Alexander Pope (1688-1744)


Adams Anthology Main Points:


An Essay on Criticism (1711)

Part I

"Be sure yourself and your own reach to know,/How far your genius, taste, and learning go"

"First follow nature"

"The winged courser, like a gen'rous horse,/Shows most true mettle when you check his course"

"nature methodized"

"the gen'rous critic fanned the poet's fire"

"criticism the Muse's handmaid proved"; but some critics "Against the poets their own arms they turned,/Sure to hate most the men from whom they learned"

nature and Homer, the same

music resembles poetry

license in a rule; "Pegasus ... /May boldly deviate from the common track"; but "if you must offend/Against the precept, ne'er transgress its end"

"due distance reconciles to form and grace" [cf. Horace, ut pictura]

"Those oft' are stratagems which errors seem,/Nor is it Homer nods but we that dream"

"a science little known,/T' admire superior sense, and doubt their own!"


Part II

pride "the never-failing vice of fools"

"Trust not yourself; but, your defects to know,/Make use of ev'ry friend--and ev'ry foe."

"A little learning is a dang'rous thing"

"A perfect judge will read each work of wit/With the same spirit that its author writ:/Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find"; "In ev'ry work regard the writer's end"; "Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due"

some critics "offend in arts . . . by a love of parts"; narrow emphasis on "conceit," language

"Expression is the dress of thought"

against fashionable trends

"most by numbers judge a poet's work"

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance"

"The sound must seem an echo to the sense"

avoid extremes

"Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best/Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest"

"The vulgar thus through imitation err,/As oft the learned by being singular"

"Some praise at morning what they blame at night,/But always think the last opinion right"

"we but praise ourselves in other men"

"Envy will merit, as its shade, pursue;/But like a shadow, proves the substance true"

"To err is human, to forgive, divine"

"all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye"

virtues of critics: truth, candor, tact

"Men must be taught as if you taught them not"; "Without good breeding truth is disapproved"

"''Tis best sometimes your censure to restrain"


"the mighty Stagyrite"; Horace, Dionysius, Petronius, Quintilian, Longinus

useful laws

Erasmus, Vida, Boileau