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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

§ 7. An Essay on Criticism

An Essay on Criticism, which appeared in 1711, was, apparently, written in 1709, though Pope attempted afterwards to assign its composition to an earlier date. It was natural that, being studiously careful of his form, with the examples of Horace, Vida and Boileau before him (not to mention Roscommon and Buckinghamshire), he should try to discuss the principles of his art. He gave his poem, indeed, the title An Essay on Criticism; but it is clear that he is addressing not so much the ingenuous reader as the intending writer. He once said that he had digested all the matter in prose before he began it in verse; but, according to Jonathan Richardson, he often spoke of the Essay as “an irregular collection of thoughts, thrown together as they offered themselves, as Horace’s Art of Poetry was.” And this would seem a true description, for Pope was not a pioneer. He did not aim at leading his generation along new ways, but at recalling them to paths trodden by the ancients. Originality, even from the point of view of his own days, is not to be expected from him. But, though he inevitably insisted on truths which may now appear obvious, his genius for conciseness and epigram has stamped many a truth of this nature with the form that it must wear for all time. With the Essay, Pope became famous.