Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most, the wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?

From Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, Canto 5. I think this is my favorite of of Pope’s bathetic appropriations from ancient epic – if only for how core a scene the original has become for interpreting the social politics of epic or epic-informed culture.

Then grave Clarissa graceful wav’d her fan;
Silence ensu’d, and thus the nymph began.

       “Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most,
The wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?
Why deck’d with all that land and sea afford,
Why angels call’d, and angel-like ador’d?
Why round our coaches crowd the white-glov’d beaux,
Why bows the side-box from its inmost rows?
How vain are all these glories, all our pains,
Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains:
That men may say, when we the front-box grace:
‘Behold the first in virtue, as in face!’
Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm’d the smallpox, or chas’d old age away;
Who would not scorn what housewife’s cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use?
To patch, nay ogle, might become a saint,
Nor could it sure be such a sin to paint.
But since, alas! frail beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since locks will turn to grey,
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man, must die a maid;
What then remains but well our pow’r to use,
And keep good humour still whate’er we lose?
And trust me, dear! good humour can prevail,
When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”

Here is Pope’s own rendering of the relevant scene in the Iliad – bk 12 310-328 between Sarpedon (speaking) and Glaucus. This one, from his full translation, is a slight revision from an earlier selection of episodes. My edition – the Twickenham v.2 – points out that the parody is closer to a translation by John Denham, though I haven’t found a readily available digital copy to check.

Then casting on his friend an ardent look,
Fired with the thirst of glory, thus he spoke:
“Why boast we, Glaucus! our extended reign,
Where Xanthus’ streams enrich the Lycian plain,
Our numerous herds that range the fruitful field,
And hills where vines their purple harvest yield,
Our foaming bowls with purer nectar crown’d,
Our feasts enhanced with music’s sprightly sound?
Why on those shores are we with joy survey’d,
Admired as heroes, and as gods obey’d,
Unless great acts superior merit prove,
And vindicate the bounteous powers above?
’Tis ours, the dignity they give to grace;
The first in valour, as the first in place;
That when with wondering eyes our martial bands
Behold our deeds transcending our commands,
Such, they may cry, deserve the sovereign state,
Whom those that envy dare not imitate!
Could all our care elude the gloomy grave,
Which claims no less the fearful and the brave,
For lust of fame I should not vainly dare
In fighting fields, nor urge thy soul to war.
But since, alas! ignoble age must come,
Disease, and death’s inexorable doom,
The life, which others pay, let us bestow,
And give to fame what we to nature owe;
Brave though we fall, and honour’d if we live,
Or let us glory gain, or glory give!”

and the Greek because it is always prettiest.

Γλαῦκε τί ἢ δὴ νῶϊ τετιμήμεσθα μάλιστα
ἕδρῃ τε κρέασίν τε ἰδὲ πλείοις δεπάεσσιν
ἐν Λυκίῃ, πάντες δὲ θεοὺς ὣς εἰσορόωσι,
καὶ τέμενος νεμόμεσθα μέγα Ξάνθοιο παρ᾽ ὄχθας
καλὸν φυταλιῆς καὶ ἀρούρης πυροφόροιο;
τὼ νῦν χρὴ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισιν ἐόντας
ἑστάμεν ἠδὲ μάχης καυστείρης ἀντιβολῆσαι,
ὄφρά τις ὧδ᾽ εἴπῃ Λυκίων πύκα θωρηκτάων:
οὐ μὰν ἀκλεέες Λυκίην κάτα κοιρανέουσιν
ἡμέτεροι βασιλῆες, ἔδουσί τε πίονα μῆλα
οἶνόν τ᾽ ἔξαιτον μελιηδέα: ἀλλ᾽ ἄρα καὶ ἲς
ἐσθλή, ἐπεὶ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισι μάχονται.
ὦ πέπον εἰ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμον περὶ τόνδε φυγόντε
αἰεὶ δὴ μέλλοιμεν ἀγήρω τ᾽ ἀθανάτω τε
ἔσσεσθ᾽, οὔτέ κεν αὐτὸς ἐνὶ πρώτοισι μαχοίμην
οὔτέ κε σὲ στέλλοιμι μάχην ἐς κυδιάνειραν:
νῦν δ᾽ ἔμπης γὰρ κῆρες ἐφεστᾶσιν θανάτοιο
μυρίαι, ἃς οὐκ ἔστι φυγεῖν βροτὸν οὐδ᾽ ὑπαλύξαι,
ἴομεν ἠέ τῳ εὖχος ὀρέξομεν ἠέ τις ἡμῖν.

