Pope: Bipolar Implication
Near the source of Pope's work is an anxiety understandable in terms of his health and religion. As a Roman Catholic in a Protestant nation, Pope suffered maddening penalties. He could not attend a university or hold a civil office. He paid double the normal tax on land, and the law forbade him to reside within ten miles of London. All Roman Catholics were exposed to charges of conspiring against the government.
But Pope's worst affliction was tuberculosis of the spine, which gave him rickets and a progressive, lopsided curvature of the back. It made him grotesquely short and gradually weakened his thin limbs. It produced much languor, a susceptibility to bad colds, and other painful or unpleasant symptoms which worsened as he aged. Pope had to wear a stiff corset, warm clothes, and (over the skinny legs) three pairs of stockings. Normal sexual relations were out of the question.
Frail, vulnerable, and (in effect) impotent, it was natural for the poet to desire the security of well-placed friends. One of the mainsprings of his imagination was the need to protect himself. Still he was conscious of his genius and wanted fame. He yearned to exercise heroic power over others through the gift of poetry.
To gain the recognition he longed for, Pope had to mask many emotions. As an adolescent, he began a career of seeking out men of talent, rank, or power, winning their friendship and making them serve him. To do so, he learned to charm them with tact and wit, paying careful compliments and accommodating himself to the moods of the mighty.
Not only in his poems but also in his letters and conversation, Pope systematically maintained careful representations of himself that would uphold an appearance of strength, independence, and natural benevolence, all in keeping with the doctrines he recommended in verse. What records we have of his conversation suggest that he hoped his sentiments would be repeated. The rhetoric of Pope's most familiar letters sometimes sounds like that of a senator emitting platitudes for his own obituary. A second reader—Posterity—normally looked over the poet's epistolary shoulder.
I assume that these constraints, added to those of health and religion, nourished a deep resentfulness which compounded the original anxiety. The poetic instinct bent itself to please those whom Pope needed, while the very impulse to create started from subterranean discomforts. Words are a common resource of those who cannot act, but Pope's words had many duties. They vented painful emotions which the poet dared not express simply. They conveyed an air of assurance to cloak a fundamental unease. They made up for a lack of sexual authority. They rewarded friends and punished enemies.
Pope devised methods of attracting and reassuring those who might be hostile to his brilliance, and yet of challenging subtle readers by offering them dangerous thoughts. Wit and irony are known ways of accomplishing these ends, and good critics have examined Pope's use of them. He found other ways as well, which are less familiar.
If we agree that sex, religion, and politics are themes which invite indirection, we may also agree that religion, for Pope, was too risky a subject to experiment with. He did venture on opinions that might trouble his coreligionists, especially a tolerance of non-Catholic positions. He blamed great ecclesiastics
for time-serving, avarice, and other vices. But he did not indulge in satire on allegedly false doctrines, as Dryden and Swift had done. In The Messiah and An Essay on Man , Pope tried, explicitly and implicitly, to avoid controversy.
Sexual themes were treacherous too. The poet's obvious incapacity drove him to adopt conventional poses for fear of becoming too easy a mark for ridicule. Whether he used a rake or a moralist as his mouthpiece, he could hardly afford to sound innovative. Yet if sexual themes particularly excite wordplay, they must have exerted a special charm upon a poet. Pope felt the charm, and characteristically offered both conformist and subversive treatments of those themes.
The association of sexuality with creative power is natural. Keeping this connection in mind, one must notice Pope's tendency to maintain it and yet to separate the imagery of conception from that of sexual intercourse. He liked to refer to his works as his progeny and to the muse as a wife, but not to lovemaking between the creative pair.
In these misty crossings we touch the depths of Pope's identity. He offered several distinct representations of the poetic character. The most familiar is the public idealization of an uncorrupt spokesman for patriotic and social virtue. This is the character he liked to give his own career. Yet implicitly, the ideal public figure depreciates another, viz. the inspired artist celebrated by Horace and recommended by Pope in An Epistle to Augustus:
'Tis he, who gives my breast a thousand pains,
Can make me feel each passion that he feigns,
Inrage, compose, with more than magic art,
With pity, and with terror, tear my heart.
In these lines "poet" clearly means seductive playwright rather than didactic satirist.
But there is still another figure, for which Pope voices contempt and which he embodies in the persons of failed or inept authors. This alas is the one that excites his greatest energy, his most imaginative language. Therefore, although it alludes nor-
mally to writers whom Pope disliked, one may speculate that it also reflects Pope's doubts about his status. He might be a uniquely gifted genius; but putting aside traditional hyperboles, what did the laurel crown amount to when it topped his crazy carcass?
So one may also speculate about the scenes of grotesque fantasy that break out in Pope's best work. Underground, cavernous, and obstetric images, tinged with sexuality, suggest that literary parenthood compensated the poet for the loss of voluptuous pleasure. Pope designed deeply coherent masterpieces around heroines deprived of normal sexual relations: Eloisa to Abelard, An Elegy to . . . an Unfortunate Lady ("Of the Characters of Women"). Even Dulness, in The Dunciad , is an unwed or parthenogenetic mother. Yet Pope produced no episode of admirable and fulfilled passion.
Two of his most polished works deal sympathetically with women penalized for subversive lust. In Eloisa to Abelard the lover has been castrated and the mistress consigned to a nunnery. In the Elegy . . . to an Unfortunate Lady a noble heiress has stabbed herself after eloping to a foreign country with a lover whom her guardian uncle had rejected. In both these poems the author encourages us to pity the lawbreaker: "Is it, in heav'n a crime to love too well?" he asks.
In An Epistle to a Lady the poet compliments his spinster friend Martha Blount (whom he briefly endows with a mythical husband and daughter) by opposing her to a series of corrupt, passionate mistresses or wives. In The Rape of the Lock the male figures are ridiculed and defeated, while the females remain unsatisfied.
