Of Pope, it is curious to relate, though he was a near neighbour, she saw less and less. It has been suggested that the first rift in the lute was her parody of his verses about the lovers struck by lightning; but even he, most sensitive of men, can scarcely have been seriously offended. So far as is known, only two letters passed between them after 1719.
“I pass my time in a small snug set of dear intimates, and go very little into the grand monde, which has always had my hearty contempt” (she wrote to Lady Mar in the spring of 1722). “I see sometimes Mr. Congreve, and very seldom Mr. Pope, who continues to embellish his house at Twickenham. He has made a subterranean grotto, which he has furnished with looking-glass, and they tell me it has a very good effect. I here send you some verses addressed to Mr. Gay, who wrote him a congratulatory letter on the finishing his house. I stifled them here, and I beg they may die the same death at Paris, and never go further than your closet:
’Ah, Friend, ’tis true—this
truth you lovers know—
In vain my structures rise, my gardens grow,
In vain fair Thames reflects the double scenes
Of hanging mountains, and of sloping greens:
Joy lives not here; to happier seats it flies,
And only dwells where Wortley casts her eyes.
What is the gay parterre, the chequer’d
The morning bower, the ev’ning colonnade,
But soft recesses of uneasy minds,
To sigh unheard in, to the passing winds?
So the struck deer in some sequestrate part
Lies down to die, the arrow at his heart;
There, stretch’d unseen in coverts hid from day,
Bleeds drop by drop, and pants his life away.’
It may here be remarked that in Epistle VIII of the Moral Essays Pope had a line:
“And other beauties envy Wortley’s eyes”;
but in a reprint of the poem he substituted [Lady] “Worsley” for “Wortley” in order to give the impression that “Wortley” had been a misprint.
Pope’s quarrel with Lady Mary began in or about 1722. The cause is obscure. Many reasons have been advanced. Lady Mary in her correspondence gives no clue as to the breach.
It has been said that it arose out of the fact that Pope lent the Montagus a pair of sheets and that they were returned unwashed, to the great indignation of his mother who lived with him. It is difficult to believe this.
Others have it that he was jealous of the favour which Lady Mary accorded to the Duke of Wharton and Lord Hervey. Certainly he lampooned the Duke, and he was never weary of writing insultingly about the other.
Most probable is the account given by Lady Louisa Stuart, Lady Mary’s grand-daughter, which is to the effect that Pope made a declaration of love, and that Lady Mary received it with shrieks of laughter. If Pope were serious, it must have galled him indeed, though nothing can excuse the malignity with which he pursued her for years and years. And if he were not in earnest, he would probably have been nearly, if not quite, as indignant.