Plus a bonus parallel from Milton’s Paradise Lost 2.450

Wherefore do I assume
These royalties and not refuse to reign,
Refusing to accept as great a share
Of hazard as of honour, due alike to him
Who reigns, and so much to him due
Of hazard more, as he above the rest
High honour’d sits.

With varying vanities, from ev’ry part, they shift the moving toyshop of their heart

From Canto 1 of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock. Setting aside the gendering, I love these lines as a general description of all of us.

Oft, when the world imagine women stray,
The Sylphs through mystic mazes guide their way,
Thro’ all the giddy circle they pursue,
And old impertinence expel by new.
What tender maid but must a victim fall
To one man’s treat, but for another’s ball?
When Florio speaks, what virgin could withstand,
If gentle Damon did not squeeze her hand?
With varying vanities, from ev’ry part,
They shift the moving toyshop of their heart;
Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive,
Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive.
This erring mortals levity may call,
Oh blind to truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.

Edmund Crispin also liked ‘moving toyshop’ enough to take it as the title of one of his novels. He later borrowed a second title from another of Pope’s works – Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady. That one is, depending on printing, either Sudden Vengeance or Frequent Hearses, both from the same couplet.

On all the line a sudden vengeance waits,
And frequent hearses shall besiege your gates.

In books, not authors, curious is my Lord

From Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Burlington (131-138):

And when up ten steep slopes you’ve dragg’d your thighs,
Just at his study door he’ll bless your eyes.
His study! with what authors is it stor’d?
In books, not authors, curious is my Lord;
To all their dated backs he turns you round:
These Aldus printed, those Du Sueil has bound.
Lo, some are vellum, and the rest as good
For all his Lordship knows, but they are wood.

Aldus Manutius was the famed early publisher of classic and humanist texts (an aside for the curious – his prefaces to the Latin and Greek classics he printed are now translated and in print). Du Seuil is Augustin du Seuil (1673-1746) whose entry in Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books informs me was “a celebrated Parisian bookbinder who held the position of royal binder to Louis XV of France” and adds, quoting the above passage, that “he is the only French binder written of in English literature.”

The Twickenham editor (Bateson) suggests that Pope may have been inspired by a passage from La Bruyère (translation is mine but I lost my citation, apologies):

…. je vais trouver cet homme, qui me reçoit dans une maison où dès l’escalier je tombe en faiblesse d’une odeur de maroquin noir dont ses livres sont tous couverts. Il a beau me crier aux oreilles, pour me ranimer, qu’ils sont dorés sur tranche, ornés de filets d’or, et de la bonne édition, me nommer les meilleurs l’un après l’autre, dire que sa galerie est remplie à quelques endroits près, qui sont peints de manière qu’on les prend pour de vrais livres arrangés sur des tablettes, et que l’oeil s’y trompe, ajouter qu’il ne lit jamais, qu’il ne met pas le pied dans cette galerie, qu’il y viendra pour me faire plaisir; je le remercie de sa complaisance, et ne veux, non plus que lui, voir sa tannerie, qu’il appelle bibliothèque.

I go visit this man, who receives me in a house where in the stairwell I fall faint from the smell of the leather in which the books are covered. Trying to resuscitate me in vain he shouts in my ears that their spines are gilded, they’re ornamented with gold tooling, and they’re all the right editions. He names the best ones, one after another. He tells me the room is filled, except in some places which are painted so that everyone – taking them for books arranged on shelves – is deceived. He adds that he never reads, that he never sets foot in the room, that he came there as a favor to me. I thank him for his kindness and wish, no more than he, to see his tannery that he terms a library.

The Folly’s greater to have none at all

From Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Bathurst (On the use of Riches) – lines 153-160 in the Twickenham edition:

“All this is madness,” cries a sober sage:
“But who, my friend, has Reason in his rage?
The ruling Passion, be it what it will,
The ruling Passion conquers Reason still.’
Less mad the wildest whimsy we can frame,
Than ev’n that Passion, if it has no aim;
For tho’ such motives Folly you may call,
The Folly’s greater to have none at all.

The last lines are reminiscent of Rochefoucauld’s Maxime CCIX:


Qui vit sans folie n’est pas si sage qu’il croit
He who lives without folly is not as wise as he believes

Folie, which I’ve rendered to be in accord with Pope, never makes the crossing intact. But in Rochefoucauld it generally carries a sense far closer to passion than to madness. One could almost say hobbyhorse.