Against this pattern it seems significant that the scenes of grotesque fantasy depend on images of unpleasant confusion and procreation. I am thinking of the Cave of Spleen in The Rape of the Lock , the Cave of Poverty and Poetry in Book One of The Dunciad , the bowers of the mud nymphs in Book Two of The Dunciad , and similar material.
Spleen of course means melancholy; and in the seventeenth century, it was commonplace to regard melancholy as the "balm
of wit" and the "breath of poetry." When the gnome Umbriel descends to the Cave of Spleen, he is visiting a spring of creative imagination. Here Spleen herself is a goddess who can inspire the "poetic fit." Although the details of this allegorical cave are traditional, Pope colors them with phallic and erotic lights, with hints of perverse coition and gestation. So we get a linking of creativity with displaced sexuality and pain:
Men prove with child, as pow'rful fancy works,
And maids turn'd bottles, call aloud for corks.
(Rape of the Lock IV, 53–54)
In Book Three of The Dunciad we meet the laureate Cibber lying with his head in the lap of the goddess Dulness while a dark, soporific dew falls and "raptures" overflow (lines 1–5)—a titillating scene. Two-thirds of the way through Book Three, another genius of false imagination appears—John Rich, producer of pantomimes. Here Pope brings in imagery of miraculous transformations of the universe echoing the representation of Christ in The Messiah and suggesting genesis and doomsday at once (lines 229–36). The chaos reaches its climax with an egg from which the human race is hatched. Again the work of creative imagination carries hints of asexual conception or parthenogenesis.
We have to notice how often Pope connected the act of composition with discomfort, muddle, misshapen birth and growth, delusive transformation. We do not meet order, dignity, and reality, but chaos, monsterhood, and illusion: "the chaos dark and deep, / Where nameless somethings in their causes sleep" (Dunciad I, 55–56, 59, 93–94). Attacking the decline of humanistic education, Pope deplores the standard practice of training schoolboys to compose Latin verses: "We hang one jingling padlock on the mind: / A poet the first day, he dips his quill; / And what the last? a very poet still" (Dunciad IV, 163–64).
These examples of disrespect for his vocation are from the last years of Pope's career and refer to bad poetry, not good. In his early work we read similar lines:
Still run on poets in a raging vein,
Ev'n to the dregs and squeezings of the brain;
Strain out the last, dull droppings of their sense,
And rhyme with all the rage of impotence.
(Essay on Criticism , lines 606–9)
This linking of composition to a hard stool and a limp penis also belongs to an attack on bad writing. But the images have too much power to rest in the boundaries prescribed by explicit meaning. When he refers directly to his own career as an author, Pope says, "I've had my purgatory here betimes, / And paid for all my satires, all my rhymes" (Donne IV, 5–6). It was only half-jokingly that he once said of the poet's calling, "Must one not be prepared to endure the reproaches of men, want and much fasting, nay martyrdom in its cause" (Correspondence , II, 227). The pleasure of creation loses itself in the toil and humiliation.
If one puts aside the link with authorship and considers unsublimated sexuality, the material points one along a more direct road but not to marriage, parenthood, and stability. The poet offers conventional denunciations of vice. But he also provides vivid descriptions of frustrated passion, titillating coquetry, tenderness outside marriage, and misery born in wedlock. The frailty and quick alterations of carnal appetite strike him more than its fruitfulness. He conveys a deep sympathy with the voluptuous impulse and deep uncertainty as to its consequence.
In The Rape of the Lock , disorderly lust glances at us from the first couplet; and it pounds on us in the final canto. "Die" for sexual climax, "thing" for vagina, "hair" displaced from the groin to the head, all remind one that the proper study of nubile girls is men.
"What dire offence from am'rous causes springs, / What mighty contests rise from trivial things, / I sing," says Pope as he begins a story connecting love with theft and war. The couplet sounds plain enough until we hear an echo of Horace joining the same themes and calling the vagina (or lust) a most shameful cause of war (cunnus taeterrima belli / causa–Satires I, iii,
107). Once we remember that Pope would translate "cunnus" as "thing," the language of decorum becomes a screen for impropriety.
In Canto Five of The Rape of the Lock , the battle of the sexes takes a more liberal form; and when Belinda defeats the Baron with a pinch of snuff, he says,
Thou by some other shalt be laid as low.
Nor think, to die dejects my lofty mind;
All that I dread, is leaving you behind!
Here the poet openly, if indelicately, sympathizes with the natural impulse of young blood. So also in the early cantos of The Rape of the Lock , Pope celebrates the delight of Belinda in her own sexually provocative beauty:
Now awful beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms,
Repairs her smile, awakens ev'ry grace,
And calls forth all the wonders of her face.
So also the sylphs—spirits whose job it is to guard Belinda's defensive and offensive weapons—are represented with wholehearted (though smiling) approval. Their humble work is to "tend the fair"; so long as the heroine refrains from matrimony, they strive to protect the arsenal of her beauty—
To save the powder from too rude a gale,
Nor let th'imprison'd essences exhale,
To draw fresh colours from the vernal flow'rs,
To steal from rainbows ere they drop in show'rs
A brighter wash; to curl their waving hairs,
Assist their blushes, and inspire their airs;
Nay oft, in dreams, inventions we bestow,
To change a flounce , or add a furbelo .
Belinda makes us live among changing appearances, unfixed emotions, fascinating discords, elegant but furious rivalries, stylized and comic wars. There is nothing placid, domestic, or parental about The Rape of the Lock . Its few snatches of
security only prepare us for long passages of delightful uneasiness.
Yet in some masterful lines of elevated reasoning, one of Belinda's friends, named Clarissa, warns her of the transience of voluptuous pleasure and belligerent beauty. She reminds us that courtship ought to fix its goal in stable domesticity, marriage and motherhood:
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man must die a maid;
What then remains, but well our pow'r to use,
And keep good humour still whate'er we lose.
