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Defending the self: Pope and his Horatian poems.

The Pope of the late poems, particularly those with a Horatian background and collected in the Twickenham edition as Imitations of Horace, is not an easy poet to live with. The explicit self-presentations are too frequent, too favourable, and sometimes too strident, for the reader to feel altogether comfortable with him. This problem is made more acute by the movement in recent decades from aesthetic to biographical or semi-biographical approaches to Pope. The career of Maynard Mack can serve as illustration. In the early 1950s, Mack made an influential plea for critics to study the artifice of satire and to recognize the distinction in Arbuthnot between the Pope of Twickenham and the Pope of the poem. (1) But he identified the merit of his later book on Pope as more biography and literary history than criticism, and later still, he calls the figure in the poems 'the poet's ideal rendering of the best in himself'. (2) Once we allow this, that Pope and 'Pope' are versions of the same, the door is opened for reading the poet as well as the poetry, and for natural suspicion of a man who speaks too much of himself and too warmly. Thus, James Reeves finds the self-presentation in Arbuthnot 'unbearably self-satisfied', (3) and more recently, Carole Fabricant has written of the 'dramatic, bloated, all-consuming, sublime Self that takes over centre stage' in the Epilogue to the Satires. (4)

Although the acknowledgement of the man behind the poems is sensible, the problem of context, especially the broad political context, remains. By replacing the poems in Pope's social and political context, the biographical approach curiously raises the danger of our reading, or misreading, the poet and his context in the light of our own. This appears at its most obvious in the tendency to commend or condemn him on the grounds of whether or not he can be co-opted as a contemporary political ally. Thus Mack, for example, is foursquare behind the Pope of Arbuthnot because the poem admits a modern reading as 'the struggle of the serious writer to keep from drowning in a Sargasso sea of soft porn or other eyewash prepared to formula for the tired typist home at teatime'. (5) On the other hand, Fabricant compares Pope unfavourably to Swift because while Swift's issues 'have profound moral implications', with Pope we 'look in vain for a clear and concrete issue'. (6) However, the influence of context exerts more subtle pressures than that of simply inviting readers to recruit Pope to their party or to castigate him for belonging to another. It can also lead to the assumption that the experience of politics was pretty much the same then as now. Fabricant uses the word 'issues' with its nineteenth-century meaning of 'a point or matter in contention', and there is the assumption in this that politics is fundamentally a matter of choices about ideas. Such an assumption reflects the experience of the modern academic in a liberal democracy, where we read about and discuss abstract questions, and make our political choices from outside the arena.

The experience of politics for Pope was different from this, and his self-representations are often responses to that different experience. Since corruption, his main political 'issue', was less an issue than a personal threat, the Horatian poems confront questions, as Mack has written, of 'how to survive in a corrupt world' (Alexander Pope: A Life, p. 726). The dangers posed by corruption were chiefly two. First, its daily offers of silver and invitations to compromise threatened to draw Pope in and make him its creature. Secondly, its dominance and centrality threatened to undermine still further the security of his identity. Pope was, his Catholicism notwithstanding, by nature and conviction an insider, and his sense of self was rooted in his position at the centre. The triumph of what he saw as corruption pushed him towards the unfamiliar and uncongenial identity of the marginal and dissident. This and the temptation to compromise are, I think, crucial to understanding his rather strident self-proclamations in the Horatian poems. The stridency was not born of self-satisfaction or arrogance but was instead an anxious reaction, at times an excessive one, to a palpable threat to his own sense of self. (7) In other words, what is going on in the poems is not only at times a version of literary self-defence but at nearly all times a defence of the self. However, things are not as simple as that. Some elements of form that Pope learnt from Horace also allow him to step back in what seems to be a further and more complex self-defensive manoeuvre.

