The Rape of the Lock and Other Poems
Part 4 out of 5
the reign of William III, a Dutchman. Pope, as a Tory and a Catholic,
hated the memory of William, and here asserts, rather unfairly, that his
age was marked by an increase of heresy and infidelity.
the name of two famous heretics, uncle and nephew, of the sixteenth
century, who denied the divinity of Christ.
Pope insinuates here that the clergy under William III hated an absolute
monarch so much that they even encouraged their hearers to question the
absolute power of God.
see note l. 391.
'552 Wit's Titans:'
wits who defied heaven as the old Titans did the gods. The reference is
to a group of freethinkers who came into prominence in King William's
'556 scandalously nice:'
so over-particular as to find cause for scandal where none exists.
'557 mistake an author into vice:'
mistakenly read into an author vicious ideas which are not really to be
found in his work.
Things that men really do not know must be brought forward modestly as
if they had only been forgotten for a time.
'577 That only:'
a nickname for John Dennis, taken from his tragedy, 'Appius and
Virginia', which appeared two years before the 'Essay on Criticism'.
Lines 585-587 hit off some of the personal characteristics of this
hot-tempered critic. "Tremendous" was a favorite word with Dennis.
blame, find fault with.
In Pope's time noblemen could take degrees at the English universities
without passing the regular examinations.
Dryden's 'Fables' published in 1700 represented the very best narrative
poetry of the greatest poet of his day. D'Urfey's 'Tales', on the other
hand, published in 1704 and 1706, were collections of dull and obscene
doggerel by a wretched poet.
'618 With him:'
according to "the bookful blockhead."
a well-known doctor of the day, who wrote a much admired mock-heroic
poem called 'The Dispensary'. His enemies asserted that he was not
really the author of the poem.
Such foolish critics are just as ready to pour out their opinions on a
man in St. Paul's cathedral as in the bookseller's shops in the square
around the church, which is called St. Paul's churchyard.
'632 proud to know:'
proud of his knowledge.
an old form for "humanely."
'642 love to praise:'
a love of praising men.
'648 Mæonian Star:'
Homer. Mæonia, or Lydia, was a district in Asia which was said to have
been the birthplace of Homer.
'652 conquered Nature:'
Aristotle was a master of all the knowledge of nature extant in his day.
the famous Latin poet whose 'Ars Poetica' was one of Pope's models for
the 'Essay on Criticism'.
phlegm, according to old ideas of physiology, one of the four "humours"
or fluids which composed the body. Where it abounded it made men dull
and heavy, or as we still say "phlegmatic."
A rather confused couplet. It means, "Horace suffers as much by the
misquotations critics make from his work as by the bad translations that
wits make of them."
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a famous Greek critic. Pope's manner of
reference to him seems to show that he had never read his works.
a courtier and man of letters of the time of Nero. Only a few lines of
his remaining work contain any criticism.
'669 Quintilian's work:'
the 'Institutiones Oratoriæ' of Quintilianus, a famous Latin critic of
the first century A.D.
a Greek critic of the third century A.D., who composed a famous work
called 'A Treatise on the Sublime'. It is a work showing high
imagination as well as careful reasoning, and hence Pope speaks of the
author as inspired by the Nine, 'i.e.' the Muses.
The willful hatred of the monks for the works of classical antiquity
tended to complete that destruction of old books which the Goths began
when they sacked the Roman cities. Many ancient writings were erased,
for example, in order to get parchment for monkish chronicles and
perhaps the greatest scholar of the Renaissance. Pope calls him the
"glory of the priesthood" on account of his being a monk of such
extraordinary learning, and "the shame" of his order, because he was so
abused by monks in his lifetime. Is this a good antithesis?
'697 Leo's golden days:'
the pontificate of Leo X (1513-1521). Leo himself was a generous patron
of art and learning. He paid particular attention to sacred music (l.
703), and engaged Raphael to decorate the Vatican with frescoes. Vida
(l. 704) was an Italian poet of his time, who became famous by the
excellence of his Latin verse. One of his poems was on the art of
poetry, and it is to this that Pope refers in l. 706.
Cremona was the birthplace of Vida; Mantua, of Virgil.
The allusion is to the sack of Rome by the Constable Bourbon's army in
1527. This marked the end of the golden age of arts in Italy.
a French poet and critic (1636-1711). His 'L'Art Poetique' is founded on
Horace's 'Ars Poetica'.
'723 the Muse:'
'i.e.' the genius, of John Sheffield (1649-1720), Duke of Buckingham
(not to be confounded with Dryden's enemy). Line 724 is quoted from his
'Essay on Poetry'.
Wentworth Dillon (1633-1684), Earl of Roscommon, author of a translation
of the 'Ars Poetica' and of 'An Essay on Translated Verse'.
a commonplace poet (1663-1708), but apparently a good critic. Dryden, in
fact, called him the best critic in the nation. He was an early friend
and judicious adviser of Pope himself, who showed him much of his early
work, including the first draft of this very poem. Pope was sincerely
attached to him, and this tribute to his dead friend is marked by deep
and genuine feeling.
'738 short excursions:'
such as this 'Essay on Criticism' instead of longer and more ambitious
poems which Pope planned and in part executed in his boyhood. There is
no reason to believe with Mr. Elwin that this passage proves that Pope
formed the design of the poem after the death of Walsh.
* * * * *
AN ESSAY ON MAN
The 'Essay on Man' is the longest and in some ways the most important
work of the third period of Pope's career. It corresponds closely to his
early work, the 'Essay on Criticism'. Like the earlier work, the 'Essay
on Man' is a didactic poem, written primarily to diffuse and popularize
certain ideas of the poet. As in the earlier work these ideas are by no
means original with Pope, but were the common property of a school of
thinkers in his day. As in the 'Essay on Criticism', Pope here attempts
to show that these ideas have their origin in nature and are consistent
with the common sense of man. And finally the merit of the later work,
even more than of the earlier, is due to the force and brilliancy of
detached passages rather than to any coherent, consistent, and
well-balanced system which it presents.
The close of the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth was
marked by a change of ground in the sphere of religious controversy. The
old debates between the Catholic and Protestant churches gradually died
out as these two branches of Western Christianity settled down in quiet
possession of the territory they still occupy. In their place arose a
vigorous controversy on the first principles of religion in general, on
the nature of God, the origin of evil, the place of man in the universe,
and the respective merits of optimism and pessimism as philosophic
theories. The controversialists as a rule either rejected or neglected
the dogmas of revealed religion and based their arguments upon real or
supposed facts of history, physical nature, and the mental processes and
moral characteristics of man. In this controversy the two parties at
times were curiously mingled. Orthodox clergymen used arguments which
justified a strong suspicion of their orthodoxy; and avowed freethinkers
bitterly disclaimed the imputation of atheism and wrote in terms that
might be easily adopted by a devout believer.
Into this controversy Pope was led by his deepening intimacy with
Bolingbroke, who had returned from France in 1725 and settled at his
country place within a few miles of Twickenham. During his long exile
Bolingbroke had amused himself with the study of moral philosophy and
natural religion, and in his frequent intercourse with Pope he poured
out his new-found opinions with all the fluency, vigor, and polish which
made him so famous among the orators and talkers of the day.
