The Private Diary of Alexander Pope

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This story, while using the names of certain historical persons, is a work of fiction. No insult is intended to the reverenced memory of Mr. Pope, or of his servants, friends, or fellow authors.

Anno Domine 1722

Thursday, 1st January –

My prayer for the new year is: may God confound William Park, who has left my service this morning without word or notice, leaving me to choose should I drag myself forth by my very nails or lie abed like an infant crying help from the girl who cleans the chambers. I dragged myself out, though cursing him and my own scattering hand in equal parts – for I gave him the sum of ten shillings this night past, for his loyal service, and see to what it has tempted the wretched man.

Martha Blount I entrusted for my aid, sending at last the char girl with a message. This roused her to worry, and she came on the instant. Were our friendship half the scandal Lady Montagu would have it, I had born it easier that she saw me thus in my bedclothes, wrapped in a blanket. She affected good grace, but will not vanity have its sting even in such extremities? For were I strong and unbent in body, I do not doubt that she would have born it with more blushes than I received.

But a plague on such thoughts. I am overstrained in my efforts of the morning, but determined that I will not lay down without putting pen to paper. I have sworn to make this journal for a year, and see what use it brings me. Here is the first.

Friday, 2nd January –

Martha has brought me, with special care, her own man – a John Serle. She makes him over to me swearing him loyal and honest, and that he will help me, and not leave me in such a state as our good Park has. I doubt that I should take an able servant from any person, for they are as scarce as primroses in January. But she would have it, and to ease her mind – and in truth my own – I have taken him. He minds well and seems loyal in character, for he was much affected when leaving Martha. He is young – perhaps five and twenty, or something less – but grave enough in duty, and with a sober bearing. If he steals only the half of what Park did, I shall count myself content.

Sunday, 4th January –

Had in the priest, and gave thanks for the new year and the grace of God that my work prospers. On Homer and Shakespeare I proceed apace, as if I wrote with a pen in each fist. Yet it is a gloomy thing that a man must hide his conscience and keep his faith in a closet. Serle stood without; I looked to him, to see would he be loathe to serve a master known a Papist. But he only bowed to the priest, to show his reverence, and that minded me that I had thought his voice Irish from the first. It seems that in God’s eye we are suited, master and man, and in the world’s despite.

Had a cough this morning that wrung all the strength from me. Weather foul and the ice thick; sent the good father hence with hot brandy to brace him, and a gift of a pound to keep his house.

Wednesday, 7th January –

My good doctor John Arbuthnot is come to scold me and Serle as well, that he knows not his master’s strength. Martha brought him this Thursday past to see what ill William Park might have wrought me, that morning when I found myself overtaxed. Now he calls again to assure himself of his trade, and has long and solemn words with Serle where he thinks I cannot hear him in the hall. He means well enough, but it is galling to have my own man recruited against me as if I were a child. When Serle came with tea and some foul draught John had left, I bid him sharp to forget what word he’d heard from him, and mind his master over a leech.

Martha came today, and I was loathe to receive her after the trouble she’d sent me that morning. But she read so well from Swift’s latest that I was moved to forgiveness, and when she’d gone I threw down twenty couplets in near as many minutes, my mind revived at last.

Friday, 9th January –

Late in rising. The cold sits in my chest and plagues me. Little enough work done today – only a letter to John Swift and a note to Gray, and a page or a little more on Lear. Tried Serle and found him surprisingly clear in his hand; gave the letters by his hand, and so spared some effort. Sent to Martha that I will not come to dinner; will lay in, and take some broth.

My aches somewhat relieved; Serle has a trick for it, kneading with his hands on my back and shoulders.

Sunday, 11th January –

Much revived. Took last morning a cup of wine mingled with honey and ginger, a thing of Serle’s contrivance that he plagued me with it until I drank it. It is a fool’s antic to be dosed by a servant, and he deserves what comes to him, who will trust his health to his valet. Yet it braced me so that I wrote a bit, and I took more when he brought it to me with food past noon. He found me mired in papers and looked as if he would have spoken, but I sent him off. He would only parrot me the words John Arbuthnot left him, and I had no temper for it.

