“I love her,” Pope had said. Eh, yes, no doubt; and what, he fiercely demanded of himself, was he a crippled scribbler, a bungling artisan of phrases that he should dare to love this splendid and deep- bosomed goddess? Something of youth awoke, possessing him something of that high ardor which, as he cloudily remembered now, had once controlled a boy who dreamed in Windsor Forest and with the lightest of hearts planned to achieve the impossible. For what is more difficult of attainment than to achieve the perfected phrase, so worded that to alter a syllable of its wording would be little short of sacrilege?
“What whimwhams!” decreed the great Mr. Pope, aloud. “Verse- making is at best only the affair of idle men who write in their closets and of idle men who read there. And as for him who polishes phrases, whatever be his fate in poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it.”
No, he would have no more loneliness. Henceforward Alexander Pope would be human like the others. To write perfectly was much; but it was not everything. Living was capable of furnishing even more than the raw material of a couplet. It might, for instance, yield content.
For instance, if you loved, and married, and begot, and died, with the seriousness of a person who believes he is performing an action of real importance, and conceded that the perfection of any art, whether it be that of verse-making or of rope-dancing, is at best a by-product of life`s conduct; at worst, you probably would not be lonely. No; you would be at one with all other fat-witted people, and there was no greater blessing conceivable.
Pope muttered, and produced his notebook, and wrote tentatively.
Wrote Mr. Pope:
“The bliss of man (could pride that blessing find)
Is not to act or think beyond mankind;
No powers of body or of soul to share But what his nature and his state can bear.”
“His state!” yes, undeniably, two sibilants collided here. “His wit?” no, that would be flat-footed awkwardness in the management of your vowel-sounds; the lengthened “a” was almost requisite. … Pope was fretting over the imbroglio when he absent-mindedly glanced up to perceive that his Sarah, not irrevocably offended, was being embraced by a certain John Hughes who was a stalwart, florid, personable individual, no doubt, but, after all, only an unlettered farmer.
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