Before going on to look at that argument in more detail I should say a word about my approach. As the opening paragraphs hint, I want to treat as a group the poems that show a Horatian influence: that is, those (mostly) collected by Warburton in one volume and now (completely) gathered in the Imitations of Horace volume of the Twickenham edition. (8) The danger of such an approach is that it tends to conflate differences between different poems, and perhaps more crucially, between different types of poem, those that imitate Horace, those that imitate Donne, and those that directly imitate no one. Such a problem is particularly acute, given the concern of my argument with self-representation, since the direct self-representations of Arbuthnot and the dialogues of Epilogue to the Satires are clearly different from those mediated through Horace. Although I try to distinguish between kinds of poems in the course of the discussion, the problem of elision, of lumping together, remains and the approach inevitably minimizes differences. However, given that qualification and given that the weight of my argument falls on Arbuthnot and the dialogues, the discussion of the poems together is justified. They seem to have been regarded as a group by Pope at the end of his life, (9) and they share political concerns, poetic methods, and approaches to self-representation. Most important, the discussion of the poems as a group, for all the problems of elision it causes, delivers general insights about Pope and politics.

Two key incidents of the 1720s and early 1730s reveal the temptation that a corrupted, or apparently corrupted, power could present for Pope. The first is the trial of Francis Atterbury on charges of Jacobitism. After his own appearance as a defence witness and after Atterbury's closing speech, Pope wrote to him in high excitement about the credit of having had a part in the trial and of being called Atterbury's friend. 'I am far prouder', he wrote, 'of that word you publickly spoke of me, than of any thing I have yet heard of my self in my whole life' (Corr., II, 169). (10) Seven years later, the publication of Swift's poem, 'A Libel on Dr. Delany and a Certain Great Lord', and Pope's reaction to it provided less dramatic but equally significant evidence of his attitude to power. The poem was a warning, prompted by Patrick Delany's increasing closeness to Lord Carteret, of the dangers of putting one's trust in princes. 'Men of Wit' who are caressed by the powerful, Swift warns, become 'a kind | Of Pandars to a vicious Mind' (ll. 23-24), and he goes on to hold Pope up as an exemplary contrast to the prostituted poet:

Hail! happy Pope, whose gen'rous Mind,

Detesting all the Statesman kind,

Contemning Courts, at Courts unseen,

Refus'd the Visits of a Queen [...]

His Heart too Great, though Fortune little,

To lick a Rascal Statesman's Spittle.

(ll. 71, 81) (11)

Pope's reactions to these lines are revealing. On publication, he wrote to William Fortescue (described by George Sherburn as 'his chief tie with Walpole') distancing himself from the poem and insisting it had troubled him more with its praise 'than all the Libels could by abusing me' (Corr., III, 91). Three years later, on the other hand, he described the poem to Swift as 'the best panegyrick on myself, that either my own times or any other could have afforded, or will ever afford to me', a sentiment he echoed in a later letter, saying 'I never took any praise so kindly' (Corr., III, 348, 366).

The importance of these two incidents lies in their revelation of the strength of the temptation to compromise. This revelation comes less from the momentary weakness Pope showed in the letter to Fortescue than from his considerable pride in his role in the Atterbury trial and in his praise by Swift. It is the pride of something achieved, of a struggle won, and it makes sense only if the temptation to give in to the status quo, to fail to support a beleaguered friend, to become a 'Sweet'ner' like Delany (l. 154), was a real one. This sense of real temptation, so foreign to most twentieth-century academic readers, is central to the Horatian poems. It is remarkable in them how frequently Pope uses the plausible adversarius who urges him to 'write CAESAR's Praise' (Satire II. i. 21), to 'learn Prudence of a Friend' (Arbuthnot, l. 102), to 'Go see Sir ROBERT' (Dialogue I, l. 27), or to 'write next winter more Essays on Man' (Dialogue II, l. 255). In the poems he (and it seems to be Pope rather than just a Horatian model) is surrounded by persuaders to comply with corruption. The imitated Horace is also important here. Although critics have argued about the attitude of Pope and his age towards Horace and his, the conclusion of Jacob Fuchs that neither was 'as a whole opposed to Horace' is convincing. (12) Even so, at one key point in the first dialogue, Pope has the adversarius represent Horace as having been a time-server, an 'artful Manager' and 'a kind of Screen' (Dialogue I, ll. 21-22). The general point is clear. The 'world' (for Pope the corrupted world) invites and it is often a struggle to resist the invitation.

