Monday, November 23, 2009


A Study on Pope’s Essay on Criticism in Comparison to Horace’s Ars Poetica[1]

            Considering the poets of the eighteenth century in the light of their direct indebtedness to the poets of the reign of Augustus, and to Horace in particular, it is Pope's name that rises first to the mind. As a matter of fact, "the keynote of what  were the guiding principles of Pope's poetry is to be sought in Horace[2] because most of the former's ideas have their roots in the latter. It is referring to this, "I admired Mr. Pope's Essay on Criticism at first very much, but I had not then read any of the ancient critics, and did not know that it [the poem] was stolen." says M.W. Montagu.[3]
            Although her familiar slur conveys some valuable truth, Montagu ignores the fact that whatever Pope has "stolen" he has transmogrified and that his transmogrifying agency operates in different ways. Hence, in the present paper I will demonstrate the Horacian influence on Pope. In doing this, I will focus on the latter's use of certain words or notions, namely "mimesis", "Nature" and "the goal of literature", after preliminary remarks on those of the former. The ideas I will present in the paper are deduced exclusively from the two works mentioned above; thus, they are not responsible for any transmutation or development of them by the writers in their later careers.
            1. Mimesis. Originally an epistle, not a formal treatise like Aristotle's Poetics, Ars attempts to capture various aspects of poetry.[4] Since he wants to give practical advice, Horace first warns the would-be writers about how to manage poetry at the beginning of their career. According to him, some poets use outlandish elements for the sake of originality, although they are out place. This is mostly due to the fact that they lack in the necessary literary background and professional experience. Latter on, Horace points out that most poets are misled by what they take for truth. When striving for brevity, he says, they turn out to be unintelligible. Thus, attempts to write smoothly results in loss of rigor and spirit. It is only when they are guided by art that they can avoid their errors without committing worse ones. Then, Horace goes on to say, the remedy is to select subjects according to one's mettle and use appropriate language as well [38-9]6 As man is admired for making over nature when he builds harbors or drains marshes; similarly, usage maintains and manipulates the material to impress [59]. Now that he has the material handy, the writer needs the literary grid and guide to be able to use it. Drawing upon the Aristotelian notion of mimesis, consequently, he refers the ancient writers, Homer being on top of them.7
            Homer, according to Horace, displays to writer how the handle the deeds of the kings and sad tales of war. Since he is the ideal model, "Let traditions be kept" [119]. Although he requires that "If they [the new words] are derived from the Greek and changes be scant. [Shall our race... ev'n grant] Aught denied to... Virgil [53-5], his nationalistic drive cannot prevent him from adoring Homer and the other ancient Greek men of literature and philosophy. Therefore, he says that "The Greek genius is due for its well-rounded strain. To the muse, since the Greeks sought for glory not gain!"[323-4]. He adores them because "divine honors arose for these poets because of their poems. Great Homer, succeeding was next." [400-401].
            In the wake of the Aristotelian model of imitation, Horace's advice that the writer should follow a tradition is not a sterile activity of mimesis. On the contrary, tradition is a kind of spring-board, initiator or a source of inspiration and introductory guidance as well. By imitating the ancients, the neophyte will first construct a professional background for his later and more mature career. The suggestion, therefore, that "suppose you begin as a Cyclist of old" [136] is a generative, useful activity. He himself would not, otherwise, my play [240].
            That Horace eulogizes Homer in particular is not without reason. For Homer, according to him, feeling is the true test of the literary, because the beauty of writing is not alone sufficient. Unless a writer feels what he writes about, he cannot have his reader and / or audience feel it. Alluding to the ever-present question of realism and credibility, Horace is, thus, laying down one of the earliest reader-response theories. His praise of Homer ties in with the idea that, since it makes us reveal our feelings physically, nature voices the emotions of the heart with an interpreter's tongue. The perfect interpreter of nature, for him, is Homer. Hence, as the writer will experience or observe nature through tradition, the kind of interpretation in question here is a secondary rather a direct one.
            Pope's treatment of imitation and tradition on his Essays is, in many ways, alike8. White on the one hand, he leads the writer and critic to nature; on the other, he holds nature and the ancients the same-a fact which arises from his ambiguous use of the word "Nature". For example,

                        First follow Nature, and your judgment frame
                        By her just standard which is still the same;
                        Unerring Nature, still divinely bright. [68-70]

                        Those rules of old, discovered, not devised,
                        Are Nature still, but Nature methodized [78-80]9