Is there no hope? Alas! –then bring the jowl

From Alexander Pope’s An Epistle to Cobham, 234-239 in the Twickenham edition:

A salmon’s belly, Helluo, was thy fate:
The doctor call’d, declares all help too late.
Mercy! cries Helluo, mercy on my soul!
Is there no hope? Alas! –then bring the jowl.

Helluo is a very rare Latin word for glutton. The image, whatever the possible contemporary target, has a real background source in a tale from Athenaeus (8.341) of a little known poet named Philoxenus:

The comic poet Macho (64–86 Gow) writes the following about the dithyrambic poet Philoxenus of Cythera:

They say that the dithyrambic poet
Philoxenus was an extraordinary
glutton. So once when he was in Syracuse,
he bought an octopus that was three feet long,
and prepared it and ate almost the entire thing
except for the head. He got a stomach-ache
and was in terrible shape. A doctor
came to visit him, saw that he was doing
very badly, and said: “If you’ve got
any business that needs to be taken care of, do it
right away,
Philoxenus; because you’ll be dead by mid-afternoon.”
He responded: “My affairs are all in order,
doctor,” he said, “and have been settled for a while
now.
With the gods’ help, the dithyrambs I’m leaving
behind
have all grown up and been awarded garlands,
and I’m entrusting them to the care of the Muses I
grew
up with. That Aphrodite and Dionysus are my
executors,
my will makes clear. But since
Timotheus’ Charon, the one from his Niobe,
is not allowing me to linger, but is shouting for me to
proceed to the ferry,
and my night-dark fate, which I must heed, is
calling—
so that I can run off to the Underworld with
everything that’s mine:
give me the rest of that octopus!”


Bateson, the editor, believes that Pope more likely got his inspiration from John Hales’ Golden Remains:

When Philoxenus the Epicure had fallen desperately sick upon glutting himself on a delicate and costly fish, perceiving he was to die, he calls for the remainder of his fish, and eats it up, and dies a true Martyr to his belly.”

He also – with some qualifying skepticism – offers La Fontaine’s Le Glouton as another possibility. That one feels closer to Pope’s choppy rhythm to me but either way here’s my hasty translation:

À son souper un glouton
Commande que l’on appreste
Pour luy seul un Esturgeon.
Sans en laisser que la teste,
Il soupe ; il creve, on y court :
On luy donne maints clisteres.
On luy dit, pour faire court,
Qu’il mette ordre à ses affaires.
Mes amis, dit le goulu,
M’y voila tout resolu ;
Et puis qu’il faut que le meure,
Sans faire tant de façon,
Qu’on m’apporte tout à l’heure
Le reste de mon poisson.

At his dinner a glutton
orders that there be readied
for himself alone a sturgeon.
Leaving aside only the head,
he dines; Now he’s bursting, help comes running:
They give him several enemas.
They tell him – to cut it short –
That he should put his affairs in order.
My friends, says the glutton,
I’m ready, fully resolute;
And since I must die
don’t make a deal of it
but have someone bring right away
the rest of my fish.

On human actions reason tho’ you can, it may be Reason, but it is not Man

From Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Cobham, lines 10-40 in vol 3, pt. 2 of the Twickenham edition, Epistles to Several Persons. The edition matters more than normal since maybe 1/4 of these lines will not appear in earlier printings:

Men may be read, as well as Books too much.
To Observations which ourselves we make,
We grow more partial for th’ observer’s sake;
To written Wisdom, as another’s, less:
Maxims are drawn from Notions, those from Guess.
There ’s some Peculiar in each leaf and grain,
Some unmark’d fibre, or some varying vein.
Shall only Men be taken in the gross?
Grant but as many sorts of Mind as Moss.*
That each from other differs, first confess;
Next, that he varies from himself no less:
And Nature’s, Custom’s, Reason’s, Passion’s strife,
And all Opinion’s colours cast on life.
Yet more; the diff’rence is as great between
The optics seeing, as the objects seen.
All Manners take a tincture from our own,
Or come discolour’d thro’ our Passions shown.
Or Fancy’s beam enlarges, multiplies,
Contracts, inverts, and gives ten thousand dyes.
Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Quick whirls and shifting eddies of our minds?
Life’s stream for Observation will not stay,
It hurries all too fast to mark their way.
In vain sedate reflections we would make,
When half our knowledge we must snatch, not take.
On human actions reason tho’ you can,
It may be Reason, but it is not Man:
His Principle of action once explore,
That instant ’tis his Principle no more.
Like following life thro’ creatures you dissect,
You lose it in the moment you detect.

