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156 Bohea: tea, the name comes from a range of hills in China where a certain kind of tea was grown.
162 the patch-box: the box which held the little bits of black stickingplaster with which ladies used to adorn their faces. According to Addison (Spectator, No. 81), ladies even went so far in this fad as to patch on one side of the face or the other, according to their politics.
5 the Trojan: Æneas, who left Carthage in spite of the wrath of Dido and the entreaties of her sister Anna.
7-36 Pope inserted these lines in a late revision in 1717, in order, as he said, to open more clearly the moral of the poem. The speech of Clarissa is a parody of a famous speech by Sarpedon in the Iliad, XII, 310–328.
14 At this time the gentlemen always sat in the side boxes of the theater; the ladies in the front boxes.
20 As vaccination had not yet been introduced, small-pox was at this time a terribly dreaded scourge.
23 In the Spectator, No. 23, there is inserted a mock advertisement, professing to teach the whole art of ogling, the church ogle, the playhouse ogle, a flying ogle fit for the ring, etc.
24 Painting the face was a common practice of the belles of this time. The Spectator, No.41, contains a bitter attack on the painted ladies whom it calls the “ Picts.”
37 virago: a fierce, masculine woman, here used for Thalestris.
45 In the Iliad (Bk. XX) the gods are represented as taking sides for the Greeks and Trojans and fighting among themselves. Pallas opposes Ares, or Mars; and Hermes, Latona.
48 Olympus: the hill on whose summit the gods were supposed to dwell, often used for heaven itself.
50 Neptune: used here for the sea over which Neptune presided.
53 a sconce's height: the top of an ornamental bracket for holding candles.
61 Explain the metaphor in this line.
65 The Mæander is a river in Asia Minor. Ovid (Heroides, VII, 1-2) represents the swan as singing his death-song on its banks.
68 Chloe: a fanciful name. No real person is meant. 71 The figure of Jove weighing the issue of a battle in his scales is
found in the Iliad, VIII, 69-73. Milton imitated it in Paradise Lost, IX, 996-1004. When the men's wits mounted it showed that they were lighter, less important, than the lady's hair, and so were destined to lose the battle.
89-96 This pedigree of Belinda's bodkin is a parody of Homer's account of Agamemnon's scepter (Iliad, II, 100-108).
105–106 In Shakespeare's play Othello fiercely demands to see a handkerchief which he has given his wife, and takes her inability to show it to him as a proof of her infidelity.
113 the lunar sphere: it was an old superstition that everything lost on earth went to the moon. An Italian poet, Ariosto, uses this notion in a poem with which Pope was familiar (Orlando Furioso, Canto XXXIV), and from which he borrowed some of his ideas for the cave of Spleen.
122 Why does Pope include “tomes of casuistry” in this collection?
125 There was a legend that Romulus never died, but had been caught up to the skies in a storm. Proculus, a Roman senator, said that Romulus had descended from heaven and spoken to him and then ascended again (Livy, I, 16).
129 Berenice's Locks: Berenice was an Egyptian queen who dedicated a lock of hair for her husband's safe return from war. It was said afterward to have become a constellation, and a Greek poet wrote some verses on the marvel.
132 Why were the Sylphs pleased ?
133 the Mall: the upper side of St. James's park in London, a favorite place at this time for promenades.
136 Rosamonda's lake: a pond near one of the gates of St. James's park, a favorite rendezvous for lovers.
137 Partridge: an almanac maker of Pope's day who was given to prophesying future events. Shortly before this poem was written Swift had issued a mock almanac foretelling that Partridge would die on a certain day. When that day came Swift got out a pamphlet giving a full account of Partridge's death. In spite of the poor man's protests, Swift and his friends kept on insisting that he was dead. He was still living, however, when Pope wrote this poem. Why does Pope call him “th' egregious wizard”?
138 Galileo's eyes: the telescope, first used by the Italian astronomer Galileo.
140 Louis XIV of France, the great enemy of England at this time. - Rome: here used to denote the Roman Catholic Church.
142 the shining sphere: an allusion to the old notion that all the stars were set in one sphere in the sky. Belinda's lost lock, now a star, is said to add a new light to this sphere.
147 What are the “ fair suns"?
AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM
The Essay on Criticism was the first really important work that Pope gave to the world. He had been composing verses from early boyhood, and had actually published a set of Pastorals which had attracted some attention. He was already known to the literary set of London coffeehouses as a young man of keen wit and high promise, but to the reading public at large he was as yet an unknown quantity. With the appearance of the Essay, Pope not only sprang at once into the full light of publicity, but seized almost undisputed that position as the first of living English poets which he was to retain unchallenged till his death. Even after his death down to the Romantic revival, in fact, Pope's supremacy was an article of critical faith, and this supremacy was in no small measure founded upon the acknowledged merits of the Essay on Criticism. Johnson, the last great representative of Pope's own school of thought in matters literary, held that the poet had never excelled this early work and gave it as his deliberate opinion that if Pope had written nothing else, the Essay would have placed him among the first poets and the first critics. The Essay on Criticism is hardly an epoch-making poem, but it certainly "made” Alexander Pope.
