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- Letters to Dead Authors - 5/18 -
'Mean, morbid, vain, he yet possessed a Heart! And still we marvel at the Man, and still Admire his Finish, and applaud his Skill: Though, as that fabled Barque, a phantom Form, Eternal strains, nor rounds the Cape of Storm, Even so Pope strove, nor ever crossed the Line That from the Noble separates the Fine!'
(1) 'Poor Pope was always a hand-to-mouth liar.' --_Pope_, by Leslie Stephen, 139.
The Learned thus, and who can quite reply, Reverse the Judgment, and Retort the Lie? You reap, in arme'd Hates that haunt Your name, Reap what you sowed, the Dragon's Teeth of Fame: You could not write, and from unenvious Time Expect the Wreath that crowns the lofty Rhyme, You still must fight, retreat, attack, defend, And oft, to snatch a Laurel, lose a Friend!
The Pity of it! And the changing Taste Of changing Time leaves half your Work a Waste! My Childhood fled your couplet's clarion tone, And sought for Homer in the Prose of Bohn. Still through the Dust of that dim Prose appears The Flight of Arrows and the Sheen of Spears; Still we may trace what Hearts heroic feel, And hear the Bronze that hurtles on the Steel! But, ah, your Iliad seems a half-pretence, Where Wits, not Heroes, prove their Skill in Fence, And great Achilles' Eloquence doth show As if no Centaur trained him, but Boileau! Again, your Verse is orderly,--and more,-- 'The Waves behind impel the Waves before;' Monotonously musical they glide, Till Couplet unto Couplet hath replied. But turn to Homer! How his Verses sweep! Surge answers Surge and Deep doth call on Deep; This Line in Foam and Thunder issues forth, Spurred by the West or smitten by the North, Sombre in all its sullen Deeps, and all Clear at the Crest, and foaming to the Fall, The next with silver Murmur dies away, Like Tides that falter to Calypso's Bay!
Thus Time, with sordid Alchemy and dread, Turns half the Glory of your Gold to Lead; Thus Time,--at Ronsard's wreath that vainly bit,-- Has marred the Poet to preserve the Wit, Who almost left on Addison a stain, Whose knife cut cleanest with a poisoned pain,-- Yet Thou (strange Fate that clings to all of Thine!) When most a Wit dost most a Poet shine. In Poetry thy Dunciad expires, When Wit has shot 'her momentary Fires.' 'T is Tragedy that watches by the Bed 'Where tawdry Yellow strove with dirty Red,' And men, remembering all, can scarce deny To lay the Laurel where thine Ashes lie!
To Lucian of Samosata.
In what bower, oh Lucian, of your rediscovered Islands Fortunate are you now reclining; the delight of the fair, the learned, the witty, and the brave? In that clear and tranquil climate, whose air breathes of 'violet and lily, myrtle, and the flower of the vine,'
Where the daisies are rose-scented, And the Rose herself has got Perfume which on earth is not,
among the music of all birds, and the wind-blown notes of flutes hanging on the trees, methinks that your laughter sounds most silvery sweet, and that Helen and fair Charmides are still of your company. Master of mirth, and Soul the best contented of all that have seen the world's ways clearly, most clear- sighted of all that have made tranquillity their bride, what other laughers dwell with you, where the crystal and fragrant waters wander round the shining palaces and the temples of amethyst?
Heine surely is with you; if, indeed, it was not one Syrian soul that dwelt among alien men, Germans and Romans, in the bodily tabernacles of Heine and of Lucian. But he was fallen on evil times and evil tongues; while Lucian, as witty as he, as bitter in mockery, as happily dowered with the magic of words, lived long and happily and honoured, imprisoned in no 'mattress-grave.' Without Rabelais, without Voltaire, without Heine, you would find, methinks, even the joys of your Happy Islands lacking in zest; and, unless Plato came by your way, none of the ancients could meet you in the lists of sportive dialogue.
