Pope’s Iliad: A Tickellish Subject

Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets: Tickell

The poetical incident of most importance in Tickell’s life was his publication of the first book of the “Iliad,” as translated by himself, an apparent opposition to Pope’s “Homer,” of which the first part made its entrance into the world at the same time.  Addison declared that the rival versions were both good, but that Tickell’s was the best that ever was made; and with Addison, the wits, his adherents and followers, were certain to concur.  Pope does not appear to have been much dismayed, “for,” says he, “I have the town—that is, the mob—on my side.”  But he remarks “that it is common for the smaller party to make up in diligence what they want in numbers.  He appeals to the people as his proper judges, and if they are not inclined to condemn him, he is in little care about the highflyers at Button’s.”

Pope did not long think Addison an impartial judge, for he considered him as the writer of Tickell’s version.  The reasons for his suspicion I will literally transcribe from Mr. Spence’s Collection:—

“There had been a coldness,” said Mr. Pope, “between Mr. Addison and me for some time, and we had not been in company together, for a good while, anywhere but at Button’s Coffee House, where I used to see him almost every day.  On his meeting me there, one day in particular, he took me aside and said he should be glad to dine with me at such a tavern, if I stayed till those people were gone (Budgell and Philips).  He went accordingly, and after dinner Mr. Addison said ‘that he had wanted for some time to talk with me: that his friend Tickell had formerly, whilst at Oxford, translated the first book of the Iliad; that he designed to print it, and had desired him to look it over; that he must therefore beg that I would not desire him to look over my first book, because, if he did, it would have the air of double-dealing.’  I assured him that I did not at all take it ill of Mr. Tickell that he was going to publish his translation; that he certainly had as much right to translate any author as myself; and that publishing both was entering on a fair stage.  I then added that I would not desire him to look over my first book of the Iliad, because he had looked over Mr. Tickell’s, but could wish to have the benefit of his observations on my second, which I had then finished, and which Mr. Tickell had not touched upon.  Accordingly I sent him the second book the next morning, and Mr. Addison a few days after returned it, with very high commendations.  Soon after it was generally known that Mr. Tickell was publishing the first book of the Iliad, I met Dr. Young in the street, and upon our falling into that subject, the doctor expressed a great deal of surprise at Tickell’s having had such a translation so long by him.  He said that it was inconceivable to him, and that there must be some mistake in the matter; that each used to communicate to the other whatever verses they wrote, even to the least things; that Tickell could not have been busied in so long a work there without his knowing something of the matter; and that he had never heard a single word of it till on this occasion.  This surprise of Dr. Young, together with what Steele has said against Tickell in relation to this affair, make it highly probable that there was some underhand dealing in that business; and indeed Tickell himself, who is a very fair worthy man, has since, in a manner, as good as owned it to me.  When it was introduced into a conversation between Mr. Tickell and Mr. Pope by a third person, Tickell did not deny it, which, considering his honour and zeal for his departed friend, was the same as owning it.”

Upon these suspicions, with which Dr. Warburton hints that other circumstances concurred, Pope always in his “Art of Sinking” quotes this book as the work of Addison.

To compare the two translations would be tedious; the palm is now given universally to Pope, but I think the first lines of Tickell’s were rather to be preferred; and Pope seems to have since borrowed something from them in the correction of his own.

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