« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
error; but having once been satisfied of the guilt of Pope, I do not pretend to think that genius is an extenuation of rascality. He rightly refused others the benefit of the plea, and said in the Essay on Man, whoever is "wickedly wise is but the more a fool, the more a knave." The sketch which Lord Macaulay has given of his character, when describing his conduct on the appearance of Tickell's version of the first book of the Iliad, is not too severe for the treacheries and falsehoods which were the instruments of his malevolence, cowardice and vanity. "An odious suspicion had sprung up in the mind of Pope. He fancied, and he soon firmly believed, that there was a deep conspiracy against his fame and his fortunes. The work on which he had staked his reputation was to be depreciated. The subscription, on which rested his hopes of a competence, was to be defeated. With this view, Addison had made a rival translation; Tickell had consented to father it, and the wits at Button's had consented to puff it. We do not accuse Pope of bringing an accusation which he knew to be false. We have not the smallest doubt that he believed it to be true; and the evidence on which he believed it he found in his own bad heart. His own life was one long series of tricks, as mean and as malicious as that of which he had suspected Addison and Tickell. He was all stiletto and mask. To injure, to insult, and to save himself from the consequences of injury and insult by lying and equivocating, was the habit of his life. He published a lampoon on the Duke of Chandos; he was taxed with it; and he lied and equivocated. He published a lampoon on Aaron Hill; he was taxed with it; and he lied and equivocated. He published a still fouler lampoon on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; he was taxed with it; and he lied with more than usual effrontery and vehemence. He puffed himself, and abused his enemies, under feigned names. He robbed himself of his own letters, and then raised the hue and cry after them. Besides his frauds of malignity, of fear, of interest, and of vanity, there were frauds which he seems to have committed from a love of fraud alone. He had a habit of stratagem, a pleasure in outwitting all who came near him. Whatever his object
might be, the indirect road to it was that which he preferred. For Bolingbroke, Pope undoubtedly felt as much love and veneration as it was in his nature to feel for any human being. Yet Pope was scarcely dead, when it was discovered that from no motive, except the mere love of artifice, he had been guilty of an act of gross perfidy to Bolingbroke." Many of the falsehoods and perfidies I have detailed have come to light since Macaulay wrote, and there are more behind which will appear in their proper place in Pope's life and works. There have been no lack of men whose moral conduct was in an almost inverse ratio with their intellectual gifts; but there never was an author of equal genius, who habitually practised such despicable deceptions for such paltry purposes;
"Who for this end would earn a lasting name,
Would tear aside the friendly veil of night
To stand degraded in a blaze of light."
His crooked policy was ineffectual, even when his worst devices were undetected. Few believed that he was vexed at the publication of his letters, or that they were careless effusions, or that the virtues he paraded in them were the just reflection of his mind. Both men and compositions will seem to be what they are, and the poet's protestations did not prevent the world from discovering that his epistles were laboured, that many of his sentiments were feigned, and that he eagerly promoted the publications he pretended to deplore.
Having finished a discussion which from its nature will be dull to many, and from its length will be wearisome to all, I turn to speak of the present edition of the Correspondence. The last edition published in the lifetime of Pope comprised, according to Mr. Croker's calculation, 354 letters. These, Mr. Croker states, were increased by Warburton to 384, by Warton to 502, by Bowles to 644, and by Roscoe to 708, or exactly double the number that were included in the last edition of the poet. The present edition will contain more new letters than were collected by Warburton, Warton, Bowles, and Roscoe combined, and many of them are of
Macaulay's Essays. 1 Vol. edit. p. 718.
immeasurably greater importance in determining the character and conduct of Pope than any which have previously appeared. There are others among them which, under ordinary circumstances, would be too trivial to be printed; but particulars, which are separately insignificant, have assisted in dispelling some of the mystery or exposing some of the deceptions in which it was the poet's pleasure to involve his life, and as nobody can pronounce with certainty what facts may be of service to future inquirers, I have thought it better to add a few superfluous pages than to run the risk of rejecting materials which may prove useful hereafter. I have, in like manner, admitted letters which had a biographical value, although they were neither written by Pope nor to him. Second-hand statements cannot supply the place of authentic documents, and to have dissociated the subsidiary from the main correspondence would have frequently deprived both of the increased importance they derive from being read in connection.
