Page images
PDF
EPUB

TO MRS. ARABELLA FERMOR.

MADAM,

It will be in vain to deny that I have some regard for this piece, since I dedicate it to You. Yet you may bear me witness, it was intended only to divert a few young Ladies, who have good sense and good humour enough to laugh not only at their sex's little unguarded follies, but at their own. But as it was communicated with the air of a Secret, it soon found its way

into the world. An imperfect copy having been offered to a Bookseller, you had the goodnature, for my sake, to consent to the publication of one more correct: This I was forced to, before I had executed half my design, for the Machinery was entirely wanting to complete it.

The Machinery, Madam, is a term invented by the Critics, to signify that part which the Deities, Angels, or Demons, are made to act in a Poem : For the ancient Poets are in one respect like

many modern Ladies ; let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance. These Machines I determined to raise on a very new and odd foundation, the Rosicrusian doctrine of Spirits.

I know how disagreeable it is to make use of hard words before a Lady ; but 'tis so much the

concern of a Poet to have his works understood, and particularly by your Sex, that you must give me leave to explain two or three difficult terms.

The Rosicrusians are a people I must bring you acquainted with. The best account I know of them is in a French book called Le Comte de Gabalis, which both in its title and size is so like a Novel, that many of the Fair Sex have read it for one by mistake. According to these Gentlemen, the four Elements are inhabited by Spirits, which they call Sylphs, Gnomes, Nymphs, and Salamanders. The Gnomes or Demons of Earth delight in mischief; but the Sylphs, whose habitation is in the Air, are the best-conditioned Creatures imaginable. For they say, any mortals may enjoy the most intimate familiarities with these gentle Spirits, upon a condition very easy to all true Adepts, an inviolate preservation of Chastity.

As to the following Cantos, all the passages of them are as fabulous, as the Vision at the beginning, or the Transformation at the end (except the loss of your Hair, which I always mention with reverence). The Human persons are as fictitious as the Airy ones; and the character of Belinda, as it is now managed, resembles you in nothing but in Beauty.

If this Poem had as many Graces as there are in your Person, or in your Mind, yet I could never hope it should pass through the world half so Uncensured as You have done. But let its fortune be

what it will, mine is happy enough, to have given me this occasion of assuring you, that I am, with the truest esteem,

Madam,
Your most obedient, humble servant,

A. POPE.

This Lady was also celebrated by Parnell in a poem not published by Pope, as follows, on her leaving London.

“ From town fair Arabella flies :

The beaux unpowder'd grieve;
The rivers play before her eyes ;
The breezes, softly-breathing, rise ;

The spring begins to live.
Her lovers swore, they must expire:

Yet quickly find their ease ;
For, as she goes, their flames retire,
Love thrives before a nearer fire,

Esteem by distant rays.
Yet soon the fair-one will return,

When summer quits the plain ;
Ye rivers, pour the weeping urn;
Ye breezes, sadly-sighing, mourn;

Ye lovers, burn again.
'Tis constancy enough in love

That nature's fairly shewn:
To search for more, will fruitless prove,
Romances and the turtle dove,

That virtue boast alone.”

be

ovvero, Il Lambertaccio, in which the Modenese are spoken of with much contempt. The Italians have a fine turn for works of humour, in which they abound. They have another poem of this species, called Malmantile Racquistato, written by Lorenzo Lippi, in the year 1676, which Crescembini highly commends, calling it, “Spiritosissimo e leggiadrissimo poema giocoso." It was afterward reprinted at Florence, 1688, with the useful annotations of Puccio Lamoni, a Florentine painter, who was himself no contemptible poet. To these must be added the lively and amusing poem called Ricciardetto. In the Adventurer, No. 133, I formerly endeavoured to shew the superiority of the moderns over the ancients, in all the species of ridicule, and to point out some of the reasons for this supposed superiority. It is a subject that deserves a much longer discussion. Among other reasons given, it is there said, that though democracies may the nurses of true sublimity, yet monarchy and courts are more productive of politeness. Hence the arts of civility, and the decencies of conversation, as they unite men more closely, and bring them together more frequently, multiply opportunities of observing those incongruities and absurdities of behaviour, on which ridicule is founded. The ancients had more liberty and seriousness; the moderns more luxury and laughter. In a word, our forms of government, the various consequent ranks in society, our commerce, manners, habits, riches, courts, religious controversies, intercourse with women, late age of the world in which we live, and new arts, have opened sources of ridicule unavoidably unknown to the ancients.

The Rape of the Lock is the fourth, and most excellent of the heroi-comic poems. The subject was a quarrel, occasioned by a little piece of gallantry of Lord Petre, who, in a party of pleasure, found means to cut off a favourite lock of Mrs. Arabella Fermor's hair. On so slight a foundation has he raised this beautiful superstructure; like a Fairy palace in a desert. Pope was accustomed to say, “what I wrote fastest always pleased most.” The first 'sketch of this exquisite piece, which Addison called Merum Sal, was written in less than a fortnight, in two Cantos only; but it was so universally applauded, that, in the next year, our poet enriched it with the machinery of the Sylphs, and extended it to five Cantos ; when it was printed, with a Letter to Mrs. Fermor, far superior to any of Voiture. The insertion of the machinery of the Sylphs in proper places, without the least appearance of its being awkwardly stitched in, is one of the happiest efforts of judgment and art. He took the idea of

these invisible beings, so proper to be employed in a poem of this nature, from a little French book, entitled, Le Comte de Gabalis, of which is given the following account, in an entertaining writer. “ The Abbé Villars, who came from Thoulouse to Paris, to make his fortune by preaching, is the author of this diverting work. The five dialogues of which it consists, are the result of those gay conversations, in which the Abbé was engaged, with a small circle of men, of fine wit and humour, like himself. When this book first appeared, it was universally read, as innocent and amusing. But at length its consequences were perceived, and reckoned dangerous, at a time when this sort of curiosities began to gain credit. Our devout preacher was denied the chair, and his book forbidden to be read. It was not clear whether the author intended to be ironical, or spoke all seriously. The second volume, which he promised, would have decided the question; but the unfortunate Abbé was soon afterward assassinated by ruffians, on the road to Lyons. The laughers gave out, that the Gnomes and Sylphs, disguised like ruffians, had shot him, as a punishment for revealing the secrets of the Cabala ; a crime not to be pardoned by these jealous spirits, as Villars himself has declared in his book."

The motto to the second, when it was enlarged into five cantos, printed in octavo for Lintot, 1714, was from Ovid; as was that to the first :

“a tonso est hoc nomen adepta capillo.” Both mottos seem to be happily chosen. No writer has equalled Addison in the happy and dextrous application of passages from the classics for his mottos. Such as that prefixed to the fine paper on the Hoop-petticoat, No. 116 of the Tatler ;

“ Pars minima est ipsa puella sibi." To the account of the Spectator's Club, No. 2.

“ ast alii sex Et plures uno conclamant ore". To No. 8, On Masquerades ;

“ At Venus obscuro gradientes aëre sepsit,
Et multo nebulæ circum Dea fudit amictu :

Cernere nequis eos”-Virg.
To No. 23, On Anonymous Satires;

“ Sævit atrox Volscens, nec teli conspicit usquam Auctorem, nec quo se ardens immittere possit.” Virg.

« PreviousContinue »