                        Nature and Homer, were, he found the same.[135]

                        To copy Nature is to copy them.[140]

                        Be Homer's works your study and delight,
                        Read them by day, and meditate by night:
                        Thence form your judgment, thence your maxims bring [123-6]

            As he represents the ancients [the ancients Nature], Pope goes even further than Horace, equating Homer with nature. Nevertheless, although this seems to be a straight equation [Nature=Homer]actually it is not because he involves in Nature human contribution, as well: Nature=Homer+method/organization. Therefore, he is not in favor of a blind ilikakioh of "Nature", either. Homer will guide the writer, who reads his works "by day", and mediates "by right", "Thence form your judgment, thence your maxims being." [124-7]
            2. Nature. In his Ars Horace uses the word, nature, only twice, without capitalizing the word. The first time he uses it, he means any or all of the instincts, appetites, drives of a person. Inborn in essence, it refers to the inherent personal tendencies, which react to the external influences; so, it reflects the influence of art on the individual, too:
                        As for anger, with scowls, and for sorrows  be said;
                        For the serious, grave, for the sportive, be glad;
                        Then our nature reacts from within to reveal,
                        The resentment, or joy, or the anguish we feel.
                        As the mind is aroused by the mimicker's art. [107-11]

            The second time Horace uses "nature", the word, more or less, has a similar meaning; but it also has an implication to what is sometimes called "genius". So, while Horace values nature, he also emphasizes the nurture of rigorous preparation of the poet:
                        But when beauties are rife in a poem, and few
                        Are its faults, I condone these, dear Pisos, as due
                        To a trifling neglect, or man's nature, "what next?"
                        Should a copiest err, although warned in his text? [351-314]

            To move now on to Essay, published Pope was yet twenty-two years, it is one of his earliest appearances in the literary scene, as much an art of poetry as an art of criticism. Therefore, although he draws a lot on Horace, as well as some others before him, "Nature" is polysemic in his Essay and some what problematic. Pope uses the word twenty-three times, sometimes in capital and small "h" alternately. In fact, though it is structured in three parts, the very consistency and unity of the poem has been questioned.10

            One of the senses the word "Nature" conveys in Essay is nature as the sum total of all things in time or space the entire physical universe. An external milieu, "Nature", then is, considered (1) as universal and ultimate order. To follow Nature in this sense is akin to following the general rather than the particular in the universe, as cosmic entity. Second, there is also a hint at it that, as he considers Nature in its idealized form, not as it exists, he might also be alluding to la belle nature (2). Consider the following line, e.g., for the nuance between the two:
                        Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit
                        And wisely curbed proud man's pretending wit. [52-3]

                        First follow Nature, and your judgment frame,
                        By her just standard which is still the same
                        Unending nature, still divinely bright,
                        One dear, unchanged, and universal light.
                        Life, force, and beauty must to all import,
                        At once the source, and end, and test of art. [68-73]

                        In prospects thus some objects, please our eyes,
                        Which out of Nature's common order rise. [158-59]

            While, in the first quotation above, nature has the sense (1), in the second and third quotations, it is used in the sense (2).
            Third, since the ancients, Homer in particular, have followed nature, to follow them will directly lead the artist to nature it self. Conceived in this sense, nature, observed through the ancients' eyes, is a secondary experience, rather than a vis-à-vis representation of nature in (1). Nevertheless, Pope's Essay consists neither of laying down rules nor of passively describing the virtues of the past writers. On the contrary, he considers nature as Eliot thinks of tradition in his "Tradition and the individual Talent". Namely, for Pope, as for Eliot [and Horace, one could assert], nature (3) is an active force in the present in relation to an acquired sense of the past. Ultimately, in this sense, nature is a decisive and guiding power which determines the direction and import of all in his poem, as a matter of fact, Pope prefers to reassert rather than question or challenge the supposedly "universal" notions. Since the classical writers embody the cosmic principle (1) [and even (2)] there can be no clash between nature (1) and the classical authority, nature (3). The rules systematically treated first by Aristotle, and reiterated or transmuted by the ensuing generations are expressions of "natural standards".
                        Those rules of old, discover'd, not devised,
                        Are Nature still, but Nature methodized,
                        Nature, like liberty, is but restrain'd. [88-90]

                        Nature and Homer were, he found the same,
                        Convinced, amazed, he checks the bold design [135-6]

                        Learn  hence  for  ancient, rules a just esteem,
                        To copy Nature is to copy them. [139-40]

