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Matthew Prior’s and James Delacour’s praise

Matthew Prior’s and James Delacour’s praise

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POPE 141

that went before it: Every Person that has read Mr. Pope’s justly admired Piece,

are convinced that it has Beauties scarce to be imitated, much less transcended.

’Tis built upon a Story undoubtedly true, the Circumstances happ’ning in the

twelfth Century and deli ver’d down to us by Authors of reputed Veracity. All

that have heard them join in Pity to deplore so moving a Relation. Abelard and

Eloisa by all Accounts were two of the most distinguish’d Persons in the Age

they liv’d in for natural and refin’d Parts, early they tasted the forbidden Fruit

and as early suffer’d for it. He was pitch’d upon by her Uncle who was an Abbot

in France to be her Præceptor in Philosophy; by which means this unlucky

Passion first took its rise, that was to cost them so many Tears afterwards. The

Liberties of an unconfin’d Conversation serv’d only to blow it higher: Two of

the most beautiful Persons in that Age could not behold each other long with the

Eyes of Insensibility; They lov’d and indulg’d their mutual Wishes, and one

Evening when all they thought was safe, all private, all secure, the Abbot who

had suspected them a good while before, bounc’d into the Room and seiz’d them

in the very Fact. O who can describe the Surprize in each of their Faces, Eloisa

was hurried away that Instant from his Sight, never to behold her more but in a

Convent; and the unhappy Abelard was soon deprived forcibly of the Means of

ever tasting those Joys again, by the hands of Ruffians. Thus did those faithful

Lovers retire from the Vanities of a treacherous World, they went to a separate

Convent and consecrated the remainder of their Days to Religion. Long after this

a letter falling by chance into Eloisa’s Hands, that was writ by Abelard to some

of his Friends in which he gives them an Account of his unheard of Calamities

and Afflictions. This awaken’d all her Tenderness and occasion’d those

celebrated Letters which Mr. Pope and all the World will say, do give the most

lively Description of the Struggles of Nature, Virtue and Passion. They died after

this and were buried in the Monastery called the Paraclete, in the same Tomb or

in Monuments adjoining.

I have read Mr. Pope’s Letter, and do think it impossible for Futurity to

produce in our Language any thing softer in its kind than that celebrated Epistle.

The many gloomy Horrors, and mournful Images work’d up here and there, and

soften’d with his all-tender Expressions, make it a Master-piece for succeeding

Ages. As I read him with the Pleasure of an Admirer, so I hope I have not wanted

to care to imitate him. If I fall, I greatly fall, my Ambition leading me to imitate

one of the finest Pieces of the kind now extant; Nay, if I have my leave to say so,

I think it even excels Mr. Prior’s Henry to Emma,1 which did charm the finest

Tastes Abroad and at Home. How I have study’d Mr. Pope’s Stile, I leave to the

Ladies, who are much the properest Judges in those Affairs, and for whom it was

chiefly design’d—If I’m so happy as to be approv’d of by them, Let the rest of

the World Censure as they Please, I shall remain still their humble Servant,



[But see G.Tillotson, Twickenham, ii. 413–14]



3 June 1717


Blacklock is ‘thrown into Agitation’

c. 1742

Thomas Blacklock, conversation with David Hume c. 1742, reported

in a letter of 15 October 1754, from Hume to Rev. Joseph Spence,

Anecdotes, ed. S.W.Singer (1820), p. 448.

Hume was writing to Spence on behalf of Blacklock (1721–91),

the self-educated blind bard of Dumfries.

I soon found [Blacklock] to possess a very delicate Taste, along with a

passionate Love of Learning…. I repeated to him Mr. Pope’s Elegy to the

Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, which I happen’d to have by heart: And though

I be a very bad Reciter, I saw it affected him extremely. His eyes, indeed, the

great Index of the Mind, cou’d express no Passion: but his whole Body was

thrown into Agitation: That Poem was equally qualified, to touch the Delicacy of

his Taste, and the Tenderness of his Feelings.




