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Church. Slender abilities! Why truly I had never been. engaged in penning moral or didactic essays; neither is there any thing of the pathetic to be found in my writings: your scope was undoubtedly greater than mine, and you have, therefore, received the greater praise; but, in one particular province, that of a satirist, I was, perhaps, your equal.
Pope. A satirist! a lampooner, you should rather say; there is a great difference between a satire and a lampoon.
Church. I care not for the distinction: I lashed the men who had offended me, or whom I happened not to
Pope. Yes, like the furious and frantic Indian, you run full tilt at all; but the business of a satirist is to discriminate, to attack the vice and not the man.
Church. Assuredly there is but little to object to me, on that score; for you may remember that I did not even spare myself.
Pope. True; but you dealt too largely in invective and abuse the tomahawk and scalping-knife are disgraceful weapons, and are never made use of by a brave and generous enemy.
Church. Could I ever have expected such a reproof from the man who has written the Dunciad?
Pope. To hold up ignorance, folly, and pretence to public derision and contempt, is surely to be pardoned, if not commended: we were, no doubt, equally fond of attacking our enemies; mine, however, was nothing more than raillery, yours downright scurrility: Boileau has said
Quittons la satire,
C'est un méchant métier que celui de médire:
En courant à l'honneur, trouve l'ignominie.
And I really think him right. Boileau, however, like many others, wrote not according to his own rules; he
is frequently a rude and intemperate railer. Pradon, Quinault, and others, whom he attacks with so much severity (many of whom were in no wise contemptible poets), had never written a line against him. He was always the aggressor; for this he has made an awkward and ridiculous apology in the preface to his works; and it was on account of his satirical humour, that the Duc de Montausier, a man of rigid virtue, so much condemned him, that it was with great difficulty he could be brought to read his poems. The case was widely different with me: I was pestered by a swarm of wasps and hornets, and endeavoured to brush them away.
Church. And yet you descended to personalities, even when there was little provocation; nay, sometimes the very reverse of it,-witness the Lord Timon.
Pope. Agreed: but mine is the operation of the surgeon; yours the stab of the assassin.
Church. The sum of all, I suppose, is this;-you would be considered as the Horace, and rank me as the Juvenal, of our time.
Pope. You the Juvenal of your time! By no means : malice and envy blacken not the pages of the Roman satirist: you sometimes present us with a happy line or two, a forcible or brilliant expression, but they are merely the coruscations of a gloomy mind, meteors that sparkle and presently expire.
Church. You are mighty free of speech; but this, I suppose, is satire, according to your notion.
Pope. Call it what you please; it is certainly not lampooning a man; it savours no way of impertinence or abuse. He who, by his writings, challenges the public opinion, must patiently abide its censure.-I am speaking of the poetry of Mr. Churchill, and not of himself.
Church. And yet there is, perhaps, more to censure in the man, than in his writings.
Pope. It may be so; but that is not the business of the critic; neither has the satirist, as I have already observed,
any thing to do with particular vices-I mean the vices of individuals.
Church. Then I have entirely mistaken my business: I was accustomed to exclaim, with Shakspeare's Iago, "O! I am nothing if not critical."
Pope. Or rather, as Dr. Johnson explains it, censorious: but you speak ingenuously; you have, indeed, mistaken your business. Your attack on Hogarth, for instance, was wanton and unprovoked; and then to ridicule a man on account of his growing infirmities—such as are consequent of age-what can be more unjustifiable? what more deserving of reprehension?
Church. I feel that your reproof is just: you acknowledge, however, that I had a talent for poetry?
Pope. Certainly; and I really wish it had been better employed: but you are merely the poet of a day; your works will have but an ephemeral existence; and this will ever be the fate of the writer who descends to personality and abuse; whose satire, instead of being general, is particular and confined. Many of the characters proscribed by you, were, even in your own time, little known. Bad writers, I say, are open to our attack.— Bad men are amenable to the laws; if superior to those laws, indeed, they will then deserve the poet's lash.
Church. The "famosi libelli" of Charles Churchill, (for so, perhaps, his writings would have been styled in the Augustan age,) will then, in your opinion, be shortly forgotten or disregarded?
Pope. Such is my opinion: the more especially as, in many parts of your poems, it is difficult to discover your meaning; you are sometimes an absolute Persius for obscurity.
Church. My poem of the Ghost is, I must admit, a little obscure; indeed, the circumstance that gave rise to it was a very ridiculous one, and perhaps wholly unworthy the attention of a writer of abilities.
Pope. The subject is, in truth, sufficiently comtemptible; you should have left it to some Grub-street poet.
Church. I now wish I had; but I wrote to live,while of you, it may be said, that you only lived to write!
Pope. That, indeed, may account for your failure; but I never imagined you were an author who must, as Boileau observes
Attendre, pour dîner, le succès d'un sonnet.
Church. It was not unfrequently my case; though I should, at the same time, acknowledge, that it was principally occasioned by extravagance.
Pope. The ordinary vice of wits and poets, and of which they appear to be not a little proud: but why a literary character must be a libertine, or why he must be improvident and careless of his fortune, I have never been able to discover.
Church. His improvidence and carelessness are studied; they are entirely the effect of vanity: he has heard that a great genius is ever inattentive to pecuniary matters,— and is, therefore, a coxcomb and a spendthrift; not by nature, but by imitation.
Pope. Truly ridiculous conduct, indeed; it manifests, moreover, a considerable want of spirit, as such men are repeatedly under the necessity of being troublesome to their friends.
Church. I can only regret, at the present day, that I weakly adopted principles so justly reprobated and contemned.
Pope. Enough of this. Let us retire, for yonder are two of our brethren.
MERCURY and a SPORTSMAN.
Sportsm. TALLY ho! ho! yoics! yoics!
Sportsm. The happiest fellow in Christendom, Sir.
Do but look at my hounds.
Did you ever behold a
finer, a more beautiful pack?
Lusus animo debent aliquando dari,
Ad cogitandum melior ut redeat sibi.
Sportsm. How say you, good Sir?
Merc. "The mind ought sometimes to be diverted, that it may return the better to thinking." Sportsm. Thinking!
Merc. Yes, thinking. Pray, Sir, may one be allowed to inquire how you usually pass your time?
Sportsm. O, in the pleasantest manner imaginable. In running down foxes, laying snares for hares, bantering country bumpkins, ruining country maids, drinking bumpers, and breaking down our neighbours' fences.
Merc. A very agreeable manner, indeed! But have you nothing more in view,—nothing else of importance in pursuit ?
Sportsm. Yes. We have sometimes the deer in view; and not unfrequently pursue the stag.
Merc. You exercise the body, indeed; but have you no way of exercising the mind,-no particular studies? Sportsm. Oh! yes; we study backgammon, hunt the slipper, and all-fours; raise the devil, and play at blindman's buff. Aye, and I am a tolerable dab at them, too, I can tell you.