Literary Criticism of Alexander Pope

By Bertrand A. Goldgar | Go to book overview

Preface to the Works of 1717

I am inclined to think that both the writers of books and the readers of them are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations. The first seem to fancy that the world must approve whatever they produce and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate. Methinks as, on the one hand, no single man is born with a right of controlling the opinions of all the rest, so, on the other, the world has no title to demand that the whole care and time of any particular person should be sacrificed to its entertainment. Therefore I cannot but believe that writers and readers are under equal obligations for as much fame or pleasure as each affords the other.

Everyone acknowledges it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man; and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted by the judgment commonly passed upon poems. A critic supposes he has done his part if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression or erred in any particular point; and can it then be wondered at if the poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error? For as long as one side will make no allowances, the other will be brought to no acknowledgements.

I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill placed, poetry and criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets and of idle men who read there.

Yet sure, upon the whole, a bad author deserves better usage than a bad critic; for a writer's endeavor, for the most part, is to please his readers, and he fails merely through the misfortune of an ill judgment; but such a critic's is to put them out of humor, a design he could never go upon without both that and an ill temper.

-23-

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Literary Criticism of Alexander Pope
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Literary Criticism of Alexander Pope *
  • Regents Critics Series *
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction - The Occasion of Pope's Criticism ix
  • General Theory *
  • An Essay on Criticism (1711) 3
  • Preface to the Works of 1717 23
  • From Pope's Correspondence 29
  • Peri Bathous: of the Art of Sinking in Poetry (1728) 43
  • Criticism of Pastoral *
  • A Discourse on Pastoral Poetry (1704) 93
  • The Guardian No. 40 98
  • Criticism of Epic *
  • Preface to the Translation of the Iliad (1715) 107
  • From Pope's Observations on the Iliad (1715-1720) 131
  • Postscript to the Odyssey (1726) 147
  • Criticism of Drama *
  • Preface to the Works of Shakespeare (1725) 161
  • Index 177
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