The poem was published anonymously in the spring of 1711, when Pope was twenty-three years old. There has been considerable dispute as to the date of its composition; but the facts seem to be that it was begun in 1707 and finished in 1709 when Pope had it printed, not for publication, but for purposes of further correction. As it stands, therefore, it represents a work planned at the close of Pope's precocious youth, and executed and polished in the first flush of his manhood. And it is quite fair to say that considering the age of its author the Essay on Criticism is one of the most remarkable works in English.
Not that there is anything particularly original about the Essay. On the contrary, it is one of the most conventional of all Pope's works. It
has nothing of the lively fancy of The Rape of the Lock, little or nothing of the personal note which stamps the later satires and epistles as so peculiarly Pope's own. Apart from its brilliant epigrammatic expression the Essay on Criticism might have been written by almost any man of letters in Queen Anne's day who took the trouble to think a little about the laws of literature, and who thought about those laws strictly in accordance with the accepted conventions of his time. Pope is not in the least to be blamed for this lack of originality. Profound original criticism is perhaps the very last thing to be expected of a brilliant boy, and Pope was little more when he planned this work. But boy as he was, he had already accomplished an immense amount of desultory reading, not only in literature proper, but in literary criticism as well. He told Spence in later years that in his youth he had gone through all the best critics, naming especially Quintilian, Rapin, and Bossu. A mere cursory reading of the Essay shows that he had also studied Horace, Vida, and Boileau. Before he began to write he had, so he told Spence,“ digested all the matter of the poem into prose.” In other words, then, the Essay on Criticism is at once the result of Pope's early studies, the embodiment of the received literary doctrines of his age, and, as a consecutive study of his poems shows, the programme in accordance with which, making due allowance for certain exceptions and inconsistencies, he evolved the main body of his work.
It would, however, be a mistake to treat, as did Pope's first editor, the Essay on Criticism as a methodical, elaborate, and systematic treatise. Pope, indeed, was flattered to have a scholar of such recognized authority as Warburton to interpret his works, and permitted him to print a commentary upon the Essay, which is quite as long and infinitely duller than the original. But the true nature of the poem is indicated by its title. It is not an Art of Poetry such as Boileau composed, but an Essay. And by the word “essay,” Pope meant exactly what Bacon did,
-a tentative sketch, a series of detached thoughts upon a subject, not a complete study or a methodical treatise. All that we know of Pope's method of study, habit of thought, and practice of composition goes to support this opinion. He read widely but desultorily; thought swiftly and brilliantly, but illogically and inconsistently; and composed in minute sections, on the backs of letters and scraps of waste paper, fragments which he afterward united, rather than blended, to make a complete poem, a mosaic, rather than a picture.
Yet the Essay is by no means the “ collection of independent
maxims tied together by the printer, but having no natural order,” which De Quincey pronounced it to be. It falls naturally into three parts. The first deals with the rules derived by classic critics from the practice of great poets, and ever since of binding force both in the composition and in the criticism of poetry. The second analyzes with admirable sagacity the causes of faulty criticism as pride, imperfect learning, prejudice, and
The third part discusses the qualities which a true critic should possess, good taste, learning, modesty, frankness, and tact, and concludes with a brief sketch of the history of criticism from Aristotle to Walsh. This is the general outline of the poem, sufficient, I think, to show that it is not a mere bundle of poetic formulæ. But within these broad limits the thought of the poem wanders freely, and is quite rambling, inconsistent, and illogical enough to show that Pope is not formulating an exact and definitely determined system of thought.
Such indeed was, I fancy, hardly his purpose. It was rather to give clear, vivid, and convincing expression to certain ideas which were at that time generally accepted as orthodox in the realm of literary criticism. No better expression of these ideas can be found anywhere than in the Essay itself, but a brief statement in simple prose of some of the most important may serve as a guide to the young student of the essay.
In the first place, the ultimate source alike of poetry and criticism is a certain intuitive faculty, common to all men, though more highly developed in some than others, called Reason, or, sometimes, Good Sense. The first rule for the budding poet or critic is “ Follow Nature.” This, by the way, sounds rather modern, and might be accepted by any romantic poet. But by“Nature” was meant not at all the natural impulses of the individual, but those rules founded upon the natural and common reason of mankind which the ancient critics had extracted and codified from the practice of the ancient poets. Pope says explicitly “to follow nature is to follow them;” and he praises Virgil for turning aside from his own original conceptions to imitate Homer, for
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same. Certain exceptions to these rules were, indeed, allowable, -severer critics than Pope, by the way, absolutely denied this, — but only to the ancient poets. The moderns must not dare to make use of them, or at the very best moderns must only venture upon such exceptions to the rules as classic precedents would justify. Inasmuch as all these rules were discovered and illustrated in ancient times, it followed logically that the great breach