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Scriblerians  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

To unravel it, one must backtrack and consult the original Scriblerian groups: youngers and elders, Whigs and Tories, and especially Pope's concept of an , all-male friendship.

From his earliest youth, Pope craved older, male literary advisors who could help fashion himself as an original poet. Congreve and Wycherley the playwrights, Swift, Arbuthnot, and many others were to fill this role. With them, he pursued a calling for "friendship" that always entailed some je ne sais quoi quality beyond platonic male camaraderie, and in return for this "friendship," he immortalized them in poetry.

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For example, he composed his devastating poetic Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1734), containing the famous attack on the notoriously homosexual Lord Hervey (ringing with such lines as Hervey, "that curd of Asses' milk, that stings and stinks"), to symbolize their granitic friendship.

Pope's accident with the cow when he was eight years old, which caused him to shrink into dwarfdom rather than grow tall as a healthy boy, and which rendered dysfunctional his genital apparatus, thwarted his fundamentally romantic temperament, as any reader of Eloisa to Abelard (1717) quickly grasped.

Among the Scriblerians, Gay was temperamentally so devoted to Pope that he virtually adopted him as his perpetual mentor, but Pope relied on older, more established, men than Gay. The entangled homoerotic friendships of these figures were suffused with psychosexual implications, even if explicitly unacknowledged, and nowhere more evident than in their literary collaborations. Collaboration is the preeminent feature: And it remains the least understood aspect by their biographers.

The Rift Between Pope and Swift

Over many years, letters exchanged between Pope and Swift had been emotionally charged, but Pope's mood was especially strained during the summer of 1726, when Swift visited London and remained with him in Twickenham for three weeks.

Pope was by now the most famous poet of his era, and Swift could no longer pretend Pope was just another Scriblerian or even just another intimate friend to be cultivated. Before arriving, Swift wrote to him on August 4: "I love and esteem you for reasons that most others have little to do with, and would be the same although you had never touched a pen, further than writing to me."

This admission of unconditional "love" apart from intellectual achievement ("never touched a pen") is perhaps less erotic than appears on the surface--especially Swift's unrelenting concern for Pope's health and sense of Pope's integrity and the dignity of his human character. Almost twenty years later, Swift imagined Pope mourning him longer than the other Scriblerians in his Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift (1739).

Nevertheless, Swift complained that Pope had treated him almost sadistically that summer, revealing his emotional discontent specifically as a form of sadism: "I know no body [who] has dealt with me so cruelly as you, the consequences of which usage I fear will last as long as my life, for so long shall I be (in spite of my heart) entirely yours." These and other letters show the disappointed father-figure feeling abandoned by his symbolically powerful young son.

Nevertheless, their biographers have devalued their homoerotic enmeshment while cohabiting in Twickenham. They were together day and night, spending hours in conversation, perhaps of an intimate kind, but Swift left well before the date of his prearranged departure, exacerbating the symbolic son's anxiety and consequent guilt.

"Many a short sigh," Pope wrote on August 22, "you cost me the day I left you, and many more you will cost me, till the day you return." The sincere and sensuous language evokes the image of an abandoned lover (Pope) discovering himself practically homeless without his "friend."

Swift feigned stoic disaffection and wounded pride; Pope, the abandoned female, insisted to Swift, "you left me a softer man," his villa at Twickenham no longer the symbolic retreat he had created: "I really walk'd about like a man banish'd, and when I came home, found it no home."

Pope's language after Swift's departure is so extreme in its images of mutancy and amputation that one wonders how he symbolically construed their friendship. "'Tis a sensation like that of a limb lopp'd off, one is trying every minute unawares to use it, and finds it is not."

But Pope could not refrain. "I may say," he protested to Swift, that "you have used me more cruelly than you have done any other man." This "cruelty," Pope plaintively wrote, is abandonment of a "love" once given, even if only verbally. "You have made it more impossible for me to live at ease without you: Habitude itself would have done that, if I had less friendship in my nature than I have."

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