Alexander Pope 1688-1744

He was a pragmatist, a flawed egotist who sought superiority through associating with elderly notables. He claimed a nobler ancestry than he had; dated his poems earlier than they were written to attest to his genius; gathered the letters he had written to others; rewrote them and changed not only dates, times, places but the person to whom they were originally written even fabricating some that were never sent. In London, still in his teens, he made it a point to hang about in Will’s coffee-house and Button’s coffee-house where he might exchange wit with influential literarians. These flaws prompted Thomas DeQuincey to write: “Alexander Pope, the most brilliant of all wits who have at any period applied themselves to the poetic treatment of human character what is picturesque, or arresting what is fugitive.” “He is a poet of an age in which the creative art of the Elizabethans, and their happy voice of song, was exchanged for satire and wit.” John Dennis 1801

The career of this eighteenth century poet, Alexander Pope, has three distinct spheres of influence. We prefer the term “spheres of influence” in recognition of Palmer’s view of Pope “He must always see himself through the eyes of somebody else” and William Hazlitt’s “he judged of the feelings of others by his own.” The first or pastoral period, 1698 to 1712, published Windsor Forest and Essay on Criticism. There were three influences: William Wycherley, comic dramatist of the Restoration, William Walsh, who suggested the translation of Homer’s Iliad, and Sir William Trumbull, English statesman, who was impressed by Pope’s translation of the Iliad (1715) and encouraged him to translate the whole of Homer's works. Pope’s first pastoral, Spring or Damon, was dedicated to him.

“Cease to contend, for, Daphnis, I decree,
The bowl to Strephon, and the lamb to thee:
Blest Swains, whose Nymphs in ev'ry grace excel;
Blest Nymphs, whose Swains those graces sing so well!
Now rise, and haste to yonder woodbine bow'rs,
A soft retreat from sudden vernal show'rs,
The turf with rural dainties shall be crown'd,
While op'ning blooms diffuse their sweets around.
For see! the gath'ring flocks to shelter tend,
And from the Pleiads fruitful show'rs descend.” Damon

Pope’s pastorals were written at the age of sixteen and were the outcome of his friendship with exceedingly older individuals, most were at or near sixty. The four pastorals: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, are imitations of the three chief pastoralists: Spenser, Virgil, and Theocritus.

In the second or climactic sphere, roughly 1712 to 1728, Pope fell under the influence of Jonathan Swift. He wrote the mock-heroic The Rape of the Lock and Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot. Of the latter poem Pope wrote of him ”as good a doctor as any man for one that is ill, and a better doctor for one that is well.”

The final or anti-climactic period from 1728 to 1744 belongs to Bolingbroke and First Epistle of the First Book of Horace. At this time Pope produced essays, moral and satiric, particularly An Essay on Man and at age forty, his tour de force The Dunciad, a bitter satire with a grand ending:

“Lo! Thy dread empire Chaos is restor’d:
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
They hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall.

But first some general comments: “Petty in subject, commonplace in thought, loose and monotonous in treatment” were phrases used by critics to describe the poetry of Alexander Pope. If William Cowper is right that “poetry is a mere mechanic art and every warbler had his tune by heart”. Popes “tune” is the closed couplet, ten syllable iambic stanza, this meter and rhyme comprised nine tenths of his work. He produced numerous faults in grammatical construction. For example in Abelard and Eloise he writes:

“There died the best of passions, Love and fame.” which Hazlitt tells us is not a legitimate ellipsis “fame is a not a passion, love is.”

His use of figurative language errs on the side of rime over reason. Example: In hyperbole which, by rule of use, must not contain an absurd and contradictory statement. Pope writes:

“When first young Maro in his boundless mind
A work t’outlast immortal Rome designed.” An Essay on Criticism

His parallel constructions are usually well done:

“Hang o’er the box and hover round the ring”
“When music softens and when dancing fires” Rape of the Lock

His use of the antithesis errs on the side of the extreme:

“Forget her prayers or miss a masquerade”
“Or lose her heart or necklace at a ball.” Rape of the Lock

In use of the anticlimax, from the sublime to the absurd:

“Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast
When husbands or when lapdogs breathe their last.” Rape of the Lock

“Go teach eternal wisdom how to rule,
Then drop into thyself and be a fool” An Essay on Man

“When late I attempted your pity to move,
What made you so deaf to my prayers?
Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love,
But, why did you kick me down stairs?”