This is sane as well as eloquent. Only, as it happens, when the Baron wished to snip off a lock of Belinda's hair, it was the same Clarissa who gave him the scissors.
In The Rape of the Lock the poet's obsession with time and change heightens a brief joy in youthful ardor. But ultimately it implies that creative imagination alone can triumph over age and death. The familiar theme of monumentum aere perennius brings together the sexual aspect of authorship and the lure of misdirected passion. Elsewhere Pope belittled the theme. Here, by invoking it ironically to close a battle of the sexes, he momentarily resolves his own doubts.
So at the end of the poem, yet once more reviving the exhausted pun on "die," once more identifying the eye of beauty with the eye of heaven, Pope brings nature and art together as he immortalizes the maiden whom he cannot enjoy. Here we meet that ideal of the poet as artist which enabled Pope to transcend his private self-disgust and his public role as guardian of the nation's morals.
For, after all the murders of your eye,
When, after millions slain, your self shall die;
When those fair suns shall set, as set they must,
And all those tresses shall be laid in dust;
This lock , the muse shall consecrate to fame,
And mid'st the stars inscribe Belinda 's name.
Years later, Pope took up the burden of sexuality with rather less of an effort to sound decorous. This was in Sober Advice from Horace , published anonymously in 1734. Here, however, the theme of lust itself becomes part of a political argument; and one should meet that argument before going on to the poem. To Pope, the most challenging aspect of implicit meaning presented itself in his criticism of the highest levels of English vice. From about the time he was forty, and continuing about fifteen years, the poet's judgment of his nation deepened in severity, and he invented subtler, yet keener, ways to reveal it.
The port of embarkation for these expeditions into outrage is unusually apparent in An Essay on Man . Here, in the third epistle, the poet displays a vision of the primitive condition of human society. This vision embraces a harmony between various realms of morality and value: private duty and public responsibility, virtue and power, the order of social privilege and the order of natural talent. In the Essay Pope represents humanity in the state of nature as embodying the ideal harmony. Kingship, virtue, piety, and wisdom stand united:
'Till then, by Nature crown'd, each Patriarch sate,
King, priest, and parent of his growing state;
On him, their second Providence, they hung,
Their law his eye, their oracle his tongue.
He from the wond'ring furrow call'd the food,
Taught to command the fire, controul the flood,
Draw forth the monsters of th'abyss profound,
Or fetch th'aerial eagle to the ground.
Love all the faith, and all th'allegiance then;
For Nature knew no right divine in Men,
No ill could fear in God; and understood
A sov'reign being but a sov'reign good.
It was from the contemplation of this empyrean that Pope came to judge the rich and the great. What he found of course
was that the English social order rarely disclosed the correspondences he admired. The directors of the nation set more examples of vice than of virtue. The wealthy class largely overlapped with the frivolous class. The circle of talent bowed to the circle of corruption. Spokesmen for the houses of learning were vain and pedantic; at the head of religious institutions stood worldly, ambitious prelates.
To express his anger or disappointment, Pope used a categorical rhetoric that suited his poetic style. He juxtaposed group to group, example to class, ideal to reality. When he condemned, he described the evil as typical. When he praised, he handled the subject as a rare brightness in a world of shadows.
Pope's methods of satirical implication, therefore, gain strength from the contrast the poet habitually makes between style—including rhetorical forms—and meaning. As a satirist he gave extraordinary attention not only to nuances of implication but to the patterns of sound and rhythm in which he embodied them. These elements he fitted inside the parallels and antitheses of phrase or clause and the analogies or contrasts that shaped his paragraphs. His figures of speech could be pointedly brief, or they could expand the length of a paragraph or even (as a reiterated motif) of a poem, deepening the categorical tendencies of the rhetoric and poetic. So also his arguments moved discursively from general to particular, from example to universal and back. One poem balanced or opposed another, as the first Moral Essay (To Cobham ), on male psychology, balanced the second (To a Lady ), on female.
On all these levels Pope's constant effort is to redefine, regroup, to undermine old congruities and establish or hint at new ones. In his explicit arguments Pope seldom tried to inculcate fresh doctrines, but relied on traditional wisdom, on commonly accepted moral principles, or formulae. Maynard Mack has demonstrated the fullness of the tradition behind the sentences of An Essay on Man . "Its materials," he says, "are painstakingly traditional." Earl Wasserman and Miriam Leranbaum have shown how much the third and fourth Moral Es-
says (Bathurst and Burlington ) owed to Aristotle. Thomas Maresca has argued persuasively that in the imitations of Horace, Pope leaned heavily on the uncontested principles of pagan and Christian ethics which commentators elicited from the text of the ancient poet. Yet in the freshest way Pope's genius built sparkling, challenging designs out of these common properties.
The chief effect of style on meaning in Pope's satires of the 1730s and 1740s is to group persons and ideas in discomforting ways. Since the clusters assembled and disconnected are based on moral relationships, the outcome is a questioning of assumptions often put forward and widely credited. Among these Pope's special tendency is to cast into doubt the proper association of rank with merit, virtue, or even good manners. Again and again in his poems the author invokes a natural hierarchy of established families who benevolently control the landed wealth and the government of the country—recalling the harmonious vision of An Essay on Man . But he implies that the social and moral boundaries can no longer be congruent. They have broken down; a heterogeneous mob has replaced the ordered community; and it takes in
Whate'er of mungril no one class admits,
A wit with dunces, and a dunce with wits.
