The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the Eighteenth Century

By Jonathan Hoeber Lamb | Go to book overview

10
"Deformed he lay, disfigur'd': Pope reads Blackmore's Job

I have already shown how, in his Epistle to Bathurst, Pope shunts the unacceptable particularities of excessive complaint, which he associates closely with the unregulated play of economic self-interest, to the side of Sir Balaam, an unregenerate modern Job, so that he can hiss in public the speculative losses over which he groans in private. His Art of Sinking in Poetry ( 1728), although a more complex set of satiric manœuvres directed at the production and reception of literary language, as opposed to the consumption of goods and credit, is impelled by the same hostility towards a particularizing excess, once again to be found embodied in a city knight who ventriloquizes the complaints of Job. Once again, it is an exercise in differentiation between public norms and private singularities that is troubled by a covert resemblance to the object under attack. Pope's struggle to disintricate his sense of subjective vulnerability from the judgements he directs against a culpable public manifestation of particularity is thrown in relief by studying the parallels that extend between Pope's desire to destroy the sublime of Sir Richard Blackmore A Paraphrase on the Book of Job and his fascination, growing into disgust, with 'the Symptoms of an Amorous Fury'1 he locates in the literary remains of Sappho. If Blackmore and Balaam strike Pope as the unhappy leftovers of Job's sublime, no less do the writings and person of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu strike him as the noisome detritus of Sappho's.

Sir Richard Blackmore published A Paraphrase on the Book of Job in 1700, issuing it again in 1716, a year after the first Jacobite rebellion. It is from this second edition that Pope draws more than a quarter of the quotations for his mock-Longinian treatise on the bathos, The Art of Sinking. The politics of the Paraphrase are those of an ardent Williamite

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1
The phrase is Bayle's, in his article on Sappho and Anacreon, where he defends Le Fevre's reading of it as a lesbian love-poem against Mme Dacier estimate of it as an epistolary exercise, ' a Friend writing to a Friend'. She heads the fashion (followed by Addison in Spectators223 and 229) for 'normalizing' the feelings expressed in Sappho's poetry. See Pierre Bayle, An Historical and Critical Dictionary, 4 vols. ( London: C. Harper et al., 1710), iv. 2671 n. D. The 'fictions' spun out of the contested readings of Sappho among French critics during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries suggest intriguing similarities with the British fondness for making fictions out of Job over the same period. See Joan de Jean, Fictions of Sappho 1546- 1937 ( Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989), 50-8. Pope comes the closest of any writer to conflating the fictionalization of Sappho with the fictionalization of Job.

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