As to poetic diction Pope’s epithets in his Essay on Criticism he writes to the fact that “the necessities of rhyme lead to the unceasing repetition of stereotyped phrases and locutions.”

Pope’s epithets range from noun plus noun:
“monarch-savage” Odysseus IV; “fury-passion” Epistle III

Noun plus present participle:

“love-darting eyes”, “laughter-loving dame”, “heart-piercing anguish” Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady

Compound noun plus past participles:

“moss-grown domes” Elosia and Abelard, “cloud-topped hills” Essay on Man, “sea-girt isles” Iliad III, “heaven-directed spire” Epistle III

The largest category is the “adjective or adjective used adverbally joined to a present or past participle.”

“fresh-blooming hope” Eloisa; “sliver-quivering rills” Epistle IV; “soft-trickling waters” Iliad XV; “softly-stealing space of time” Odyssey XV

“To isles of fragrance, lily-silver’d vales
Diffusing languor in the panting gales;
To lands of singing or of dancing slaves
Love-whisp’ring woods and lute-resounding waves. Dunciad

As far as content, his poetry “lacks emotion, passion, and originality.” The complete opposite of what Wordsworth requires of good poetry “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.” If he is honored not for the content of his work then what are the characteristics that place him as a major player in shaping the development of the English literature movement and as a model for all future poetry? Of his physical characteristics Owen Ruffhead (1769) tells that his mother was forty-six at his birth which today we know may have contributed to Alexander’s many afflictions. This is how Sir Joshua Reynolds describes him at maturity:

“He was about four feet, six inches high, very hump-backed and deformed...He had a large and very fine eye, and a long handsome nose; his mouth had those peculiar marks which are always found in the mouths of crooked persons; and the muscles which ran across the cheek were so strongly marked that they seemed like little chords.”

“If Pope’s social advantages were few his physical charms were even less. Only four feet six in height, he was already a sufferer from Pott’s disease, ‘the little Alexander whom the women laugh at,’ and in middle age was to become really repulsive,...so weak as to stand in perpetual need of female attendance; extremely sensible of cold, so that he wore a kind of fur doublet, under a shirt of a very coarse warm linen with fine sleeves. When he rose, he was invested in a bodice made of stiff canvas, being scarce able to hold himself erect till they were laced, and he then put on a flannel waistcoat. One side was contracted. His legs were so slender, that he enlarged their bulk with three pairs of stockings, which were drawn on and off by the maid; for he was not able to dress or undress himself, and neither went to bed nor rose without help. His weakness made it very difficult for him to be clean. His hair had fallen almost all away...” H. A Auden

In An Epistle to Dr. Abuthnot Pope describes his physical infirmities:

“There are, who to my person pay their court,
I cough like Horace, and tho’ lean, am short,
Ammon’s great Son one shoulder had too high,
Such Ovid’s nose, and ‘Sir! You have an Eye’
Go on obliging Creatures, make me see
All that disgrac’d my Betters, met in me.”

In Immitations of Horace Pope wrote:
“Weak tho’ I am of limb, and short of sight,
Far from a Lynx, and not a Giant quite,
I’ll do what Mead and Cheselden advise,
To keep these limbs, and to preserve these eyes.”

Throughout his life Pope endured the unkind word of satirists who did not spare the emphasis on his deficient physique. Here is a poem from the anonymous work Martiniad, where Pope is referenced as the founder of the Scriblerus Club:

“At Twickenham, chronicles remark,
That there dwelt a little parish cleark,
A peevish wight, full fond of fame,
And Martin Scibbler was his name,0
Meagre and wan and steeple-crown’d,
His visage long and shoulders round;
His crippled corpse two spindle-pegs
Support , instead of human legs;
His shrivelled skin’s of dusky grain,
A cricket’s voice and monkey’s brain.”

