Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 8. The Rape of the Lock

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

§ 8. The Rape of the Lock

Young Lord Petre, by snipping a lock of Miss Fermor’s hair, had caused ill-feeling between the families. Pope was invited by his friend Caryll to allay this by taking the theme for a playful poem. The Rape of the Lock, in its first form, was written within a fortnight and published anonymously in Lintot’s Miscellany, 1712. For the genre, Pope was indebted to Boileau’s Lutrin, as Boileau had been to Tassoni’s Secchia Rapita; but, in its blending of mock-heroic, satire and delicate fancy, this exquisite specimen of filigree work, as Hazlitt called it, remains unmatched. Pope’s hand was never happier than in adding to the original sketch his machinery of sylphs and gnomes. But his genius for touching appears throughout. Nothing could better illustrate Pope’s methods of working than to turn to the earlier version of the six lines beginning canto 1, 13, and to watch how vastly each one has been improved. The parody of Sarpedon’s speech in the fifth canto was not introduced till the edition of 1717. In Germany, The Rape gave rise to a long series of imitations.