Bolingbroke's views were for that time distinctly heterodox, and, if
logically developed, led to complete agnosticism. But he seems to have
avoided a complete statement of his ideas to Pope, possibly for fear of
shocking or frightening the sensitive little poet who still remained a
professed Catholic. Pope, however, was very far from being a strict
Catholic, and indeed prided himself on the breadth and liberality of his
opinions. He was, therefore, at once fascinated and stimulated by the
eloquent conversation of Bolingbroke, and resolved to write a
philosophical poem in which to embody the ideas they held in common.
Bolingbroke approved of the idea, and went so far as to furnish the poet
with seven or eight sheets of notes "to direct the plan in general and
to supply matter for particular epistles." Lord Bathurst, who knew both
Pope and Bolingbroke, went so far as to say in later years that the
'Essay' was originally composed by Bolingbroke in prose and that Pope
only put it into verse. But this is undoubtedly an exaggeration of what
Pope himself frankly acknowledged, that the poem was composed under the
influence of Bolingbroke, that in the main it reflected his opinions,
and that Bolingbroke had assisted him in the general plan and in
numerous details. Very properly, therefore, the poem is addressed to
Bolingbroke and begins and closes with a direct address to the poet's
"guide, philosopher, and friend."
In substance the 'Essay on Man' is a discussion of the moral order of
the world. Its purpose is "to vindicate the ways of God to man," and it
may therefore be regarded as an attempt to confute the skeptics who
argued from the existence of evil in the world and the wretchedness of
man's existence to the impossibility of belief in an all-good and
all-wise God. It attempts to do this, not by an appeal to revelation or
the doctrines of Christianity, but simply on the basis of a common-sense
interpretation of the facts of existence.
A brief outline of the poem will show the general tenor of Pope's
The first epistle deals with the nature and state of man with respect to
the universe. It insists on the limitations of man's knowledge, and the
consequent absurdity of his presuming to murmur against God. It teaches
that the universe was not made for man, but that man with all his
apparent imperfections is exactly fitted to the place which he occupies
in the universe. In the physical universe all things work together for
good, although certain aspects of nature seem evil to man, and likewise
in the moral universe all things, even man's passions and crimes conduce
to the general good of the whole. Finally it urges calm submission and
acquiescence in what is hard to understand, since "one truth is
clear,--whatever is, is right."
The second epistle deals with the nature of man as an individual. It
begins by urging men to abandon vain questionings of God's providence
and to take up the consideration of their own natures, for "the proper
study of mankind is man." Pope points out that the two cardinal
principles of man's nature are self-love and reason, the first an
impelling, the second a regulating power. The aim of both these
principles is pleasure, by which Pope means happiness, which he takes
for the highest good. Each man is dominated by a master passion, and it
is the proper function of reason to control this passion for good and to
make it bear fruit in virtue. No man is wholly virtuous or vicious, and
Heaven uses the mingled qualities of men to bind them together in mutual
interdependence, and makes the various passions and imperfections of
mankind serve the general good. And the final conclusion is that "though
man's a fool, yet God is wise."
The third epistle treats of the nature of man with respect to society.
All creatures, Pope asserts, are bound together and live not for
themselves alone, but man is preeminently a social being. The first
state of man was the state of nature when he lived in innocent ignorance
with his fellow-creatures. Obeying the voice of nature, man learned to
copy and improve upon the instincts of the animals, to build, to plow,
to spin, to unite in societies like those of ants and bees. The first
form of government was patriarchal; then monarchies arose in which
virtue, "in arms or arts," made one man ruler over many. In either case
the origin of true government as of true religion was love. Gradually
force crept in and uniting with superstition gave rise to tyranny and
false religions. Poets and patriots, however, restored the ancient faith
and taught power's due use by showing the necessity of harmony in the
state. Pope concludes by asserting the folly of contention for forms of
government or modes of faith. The common end of government as of
religion is the general good. It may be noticed in passing that Pope's
account of the evolution of society bears even less relation to
historical facts than does his account of the development of literature
in the 'Essay on Criticism.'
The last epistle discusses the nature of happiness, "our being's end and
aim." Happiness is attainable by all men who think right and mean well.
It consists not in individual, but in mutual pleasure. It does not
consist in external things, mere gifts of fortune, but in health, peace,
and competence. Virtuous men are, indeed, subject to calamities of
nature; but God cannot be expected to suspend the operation of general
laws to spare the virtuous. Objectors who would construct a system in
which all virtuous men are blest, are challenged to define the virtuous
and to specify what is meant by blessings. Honors, nobility, fame,
superior talents, often merely serve to make their possessors unhappy.
Virtue alone is happiness, and virtue consists in a recognition of the
laws of Providence, and in love for one's fellow-man.
Even this brief outline will show, I think, some of the inconsistencies
and omissions of Pope's train of thought. A careful examination of his
arguments in detail would be wholly out of place here. The reader who
wishes to pursue the subject further may consult Warburton's elaborate
vindication of Pope's argument, and Elwin's equally prosy refutation, or
better still the admirable summary by Leslie Stephen in the chapter on
this poem in his life of Pope ('English Men of Letters'). No one is now
likely to turn to the writer of the early eighteenth century for a
system of the universe, least of all to a writer so incapable of exact
or systematic thinking as Alexander Pope. If the 'Essay on Man' has any
claim to be read to-day, it must be as a piece of literature pure and
simple. For philosophy and poetry combined, Browning and Tennyson lie
nearer to our age and mode of thought than Pope.
Even regarded as a piece of literature the 'Essay on Man' cannot, I
think, claim the highest place among Pope's works. It obtained, indeed,
a success at home and abroad such as was achieved by no other English
poem until the appearance of 'Childe Harold'. It was translated into
French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, and Latin. It was imitated
by Wieland, praised by Voltaire, and quoted by Kant. But this success
was due in part to the accuracy with which it reflected ideas which were
the common property of its age, in part to the extraordinary vigor and
finish of its epigrams, which made it one of the most quotable of
English poems. But as a whole the Essay is not a great poem. The poet is
evidently struggling with a subject that is too weighty for him, and at
times he staggers and sinks beneath his burden. The second and third
books in particular are, it must be confessed, with the exception of one
or two fine outbursts, little better than dull, and dullness is not a
quality one is accustomed to associate with Pope. The 'Essay on Man'
lacks the bright humor and imaginative artistry of 'The Rape of the
Lock,' and the lively portraiture, vigorous satire, and strong personal
note of the 'Moral Epistles' and 'Imitations of Horace'. Pope is at his
best when he is dealing with a concrete world of men and women as they
lived and moved in the London of his day; he is at his worst when he is
attempting to seize and render abstract ideas.
