Pope An Essay on Criticism (The Poem)
towards the End…To ponder by Kent-Drury
Part I (1-200)
INTRODUCTION. That it is as great a fault to judge ill as to write ill, and a more dangerous one
to the public. That a true Taste is as rare to be found as a true Genius. That most men are born with some Taste, but spoiled
by false education. The multitude of Critics, and causes of them. That we are to study our own Taste, and know the limits
of it. Nature the best guide of judgment. Improved by Art and rules, which are but methodized Nature. Rules derived from the
practice of the ancient poets. That therefore the ancients are necessary to be studied by a Critic, particularly Homer and
Virgil. Of licenses, and the use of them by the ancients. Reverence due to the ancients, and praise of them.
Causes hindering a true judgement. Pride. Imperfect learning. Judging
by parts, and not by the whole. Critics in wit, language, and versification only. Being too hard to please, or too apt to
admire. Partiality--too much love to a sect--to the ancients or moderns. Prejudice or prevention. Singularity. Inconstancy.
Party spirit. Envy. Against envy, and in praise of good-nature. When severity is chiefly to be used by critics.
Rules for the conduct and manners in a Critic. Candour. Modesty. Good
breeding. Sincerity and freedom of advice. When one's counsel is to be restrained. Character of an incorrigible poet. And
of an impertinent critic. Character of a good critic. The history of criticism, and characters of the best critics; Aristotle.
Horace. Dionysius. Petronius. Quintiallian. Longinus. Of the decay of Criticism, and its revival. Erasmus. Vida. Boileau.
Lord Roscommon, etc. Conclusion.
- As you read, write
down words and names you don't recognize. I'll ask you for them in class. Also, if you notice any quotations you've heard
before, note them.
- Also as you read,
jot down a rough paraphrase of each stanza (it doesn't have to be long). This will help you organize and make sense of the
- What is the poetic
form of An Essay on Criticism?
- Why is a bad critic
worse than a bad poet?
- What does Pope think
is the reason for bad criticism?
- What advice does Pope
- How does Pope seem
to define "Nature"?
- How does Pope use
triplets? Does he seem to be making a different kind of point in these places?
- What does Pope say
about following "Rules"? What is the relationship between rules and license? What metaphors does he use to illustrate
this relationship? How does one know when it is acceptable to violate the rules?
- Look at lines 337-393
(there is something special about this passage). Read it aloud. What is Pope saying, and what is he doing?
- How do bad critics
judge good writing (that is, what criteria do they use)?
- Pope has some criticisms
to make of earlier reigns (he is writing during the reign of Queen Anne). What was wrong with the writing during Charles II's
reign? What was wrong during William III's reign? What does this suggest about he critic's moral responsibilities?
- What should a critic
do when he or she makes a mistake?
- When should a critic
- Pope provides a history
of criticism as he sees it. Which classical critics does Pope respect? What happened to end the reign of the good Classical
- What critics eventually
emerged in Europe
to take the place of the classical critics as good critics?
- What is the place
of Britain in the history of criticism?
- Are you skeptical
of any of Pope's claims?