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'Alas! how changed from him,
That life of pleasure and that soul of whim;
Among his happiest and most inimitable effusions are the Epistles to Arbuthnot and to Jervas the painter, amiable patterns of the delightful, unconcerned life, blending ease with dignity, which poets and painters then led.
'Why did I write? What sin to me unknown
I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.
I left no calling for this idle trade,
No duty broke, no father disobeyed;
The Muse but served to ease some friend, not wife;
To help me through this long disease, my life;
'But why then publish? Granville the polite,
1 Bishop Atterbury. — ED.
Happy my studies when by these approved;
I cannot help giving also the conclusion of the Epistle to Jervas :
'Oh, lasting as those colours may they shine,
And shall we cut ourselves off from beauties like these with a theory? Shall we shut up our books and seal up our senses to please the dull spite and inordinate vanity of those who have eyes, but they see not; ears, but they hear not; and understandings, but they understand not,' and go about asking our blind guides whether
Pope was a poet or not? It will never do. Such persons, when you point out to them a fine passage in Pope, turn it off to something of the same sort in some other writer. Thus they say that the line, I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came,' is pretty, but taken from that of Ovid:Et quum conabar scribere, versus erat.' They are safe in this mode of criticism; there is no danger of any one's tracing their writings. to the classics.
Pope's letters and prose writings neither take away from nor add to his poetical reputation. There is occasionally a littleness of manner and an unnecessary degree of caution. He appears anxious to say a good thing in every word as well as every sentence. They, however, give a very favourable idea of his moral character in all respects; and his letters to Atterbury, in his disgrace and exile, do equal honour to both. If I had to choose, there are one or two persons - and but one or two that I should like to have been better than Pope.
Dryden was a better prose-writer and a bolder and more varied versifier than Pope. He was a more vigorous thinker, a more correct and logical declaimer, and had more of what may be called strength of mind than Pope; but he had not the same refinement and delicacy of feeling.
Dryden's eloquence and spirit were possessed in a higher degree by others, and in nearly the same degree by Pope himself; but that by which Pope was distinguished was an essence which he alone possessed, and of incomparable value on that sole account. Dryden's Epistles are excellent, but inferior to Pope's, though they appear (particularly the admirable one to Congreve) to have been the model on which the latter formed his. His Satires are better than Pope's. His Absalom and Achitophel' is superior, both in force of invective and discrimination of character, to anything of Pope's in the same way. The character of Achitophel is very fine, and breathes, if not a sincere love for virtue, a strong spirit of indignation against vice.
'MacFlecknoe' is the origin of the idea of the 'Dunciad;' but it is less elaborately constructed, less feeble, and less heavy. The difference between Pope's satirical portraits and Dryden's appears to be this in a good measure that Dryden seems to grapple with his antagonists and to describe real persons; Pope seems to refine upon them in his own mind, and to make them out just what he pleases, till they are not real characters, but the mere drivelling effusions of his spleen and malice. Pope describes the thing, and then goes on describing his own de
scription, till he loses himself in verbal repetitions. Dryden recurs to the object often, takes fresh sittings of Nature, and gives us new strokes of character as well as of his pencil. The Hind and Panther' is an allegory as well as a satire, ! and so far it tells less home; the battery is not so point-blank. But otherwise it has more genius, vehemence, and strength of description than any other of Dryden's works, not excepting the Absalom and Achitophel.' It also contains the finest examples of varied and sounding versification. I will quote the following as an instance of what I mean. He is complaining of the treatment which the papists, under James II., received from the Church of England:
'Besides these jolly birds, whose corpse impure
And from his pious hands received their bread.
Yet still they grudged that modicum, and thought