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He tells us that he sought the solace of poesy to beguile his hours of physical suffering. At the age of sixteen he wrote his Pastorals; and two or three years later, his Messiah, and Essay on Criticism. Pope's bodily infirmity caused him to be at times very irascible; and on one occasion his long-tried friend, Bishop Atterbury, in pleasantry, described the poet as Mens curva in corpore curvo. His Essay on Man is replete with nervous and picturesque passages; it is, however, occasionally tinctured with the heresies of his friend Bolingbroke. Subjoined are a few fine passages from his famous Essay on Man:
Hope humbly then-with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher, Death; and God adore.
What future bliss, He gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast,—
Man never is, but always to be blest.
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Lo! the poor Indian! whose untutor'd mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears Him in the wind:
His soul, proud science never taught to stray
Far as the solar walk or Milky-way;
Yet simple nature to his hope has given
Behind the cloud-topped hill a humbler heaven;
Some safer world in depth of woods embraced,
Some happier island in the watery waste,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
Nor fiends torment, nor Christians thirst for gold.
To be, contents his natural desire,
He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire;
'In justice to the poet, however, we ought to cite his noble couplet on his friend :—
"How pleasing Atterbury's softer hour!
How shined his soul unconquered in the Tower !"
What a grand conception or his is this closing passage :
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body nature is, and God the soul;
That, changed through all, and yet in all the same;
Great in the earth, as in th' ethereal frame;
Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees;
Lives through all life, extends through all extent;
Spreads undivided, operates unspent ;
Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part,
As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart;
As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns,
As the rapt seraph, that adores and burns;
To Him no high, no low, no great, no small;
He fills, He bounds, connects, and equals all.
Cease then, nor order imperfection name :
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
Know thy own point: this kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heaven bestows on thee.
Submit. In this, or any other sphere,
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear :
Safe in the hand of one disposing Power,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony, not understood;
All partial evil, universal good.
The Rape of the Lock, which Johnson styles "the most airy, ingenious, and delightful of all Pope's compositions," was occasioned by a frolic of gallantry. Here are two passages; one portraying the mysteries of the toilet, and the other the heroine of the story:
And now, unveiled, the toilet stands displayed,
Each silver vase in mystic order laid.
First, robed in white, the nymph intent adores,
With head uncovered, the cosmetic powers;
A heavenly image in the glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears:
The inferior priestess, at her altar's side,
Trembling begins the sacred rites of pride.
Unnumbered treasures ope at once, and here
The various offerings of the world appear;
From each she nicely culls with curious toil,
And decks the goddess with the glittering spoil.
This casket India's glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.
The tortoise here and elephant unite,
Transformed to comb's, the speckled and the white.
Here files of pins extend their shining rows,
Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux.
Now awful beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms,
Repairs her smiles, awakens every grace,
And calls forth all the wonders of her face;
Sees by degrees a purer blush arise,
And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes.
The busy Sylphs surround their darling care,
These set the head, and those divide the hair,
Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown;
And Betty's praised for labours not her own.
Fair nymphs and well-dressed youths around her shone,
every eye was fixed on her alone.
On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore.
Her lively looks a sprightly mind disclose,
Quick as her eyes, and as unfixed as those;
Favours to none, to all she smiles extends ;
Oft she rejects, but never once offends.
Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,
And, like the sun, they shine on all alike.
Yet graceful ease, and sweetness void of pride,
Might hide her faults, if belles had faults to hide :
If to her share some female errors fall,
Look on her face, and you'll forget them all.
This nymph, to the destruction of mankind,
Nourished two locks, which graceful hung behind
In equal curls, and well conspired to deck
With shining ringlets the smooth, ivory neck.
Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains,
And mighty hearts are held in slender chains.
Fair tresses man's imperial race insnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair.
Th' adventurous baron the bright locks admired;
He saw, he wished, and to the prize aspired.
The poetry of Pope has been compared to mosaic work,-full of thoughts familiar to most minds, but draped in elegant metaphor. There is an absence of passion and emotion in his writings; he seldom excites a smile, and as seldom touches the sympathies by pathos. His "mellifluence," as Johnson expresses it, has the defect of monotony; but he possessed the faculty of making "sound an echo to the sense" in an eminent degree. Witness these lines:
Soft is the strain when zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse rough verse should like the torrent roar.
When Ajax strives some rocks' vast weight to throw,
The words, too, labor, and the lines move slow:
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
PARNELL'S Hermit, familiar to most readers, and which Pope pronounced "very good," commences thus :—
Far in a wild, unknown to public view,
From youth to age a reverend hermit grew;