The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

III. Pope

§ 20. Other Satires

The most savage blow was aimed at “furious Sappho.” Lady Mary had been attacked in “The Capon’s Tale” in Pope and Swift’s Miscellany, and, again, in The Dunciad. Pope suspected her of being, at least part, author of A Pop upon Pope, which gave an imaginary account of his whipping by two of his victims in The Dunciad. In March, 1733, appeared Verses addressed to the Imitator of Horace: By a Lady, in which Pope’s body, soul, and muse were mercilessly reviled. Of this piece, Lady Mary, it would seem, was the chief author, helped, perhaps, by Lord Hervey, smarting from the reference to himself as “Lord Fanny” in the first Imitation of Horace. Hervey replied, on his own account, in the feeble Letter from a Nobleman at Hampton Court (1733). Pope’s rejoinder was the prose Letter to a Noble Lord (printed, but not published, in 1733); but his most conclusive reply to the attacks he had provoked was in his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1735), misnamed by Warburton The Prologue to the Satires. This magnificent outburst of autobiography, self-laudation, satire and invective contains some of Pope’s most finished and brilliant work. He professed that, feeling the awkward necessity to say something of himself, he had merely put the last hand to a desultory piece which he had had no thoughts of publishing. Parts, it is true, such as Addison’s character and the lines on his own mother, were of earlier date; but the bulk of the composition is, obviously, written for an immediate end. Beginning with lively complaints of the persecution from friend and foe which his fame has brought on him, he sketches his career as a man of letters, the encouragement received by him, all that he has endured from critics, his shrinking from literary coteries, his own lofty aims and his promptness to attack vice high or low. He closes by dwelling on his father’s character and his own devotion to his mother’s declining years. His pride in the approval and love bestowed by the fittest on his studies and himself is seen in those lines which Lamb could not repeat without emotion; but, in general, the blame is more thickly sown than the praise. Gildon, Dennis, Colley Cibber, Philips, Curll, Budgell, Welsted, Moore, Bentley, Theobald, all are made to feel his lash. A satiric portrait of Bubb Dodington was transferred in later editions to Halifax; but the two most famous full-lengths are those of Lord Hervey and Addison. Both are essentially unjust, and the latter is a masterpiece of plausible misinterpretation. No less remarkable than the number of passages of high excellence is the art with which they are introduced into the context and the supreme ease that throughout distinguishes the style.

Pope soon followed up the success of his first imitation of Horace. Satire II, ii, appeared in 1734, I, ii, “Sober advice from Horace,” anonymously in the same year. Epistle I, vi, in January, II, ii, in April, II, i, in June and I, i, at the end of 1737. They have been called perfect translations, “the persons and things being transferred as well as the words.” They are, however, something less and something more than translations. Horace’s point of view is not always caught. In places, adherence to the Latin produces a train of thought not perfectly natural in English; but, for the most part, the imitations give keen pleasure as originals, and the pleasure is made more various by comparison with the model. There is a wide difference between the two satirists. Pope has less of the mellow wisdom of Horace’s maturity and more of the fiery temper of his youth. The lofty and declamatory moral tone is in the manner, rather, of Juvenal. Full use is made of the chances for personal reference. It cannot be said that Pope administers justice impartially. When there is an opportunity for an example of vice, his personal enemies have the first claim, while supporters of the opposition in arms against Walpole are treated with leniency. Of his compliments to his friends, Hazlitt has well said “they are equal in value to a house or an estate.” His use of irony is extraordinarily skilful. It is seen at its best in his treatment of George II in Epistle II, i; his frequent hits, elsewhere, at king George II and his consort are due to his having adopted wholesale the opinions of the opposition. Pope’s style in the Satires is at its very highest. In such lines as

  • And goad the prelate slumb’ring in his stall
  • or
  • Bare the mean heart that lurks beneath a star,
  • the thought is expressed to perfection and acquires a further atmosphere from the words chosen. The Imitations of Epistle I, vii, and the latter part of Satire II, V, in octosyllabic verse are of a totally different character, being attempts to copy Swift’s manner. The Satires (II and IV) of Dr. Donne Versified were included in the collection of 1735; the latter had appeared, anonymously, in 1733. If Pope is to be believed, they were composed at the request of Lords Oxford and Shrewsbury; but, if written earlier, they were largely revised in the reign of George II, when many of the modern instances were added. Pope had thought of dealing, after the same fashion, with the Satires of Joseph Hall whom he has imitated in more than one place, but Hall’s versification invited less change. The two Dialogues of 1738 were treated by Warburton as an epilogue to the Satires. They appeared at a time when the opposition to Walpole was exceptionally active, and are full of evidence of Pope’s sympathy with that side. In one of these, a friend contrasts Pope’s severity with Horace’s “sly, polite, insinuating style,” and presses him to take safe subjects for his satire. Pope ironically agrees:
  • Come, harmless characters, that no one hit.
  • He laments, that, though virtue is an empty boast, the dignity of vice should be lost, and ends with a picture of universal corruption. In Dialogue II, the poet defends his practice of personal satire, showing that he can appreciate merit, that it is not friendship only which prompts his lays and that he praises virtue in whatever party. He ends by dwelling on his proud consciousness of his office as a satirist. It is difficult at first to reconcile this boast with the elaborate party purpose of the two poems. But, often as Pope perverted his powers for personal ends, capable as we know him to have been of insincere professions, it is difficult not to feel, when reading his lofty claim, that, at the moment, he believed his satire to be an instrument for righteousness. The unfinished 1740 found among Pope’s papers is of interest in showing the feeling of a section of the opposition to their nominal leaders, Pulteney and Carteret.