Back to Homer this afternoon. The battle singing in my head, and the fine lines all through me. Sent canlı bahis Serle out to seek Gray, who is about town, but only to have him from the house. He hovers, and I would have those lines out. They came sharp and fine as fire.

Friday, 16th January –

Little to write and much to-do. I am sunk more in the ruin of Troy than in the chambers about me, and am an exasperation to Arbuthnot, who would that I bated the fury of my muse in some gentleness to my body. Wretched thing. It has been of little use to me, but a long disease of a life; the words are the thing.

Monday to Lady R’s for a wretched gallimaufry and God knows what. Gray swears I do myself harm that I will not sit and smile with those more endowed with money than wit, but is it not a curse to seek one’s bread from door to door with hat in hand, begging a patron? I curse the time I spend upon it; work is a better savior than the purse of some rattle-headed fop.

Tuesday, 20th January –

Spent the night at Lady R’s digging my nails in my palms to still my tongue. Lady G was there, a fleering, jibing creature, and found me good sport for what she thinks her wit, that is, her ill nature dressed in laughter. She thought herself wise beyond words when Robert Fine’s marriage became our topic, and said to me, with her claws all out and smiling, “And when shall we cheer your wedding bells, Mr. Pope?”

Damn the creature. My pen is no friend to fools, nor have I hesitated to lay bare such failings as any man might correct, had he the wit or grace to do’t. But I pray that I have never stooped to mock a man for that which lay beyond his power to amend, or to sneer upon an infirmity given at God’s hand. I might, otherwise, have told all London, and in such phrases as it would not soon forget, that she was a fool, and her husband the greatest whoremonger born, though he had rivals ample, either whose purses, or health, were not equal to his prodigies. This I was sore tempted to, even grouping the rhymes for it while the smart of her ass’s wit was yet upon me. Did she think it had escaped me that I would not marry? Did she think this body, bent and twisted until I needs must have Serle by me to help me to table, seemed beautiful to its owner? Did she guess that I sat with a seat raised under this child’s frame so that I might eat with them, plague’d half my waking hours with pain and illness, and thought myself the very pattern of fashion? Blast her, for there is no wit but cruelty in pointing a man’s weakness, who cannot correct it.

So I sat at the table, composing in my mind a diatribe to blacken the earth beneath it, while I said to Lady G that God had sent me trials, but in his kindness had sent too such friends as would aid me through them. She began to puzzle over those words, but at that moment, by the happiest accident in the world, my man John, in aiding me at table, upset a dish of herrings over her skirts. Then all was a wail and a fluster. That cool, jibing cat yowled as if he’d trod her tail, for the herrings were in vinegar, and she so drenched with it that she smelt to heaven. She looked murder and I do believe would have struck him, but I ordered him from the room with a show of anger that I soothed, when dinner was done, with a shilling and a softer word. He smiled so that I looked at him askance; I think him hardly more sorry for it than I, and find an honest liking for him.

Wednesday, 28th January –

No time for this scrawl of late; the rush had been upon me. The work pours forth, with Serle my scrivener and by me every hour of the day. His duty is exceeding fine; I come more and more to think him what Martha said, a week past when she came to call and stopped long to visit with him ‘ere she came to me. She called him more than a servant, or one who might have been more if born in another condition or station. I am persuaded. He takes my words so well that he half-anticipates them, until I am much amazed to see the end of a line shaping itself on the page ‘ere it is well past my lips. Nor is the house the worse for him in it, for I find my money stays by me as it did not under William Park’s guidance, and all things are in place – and the pertness of the staff much abated. Even upon his half day, he will not go until I have risen and he has seen me settled, and he returns ‘ere the lamps are well lit, that he may help me to bed. Thus he takes his half of the day from the middle, and leaves himself the ends with all the labor to them. It is his duty brings him to’t, and in truth I am grateful for him.

So this evening I watched him, bent over the page, all intent upon the words he wrote – and was moved. What bitterness it was to me in youth, that all doors were closed to a Catholic. What sorrow to be shut out from the universities, banned even from living in London – what pain it gave me, who felt myself so in sympathy with the great world within those things. And here is poor John Serle who shall be a servant all his life, though he might have been better. He must feel as damned in his prospects as I did. I make him no complaint now when he would nurse bahis siteleri me with some morsel or draught of his making; he has no ill hand at such contrivances, and it seems to cheer him.