However, if it is hard to resist, it is also urgent and necessary. This is one of the points at which modern readers, from our secure vantage-points in liberal democracies, need to make the most intense effort of sympathetic imagination. Compromise with a corrupt power is neither an intellectual conclusion about an issue nor a minor moral decision, but a choice that threatens the individual's identity. Pope describes compromisers in terms of the subhuman or the dehumanized, by calling them 'things', or more frequently (and at a time when the word really meant something) 'slaves'. But the best example of the barely human compromised courtier comes in the portrait of Sporus. Here Pope assembles a number of animals and objects (thing, curd, bug, dog, stream, puppet, toad, serpent) as images of Sporus, and he shifts so rapidly from one to another that any sense of firm identity is lost. The sexual imagery compounds this, since it implies an anxiety about identity in general as much as sexuality in particular. (13) The misogynist thesis of Epistle to a Lady, a poem published only a month after Arbuthnot, is stated clearly in the quotation from Martha Blount at the beginning, 'Most Women have no Characters at all' (l. 2). In making Sporus both effeminate and sexually ambiguous, Pope implies that his identity is insubstantial or non-existent. While this reflects an abstract view of evil as nothing, (14) it also suggests a practical consequence of compromise with corruption, that those who do compromise, like Sporus/Hervey, destroy themselves. The celebration of Pope's own 'manly ways' that follows the portrait makes the opposite point but rests on similar assumptions: 'Not Fortune's Worshipper, nor Fashion's Fool, | Not Lucre's Madman, nor Ambition's Tool' (Arbuthnot, ll. 334-35). This series of negative possessives suggests that Pope's 'manliness', his identity, is a matter of resistance to outside forces that threaten to claim him and make him theirs. The gender implications of this aside, the idea is central to Pope's political consciousness. Politics, less a matter of issues than of survival, was a struggle to preserve identity in the face of inviting and potentially destructive power.

If temptation posed one threat to Pope's identity, the extent of the Whig ascendancy (to him, corruption's ascendancy) posed another. (15) Whatever we may think about the virtues or otherwise of the long period of Walpole's administration, or the longer period of Whig administration, one group's grasp of power was unusually secure in those years. This is another of the points at which the modern reader needs to make an effort of imagination, to think what it is like to live in a society dominated by a single ideology (or, in the more colourful stock opposition metaphor, a society deluged by corruption). Although the opposition rhetoric of the 1720s and 1730s is familiar enough, it is worth reviewing a few examples. The authors of Cato's Letters describe in 1721 how after the South Sea fiasco 'Villainy was let loose amongst us, and every Man endeavoured to entrap and ruin another', while later in the decade the Craftsman diagnoses the country's ills as coming from a 'POLITICAL LETHARGY which lays all the noble faculties, generous passions, and social virtues, as it were by Opium, in a profound Trance', and Bolingbroke, writing in the same journal, notes of the present age 'how generally depraved it is grown'. (16) The same idea of universal corruption provides the running joke for The Beggar's Opera, (17) and informs The Dunciad, a poem that Pope thought might 'stand for a publick Epitaph or monumental Inscription, like that at Thermophylae, on a whole people perish'd' (Corr., III, 142-43). The point is that beneath all the party political exaggeration of such examples there remains a sense of genuine desperation at the perception of general corruption.

The difficulty of opposition always bears some relation to the spread of the belief it opposes. It is harder to dissent when nearly everyone accepts society's norms than when only some people do. But the effort of dissidence is also influenced by the dissident's self-image, by the extent to which he or she sees himself or herself as a non-conformist outsider. E. P. Thompson has written about the context of antinomian beliefs that provided Blake with 'a stance towards the polite culture, whose strength is most evident in the confidence which it gave to' him. (18) That confidence comes in part from the intellectual support the context provides, and in part from the moral support of a kind of culture of non-conformity. In such a culture it is seen as right and natural to be, in the words of Thompson's splendid title, a 'witness against the beast'. The example of Bunyan is even more instructive. Although Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners records his doubts and trials of faith, it was written after them, in prison and (as Christopher Hill notes) 'with the confident conviction of one whose elect status has been confirmed by martyrdom'. (19) For the nonconformist Bunyan, the position of the martyr, of the vilified outsider, was in itself a confirmation of his idea of himself.