20–23 September 1718


Reactions of Atterbury and Lady Mary

Wortley Montagu


(a) Francis Atterbury (1662–1732), Bishop of Rochester, extracts from a letter

to Pope, 12 September 1718, Corresp., i. 502–4. Pope sent Atterbury a twelveline version of the Epitaph on 3 September for his ‘opinion both as to the

doctrine and to the poetry’, and followed his advice by omitting a couplet before

it was carved on a memorial tablet placed on the outside wall of the church.

I like the Lines well: they are Yours, and they are Good, & on both accounts,

very welcome to me. You know my Opinion, That Poetry without a Moral is a

Body without a Soul. Let the Lines be never so finely turn’d, if they do not point

at some Useful Truth, if there be no degree of Instruction at the bottom of them,

they can give no true delight to a Reasonable mind; they are versus inopes

rerum, nugœque, canorœ;1and as such they may tinkle prettily in the Ear, but

will never reach the Heart, or leave a durable Impression behind them. No body

that reads your Verses, will blame you on this account for they are all over

Morality, from the beginning to the End of them. And it pleases me the better,

because I fancy it drawn from Horace’s Fountain, for I cannot help thinking, that

his Si fractus illabatur Orbis—Impavidum ferient ruinœ2 was, whether you

attended to it or no, the Original, from whence your two last Verses were Copy’d.

I wish, you had prepar’d the way for the latter of them, as he has done, for the

Idea given us by fractus illabatur Orbis, is strong enough to support that which

follows, Impavidum ferient ruinœ, whereas you melt the Ball at once, without

giving us any warning, and are led, on the sudden, from a particular Accident to

the General Conflagration; & That too is to be effected by a Flash, a word, me

thinks, not equal to the work on which you have employ’d it. Pardon this

freedom! but my Old Master, Roscommon, has an Expression, which I always

look’d upon as very happy and Significant (He that1 proportion d wonders can

disclose) without that just Proportion, nothing is truly admirable! Will you

forgive me, if I add, that melting the Ball, without that Preparation of the Reader


[Horace, Ars Poetica, l. 322: ‘verses void of thought, and sonorous trifles’]

[Odes, III. iii. 7–8: ‘Were the vault of heaven to break and fall upon him, its ruins would

smite him undismayed’]



I mention’d, is too apt to lead us into the Image of a Snow Ball. Waller, I am

perswaded, for the sake of the Fs and Bs, of which he was remarkably fond,

would have rather chosen to say, and face the Flash, that Burns the Ball. I am far

from proposing this, as an Improvement. I do not think it such: or if I did, yet I

would not offer it; for, where the Images themselves are not well suited, ‘tis in

vain to alter a particular Expression.

I know not, Whither I am going in this Tract of Criticism, to which I have

been long a Stranger. But since I am in for it, Pergite Pierides2—

Virtue unmov’d should you not rather say Goodness, than repeat the word,

Virtue, which you had us’d three Lines before? So you had Call, also: but that

Repetition is graceful; the Verb being chang’d into a Substantive, and becoming

by that means a new word which echoes to the former and yet differs from it.

Aliudque et idem nascitur,3 says he, who says every thing better than anyone but


Your Second Stanza is full of good Sense shortly expressed. But, methinks,

there is some Obscurity in it quo vitio minime teneri soles, as Suetonius says of

Horace.4 For, when God calls the Virtuous to his Grace, tho’ he be alike just,

whether he calls him soon or late, yet it should not be said, that he is alike

merciful, whether he kills or saves him: for, if he saves him, the very Supposition

of his being call’d to the Grave, is destroyed. Nor am I perfectly satisfy’d with that

Phrase (when God calls Virtue to the Grave): tho’ if the Connexion of it with the

4th Line were exact in point of Sense, the Expression it self would not shock me.

