Thursday, 30 July 2009

Alexander Pope

Here's Pope:

Sir Joshua Reynolds once saw Pope. It was about the year 1740, at an auction of books or pictures. He remembers that there was a lane formed to let him pass freely through the assemblage, and he proceeded along bowing to those who were on each side. He was, according to Sir Joshua's account, about four feet six high; very humpbacked and deformed; he wore a black coat; and according to the fashion of that time, had on a little sword. Sir Joshua adds that he had a large and very fine eye, and a long handsome nose ; his mouth had those peculiar marks which always are found in the mouths of crooked persons ; and the muscles which run across the cheek were so strongly marked as to appear like small cords. [Edward Malone (1791); in Prior's Life of Malone (1860), 428-9]

This is a very striking, and oddly vivid, piece of descriptive writing; in part because of the focus it brings to its dominant image: the narrow line or cord: the 'lane formed to let him pass'; the pinched dimensions; the 'little sword'; the 'long handsome nose'; the creases at the corners of his mouth; and finally 'the muscles which run across the cheek ... so strongly marked as to appear like small cords'. As if Pope were a knotted tangle of whips; speaking both to his reputation as a satiristic (that is to say, a social scourge) and, of course, to the logic of his achievement: the physical embodiment of his textuality. He is, like his verse, almost literally made out of tight lines ...

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