Pope was different. In his first creative period he constructed his poetic identity out of claims to membership of established society, conformity to its beliefs, and a position at its centre. (20) Windsor Forest opens with the information that a government minister has commanded its composition (ll. 5-6), and includes later passages that with their adoption of the heightened rhetoric of vision implicitly claim for Pope the mantle of prophet of national peace and prosperity (ll. 355-84). Although The Rape of the Lock is a more domestic and Roman Catholic poem, its inscription to John Caryll emphasizes Pope's participation in an act of social repair (I, 3), Clarissa's speech (a late addition) celebrates social virtues (V, 9-34), and its light-hearted exploitation of Rosicrucian beliefs displays the insider's contempt for the marginalized and the odd. Even the late poetry preserves a good deal of this insider mentality with The Dunciad (for example) presenting a scorned procession of impoverished, rejected grotesques.

However, by that time Pope too had become something of an eccentric outsider. With society dominated and the centre seized by the Whigs, he was estranged from government and power, and physically removed from the heart of things by his residence at Twickenham. This position is highlighted through contrast with the sometimes shadowy, sometimes distinct presence of Horace in the poems, since Horace himself remained an insider. The would-be insider Pope found his marginalization difficult. (21) His long-standing commitment to established society and his belief that membership of it was itself some kind of justification compounded the dissident's usual problem of self-justification in a society that thinks differently. Pope confronts the problem in the last complete poem of the group, when he has the adversarius give voice to the possibility that his opposition might boil down to the fact that 'your Friends are out, and would be in' (Dialogue II, l. 123). The suggestion goes beyond the imputation of venal or ambitious motives. It hints that Pope's opposition, his whole public personality of the Twickenham dissident, is simply a matter of exclusion. Such a devastating possibility (and I do not think the participle is too strong) is present, though seldom quite so explicit, throughout the Horatian poems. In the first of them, for example, he compares himself jokingly with other outcast and despised writers (Satire II. i. 99-100);22 in Arbuthnot, he refers regretfully to his loss of reputation with Queen Caroline (Arbuthnot, ll. 356-59), and in the first dialogue of the Epilogue, he has the adversarius suggest that continued opposition not only threatens his remaining friendships but will draw the general imputation of selfish motives (Dialogue I, ll. 23-26).

The triumph of 'corruption', then, posed two related threats to Pope, that of temptation and that of centrality. The self-presentation in the late poems seems to have been in large part a reaction to those threats, something that is perhaps most clear in the tendency towards what might be called negative autobiography in them. Each of the portraits of Atticus and Sporus, for example, is followed by a description that glances back to the portrait and which catalogues what Pope is not:

Poems I heeded (now be-rym'd so long)

No more than Thou, great GEORGE! a Birth-day Song.

I ne'r with Wits or Witlings past my days,

To spread about the Itch of Verse and Praise;

Nor like a Puppy daggled thro' the Town,

To fetch and carry Sing-song up and down;

(Arbuthnot, l. 221)

These insistent denials expose both an anxiety about what without the courage to resist Pope might become and a perhaps deeper anxiety about the difficulty of finding adequate terms of self-definition. But the negative element is more sustained than the one example suggests. Throughout the poems, Pope is not only comparing but also contrasting himself with Horace, defining himself by negation of Horace's centrality and importance, which he cannot reproduce (see Fuchs, pp. 60-61). A familiar late-twentieth-century idea in discussion of women in patriarchy or of colonized peoples is that the marginalized in a society dominated by one powerful group tend to be defined in relation to that group. With language engrossed by the dominant, there are no terms for what the subjugated are, only for what they are not. Pope seems to be in something of that position in these passages. Since Atticus, Sporus, and their like have taken over the centre, the exile of Twickenham is left to be defined, and to define himself, either by contrast with them or by contrast with Horace, an envied central figure from the past.

