THE RAPE OF THE LOCKby Alexander Pope
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In his 'embroiderings' to the "Rape of the Lock," Beardsley, by the further development of his Savoy style, has reached what is, perhaps, the culmination of his artistic success. The style is not so startling and bizarre as that of the grotesques, but it betrays on the whole, and with greater uniformity, a more profound sense of the harmonies of line. His art has been economised. Not that detail is wanting: it is there in abundance, but its use is always governed by necessity. We are spared that exuberance of detail which marred other books which he has illustrated.
As an illustrator Beardsley was distinguished by his independence. It is not often that any close relation can be found between his drawings and the letterpress they were designed to illustrate; but in the "Rape of the Lock" the text and the illustrations are strikingly suited to one another. The spirit of the eighteenth century lives again in these exquisite drawings: their wit is the wit of Congreve and even their immorality—disguised though it be under the veneer of refinement—is essentially the immorality of that most witty of post-Restoration dramatists.
Ths faces in the "Rape of the Lock" drawings present a curious study. They are, with one or two important exceptions, the most exquisite he has drawn, but beneath all their elegance and refinement there lurks that same expression of vice—to use by far too harsh a word for suggesting their dainty aberrations from the paths of virtue—from which Beardsley so seldom succeeded in escaping.
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An excerpt from the author's introductory to the poem:
Letter to Mrs. Arabella Fermor:
To Mrs. Arabella Fermor.
IT will be vain to deny that I have some Regard for this Piece, since I dedicate it to You. Yet You may bear me Witness, it was intended only to divert a few young Ladies, who have good Sense and good Humour enough, to laugh not only at their Sex's little unguarded Follies, but at their own. But as it was communicated with the Air of a Secret, it soon found its Way into the World. An imperfect Copy having been offered to a Bookseller, You had the Good-Nature for my Sake to consent to the Publication of one more correct : This I was forced to before I had executed half my Design, for the Machinery was entirely wanting to compleat it.
The Machinery, Madam, is a term invented by the Criticks, to signify that Part which the Deities, Angels, or Damons, are made to act in a Poem : For the ancient Poets are in one Respect like many modern Ladies : Let an Action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost Importance. These Machines I determin'd to raise on a very new and odd Foundation, the Rosicrucian Doctrine of Spirits.
I know how disagreeable it is to make use of hard Words before a Lady : but 'tis so much the Concern of a Poet to have his Works understood, and particularly by your Sex, that You must give me leave to explain two or three difficult Terms.
The Rosicrucians are a People I must bring You acquainted with. The best Account I know of them is in a French Book called Le Comte de Gabalis, which both in its Title and Size is so like a Novel, that many of the Fair Sex have read it for one by Mistake. According to these Gentlemen the four Elements are inhabited by Spirits, which they call Sylphs, Gnomes, Nymphs, and Salamanders. The Gnomes, or Daemons of Earth, delight in Mischief; but the Sylphs, whose Habitation is in the Air, are the best-conditioned Creatures imaginable. For they say, any Mortals may enjoy the most intimate Familiarities with these gentle Spirits, upon a Condition very easy to all true Adepts, an inviolate Preservation of Chastity.
As to the following Canto's, all the Passages of them are as Fabulous, as the Vision at the Beginning, or the Transformation at the End ; (except the Loss of your Hair, which I always name with Reverence.) The Human Persons are as Fictitious as the Airy ones; and the Character of Belinda, as it is now manag'd, resembles You in nothing but in Beauty.
If this Poem had as many Graces as there are in Your Person, or in Your Mind, yet I could never hope it should pass thro' the World half so Uncensured as You have done. But let its Fortune be what it will, mine is happy enough, to have given me this Occasion of assuring You that I am, with the truest Esteem, Madam,
Your most Obedient, Humble Servant,
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