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Not all the treffes that fair head can boast,
This Lock, the Muse shall confecrate to fame,
UPON the whole, I hope it will not be thought an exaggerated panegyric to fay, that the Rape of the Lock is the best Satire extant; that it contains the trueft and livelieft picture of modern life; and that the subject is of a more elegant nature, as well as more artfully conducted, than any other heroi-comic poem.
Our nation can boast also, of having produced fome other poems of the burlesque kind, that are excellent; particularly the Splendid Shilling, that admirable copy of the folemn irony of Cervantes, who is the father and unrivalled model of the true mock heroic; and the Mufcipula, written with the purity of Virgil, whom the author fo perfectly understood, and with the pleafantry of Lucian; to which I cannot forbear adding, the Scribleriad of Mr. Cambridge, the Machine, Gefticulantes of Addifon, the Hobbinol of Somerville, and the Trivia of Gay; the Battle of the Wigs of Thornton, and the Triumph of Tem per of Hayley.
If fome of the moft candid among the French critics begin to acknowledge, that they have produced nothing in point of sublimity and majefty equal to the Paradife Loft, we may also venture to affirm, that in point of delicacy, elegance, and fine-turned raillery, on which they have fo much valued themselves, they have produced nothing equal to the Rape of the Lock. What comes nearest to it, is the pleafing and elegant Ver-vert of Greffet, in which the foibles of the Nuns are touched with fo delicate a hand, and such nice ridicule, that it cannot disgust the most religious prúde.
The learned and ingenious Mr. Cambridge has, in the Preface to his Scribleriad, made a remark fo new and fo folid, as to deserve examination and attention.
He fays, that in first reading the four celebrated mock-heroic poems, he perceived they had all fome radical defect. That at laft he found, by a diligent perufal of Don Quixote, that propriety was the fundamental excellence of that work. That all the marvellous was reconcileable to probability, as the author leads his hero into that fpecies of abfurdity only, which it was natural for an imagination, heated with the continual reading of books of chivalry, to fall into. That the want of attention to this was the fundamental error of thofe poems. For with what propriety do Churchmen, Phyficians, Beaux, and Belles, or Bookfellers, in the the Lutrin, Difpenfary, Rape of the Lock, and Dunciad, addrefs themselves to heathen gods, offer facrifices, confult oracles, or talk the language of Homer, and of the heroes of antiquity?
This acute obfervation bears hard on the conduct of more than one of the heroi comic poems above mentioned.
Nothing is here faid of Hudibras; because its unrivalled excellence could not be difcuffed in a note. It is one of the poems that gives peculiar luftre to our nation and language. One circumftance only I will here mention, that the ancients had no notion of fuch fort of Poems. The cruel wars between Pompey and Cefar, and the execrable profcriptions of Auguftus, were never treated in a burlefque ftyle, as the horrors of the league in France, and the bloody civil war in England, were described in the Satyre Menippée, and in Hudibras. One of the most accurate Greek scholars of our time and nation, is of opinion, that the Batracomuomachia is not by Homer, but a burlefque poem in imitation of his manner, by fome ancient poet, who, though he adopted the words and expreffions of the Greek Bard, formed his metre according to the pronunciation of his own country. With equal confidence we may pronounce the Margites to have been a forgery, though there are only four lines of it extant, three of which are quoted by Plato and Ariftotle; but in these we have a compound verb, with the augment upon the prepofition (sao), which Homer's grammar did not admit. Knight's Analytical Effay on the Greek Alphabet, page 30. WARTON.
Dr. Johnson truly fays of the Rape of the Lock, that it is the most airy, the most ingenious, and the most delightful of all
Pope's compofitions. Indeed, upon this subject there cannot be two opinions; and Dr. Warton has praifed it as warmly as Johnson.
This Poem is founded, however, upon local manners. And of all Poems of that kind it is undoubtedly far the best; whether we confider the exquifite tone of raillery a certain mufical sweetness and suitableness in the verfification, the management of the ftory, or the kind of fancy and airinefs given to the whole: but what entitles it to its high claim of peculiar poetic excellencies ? -the powers of imagination and the felicity of invention displayed, in adopting and moft artfully conducting a machinery, fo fanciful, fo appropriate, fo novel, and fo poetical. The introduction of Discord, &c. as machinery in the Lutrin, &c. is not to be mentioned at the fame time. Such a being as Difcord, will fuit a hundred fubjects; but the elegant, the airy Sylph,
Loofe to the wind, whofe airy garments flew,
fuch a being as this, is fuited alone to the identical and peculiar Poem in which it is employed.
I will now go a step farther in appreciating the elegance and beauty of this Poem; and I would ask the question: "Let any other poet, Dryden, Waller, Cowley, or Gray, be affigned this subject, and this machinery: could they have produced a work altogether fo correct, and beautiful, from the fame given materials?” Let us however still remember, that this Poem is founded on local manners, and the employment of the Sylphs is in artificial life; for this reason, the Poem must have a fecondary rank, when confidered ftrictly and truly with regard to its poetry.
Whether Pope would have excelled as much in loftier fubjects, of a general nature, in the "high mood" of Lycidas, the rich colourings of Comus, and the magnificent defcriptions and fublime images of Paradise Loft; or in painting the characters and employments of aerial beings,
That tread the oofe of the falt deep,
Or run upon the sharp wind of the north;
is another question. He has not attempted it: I have no doubt he would have failed. But to have produced a Poem, infinitely the
highest of its kind, and which no other Poet could perhaps altogether have done fo well, is furely very high praise. The excellence is Pope's own, the inferiority is in the subject; no one underfood better that excellent rule of Horace:
Sumite materiam veftris, qui fcribitis æquam