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Pope: His Descent and Family Connections Facts and Conjectures   By:

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ANCESTRY, whose grace Chalks successors their way, SHAKESPEARE.



The following Tract is an enlargement of the principal portion of an account which I propose to give of POPE, in Poets and Verse Writers, from Chaucer to Pope: new Facts in their History should the public curiosity respecting them call for the publication of what I have collected and written.

OCTOBER 26, 1857.



Two persons of noble birth, who thought themselves insulted in the "Imitation of the First of the Second Book of the Satires of Horace," retorted upon the Poet with a severity not wholly undeserved. Unlike Pope, who had dismissed them both in a line or two, they composed their attacks very elaborately, seeking out everything that could offend him, defects for which he must be held responsible, and those for which no man can justly be so held.

One of these latter points was, want of birth . The lines,

Whilst none thy crabbed numbers can endure, Hard as thy heart, and as thy birth obscure ,

are attributed to the Lady Mary Wortley Montague; but Johnson assigns them to Lord Hervey,[1] who attacked Pope in another poem, in which he makes it a charge that he was a hatter's son, and insults him on the score of the meanness of his family.

These allusions to his origin seem to have galled the Poet more than anything else that was said of him. He was then living in what is called high society, and it was of some importance to him not to be thought meanly bred. Three courses were open to him. He might have assumed to pass over the charge as unworthy his notice: he might have claimed it as a merit to have surpassed his ancestors, and risen to distinction by his own genius, "out of himself drawing his web;" or he might deny the charge altogether. He adopted the last of these courses, and in this he acted wisely and honestly.

When a defence against such a charge is undertaken, there is an advantage in the difficulty of defining that really undefinable quality called birth . There is an absolute , and a relative , want of it. A rich mercantile family may be a good family when compared with persons of the same class who have been less successful than they; a family owning a good estate in the country is a good family amongst the neighbours; a race of persons eminent in any of the professions may be called a good family. But place these by the side of the ancient aristocracy of the country, who have maintained this position for centuries, and what are they? and let persons even of acknowledged antiquity and elevation be brought into the company of kings and emperors, or even of the great families of the Continent, and they lose something of their lustre:

A deputy shines bright as doth a king Until a king be by.

Undoubtedly, Pope could not in this respect compare himself with the Pierrepoints and the Herveys; and to them his birth would necessarily appear obscure, if they thought at all about it, and chose to take the unkinder view. But Pope knew that what was relatively true might be absolutely untrue. He therefore took the first opportunity of claiming publicly what in his opinion belonged to him.

In the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot , which was written early in 1733, he speaks of his birth thus:

Of gentle blood (part shed in honour's cause, While yet in Britain honour had applause) Each parent sprung

Then follows his touching notice of his father, and of his mother (who was then living, in her ninety third year), not the less genuine for being written in imitation of Horace. They are handed down for ever as people of

Unspotted names, and venerable long, If there be force in virtue or in song.

To these lines this note is appended: "Mr... Continue reading book >>

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