Слике страница
PDF
ePub

honoured old age, from the toil of business, and feeking amufements more quiet and fuited to his declining years, than his ftag-hounds and the fociety of his country neighbours afforded; a fimilarity, in fome respect, of circumftances, might have tended to render the elder Pope and himself agreeable to each other. Their stations of life were different, but they had both "left the croud," and experienced the truth of the fentiment of La Bruyere, thus expreffed by the tender Cowper,

"How sweet, how paffing sweet is folitude!
"But grant me ftill a friend in my retreat,
"Whom I may whisper "Solitude is sweet."

Sir William, who had been in high political employment during the reign of King William, with cultivated manners, benevolent difpofition, good fenfe, mixed with love of literature, exhibited, at the clofe of life, in the fhades of his native forest, that fair example to Society, a country gentleman of education and knowledge of the world, difpenfing hofpitality, and cheering with kindnefs, intelligence, and liberality, the parish in which he was born, and where his bones were finally to be laid. To the honour of fuch a man, let it be recorded, that his name. is yet remembered with veneration by many of the inhabitants of the adjacent parifhes. They point to the church where his remains repofe, and feem to feel

kind of pride that the noble manfion and domains of his ancestors ftill remain in the poffeffion of his defcendants.

Here (1704), he firft faw, in manufcript, the Paftorals of Pope. It may not be carrying the fancy too far, to suppose, that such fubjects, treated fo melodiously, might have been peculiarly in unifon with Sir William's fentiments and circumstances.

The ftripling minstrel of Binfield was, of courfe, applauded, and received with the greatest kindnefs.

Under fuch aufpices began the poetical career of Pope the manufcript of his Paftorals was circulated among those who were confidered as competent judges, and the dawn of genius was hailed by all men of acknowledged tafte in literature. Wycherley, who lived near, and had himself "old grown in rhyme," was enthufiaftic in his admiration. This celebrated wit, now in his 69th year, who to his laft fcene continued the farce of rhyme and ribaldry, thinking, no doubt, that Pope was like fomething infpired, cultivated his friendship, with the highest profeffions of admiration and esteem, chiefly with a view of having his own inferior compo. fitions corrected and elevated by fuch a genius. During this intercourse, the applause and compliments which they mutually beftowed on each other were not lefs ridiculous, than a friendship between a fentimental liber

tine

a 4

tine and a young man perfectly ignorant of the world was unnatural. Lady M. W. Montagu fays, "Pope courted Wycherley as he did other rich old men, with a view of a legacy." It was not likely, however, that at this age he should have been fo coldly and selfishly prudent. It was fufficient that he was young, and flattered by a person who had gained a kind of celebrity. He fays, in his first letter, and probably with truth, "it was certainly a great fatisfaction to me to see and converfe with a man, whom in his writings I had fo long known with pleasure."-Dec. 26, 1704.

Of a friendship fo uncongenial, and begun with fuch circumstances, a little knowledge of human nature may eafily anticipate the conclufion. Unfortunately, after great pains had been taken with Wycherley's verfes, which had been the pride and labour of a long life, the young critic seriously advised him, when all was done, to turn them INTO PROSE!! This wound, which Pope, no doubt, gave unconfcioufly, was never entirely healed. Some faint attempts were made to renew the original kindness, but their friendship could not be re-established, and the superannuated bard died not long after.

By Wycherley the Paftorals in manuscript were fhewn to Cromwell, and by Cromwell to Walsh.

After having been more widely circulated, and as highly applauded, the paftoral strain was fucceeded by the defcriptive; at least the defcriptive poem of

Windfor

Windfor Foreft was now begun, but not finished till 1713.

There was a particular beech-tree, under which Pope used to fit; and it is the tradition of the place, that under that tree he composed the Windsor Forest. The original tree being decayed, Lady Gower of Bill-hill had a memorial carved upon the bark of an other immediately adjoining: "Here Pope fang."The marks are visible to this day, but are faft wearing out. During Lady Gower's life, the letters were new cut every three or four years.

Such was the early progrefs of this great writer's reputation.

The Paftorals, which had been four years circulated in manufcript, were published when he was twenty years of age, having been written at fixteen (1709). The letter of old Jacob Tonfon, who offered his press, is extant; and as it is characteristic, it is here inferted,

" SIR,

"I have lately feen a Pastoral of yours, in Mr. Walsh's and Congreve's hand, which is extremely fine, and is approved by the best judges in poetry. I remember I have formerly feen you in my fhop, and am forry I did not improve my acquaintance with you. If you defign your poem for the press, no one shall be more careful in printing it, nor no one can give greater encouragement to it than, Sir," &c.

4

[ocr errors]

The

The moft extraordinary productions faid to have been written fo early as his fourteenth year muft not be paffed over. These were the Alterations from Chaucer's Wife of Bath, and the translation of Ovid's Epiftle from Sappho to Phaon. Dr. Warton fays, that from his profeffion " he had feen compofitions of youths of fixteen years old, far beyond the Paftorals in point of genius and imagination, though not of correctnefs." But I fear not to affert, that he never could have seen any compofitions of boys of that age fo perfect in verfification, fo copious, yet fo nice in expreffion, fo correct, fo fpirited, and fo finished, as these alterations and tranflations.

It is most probable they were corrected and heightened when the tafte of the author was matured; and when he was in a greater degree mafter of that "copia verborum," which gives fo beautiful a precision to his language, and forms one of the chief characteristical excellencies of his poetry. He had already without fuccefs attempted the bolder flight of the Epic fong (1708), and, like Icarus, (Jule ceratis, &c.) found himself unequal to the effort. He fays very claffically,

[merged small][ocr errors]

Having, however, obtained fo much diftinction, he effayed to cope for the lyric palm with Dryden, and published haud paffibus aquis, the Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, and, not long afterwards, the Choruses for

« ПретходнаНастави »