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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/117

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Pope
Pope
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ful, says that they were composed when he was sixteen. A letter from George Granville (afterwards Lord Lansdowne) shows that they were in any case written before he was eighteen (Lansdowne, Works, ii. 113). The same letter mentions Walsh and Wycherley as patrons of the rising prodigy. William Walsh, then a critic and man of fashion, appears to have made his acquaintance in 1705, and gave Pope the well-known advice to aim at 'correctness'—a quality hitherto attained by none of our great poets. Tonson, who had seen a 'pastoral poem' in the hands of Walsh and Congreve, wrote to Pope, proposing to publish it, in a letter dated 20 April 1706. The manuscript, still preserved, was shown about to other eminent men, including Garth, Somers, and Halifax; and was published in Tonson's 'Miscellanies' in 1709. Pope had meanwhile become intimate with Wycherley, who first introduced him to town life. Pope, as he told Spence, followed Wycherley about 'like a dog,' and kept up a correspondence with him. Wycherley was the senior by forty-eight years. He had long ceased to write plays, and had probably been introduced to some of Pope's circle by his conversion to Catholicism. He was one of Dryden's successors at Will's coffee-house. He treated Pope with condescension, and wrote in the elaborate style of an elderly wit; but some quarrel arose about 1710 which caused a breach of the friendship. Pope afterwards manipulated the letters so as to give the impression that Wycherley, after inviting criticism, took offence at the frankness of his young friend; but the genuine documents (first published from manuscripts at Longleat in the Elwin and Courthope edition of Pope's 'Works') show this to be an inversion of the truth. Another friend of Pope at this time was Henry Cromwell, a man about town, about thirty-six years Pope's senior. Their correspondence lasted from July 1707 to December 1711. Pope affects the tone popular at Will's coffee-house, then frequented by his correspondent, and does his best to show that he has the taste and morals of a wit. He afterwards became rather ashamed of the terms of equality upon which he corresponded with a man above whose head he had risen.

The publication of the 'Pastorals' first made Pope generally known; they were received with applause, although they were examples of a form of composition already effete, and can now be regarded only as experiments in versification. They show that Pope had already a remarkable command of fluent and melodious language. He had not only practised industriously, but, as his early letters show, had reflected carefully upon the principles of his art. The result appeared in the 'Essay on Criticism,' published anonymously on 15 May 1711. The poem is an interesting exposition of the canons of taste accepted by Pope and by the leading writers of the time, and contains many of those polished epigrams which, if not very profound, have at least become proverbial. Incidents connected with this publication opened the long literary warfare in which much of his later career was passed. A contemptuous allusion to the sour critic John Dennis [q. v.] produced an angry pamphlet, 'Reflections … on a late Rhapsody,' from his victim. Pope had the sense to correct some of the passages attacked, and, for the moment, did not retort. Addison soon afterwards praised the 'Essay' very warmly in the 'Spectator' (20 Dec. 1711), while regretting 'some strokes' of personality. Pope wrote a letter to Steele (first printed in Miss Aikin's 'Addison,' where it is erroneously addressed to Addison) acknowledging the praise, and proposing to suppress the objectionable 'strokes.' Steele, who was already known to him, and had suggested to him the 'Ode to St. Cecilia,' promised, in return, an introduction to Addison. Pope thus became known to the Addison circle. His 'Messiah,' a fine piece of declamation, appeared in the 'Spectator' of 14 May 1712. He afterwards contributed some papers to its successor, the 'Guardian.' The 'Rape of the Lock' appeared in its first form in the 'Miscellanies' published by Lintot in 1712, which included others of Pope's minor poems. Lord Petre, a youth of twenty, had cut off a lock of hair of Miss Arabella Fermor, a beauty of the day, who was offended by this practical joke [see under Petre, William, fourth Baron Petre]. They were both members of the catholic society known to Pope, and the poem was written at the suggestion of a common friend, Caryll, in order to appease the quarrel by a little pleasantry. The poem was warmly admired by Addison, who called it merum sal, and advised Pope not to risk spoiling it by introducing the new 'machinery' of the sylphs (Warburton, Pope, iv. 26). This, according to Warburton's story, opened Pope's eyes to the jealousy which he supposed to have dictated a very natural piece of advice. Pope altered and greatly enlarged his poem, which appeared separately in 1714. It shows extraordinary skill in the lighter kind of verse, and reflects with singlar felicity, in some respects a little too faithfully, the tone of the best society of the day. It took at once the place which it has ever