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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

III. Pope

§ 19. Imitations of Horace

The year 1733 was, perhaps, the most prolific in Pope’s life. About the beginning of the year, when he had for the moment laid aside An Essay on Man on account of ill-health, Bolingbroke observed to him how well the first satire of Horace’s second book would “hit his case” if he were to imitate it in English. On this hint, Pope “translated it in a morning or two and sent it to the press in a week or fortnight after.” The suggestion of a friend, and the framework of Horace, had given him one of the greatest opportunities of his literary life. The brilliance and conciseness of his style, his command alike over a lofty and over a conversational tone, the power of pungent epigram with which he stung his enemies, the affectionate enthusiasm with which he praised his friends, the fondness with which he lingered over the subject of himself—all here found expression. Horace’s rambling method lent itself to his purpose, and the original text, while sparing him the task of constructing his own scheme, enabled him to display his skill in adaptation and parallel. While, in one part, adopting a tone of proud superiority as the conscious champion of virtue, he does not deny the presence of a personal animus:

  • Whoe’er offends, at some unlucky time
  • Slides into verse, and hitches in a rhyme.