Tuesday 28 May 2013

Pope and the Revolution in Haywood’s Stile

Lætitia Pilkington, celebrated Anglo-Irish poet, satirist and memoirist, makes a passing reference to Haywood while discussing, periphrastically, accusations made about herself by an unnamed “Lady of Quality.”

I am really ashamed to use her Ladyship's Words on the Occasion, being much too indecent for a Repetition, methinks she might have spared them, especially to one who knew her too! […]
   As she was pleased to say, my Life could be nothing but a continued Series of—I am ashamed to speak the Word—I dare say had it been so, she would have purchased my Book sooner than the Bible, to indulge her private Meditations, especially if I had the wicked Art of painting up Vice in attractive Colours, as too many of our Female Writers have done, to the Destruction of Thousands, amongst whom Mrs. Manly and Mrs. Haywood deserve the foremost Rank.
   But what extraordinary Passions these Ladies may have experienced, I know not; far be such Knowledge from a modest Woman: Indeed Mrs. Haywood seems to have dropped her former luscious Stile, and, for Variety, presents us with the insipid: Her Female Spectators are a Collection of trite Stories, delivered to us in stale and worn-out Phrases: bless'd Revolution!

  Yet, of the two, less dang'rous is th' Offence,
  To tire the Patience, than mislead the Sense.[*]

 [*A paraphrase of Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1709), ll.3–4.]

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Since Pope was regularly given the credit—by early literary critics—for reforming Haywood through his attacks on her, it is good to see a Pilkington invoke Pope, in this 1748 discussion of the “bless'd Revolution” in Haywood’s writing (from “luscious” to “insipid” and “trite”), without giving any credit to Pope for the said “bless'd Revolution.” It is hard to imagine that Pilkington would not give Pope some credit here, if there had been any reason for doing so.

I found this text while checking out the ECCO-TCP: the Eighteenth Century Collections Online Text Creation Partnership comprising 2,387 works in English published during the eighteenth century. Like so many of the new digital resources newly developed or open to scholars, it contains a great deal I have seen before, with a few gems—like this one—I had somehow missed in ECCO, Google Books, Haywood criticism and general reading etc etc.

NB: Pilkington describes herself above as a “modest Woman”; Jonathan Swift described her as “the most profligate whore in either Kingdom”; what the unnamed “Lady of Quality” said concerning Pilkington’s life is omitted. The dash implies something stronger than “a continued Series of” affairs, adventures or escapades, but the context and syntax doesn’t leave many indecent, single-word alternatives: fucks? whorings? orgies?