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N. Blakey inv. Edel
GoJetin foutp: Ini Men,
we various ruling Passions find, In Women, Imo almost divide the Kind ;Those only fixed, they first or last obey The Sove
of Pleasure, and the Sove of Iway.
Char: of Women.
E P I S T L E
Of the Characters of Women,
OTHING so true as what you once let fall,
“ Most Women have no Characters at all.”. Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear, And best distinguish'd by black, brown, or fair,
NOTES. Of the Characters of IVomen.] There is nothing in Mr. Pope's works more highly finished than this Epistle: Yet its success was in no proportion to the pains he took in composing it. Something he chanced to drop in a short Advertisement prefixed to it, on its first publication, may perhaps account for the small attention given to it. He said, that no one character in it was drawn from the life. The Public believed him on his word, and expresled little curiofity about a Satire in which there was nothing personal.
VER, I. Nothing so true &c.] The reader perhaps may be
How many pictures of one Nymph we view, 5 All how unlike each other, all how true!.
disappointed to find that this Epistle, which proposes the same subject with the preceding, is conducted on very different rules of method; for instead of being disposed in the same logical connection, and filled with the like philosophical remarks, it is wholly taken up in drawing a great variety of capital Characters: But if he would reflect, that the two Sexes make but one Species, and consequently, that the Characters of both must be studied and explained on the same principles, he would see, that when the poet had done this in the preceding Epistle, his business here was, not to repeat what he had already delivered, but only to verify and illustrate his doctrine, by every view of that perplexity of Nature, which his philosophy only can explain. If the reader therefore will but be at the pains to study thefe Characters with any degree of attention, as they are here masterly drawn, one important particular (for which the poet has artfully prepared him by the introduction) will very forcibly strike his observation; and that is, that all the great strokes in the several Characters of Women are not only infinitely perplexed and discordant, like those in Men, but absolutely inconsistent, and in a much higher degree contradictory. As strange as this may appear, yet he will see that the poet has all the while strictly followed Nature, whose ways, we find by the former Epistle, are not a little mysterious ; and a mystery this might have remained, had not our author explained it at x 207. where he shuts up his Characters with this philosophical reflexion:
In Men, we various ruling Paffions find
The love of Pleasure, and the love of Sway. If this account be true, we see the perpetual necessity (which is not the case in Men) that Iomen lye under of disguising their ruling pasion. Now the variety of arts employed to this purpose must needs draw them into infinite contradictions in those Actions from whence their general and obvious Character is
Arcadia's Countess, here, in ermin'd pride,
NOTES. denominated : To verify this observation, let the reader examine all the Characters here drawn, and try whether with this key he cannot discover that all their Contradictions arise from a desire to hide the ruling Pallion.
But this is not the worst. The poet afterwards (from * 218 to 249) takes notice of another mischief arising from this necessity of hiding their ruling Passions ; which is, that generally the end of each is defeated even there where they are most violently pursued : For the necessity of hiding them inducing an habitual dissipation of mind, Reason, whose office it is to regulate the ruling Passion, loses all its force and direction; and these unhappy victims to their principles, tho' with their attention still fixed upon them, are ever prosecuting the means destructive of their end, and thus become ridiculous in youth, and miserable in old age.
Let me not omit to observe the great beauty of the conclufion : It is an Encomium on an imaginary Lady to whom the Epistle is addreffed, and artfully turns upon the fact which makes the subject of the Epistle, the contradiction of a Woman's Character, in which contradiction he shews that all the lustre even of the best Character confifts: And yet, believe me, good
me, good as well as ill, Woman's at best a Contradi&tion still, &C. VER. 5. How many pictures] The poet's purpose here is to shew, that the Characters of Women are generally inconsistent with themselves ; and this he illustrates by so happy a Similitude, that we see the folly, described in it, arises from that very principle which gives birth to this inconsistency of Character.
Ver. 7, 8, 10, &c. Arcadia's Countess,--Pastora by a fountain-Leda with a swan.-Magdalen-Cecilia] Attitudes in which several ladies affected to be drawn, and sometimes one lady in them all — The poet's politeness and complaisance to the fex is observable in this instance, amongst others, that, whereas in the Characiers of Men, he has sometimes inade
Here Fannia, leering on her own good man,
Come then, the colours and the ground prepare !
Rufa, whose eye quick-glancing o'er the Park,
NOTES. use of real names, in the Characters of Women always fieti. tious. P.
Ver. 20. Catch, ere she change, the Cynthia of this minute:] Alluding to the precept of Fresnoy,
formæ veneres captando fugaces. Ver. 21. Instances of contrarieties, given even from such Characters as are most strongly mark’d, and seemingly therefore most consistent : As, I. In the Affected, x 21, &c. P.
Ver. 23. Agrees as ill with Rufa ftudying Locke,] This thought is cxpreffed with great humour in the following stanza: