THE famous Lord Halifax was rather a pretender to taste than really possessed of it. When I had finished the two or three first books of my translation of the Iliad, that Lord 'desired to have the pleasure of hearing them read at his house'. Addison, Congreve, and Garth were there at the reading. In four or five places Lord Halifax stopped me very civilly, and with a speech each time of much the same kind:
'I beg your pardon, Mr: Pope, but there is something in that passage that does not quite please me. Be so good as to mark the place and consider it a little at your leisure. I'm sure you can give it a better turn.'
I returned from Lord Halifax's with Dr. Garth in his chariot, and as we were going along was saying to the Doctor that my Lord had laid me under a good deal of difficulty by such loose and general observations; that I had been thinking over the passages almost ever since, and could not guess at what it was that offended his lordship in either of them. Garth laughed heartily at my embarrassment, said I had not been long enough acquainted with Lord Halifax to know his way yet, that I need not puzzle myself in looking those places over and over when I got home.
'All you need do', says he, 'is to leave them just as they are, call on Lord Halifax two or three months hence, thank him for his kind observation on those passages, and then read them to him as altered. I have known him much longer than you have, and will be answerable for the event.'
I followed his advice, waited on Lord Halifax some time after, said 'I hoped he would find his objection, to those passages removed,' read them to him exactly as they were at first, and his lordship was extremely pleased with them and cried out: 'Ay, now they are perfectly right! Nothing can be better.'
Spence, Anecdotes, i. 87-8.
Pope to the Earl of Burlington: November 1716
MY Lord — If your mare could speak, she would give you an account of the extraordinary company she had on the road; which since she cannot, I will.
It was the enterprising Mr. Lintott, the redoubtable rival of Mr. Tonson, who mounted on a stone-horse (no disagreeable companion to your Lordship's mare) overtook me in Windsor Forest. He said he heard I designed for Oxford, the seat of the muses, and would, as my bookseller, accompany me thither.
I asked him where he got his horse? He answered, he got it of his publisher.
'For that rogue, my printer', said he, 'disappointed me: I hoped to put him in a good humour by a treat at the tavern, of a brown fricassee of rabbits which cost two shillings, with two quarts of wine, besides my conversation. I thought myself cocksure of his horse, which he readily promised me, but said that Mr. Tonson had just such another design of going to Cambridge, expecting there the copy of A Comment upon the Revelations; and if Mr. Tonson went, he was pre-engaged to attend him, being to have the printing of the said copy. So in short, I borrowed this stone-horse of my publisher, which he had of Mr. Oldmixon for a debt; he lent me too the pretty boy you see after me; he was a smutty dog yesterday, and cost me near two hours to wash the ink off his face: but the devil is a fair-conditioned devil, and very forward in his catechise: if you have any more bags, he shall carry them.'
I thought Mr. Lintott's civility not to be neglected, so gave the boy a small bag, containing three shirts and an Elzevir Virgil; and mounting in an instant proceeded on the road, with my man before, my courteous stationer beside, and the aforesaid devil behind.
Mr. Lintott began in this manner:
'Now damn them! what if they should put it into the newspaper how you and I went together to Oxford? Why, what would I care? If I should go down into Sussex, they would say I was gone to the Speaker. But what of that? If my son were but big enough to go on with the business, by God I would keep as good company as old Jacob.'
Hereupon I inquired of his son.
'The lad,' says he, 'has fine parts, but is somewhat sickly, much as you are — I spare for nothing in his education at Westminster. Pray, don't you think Westminster to be the best school in England? Most of the late ministry came out of it; so did many of this ministry: I hope the boy will make his fortune.'
'Don't you design to let him pass a year at Oxford?'— 'To what purpose?' said he. 'The universities do but make pedants, and I intend to breed him a man of business.'
As Mr. Lintott was talking, I observed he sat uneasy on his saddle, for which I expressed some solicitude.
'Nothing,' says he, 'I can bear it well enough; but since we have the day before us, methinks it would be very pleasant for you to rest awhile under the woods.'
When we were alighted,
'See here, what a mighty pretty Horace I have in my pocket! What if you amused yourself in turning an ode till we mount again? Lord! if you pleased, what a clever Miscellany might you make at leisure hours.'
'Perhaps I may,' said I, 'if we ride on; the motion is an aid to my fancy; a round trot very much awakens my spirits. Then jog on apace, and I'll think as hard as I can.'
Silence ensued for a full hour; after which Mr. Lintott lugged the reins, stopt short, and broke out,
'Well, sir, how far have you gone? '
I answered, 'Seven miles.'
'Zounds, sir,' said Lintott, 'I thought you had done seven stanzas. Oldisworth in a ramble round Wimbledon-hill would translate a whole ode in half this time. I'll say that for Oldisworth (though I lost by his Timothy's), he translates an ode of Horace the quickest of any man in England. I remember Dr. King would write verses in a tavern three hours after he couldn't speak: and there's Sir Richard in that rumbling old chariot of his, between Fleet-ditch and St. Giles's pound shall make you half a Job.'
'Pray, Mr. Lintott,' said I, 'now you talk of translators, what is your method of managing them?'
'Sir,'replied he, 'those are the saddest pack of rogues in the world. In a hungry fit, they'll swear they understand all the languages in the universe. I have known one of them take down a Greek book upon my counter and cry, "Ay, this is Hebrew, I must read it from the latter end." By God, I can never be sure in these fellows, for I neither understand Greek, Latin, French, nor Italian myself. But this is my way: I agree with them for ten shillings per sheet, with a proviso, that I will have their doings corrected by whom I please; so by one or other they are led at last to the true sense of an author; my judgement giving the negative to all my translators.'
'But how are you secure that those correctors may not impose upon you?'
'Why, I get any civil gentleman (especially any Scotchman) that comes into my shop to read the original to me in English; by this I know whether my first translator be deficient, and whether my corrector merits his money or no. I'll tell you what happened to me last month: I bargained with Sewell for a new version of Lucretius to publish against Tonson's; agreeing to pay the author so many shillings at his producing so many lines. He made a great progress in a very short time, and I gave it to the corrector to compare with the Latin; but he went directly to Creech's translation, and found it the same word for word, all but the first page. Now, what d'ye think I did? I arrested the translator for a cheat; nay, and I stopped the corrector's pay too, upon this proof that he had made use of Creech instead of the original!
'Pray tell me next how you deal with the critics.'
'Sir,' said he, 'nothing more easy. I can silence the most formidable of them; the rich ones for a sheet apiece of the blotted manuscript, which costs me nothing. They'll go about with it to their acquaintance, and pretend they had it from the author, who submitted to their correction: this has given some of them such an air that in time they come to be consulted with, and dedicated to, as the top critics of the town. — As for the poor critics, I'll give you one instance of my management, by which you may guess the rest. A lean man that looked like a very good scholar came to me t'other day; he turned over Homer, shook his head, shrugged up his shoulders, and pished at every line of it.
"One would wonder," says he, "at the strange presumption of men; Homer is no such easy task that every stripling, every versifier —"
He was going on when my wife called to dinner. "Sir," said I, "will you please to eat 'a piece of beef' with me?"
"Mr. Lintott," said he, "I am sorry you should be at the expense of this great book, I am really concerned on your account."
"Sir, I am obliged to you: if you can dine upon a piece of beef, together with a slice of 'pudding' —"
"Mr. Lintott, I do not say but Mr. Pope, if he would condescend to advise with men of learning".
"Sir, the 'pudding' is upon the table, if you please to go in." My critic complies, he comes to a taste of your poetry, and tells me in the same breath that the book is commendable, and the pudding is excellent.
'Now, sir,' concluded Mr. Lintott, 'in return to the frankness I have shown, pray tell me, is it the opinion of your friends at Court that my Lord Landsdowne will be brought to the bar or not?'
I told him I heard not, and I hoped it, my Lord being one I had particular obligations to.
'That may be,' replied Mr. Lintott, 'but by God if he is not, I shall lose the printing of a very good trial.'
These, my Lord, are a few traits by which you may discern the genius of my friend Mr. Lintott, which I have chosen for the subject of a letter. I dropped him as soon as I got to Oxford, and paid a visit to my Lord Carlton at Middleton.
The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, ed. cit., i. 371-5.
'Who is this Pope that I hear so much about?' said George II; 'I cannot discover what is his merit. Why will not my subjects write in prose? I hear a great deal, too, of Shakespeare, but I cannot read him, he is such a bombast fellow.'
Prior, Malone, p. 369.