The Battle of the Books: History and Literature in the Augustan Age

By Joseph M. Levine | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
Pope's Iliad

t

Alexander Pope's poetic vocation seems to have begun in childhood, despite a haphazard and irregular education. He taught himself to write, so he said, by imitating the ancients. Was there any other way? If his schooling left him at twelve years old scarcely able to construe Cicero's De officiis (so he remembered), he soon applied himself so diligently to the classical authors that he could translate into verse "many Passages of Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Statius and the most eminent Latin and Greek Poets." He also read the French critics for theory and even tried his hand at epic, "in Imitation of the Ancients." When that proved too ambitious, he turned instead to pastoral, recalling perhaps that his hero, Virgil, had done the very same thing.1 Were all these early efforts only imitations? he was asked many years later. "Just that," replied Pope. By concentrating all attention on the Greek and Latin poets, he formed his own taste, which he insisted in 1743 "was very near as good as it is now."2 In the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns, Pope had necessarily to find his place, and the ancients were, inevitably, his first recourse.

Pastoral poetry must seem an odd place for combat, but Pope's choice of the genre was bound to draw him into battle.3 Pastoral was, of course, a specifically ancient affair, authorized by the works of Theocritus and

____________________
1
From an account by Jonathan Richardson dictated by Pope ( 1730), in George Sher burn , "New Anecdotes about Alexander Pope", Notes and Queries, n.s. 5 ( August 1958): 347; see also Joseph Spence, Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters of Books and Men, ed. James M. Osborn, 2 vols. ( Oxford, 1966) 1:21.
2
Spence, Observations, 1:11, 18. One of the moderns he read with appreciation was Sir William Temple (pp. 19, 170).
3
See in general J. E. Congleton, "Theories of Pastoral Poetry in England, 1684-1717," Studies in Philology 41 ( 1944): 544-75.

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The Battle of the Books: History and Literature in the Augustan Age
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One - Literature 11
  • Chapter One - Wotton Vs. Temple 13
  • Chapter Two - Bentley Vs. Christ Church 47
  • Chapter Three - Stroke and Counterstroke 85
  • Chapter Four - The Querelle 121
  • Chapter Five - Ancient Greece and Modern Scholarship 148
  • Chapter Six - Pope's Iliad 181
  • Chapter Seven - Pope and the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns 218
  • Chapter Eight - Bentley's Milton 245
  • Part Two - History 265
  • Chapter Nine - History and Theory 267
  • Chapter Ten - Ancients 291
  • Chapter Eleven - Moderns 327
  • Chapter Twelve - Ancients and Moderns 374
  • Conclusion 414
  • Index 419
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