The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope

By Paul Baines | Go to book overview
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101, 171-182]. The unnamed 'lady' in question was Martha Blount, who stands in the poem as a model of female character within a poem which displays with humour and occasionally with vehemence the various pitfalls into which female character could be seen by male commentators to fall at this date in history.


(n)

LETTERS

In April 1735 Pope published 'Volume II' of his Works, matching in format the 1717 volume and the Homer translations. Smaller editions for the less well-off followed. The 'magnum opus' poems (Essay on Man and Epistles to Several Persons) stood alongside the Horatian satires and The Dunciad in giant array, with the addition of line numbers (this was a text to refer to accurately). In the next month, there appeared from Curll's shop two volumes of Pope's correspondence with early friends such as Garth, Wycherley, Walsh, Congreve, Steele, Addison and Gay among others. The elegance and wit for which Pope's poetry was celebrated was very much evident in his prose also, but that was mostly in ironic vein; his letters, of which he was justly proud, exhibit the same talents in the more positive sphere of personal friendship. Though the personal (or 'familiar') letter had become by this period more or less a recognised genre, connoting spontaneity, warmth, unstudied intimacy, it was still unheard of for anyone to publish their own correspondence. Letters of poets such as Rochester were published, but only after death, feeding and stimulating a public appetite for supposedly private detail.

Pope, however, with his by now habitual love of stratagem, elected to kill two birds with one stone. He had the letters printed in great secrecy over a period of years from 1729, and with tortuous and teasing manoeuvres, like an angler reeling in a particular slippery fish, dangled the printed sheets before the nose of Edmund Curll, who had openly advertised his interest in private Popeiana in the newspapers. Curll, who had added to his crimes by becoming a stooge for Walpole, eventually took the bait that was offered by a series of anonymous correspondents, and advertised the volumes. Pope got some aristocratic friends to have the edition impounded on the grounds that it suggested unauthorised publication of letters by members of the House of Lords-a ruse which failed, in fact, as the House could find nothing of the sort in the sheets they were shown, and freed Curll, who went his dauntless way, selling the volumes with miscellaneous padding thrown in and turning 'Pope's Head' into his bookshop sign. Nonetheless, Pope had succeeded in reminding parliament, which was then considering

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