(Dunciad IV, 89–90)
A simple example is Pope's imitation of Horace Satires I, ii (Sober Advice from Horace ), to which I now return. The Latin poem is a jocular mock-sermon on the dangers of adultery committed with respectable women. Horace directs his satire against men who feel dissatisfied with the sexual opportunities afforded them by slaves, freedwomen, or courtesans, and who insist on pursuing matrons. The individuals whom Horace singles out for explicit reproach are all male. Though he opens by
illustrating the theme of excess with instances of prodigality and avarice, once he arrives at the matter of adultery, he focuses his poem on it. While Horace dealt with persons of consequence, he did not draw attention to their rank.
Pope gives roughly equal representation to both sexes but makes his most scandalous examples female. He draws attention to the rank of his characters and connects lust with gluttony and avarice. In a mock-apparatus Pope ridicules the scholarship of Richard Bentley (whose emendations he was nevertheless willing to adopt) and endows him with a prurient sensibility.
The reason for the difference between the two poets is that under the appearance of ridiculing adulterers, Pope is busy endowing the great of the land with the worst vices. He deals with a king's mistress (line 81), a prime minister's infidelities (line 88), the venereal disease of a duchess (line 95), the lust of an archbishop (line 44). Even Bentley, enlisted as annotator malgré soi , was himself master of a great college and a cultivator of the Whig ministry in power.
We observe that several of Horace's types of masculine vice turn feminine in Pope's lines. Tigellius the singer becomes Mrs. Oldfield the actress (line 4); Fufidius changes into Fufidia (line 18); Rufillus, Rufa (line 29); Maltinus, Jenny (line 33). In other words, the poet refuses to let the women appear passive, or to imply that only the males of the ruling class are corrupt. Horace had assumed that men were the instigators of vice, and women the persons seduced (though not always resisting). Pope implicitly breaks down the barrier between the sexes, suggesting that on the highest levels women become unnaturally aggressive. To those readers who compared the imitation with the Latin original, Pope would have implied that English ladies of fashion differed from ancient Roman matrons in starting rather than responding to acts of lust. In a sense, this poem leads into Pope's second Moral Essay, To a Lady .
Far more broadly, Pope suggests that corruption makes strange bedfellows; and that vice brings together groups that ought to be kept apart. Where Horace blames a few men for disgracing their ancestors, Pope hints that the natural hierarchy
which underpins civilized society has yielded to moral chaos. This is also what the effects of style and structure suggest. In his opening lines, the poet uses rhythm and sound patterns to clarify the irony of his tone:
The Tribe of Templars, Play'rs, Apothecaries,
Pimps, Poets, Wits, Lord Fanny's, Lady Mary's. . . .
The catalogue of lawyers, poets, etc., makes the kind of set one might expect to gather in a theater district that lies near the inns of court. But high-placed lords and ladies should have no close ties with actors, pimps, and the healers of venereal disease. Pope marks off "Lord Fanny's, Lady Mary's" with a caesura but places them at the climax of his catalogue. In rhythm and sound patterns they are unlike the earlier series but tied to it. Yet they are, in sound, curiously like each other. Thus Pope implies the ambiguous sexuality of Hervey—the couplet has feminine endings—and the scandalous association of both him and Lady Mary with dubious characters.
Two aspects of the language of the poem add to such effects. Where Horace uses plain words like inguina, cunnus , and muto (all mistranslated in the Loeb edition), Pope enlists either a suggestive euphemism like part (line 87) or a pun like frigate (line 62). The consequent dazzle of ambiguities (rise , line 88; stiff , line 152; above all, thing , passim) enriches the suggestion of barriers breaking down. Maynard Mack has pointed out an exquisite instance. When Pope writes,
Suppose that honest part that rules us all,
Should rise, and say—"Sir Robert! or Sir Paul!"
the reference to a prime minister and a statesman evokes question time in the House of Commons; "part" suggests a genital "member," and therefore Member of Parliament; and so a fornicating phallus invades the high process of legislation. Another pair of realms that should be kept apart, merge.
The categories that fascinated Pope, in the satires, were
those of public and private, high rank and low. Against these he pitted other categories like good and bad, tasteful and vulgar. Often his rhetoric moves from the personal and private world to that of public responsibility, or from the latter to the former. Invariably, he assumes that a harmony between these worlds is natural.
Such modulations depend on Pope's starting from familiar doctrines (what I should call formulae) and identifiable examples. As a moralist, he may state his doctrine in a paradox, but the teaching itself is likely to be conventional, not difficult and not too subtle. Pope still has a tendency of his own which differentiates him from the usual preacher of Christian doctrine and from most satirists. In searching for models of virtue, he looks instinctively to actors who are offstage—of middle rank or out of favor. If he must have virtuous kings, statesmen, or bishops, he likes to secure ancients, foreigners, or Englishmen long dead.
By these means Pope can imply harsh judgments on the most powerful figures of his own age without endangering himself. The judgment grows more severe, and the class of corrupt persons more extensive, until we arrive at the Epilogue to the Satires, 1740 , and the last book of The Dunciad . Finally, as in The Dunciad (Book IV), Pope was willing to blacken the character of whole orders of humanity. Earlier, he tried to appear selective; for his selectiveness was carefully weighted. Thus in picking names to celebrate, the poet did not always avoid men of rank. Among the subjects of his eulogies are Bathurst, Cobham, Oxford (father and son), and Bolingbroke. But he picked his noble heroes from the files of Jacobites, Tories, and opposition Whigs. Otherwise, he favored commoners of middle rank, like Kyrle, Martha Blount, and Dr. Arbuthnot.
Pope usually mentioned bishops only in order to blame them. But when he wished to display his impartiality and
bestow compliments on them, he named four, starting with one indeed close to the court but ending climactically with Berkeley, who had been sponsored by the Tory Swift, had been chaplain to the Jacobite Duke of Wharton, and had gained his elevation in spite of his connections:
Ev'n in a Bishop I can spy Desert;
Secker is decent, Rundel has a heart,
Manners with Candour are to Benson giv'n,
To Berkeley, ev'ry Virtue under Heav'n.
