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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/129

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Pope
Pope
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ciently how he thus was led into his worst offences. Beginning with a simple desire to give literary polish to his essays, he was gradually led to calumniate Addison. He thought himself justified in making use of the common enemy, Curll, to obtain the publication of his letters, and was gradually led on to the gross treachery to Swift. When accused of unfair satire, he was afraid to defend himself by the plain truth, and fell into unmanly equivocations. He was a politician, as Johnson reports Lady Bolingbroke to have said, 'about cabbages and turnips,' and could 'hardly drink tea without a stratagem.' But even his malignity to Lady Mary and Lord Hervey probably appeared to him as a case of the 'strong antipathy of good to bad.'

His really fine qualities, however, remained, and animated his best poetry. All judicious critics have noticed the singular beauty of his personal compliments. They were the natural expression of 'really affectionate nature.' His tenderness to his parents, his real affection for such friends as Arbuthnot, Gay, and Swift, his almost extravagant admiration of Bolingbroke and Warburton, are characteristic. He always leaned uponsome stronger nature, and craved for sympathy. His success gave him a high social position, and he appears to have maintained his independence in his intercourse with great men. He declined a pension of 300l. out of the secret-service money offered by his friend Craggs (Spence, pp. 307–8), and lived upon the proceeds of 'Homer.' He seems to have been careful in money matters, but was liberal in disposing of his income. He could be actively benevolent when he thought that an injustice was being done. He subscribed generously to the support of a Mrs. Cope who had been deserted by her husband, and several other instances are given to the same effect. He helped to start Dodsley as a publisher, and contributed 20l. a year to Savage, until Savage's conduct made help impossible. It must be admitted, however, that Savage's services to Pope in the war with the dunces were discreditable to both. This substratum of real kindness, and even a certain magnanimity, requires to be distinctly recognised, as showing that Pope's weaknesses imply, not malignity, but the action of unfortunate conditions upon a sensitive nature. Probably the nearest parallel to the combination is to be found in his contemporary, Voltaire. His abnormal sensibility fitted Pope to give the most perfect expression of the spirit of his age. His anxiety to be on the side of enlightenment is shown by his religious and intellectual position. Though brought up in a strictly Roman catholic circle, he adopted without hesitation the rationalism of Bolingbroke, and supposed himself to be a disciple of Locke. Atterbury and Dr. Clarke, fellow of All Souls' (not Samuel Clarke, as has been erroneously said), tried to convert him. His letter to Atterbury (Works, ix. 10–12) gives most clearly the opinions which he always expressed. A change of religion might be profitable, as it would qualify him for pensions; but it would vex his mother, and do no good to anybody else. Meanwhile, he held that men of all sects might be saved (see also letter to Swift, 28 Nov. 1729, Works, vii. 176). The 'Universal Prayer' shows the same sentiment. Pope, taking the advice attributed to Addison, professed to stand aside from political party. His connections naturally inclined him to the tory side, but he was not a Jacobite, and his sympathies were with the opposition to Walpole. He took for granted the sincerity of their zeal in denouncing the corruption of the period, and gave the keenest utterance to their commonplaces. His devotion to literature was unremitting, and his fortunate attainment of a competence enabled him to associate independently with the social leaders. If, as Johnson says, he boasts a little too much of their familiarity, and, as Johnson also remarked with more feeling, regarded poverty as a crime, he cannot be fairly accused of servility. He held his own with great men, though he shared their prejudices. The wits and nobles who formed a little circle and caressed each other were, in their way, genuine believers in enlightenment. They had finally escaped from the prison of scholasticism; they preferred wit and common sense to the 'pedantry of courts and schools;' they suspected sentimentalism when not strictly within the conventional bounds; they looked down with aristocratic contempt upon the Grub Street authors, for whom they had as little sympathy as cockfighters for their victims; and took the tone towards women natural in clubs of bachelors. Satire and didactic poetry corresponded to the taste of such an epoch. Pope's writings accurately reflect these tendencies; and his scholarly sense of niceties of language led him to polish all his work with unwearied care. Almost every fragment of his verse has gone through a series of elaborate and generally successful remodellings. Whether Pope is to be called a poet — a problem raised in following generations — is partly a question of words; but no one can doubt that he had qualities which would have enabled him to give an adequate embodiment in verse of the spirit of any generation into which he had been born. He might have rivalled Chaucer