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In the preceding works of Pope, whether descriptive, moral, critical, or didactic, his subjects are extraneous, and are drawn either from mankind in general, or from the persons with whom he was acquainted, and the scenes and circumstances by which he was surrounded; but in the present volume, and particularly in the Prologue and Epilogue to the Satires, he has engaged in a more hazardous undertaking, and has spoken of himself; a task of peculiar difficulty; and which has seldom been attempted without incurring the imputation either of vanity on the one hand, or of false modesty and affectation on the other. It must however be acknowledged, that when a person can divest himself of that morbid sensibility which trembles at the touch of praise or censure, and has the courage and the honesty to represent his own character with impartiality and truth, there are no productions in which we are more deeply interested, or by which we are more agreeably instructed. On these occasions an author opens to us his whole mind, and renders us the confidants of his thoughts, his feelings, and his opinions. It is in this way only, that we can be said to have become really acquainted with him, and to perceive ourselves bound by the best and finest associations of our nature, to those whom we have never seen, or who have passed away long before we came into existence.
But, if we are to judge of the difficulty or merit of any undertaking from the infrequency with which it has been accomplished, there are few efforts of human ability greater than that which enables an individual to speak of himself with freedom, impartiality, and ease. Amongst the ancients, those who are the most remarkable for this talent, are perhaps Cicero and Horace; amongst the moderns, Ariosto and Montaigne. Whether the character of the great Orator has, upon the whole, been exalted or lowered by the manner in which he has laid it open to us, may perhaps admit of a doubt. In attempting to give us too lofty an idea of his own achievements, importance, and dignity, he sometimes betrays a weakness which counteracts his purpose; whilst his more successful Countryman, by a free and unguarded acknowledgment of his faults and his foibles, raises himself in our opinion, and becomes the object of our attachment and regard. It must, however, be acknowledged, that the liberty in which the Roman poet indulges, has at times been carried to licentiousness, and
that there are but too many passages which disgrace the writer, and disgust the reader. Between these extremes, Pope has in the following Epistles steered with considerable skill; and, whilst he openly prides himself on those parts of his character which are entitled to admiration, takes care not to debase himself by any thing that is vulgar, indecorous, or contemptible.
In one of his letters to Lady M. W. Montagu, after observing that what folly we have will infallibly buoy up at some time or other, in spite of all our art to keep it down, Pope expresses a wish to extend the project of Momus, of having windows in our breasts, by making those windows casements. Of this description was the bosom of Montaigne, through the casement of which we may read without reserve all that passed therein. It is this honesty, truth, and simplicity of manner, that interests us more than either the correctness of his reasonings, or the importance of his discourse. Our attention is turned from the subject to the author; and whilst he is instructing us in philosophy, we are studying himself. Of all the books that ever were written, that of Montaigne best enables us to compare the mind of another person with our own, to trace the same opinions, to acknowledge the same faults and follies, to discover in what we differ, as well as in what we agree, and to know more even of ourselves than we could ever have discovered by our own experience. How greatly Pope was delighted with this author, appears from many passages in his works; and particularly from his imitation of the first Satire of the second book of Horace, when referring to him and to Shippen, he says,
"In them, as certain to be loved as seen,
The soul stood forth, nor kept a thought within.
In me what spots (for spots I have) appear, Will prove at least the medium must be clear. In this impartial glass my muse intends Fair to expose myself, my foes, my friends, Publish the present age; but where my text Is vice too high, reserve it for the next." In the characters of Ariosto and Pope, it is impossible not to observe a striking similarity. Both poets; both devoted to their art; both avoiding a marriage life; and equally remarkable for affectionate attachment to an aged mother. Both possessed of an elegant sufficiency, and providing themselves with habitations
suitable for their convenience and proportionate to their rank. But near as they approached each other in external circumstances, they seem to have approached still nearer in mind. In the present day the Italian poet is chiefly known by his never-tired and never-tiring poetical romance of Orlando; but this may be considered as his public and assumed character. If we wish to know him as he was in real life, we must resort to his Epistles to his friends, to which he has thought proper to give the name of Satires. From these we find, that his constitution and state of health was little better than that of our Poet, and that without the strictest regimen, he could not have guarded against danger:
'Ogni alterazione ancor che lieve
Ch' avessi al mal ch'io sento, o ne morrei,
"A small excess with my complaint at strife,
Know better still than they, both what to try,
And what my prudent care must to myself deny."
The necessity of Temperance was also no less incumbent upon him than on Pope:
"E le vivande condiriami il Coco
Com' io volessi, ed inacquarmi il vino
"Allow'd to sit and cater at my ease,
And mix my wine with water as I please.”
He frequently delights to dwell on the independence of his character, and the pleasures of his literary pursuits :
"Piuttosto che arrichir, voglio quiete;
Piùttosto che occuparmi in altra cura