Essay on criticism pope text

Not only this, but there are several passages which suggest that criticism must be a part of the creative process, that poets themselves must possess critical faculties in order to execute their craft in a self-conscious and controlled manner. Hence there is a large overlap between these domains, between the artistic elements within criticism and the critical elements necessary to art.

Because of the overlapping natures of poetry and criticism, however, both wit and judgment will be required in each of these pursuits. Before inviting the poet and critic to follow nature, Pope is careful to explain one of the central functions of nature:.

An Essay on Criticism 2 | Alexander Pope | Deism

Hence, even before he launches into any discussion of aesthetics, Pope designates human wit generally as an instrument of pride, as intrinsically liable to abuse. It is in this context that Pope proclaims his famous maxim:. The features attributed to nature include permanence or timelessness and universality. As such, nature provides the eternal and archetypal standard against which art must be measured: the implication in the lines above is not that art imitates nature but that it derives its inspiration, purpose, and aesthetic criteria from nature.

However, Pope does not believe, like many medieval rhetoricians, that poetry is an entirely rational process that can be methodically worked out in advance.

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Indeed, geniuses can sometimes transgress the boundaries of judgment and their very transgression or license becomes a rule for art:. If Kant had been a poet, he might have expressed his central aesthetic ideas in this very way. Kant also believed that a genius lays down the rules for art, that those rules cannot be prescribed in advance, and that aesthetic judgment bypasses the conventional concepts of our understanding.

What the poet must express is a universal truth which we will instantly recognize as such. A second classical ideal urged in the passage above is that of organic unity and wholeness.

An Essay on Criticism

Elsewhere in the Essay , Pope stresses the importance, for both poet and critic, of considering a work of art in its totality, with all the parts given their due proportion and place ll. An essential component underlying such unity and proportion is the classical virtue of moderation. Indeed, the central passage in the Essay on Criticism , as in the later Essay on Man , views all of the major faults as stemming from pride: Of all the Causes which conspire to blind.

Is Pride , the never-failing Vice of Fools.

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It is pride which leads critics and poets alike to overlook universal truths in favor of subjective whims; pride which causes them to value particular parts instead of the whole; pride which disables them from achieving a harmony of wit and judgment; and pride which underlies their excesses and biases. Instead of aiding the appreciation of poetry, critics, perhaps in consequence of their own failure to master the poetic art, allowed the art of criticism to degenerate into irrational attacks on poets.

Pope cites two historical circumstances here. Having lost the war, Charles I was beheaded in , and England was ruled by Parliament, under the leadership of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell. The new king, as Pope indicates, had a reputation for easy living, lax morality, and laziness. Both kings were strongly pro-Catholic and aroused considerable opposition, giving rise to the second historical event to which Pope refers above, the Glorious Revolution of — Also enacted into law was a Bill of Rights which granted English citizens the right to trial by jury and various other rights.

First, various impulses of the earlier Protestant Reformation, such as religious individualism and amendment of the doctrines of the Church of England, were reconfirmed. Pope now furnishes an even broader historical context for these modern ills. In other words, the true and false uses of wit must be judged by those who have learned the rules of nature.

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Other classical critics praised by Pope are Dionysius of Halicarnassus ca. What is interesting here is that Pope sees the medieval era as a continuation of the so-called Dark Ages. Hence, even though he was himself a Catholic and placed great stress on the original sin of pride, Pope seems to reject the traditions of Catholic theology as belonging to an age of superstition and irrational belief. He is writing here as a descendent of Renaissance thinkers who saw themselves as the true heirs of the classical authors and the medieval period as an aberration.

Erasmus, like Pope, had a love for the classics grounded on rationality and tolerance. He rejected ecclesiastical Christianity, theological dogmatism, and superstition in favor of a religion of simple and reasonable piety. His writings helped pave the way for the Protestant Reformation, though he himself was skeptical of the bigotry he saw on both Protestant and Catholic sides. Boileau was a classicist influenced greatly by Horace. The writers Pope now cites were either known to him or his tutors. Pope presents himself as abiding by and exemplifying the critical virtues he has hitherto commended.

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Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Criticism"

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