And this from James Thomson’s Castle of Indolence, though friendly but still an added grotesquerie:

“He came, the bard, a little Druidwight,
Of wither’d aspect; but his eyes keen,
With sweetness mix’d. In russet brown bedlight,”

Two factors interfered with his life prospects. The first was his religion, as a Catholic no avenues of education were open to him, the second was his affliction. As to his lack of formal education: "He thought himself the better," Spence says, "in some respects for not having had a regular education. He (as he observed in particular) read originally for the sense, whereas we are taught for so many years to read only for words." Then came French and Italian, probably in a similar way. He read translations of the Greek, Latin, French and Italian poets. So by the age of twelve he was determined to make up in brain power what he lacked in physical power.
He had decided on poetry but not just poetry but a new kind of poetry; a kind that had not been written ever before; a kind that the public was ready to devour. Today we would call it “supply and demand”. For the answer he turned to a recent acquaintance, William Walsh, who replied “English poetry has accomplished pretty much everything else except correctness. Whoever could introduce that would find a place.” Of this occasion Pope wrote: "About fifteen, I got acquainted with Mr. Walsh. He used to encourage me much, and used to tell me that there was one way left of excelling; for, though we had several great poets, we never had any one great poet that was correct, and he desired me to make that my study and aim." (Spence, p. 280).

In the Earl Lectures of 1917 George Herbert Palmer writes:

“The metaphysical poets, the men of Donne’s school poured forth in profusion whatever came into their heads, regardless for the most part of lucidity, order, or rule. Herbert is about the only one among them who revised his text, and he did not do it in the interest of clearness...If after setting down what in our first heat we think we have to say, we go over and correct it subsequently, we may reach what years later Wordsworth demanded of poetry, ‘emotion recalled in tranquility.’”

Pope was given his focus but what should be the form? At twelve, while translating Horace’s Beatus ille, in “the Quiet Life” he discovered that the couplet could be corrected until it formed the perfect self-contained expression.

From then on Pope wrote them on slips of paper as they came to mind to be later fitted into more lengthy poems, prompting critics to claim that much of his work seems disconnected.

We now consider the characteristics of the writings of Alexander Pope.

Our first characteristic: terse, clarity, plainness, correctness of thought.

“Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old.
It is the rust we value not the gold.” Horace Epistle II

Swift on his sooty pinions flits the Gnome,
And in a vapuur reach'd the dismal dome.
No cheerful breeze this sullen region knows,
The dreaded East is all the wind that blows.
Here in a grotto shelter'd close from air,
And screen'd in shades from day's detested glare,
She sighs for ever on her pensive bed,
Pain at her side, and Megrim at her head.
Two handmaids wait the throne; alike in place,
But diff'ring far in figure and in face.
Here stood Ill-nature, like an ancient maid,
Her wrinkled form in black and white array'd!
With store of prayers for mornings, nights, and noons,
Her hand is fill'd; her bosom with lampoons.
There Affectation, with a sickly mien,
Shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen,
Practis'd to lisp, and hang the head aside,
Faints into airs, and languishes with pride;
On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe,
Wrapt in a gown for sickness and for show.
The fair ones feel such maladies as these,
When each new night-dress gives a new disease.

On the revival of Spenserian imitations of archaic and obsolete words:

“But who is he in closet close y-pent
Of sober face with learned dust besprent?
Right well mine eyes arede the myster wight
On parchment scraps y-fed and Wormius hight.” Dunciad Book III

Where’er you find the cooling western breeze,
... it whispers through the trees:,
Of crystal streams with pleasing murmur creep
The reader;s threaten’d, not in vain, with sleep. Essay on Criticism

“In words as fashions the same rule will hole,
Alike fantastic if too new or old:
Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.” An Essay on Criticism Part II

Comments from critics, colleagues and himself.