Other passages of the Horatian poems use positive terminology in order to redefine the centre and place Pope in it. Two of his most common, and sometimes least attractive, poetic methods are important here: historical allusion and contemporary name-dropping. "Tis all from Horace', the adversarius of the first dialogue objects (Dialogue I, l. 7), and although it is not, Pope leans fairly heavily on his poetic forebears. (23) What he does with allusion is cite examples from a (to him the) central European tradition, in order to associate himself with it, now that his country's social and political centre has been usurped by a different tradition. The same kind of thing is at work in Arbuthnot in the name-dropping of one of the most apparently self-satisfied passages in the whole of the Horatian poems:

But why then publish? Granville the polite,

And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write;

Well-natur'd Garth inflam'd with early praise,

And Congreve lov'd, and Swift endur'd my Lays;

The Courtly Talbot, Somers, Sheffield read,

Ev'n mitred Rochester would nod the head,

And St. John's self (great Dryden's friends before)

With open arms receiv'd one Poet more.

(Arbuthnot, l. 135)

Pope is not simply listing his prestigious referees here but constructing a kind of academy of the polite and educated, from whom 'the world will judge of Men and Books' (Arbuthnot, l. 145), and who will confer authority on him and his work.

Despite first appearance, such a manoeuvre is anything but self-satisfied. Of the ten men cited in the example above, seven were dead when the poem was published, and of the three still alive, Swift was old and in Ireland, Granville was old and out of place, and Bolingbroke was about to leave for France. (24) In the context of 1735 this list of names seems to be Pope's rather desperate attempt to define his own centre now he is excluded from the real one. A contemporary illustration might make the point. Ken Saro-Wiwa's prison diary is a general reflection on a country (Nigeria) in the grip of corruption and a particular record of the injury of 'the instruments of state reducing you to dust'. (25) At times, Saro-Wiwa indulges in something like Pope's name-dropping. He emphasizes the eminence of his associates, describes his trips abroad, refers to his son's having been at 'Britain's premier school, Eton College', and uses the slightly archaic English expletive 'Good heavens!' (pp. 104, 17, 39). These seem to be attempts to find, and belong to, a centre by someone whose country is corrupt and whose leaders are bent on reducing him to dust. (26) Although the threats to Pope were not so palpable, he too strove against the odds to define an authoritative centre for himself.

Perhaps the most prominent method of self-presentation in the Horatian poems, though, and the least congenial, is plain self-praise. In the first poem, Pope changes Horace quite fundamentally to declare himself in fulsome capitals 'To virtue only and HER FRIENDS, A FRIEND' (Satire II. i. 121), (27) a claim matched for boastfulness by the closing passage of the last: 'Yes, the last Pen for Freedom let me draw, | When Truth stands trembling on the edge of Law' (Dialogue II, ll. 248-49). Both examples are among the moments at which the quality Fabricant has called 'Pope's overriding obsession with self ' is most apparent (p. 46). But the lines, though loud and indecorous proclamations of his own courage and virtue, need not be the expression of an enormous amour propre. Read in context, much of which they provide themselves, the poems as a whole give an impression less of self-assertion than of bruised, anxious self-defence, and 'self-defence' understood in the sense I used it earlier as a defence of the self. This general interpretation affects specific readings of passages like those above. To Fabricant they are the boast of an egregious egotist. They might just as easily be the worried overreaction of someone whose whole sense of himself is under threat.

If Pope's apparent egotism is the result of deep-seated insecurity, the poems invite that interpretation as much as the biography does. They make the invitation through two elements of form that Pope learnt from Horace, through poetic autobiography and through drama. (28) Erskine-Hill has described the movement in the Horatian poems as 'the development of the self-expressive impulse towards a form of poetic autobiography' (The Augustan Idea, p. 317), and many of the poems involve dramatic confrontation. The result of both elements of form is to ironize, to create distance from, Pope's self-definition so that, with all its attendant bias and exaggeration, it can be seen as a reaction to a real threat. This is not to imply that the 'Pope' of the poems is a fiction or half a fiction, only that the poet Pope had the capacity to imagine himself from inside and outside the action simultaneously. The cause of this kind of ironic self-exposure may, paradoxically, be a further element in his self-defence. Its effect for the reader is to make motives and contradictions clear.