Yet the 'Essay on Man' is a very remarkable work. In the first place, it
shows Pope's wonderful power of expression. No one can read the poem for
the first time without meeting on page after page phrases and epigrams
which have become part of the common currency of our language. Pope's
"precision and firmness of touch," to quote the apt statement of Leslie
Stephen, "enables him to get the greatest possible meaning into a narrow
compass. He uses only one epithet, but it is the right one." Even when
the thought is commonplace enough, the felicity of the expression gives
it a new and effective force. And there are whole passages where Pope
rises high above the mere coining of epigrams. As I have tried to show
in my notes he composed by separate paragraphs, and when he chances upon
a topic that appeals to his imagination or touches his heart, we get an
outburst of poetry that shines in splendid contrast to the prosaic
plainness of its surroundings. Such, for example, are the noble verses
that tell of the immanence of God in his creation at the close of the
first epistle, or the magnificent invective against tyranny and
superstition in the third (ll. 241-268).
Finally the 'Essay on Man' is of interest in what it tells us of Pope
himself. Mr. Elwin's idea that in the 'Essay on Man' Pope, "partly the
dupe, partly the accomplice of Bolingbroke," was attempting craftily to
undermine the foundations of religion, is a notion curiously compounded
of critical blindness and theological rancor. In spite of all its
incoherencies and futilities the 'Essay' is an honest attempt to express
Pope's opinions, borrowed in part, of course, from his admired friend,
but in part the current notions of his age, on some of the greatest
questions that have perplexed the mind of man. And Pope's attitude
toward the questions is that of the best minds of his day, at once
religious, independent, and sincere. He acknowledges the omnipotence and
benevolence of God, confesses the limitations and imperfections of human
knowledge, teaches humility in the presence of unanswerable problems,
urges submission to Divine Providence, extols virtue as the true source
of happiness, and love of man as an essential of virtue. If we study the
'Essay on Man' as the reasoned argument of a philosopher, we shall turn
from it with something like contempt; if we read it as the expression of
a poet's sentiments, we shall, I think, leave it with an admiration
warmer than before for a character that has been so much abused and so
little understood as that of Pope.
'2 Bacon's expression:'
in the dedication of his 'Essays' (1625) to Buckingham, Bacon speaks of
them as the most popular of his writings, "for that, as it seems, they
come home to men's business and bosoms."
'11 anatomy:' dissection.
'1 St. John:'
Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke, Pope's "guide, philosopher, and
friend," under whose influence the 'Essay on Man' was composed.
Pope says that this line alludes to the subject of this first Epistle,
"the state of man here and hereafter, disposed by Providence, though to
him unknown." The next two lines allude to the main topics of the three
remaining epistles, "the constitution of the human mind ... the
temptations of misapplied self-love, and the wrong pursuits of power,
pleasure, and false happiness."
'9 beat ... field:'
the metaphor is drawn from hunting. Note how it is elaborated in the
'12 blindly creep ... sightless soar:'
the first are the ignorant and indifferent; those who "sightless soar"
are the presumptuous who reason blindly about things too high for human
lenient, free from harsh judgments.
An adaptation of a well-known line of Milton's 'Paradise Lost', l, 26.
Pope lays down as the basis of his system that all argument about man or
God must be based upon what we know of man's present life, and of God's
workings in this world of ours.
'29 this frame:'
the universe. Compare 'Hamlet', II, ii, 310, "this goodly frame, the
'30 nice dependencies:'
'31 Gradations just:'
exact shades of difference.
'32 a part:'
the mind of man, which is but a part of the whole universe.
'33 the great chain:'
according to Homer, Jove, the supreme God, sustained the whole creation
by a golden chain. Milton also makes use of this idea of the visible
universe as linked to heaven in a golden chain, 'Paradise Lost', II,
1004-1006, and 1051-1052.
'41 yonder argent fields:'
the sky spangled with silvery stars. The phrase is borrowed from Milton,
'Paradise Lost', III, 460.
the planet Jupiter.
Pope preserves here the Latin pronunciation, four syllables, with the
accent on the antepenult.
Pope here takes it for granted that our universe, inasmuch as it is the
work of God's infinite wisdom, must be the best system possible. If this
be granted, he says, it is plain that man must have a place somewhere in
this system, and the only question is whether "God has placed him wrong."
Every grade in creation must be complete, so as to join with that which
is beneath and with that which is above it or there would be a lack of
coherency, a break, somewhere in the system.
'47 reas'ning life:'
conscious mental life.
Pope argues here that since man is a part of the best possible system,
whatever seems wrong in him must be right when considered in relation to
the whole order of the universe. It is only our ignorance of this order
which keeps us from realizing this fact.
'55 one single:'
the word "movement" is understood after "single."
Pope here illustrates his preceding argument by analogy. We can know no
more of God's purpose in the ordering of our lives than the animals can
know of our ordering of theirs.
'64 Ægypt's God:'
One of the gods of the Egyptians was the sacred bull, Apis.
'68 a deity:'
worshiped as a god, like the Egyptian kings and Roman emperors.
Pope now goes on to argue that on the basis of what has been proved we
ought not to regard man as an imperfect being, but rather as one who is
perfectly adapted to his place in the universe. His knowledge, for
example, is measured by the brief time he has to live and the brief
space he can survey.
pronounced in Pope's day as rhyming with "ought."
These lines are really out of place. They first appeared after l. 98;
then Pope struck them out altogether. Just before his death he put them
into their present place on the advice of Warburton, who probably
approved of them because of their reference to a future state of bliss.
It is plain that they interfere with the regular argument of the poem.
This line is grammatically dependent upon "hides," l. 77.
used here in the sense of "luxurious life." The lamb is slain to provide
for some feast.
'i.e.' God. Hence the relative "who" in the next line.
Pope urges man to comfort himself with hope, seeing that he cannot know
'93 "What future bliss:"
the words "shall be" are to be understood after this phrase.
Point out the exact meaning of this familiar line.
'97 from home:'
away from its true home, the life to come. This line represents one of
the alterations which Warburton induced Pope to make. The poet first
wrote "confined at home," thus representing this life as the home of the
soul. His friend led him to make the change in order to express more
clearly his belief in the soul's immortality.
Show how "rests" and "expatiates" in this line contrast with "uneasy"
and "confined" in l. 97.
In this famous passage Pope shows how the belief in immortality is found
even among the most ignorant tribes. This is to Pope an argument that
the soul must be immortal, since only Nature, or God working through
Nature, could have implanted this conception in the Indian's mind.
'102 the solar walk:'
the sun's path in the heavens.
'the milky way:'
some old philosophers held that the souls of good men went thither after
Pope means that the ignorant Indian had no conception of a heaven
reserved for the just such as Greek sages and Christian believers have.
All he believes in is "an humbler heaven," where he shall be free from
the evils of this life. Line 108 has special reference to the tortures
inflicted upon the natives of Mexico and Peru by the avaricious Spanish
He is contented with a future existence, without asking for the glories
of the Christian's heaven.
'111 equal sky:'
impartial heaven, for the heaven of the Indians was open to all men,
good or bad.
In this passage Pope blames those civilized men who, though they should
be wiser than the Indian, murmur against the decrees of God. The
imperative verbs "weigh," "call," "say," etc., are used satirically.
'113 scale of sense:'
the scale, or means of judgment, which our senses give us.
the pleasure of taste.