(Epilogue to the Satires II, 70–73)
Only the tribute to Berkeley is unequivocal. If we collect all the epithets, the poet drives us into separating the order of bishops from the moral order of decency, charity, candor, and virtue in general. "Ev'n" and "spy" suggest a minute search for the few exceptions to the rule. Berkeley has a strong place in his line, emphasized by the caesura and enriched by the echo of his name's sound and rhythm in "virtue" (vartue ). Though he ends the series, he makes a contrast to the preceding trio, two of whom divide a line and the third occupies a weak place in a slow line of bathetic compliment.
So also if Pope did praise a very rich government official in Ralph Allen, he went out of his way to call him "low-born"; and as Erskine-Hill says, Allen's career rested on genuine service to the nation and was independent of Walpole or party. Although I dwell on the subtle or indirect conveyance of meaning, Pope could be perfectly open at the same time. His gift for innuendo did not keep him from declaring explicitly what he was busy implying:
But does the Court a worthy Man remove?
That instant, I declare, he has my Love:
I shun his Zenith, court his mild Decline. . . .
(Epilogue to the Satires II, 74–76)
Pope's distaste for kings and conquerors is too obvious to need mention. Recently even his respect for the Emperor Augustus as an admirable alternative to the degenerate Georges has been persuasively doubted by meticulous scholars. Miriam Leranbaum pointed out the large number of "great" men alluded to in the first Moral Essay (To Cobham ): "The emphasis is upon rulers, kings, statesmen—exalted figures of all kinds." She observed further that the matching poem, To a Lady , also abounds in high personages, and that for part of the poem Pope uses "queen" as a synonym for "woman." Leranbaum connected these poems with the fourth epistle of An Essay on Man , which again has a good many allusions to kings in general and to certain rulers and tyrants in particular: Alexander, Caesar, Titus, Marcus Aurelius, Charles XII of Sweden—of whom two are treated as admirable (Titus and Marcus Aurelius) and the others as baneful. The same epistle of An Essay on Man opens and closes with a panegyric of Bolingbroke, and the first epistle opens with an apostrophe to him. In all three places he is opposed to kings. Bolingbroke was of course the intellectual leader of the opposition to Walpole's government and to George II's court.
We may infer that the most exciting subject for Pope's ridicule was George II. An analysis of the methods applied to his majesty's character will bring out Pope's methods in general. The operations begin at the level of common nouns. In poems published during the dozen years beginning in 1731, the word "king" constantly appears to point the generalizations about human nature and morality. But somehow the poet uses the name seldom with respect and often with contempt: "the pride of kings," "a lunatic king," "public spirit its great cure a crown." A couplet like that in the fourth epistle of An Essay on Man gives the direction of Pope's pressure on the word:
Stuck o'er with titles and hung round with strings,
That thou may'st be by kings, or whores of kings. . . .
In the Epistle to Burlington the poet foresees that some future king will follow the example of the earl, whose ideas are "worthy kings" (lines 195, 204). The notion of the future implicitly excludes the present; and if the projects are suitable for kings, it strikes us that the monarch in power has not seen fit to carry them out. We might infer therefore that kingship as such is a concept excluding George II.
In the Epistle to Bathurst the word "king" appears only in connection with avarice (lines 72, 78, 401). The poet suggests that bribes are welcomed by a king and may determine royal policy. In his imitation of Horace Satires II, i, Pope uses the word "king" only once and then ambiguously, to say that he himself writes sober, moral poems such as a king might read (line 152). The remark exudes irony because near the beginning of his poem Pope says that George II does not read poetry (line 35). A few weeks later, in the second epistle of An Essay on Man (published in February, 1733), "kings" are an instance of presumption (line 244), and "king" is what a lunatic thinks himself to be (line 268).
If we now skip to the last epistle of An Essay on Man , we see the process speed up, and discover a concentration of "king's" used with offputting connotations: fools fight for kings, wish to be kings, are ennobled by kings, become the favorites of kings. The poet draws a contrast between the immortal fame of his hero Bolingbroke and the shortlived reputation of kings (IV, 387). The process does not pause here but goes on to the last book of The Dunciad , where Pope lets himself ridicule the "Right Divine of kings to govern wrong" (line 188).
When the poet's text failed him, as being too exposed, he could seek refuge in his mock-commentary. In this sanctuary (like Swift in the notes to the fifth edition of A Tale of a Tub ) he could conjure up not one but two editors quarreling with one another over the meaning of a line, and by this device could
produce with safety insinuations against George II. In The Dunciad (IV, 181–82) there is a commentators' quibble over a supposed allusion to verses by Claudian that describe liberty as flourishing under a good king. In the course of the disagreement, "Scriblerus" observes that liberty is often confused with monarchy; but "Bentley" retorts that "Liberty was never lost , or went away with so good a grace, as under a good king"!
In An Epistle to a Lady ("Of the Characters of Women") the use of "queen" suffers a similar deformation. Here, in a gallery of female portraits, the only picture of a queen is a flatterer's deception (lines 181–86). Pope declares that women generally want power and pleasure: every lady would be queen for life (line 218). Thus he makes the word itself into a term of abuse for vicious, megalomaniac females; and we hear the contemptuous phrase, "a whole sex of queens" (line 219).
As a common noun, of course, "king" easily alternates with its near synonyms. "Tyrant" and "prince" appear alongside it. But all these are mingled with the proper names of various rulers, from Alexander the Great to George II—or with allusions plainly identifying them. Except for Titus and Marcus Aurelius, the names receive ambiguous or sinister overtones. In the Epistle to Cobham (lines 146–53)—published during the same month as the last epistle of An Essay on Man —Pope has a passage assembling an ugly gang of individual rulers, as if to balance the use of the common noun in the Essay . Although explicitly chosen to illustrate the inconsistency of human nature, almost every one is dispraised in an epithet: buffoon, perjur'd, godless, bigot, faithless, duped, fool.