In the first Stanza I must take the Liberty to Object against so faithful, and 50

pure, because they are 50 near to one another, and yet belong to different

Sentences. Nor can I approve that confusion of Ideas, which seems to be in the

two last Lines. Elijah indeed was snatch’d up in a Chariot of Fire:1 but pure

Victims, consum’d by fire from heaven, cannot be said to be snatch’d up in it.

Has the word Celestial, in the 4th Line any force? If Heaven snatches them in

fire, that fire must needs be Celestial, i.e. heavenly….

I say nothing to you about Rhime, because ‘tis a Subject upon which I have so

much to say. Why should you forego an Advantage; which you enjoy in

perfection? and own that way of writing not to be the best in which you write

better than any Man? I am not so unreasonable as to expect it. But I know I have

the Testimony of your Poetical Conscience on my side, tho’ you are wise enough

not to own so unpopular and unproffitable a Truth.

1 [I.e., ‘He that proportion’d Wonders can disclose, /At once his Fancy and his Judgment

shows.’ Actually, the couplet comes from a poem by Waller prefixed to Roscom-mon’s

translation of Horace’s Art of Poetry (1717)]

2 [Virgil, Eclogues, vi. 13: ‘Proceed, Pierian maids!’]

3 [Horace, Carm. Saec., ll. 10–11: ‘And thou art reborn another and the same’]

4 [Life of Horace: ‘which was by no means one of his faults’]

POPE 147

(b) Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, extract from letter to Pope, ? I November

1718, Corresp., i. 523.

I must applaud your good nature in supposing that your pastoral lovers,

(vulgarly called Haymakers) would have lived in everlasting joy and harmony, if

the lightning had not interrupted their scheme of happiness. I see no reason to

imagine that John Hughes and Sarah Drew were either wise or more virtuous

than their neighbours. That a well-set man of twenty-five should have a fancy to

marry a brown woman of eighteen, is nothing marvellous; and I cannot help

thinking that had they married, their lives would have passed in the common

track with their fellow-parishioners. His endeavouring to shield her from a storm

was a natural action, and what he would have certainly done for his horse, if he

had been in the same situation. Neither am I of opinion that their sudden death

was a reward of their mutual virtue. You know the Jews were reprov’d for

thinking a village destroyed by fire, more wicked than those that had escaped the

thunder. Time and chance happen to all men.


[Atterbury is here objecting to the following couplet: ‘Their Souls on Wings of

Lightning fly /So soard Eliah to the Sky.’ Pope omitted them from the memorial tablet as

a result of Atterbury’s remarks]




Concanen praises Pope with Eusden


Matthew Concanen, extract from ‘A Letter to a Critick, In

Vindication of the Modern Poets’, Poems upon Several Occasions

(1722), p. 51.

This passage includes Concanen’s undiscriminating praise of

Eusden. Having put Pope on a critical parity with this poet, it is not

surprising that Concanen later attacked Pope, and in return found

himself in The Dunciad (A), ii. 130.

Great and Unmatch’d is Laurel’d EUSDEN’s Praise,

At once to merit, and adorn the Bays;

Like some smooth Riv’let flows his charming Strain,

Which neither Rocks disturb, nor Floods distain.

Such Depth and Clearness in his Verses meet,

Strong as the Stream, and as its Murmurs sweet.

With pleasing Notes the Woods and Valleys ring,

If POPE’s harmonious Hand but touch the String;

His gentle Numbers charm the ravish’d Plains,

While still Attention holds the wond’ring Swains.

As when the Birds of ev’ry tuneful Kind,

Within the Limits of a Grove confin’d;

Their artless Musick warble thro’ the Sprays,

And in Divine Confusion mix their Lays:

The Note still chang’d, our raptur’d Sense confounds,

With mingling Melody, and blending Sounds;

While none its single Excellence can boast,

But in the gen’ral Harmony is lost.

Such are his Works, and such his ev’ry Song,

Alike all easy, and alike all strong.


Bolingbroke gives advice


Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, extract from letter to Pope, 18

February 1724, Corresp., ii. 219–20.