The murmurers are dissatisfied that man is not at once perfect in his
present state and destined to immortality, although such gifts have been
given to no other creature.
'123 reas'ning Pride:'
the pride of the intellect which assumes to condemn God's providence.
In this passage Pope imagines a dialogue between one of the proud
murmurers he has described and himself. His opponent insists that the
world was made primarily for man's enjoyment (ll. 132-140). Pope asks
whether nature does not seem to swerve from this end of promoting human
happiness in times of pestilence, earthquake, and tempest (ll. 141-144).
The other answers that these are only rare exceptions to the general
laws, due perhaps to some change in nature since the world began (ll.
145-148). Pope replies by asking why there should not be exceptions in
the moral as well as in the physical world; may not great villains be
compared to terrible catastrophes in nature (ll. 148-156)? He goes on to
say that no one but God can answer this question, that our human
reasoning springs from pride, and that the true course of reasoning is
simply to submit (ll. 156-164). He then suggests that "passions," by
which he means vices, are as necessary a part of the moral order as
storms of the physical world (ll. 165-172).
'142 livid deaths':
Pope was perhaps thinking of a terrible earthquake and flood that had
caused great loss of life in Chili the year before this poem appeared.
'150 Then Nature deviates':
Nature departs from her regular order on such occasions as these
'151' that end:
human happiness, as in l. 149.
Cæsar Borgia, the wicked son of Pope Alexander VI, and Catiline are
mentioned here as portents in the moral world parallel to plagues and
earthquakes in the physical.
'160 young Ammon':
Alexander the Great. See note on 'Essay on Criticism', l. 376.
Why do we accuse God for permitting wickedness when we do not blame Him
for permitting evil in the natural world?
In this section Pope reproves those who are dissatisfied with man's
faculties. He points out that all animals, man included, have powers
suited to their position in the world (ll. 179-188), and asserts that if
man had keener senses than he now has, he would be exposed to evils from
which he now is free (ll. 193-203).
'176 To want':
Paraphrase this line in prose.
accented on the antepenult.
'183 the state':
the place which the creature occupies in the natural world.
'195 finer optics':
keener power of sight.
a noun, subject of "were given," understood from l. 195.
'199 quick effluvia':
pungent odors. The construction is very condensed here; "effluvia" may
be regarded like "touch" as a subject of "were given" (l. 195); but one
would expect rather a phrase to denote a keener sense of smell than man
'202 music of the spheres':
it was an old belief that the stars and planets uttered musical notes as
they moved along their courses. These notes made up the "harmony of the
spheres." Shakespeare ('Merchant of Venice', V, 64-5) says that our
senses are too dull to hear it. Pope, following a passage in Cicero's
'Somnium Scipionis', suggests that this music is too loud for human
Pope now goes on to show how in the animal world there is an exact
gradation of the faculties of sense and of the powers of instinct. Man
alone is endowed with reason which is more than equivalent to all these
powers and makes him lord over all animals.
The mole is almost blind; the lynx was supposed to be the most
keen-sighted of animals.
The lion was supposed by Pope to hunt by sight alone as the dog by
scent. What does he mean by "the tainted green"?
Fishes are almost deaf, while birds are very quick of hearing.
The power of instinct which is barely perceptible in the pig amounts
almost to the power of reason in the elephant.
pronounced like the French 'barrière', as a word of two syllables with
the accent on the last.
'226 Sense ... Thought:'
sensation and reason.
'227 Middle natures:'
intermediate natures, which long to unite with those above or below
them. The exact sense is not very clear.
In this passage Pope insists that the chain of being stretches unbroken
from God through man to the lowest created forms. If any link in this
chain were broken, as would happen if men possessed higher faculties
than are now assigned them, the whole universe would be thrown into
confusion. This is another answer to those who complain of the
imperfections of man's nature.
living. Pope does not discriminate between organic and inorganic matter.
Inferior beings might then press upon us. If they did not, a fatal gap
would be left by our ascent in the scale.
'247 each system:'
Pope imagines the universe to be composed of an infinite number of
systems like ours. Since each of these is essential to the orderly
arrangement of the universe, any disorder such as he has imagined would
have infinitely destructive consequences. These are described in ll.
In these lines Pope speaks of God as the soul of the world in an
outburst of really exalted enthusiasm that is rare enough in his work.
a relative pronoun referring to "soul," l. 268.
'270 th' ethereal frame:' the heavens.
'276 as perfect in a hair as heart:'
this has been called "a vile antithesis," on the ground that there is no
reason why hair and heart should be contrasted. But Pope may have had in
mind the saying of Christ. "the very hairs of your head are all
numbered." The hairs are spoken of here as the least important part of
the body; the heart, on the other hand, has always been thought of as
the most important organ. There is, therefore, a real antithesis between
'278 Seraph ... burns:'
the seraphim according to old commentators are on fire with the love of
'280 equals all:'
makes all things equal. This does not seem consistent with the idea of
the gradations of existence which Pope has been preaching throughout
this Epistle. Possibly it means that all things high and low are filled
alike with the divine spirit and in this sense all things are equal. But
one must not expect to find exact and consistent philosophy in the
'Essay on Man'.
Here Pope sums up the argument of this Epistle, urging man to recognize
his ignorance, to be content with his seeming imperfections, and to
realize that "whatever is, is right."
'282 Our proper bliss:'
our happiness as men.
appointed place in the universe.
Hobbes, an English philosopher with whose work Pope was, no doubt,
acquainted, says, "Nature is the art whereby God governs the world."
* * * * *
AN EPISTLE TO DR ARBUTHNOT
Next to 'The Rape of the Lock', I think, the 'Epistle to Arbuthnot' is
the most interesting and the most important of Pope's poems--the most
important since it shows the master poet of the age employing his
ripened powers in the field most suitable for their display, that of
personal satire, the most interesting, because, unlike his former
satiric poem the 'Dunciad', it is not mere invective, but gives us, as
no other poem of Pope's can be said to do, a portrait of the poet
Like most of Pope's poems, the 'Epistle to Arbuthnot' owes its existence
to an objective cause. This was the poet's wish to justify himself
against a series of savage attacks, which had recently been directed
against him. If Pope had expected by the publication of the 'Dunciad' to
crush the herd of scribblers who had been for years abusing him, he must
have been woefully disappointed. On the contrary, the roar of insult and
calumny rose louder than ever, and new voices were added to the chorus.
In the year 1733 two enemies entered the field against Pope such as he
had never yet had to encounter--enemies of high social position, of
acknowledged wit, and of a certain, though as the sequel proved quite
inadequate, talent for satire. These were Lady Mary Wortley Montague and
Lord John Hervey.