Where can you show among your names of note
So much to copy and so much to quote?
And where in fine in all our English verse
A style more trenchant and a sense more terse?” Austin Dobson

“Pope followed him (Dryden) with the same intellectual kind of poetry. But he fined and refined everything: verse, manner, thought, and style...The “natural man” which had descended to Dryden from the Elizabethans was made by Pope into the “artificial man.” Brooke Naturalism in English Poetry

“...the question of the poetic use of archaic and obsolete words naturally came into prominence. Pope, as might be expected, is to be found among the opposition”

“Then Pope, as harmony, itself exact,
In verse well disciplin’d complete, compact,
Gave virtue and morality a trace,
That, quite elipsing pleasure’s painted face,
Levied a tax of wonder and applause,
Ev’n on the fools that trampled on their laws.
But he (his musical Finesse was such,
So nice his ear, so delicate his touch)_
Made poetry a mere mechanic art;
And ev’ry warbler has his tune by heart. William Cowper Table Talk

Johnson criticizes Pope for his plain, didactic style as in “harshness of diction”, “levity without elegance” in Lives of Poets Vol III.

“Mr. Pope...is, I believe, the most elegant, the most correct, and, what is much more, the most harmonious poet that England has had. He has reduced the harsh blare of the of the English trumpet to the sweet sound of the flute: one can translate him, because he is extremely clear, and because his subjects are for the most part...belong to all nations.” Voltaire Letters Philosophiques, on Lettres Anglaises XXII.

“It was also recognized by the versifiers that the indispensable polish and correctness of the decasyllabic line could only be secured by a mechanical use of epithets in certain positions.”

“If the ideas are mediocre, the art of expressing them is truly marvelous...Every word is effective; every passage must be read slowly; every epithet is an epitome; a more condensed style was never written...Never was familiar knowledge expressed in words more effective, in style more condensed...refined, ornate, antithetical, pointed, terse, regular, graceful musical.” H.A. Taine

“Pope has regularly crowded the utmost thought into the smallest space. This is the principle of his method. How many judicious and pointed remarks, eternally true, do I glean when reading his works, and how they are expressed in a brief, concise, elegant manner, once for all!” St. Beuve

“The charm of Pope’s best passages...is due to the intellectual pleasure given by his adoit and stimulating manner of producing his ideas and by the astonishing exactitude and propriety of his phrase. When it is all summed up, we many not be much wiser, but we are sure to be much the brighter and alerter.” Edmund Gosse

Our second characteristic: coldness, coarseness, artificiality.

“To build, to plant, whatever you intend,
To rear the column, or the arch to bend,
To swell the terrace, or to sink the grot;
In all, let Nature never be forgot...
Enjoy them you! Villario can no more;
Tired of the scene pastures and fountains yield,
He finds at last he better loves a field.” Epistle IV

“Great Nature spoke; observant men obey’d;
Cities were built, societies were made;
Here rose a little state; another near
Grew by like means, and join’d through love or fear.
Did here the trees with ruddier burthens bend,
And there the streams in purer rills descend?
What war could ravish, commerce could bestow,
And he returned a friend who came a foe,” Essay on Man

“Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.” Ode on Solitude

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself

“Alexander Pope made himself absolute master of this form of verse [heroic couplet]...a distinguished critic designates as the “artificial conventional school of verse” with its ideals of emotional reserve and mental equipoise, its methods of formal correctness, point, and finish.” Thomas Babington Macauley Essays

“Pope’s didactic poetry adopted a feeble philosophy, not his own; and it was put into verse more exquisite than fitted the philosophy, or than it deserved. There was but little personal force behind it, little personal conviction.” Stopford Brooke Naturalism in English Poetry

“The Pope style” failed to produce real poetry - poetry of infinite and universal appeal, animated with personal feeling and emotion, not merely because of its preference for the generic rather than the typical, but because its practitioners for the most part lacked those qualities of intense imagination in which alone the highest art can have its birth.” William Cowper Prose Works

“Natural description was an artificial trick, not a passionate record of feeling. Even the Nature he described was itself artifical. He painted gardens and parks laid out in imitation of wild Nature. When he was young, the gardens were formal...imitated the formal gardens of England. When he was middle-aged...all the streams meandered like serpents, cliffs were built up, down which waterfalls fell; little groves and solitary trees hung over deep pools which had been dug out and rocks covered with moss which had been inserted. While it pretended to be nature, it was a triumph of artifice...He paints Villario who had spent years in making a park in imitation of Nature, and who was sick of the whole thing.” Brooke, Naturalism in English Poetry

“When Pope tries to be pathetic he is obviously artificial. Like the poet his poetry is alwasy self-conscious. Never for a moment can he lose himself in the emotion of his subject. This self-consciousness, with its accompanying atmosphere of aritificiality, mars the concluding verses of his Elegy.” The Citadel of Reason, The Augustans. Oswald Doughty

Poets themselves must fall like those they sung,
Deaf the praised ear, and mute the tuneful tongue,
Ev’n he, whose soul now melts in mournful lays,
Shall shortly want the gen’rous tear he pays;
Then from his closing eyes thy form shall part,
And the last pang shall tear thee from his heart,
Life’s idle business at one gasp be o’er,
The muse forgot, and thou beloved no more!

