* * * * *
It is interesting to compare his unmeasured condemnation of Pope with Kingsley’s eulogy: since both were, more or less, directly inspired by the contrast of eighteenth century correctness to the poetical gospel of the Lake Poets. From the two articles we can obtain a fair and emphatic statement of “both sides of the case.”
DE QUINCEY ON POPE
[From Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, May, 1851]
Whom shall we pronounce a fit writer to be laid before an auditory of working-men, as a model of what is just in composition—fit either for conciliating their regard to literature at first or afterwards for sustaining it? The qualifications for such a writer are apparently these two; first, that he should deal chiefly with the elder and elementary affections of man, and under those relations which concern man’s grandest capacities; secondly, that he should treat his subject with solemnity, and not with sneer—with earnestness, as one under a prophet’s burden of impassioned truth, and not with the levity of a girl hunting a chance-started caprice. I admire Pope in the very highest degree; but I admire him as a pyrotechnic artist for producing brilliant and evanescent effects out of elements that have hardly a moment’s life within them. There is a flash and a startling explosion, then there is a dazzling coruscation, all purple and gold; the eye aches under the suddenness of a display that, springing like a burning arrow out of darkness, rushes back into the darkness with arrowy speed, and in a moment is all over. Like festal shows, or the hurrying music of such shows—
It was, and it is not.
Untruly, therefore, was it ever fancied of Pope, that he belonged by his classification to the family of the Drydens. Dryden had within him a principle of continuity which was not satisfied without lingering upon his own thoughts, brooding over them, and oftentimes pursuing them through their unlinkings with the sequaciousness (pardon a Coleridgian word) that belongs to some process of creative nature, such as the unfolding of a flower. But Pope was all jets and tongues of flame; all showers of scintillation and sparkle. Dryden followed, genially, an impulse of his healthy nature. Pope obeyed, spasmodically, an overmastering febrile paroxysm. Even in these constitutional differences between the two are written and are legible the corresponding necessities of “utter falsehood in Pope, and of loyalty to truth in Dryden.” Strange it is to recall this one striking fact, that if once in his life Dryden might reasonably have been suspected of falsehood, it was in the capital matter of religion. He ratted from his Protestant faith; and according to the literal origin of that figure he ratted; for he abjured it as rats abjure a ship in which their instinct of divination has deciphered a destiny of