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Lord Carlisle On Pope
by [?]


Lord Carlisle’s recent lecture upon Pope, addressed to an audience of artisans, drew the public attention first of all upon himself–that was inevitable. No man can depart conspicuously from the usages or the apparent sympathies of his own class, under whatsoever motive, but that of necessity he will awaken for the immediate and the first result of his act an emotion of curiosity. But all curiosity is allied to the comic, and is not an ennobling emotion, either for him who feels it or for him who is its object. A second, however, and more thoughtful consideration of such an act may redeem it from this vulgarizing taint of oddity. Reflection may satisfy us, as in the present case it did satisfy those persons who were best acquainted with Lord Carlisle’s public character, that this eccentric step had been adopted, not in ostentation, with any view to its eccentricity, but in spite of its eccentricity, and from impulses of large prospective benignity that would not suffer itself to be defeated by the chances of immediate misconstruction.

Whether advantageous, therefore, to Lord Carlisle, or disadvantageous (and in that case, I believe, most unjust), the first impressions derived from this remarkable lecture pointed themselves exclusively to the person of the lecturer–to his general qualifications for such a task, and to his possible motives for undertaking it. Nobody inquired what it was that the noble lord had been discussing, so great was every man’s astonishment that before such an audience any noble lord should have condescended to discuss anything at all. But gradually all wonder subsides–de jure, in nine days; and, after this collapse of the primary interest, there was leisure for a secondary interest to gather about the subject of the patrician lecture. Had it any cryptical meaning? Coming from a man so closely connected with the government, could it be open to any hieroglyphic or ulterior interpretations, intelligible to Whigs, and significant to ministerial partisans? Finally, this secondary interest has usurped upon what originally had been a purely personal interest. POPE! What novelty was there, still open to even literary gleaners, about him, a man that had been in his grave for one hundred and six years? What could there remain to say on such a theme? And what was it, in fact, that Lord Carlisle had said to his Yorkshire audience?

There was, therefore, a double aspect in the public interest–one looking to the rank of the lecturer, one to the singularity of his theme. There was the curiosity that connected itself with the assumption of a troublesome duty in the service of the lowest ranks by a volunteer from the highest; and, secondly, there was another curiosity connecting itself with the choice of a subject that had no special reference to this particular generation, and seemed to have no special adaptation to the intellectual capacities of a working audience.

This double aspect of the public surprise suggests a double question. The volunteer assumption by a nobleman of this particular office in this particular service may, in the eyes of some people, bear a philosophic value, as though it indicated some changes going on beneath the surface of society in the relations of our English aristocracy to our English laboring body. On the other hand, it will be regarded by multitudes as the casual caprice of an individual–a caprice of vanity by those who do not know Lord Carlisle’s personal qualities, a caprice of patriotic benevolence by those who do. According to the construction of the case as thus indicated, oscillating between a question of profound revolution moving subterraneously amongst us, and a purely personal question, such a discussion would ascend to the philosophic level, or sink to the level of gossip. The other direction of the public surprise points to a question that will interest a far greater body of thinkers. Whatever judgment may be formed on the general fact that a nobleman of ancient descent has thought fit to come forward as a lecturer to the humblest of his countrymen upon subjects detached from politics, there will yet remain a call for a second judgment upon the fitness of the particular subject selected for a lecture under such remarkable circumstances. The two questions are entirely disconnected. It is on the latter, viz., the character and pretensions of Pope, as selected by Lord Carlisle for such an inaugural experiment, that I myself feel much interest. Universally it must have been felt as an objection, that such a selection had no special adaptation to the age or to the audience. I say this with no wish to undervalue the lecture, which I understand to have been ably composed, nor the services of the lecturer, whose motives and public character, in common with most of his countrymen, I admire. I speak of it at all only as a public opportunity suddenly laid open for drawing attention to the true pretensions of Pope, as the most brilliant writer of his own class in European literature; or, at least, of drawing attention to some characteristics in the most popular section of Pope’s works which hitherto have lurked unnoticed.