This example hardly misleads one. Pope's satires do provide momentary glimpses of a king's behaving himself decently, but such acts tend to appear out of character for the particular monarch; and in representing them, the poet seems to want a contrast to the inactivity of George II. Thus Pope describes Charles II, James II, and Louis XIV as tolerating satirical poetry. But he
does so in response to a friend who warns him against enraging the present powers; and he treats the phenomenon as contrary to what one might expect of each king. The greatest concentration of admirable royal gestures, in the Epistle to Augustus , invites us to set the heroism or patronage of half a dozen kings against the lack of those qualities in King George. And yet several of these examples are themselves ambiguous: Charles I pensioned Quarles (line 387); Charles II "debauch'd" the muses (line 152); William III knighted Blackmore (line 387).
In the late poems generally, miscellaneous rulers are named to be censured or ridiculed. Pope gives special attention to wicked or stupid figures: kings, usurpers, and emperors whom the poet might freely identify, yet who, by association with the class of kings, would stain the mantle of George II. By admitting his exceptions, the poet strengthens the innuendo against the type.
As early as the Epistle to Burlington (published in December, 1731), Pope contrasts the good taste of his lordship with the doubtful taste of Louis XIV and Nero (lines 71–72). In An Essay on Man , Epistle IV, along with the common noun, the poet sneers at Caesar three times, as well as Alexander the Great and Charles XII of Sweden. Alexander and Caesar had already been stigmatized in Epistle I as natural disasters (lines 159–60). Midas, in the Epistle to Arbuthnot , is cursed by Apollo with the ears of an ass (lines 69–82).
As one reads through the poems, it becomes clear that Pope intends us to refer back and forth among them in order to perfect identifications which are hinted at in separate places. Lord Fanny, Sporus, and Narcissus are thus united. So also the names for Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her husband. She alone may be Fufidia, Sappho, or simply Lady Mary, which
is to say, lustful, unclean, avaricious, and bluestocking. (Sir Edward and she together are Gripus, Shylock, or Avidien and his wife—all usurers.) So when readers are not linking the ambiguous sexuality of Hervey to the florid style of his prose, they may be blending the stinginess ascribed to Lady Mary with her alleged carnality. Alternatively, they may assure themselves that various names allude to the same person because they notice a cluster of traits circulating unchanged. The style of wit and the courtly prominence of Sporus in the Epistle to Arbuthnot persuade us that Hervey is the reference of "H——vy" in the Epilogue to the Satires .
Even so with Caesar: Pope openly alluded to George II as "Caesar" in an imitation of Horace. A year later, in the last epistle of An Essay on Man , he mentioned "Caesar with a senate at his heels," and juxtaposed him to Marcellus in exile—thus inviting us to set George II against Bolingbroke. At the very same time, when he refers to Caesar retreating from Britain and risking his empire for a punk, we may perhaps think of the king leaving England to join Madame Walmoden in Hanover.
Alternatively, Pope may suppress the word "king" and bring together traits well known as marks of his majesty: bearishness, the habit of kicking when angry, the domination of the royal mind (such as it was) by Queen Caroline, the prime minister's power over his master. "'Tis a bear's talent not to kick, but hug," may be an allusion to George II. The following lines (gathering in six of the seven cardinal sins!) certainly are such an allusion:
Know, there are Rhymes, which (fresh and fresh apply'd)
Will cure the arrant'st Puppy of his Pride.
Be furious, envious, slothful, mad or drunk,
Slave to a Wife or Vassal to a Punk
A Switz, a High-dutch, or a Low-dutch Bear—
All that we ask is but a patient Ear.
One of Pope's most mischievous devices is to insult George and Caroline by reviling their flatterers. The obvious example occurs in the earliest imitation of Horace. Here, Pope's friend Fortescue advises the poet to write something in praise of the king. Pope replies with some lines of parody of what Blackmore, Budgell, and Cibber have written in praise of William III and George II. Fortescue suggests that he praise the queen and the royal children. The poet replies that the ears of majesty are too "nice" to bear his verses. But the satire on bad poets irresistibly attaches itself to the royal persons; and in a closing ambiguity, Pope deliciously evokes his monarch's indifference to literature of all sorts:
And justly Caesar scorns the Poet's Lays,
It is to History he trusts for praise.
Queen Caroline undergoes a similar blackwash in the second Moral Essay (To a Lady ), when Pope ostensibly despairs of finding an honest portrait of her, because flattering authors and artists adorn her always and mechanically with conventional virtues:
One certain Portrait may (I grant) be seen,
Which Heav'n has varnish'd out, and made a Queen :
The same for ever! and describ'd by all
With Truth and Goodness, as with Crown and Ball:
Poets heap Virtues, Painters Gems at will,
And show their zeal, and hide their want of skill.
The innuendo is of course that the artists must manufacture the virtues because Caroline has none of them.
This device can be pointed, as when, in the Epilogue to the Satires , the poet denounces those who "make saints of
queens, and gods of kings" (II, 225). But it can easily be generalized to apply to other persons of consequence; and in one of the most dazzling passages of his poetry, Pope brings in bishops, judges, and statesmen. This is the first Moral Essay , To Cobham . Here, in a justly famous paragraph, Pope argues that most poets (or artists) turn, for their examples of virtue, to the upper levels of society. He then transforms the fact into satire by recommending the practice. Actually, he says, it is so hard to be virtuous in a great position that whoever succeeds in doing so deserves unusual praise:
'Tis from high Life high Characters are drawn;
A Saint in Crape is twice a Saint in Lawn;
A Judge is just, a Chanc'lor juster still;
A Gownman, learn'd; a Bishop, what you will;
Wise, if a Minister; but, if a King,
More wise, more learn'd, more just, more ev'ry thing.
