WHEN planning this book twenty years ago, I thought of dedicating it 'To the Readers of Pope'. The irony, perhaps not timely then, is certainly out of date now. Thanks to a revolution in taste and to the efforts of critics and scholars, Pope has more readers at present, it seems safe to say, than at any time since the eighteenth century. Whatever the size of his audience, it presumably includes most of the older generation who experienced the revolution and many younger readers who accept and enjoy poetry of wit, whether of the seventeenth and eighteenth or the twentieth centuries. A writer on Pope can count on a body of readers familiar with his poetry and ready to give it the attention they give to poetry written in quite different traditions. Or perhaps it is better to say that they easily take for granted Pope's place among the English poets.
In the chapters that follow, my first and last concern is with the poems, with their poetic character and design. Pope's interest in 'Design' in poetry, painting, and architecture needs no demonstration to anyone who has read the poetry and the letters. It seems reasonable and charitable to look for unity in his poems, if we remember to look for poetic design, for the order created through using the full resources of language. Hence the necessity of beginning not from Pope's or Warburton's statements, but from the uses of words that characterize each poem.
But if Pope now has his readers, his poetry still offers difficulties even to the partisans of wit. The main stumbling- block is the obvious one: our lack of lively knowledge of the poetic traditions with which Pope and his eighteenth-century readers were easily familiar. Everyone knows from footnotes or special studies that Pope's satires were 'based on Horace' or that they are in some sense 'Horatian', or that Eloisa to Atbelard is 'indebted' to Ovid Heroides, or that Pope's Iliad was at least in intention a version of Homer's. But the knowledge remains inert and enters very little into our active experience of the poetry. What we want is to feel the presence of