His local poem Windsor Forest was where Pope grew up, unfortunately there was more about men than trees. As Wordsworth pointed out there were only one or two adjectives in the poem which show that Pope had had his eye on a natural object.” Actually Windsor Forest is not about a “Forest” at all but about the Peace of Utrecht.

“In satire Dryden’s weapon was the sabre. It struck with all the weight of that arm. But its edge was ground to so keen a sharpness that it cleft its enemy like an apple. Pope’s weapon was the rapier. It was as deadly as the sabre but it lacked weight and and it wore out morre quickly than the sabre, so that, when his own use of it was done, no one could use it after him. It had thinned away into a piece of wire.”

“But it is simply that Pope always resembles an orator whose gestures are studied and who thinks while he is speaking of the fall of his robes and the attitude of his hands.” Leslie Stephen Alexander Pope

“He has no romance, no spirituality, no mystery and the hightest regions of poetry he never so much as dreams of, but in the lower regions there is perhaps no single writer who showers fine things about him with such a prodigality of wit or dazzles us so much with the mere exercise of his intelligence.” Edmund Gosse

“It is reason in woman that moves Pope to song. Not love, nor passions, but the head rather than the heart. It is characteristic of the time and of the man. It explains the lack of high and passionate verse, the denial of all rights to feeling in the lives of men. Pope’s character never fully developed, and his poetry is the clear record of that partial development. He is his own answer to the question which he forbids us to ask.” Oswald Dougthy

“Ask not the cause that I new numbers choose,
The lute neglected and lyric muse.”

Our third characteristic: repartee, wit, common language

“Of manners gentle, of affections mild;
In wit a man, simplicity; a childn’
With native humour tempering virtuous rage,
Form’d to delight at once and lash the age.
Above temptation, in a low estate,
And uncorrupted even among the great;
A safe companion, and an easy friend,
Unblamed through life, lamented in thy end.” Epitaph on Gay

“The critic eye, that microscope of wit,
Sees hairs and pores, examines bit by bit:
How parts relate to parts, or they to whole,
The body’s harmony, the beaming soul,
Are things which Kuster, Burman, Wasse shall see,
When Man’s whole frame is obvious to a flea.” Iliad, Introduction

“In Poets as true Genius is but rare,
True Taste as seldom is the Critic’s share;
Both must alike from Heav’n derive their light,
Those born to judge, as well as those to write,
Let such teach others who themselves excel,
And censure freely who have written well;
But are not Critics to their judgment, too?” Essay on Criticism Part I

“Hither the Heroes and the Nymphs resort,
To taste awhile the pleasures of a court;
In various talk th’ instructive hours they past,
Who gave the ball, or paid the visit last;
One speaks the glory of the British Queen,
And one describes a charming Indian screen;
A third interpret s motions, looks, and eyes;
At every word a reputation dies.
Suff, or the fa, supply each pause of chat,
With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.” The Rape of the Lock Canto III

“True wit is nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d;
Something, whose truth convinc’d at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.
As shades more sweetly recommend the light,
So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit.
For works may have more wit than does’em good,
As bodies perish through excess of blood.” An Essay on Criticism Part II

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself

“Pope’s wit is of that perfect kind which does not seem to be sought for its own sake but to be the appropriate vehicle for the meaning. We are not made to feel that he is constraining himself to write in couplets, but that his couplets are the shape in which he can best make his thoughts tell.” Mark Pattison

“We sit at our ease, reading those Satires and Epistles, in which the verses, when they were written, resembled nothing so much as spoonfuls of boiling oil, ladled out by a fiendish monkey at an upstairs window upon such of the passers-by whom the wretch had a grudge against.” Bloomsbury.