Lady Mary had been for years acknowledged as one of the wittiest, most
learned, and most beautiful women of her day. Pope seems to have met her
in 1715 and at once joined the train of her admirers. When she
accompanied her husband on his embassy to Constantinople in the
following year, the poet entered into a long correspondence with her,
protesting in the most elaborate fashion his undying devotion. On her
return he induced her to settle with her husband at Twickenham. Here he
continued his attentions, half real, half in the affected gallantry of
the day, until, to quote the lady's own words to her daughter many years
after, "at some ill-chosen time when she least expected what romancers
call a declaration, he made such passionate love to her, as, in spite of
her utmost endeavours to be angry and look grave, provoked an immoderate
fit of laughter," and, she added, from that moment Pope became her
implacable enemy. Certainly by the time Pope began to write the
'Dunciad' he was so far estranged from his old friend that he permitted
himself in that poem a scoffing allusion to a scandal in which she had
recently become involved. The lady answered, or the poet thought that
she did, with an anonymous pamphlet, 'A Pop upon Pope', describing a
castigation, wholly imaginary, said to have been inflicted upon the poet
as a proper reward for his satire. After this, of course, all hope of a
reconciliation was at an end, and in his satires and epistles Pope
repeatedly introduced Lady Mary under various titles in the most
offensive fashion. In his first 'Imitation of Horace', published in
February, 1733, he referred in the most unpardonable manner to a certain
Sappho, and the dangers attendant upon any acquaintance with her. Lady
Mary was foolish enough to apply the lines to herself and to send a
common friend to remonstrate with Pope. He coolly replied that he was
surprised that Lady Mary should feel hurt, since the lines could only
apply to certain women, naming four notorious scribblers, whose lives
were as immoral as their works. Such an answer was by no means
calculated to turn away the lady's wrath, and for an ally in the
campaign of anonymous abuse that she now planned she sought out her
friend Lord Hervey. John Hervey, called by courtesy Lord Hervey, the
second son of the Earl of Bristol, was one of the most prominent figures
at the court of George II. He had been made vice-chamberlain of the
royal household in 1730, and was the intimate friend and confidential
adviser of Queen Caroline. Clever, affable, unprincipled, and cynical,
he was a perfect type of the Georgian courtier to whom loyalty,
patriotism, honesty, and honor were so many synonyms for folly. He was
effeminate in habits and appearance, but notoriously licentious; he
affected to scoff at learning but made some pretense to literature, and
had written 'Four Epistles after the Manner of Ovid', and numerous
political pamphlets. Pope, who had some slight personal acquaintance
with him, disliked his political connections and probably despised his
verses, and in the 'Imitation' already mentioned had alluded to him
under the title of Lord Fanny as capable of turning out a thousand lines
of verse a day. This was sufficient cause, if cause were needed, to
induce Hervey to join Lady Mary in her warfare against Pope.
The first blow was struck in an anonymous poem, probably the combined
work of the two allies, called 'Verses addressed to the Imitator of
Horace', which appeared in March, 1733, and it was followed up in August
by an 'Epistle from a Nobleman to a Doctor of Divinity', which also
appeared anonymously, but was well known to be the work of Lord Hervey.
In these poems Pope was abused in the most unmeasured terms. His work
was styled a mere collection of libels; he had no invention except in
defamation; he was a mere pretender to genius. His morals were not left
unimpeached; he was charged with selling other men's work printed in his
name,--a gross distortion of his employing assistants in the translation
of the 'Odyssey',--he was ungrateful, unjust, a foe to human kind, an
enemy like the devil to all that have being. The noble authors, probably
well aware how they could give the most pain, proceeded to attack his
family and his distorted person. His parents were obscure and vulgar
people; and he himself a wretched outcast:
with the emblem of [his] crooked mind
Marked on [his] back like Cain by God's own hand.
And to cap the climax, as soon as these shameful libels were in print,
Lord Hervey bustled off to show them to the Queen and to laugh with her
over the fine way in which he had put down the bitter little poet.
In order to understand and appreciate Pope's reception of these attacks,
we must recall to ourselves the position in which he lived. He was a
Catholic, and I have already (Introduction, p. x) called attention to
the precarious, tenure by which the Catholics of his time held their
goods, their persons, their very lives, in security. He was the intimate
of Bolingbroke, of all men living the most detested by the court, and
his noble friends were almost without exception the avowed enemies of
the court party. Pope had good reason to fear that the malice of his
enemies might not be content to stop with abusive doggerel. But he was
not in the least intimidated. On the contrary, he broke out in a fine
flame of wrath against Lord Hervey, whom he evidently considered the
chief offender, challenged his enemy to disavow the 'Epistle', and on
his declining to do so, proceeded to make what he called "a proper
reply" in a prose 'Letter to a Noble Lord'. This masterly piece of
satire was passed about from hand to hand, but never printed. We are
told that Sir Robert Walpole, who found Hervey a convenient tool in
court intrigues, bribed Pope not to print it by securing a good position
in France for one of the priests who had watched over the poet's youth.
If this story be true, and we have Horace Walpole's authority for it, we
may well imagine that the entry of the bribe, like that of Uncle Toby's
oath, was blotted out by a tear from the books of the Recording Angel.
But Pope was by no means disposed to let the attacks go without an
answer of some kind, and the particular form which his answer took seems
to have been suggested by a letter from Arbuthnot. "I make it my last
request," wrote his beloved physician, now sinking fast under the
diseases that brought him to the grave, "that you continue that noble
disdain and abhorrence of vice, which you seem so naturally endued with,
but still with a due regard to your own safety; and study more to reform
than to chastise, though the one often cannot be effected without the
other." "I took very kindly your advice," Pope replied, "... and it has
worked so much upon me considering the time and state you gave it in,
that I determined to address to you one of my epistles written by
piecemeal many years, and which I have now made haste to put together;
wherein the question is stated, what were, and are my motives of
writing, the objections to them, and my answers." In other words, the
'Epistle to Arbuthnot' which we see that Pope was working over at the
date of this letter, August 25, 1734, was, in the old-fashioned phrase,
his 'Apologia', his defense of his life and work.
As usual, Pope's account of his work cannot be taken literally. A
comparison of dates shows that the 'Epistle' instead of having been
"written by piecemeal many years" is essentially the work of one
impulse, the desire to vindicate his character, his parents, and his
work from the aspersions cast upon them by Lord Hervey and Lady Mary.
The exceptions to this statement are two, or possibly three, passages
which we know to have been written earlier and worked into the poem with
The first of these is the famous portrait of Addison as Atticus. I have
already spoken of the reasons that led to Pope's breach with Addison
(Introduction, p. xv); and there is good reason to believe that this
portrait sprang directly from Pope's bitter feeling toward the elder
writer for his preference of Tickell's translation. The lines were
certainly written in Addison's lifetime, though we may be permitted to
doubt whether Pope really did send them to him, as he once asserted.
