Verses Addressed to the Imitator of
the First Satire of the Second Book
of Horace

by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Edited and annotated by Jack Lynch

Pope and Lady Mary had once been friends. Apparently Lady Mary rejected Pope’s romantic advances, and after that their friendship deteriorated. Pope often attacked her as “Sappho,” the ancient Lesbian poet; she replied in 1733 with this devastating poem. It may have been cowritten with Lord Hervey, whom Pope attacks as “Sporus.” This is the text of the first edition; the notes are my own.


In two large Columns, on thy motly Page, motly = mixed up, a word associated with jesters
Where Roman Wit is strip’d with English Rage; strip’d = bleeding, showing injuries
Where Ribaldry to Satire makes pretence, ribaldry = coarseness, obscenity
And modern Scandal rolls with ancient Sense:
Whilst on one side we see how Horace thought, [5]
And on the other, how he never wrote:
Who can believe, who view the bad, the good,
That the dull Copist better understood copist = one who makes copies
That Spirit, he pretends to imitate,
Than heretofore that Greek he did translate? [10] heretofore = earlier
 
   Thine is just such an Image of his Pen, i.e., your writing is as much like Horace’s
As thou thy self art of the Sons of Men,
Where our own Species in Burlesque we trace, burlesque = parody, bombast
A Sign-Post Likeness of the noble Race, race, humanity
That is at once Resemblance and Disgrace. [15]
 
   Horace can laugh, is delicate, is clear,
You, only coarsely rail, or darkly sneer; rail = attack crudely
His Style is elegant, his Diction pure,
Whilst none thy crabbed Numbers can endure; crabbed numbers = awful poetic meter
Hard as thy Heart, and as thy Birth obscure. [20]
 
   If He has Thorns, they all on Roses grow;
Thine like Thistles, and mean Brambles show;
With this Exception, that, tho’ rank the Soil,
Weeds as they are, they seem produc’d by Toil.
 
   Satire shoud, like a polish’d Razor keen, [25]
Wound with a Touch, that’s scarcely felt or seen.
Thine is an Oyster-Knife, that hacks and hews;
The Rage, but not the Talent of Abuse;
And is in Hate, what Love is in the Stews. stews = whorehouses
’Tis the gross Lust of Hate, that still annoys, [30]
Without distinction, as gross Love enjoys:
Neither to Folly, nor to Vice confin’d,
The Object of thy Spleen is Human Kind: spleen = anger, bitterness
It preys on all, who yield, or who resist:
To Thee ’tis Provocation to exist. [35]
 
   But if thou see’st a great and gen’rous Heart,
Thy Bow is doubly bent to force a Dart. dart = arrow
Nor Dignity nor Innocence is spar’d, nor ... nor = neither ... nor
Nor Age, nor Sex, nor Thrones, nor Graves, rever’d.
Not only Justice vainly we demand, [40]
But even Benefits can’t rein thy Hand: rein = hold back
To this or that alike in vain we trust,
Nor find Thee less Ungrateful than Unjust.
 
   Not even Youth and Beauty can controul
The universal Rancour of thy Soul; [45] rancour = bitterness
Charms that might soften Superstition’s Rage, charms = magic spells
Might humble Pride, or thaw the Ice of Age.
But how should’st thou by Beauty’s Force be mov’d, mov’d = affected
No more for loving made than to be lov’d?
It was the Equity of righteous Heav’n, [50] equity = justice
That such a Soul to such a Form was giv’n; form = physical body
And shows the Uniformity of Fate,
That one so odious should be born to hate.
 
   When God created Thee, one would believe,
He said the same as to the Snake of Eve; [55]
To human Race Antipathy declare,
’Twixt them and thee be everlasting War. ’twixt = between
But oh! the Sequel of the Sentence dread, sequel = what comes after
And whilst you bruise their Heel, beware your head.
 