                        Where are new would leaps out at his command,
                        And ready Nature waits upon his hand: [286-7]

            Fourth, pope sometimes uses the word "Nature" to refer to a kind of internal reality, or psychoplasm which naturally involves in the creation of work of art: "... find/ Where Nature moves, and Rapture warms the mind" [236-7]. According to him, the true critic, who indulges in petty predilections for certain schools from the extremes of fashion and personal taste. The "true" critic, who indulges in petty predilections for certain schools or kinds of poets, sacrifices his objectivity. It is, consequently, "nature and good sense" that should guide him: "good nature and good sense must ever join:/ To err is human, to forgive divine." [524/5].
            Fifth, Pope adds insult to injury, using his problematic "Nature" as a simile for the equally problematic "wit". "In wit, as Nature, what effects our hearts/ is not the exactness of peculiar parts." [243/4] However, I do not think that it is a one-to-one equation. [Wit=Nature] although he uses "as", the conjunction, to form the simile. Rather, he is alluding to the similar characteristics, which the two words share.11 In another place "Nature" is used metaphorically to refer to "wit". "True wit is Nature to advantage dressed, / What oft was thought, but never so well expressed." [297-8]
            Sixth, considering Pope's admiration of past as a kind of nostalgia, Fitzgerald infers that the word "nature" also refers to a kind of "primitivism". He says that "first follow nature", "back to nature" suggest "at once that strain in human speculation which modem writers have named "primitivism".12 The evidence Fitzgerald presents is that the poet of the neoclassical period dreamed of the classical Golden Age and of the beauty of Eden. Life and literature contributed to their "remind longins", too. Since they form a partial history of the course of primitivism during the early years of the eighteenth century Pope has got his share of this nostalgia.13 However, this polyseme can bi included in my category (1).
            3. The goal literature. Answering the question of what to write, Horace declares that knowledge is the basis of good writing and that moral philosophy will supply the matter. It is life and manner that should essentially occupy the writer's attentions, according to Horace; mere aestheticism is by no means the goal of the artist. Then, comes the Horacian dictum about the double purpose of literature, a mingling of the useful and the delightful: "... Make it [the story] a point to unite / Sweet and useful for reader's advice and deelight / Such a book will bring money and cross o'er the main / And for ages its authors repute will sustain." [346-6] Hence, by emphasing that the poet should aim at instructing as well as amusing, Horace is at pains to yoke together Pope's metaphysical literature with Aristotle's ontological view of it, siding with the former more.
            Plato, in his Book X of Republic would not allow many forms of poetry. Because, to him, as soon as poetry is pemitted to serve passions or emotions, rather than the good or of the laws and moral principles. Plato believes that poetry must serve the community by helping to educate it. Thus, he stresses the didactic, not the emotional, aspects of poetry. Since the primarily goal of education is to supervise the making of fables so as to succeed in molding the young generation, in book II and III, Plato recumently makes this argument.12 His conception of literature as well as criticism celarly derives from his desire to regulate the society in ethical terms.13 The following Horacian lines are clearly the some what distant echoes of the Platonic ethics:

            Let it favor the good and incline to their lot;
            Reconcile the resentful; be kind to the meek;
            Let it praise moderation, true justice, and eke,
            The observance of laws, and a permanent peace;
            Let it safeguard its trust, prayto God, (and not cease) [196-200]

            Now good sense is the poet's first rule and his guide
            When Socratical text to a theme one applied
            And the subject reviewed, proper words will then blend,
            One has leamed what is due to his country or friend. [309-12]

            Similarly, according to Pope, it is not enough for the critic to know; he must also share the qualities of a good man worthy of respect not only for his intellect but also for his character. Ýntegrity stands at he head of the list of the good qualities for a critic. Modesty that forbids both unseemly outspokenness and rigid adherence to erroneous opinion, tact that supports truth without alienating bluntness, and courage that fears not to pursue truth despite censure are important attributes for the true critic. Pope also advises the critic to avoid the dangers of bilindness caused by pride, the greatest source of poor judgment, by learning his own defects and by profiting even from the strictures of his enemies.
            Pope's Essay, besides being a compendium of neoclassical critical values as a vechile of order and stability, therefore, is mostly ideologically and politically oriented. He elevates the critic to the level of a preserver of socio-cultural values so that literature is, to speak figuratively, to be inspected and censored. In tum, the literateur will have the abide by the social pattems and values. Observe, for instance the working of his ideology in the following lines:

            Know well each ancient's proper character;
            ... Religion, country, genius of his age. [119-21]

            Our sons their father's failing language see,
            And such as Chaucer is shall Dryden be.
            So when the faithful pencil has desing'd
            Some bright idea of the master's mind [481-5]

            Leam what morals Critics ought to show,
            For't is but half a judge's task to know. [561-2]

            The rules a nation bom to serve obeys,
            And Boileau still in the right of Horace sways,
            But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despised,
            And kept unconquer'd and civilized; [614-7]

            The interrelation of aesthetic beauty, natural order, and sociopolitical stability is evident in Pope, as well as his jealousy or dislike of the French, which is comparable to Horace's envyof the Greeks. In the mainstream of the eighteenth century England, he is, in many ways, a moralist. His authoritative tone wants the critic to function in such a way as to be to buttress the derivatiye but developed Roman tradition, Pope is in favor of the antiquity in its Anglicized form. Consequently, Pope's poem with its pragmatic and political favor, is, thus, slowly moving to a kind of institutionalized criticism.


1. References to and quotations from both works  are taken from R.C. Davis and L. Finke, eds, Literary Criticism and Theory: the Greeks to the Present (New York and London: Longman, 1989) 92-102 and 328-39 relatively.
          1. References to and quotations from Essay are taken from R.C. Davis and L. Finke, eds, Literary Criticism and Theory: the Greeks to the Present (New York and London: Longman, 1989) 92-102.
          2. The entire text is reprinted in Davis and Finke 328-39.
          3. For further information, see Caroline Good, Horace in the English Literature of the Eighteenth Century (New York: Haskell House, 1967 (128-70)
          4. Quoted in R. M. Schmitz, Pope's Essay on Critism 1709 (St. Louis: Washington UP, 1962) 24.
          5. "Poetry" here is used to refer to any kind of literary composition.
          6. The numbers used in the bracets refer to the number of the lines quoted in the text.
          7. Aristotelian mimesis is quite different from that of Plato, who, in Book X of Republic, regards art as mere copying, whisch is essentially trivial. However, Aristotle emphasizes the dynamics, the conscious "techne" of art, recognizing the the artist's creative potentiality in volving in the work of art. Aristotle relates mimesis to leaming, from which people get pleasure. Where as, for Plato, there is learning; everything people know is in bom, they just remember the potential knowledge stored in their intellectual mechanism. Besides, Plato regards pleasure as something despicable. Aristotelian mimesis is bi-phasic and transitive. That is to say, artist, by imitating nature leams something and gets pleased, so does tho audience because they observe the work imitated. Thus, mimesis, to him, is the aesthetic concept of art as a source of insight as well as guidance.
          8. Part I of the poem deals with general qualities of a critic; Part II, with the particular laws by which a work should be judged; Part III, with the ideal character of a critic. Pope begins his poem by pointing out the danger and prevalence of ill-informed criticism and the cammon agreement betwet private judgment, and then offers "Nature, as the source and end and test of art." (68-79)
          9. Compare these lines to Horace's 240-5, 400-10.
          10. Jr. A. Fenner tries to answer the objections about Pope's unity, e.g., in his article, "The Unity of Pope's Essay on Critism "M.Mack, ed., Essential Articles: Alexandar Pope (Hamden, Connecticut: Anchon Books, 1968) 227-4.
          11. Pope's use of the word "wit" is equally problematic. He uses the word fourty-sixtimes as opposed to Horace, who uses it only twice. The first Horace uses the word, it means intellectual and perceptive power. Thus, it refers to the ability to make clever, ironic or satirical remarks, usually by perceiving the incongruous and expressing it in a surprising or epigrammatic manner [269-70] The second time he uses it, it signifies a superior degree of intelligence or outstanding intellect [270-4]. On the other hand, Pope uses the word to refer to at least five senses. [E.N. Hooker in his "Pope on Wit: The Essay on Criticism" and W. Empson in this "Wit in the Essay on Criticism attempt to analyze the the meaning disseminating from it under seven categories. Both articles are reprinted, respectively, in M. Mack 185-207, 208-26.
          12. M.M. Fitzgerald, Preface, First Follow Nature: Primtivism in English Poetry 1725-1750 (New York: Octagon Books, 1976) YII-IX.
          13. Fitzgerald 3-5.
          14. For further information, see W. H. D. Rouse, tr., and E. H. Washington P.G. Rouse, eds, Great Dialogues of Plato by Plato (New York: New American Library, 1956) 182-207, 287-311.


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