The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope

By Paul Baines | Go to book overview

(a)

A CATHOLIC CHILDHOOD

Because Pope was not primarily a lyric poet like Donne, or an explorer of private mental experience like Wordsworth, we tend to think of him as essentially a public voice, the satirist of civil follies rather than the analyst of personal emotions. Many of the vices Pope attacked are forms of egotism: avarice, power-seeking, narcissism. The lack of a real or implied partner to address poems to also suggests a reticence about private life which disappoints a voyeuristic age. Nonetheless personal character remained for Pope a fundamental element of poetic voice. Satire has to have a position from which to criticise the world; and since Pope could not acquire the kind of state position which validated the work of his closest model, John Dryden (1631-1700), he developed a position of moral authority derived from his own status as a private, right-thinking citizen, living in principled independence of state patronage, willing to implicate the personal experience on which his voice as a social critic was based. While one could read through the complete poems of Dryden without learning much about his life, Pope insistently manages a particular kind of self-involvement even in his most public, apocalyptic works. Much criticism of him-plenty of it more venomous and scurrilous than anything he produced himself in criticizing others-was based on his own life, character, and body. A competent artist, he controlled the dissemination of portraits and other images of himself, and bestowed extraordinary care on the presentation and publication of his work, mastering book trade processes as no writer had ever done before to produce a meticulous version of his 'corpus' in print [189-99]. In these ways, he seems a very modern figure. This first section will give an account of the main features of what we know of Pope's biography, and of how he turned his personal experience into public poetry.

Pope had, and has continued to have, several biographers. During his lifetime he befriended Joseph Spence, a minor poet and critic who compiled a large body of 'anecdotes' from Pope's conversation, indicating his views on various critical matters but also recording such facts as Pope could remember, or wished to be remembered, about his own life. 'Mr. Pope was born on the twenty-first of May, 1688', Spence ascertained (Spence 1966:3); the time was 6:45 p.m. and the place is thought to have been no. 2 Plough Court, just off Lombard Street, London, in what was fast becoming the financial centre of England. His father (also Alexander, 1646-1717) 'was an honest merchant and dealt in Hollands wholesale' (Spence 1966:7): that is, he dealt in linens, exporting them as far afield as Virginia. The poet's mother, Edith (née

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The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Editors' Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Abbreviations and Referencing xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Life and Contexts 3
  • (A) - A Catholic Childhood 5
  • (B) - Forest Retreats 7
  • (C) - Literary London 10
  • (D) - Kings and Queens 14
  • (E) - Scriblerus 15
  • (F) - Epic Intent 17
  • (G) - Booksellers and Ladies 19
  • (H) - Works and Days 21
  • (I) - Twickenham 23
  • (J) - Shakespeare 26
  • (K) - Epic of Fleet Street 28
  • (L) - System and Satire 32
  • (M) - Horace 35
  • (N) - Letters 38
  • (O) - Laureate in Opposition 40
  • (Q) - The End 44
  • Part II - Work 47
  • (A) - An Essay on Criticism (1711) [Te I:195-326] 49
  • (C) - The Rape of the Lock (1712/1714/1717) [Te Ii:79-212] 65
  • (D) - Eloisa to Abelard (1717) [Te Ii:291-349] 77
  • (E) - Essay on Man (1733-34) [Te Iii:I] 82
  • (F) - Epistles to Several Persons (1731-35) [Te Iii:Ii] 93
  • (G) - Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (1735) [Te Iv:91-127] 110
  • (H) - Imitations of Horace (1733-40) [Te Iv] 119
  • (I) - The Dunciad (1728-42) [Te V] 130
  • Part III - Criticism 151
  • (A) - Pope and Poetry 153
  • (B) - Politics 163
  • (C) - Gender and Body 171
  • (D) - Pope in Print and Manuscript 189
  • Bibliography 205
  • Index 215
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