Friday, 30th January –

The weakness of my eyes betrays me, and I have little strength left to write. Yet the lines for Homer come so well – can I turn from them, when we are rushing like a tempest on to Troy? Serle is caught up in it, so that it is a joy to see; and he is my prop as well, for I sat over-long today, until all my body knotted with pain. Then good John worked his touch upon my leg, until the cramp left it, and my neck and cursed back, so that they give now as little pain as ‘ere they will. If I thought Arbuthnot would be lessoned, and not take it for a slight, I would that Serle would teach him his skill, for it is better physick than a guinea’s worth of drafts and powders.

Thursday, 5th February –

Damning my weakness, I spill a few words here. Tired and with a wretched ache in my head; ill these four days past, through excess of pleasure before. I needs must push myself and write late into the night, and now I pay’t, for these four days I have not taken up a pen, and John Serle, purely to spite me I swear, will not take a word from me, though I feel full and ripe to bursting.

No, it is unfair. John does his duty well, and I fear I have much frighted him with my illness, for which he blames himself for aiding me to write. Arbuthnot has come near every day, and been hard upon him, for Wednesday noon Serle came in from a talk with him as pale as milk, and could not be moved for love nor money to speak a word on the Iliad, though I longed to talk over it with someone of good sense. Arbuthnot the same; they would have me meek as a kitten, and though I feel near as weak as one, my heart rages.

Monday, 9th February –

Near my strength again, and the worst of the aching head behind me. John aids me again in writing, thought damnably mothering in insisting that I not try my strength. He sits close by that I may see and correct without the trouble of him reading it back – though he reads well, and with feeling. Thirty couplets, at least, today, and a great gain made by it; I begin to see more clearly the shape of the whole, and to touch upon the soul of the thing. And John, the fool, grows dear to me – for it was his day, this day, to be at liberty, but he begged leave to stay and hear out Cassandra.

Saturday, 14th February –

A night so strange, my mind can hardly grip it. Yet I must make some confession, and set it down plainly.

This day past I asked John a favor I blushed to ask. Yet with weeks of hard work behind me, and my body at last recovered – and I but a man in flesh … I must have some release. These weeks of close labor have made him dear to me, and all that Martha promised – truly, trusted more than I have any servant, and justly earned in that trust. So. Though hesitant, and ashamed of’t, though it be no monstrous thing, but mere humanity – I asked John, carefully – for he is a sober man, and very clean in his habits – if he might find such a thing as a woman quiet and discreet.

He looked askance, and I felt hot to lower myself thus before a valet, whatever his fine parts. But he recovered himself, and said that he would seek it, though he was but little accustomed and might go slowly. In any other, I would have thought this mere protestation – yet in him, it seemed earnest, so that I would half have unsaid my request. But he was determined for it, and swore that he would go so carefully that no breath of it would reach any man. He was gone part of the day, and I sat in agonies until he came back, near evening, and said the thing was done.

The woman, he said, was of honest birth, and ashamed with what poverty had driven her to; but he had sworn me to be a good man who would use her kindly. Her only wish was that she come late at night, to hide her face and her shame. John would aid me to bed, and then she would come to do as I would.

I agreed, and hastily, ashamed to see John red-faced with arranging his master’s whoring. I was not proud in it, yet salved my conscience with the thought that I would pay her well. Thus do all deceive themselves, their own pleasures to pursue. John aided me to bed, and at my bidding put money in reach upon the table. Then he went from me, and left the door open.

She came, too many long minutes later for my heart entirely to be at ease, and stood in the doorway with a long cloak about her and the hood pulled close. She paused a moment by the candle, then shut the door and put the light out. I was much misgiven; though perhaps she acted from shame, it seemed as like that she hid any other thing – pox, or boils, or some hideous shape of face. But then, for what purpose had I summoned her, but that my own shape is unlovely? It would be a fine thing, that a man shrunken, hunched, and near crippled had a nice taste in the face of his doxy. I put it from me as best I could.