Dramatic confrontation is most evident in the two dialogues of the Epilogue to the Satires. Here, the adversarius acts as the acceptable face of corruption, inviting Pope in, and representing the new centre with the urbane language of the old. At the beginning of the first dialogue, he sympathizes with Pope's increasing weakness, talks with cynical insight of Horace, winningly mentions glory and ends with the advice 'Go see Sir Robert' (Dialogue I, ll. 5-27). Pope is faced with this apparently reasonable, apparently respectable tempter, and his self-representations throughout the poem are reactions to mounting pressure from him. This culminates in the final seventy lines, which include, among other things, a celebration of Pope's love of virtue, seeming to imply that he and it are somehow of the same species: 'Virtue may chuse the high or low Degree, | 'Tis just alike to Virtue, and to me' (ll. 137-38).

But if the implication is preposterous, the dramatic point makes obvious sense. Pope's self-assessment is not a smugly settled conclusion, but a reaction to the pressures of the adversarius and his corrupt society. Both dramatization and reaction are more pronounced in the second dialogue. After 200 lines of badgering by the adversarius and response by Pope, we have the exchange:

Fr. You're strangely proud.

P. So proud, I am no Slave:

So impudent, I own myself no Knave:

So odd, my Country's Ruin makes me grave.

(Dialogue II, ll. 205)

Here, the accusation of strangeness and pride seems, in context, to touch a raw nerve of personal insecurity. The self-proclamations that follow it are as much, and as clearly, reactions to fear as is Bottom's singing in the dark forest.

Poetic autobiography often works in a similar way. The passages that follow the Atticus and Sporus portraits are (as already noted) important pieces of self-description. Their placing is generally regarded as part of the effort of self-definition, with the preceding portraits described in visual terms as serving to set off or acting as foils (see Griffin, pp. 178-79). Dramatic terms, however, are just as appropriate and the portraits act less as foils to set off than as stimuli to start off. What is more, even the most intimate autobiographical revelations acquire some of their meaning from their context. The lines at the end of Arbuthnot about Pope's care for his mother no doubt reflect real feeling (ll. 408-14), but they must also be interpreted by their place in a poem of aggressive self-defence. Pope is not simply caring for his mother but is making a public display of care in response to public attacks on his character. The display (if not the care itself) appears by its context to be an over-insistent response to a deeply unsettling situation.

Both drama and poetic autobiography create ironic distance. In Arbuthnot, Pope presents himself as so beleaguered and bothered that all his pronouncements are those of someone who is out of sorts with the world. They are, in other words, bad-tempered excesses. Indeed, if we read the poem as a dialogue, Pope is so affected by his situation that he is comically rude to his good-natured interlocutor, brushing friendly warnings aside (l. 78), interrupting (l. 104), and ranting on about his own concerns. There is a similar ironic excess in other poems, especially the dialogues. Pope responds, for example, to the adversarius, with the overstated sarcasm of 'Come harmless Characters that no one hit' (Dialogue I, l. 65), the too tart riposte, 'How Sir! not damn the Sharper, but the Dice' (Dialogue II, l. 13), and the exasperated 'God knows, I praise a Courtier where I can' (Dialogue II, l. 63).

Some of the ironies most closely associated with autobiography are less obvious than this. They tend to be created out of internal inconsistencies, and again Arbuthnot affords some of the best examples. Pope scorns Codrus for being immune to other people's opinion and laughter, for standing 'unshook amidst a bursting World' (l. 88), and refers to his own similar ability to withstand the onslaught of 'the furious Foe, the timid Friend' (l. 343); he mentions Atticus's absurd preservation of his eminence 'like the Turk' (l. 198), and his own preservation of invisibility 'like Asian monarchs' (l. 220) (see also Hammond, p. 152), and he ends a passage in praise of his father's retired, honest, uneducated life with the supplication 'grant me thus to live, and thus to die' (l. 404), when the preceding 400 lines have made it abundantly clear that such a life is not for him. Similar inconsistencies stretch across the group of poems in the references to Pope and poetry, compounded and multiplied by the fact that some have a Horatian source and some have not. Composition keeps him awake at night (Satire II. i. 14), but the noise of the world soothes him to sleep (Satire II. i. 124), and he can sleep without a poem in his head (Arbuthnot, l. 269). He is distressed at losing the facility at composition (Epistle II. ii. 72-79), but is comfortably resigned to abandoning the cultivation of poetry for the cultivation of the mind (Epistle II. ii. 201-05). He resents the expectation that he will publish (Arbuthnot, l. 271), but he is inwardly compelled to write (Satire II. i. 100). Pope, then does not represent himself as gravely consistent, but ironically exposes his own lack of power 'to act consistent with himself an hour' (Epistle I. i. 136-37).