In Pope's own, and every succeeding edition, the letters are divided into groups. The arrangement of the entire collection in one consecutive chronological series is, in his case, neither desirable nor possible. It is not desirable because a unity of subject often runs through his intercourse with particular persons, and the interposition of the topics upon which he touched with other friends, far from presenting a connected view of his thoughts and actions, would reduce the whole to a medley of disjointed fragments. It is not possible because many of his letters are undated, and, though we can frequently determine their place in each class, there are no means of settling their order when all the letters of doubtful date are thrown together. In numerous instances the year in which they were written can at most be discovered, and the attempt to fix their precedency within that period would be attended with as much uncertainty as if they were shuffled like a pack of cards.
The liberties which Pope took with his correspondence in preparing it for publication diminish the authority of that extensive portion of it which we owe to his printed or manuscript copies alone, and have rendered it essential to specify.
the source from which every letter is derived. Where the letter was sent to one person and was published by Pope as if it had been addressed to another, it is inserted in its proper place, and again in the group to which it was falsely assigned by the writer. Unless the correspondence was exhibited in its double form, a just idea could not easily be obtained of the shape and colour he imparted to it, or of the relations which he pretended to have maintained with his contemporaries. Where the direction was not changed, and we possess both the genuine and the corrected letter, the true version is given in the text, and any variations in his amended version which. seemed worthy of notice are pointed out in the notes. Even here, from the nature and extent of the alterations, it has sometimes been necessary to preserve a letter in its twofold state.
The greater part of the collection of 1735 was reproduced in the quarto of 1737; but as the texts are not always identical the earliest has been followed, except where there is manifestly an error of the press, or where the quarto supplies passages which are not in the volume of P. T. I had once intended to subjoin the whole of the various readings at the foot of the page. I abandoned the design upon finding that the vast majority of them were verbal, and apparently unimportant changes, which could only have interested the few curious inquirers who would always have recourse to the original editions. I have not the less carefully collated these original editions throughout, and have thus got rid of numerous mistakes which had become traditional in the subsequent reprints. The notes signed "Pope, 1735," were first published in the P. T. collection, with the exception of a few in the Wycherley group, which, though they are only known to us through the P. T. volume, had undoubtedly appeared in 1729. Many of the P. T. notes were transferred to the authorised impression of 1737, and they were nearly all in the copies which the poet delivered to Warburton for posthumous publication. The notes signed "Pope, 1737," were added in the quarto of that year; and those signed "Cooper, 1737," are from the octavos which bear the name of this bookseller on the title-page.
VOL. I. POETRY.
Language was current in Pope's day which would be considered grossly indelicate in ours, and though he abounds in refined and elevated strains, he was yet among the worst offenders of his time. "He and Swift," says Dr. Johnson, "had an unnatural delight in ideas physically impure, such as every other tongue utters with unwillingness, and of which every ear shrinks from the mention." His correspondence is not altogether free from the defect; but no editor can now efface the blots which Warburton, Warton, and Bowles felt bound to preserve. Roscoe set aside a few sentences, and showed by his inconsistency the uselessness of the process. He confined his expurgations to the part of Pope's works which were little read, and where the omissions in consequence would rarely be remarked; but did not venture to disturb a single syllable of the far more numerous and more objectionable passages which occur in the pieces that are in the hands of all the world. The stains which sully so much of our beautiful literature are unhappily indelible, and it could answer no useful end to adopt the capricious principle of Roscoe in removing the lesser blemishes which are seldom noticed, and leaving the worst and most conspicuous defilements undisturbed. More freedom may be used with the unpublished letters; but I have exercised the discretion very sparingly, and have not excluded every coarse word, phrase, or idea, when it was characteristic of the age, the man, and his writings, and when, though an offence against taste, it could not be injurious to morals.
I have mentioned at the several places where their contributions are inserted, the numerous persons to whose liberality Mr. Croker and myself have been obliged for materials and assistance. The services rendered by Mr. Dilke require to be noticed here. Until he published his articles in the Athenæum little had been added to our knowledge of Pope since Johnson produced his masterly Life. The truths which Mr. Dilke established, and the errors he dissipated, were not more important than the change he gave to the former superficial investigations. His rigid scrutiny became the standard for every subsequent inquirer. He loved his studies for their own sake, and never did a man of letters work less for personal ends. He at once