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and refined tone of society was brought about by the papers which, under the title of “The Tattler," from the pen of Steele, began that series which became more famous in the “ Spectator,” and in connection with Addison. “ It was said of Socrates,” remarked Steele, “that he brought philosophy down from heaven to inhabit among men. I shall be ambitious to have it said of me that I have brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools, and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables, and in coffee-houses." Not many years ago, it was very generally the custom, I remember, for every young person, male and female, to go through a course of reading of the papers of the Spectator. This has fallen quite into disuse now-a-days, and I do not kuow that it is much to be regretted. The Spectator contains, undoubtedly, much sensible and sound morality; but it is not a very high order of Christian ethics. It contains much judicious criticism, but certainly not comparable to the deeper philosophy of criticisin which has entered into English literature in the present century. Those papers will always have a semi-historical interest, as picturing the habits and manners of the times—a moral value, as a kindly, good-natured censorship of those manners. In one respect, the Spectator stands unrivalled to this day: I allude to the exquisite humour in those numbers in which Sir Roger de Coverley figures. If any one desire to form a just notion of what is meant by that very indefinable quality called “ humour," he cannot more agreeably inform himself than by selecting the Sir Roger de Coverley papers, and reading them in series.
While Addison was giving to English prose that refinement which was verging, perhaps, to somewhat of feebleness, the strong hand of Swift-a man wil a stronger intellect and a rougher heart-was scattering that vigorous prose which touched the other 'extreme of coarseness ; and Bolinghroke was giving in his 'statelier and more elegant diction, that prose the study of which has by some of England's best orators been pronounced an orator's best training.
The chief representative name in the literature of the times of Queen Anne is that of Pope. His rank as a poet has been a subject of much dispute; but it may now, I think, be considered as the settled iudgment of the most judicious critics, ardent admirers, too, of Pope's poetry, that his place is not with Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton, the poets the first order, but with Dryden, in a second rank. Shakspeare alone excepted, perhaps no English poet has furnished a greater amount of single lines for apt and happy quotation, on account either of their force or beauty. In the famous satire on the Duchess of Marlborough occurs this passage:
“Strange! by the means defeated of the ends
By spirit robb’d of power—by warmth, of friends-
Or wanders, heaven-directed, to the poor.” This passage furnishes two most characteristic lines ; the first one of great force a truth from the dark side of humanity, the wasting malady of selfishness :
“Sick of herself through very selfishness." The other, a beautiful expression of the sense of a good Providence:
“ Or wanders, heaven-directed, to the poor.” There is another description of lines in Pope, as favourite in the way of quotation as any: I mean those which express in smooth verse some truism, or common-place sentiment, or something the very tameness of which makes it untrue. What line has been quoted so often?you may see it even on tombstones
" An honest man's the noblest work of God." Does anybody think so? Is honesty so rare? Has it so much of heroism in it, or so much of saintliness, that it is God's noblest work? Surely, the poet must have uttered it in contempt of his fellow-menmust have meant it in sarcasm.
And here we may see what disqualified Pope from being the great moral poet he aspired to be from being a great poet of the first rank. Whatever was his power of imagination, of fancy, his command of language, or flow of verse, his genius had not that spiritual healthfulness which is a characteristic of our greatest English poets. There is, running through all the writings of Pope, a large vein of misanthropy. It was his habit to proclaim contempt of the world, antipathy to his fellow-beings, except a few choice friends, whom he clung to most faithfully. It is not with such morbid feeling that a poet can either study or expound human nature. His ministry is to inspire his fellow-beings with high and happy emotions, to foster a just sense of the dignity of human nature, to make man lowly wise, to cheer him emid his frailties, not to depress him, to animate his heart with faith, and hope, and love, not to chill and harden it with discontent and hatred. Instead of aggravating all that is dark and forlorn in man's mingled nature, it belongs to the poet, of all others, to show that
while the son of earth is lying on the earth, lonely, benighted, his head pillowed on a stone, thoughts of a better life, the soul's celestial aspirations, are ascending and descending over him, like angels in the patriarch's dream. For such, the poet's truest ministry, Pope's temperament was unhappily constituted. In a letter to Bishop Atterbury—a serious letter on a serious occasion-addressed to that prelate on the eve of his exile, he asks, “What is every year of a wise man's life but a censure or critic on the past ? Those whose date is the shortest, live long enough to laugh at one-half of it: the boy despises the infant, the man the boy, the pliilosopher both, and the Christian all.” What could have been that notion of philosophy, what that notion of Christianity, which could make one of its attributes contempt, that infirmity of the morbid mind, in the eye of divine wisdom a vice! How different, too, such contempt of the past periods of one's life, from that deeper wisdom which inculcates the moral continuity of our being, showing how important it is for the growth of our spiritual nature that we should so dwell in each partition of our earthly time, that we may move on from one to the other with happy memories of the past—with happy consciousness of its abiding influences !
