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literature

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Scriblerians  
 
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The warm, homoerotic Pope, forever solicitous of male friendship, unabashedly mourned Swift's departure, his pain deriving, he confided to Swift, "from a warm uneasy desire after you." In Pope's case, it was the first time he had actually lived with any man, other than his faithful servant John Serle, under the same roof.

Pope could not extinguish the memory of his ecstasy, some part of it nostalgically anchored to earlier Scriblerian activity: "I wish I could think no more of it, but lye down and sleep till we meet again, and let that day (how far off soever off it will be) be the morrow." Pope's romantic heart had been starved over many years, long before Swift returned to England, but it continued to pump heroically when he concluded his homoerotic letter of August 22: "Indeed you are engraved elsewhere than on the Cups you sent me."

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As the summer of 1726 faded, their epistolary confessions of intimacy, despite difference, continued. "I can only swear," Swift confided to Pope while rehashing their time spent together, "that you have taught me to dream." Six weeks later, Pope lamented to Swift, now back in Ireland, that "I see no sunshine but in the face of a friend." Again, erotic desire is camouflaged in Scriblerian friendship, and the younger man (Pope) forever courting the older (Swift) was Pope's lifelong habit.

By October 1727, Pope was again addressing Swift in the persona of a woman, this time as the giddy girl his poetic voice had pretended to be ten years earlier in Eloisa to Abelard, where the male poet-narrator assumes the mask of his female protagonist Eloisa. Pope's letter to Swift dated October 2, 1727, links heterosexual attraction to images of potency and the bubbling over of love:

It is a perfect trouble to me to write to you, and your kind letter left for me at Mr. Gay's [John Gay's] affected me so much. that it made me feel like a girl. I can't tell what to say to you; I only feel that I wish you well in every circumstance of life: that 'tis almost as good to be hated, as to be loved, considering the pain it is to minds of any tender turn, to find themselves so utterly impotent to do any good, or give ease to those who deserve most from us.

However, it was the loss of "domestic bliss" with the other, older man (perhaps of "the softer variety" Pope had described earlier to Swift) that pained him most. Pope ends his plaintive epistolary song to Swift by yoking domesticity and emotional tenderness in a confessional tone he had never used before. "I was sorry to find you could think yourself easier in any house than in mine, tho' at the same time I can allow for a tenderness in your way of thinking, even when it seem'd to want that tenderness. I can't explain my meaning, perhaps you know it."

Perhaps Swift did, but the confession surpassed any iterated Scriblerian homosocial fraternity and continued to dwell on hearth and home. "I will not leave your room," Pope protested, "if I am ill."

But the agony in Twickenham ultimately transformed both men, who were now (in the summer of 1726) altered from the turks they had been when first assembled in 1712. Swift was bleaker, less persuaded that any collaboration, other than epistolary, had value in such a leaden world; Pope less in need of the father figures he had ardently cultivated throughout "this long Disease, my life." To heighten his sense of loss, Gay's death on December 4, 1732, crushed Pope, but in a different way than it would have when the club of six was flourishing.

Pope's Craving for Epicene Male Friendships

Pope's craving for epicene male friendships lies at the center of Scriblerian sensibility in the decades after 1714. Despite his romantic exhortations to women (the Blount sisters, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu), his correspondence with men is suffused with a blend of unctuous endearment and homoerotic fire, and it amounts to nonsense to conclude from it that his erotically charged language ("I dream of you" or "you have taught me what love is") is arbitrary or a product of the epistolary conventions of his Georgian sensibility.

His commentary involves abundant conceit and artifice, to be sure; but it also pinpoints the brand of all-male friendship the club cultivated. Their collaborative letters (written by two, three, and sometimes four men, each passing the letter to the next for comments and additions) brim with desire and sexual innuendo, and Swift's "double letters" to "Pope-Gay" are particularly revelatory as the seemingly distant patriarch writes symbolically from Ireland to his "two Scriblerian son's."

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