Court-virtues bear, like Gems, the highest rate,
Born where Heav'n's influence scarce can penetrate:
In life's low vale, the soil the virtues like,
They please as Beauties, here as Wonders strike.
The method of implication derives again from the way the technique of verse divides and unites categories: lower clergy and episcopacy are separated instead of being united as the church; so also are a lower justice and the chancellor, who ought to be collected in the law. "Saint in crape" and "saint in lawn" are parallel in form and rhythm. Yet the parson might be a saint while the bishop could only gain promotion through corruption. "Judge-just," as alliteration, balances "chanc'lor-juster," with its repeated endings and sibilants. But the judge is far likelier than the chancellor is to keep his integrity. The categories of true and specious goodness are thus closely joined precisely as they are set apart. "Crape" opposes "lawn" in sound as "judge" opposes "chanc'lor." In the paragraph as a whole the ideas of high and low are similarly split and rejoined.
Such operations bring the whole relation of example to postulate into doubt. Pope can illustrate an aphorism with an
instance that weakens it, as when he says that poets want only to enjoy their garden and book "in quiet," and then praises Swift for saving "the rights a court attack'd." More abstractly, he even challenges the distinction between reality and fiction. Thus Pope offers us historical examples, identified by name or otherwise, along with veiled pseudonyms which can be penetrated by a giveaway trait or association, and, as well, with utterly imaginary examples which discourage speculation. Sometimes he combines these various procedures, by using the real name harmlessly and then following it at once with a pseudonym and satiric characterization of the same person: the Addison-Atticus passage in the Epistle to Arbuthnot is a cunning example (lines 192–214). At his boldest, in dealing with the king, Pope can use the very name of George, but so ambiguously that one reader might think the reference innocuous (or complimentary) while another could see it as an insult:
I sought no homage from the Race that write;
I kept, like Asian Monarchs, from their sight:
Poems I heeded (now be-rym'd so long)
No more than Thou, great George ! a Birth-day Song.
(Epistle to Arbuthnot , lines 220–23)
(That is, the king is so indifferent to poetry that he cannot notice it even when it is in praise of himself.) The magnificent climax of this technique is of course the opening and closing lines of the Epistle to Augustus (Horace Epistles II, i, 1–30, 390–419). Both these passages may be read as either eulogy or vituperation.
If we consider the entire range of such innuendoes and the classes of men and ideas to which they are applied, we may say that ultimately, Pope establishes two realms of implication in his satires—one, conventionally didactic; the other, boldly subversive. One shares the orientation of the explicit meaning and develops it in the usual way by imagery, analogy, irony, etc. The other has a different center, different coordinates, from the explicit meaning, which it employs as a code or a screen.
Maynard Mack calls the one thematic and the other topical.
Thus although I have made much of the subversive implications of the first Moral Essay (To Cobham ), that poem has a familiar orientation as well, implicitly supported by Pope's choice of images. This design starts from the explicit question whether or not one can secure a true knowledge of the inner characters of men.
Pope offers two points of view, the scepticism of Montaigne and the effort made by Locke to establish an area of demonstrable knowledge. Pope claims that he can arrive at true knowledge by way of the concept of a ruling passion. But for two-thirds of the poem he illustrates the sceptical position.
The imagery of the epistle to Cobham opposes effects of light to elements drawn from external nature: landscape, plants, animals. Pope implies that light and color are more deceptive than line and shape. He implicitly links human deceitfulness with the ancient principle that line is more reliable than color. He associates virtue with things that grow naturally, vice with things that blaze.
On this level the poem is not dangerous but quite satisfactory, with the images implicitly bearing out the argument. It is when we shift our attention from the pattern of images to the choice of human examples that the subversive implications rise to trouble us.
The same analysis applies to the last epistle of An Essay on Man . Here the poet discusses the best ways for men to achieve happiness, and says that "fled from monarchs, St. John, [it] dwells with thee" (line 18). Conventionally, this verse alludes to expressions like "happy as a king," and implies that kings are not in fact happy. But subversively, it implies that the corruption of George II is less likely to produce happiness than the integrity of his opponent, Bolingbroke.
So also, expounding the principle that God works in orderly ways and does not often suspend the rules governing the universe, Pope observes that adherence to order may sometimes subject virtuous persons to illness and pain:
Think we, like some weak prince, th'Eternal Cause
Prone for his fav'rites to reverse his laws?
Conventionally, here, Pope is implying that divine justice is the model for earthly justice. But subversively, he implies that under George II, royal mistresses and favored courtiers may commit crimes with impunity.
One of the strongest examples of what I may call the bipolarity of Pope's implications is a passage in the Epilogue to the Satires . It illustrates his fascination with the connection between private and public realms. Pope starts from the assumption that domestic virtue has a direct relation to public performance, that a faithless husband cannot be an honest statesman. He then proceeds to dissolve the line between the realms, and blame a corrupt politician as if his infidelities sprang from the same cause as his misgovernment. The well-known lines about Vice owned by Greatness make the process splendidly visible:
Vice is undone, if she forgets her Birth,
And stoops from Angels to the Dregs of Earth:
But 'tis the Fall degrades her to a Whore;
Let Greatness own her, and she's mean no more:
Her birth, her Beauty, Crowds and Courts confess,
Chaste Matrons praise her, and grave Bishops bless:
In golden Chains the willing World she draws,
And hers the Gospel is, and hers the Laws. . . .
(Epilogue I, 141–48)
The explicit meaning is deepened by the association of vice with the Scarlet Whore; and as James Osborn has shown, the particular scarlet whore intended was the Empress Theodora. Yet, as Osborn has also shown, there was a hidden, far more scandalous allusion, in these lines, to the marriage of Walpole with his mistress Maria Skerrett; and the description of Vice represents her triumph.