They did not appear in print, however, till four years after Addison's
death, when they were printed apparently without Pope's consent in a
volume of miscellanies. It is interesting to note that in this form the
full name "Addison" appeared in the last line. Some time later Pope
acknowledged the verses and printed them with a few changes in his
'Miscellany' of 1727, substituting the more decorous "A---n" for the
"Addison" of the first text. Finally he worked over the passage again
and inserted it, for a purpose that will be shown later, in the 'Epistle
It is not worth while to discuss here the justice or injustice of this
famous portrait. In fact, the question hardly deserves to be raised. The
passage is admittedly a satire, and a satire makes no claim to be a just
and final sentence. Admitting, as we must, that Pope was in the wrong in
his quarrel with Addison, we may well admit that he has not done him
full justice. But we must equally admit that the picture is drawn with
wonderful skill, that praise and blame are deftly mingled, and that the
satire is all the more severe because of its frank admission of the
great man's merits. And it must also be said that Pope has hit off some
of the faults of Addison's character,--his coldness, his
self-complacency, his quiet sneer, his indulgence of flattering
fools--in a way that none of his biographers have done. That Pope was
not blind to Addison's chief merit as an author is fully shown by a
passage in a later poem, less well known than the portrait of Atticus,
but well worth quotation. After speaking of the licentiousness of
literature in Restoration days, he goes on to say:
In our own (excuse some courtly stains)
No whiter page than Addison's remains,
He from the taste obscene reclaims our youth,
And sets the passions on the side of truth,
Forms the soft bosom with the gentlest art,
And pours each human virtue in the heart.
'Epistle to Augustus, II'. 215-220.
If Pope was unjust to Addison the man, he at least made amends to
Addison the moralist.
The second passage that may have had an independent existence before the
'Epistle' was conceived is the portrait of Bufo, ll. 229-247. There is
reason to believe that this attack was first aimed at Bubb Doddington, a
courtier of Hervey's class, though hardly of so finished a type, to whom
Pope alludes as Bubo in l. 278. When Pope was working on the 'Epistle',
however, he saw an opportunity to vindicate his own independence of
patronage by a satiric portrait of the great Maecenas of his younger
days, Lord Halifax, who had ventured some foolish criticisms on Pope's
translation of the 'Iliad', and seems to have expected that the poet
should dedicate the great work to him in return for an offer of a
pension which he made and Pope declined. There is no reason to believe
that Pope cherished any very bitter resentment toward Halifax. On the
contrary, in a poem published some years after the 'Epistle' he boasted
of his friendship with Halifax, naming him outright, and adding in a
note that the noble lord was no less distinguished by his love of
letters than his abilities in Parliament.
The third passage, a tender reference to his mother's age and weakness,
was written at least as early as 1731,--Mrs. Pope died in 1733,--and was
incorporated in the 'Epistle' to round it off with a picture of the poet
absorbed in his filial duties at the very time that Hervey and Lady Mary
were heaping abuse upon him, as a monster devoid of all good qualities.
And now having discussed the various insertions in the 'Epistle', let us
look for a moment at the poem as a whole, and see what is the nature of
Pope's defense of himself and of his reply to his enemies.
It is cast in the form of a dialogue between the poet himself and
Arbuthnot. Pope begins by complaining of the misfortunes which his
reputation as a successful man of letters has brought upon him. He is a
mark for all the starving scribblers of the town who besiege him for
advice, recommendations, and hard cash. Is it not enough to make a man
write 'Dunciads?' Arbuthnot warns him against the danger of making foes
(ll. 101- 104), but Pope replies that his flatterers are even more
intolerable than his open enemies. And with a little outburst of
impatience, such as we may well imagine him to have indulged in during
his later years, he cries:
Why did I write? What sin to me unknown
Dipt me in ink, my parents' or my own?
and begins with l. 125 his poetical autobiography. He tells of his first
childish efforts, of poetry taken up "to help me thro' this long disease
my life," and then goes on to speak of the noble and famous friends who
had praised his early work and urged him to try his fortune in the open
field of letters. He speaks of his first poems, the 'Pastorals' and
'Windsor Forest', harmless as Hervey's own verses, and tells how even
then critics like Dennis fell foul of him. Rival authors hated him, too,
especially such pilfering bards as Philips. This he could endure, but
the coldness and even jealousy of such a man as Addison--and here
appears the famous portrait of Atticus--was another matter, serious
enough to draw tears from all lovers of mankind.
Passing on (l. 213) to the days of his great success when his 'Homer'
was the talk of the town, he asserts his ignorance of all the arts of
puffery and his independence of mutual admiration societies. He left
those who wished a patron to the tender mercies of Halifax, who fed fat
on flattery and repaid his flatterers merely with a good word or a seat
at his table. After all, the poet could afford to lose the society of
Bufo's toadies while such a friend as Gay was left him (l. 254).
After an eloquent expression of his wish for independence (ll. 261-270),
he goes on to speak of the babbling friends who insist that he is always
meditating some new satire, and persist in recognizing some wretched
poetaster's lampoon as his. And so by a natural transition Pope comes to
speak of his own satiric poems and their aims. He says, and rightly,
that he has never attacked virtue or innocence. He reserves his lash for
those who trample on their neighbors and insult "fallen worth," for cold
or treacherous friends, liars, and babbling blockheads. Let Sporus
(Hervey) tremble (l. 303). Arbuthnot interposes herewith an ejaculation
of contemptuous pity; is it really worth the poet's while to castigate
such a slight thing as Hervey, that "mere white curd"? But Pope has
suffered too much from Hervey's insolence to stay his hand, and he now
proceeds to lay on the lash with equal fury and precision, drawing blood
at every stroke, until we seem to see the wretched fop writhing and
shrieking beneath the whip. And then with a magnificent transition he
goes on (ll. 332-337) to draw a portrait of himself. Here, he says in
effect, is the real man that Sporus has so maligned. The portrait is
idealized, of course; one could hardly expect a poet speaking in his own
defense in reply to venomous attacks to dissect his own character with
the stern impartiality of the critics of the succeeding century, but it
is in all essentials a portrait at once impressive and true.
Arbuthnot again interrupts (l. 358) to ask why he spares neither the
poor nor the great in his satire, and Pope replies that he hates knaves
in every rank of life. Yet by nature, he insists, he is of an easy
temper, more readily deceived than angered, and in a long catalogue of
instances he illustrates his own patience and good nature (ll. 366-385).
It must be frankly confessed that these lines do not ring true. Pope
might in the heat of argument convince himself that he was humble and
slow to wrath, but he has never succeeded in convincing his readers.
With l. 382 Pope turns to the defense of his family, which, as we have
seen, his enemies had abused as base and obscure. He draws a noble
picture of his dead father, "by nature honest, by experience wise"
simple, modest, and temperate, and passes to the description of himself
watching over the last years of his old mother, his sole care to
Explore the thought, explain the asking eye
And keep a while one parent from the sky.
If the length of days which Heaven has promised those who honor father
and mother fall to his lot, may Heaven preserve him such a friend as
Arbuthnot to bless those days. And Arbuthnot closes the dialogue with a
word which is meant, I think, to sum up the whole discussion and to
pronounce the verdict that Pope's life had been good and honorable.
Whether that blessing  be deny'd or giv'n,
Thus far was right, the rest belongs to Heav'n.
It seems hardly necessary to point out the merits of so patent a
masterpiece as the 'Epistle to Arbuthnot'. In order to enjoy it to the
full, indeed, one must know something of the life of the author, of the
circumstances under which it was written, and, in general, of the social
and political life of the time. But even without this special knowledge
no reader can fail to appreciate the marvelous ease, fluency, and
poignancy of this admirable satire. There is nothing like it in our
language except Pope's other satires, and of all his satires it is, by
common consent, easily the first. It surpasses the satiric poetry of
Dryden in pungency and depth of feeling as easily as it does that of
Byron in polish and artistic restraint. Its range of tone is remarkable.
