The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope

By Paul Baines | Go to book overview

1721-22, closely monitored by Government spies. This brought to the fore Sir Robert Walpole, a Whig who had endeared himself to the regime by protecting so far as was possible those members of the court who had unclean fingers in the Bubble; he now sought to use the Jacobite scare to polarise Whig and Tory, penalise Catholics, and make himself the leading politician of the day. In August 1722, he had Pope's friend Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester (1662-1732) and a somewhat unlikely leader of the Jacobite cause in England, imprisoned in the Tower while by a variety of not very scrupulous means he obtained evidence against him. As a Catholic and close friend of the bishop, Pope was implicated; he gave evidence at Atterbury's show trial (8 May 1723) in the Lords, nervously (and probably truthfully) declaring that he had seen nothing to support the accusation (Spence 1966:102-3). The outcome of the trial, which was wholly political, was never in doubt, despite some words on his behalf by Tories like Bathurst (and even one or two Whigs); Atterbury was actually guilty of the main charge. Nonetheless his banishment, and perhaps more, the manner of the trial, deeply disturbed Pope, not only because of the loss of a close friend, but because of the rise to power of a very formidable politician.

Pope had edited the poems of his dead friend Parnell in 1720-21, adding a nostalgic poem in praise of Robert Harley, the Tory leader imprisoned for his supposed Jacobite sympathies in 1715. He edited the works of John Sheffield, husband of a natural daughter of James II; in January 1723 the impression was impounded for the supposedly treasonable content of the essays; Pope himself may have been arrested. Pope wrote to Lord Carteret a prudent and dignified statement of his own political quietude and independence (Letters II:160). Just after the Atterbury trial Charles Rackett, husband of Pope's half-sister Magdalen, was arrested for deer stealing in Windsor Forest, an offence which at this particular point in history carried political overtones. The Black Act, named after gangs of masked poachers, laid down a whole series of capital offences against property and greatly strengthened the hand of the regime under the guise of a defence of property. The outcome of the Rackett case is unknown, but it cannot have helped Pope's own sense of security.


(j)

SHAKESPEARE

Over the years of the Odyssey translation, Pope was also working on an edition of Shakespeare at the behest of the younger Jacob Tonson, who had now assumed command of his uncle's eminent publishing business. Pope was paid a flat fee of £100 to prepare a new edition of

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