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given her the letters of Pope, which she knew how to value : these she afterwards sold to Curll, who preserved the originals in his shop, so that no suspicions could arise of their authenticity. This very collection is now deposited among Rawlinson's MSS. at the Bodleian.*
This single volume was successful; and when Pope, to do justice to the memory of Wycherley, which had been injured by a posthumous volume, printed some of their letters, Curll, who seemed now to consider that all he could touch was his own property, and that his little volume might serve as a foundation-stone, immediately announced a new edition of it, with Additions, meaning to include the letters of Pope and Wycherley. Curll now became so fond of Pope's Letters, that he advertised for any: “no questions to be asked." Curll was willing to be credulous : having proved to the world he had some originals, he imagined these would sanction even spurious one. A man who, for a particular purpose, sought to be imposed on, easily obtained his wish: they translated letters of Voiture to Mademoiselle Rambouillet, and despatched them to the eager Bibliopolist to print, as Pope's to Miss Blount. He went on increasing his collection; and, skilful in catering for the literary taste of the town, now inflamed their appetite by dignifying it with “ Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence !"
But what were the feelings of Pope during these successive surreptitious editions ? He had discovered that his genuine letters were liked; the grand experiment with the public had been made for him, while he was deprived of the profits; yet for he himself to publish his own letters, which I shall prove he had prepared, was a thing unheard of in the nation. All this was vexatious; and to stop the book-jobber and open the market for himself, was a point to be obtained.
While Curll was proceeding, wind and tide in his favour, a new and magnificent prospect burst upon him. A certain person, masked by the initials P. T., understanding Curll was preparing a Life of Pope, offered him “ divers Memoirs gratuitously;" hinted that he was well known to Pope; but the poet had lately “treated him as a stranger.” P. T. desires an answer from E. C. by the Daily Advertiser, which was complied with. There are passages in this letter which,
* Pope, in his conversations with Spence, says, “My letters to Cromwell were written with a design that does not generally appear : they were not written in sober sadness.”—ED.
I think, prove Pope to be the projector of it: his family is here said to be allied to Lord Downe's; his father is called a merchant. Pope could not bear the reproach of Lady Mary's line :
Hard as thy heart, and as thy birth obscure. He always hinted at noble relatives; but Tyers tells us, from the information of a relative, that “his father turns out, at last, to have been a linen-draper in the Strand :” therefore P. T. was at least telling a story which Pope had no objection should be repeated.
The second letter of P. T., for the first was designed only to break the ice, offers Curll“ a large Collection of Letters from the early days of Pope to the year 1727." He gives an excellent notion of their value: “ They will open very many scenes new to the world, and make the most authentic Life and Memoirs that could be.” He desires they may be announced to the world immediately, in Curll's precious style, that he might not appear himself to have set the whole thing a-foot, and afterwards he might plead he had only sent some letters to complete the Collection.” He asks nothing, and the originals were offered to be deposited with Curll.
Curll, secure of this promised addition, but still craving for more and more, composed a magnificent announcement, which, with P. T.'s entire correspondence, he enclosed in a letter to Pope himself. The letters were now declared to be a “Critical, Philological, and Historical Correspondence."--His own letter is no bad specimen of his keen sense ; but after what had so often passed, his impudence was equal to the better quality.
“SIR,- To convince you of my readiness to oblige you, the inclosed is a demonstration. You have, as he says, disobliged a gentleman, the initial letters of whose name are P. T. I have some other papers in the same hand, relating to your family, which I will show, if you desire a sight of them. Your letters to Mr. Cromwell are out of print; and I intend to print them very beautifully, in an octavo volume. I have more to say than is proper to write ; and if you will give me a meeting, I will wait on you with pleasure, and close all differences between you and yours,
“ E. CURLL.” Pope, surprised, as he pretends, at this address, consulted with his friends ; everything evil was suggested against Curll. They conceived that his real design was “to get Pope to look
over the former edition of his “ Letters to Cromwell," and then to print it, as revised by, Mr. Pope; as he sent an obscene book to a Bishop, and then advertised it as corrected and revised by him ;" or perhaps to extort money from Pope for suppressing the MS. of P. T., and then publish it, saying P. T. had kept another copy. Pope thought proper to answer only by this public advertisement :
" Whereas A. P. bath received a letter from E. C., bookseller, pretending that a person, the initials of whose name are P. T., hath offered the said E. C. to print a large Collection of Mr. P.'s letters, to which E. C. required an answer : A. P. having never had, nor intending to have, any private correspondence with the said E. C., gives it him in this manner. That he knows no such person as P. T.; that he believes he hath no such collection; and that he thinks the whole a forgery, and shall not trouble himself at all about it.”
Curll replied, denying he had endeavoured to correspond with Mr. Pope, and affirms that he had written to him by direction.