Our fourth characteristic: morality.

“Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher Death, and God Adore,
What future bliss He gives not thee to know,
But lives that hope to be thy blessing now,
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be, blest.
The soud uneasy, and confin’d from home
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.” An Essay on Man Epistle I

“See the same man, in vigour, in the gout;
Alone, in company; in place, or out;
Early at business, and at hazard late;
Mad at a fox-chase, wise at a debate;
Drunk at a borough, civil at a gall;
Friendly at Hackney, Faithless at Whitehall.” Moral Ethics

‘Tis education forms the common mind:
Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclin’d
Boastful and rough, your first son is a Squire
The next a Tradesman, meek, and much a liar;
Tom struts a Soldier, open, bold, and brave. Moral Essays Epistle I

“For sure if Dulness sees a grateful day,
‘Tis in the shade of arbitrary sway.
O! If my sons may learn one earthly thing
Teach but than one, sufficient for a King;
That which my priests, and mine alone, maintain,
Which, as it dies, or lives, we fall, or reign.
The right divine of Kings to govern wrong.” The Dunciad Book IV

“Some praise at morning what they blame at night,
But always think the last opinion right.
A Muse by these is like a mistress used,
This hour she’s idolized, the next abused;
While their weak heads, like towns unfortified,
‘Twixt sense and nonsense daily change their side.
Ask them the cause; they’re wiser still they say;” An Essay on Criticism Part II

“Cease then, nor Order imperfection name:
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
Know thy own point: this kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heav’n bestows on thee.
Submit. In this or any other sphere,
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear
Safe in the hand of one disposing Pow’r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour,
All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.” An Essay on Man Epistle I

“Ask we what makes one keep and one bestow?
That Pow’r who bids the Ocean ebb and flow,
Bids seed-time, harvest, equal course maintain,
Throu’ reconcil’d extremes of drought and rain,
Builds life on Death, on Change Duration founds,
And gives th’ eternal wheels to know their rounds.” An Essay on Man Epistle III

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself

“...the poetry of Pope was a poetry of society in the city...of the characters of literary and public men and women in a cultured society, a poetry of praise and satire, but chiefly of satire; a poetry of caste and party, and finally a philosophic poetry with morality attached to it, such morality as governs the social world at play with thought, but shrinking from experience.” Stopford Brooke Naturalism in English Poetry.

“As soon as Pope has a chance of expressing his personal antipathies his personal attachments, his lines begin to glow...when he can forgets his stilts [to preach, be ethical and philosophical], or point his morality by some concrete and personal instance, every word is alive.”

“An understanding of “basic moral values” is not a claim one need be concerned to make for a poet, but that Pope’s relation to the “basic moral values” of the civilization he belonged to was no mere matter of formal salute and outward deference has been sufficiently shown in Epistle III.” F. R. Leavis Pope’s Poise in Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry.

Our fifth characteristic: contempt for women

“Nothing so true as what you once let fall,
Most have no characters at all:
Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear,
And best distinguish’d by black, brown, or fair. Epistle II To a Lady

“There Affectation, with a sickly mien,
Shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen;
Practised to lisp and hang the head aside,
Faints into airs and languishes with pride;
On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe,
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness and for show,
The fair ones feel such maladies as these
When each new night-dress gives a new disease.” The Rape of the Lock

“So have I seen in black and white
A prating thing, a magpie hight,
Majestically walk;
A stately worthless animal,
That plies the tongue and wags the tail,
All flutter, pride, and talk.” Artimesia

“That the particular characters of women are not so strongly marked as those of men, seldom so fixed, and still more inconsistent with themselves. Instances of contrarities given, such characters as are more strongly marked, and seemingly, therefore, most consistent: as in the affected, in the soft-natured, in the cunning and artful, in the whimsical, in the lewd and vicious...” To a Lady Argument

“Offend her, and she knows not to forgive
Oblige her, and she’ll hate you while you live;
But die, and she’ll adore you then the bust
And temple rise then - fall again to dust.” Moral Essays II

