Professional Imaginative Writing in England, 1670-1740: Hackney for Bread

By Brean S. Hammond | Go to book overview
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7
'A Poet, and a Patron, and Ten Pound': Politics, Cultural Politics, and the Scriblerians

Swift's protégée Letitia Pilkington recalls in her Memoirs that Swift once showed her a letter from Pope which was 'Filled with low and ungentlemanlike reflections both on Mr. Gay and the two noble persons who honoured him with their patronage after his disappointment at Court'. Pope receives only occasional mention in the Memoirs, but always dishonourable: he is shown to be an envious, two-faced, sneaking fellow. He is, for example, jealous of Gay success with The Beggar's Opera--'The Dean very frankly owned he did not think Mr. Pope was so candid to the merits of other writers as he ought to be'.1 Pope's compliment to Swift in The Dunciad is pronounced cold and forced by comparison with the warm, sincere fulsomeness of Swift's lines 'Hail happy Pope, whose generous mind' in his A Libel on Dr. Delany--lines which Pope subsequently came to regard as a considerable embarrassment. Later in the Memoirs, Mrs. Pilkington tells us that Swift had given her husband a letter of introduction to Pope, who invited him to stay at Twickenham for a fortnight on the strength of it. Whereas Pilkington writes back to his wife enthusing over the warmth of his welcome, Pope writes a letter to Swift in which he calls Pilkington a 'forward, shallow, conceited fellow' and tells Swift that he was sick of Pilkington's impertinence before the end of the third day. To Letitia Pilkington, there was a clear distinction to be drawn between Swift, whose behaviour was often eccentric but whose eccentricity derived from too much principle, and Pope, whose devious antics derived from too little. Her anecdotes remind us that contemporaries did not always regard Swift and Pope as entirely inseparable Siamese twins--the Castor

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1
Memoirs of Mrs. Letitia Pilkington, 1712-1750 ( 1748-54), intro. Iris Barry, ( London, 1928), 62.

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