At times it reads like glorified conversation, as in the opening lines;
at times it flames and quivers with emotion, as in the assault on
Hervey, or in the defense of his parents. Even in the limited field of
satiric portraiture there is a wide difference between the manner in
which Pope has drawn the portrait of Atticus and that of Sporus. The
latter is a masterpiece of pure invective; no allowances are made, no
lights relieve the darkness of the shadows, the portrait is frankly
inhuman. It is the product of an unrestrained outburst of bitter
passion. The portrait of Atticus, on the other hand, was, as we know,
the work of years. It is the product not of an outburst of fury, but of
a slowly growing and intense dislike, which, while recognizing the
merits of its object, fastened with peculiar power upon his faults and
weaknesses. The studious restraint which controls the satirist's hand
makes it only the more effective. We know well enough that the portrait
is not a fair one, but we are forced to remind ourselves of this at
every step to avoid the spell which Pope's apparent impartiality casts
over our judgments. The whole passage reads not so much like the heated
plea of an advocate as the measured summing-up of a judge, and the last
couplet falls on our ears with the inevitability of a final sentence.
But the peculiar merit of the 'Epistle to Arbuthnot' consists neither in
the ease and polish of its style, nor in the vigor and effectiveness of
its satire, but in the insight it gives us into the heart and mind of
the poet himself. It presents an ideal picture of Pope, the man and the
author, of his life, his friendships, his love of his parents, his
literary relationships and aims. And it is quite futile to object, as
some critics have done, that this picture is not exactly in accordance
with the known facts of Pope's life. No great man can be tried and
judged on the mere record of his acts. We must know the circumstances
that shaped these, and the motives that inspired them. A man's ideals,
if genuinely held and honestly followed, are perhaps even more valuable
contributions to our final estimate of the man himself than all he did
or left undone.
All I could never be,
All, men ignored in me,
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.
And in the 'Epistle to Arbuthnot' we recognize in Pope ideals of
independence, of devotion to his art, of simple living, of loyal
friendship, and of filial piety which shine in splendid contrast with
the gross, servile, and cynically immoral tone of the age and society in
which he lived.
[Footnote 1: i. e. the blessing of Arbuthnot's future companionship,
for which Pope (l. 413) had just prayed.]
Dr. John Arbuthnot, one of Pope's most intimate friends, had been
physician to Queen Anne, and was a man of letters as well as a doctor.
Arbuthnot, Pope, and Swift had combined to get out a volume of
Miscellanies in 1737. His health was failing rapidly at this time, and
he died a month or so after the appearance of this 'Epistle'.
John Searle, Pope's faithful servant.
a lunatic asylum in London in Pope's day. Notice how Pope mentions, in
the same breath, Bedlam and Parnassus, the hill of the Muses which poets
might well be supposed to haunt.
the groves surrounding Pope's villa.
see Introduction [grotto].
'10 the chariot:'
the coach in which Pope drove.
the boat in which Pope was rowed upon the Thames.
'13 the Mint:'
a district in London where debtors were free from arrest. As they could
not be arrested anywhere on Sunday, Pope represents them as taking that
day to inflict their visits on him.
probably a certain Eusden, who had some pretensions to letters, but who
ruined himself by drink.
a law clerk.
write legal papers.
An imaginary portrait of a mad poet who keeps on writing verses even in
his cell in Bedlam. Pope may have been thinking of Lee, a dramatist of
Dryden's day who was confined for a time in this asylum.
Arthur Moore, a member of Parliament for some years and well known in
London society. His "giddy son," James Moore, who took the name of Moore
Smythe, dabbled in letters and was a bitter enemy of Pope.
Robert Lord Walpole, whose wife deserted him in 1734. Horace Walpole
speaks of her as half mad.
Pope's counsel to delay the publication of the works read to him is
borrowed from Horace: "nonumque prematur in annum" '(Ars Poetica, 388).'
like Grub Street, a haunt of poor authors at this time.
'43 before Term ends:'
before the season is over; that is, as soon as the poem is written.
'48 a Prologue:'
for a play. Of course a prologue by the famous Mr. Pope would be of
great value to a poor and unknown dramatist.
the name of a foolish poet mentioned by Horace. Pope uses it here for
his enemy Welsted, mentioned in l. 373.--'his Grace:' the title given a
Duke in Great Britain. The Duke here referred to is said to be the Duke
of Argyle, one of the most influential of the great Whig lords.
a notorious publisher of the day, and an enemy of Pope. The implication
is that if Pope will not grant Pitholeon's request, the latter will
accept Curll's invitation and concoct a new libel against the poet.
Pope was one of the few men of letters of his day who had not written a
play, and he was at this time on bad terms with certain actors.
Bernard Lintot, the publisher of Pope's translation of Homer.
'66 go snacks':
share the profits. Pope represents the unknown dramatist as trying to
bribe him to give a favorable report of the play.
an old legend tells us that Midas was presented with a pair of ass's
ears by an angry god whose music he had slighted. His barber, or,
Chaucer says, his queen, discovered the change which Midas had tried to
conceal, and unable to keep the secret whispered it to the reeds in the
river, who straightway spread the news abroad.
With this line Arbuthnot is supposed to take up the conversation. This
is indicated here and elsewhere by the letter A.
see Introduction, p. xviii.
a name borrowed from Juvenal to denote a foolish poet. Pope uses it here
for some conceited dramatist who thinks none the less of himself because
his tragedy is rejected with shouts of laughter.
Explain the exact meaning of this line.
a stock name for a bad poet. See note on 'Essay on Criticism', l. 34.
Ambrose Philips, author among other things of a set of 'Pastorals' that
appeared in the same volume with Pope, 1709. Pope and he soon became
bitter enemies. He was patronized by a Bishop Boulter.
Here as elsewhere Pope uses the name of the Greek poetess for his enemy,
Lady Mary Wortley Montague.
a wretched street in London, inhabited in Pope's day by hack writers,
most of whom were his enemies.
(see note to l. 53) had printed a number of Pope's letters without the
poet's consent some years before this poem was written.
Pope here describes the flatterers who were foolish enough to pay him
personal compliments. They compare him to Horace who was short like
Pope, though fat, and who seems to have suffered from colds; also to
Alexander, one of whose shoulders was higher than the other, and to
Ovid, whose other name, Naso, might indicate that long noses were a
characteristic feature of his family. Pope really had large and
beautiful eyes. Maro, l. 122, is Virgil.
With this line Pope begins an account of his life as a poet. For his
precocity, see Introduction, p. xii.
'friend, not Wife:'
the reference is, perhaps, to Martha Blount, Pope's friend, and may have
been meant as a contradiction of his reported secret marriage to her.
'132 to bear:'
to endure the pains and troubles of an invalid's life.
George Granville, Lord Lansdowne, a poet and patron of letters to whom
Pope had dedicated his 'Windsor Forest.'
see note on 'Essay on Criticism,' l. 729.
Sir Samuel Garth, like Arbuthnot, a doctor, a man of letters, and an
early friend of Pope.