There, among the vines that bear twelve times in the year, more excellent than all the vineyards of Touraine, while the song-birds bring you flowers from vales enchanted, and the shapes of the Blessed come and go, beautiful in wind-woven raiment of sunset hues; there, in a land that knows not age nor winter, midnight, nor autumn, nor noon, where the silver twilight of summer- dawn is perennial, where youth does not wax spectre-pale and die; there, my Lucian, you are crowned the Prince of the Paradise of Mirth.
Who would bring you, if he had the power, from the banquet where Homer sings: Homer, who, in mockery of commentators, past and to come, German and Greek, informed you that he was by birth a Babylonian? Yet, if you, who first wrote Dialogues of the Dead, could hear the prayer of an epistle wafted to 'lands indiscoverable in the unheard-of West,' you might visit once more a world so worthy of such a mocker, so like the world you knew so well of old.
Ah, Lucian, we have need of you, of your sense and of your mockery! Here, where faith is sick and superstition is waking afresh; where gods come rarely, and spectres appear at five shillings an interview; where science is popular, and philosophy cries aloud in the market-place, and clamour does duty for government, and Thais and Lais are names of power--here, Lucian, is room and scope for you. Can I not imagine a new 'Auction of Philosophers,' and what wealth might be made by him who bought these popular sages and lecturers at his estimate, and vended them at their own?
HERMES: Whom shall we put first up to auction?
ZEUS: That German in spectacles; he seems a highly respectable man.
HERMES: Ho, pessimist, come down and let the public view you.
ZEUS: Go on, put him up and have done with him.
HERMES: Who bids for the Life Miserable, for extreme, complete, perfect, unredeemable perdition? What offers for the universal extinction of the species, and the collapse of the Conscious?
A PURCHASER: He does not look at all a bad lot. May one put him through his paces?
HERMES: Certainly; try your luck.
PURCHASER: What is your name?
PURCHASER: What can you teach me?
PESSIMIST: That Life is not worth Living.
PURCHASER: Wonderful! Most edifying! How much for this lot?
HERMES: Two hundred pounds.
PURCHASER: I will write you a cheque for the money. Come home, Pessimist, and begin your lessons without more ado.
HERMES: Attention! Here is a magnificent article--the Positive Life, the Scientific Life, the Enthusiastic Life. Who bids for a possible place in the Calendar of the Future?
PURCHASER: What does he call himself? he has a very French air.
HERMES: Put your own questions.
PURCHASER: What's your pedigree, my Philosopher, and previous performances?
POSITIVIST: I am by Rousseau out of Catholicism, with a strain of the Evolution blood.
PURCHASER: What do you believe in?
POSITIVIST: In Man, with a large M.
PURCHASER: Not in individual Man?
POSITIVIST: By no means; not even always in Mr. Gladstone. All men, all Churches, all parties, all philosophies, and even the other sect of our own Church, are perpetually in the wrong. Buy me, and listen to me, and you will ahvays be in the right.
PURCHASER: And, after this life, what have you to offer me?
POSITIVIST: A distinguished position in the Choir Invisible: but not, of course, conscious immortality.
PURCHASER: Take him away, and put up another lot.
Then the Hegelian, with his Notion, and the Darwinian, with his notions, and the Lotzian, with his Broad Church mixture of Religion and Evolution, and the Spencerian, with that Absolute which is a sort of a something, might all be offered with their divers wares; and cheaply enough, Lucian, you would value them in this auction of Sects. 'There is but one way to Corinth,' as of old; but which that way may be, oh master of Hermotimus, we know no more than he did of old; and still we find, of all philosophies, that the Stoic route is most to be recommended. But we have our Cyrenaics too, though they are no longer 'clothed in purple, and crowned with flowers, and fond of drink and of female flute-players.' Ah, here too, you might laugh, and fail to see where the Pleasure lies, when the Cyrenaics are no 'judges of cakes' (nor of ale, for that matter), and are strangers in the Courts of Princes. 'To despise all things, to make use of all things, in all things to follow pleasure only:' that is not the manner of the new, if it were the secret of the older Hedonism.
Then, turning from the philosophers to the seekers after a sign, what change,
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