Pope's optimism about the role of providence in this poem was to some extent a necessary counter to the disasters of his personal life, which was marked by several deaths about this period. Atterbury died in March 1732 and was given a somewhat mean funeral in Westminster Abbey. An even worse loss was that of John Gay, carried off swiftly but painfully by some sort of fever at the age of 47 (4 December 1732): Pope told Swift, 'one of the nearest and longest tyes I have ever had, is broken all on a sudden' (Letters III:334). Pope was one of the pallbearers at the funeral, again in the Abbey. Pope's mother died on 7 June 1733, at the age of ninety. Her death had been long expected, but Pope was evidently shaken. He asked his friend the artist Jonathan Richardson to sketch her 'expression of Tranquillity [sic]' in death, 'as the finest image of a Saint expir'd, that ever Painting drew' (Letters III:374).
Literary warfare continued from a different angle. Early in 1733 Pope had begun what was to be a series of 'Imitations' of the Roman poet Horace, setting out some major satiric conceptions under the guise of updating the earlier poet for the current situation [119-30]. Though Horace was sometimes regarded as the servile flatterer of a tyrannical emperor, his civilised, ironic manner was generally more congenial to Pope's ethic of moderation than the alternative satirist, Juvenal, whose exiled ranting is more akin to the more extreme aspects of Gulliver's Travels. 'Imitation' in this mature context does not indicate servility, but a sort of respectful appropriation and rivalry. Pope adopts the conversational and 'insinuating' mode of the Roman poet, whose work is placed on the opposite page from Pope's modern version, to give himself a voice of classic authority from which to comment on social issues. But the adoption of a Horatian position, while it stakes a claim and invites comparison between ancient and modern skill, is also ironic, for Pope is an outsider where Horace was a court favourite, and Pope has no patron whereas Horace was indebted to the emperor and other noblemen. The Horatian model was neither simple nor pacificatory.
In The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace Imitated (15 February 1733), Pope mildly assaulted Lord Hervey under the name 'Lord Fanny', alluding to his well-known effeminacy, and took a somewhat more virulent pot-shot at Lady Mary Wortley Montagu under what became her codename in his work, Sappho (the early Lesbian poetess). In suggesting that one might receive 'From furious Sappho scarce a milder Fate,/Pox'd by her Love, or libell'd by her Hate', Pope neatly encompasses two of the charges to which he had been giving a certain currency