When Samuel Johnson ascribed to a new work "such extent of comprehension, such nicety of distinction, such acquaintance with mankind, and such knowledge both of both ancient and modern learning as not often attained by the maturest age and longest experience," he was speaking of young Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism (1711), written when he was about twenty, and published when he was only twenty-three years old (in Mack 177).1 Others have not been as generous in their comments about the prodigy's efforts. One history of criticism textbook describes the work rather ingloriously: "There are repetitions and inconsistencies, some conventional pronouncements along with injunctions of lasting value; but nowhere . . . are the principles organized into a coherent whole, and no cut-and-dried theory [of criticism] therefore emerges" (in Morris 145).2 Despite this harsher pronouncement, Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism 1 Johnson's evaluation of Pope's Essay has been upheld if for no other reason than that so many of the work's bon mots have established noteworthy careers in daily household English. As Mack observed (177), "Pope will sometimes manage a verbal maneuver so simple in appearance, so breathtaking on reflection, that the common sense of mankind has plucked it out of the poem and made it a part of speech: 'A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing' (205); 'To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine’ (525); `For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread' (625). And several more. Next to Shakespeare, we may recall, Pope has contributed more to our common language than any other poet. It is a gift not lightly to be dismissed."
One primary complaint against the work is that it plagiarized the ...
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...he Scriptures and in Pope, the goals of cosmic and poetic restoration are ones for which we can and must give thanks.
Clark, Donald B. Alexander Pope. Twayne's English Author Series. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1967.
Isles, Duncan. "Pope and Criticism," in Alexander Pope, edited by Peter Dixon. Writers and their Backgrounds. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1972.
Mack, Maynard. Alexander Pope: A Life. New York: W. W. Norton and Company in association with New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.
Morris, David B. "Civilized Reading: The Act of Judgment in An Essay on Criticism," in Alexander Pope, edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Reviews. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.
Williams, E. Audra and Aubrey, eds. Pastoral Poetry and An Essay on Criticism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961.
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