She came close with a gliding movement that I saw in the starlight from the window. bahis şirketleri She crouched at my side, then touched softly my hand, lifted it, and kissed it. This gentleness so surprised me that I sat in confusion, and she kissed again, unlike, nay, very unlike any woman who had come to me before. For yes, even Park, blast him, had run this errand time and again, when the flesh cried out past enduring, and I knew what was like to come to me – a starving, vacant creature, half-fuddled with gin, or else a hardened whore, toothless and coarse, with a braying laugh that would ache in my head. This gentle silence was not looked for, but much the superior in practice, for when she had spread open my palm and pressed a kiss upon it, I found myself much excited, and alive with interest to what she might do.

Still kneeling, she undressed me from my nightclothes, slowly, pressing kisses to my skin like a woman with a lover she has chosen from her heart. I began to doubt if I should continue, for I could not make out what she was, but surely no whore. Then even as I would have spoken, and as I reached out my hand to stay her, in the dark it lighted on the bosom of her gown. She drew in her breath, but her hand caught mine and held it there, and some moments later, with a rustle of her gown, I touched bare flesh, soft and smooth and alive to my fingers. Her voice came to me, very low – “Would you touch, sir?” It was so simple and untutored a question that my conscience smote me again, but the stiffening brush of her nipples woke me, and at last I took her in hand for answer. She leaned over the bed, and my lips were buried in the swell of her breasts.

When she hesitated, having opened my nightclothes all down my body, I thought she wondered at how the thing would be done – though at that moment I was so eager that I felt as whole as any man, and as ready for a spirited ride asaddle. I would have risen up as well I could, but then received a shock I could scarce believe as she bowed her head and took up an act even a practiced jade is loathe to own to. Her lips closed on my body, and her mouth took me in, and I fairly leapt to it. The heat of her – the hot, soft embrace of lips and tongue, worked so eagerly that I scarce could keep from crying aloud. I shuddered, clung to her, and then at last the spasm took me, hard and sudden, so that I had not even time to marvel how she kept with me, close upon my body, all through it until I lay panting and stunned with sensation.

She clothed me again, and gently – a kind touch, but one that baffled me. I hardly know what to make of her. She turned and would have left, and this strangest of all – she, who pled poverty, was near to the door ‘ere I could call to her to return and take up the money that was set aside on the table. I can make nothing of her. As for Serle, he is ashamed, I think, to play the pander, for he avoids my eye and when I asked who the woman was, would say only that he knew her well, that she lived in great sorrow and want, and that she did not wish to be known. I am all unsettled in it, and my mind will hardly light upon my work.

Sunday, 15th February –

Had the priest to the house, to make confession and partake of the Host. And scarce could meet John’s eye, who knew what sin I’d been about. He has said no word upon it, but our discourse is much altered; he tends me well, but has a sadness about him that scalds me more than any censure. It is well for him; he is grown straight and slender, with a face near as pretty as a girl’s. Let him hunch a day within this ruined frame, with the cough in his chest and the ache driving through his back and head, and then mourn that a scant moment of comfort was paid for.

Foul temper all the day. No stomach for food, nor peace in the sacrament.

Tuesday, 17th February –

I much fear that I have ruined John Serle for my servant. He is awkward, and looks blushing whenever I catch his eye. He does not chide, but I cannot but believe that he thinks less of me. This works me to a temper that I vented in some several cutting words to him, for we are none of us so cruel as when we know ourselves in the wrong. I must be kinder, for he has done me no harm and much duty, and yet – it taunts me, that this shadow lingers in my mind. When I see him set in confusion, I am ashamed; yet if I would know that touch again, and I own that I would, I must ask it through him, and that works me hotly in every direction. Hardly a line is written these days past; when he takes up the pen, my tongue withers at the root.

Reading and pondering seem best to a weighty mind, though my eye strays from the page. Lost in wonder upon Cordelia, I think whose name I truly would call.

Friday, 20th February –

Tense still, but somewhat better. An attack of wheezing and hardness of breath took me this morning as Serle helped me to bathe, and so alarmed him that his awkwardness fled at once. Though no Samson, he had me before the fire in an instant, crying sharp for the maids to fetch a soothing draught that John Arbuthnot left, and for whiskey as well, to revive me. That was well thought, for the fit left me half-senseless, and much in need as he brought me back to myself. That noon and after, a little dictation by his hand, and something easier with each other than we have been.

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