraph the manuscript continues thus: "A man that can expect but sixty years may be ashamed to employ thirty in measuring syllables, and bringing sense and rhyme together. We spend our youth in the pursuit of
One may be ashamed to consume half one's days in bringing sense and rhyme together: and what critic can be so unreasonable, as not to leave a man time enough for any more serious employment, or more agreeable amusement?
The only plea I shall use for the favour of the public, is, that I have as great a respect for it as most authors have for themselves; and that I have sacrificed much of my own selflove for its sake, in preventing not only many mean things from seeing the light, but many which I thought tolerable. 'I would not be like those authors, who forgive themselves some particular lines for the sake of a whole poem, and rice versâ a whole poem for the sake of some particular lines.'' I believe no one qualification is so likely to make a good writer as the power of rejecting his own thoughts; and it must be this, if any thing, that can give me a chance to be one. For what I have published I can only hope to be pardoned; but for what I have burned I deserve to be praised. On this account the world is under some obligation to me, and owes me the justice in return to look upon no verses as mine that are not inserted in this collection. And perhaps nothing could make it worth my while to own what are really so, but to avoid the imputation of so many dull and immoral things, as partly by malice, and partly by ignorance, have been ascribed to me. I must further acquit myself of the presumption of having lent my name to recommend any Mis
riches or fame in hopes to enjoy them when we are old, and when we are old we find it is too late to enjoy anything. I have got over the mistake pretty early. I therefore hope the wits will pardon me if I leave myself time enough to save my soul, and some wise men will be of my opinion even if 1 should think a part of it better spent in the enjoyment of life than in pleasing the critics.”
This sentence was in the manuscript, but Pope omitted it in the edition of 1717, and restored it in 1736.
In the manuscript he added, "which indeed was my chief view in making it, for in the present liberty of the press, a man is forced to appear as bad as he is, not to be thought worse." The assertion is qualified in the text, but he could not entirely abandon the affectation of pretending that he collected his works to escape the disgrace of the pieces which were falsely attributed to him, and not tɔ obtain credit from his own perform
cellanies,' or works of other men; a thing I never thought becoming a person who has hardly credit enough to answer for his own.
In this office of collecting my pieces, I am altogether uncertain whether to look upon myself as a man building a monument,' or burying the dead. If time shall make it the former, may these poems, as long as they last, remain as a testimony, that their author never made his talents subservient to the mean and unworthy ends of party or self-interest; the gratification of public prejudices or private passions; the flattery of the undeserving, or the insult of the unfortunate.
1 "I am always highly delighted," said Addison in the Spectator, No. 523, Oct. 30, 1712, "with the discovery of any rising genius among my countrymen. For this reason I have read over, with great pleasure, the late Miscellany published by Mr. Pope, in which there are many excellent compositions of that ingenious gentleman." The announcement referred to the first edition of Lintot's Miscellany, and from the literary intercourse which existed between Addison, Steele, and Pope at the time, the compilation was not likely to have been ascribed to the latter in the Spectator without sufficient authority. The language of Pope seems carefully selected to avoid the direct denial that he was the editor. The work was published anonymously, and he only asserts that he had never lent his name to recommend any miscellanies." The disclaimer was probably directed against the device adopted by Lintot in the second edition, 1 vol. 8vo, 1714, which bore this title, "Miscellaneous Poems and Translations. By several hands. Particularly, etc." Here followed a list of Pope's contributions, and his alone. Underneath the list a line was drawn across the page, and below this line was
printed in capital letters, "By Mr. Pope." The complete separation between the list of pieces and the name of the poet disconnected them to the eye, and left the impression that Pope was the editor of the entire work. The same plan was continued till the fifth edition, 2 vols. 12mo, 1727, when Lintot grew bolder, and inserted bastard title-pages with the words, "Mr. Pope's Miscellany.” The poet, who corrected the proofs of his own pieces for the fifth, edition, assured Christopher Pitt, in a letter of July 23, 1726, that he had never had anything to do with the remainder of the work; but the private assurance, after many years, of a man who had no regard for truth does not outweigh the assertion in the Spectator, when coupled with the peculiar wording by which he evaded the public contradiction of the statement.
2 In 1721 he broke through his rule by recommending the poems of Parnell to Lord Oxford in an Epistle in verse.---CUNNINGHAM.
3 A few sentences before he had said, "for what I have published I can only hope to be pardoned," and already he has forgotten his mock modesty, and admits he has a hope that his works may prove (" a monu
If I have written well, let it be considered that it is what no man can do without good sense, a quality that not only renders one capable of being a good writer, but a good man. And if I have made any acquisition in the opinion of any one under the notion of the former, let it be continued to me under no other title than that of the latter.'
But if this publication be only a more solemn funeral of my remains, I desire it may be known that I die in charity, and in my senses, without any murmurs against the justice of this age, or any mad appeals to posterity. I declare I shall think the world in the right, and quietly submit to every truth which time shall discover to the prejudice of these writings; not so much as wishing so irrational a thing as that every body should be deceived merely for my credit. However, I desire it may then be considered, that there are very few things in this collection which were not written under the age of five-and-twenty, so that my youth may be made, as it never fails to be in executions, a case of compassion; that I was never so concerned about my works as to vindicate them in print, believing if any thing was good it would defend itself, and what was bad could never be defended; that I used no artifice to raise or continue a reputation, depreciated no dead author I was obliged to, bribed no living one with unjust praise, insulted no adversary with ill language, or, when I could not attack a rival's works, encouraged reports against his morals. To
1 The commendation of his own goodness is a theme which constantly recurs in Pope, as if he hoped to conceal his delinquencies by his loud profession of the contrary qualities. The topic is introduced into this preface in a forced manner, and treated with singular weakness. Intellectual capacity and literary pre-eminence are no security for moral excellence; and it was idle to ask the public to forget his reputation as a poet, which was his sole claim to fame, and to
commemorate him for virtues of which the world had no proof, and which, if they were real, he shared with thousands.
This was written in 1716; did our author recollect this sentiment in 1729-WARTON.
Warton alludes to the Dunciad, but to have "insulted adversaries with ill language" was only one out of several particulars, in which Pope's subsequent career belied the protestations in his preface.
Nov. 10, 1716.
conclude, if this volume perish, let it serve as a warning to the critics not to take too much pains for the future to destroy such things as will die of themselves; and a memento mori to some of my vain contemporaries the poets, to teach them that when real merit is wanting, it avails nothing to have been encouraged by the great, commended by the eminent, and favoured by the public in general.'
1 This far-fetched excuse of Pope for rebuking the vanity of contemporary poets, was a clumsy expedient to gratify his own vanity in proclaiming to the world that "he had been enouraged by the great, and com
mended by the eminent." He had not much title to reprove the vanity of his brethren, when, in the same sentence, he recorded the praise which the different orders of mankind had bestowed upon himself.