“Every woman is by heart a rake.” Rape of the Lock

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself

“In his epistle on the character of woman, no one who has ever known a noble woman, nay, I should almost say no one who has ever had a mother or a sister, will find much to please him. The climax of his praise rather degrades than elevates...His nature delighted more in detecting the blemish than in enjoying the charm.” J. R. Lowell Among My Books

“Pope like other poets was unfortunate in his love affairs but his ill-fortune took a characteristic shape...A man who could not make tea without a stratagem, could hardly be a downright lover.” Leslie Stephen

Our sixth characteristic: epigrammatic platitudes

“Yet ev’ry child another song will sing,
‘Virtue, brave boys! Virtue makes a king.
True, conscious Honour is to feel no sin’
He arm’d without that’s innocent within;
Be this thy screen, and this thy wal of brass;
Compared to this Minister’s an Ass.” Horace Epistle I Book I

“A little learning is a dangerous thing:
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian sping:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we tak, nor see the lengths behind;
But more advanc’d, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise.!” An Essay on Criticism Part II

“And while self-love each jealous writer rules,
Contending wits become the sport of fools;
But still the worst with most regret commend,
For each ill author is as bad a friend.
To what baser ends, and by what abject ways,
Are mortals urged thro’ sacred lust of preaise!
Ah, ne’er so dire a thirst of glory beast,
Nor in the critic let the man be lost!
Good nature and good sense must ever join;
To err is human, to forgive divine.” An Essay on Criticism Part II

“What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that Hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.” Essay on Man

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself

“One can open upon wit and epigram at any page. Indeed, I think that one gets a little tired of the invariable this set off by the inevitable that, and wishes antithesis would let him have a little quiet now ant then.” Lowell

“He is a master of point and epigram” William Paton Ker

“And what a spirit it was!... how fiery bright and dauntless!...It rouses the blood, it kindles the heart, to remember what an indomitable force of heroic spirit, and sleepless always as fire, was inclosed in the pitiful body of the misshapen weakling whose whole like was spent in fighting the good fight of sense against folly, of light against darkness, of human speech against brute silence, of truth and reason and manhood against all the bestialities of all dunces and all dastards, all blackguardly blockheads and all blockheaded black-guards, who they as now were misbegotten by malignity of dulness.”

“He is a master of point and epigram; but this is not what makes his success...It would be easy enough to quote single couplets...the beauty of Pope’s verse ...You never can be certain from the subject what the language and the tune will be like.” William Paton Ker Pope’s Living Variety from The Art Of Poetry

Our seventh characteristic self-love, vanity

“Two principles in human nature reign;
Self-love, to urge, and Reason to restrain;
Nor this a good, not that a bad we call,
Each works its end, to move or govern all;
And to their proper operation still,
Ascribe all Good, to their improper Ill
Ev’n mean Self-love becomes, by force divine,
The scale to measure others’ wants by thine.” Essay on Man

Comments from critics, colleagues and himself.

“Pope was jealous, spiteful, and credulous.” Leslie Stephen

“It is hard to understand at the present day the audacity which could lead a man so ill qualified in point of classical acquirements to undertake such a task” on Pope’s translation of the Iliad. Stephen.

“We see his fragile figure, glancing rapidly from one hospitable circle to another, but always standing a little apart; now paying court to some conspicuous wit, or philosopher, or statesman, or beauty; not taking deadly offence for some utterly inexplicable reason...making a mountain out of every mole-hill...always preoccupied with his latest literary project, and yet finding time for innumerable intrigues; for carrying out schemes of vengeance for wounded vanity, and for introducing himself into every quarrel that was going on around him.” Stephen

“Pope, when he wrote, was much more in love with his own skill than with his subject. We may say that it is human; it describes a foolish thing, but a thing which exists...A pretty rag of human life is all it touches, a tasselled bit of the silken fringe of that vast web into which are woven the stern and solemn wonders of the tragedy and omedy of manking. Imagination, the giant power, has nothing to do with it, nor Thought, nor Passion.” Stopford A. Brooke Naturalism in English Poetry

We close with this from Jonathan Swift:

“In Pope, I cannot read a line,
But with a Sigh, I wish it mine:
When he can in one Couplet fix
More sense than I can do in Six:
It gives me such a jealous Fit,
I cry, Pox take him and his wit.” Verses