…you must not look on your translations of Homer as the great Work of your

Life. You owe a great deal more to your self, to your Country, to the present Age,

and to Posterity: Prelude with translations if you please, but after translating

what was writ three Thousand Years ago, it is incombent upon you that you

write, because you are able to Write, what will deserve to be translated three

Thousand years hence into Languages as yet perhaps unform’d. I hear all your

Objections at this distance. What write for Fame in a living Language which

changes every year, and which is hardly known beyond the bounds of our Island,

continue to Write, and you’ll contribute to fix it. Claudian, nay Lucan who was

so much elder, had not certainly the Diction of Virgil; but if Virgil had not Writ,

both these, and Silius Italicus and several others, who came between them, or

after them, would have writ worse; and we should find the Latin tongue

degenerate in the course of so many Centurys much more than it improv’d in

that short space between the Age of Lucilius or of Ennius, and that of the

Mantuan (the very contrary of which is the Truth). You have said I am sure to

your self at least, tentanda via est quâ me quoque possim tôlière humo,1 and if

you add that you have succeeded you are not in the wrong, but there remains half

a Verse and half your task behind—Victorque virum volitare per or a. This

perhaps you despair of atchieving, and it is that despair I would recover you from.

Virgil indeed wrote when the Roman Arms had carry’d the Roman Language

from the Euphrates to the Western Ocean, and from the Deserts of Lybia to the

Danube and the Rhine: but your friend Homer wrote for a parcel of little States

who compos’d in his days a Nation much inferior every way to what our Nation

is in yours. Recall to your mind the image of Ancient Greece which Thucidides

gives in the Introduction to his History, and which may be form’d out of

1 [Georgics, iii. 8–9: ‘I must essay a path whereby I, too, may rise from earth and fly

victorious on the lips of men’. The quotation is completed at the end of the sentence]

POPE 151

Herodotus, Pausanias, Strabo, Plutarch &c. You will soon agree that your

Theatre is vastly more considerable than that of Hesiod and Homer, and you will

conceive much more reasonable hopes than they could entertain of immortality.

Luxury & Learning made the Greeks famous in process of time, and brought

their Language into use, as well as their Vices, even among their Conquerors, for

Greek like Christianity has spread by Persecution, and Latin like Mahometanism

by Victory. The French and the Italians have more lessons of Luxury to give than

we, but we have been these several Years their Masters in Learning. Methinks

we should improve this advantage. The Philosophers of the Continent learn

English, and the Mathematicians might have been under the same necessity if Sir

Isaac Newton had pleased.1 But there are few Philosophers and Mathematicians

any where. A Language which is designed to spread, must recommend it self by

Poetry, by Eloquence, by History. I believe England has produced as much

Genius first as any Country. Why then is our Poetry so little in request among

Strangers? several Reasons may be given, and this certainly as the most

considerable, that we have not one Original great Work of that kind wrote near

enough to perfection to pique the Curiosity of other Nations, as the Epick Poetry

of the Italians, and the Dramatick Poetry of the French pique ours. Eloquence

and History are God knows, at the lowest ebb imaginable among us. The

different Stiles are not fix’d, the Bar and the Pulpit have no Standard, and our

Historys are Gazettes ill digested, & worse writ. The case is far otherwise in

France and in Italy. Eloquence has been extreamly cultivated in both Countrys,

and I know not whether the Italians have not equalled the Greeks and the

Romans in writing History. Guicciardine2 seems to me superior to Thusidides on

a Subject still more complicated than that of the Peloponesian war, and perhaps

the vastness of the undertaking is the principal advantage which Livy has over

Davila.1 In short excellent original writings can alone recommend a Language,

and contribute to the spreading of it. No man will learn English to read Homer or

Virgil. Whilst you translate therefore you neglect to propagate the English

Tongue; and whilst you do so, you neglect to extend your own reputation, for

depend upon it your writings will live as long and go as far as the Language,

longer or further they cannot.



[I.e., if the Principia had been in English rather than Latin]

[Francesco Guicciardini (1483–1540), Italian historian]

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