Charles Talbot, Duke of Shrewsbury; John, Lord Somers; and John
Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham; all leading statesmen and patrons of
literature in Queen Anne's day.
Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, an intimate friend of Pope.
'139 St. John:'
Bolingbroke. For Pope's relations with him, see introduction to the
'Essay on Man,' p. 116.
Gilbert Burnet and John Oldmixon had written historical works from the
Whig point of view. Roger Cooke, a now forgotten writer, had published a
'Detection of the Court and State of England.' Pope in a note on this
line calls them all three authors of secret and scandalous history.
The reference is to Pope's early descriptive poems, the 'Pastorals' and
'147 gentle Fanny's:'
a sneer at Lord Hervey's verses. See the introduction to this poem, p.
a critic of the time who had repeatedly attacked Pope. The poet told
Spence that he had heard Addison gave Gildon ten pounds to slander him.
see note on 'Essay on Criticism.' l. 270.
'156 kiss'd the rod:'
Pope was sensible enough to profit by the criticisms even of his
enemies. He corrected several passages in the 'Essay on Criticism' which
Dennis had properly found fault with.
the most famous scholar of Pope's day. Pope disliked him because of his
criticism of the poet's translation of the 'Iliad', "good verses, but
not Homer." The epithet "slashing" refers to Bentley's edition of
'Paradise Lost' in which he altered and corrected the poet's text to
suit his own ideas.
Lewis Theobald (pronounced Tibbald), a scholar who had attacked Pope's
edition of Shakespeare. Pope calls him "piddling" because of his
scrupulous attention to details.
'177 The Bard':
Philips, see note on l. 98. Pope claimed that Philips's 'Pastorals' were
plagiarized from Spenser, and other poets. Philips, also, translated
some 'Persian Tales' for the low figure of half a crown apiece.
'187 bade translate':
suggested that they translate other men's work, since they could write
nothing valuable of their own.
a poetaster of the generation before Pope. He is remembered as the part
author of a doggerel version of the Psalms.
For a discussion of this famous passage, see introduction to the
'Epistle' p. 130.
'196 the Turk':
it was formerly the practice for a Turkish monarch when succeeding to
the throne to have all his brothers murdered so as to do away with
'199 faint praise':
Addison was hearty enough when he cared to praise his friends. Pope is
thinking of the coldness with which Addison treated his 'Pastorals' as
compared to those of Philips.
note the old-fashioned pronunciation to rhyme with "besieged."
an unmistakable allusion to Addison's tragedy in which the famous Roman
appears laying down the law to the remnants of the Senate.
students of law at the "Temple" in London who prided themselves on their
good taste in literature. A body of them came on purpose to applaud
'Cato' on the first night.
'211-212 laugh ... weep':
explain the reason for these actions.
Addison's name was given in the first version of this passage. Then it
was changed to "A---n." Addison had been mentioned in the 'Spectator'
(No. 150) under the name of Atticus as "in every way one of the greatest
geniuses the age has produced."
'213 rubric on the walls':
Lintot, Pope's old publisher, used to stick up the titles of new books
in red letters on the walls of his shop.
'214 with claps':
with clap-bills, posters.
hot from the press.
George II, king of England at this time. His indifference to literature
the picture of a proud but grudging patron of letters which follows was
first meant for Bubb Doddington, a courtier and patron of letters at the
time the poem was written. In order to connect it more closely with the
time of which he was writing, Pope added ll. 243-246, which pointed to
Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax. Halifax was himself a poet and
affected to be a great patron of poetry, but his enemies accused him of
only giving his clients "good words and good dinners." Pope tells an
amusing story of Montague's comments on his translation of the 'Iliad'
(Spence, 'Anecdotes', p. 134). But Halifax subscribed for ten copies of
the translation, so that Pope, at least, could not complain of his lack
the kingdom of poets.
His name was coupled with that of Horace as a poet and critic.
'234 Pindar without a head:'
some headless statue which Bufo insisted was a genuine classic figure of
Pindar, the famous Greek lyric poet.
'237 his seat:'
his country seat.
'242 paid in kind:'
What does this phrase mean?
Dryden died in 1700. He had been poor and obliged to work hard for a
living in his last years, but hardly had to starve. Halifax offered to
pay the expenses of his funeral and contribute five hundred pounds for a
monument, and Pope not unreasonably suggests that some of this bounty
might have been bestowed on Dryden in his lifetime.
When a politician wants a writer to put in a day's work in defending
him. Walpole, for example, who cared nothing for poetry, spent large
sums in retaining writers to defend him in the journals and pamphlets of
John Gay, the author of some very entertaining verses, was an intimate
friend of Pope. On account of some supposed satirical allusions his
opera 'Polly' was refused a license, and when his friends, the Duke and
Duchess of Queensberry (see l. 260) solicited subscriptions for it in
the palace, they were driven from the court. Gay died in 1732, and Pope
wrote an epitaph for his tomb in Westminster Abbey. It is to this that
he alludes in l. 258.
Balbus is said to mean the Earl of Kinnoul, at one time an acquaintance
of Pope and Swift.
Sir William Yonge, a Whig politician whom Pope disliked. He seems to
have written occasional verses. Bubo is Bubo Doddington (see note on l
In the Fourth Moral Essay, published in 1731 as an 'Epistle to the Earl
of Burlington', Pope had given a satirical description of a nobleman's
house and grounds, adorned and laid out at vast expense, but in bad
taste. Certain features of this description were taken from Canons, the
splendid country place of the Duke of Chandos, and the duke was at once
identified by a scandal-loving public with the Timon of the poem. In the
description Pope speaks of the silver bell which calls worshipers to
Timon's chapel, and of the soft Dean preaching there "who never mentions
Hell to ears polite." In this passage of the 'Epistle to Arbuthnot' he
is protesting against the people who swore that they could identify the
bell and the Dean as belonging to the chapel at Canons.
a favorite of Nero, used here for Lord Hervey. See introduction to this
poem, p. 128.
'304 ass's milk':
Hervey was obliged by bad health to keep a strict diet, and a cup of
ass's milk was his daily drink.
'308 painted child':
Hervey was accustomed to paint his face like a woman.
Pope is thinking of Milton's striking description of Satan "squat like a
toad" by the ear of the sleeping Eve ('Paradise Lost', IV, 800). In this
passage "Eve" refers to Queen Caroline with whom Hervey was on intimate
terms. It is said that he used to have a seat in the queen's hunting
chaise "where he sat close behind her perched at her ear."
'322 now master up, now miss':
Pope borrowed this telling phrase from a pamphlet against Hervey written
by Pulteney, a political opponent, in which the former is called "a
pretty little master-miss."
'326 the board':
the Council board where Hervey sat as member of the Privy Council.
An allusion to the old pictures of the serpent in Eden with a snake's
body and a woman's, or angel's, face.
talents, natural gifts.
An allusion to Pope's abandoning the imaginative topics to his early
poems, as the 'Pastorals' and 'The Rape of the Lock', and turning to
didactic verse as in the 'Essay on Man', and the 'Moral Epistles'.
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