The Need to Give: The Patron and the Arts

By Andrew Sinclair | Go to book overview
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5
A Sort of Economic Man

IN THE Augustan age of England, nothing could contrast more than Alexander Pope's and Samuel Johnson's attitude to patronage. The aristocrats and courtiers feared Pope because of his barbed pen, more surgical than Catullus or Martial in the dissection of human weakness. So they flocked to subscribe to Pope's translation of Homer's Iliad. Her Royal Highness the Princess, the Dukes of Argyll and Buckingham and Viscount Bolingbroke, who each took ten sets, and ten College libraries at Oxford all came to the support of a civilized version of the great bardic poem of war. 'In short I have found more Patrons than ever Homer wanted,' Pope wrote with self-satisfaction. 'If my Author had the Wits of After-Ages for his Defenders, his Translator has had the Beauties of the present for his Advocates.'

Alexander Pope was one of the first poets and translators and men of letters to make a living from his pen; but he was always dependent on the favours of the great. Samuel Johnson, on the other hand, laboured through the compilation of the first comprehensive English dictionary to deliver a most bitter attack on the failure of the enlightened nobility to help him. As Aretino had mocked King Francis the First for his tardy gift of gold, so Dr Johnson laid into Lord Chesterfield, who only praised his dictionary after its appearance.

MY LORD, I have lately been informed, by the proprietor of 'The World' that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public,

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