It is now the plot thickens. P. T. suddenly takes umbrage, accuses Curll of having “betrayed him to 'Squire Pope,' but you and he both shall soon be convinced it was no forgery. Since you would not comply with my proposal to advertise, I have printed them at my own expense.” He offers the books to Curll for sale.
Curll on this has written a letter, which takes a full view of ' the entire transaction. He seems to have grown tired of what he calls “such jealous, groundless, and dark negotiations." P. T. now found it necessary to produce something more than a shadow-an agent appears, whom Curll considered to be a clergyman, who assumed the name of R. Smith. The first proposal was, that P. T.'s letters should be returned, that he might feel secure from all possibility of detection ; so that P. T. terminates his part in this literary freemasonry as a nonentity.
Here Johnson's account begins.-—“Curll said, that one evening a man in a clergyman's gown, but with a lawyer's band, brought and offered to sale a number of printed volumes, which he found to be Pope's Epistolary Correspondence; that he asked no name, and was told none, but gave the price demanded, and thought himself authorised to use his purchase to his own advantage.” Smith, the clergyman, left him some copies, and promised more.
Curll now, in all the elation of possession, rolled his thunder in an advertisement still higher than ever.—“Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence regularly digested, from 1704 to 1734:” to lords, earls, baronets, doctors, ladies, &c., with their respective answers, and whose namés glittered in the advertisement. The original MSS. were also announced to be seen at his house.
But at this moment Curll had not received many books, and no MSS. The advertisement produced the effect designed ; it roused public notice, and it alarmed several in the House of Lords. Pope doubtless instigated his friends there. The Earl of Jersey moved, that to publish letters of Lords was a breach of privilege ; and Curll was brought before the House.
This was an unexpected incident; and P. T. once more throws his dark shadow across the path of Curll to hearten him, had he wanted courage to face all the lords. P. T. writes to instruct him in his answers to their examination ; but to take the utmost care to conceal P. T.; he assures him that the lords could not touch a hair of his head if he behaved firmly; that he should only answer their interrogatories by declaring he received the letters from different persons; that some were given, and some were bought. P. T. reminds one, on this occasion, of Junius's correspondence on a like threat with his publisher.
“ Curll appeared at the bar,” says Johnson, “and knowing himself in no great danger, spoke of Pope with very little reverence. He has,' said Curll,' a knack at versifying; but in prose I think myself a match for him. When the Orders of the House were examined, none of them appeared to have been infringed: Curll went away triumphant, and Pope was left to seek some other remedy." The fact, not mentioned by Johnson, is, that though Curll's flourishing advertisement had announced letters written by lords, when the volumes were examined not one written by a lord appeared.
The letter Curll wrote on the occasion to one of these dark familiars, the pretended clergyman, marks his spirit and sagacity. It contains a remarkable passage. Some readers will be curious to have the productions of so celebrated a personage, who appears to have exercised considerable talents.
15th May, 1735. “DEAR SIR, I am just again going to the Lords to finish Pope. I desire you to send me the sheets to perfect the first
fifty books, and likewise the remaining three hundred books ; and pray be at the Standard Tavern this evening, and I will pay you twenty pounds more. My defence is right; I only told the lords I did not know from whence the books came, and that my wife received them. This was strict truth, and prevented all further inquiry. The lords declared they had been made Pope's tools. I put myself on this single point, and insisted, as there was not any Peer's letter in the book, I had not been guilty of any breach of privilege. I depend that the books and the imperfections will be sent; and believe of P. T. what I hope he believes of me.
“ For the Rev. Mr. SMITH.”
The reader observes that Curll talks of a great number of books not received, and of the few which he has received, as imperfect. The fact is, the whole bubble is on the point of breaking. He, masked in the initial letters, and he, who wore the masquerade dress of a clergyman's gown with a lawyer's band, suddenly picked a quarrel with the duped bibliopolist: they now accuse him of a design he had of betraying them to the Lords!
The tantalized and provoked Curll then addressed the following letter to “The Rev. Mr. Smith,” which, both as a specimen of this celebrated personage's “prose,” in which he thought himself “ a match for Pope," and exhibiting some traits of his character, will entertain the curious reader.
Friday, 16 May, 1735. “SIR,—1st, I am falsely accused. 2. I value not any man's change of temper; I will never change my VERACITY for falsehood, in owning a fact of which I am innocent. 3. I did not own the books came from across the water, nor ever named you; all I said was, that the books came by water. 4. When the books were seized, I sent my son to convey a letter to you; and as you told me everybody knew you in Southwark, Í bid him make a strict inquiry, as I am sure you would have done in such an exigency. 5. Sir, I have acted justly in this affair, and that is what I shall always think wisely. 6. I will be kept no longer in the dark; P. T. is Will ở the Wisp; all the books I have had are imperfect; the first fifty had no titles nor prefaces; the last five bundles seized by the Lords contained but thirty-eight in each bundle, which amounts to one hundred and ninety, and fifty, is in all but two hundred