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An Essay on Criticism - cover

An Essay on Criticism

Alexander Pope

Publisher: Lighthouse Books for Translation and Publishing

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Summary

An Essay on Criticism is one of the first major poems written by the English writer Alexander Pope. It is the source of the famous quotations "To err is human, to forgive divine," "A little learning is a dang'rous thing", and "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
Alexander Pope, (born May 21, 1688, London, England—died May 30, 1744, Twickenham, near London), poet and satirist of the English Augustan period, best known for his poems An Essay on Criticism (1711), The Rape of the Lock (1712–14), The Dunciad (1728), and An Essay on Man (1733–34). He is one of the most epigrammatic of all English authors.
Pope’s father, a wholesale linen merchant, retired from business in the year of his son’s birth and in 1700 went to live at Binfield in Windsor Forest. The Popes were Roman Catholics, and at Binfield they came to know several neighbouring Catholic families who were to play an important part in the poet’s life. Pope’s religion procured him some lifelong friends, notably the wealthy squire John Caryll (who persuaded him to write The Rape of the Lock, on an incident involving Caryll’s relatives) and Martha Blount, to whom Pope addressed some of the most memorable of his poems and to whom he bequeathed most of his property. But his religion also precluded him from a formal course of education, since Catholics were not admitted to the universities. He was trained at home by Catholic priests for a short time and attended Catholic schools at Twyford, near Winchester, and at Hyde Park Corner, London, but he was mainly self-educated. He was a precocious boy, eagerly reading Latin, Greek, French, and Italian, which he managed to teach himself, and an incessant scribbler, turning out verse upon verse in imitation of the poets he read. The best of these early writings are the “Ode on Solitude” and a paraphrase of St. Thomas à Kempis, both of which he claimed to have written at age 12.
Windsor Forest was near enough to London to permit Pope’s frequent visits there. He early grew acquainted with former members of John Dryden’s circle, notably William Wycherley, William Walsh, and Henry Cromwell. By 1705 his “Pastorals” were in draft and were circulating among the best literary judges of the day. In 1706 Jacob Tonson, the leading publisher of poetry, had solicited their publication, and they took the place of honour in his Poetical Miscellanies in 1709.
This early emergence of a man of letters may have been assisted by Pope’s poor physique. As a result of too much study, so he thought, he acquired a curvature of the spine and some tubercular infection, probably Pott’s disease, that limited his growth and seriously impaired his health. His full-grown height was 4 feet 6 inches (1.4 metres), but the grace of his profile and fullness of his eye gave him an attractive appearance. He was a lifelong sufferer from headaches, and his deformity made him abnormally sensitive to physical and mental pain. Though he was able to ride a horse and delighted in travel, he was inevitably precluded from much normal physical activity, and his energetic, fastidious mind was largely directed to reading and writing.

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