Glance up at the tender eyes of the poet, who seems to have been eagerly listening while we have been reading Ruskin’s beautiful tribute. As he is so intent upon us, let me gratify still further the honest pride of “the little nightingale,” as they used to call him when he was a child, and read to you from the “Causeries du Lundi” what that wise French critic, Sainte-Beuve, has written of his favorite English poet:—
“The natural history of Pope is very simple: delicate persons, it has been said, are unhappy, and he was doubly delicate, delicate of mind, delicate and infirm of body; he was doubly irritable. But what grace, what taste, what swiftness to feel, what justness and perfection in expressing his feeling!... His first masters were insignificant; he educated himself: at twelve years old he learned Latin and Greek together, and almost without a master; at fifteen he resolved to go to London, in order to learn French and Italian there, by reading the authors. His family, retired from trade, and Catholic, lived at this time upon an estate in the forest of Windsor. This desire of his was considered as an odd caprice, for his health from that time hardly permitted him to move about. He persisted, and accomplished his project; he learned nearly everything thus by himself, making his own choice among authors, getting the grammar quite alone, and his pleasure was to translate into verse the finest passages he met with among the Latin and Greek poets. When he was about sixteen years old, he said, his taste was formed as much as it was later.... If such a thing as literary temperament exist, it never discovered itself in a manner more clearly defined and more decided than with Pope. Men ordinarily become classic by means of the fact and discipline of education; he was so by vocation, so to speak, and by a natural originality. At the same time with the poets, he read the best among the critics, and prepared himself to speak after them.
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“Pope had the characteristic sign of literary natures, the faithful worship of genius.... He said one day to a friend: ’I have always been particularly struck with this passage of Homer where he represents to us Priam transported with grief for the loss of Hector, on the point of breaking out into reproaches and invectives against the servants who surrounded him and against his sons. It would be impossible for me to read this passage without weeping over the disasters of the unfortunate old king.’ And then he took the book, and tried to read aloud the passage, ’Go, wretches, curse of my life,’ but he was interrupted by tears.
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