   Nor think thy Weakness shall be thy Defence; [60]
The Female Scold’s Protection in Offence.
Sure ’tis as fair to beat who cannot fight,
As ’tis to libel those who cannot write.
And if thou draw’st thy Pen to aid the Law,
Others a Cudgel, or a Rod, may draw. [65] cudgel = club
 
   If none with Vengeance yet thy Crimes pursue,
Or give thy manifold Affronts their due; manifold affronts = many and various sins
If Limbs unbroken, Skin without a Stain,
Unwhipt, unblanketed, unkick’d, unslain, unblanketed = not punished by being tossed in a blanket
That wretched little Carcass you retain, [70]
The Reason is, not that the World wants Eyes, wants = lacks
But thou’rt so mean, they see, and they despise:
When fretful Porcupines, with rancorous Will, rancorous = mean-spirited
From mounted Backs shoot forth a harmless Quill,
Cool the Spectators stand; and all the while [75]
Upon the angry little Monster smile.
Thus ’tis with thee: — whilst impotently safe,
You strike unwounding, we unhurt can laugh.
Who but must laugh, this Bully when he sees,
A little Insect shiv’ring at a Breeze? [80]
One over-match’d by ev’ry Blast of Wind,
Insulting and provoking all Mankind.
 
   Is this the Thing to keep Mankind in awe,
To make those tremble who escape the Law? tremble = shake with fear
Is this the Ridicule to live so long, [85]
The deathless Satire, and immortal Song?
No: like thy self-blown Praise, thy Scandal flies;
And, as we’re told of Wasps, it stings and dies.
 
   If none do yet return th’intended Blow;
You all your Safety, to your Dullness owe: [90] i.e., you’ve been protected by your stupidity
But whilst that Armour thy poor Corps defends, corps = body
’Twill make thy Readers few, as are thy Friends:
Those, who thy Nature loath’d, yet lov’d thy Art,
Who lik’d thy Head, and yet abhorr’d thy Heart:
Chose thee to read, but never to converse, [95]
And scorn’d in Prose, him whom they priz’d in Verse.
Ev’n they shall now their partial Error see,
Shall shun thy Writings like thy Company;
And to thy Books shall ope their Eyes no more,
Than to thy Person they would do their Door. [100]
 
   Nor thou the Justice of the World disown,
That leaves Thee thus an Out-cast, and alone;
For tho’ in Law, to murder be to kill,
In Equity the Murder’s in the Will: equity = justice
Then whilst with Coward Hand you stab a Name, [105]
And try at least t’ assassinate our Fame,
Like the first bold Assassin’s be thy Lot, assassin = Cain, who killed his brother; lot = fate
Ne’er be thy Guilt forgiven, or forgot;
But, as thou hate’st be hated by Mankind
And with the Emblem of thy crooked Mind, [110] emblem = symbol
Mark’d on thy Back, like Cain, by God’s own Hand;
Wander like him, accursed through the Land.

Notes

two large Columns
Pope’s Horatian imitations were published with Horace’s Latin on the left-hand page (the verso) of every opening, and his imitations on the right (the recto).
Ribaldry to Satire makes pretence
That is, where crude obscenity pretends to be dignified satire.
Greek he did translate
Pope had translated Homer’s Iliad and parts of his Odyssey. Although the translations were very popular, scholars accused him of having an inadequate understanding of Greek.
thou thy self art to the sons of men
In other words, your version of Homer is as close to him as you are to a human being. Pope was very short (four foot six) and hunchbacked.
Birth obscure
Lady Mary was noble; Pope, though not poor, came from less distinguished parents.
you bruise their Heel
An allusion to God’s punishment of the serpent (traditionally associated with Satan) and Eve after the fall in Eden, recounted in Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
fretful Porcupines
The fretful porpentine is a quotation of Hamlet.
Who but must laugh
That is, who could resist laughing? Pope alludes to this line in his Epistle to Arbuthnot 213 (“Who but must laugh, if such a man there be?”).