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True Wit Is Nature to Advantage Dress'd, What Oft Was Thought, but Ne'er So Well Express'd

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“True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd” –
Essay on Criticism

Preface:

  • In the early 18th Century, poetry was limited. There were few lyrics, little or no love poetry, no epics, no dramas or songs of nature worth considering.
  • The only prominent forms of literature were satires and didactic verses and Pope had mastered both these writing genres.
  • His works proved to be quite influential as many foreign writers and English poets looked to him as their model.

Life of Pope:

  • He was born in 1688 in London.
  • Due to prejudice against Catholics in public schools and also due to his weakness and deformity, Pope received very little school education.
  • Instead, he started reading English books and soon developed great knowledge about the classics.
  • He made literature his life work and considered Dryden to be his only master.
  • He had written ‘Pastorals’ when he was just 16 and a few years later he wrote the famous poem ‘Essay on Criticism’.

“Fools rush in where angles fear to tread.”

  • His following works soon became famous and after the publication of ‘Rape of the Lock’ in 1712, he was regarded as the best poet of England.
  • For the next 12 years, Pope indulged in poetry and translated Homer’s works. The financial success of his work made him wealthy.
  • He died in 1744.

Works of Pope:

  • His works can be separated into three groups – Early period, Middle period and Later period of his life.
  • In the first period he wrote his ‘Pastorals’, ‘Windsor Forest’, ‘Messiah’, ‘Essay on Criticism’ and ‘Rape of the Lock’.
  • In the second period of his life, he mainly translated Homer’s works.
  • In the third period, he wrote the ‘Dunciad’ and the Epistles, which contained the famous ‘Essay on Man’ and ‘Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot’.
  • ‘Essay on Criticism’ sums up the art of poetry as taught first by Horace, then by Boileau and the 18th-century classicists. It was written in heroic couplets.
  • ‘Rape of the Lock’ is a masterpiece of its kind. Pope constructed, not a ballad nor and epigram but a long poem in which all the mannerisms of society are pictured I minutest details and satirized with the most delicate wit.
  • It was originally consisting only two cantos but after its success, Pope decided to lengthen it by three more cantos.
  • Pope’s Iliad was financially the most successful of his books. Not only do his words follow literary fashions but even the Homeric characters lose their strength and become men of the fashionable court.
  • The ‘Essay’ is the best known and the most quoted of all Pope’s works.
  • The purpose of the essay is, in Pope’s words, to “vindicate the ways of God to man”,

The vindication is perfectly accomplished in four poetical epistles, concerning man’s relations to the universe, to himself, to society and to happiness.

  • The ‘Dunciad’ (1728) turned out to be a coarse and revengeful satire upon all literary men of the age who had aroused Pope’s anger by their criticism.

“All nature is but art, unknown to thee;

All chance, direction which thou canst see

All discard, harmony not understood;

All partial evil, universal good:

And, spite of pride, in erring reasons spite

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