6. The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety." It is a characteristic view of human life which Pope gives in such a passage as this:
“ Behold the child, by nature's kindly law,
me livelier plaything gives his youth deligbt,
Till tired he sleeps, and life's poor play is o'er.” The “rattle," a "straw," “ scarfs, garters, gold, beads, and prayerbooks,” equally toys and baubles, and ending alike in weariness, and then death or sleep. What a picture of life! what a picture for a poet, whose duty is to dignify and elevate, to draw, of the life of man, who with all his infirmities, is an immortal, gifted with a soul, precious in the sight of his Creator, and not unworthy the awful ransom of the Redeemer's blood! A great moral poet does not so teach. “Life's poor play!" Such is this didactic poet's deliberate doctrine. The image is Shakspeare's, but with a most significant difference :
“ Out, out, brief candle!
Signifying nothing." But mark the dramatic truth, when you see what voice speaks thus; it is, the utterance of the agony of a blood-stained conscience, whose guilt has so wasted out all its humanity, that it would fain lose all belief in life's realities.
The sophisticated state of society in which Pope lived, and the morbid excess of his critical powers, show themselves in his treatment of womanly character: it is full of querulousness, and sarcasm, perverse in sentiment and in morals. He exhorts a female friend
“ Not to quit the free innocence of life,
For the dull glory of a virtuous wife.” What a line for a poet to utter! and what a contrast to those bright images of womanly heroism and beauty which the older poets delighted to picture in marriage! When Pope begins a healthier strain in that sweet couplet
“O blest with temper, whose unclouded ray
Can make to-morrow happy as to-day”see what a straightway it deelines to,-such a tribute to womanly character as this, that a sister can be unenvious of a sister's beauty, and that a mother can hear unaggrieved the love that is given to a daughter, and that a wife's merit is to win a way for her own will by a crafty self-control and a refined dissimulation:
She who can love a sister's charms, or hear
Yet has her humour most when she obeys." When the household emotion of filial piety got the better of the worldly want of feeling and the artifices of society, Pope's heart spoke in the lines alluding to his mother, beautiful for their truth of feeling:
“Oh, friend, may, each domestic bliss be thine!
There was influence over the mind of Pope, which must be alluded to as belonging to the literary history of the times; I refer to the overshadowing and malignant influence of the friendship of Lord Bolingbrokera man whose brilliant talents do not redeem his memory from the reproach of corrupt statemanship, and the more enduring agency of evil which he exercised as one of the leading deistical writers of the eighteenth century. That influence often intercepted the light of revelation. You may see not unfrequently playing on the surface of Pope's fancy the shadows that were cast by the restless leaves of the poison-tree of a godless philosophy. No
company of writers has sunk into such general and merited oblivion as the British infidels, who were the precursors of the French sceptics in the last century. We look back with somewhat of wonder and dismay at the extent of the influence they exerted for a considerable time over the minds of their countrymen in an advanced stage of intellectual refinement. It had its sway over the most cultivated classes of society, the court, the men of letters, but happily had less effect on
what is less heard of—the simple piety which never died out in the Į quiet parish churches of the land, and was cherished at many a lowly
hearth. In the prouder spheres of society, and in literature, deism and all the motley mockery of unbelief had an almost unresisted power. I know of no sadder sentence in English literature, than that in which Bishop Butler, in the preface to his great defence of revealed religion, remarks, “ It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry; but that it is now,
at length, discovered to be fictitious. And aceordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people of discernment; and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.”
This was said in 1736, and to such a state of things no man contributed more than Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, he whom Pope, in the poem which professed to be his philosophical poem
-“ The Essay on Man”-has apostrophized as his “ genius,” of the poet and the song," his “guide, philosopher, and friend."
The middle of the eighteenth century presents English literature, and especially its poetry, reduced to its lowest estate. Those who followed Pope, to imitate him without his powers, rendered the poetry of that period tame, trite, mechanical, and monotonous in versification. What the middle of the last century has to be proud of is, Dr. Johnson's colossal work, the first great Dictionary of our language.