The poem does not call upon us to choose between these implications. Conventionally, Pope associates the career of vice
with the fall of angels and the rise of the Whore. Subversively, he ties it to the marriage of Molly Skerrett. Neither implication excludes the other, but the two move in different directions. The failure to accept such bipolarity has led some scholars to disregard the topical meaning for the thematic or the latter for the former, whereas the poet usually is playing with both at once, and letting the second peep out from behind the first.
I think we can apply a similar analysis to Pope's concept of heroism. Scholars have noticed his habit of setting up the moral and social values traditionally belonging to the country house as vastly superior to those traditionally assigned to a royal court. This opposition blends with an old political tradition of a country party, based in the gentry, which resisted the measures of the court. When the Tory-Whig alignments emerged in the late 1670s, they cut across the court-and-country alignments, which endured along with them. In poems that seem to place rural contentment before urban activity, Pope is often invoking as well the old political antithesis between country and court. Like Swift, he could distinguish unproductive stockbrokers or financiers from productive merchants or tradesmen. It is the former that he liked to merge with Walpole and the court. If Pope habitually embodied his own values in a cultivated, politically active country gentleman like Arthur Browne, he also assumed that such a figure would for patriotic reasons resist the government in power. Here then is a concept of heroism in keeping with that of Dryden after the Revolution and of Swift after the death of Queen Anne.
In the late satires, however, Pope's bipolarity also shows itself in his treatment of this sort of hero. Ostensibly, he may place the uses of retirement before those of public office during
a reign of corruption. The country gentleman may therefore appear to be a truly heroic figure, reminding us of Dryden's cousin John Driden. Yet as T. R. Edwards suggests, the poet as such can be recognized as Pope's hidden hero; and it is for this reason that, so early as An Essay on Criticism , we see the poet described as a warrior. I find it significant that in this youthful, hopeful poem, Pope was willing to draw an analogy between writers and monarchs or conquerors:
Like Kings we lose the Conquests gain'd before,
By vain Ambition still to make them more. . . .
A prudent Chief not always must display
His Pow'rs in equal Ranks , and fair Array ,
But with th'Occasion and the Place comply,
Conceal his Force, nay seem sometimes to Fly .[37
] (lines 175–78)
In the pessimistic Epistle to Augustus the parallel becomes an antithesis:
Yet let me show, a Poet's of some weight,
And (tho' no Soldier) useful to the State. . . .
I scarce can think him such a worthless thing,
Unless he praise some monster of a King. . . .
(lines 203–4, 209–10)
For now it is precisely as an independent gentleman that the poet is heroic. It is by resisting the blandishments of pensions and offices, by refusing to serve a corrupted crown, that the poet shows his virtue:
I cannot like, Dread Sir! your Royal Cave;
Because I see by all the Tracks about,
Full many a Beast goes in, but none comes out.
(Horace Epistles I, i, 115–17)
Thus on the one hand, Pope recommends and identifies himself with "chiefs, out of war, and statesmen, out of place." He
celebrates Cobham as a gardener, Bathurst "unspoil'd by wealth," and the Man of Ross making grandeur blush. He implicitly praises himself for being the friend of men like Caryll and Bethel.
On the other hand, Pope exalts his own heroic character as bold moralist in verse, driving vice before him—"un-plac'd, unpension'd, no man's heir, or slave." It is Pope in his own right who feels proud "to see / Men not afraid of God, afraid of me." As the voice of heroic virtue, or even as "God's deputy" (in the words of T. R. Edwards), he implicitly congratulates men like Burlington for being chosen among the poet's friends:
Enough for half the Greatest of these days
To 'scape my Censure, not expect my Praise:
Are they not rich? what more can they pretend?
Dare they to hope a Poet for their Friend?
(Epilogue to the Satires II, 112–15)
Not only does he become the standard of merit; he records it. So Pope holds the authority that makes Hough and Digby immortal, that damns Sporus and annihilates King George. In this ancient sense it is he who assigns the most splendid rewards for true greatness; honor derives from him as the fountain, and not from the king:[46 ]
Sages and Chiefs long since had birth
E're Caesar was, or Newton nam'd,
These rais'd new Empires o'er the Earth,
And Those new Heav'ns and Systems fram'd;
Vain was the chief's and sage's pride
They had no Poet and they dyd!
In vain they schem'd, in vain they bled
They had no Poet and are dead!
(Horace Odes IV, ix, 9–16)
From such a height it becomes feasible for the poet to connect the two poles of his ideal. By depicting himself as independent gentry, winning his power from being out of the great world, he implicitly brings both heroisms together:
Content with little, I can piddle here
On Broccoli and mutton, round the year;
But ancient friends, (tho' poor, or out of play)
That touch my Bell, I cannot turn away.
'Tis true, no Turbots dignify my boards,
But gudgeons, flounders, what my Thames affords.
To Hounslow-heath I point, and Bansted-down,
Thence comes your mutton, and these chicks my own:
From yon old wallnut-tree a show'r shall fall;
And grapes, long-lingring on my only wall,
And figs, from standard and espalier join:
The dev'l is in you if you cannot dine.
Then cheerful healths (your mistress shall have place)
And, what's more rare, a poet shall say grace .
(Horace Satires II, ii, 137–50)
In these genial lines, offering old-fashioned, rustic hospitality, the poet who can speak with the voice of God, who defies prelates, politicians, and tyrants—
Ye tinsel insects! whom a court maintains,
That counts your beauties only by your stains—
(Epilogue to the Satires II, 220–21)
wears his other mantle, that of an honest country gentleman. Simultaneously, by cherishing the title of "poet" and echoing the language of Horace, he reminds us that it is his creative genius—the power that immortalized Belinda as well as Bolingbroke—which confers such authority upon Pope.