*The editor, Bateson, usefully points out via footnote that there are over 300 kinds of moss. I imagine that number has gone up since the edition’s first publication in 1954.

He intended the Injunction, rather than the Artillery of Heaven

There is much fun in a history of readings and misreadings, textual editing, and the battles than ensue. Here’s the start of Hamlet’s first monologue (1.2):

HAMLET
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!

Alexander Pope’s 1725 edition of Shakespeare has ‘cannon’ here. Lewis Theobald, afterwards a key early editor of Shakespeare, disagreed with this reading and a host of others and let fly the following year in his Shakespeare Restored, or a Specimen of the many Errors as well Committed as Unamended by Mr Pope in his late edition of this poet; designed not only to correct the said Edition, but to restore the true Reading of Shakespeare in all the Editions ever published. His entry for this passage (pages 15-17 in the edition linked) is well reasoned – building primarily on Shakespeare’s own usages – but his best work is his snark – “[Shakespeare] intended the Injunction, rather than the Artillery of Heaven.”

Pope struck back a few years later by making Theobald (as Tibbald) the ‘hero’ of the first three books of his Dunciad (A). I’ll add a few lines for partial illustration (bk 1 251-260, the goddess Dulness is speaking):


I see a King! who leads my chosen sons
To lands, that flow with clenches and with puns:
‘Till each fam’d Theatre my empire own,
‘Till Albion, as Hibernia, bless my throne!
I see! I see! –‘ Then rapt, she spoke no more.
‘God save King Tibbald!’ Grubstreet alleys roar.
So when Jove’s block descended from on high,
(As sings they great fore-father, Ogilby,)
Loud thunder to its bottom shook the bog,
And the hoard nation croak’d, God save King Log!

Retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence

From Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. It is a predictable eccentricity of my reading that the only thing on Franklin I’d read to this point was one of Sainte-Beuve’s portraits. And maybe a few exchanges with his friend David Hume. But each day, wisely used, gives room for new amends.

I continu’d this method [of Socratic argumentation] some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat everyone of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. Pope says, judiciously:

“Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos’d as things forgot;”

farther recommending to us

“To speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence.”

And he might have coupled with this line that which he has coupled with another, I think, less properly,

“For want of modesty is want of sense.”

If you ask, Why less properly? I must repeat the lines,

“Immodest words admit of no defense,
For want of modesty is want of sense.”

Now, is not want of sense (where a man is so unfortunate as to want it) some apology for his want of modesty? and would not the lines stand more justly thus?

“Immodest words admit but this defense,
That want of modesty is want of sense.”

This, however, I should submit to better judgments.

The first quote two quotes are from Pope’s An Essay on Criticism (573-74 for the couplet and 567 for the ‘farther’ on single line).  Note that Franklin, consciously or not, has appropriately softened Pope’s must into should.

Learn then what morals critics ought to show,
For ’tis but half a judge’s task, to know.
‘Tis not enough, taste, judgment, learning, join;
In all you speak, let truth and candour shine:
That not alone what to your sense is due,
All may allow; but seek your friendship too.

Be silent always when you doubt your sense;
And speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence:
Some positive, persisting fops we know,
Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so;
But you, with pleasure own your errors past,
And make each day a critic on the last.

‘Tis not enough, your counsel still be true;
Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
And things unknown proposed as things forgot.
Without good breeding, truth is disapprov’d;
That only makes superior sense belov’d.

The second couplet is not actually Pope, though it is apparently commonly misattributed to him.  It belongs to the 4th Earl of Roscommon and the original context appears to have been an objection to filth in poetry.

The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read

Alexander Pope’s The Bookful Blockhead.  

Such shameless bards we have; and yet ’tis true,
There are as mad, abandoned critics too.
The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read,
With loads of learned lumber in his head,
With his own tongue still edifies his ears,
And always list’ning to himself appears.
All books he reads, and all he reads assails,
From Dryden’s fables down to Durfey’s tales,
With him, most authors steal their works, or buy;
Garth did not write his own Dispensary .
Name a new play, and he’s the poet’s friend,
Nay showed his faults — but when would poets mend?
No place so sacred from such fops is barred,
Nor is Paul’s Church more safe than Paul’s Churchyard:
Nay, fly to altars; there they’ll talk you dead;
For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.