It may seem curious that Pope should ironize what I have described earlier as his attempts at defence of the self. The explanation might be that he is involved in two kinds of defence of the self in the poems. (29) The first is reactive. Corruption invites, and its invitation is an attractive one, so he refuses somewhat too loudly. Corruption usurps the centre to which he wants to belong, so he tries to build a rather over-defined centre of his own. The second type of defence rests less on self-definition than on imaginative self-knowledge. Of course, self-knowledge has a prominent place in Pope's late poetry, and in Christian humanism generally, as the source of real wisdom and 'the proper study of Mankind' (Essay on Man, II. 1-2). But it can also act as a kind of self-defence. The reactive strategies leave Pope in the thick of things, defining himself against the enemy and threatened by the enemy's attraction and power. (30) Self-knowledge, on the other hand, allows him to step back and secure a place outside the melee. Both positions are present in the Horatian poems. Pope is in the action, trying desperately to construct an identity strong enough to withstand the buffets of a dangerous world. But he is also outside, imagining his own efforts at construction and placing them in their context. The second bears some kind of equivalence to his villa at Twickenham. Just as his residence on the periphery of London allows him to observe the city's business from the safety of distance, so his self-knowing dramatic imagination allows him to see his own struggles from afar. It is a perspective that in the context of a dangerous and corrupt society protects the self by a form of partial disengagement, or more accurately (if we put it together with his political commitment) an engaged disengagement.

Pope does not, as I said at the outset, always present an attractive figure in these poems. Some sense of the danger and difficulty of his political context, however, allows the reader to sympathize with his unattractive self-presentations. The true poet, Pope writes, 'can make me feel each Passion that he feigns' (Epistle II. i. 343), and a sympathetic reader will feel the passions of anxiety and insecurity that inform the poems. There is, moreover, something to be learnt from them about the nature of dissent. To say that is not another attempt to recruit Pope for a contemporary political argument but more a recognition that the poems are centrally concerned with opposition in a society dominated by one way of thinking. If the Pope of the Horatian poems is any kind of exemplum, it is not one of virtue or political rectitude but one of dissidence. In one way, that is irrelevant to most modern readers. Our political experience is generally of liberal democracies in which dissent is permitted, and even encouraged. This means that we do not face Pope's problem of asserting difference in what might be called a singular society. But political settlements do not last. Power will probably one day again be engrossed by a faction that will exert the pressure, and tap the desire, to conform. Pope's Horatian poems, read as a group, provide an example of how to resist the pressure and control the desire by overdefining identity, and by withdrawing in imagination to watch the struggle of power and opposition from afar.

(1) 'The Muse of Satire', Yale Review, 41 (1951-52) 80-92 (pp. 82-83). A more recent example of the aesthetic approach is that of Donald Greene, who argues that Pope has suffered more than most 'from the biographical fallacy', and that An Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot should be read as a 'dramatic duologue' with a 'fictive speaker' ('An Anatomy of Pope Bashing', in The Enduring Legacy: Alexander Pope Tercentenary Essays, ed. by G. S. Rousseau and Pat Rogers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 241-81 (pp. 260, 264)).

(2) The Garden and the City: Retirement and Politics in the Later Poetry of Pope, 1731-1743 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), p. vii, and Alexander Pope: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 725. In similar manner, Dustin Griffin compares Pope's 'rearrangement, composition, and creation of self' to writing poetry (Alexander Pope: The Poet in the Poems (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 35). More recently, Frans De Bruyn has argued that it is the poem's rootedness 'in the life and circumstances of its author' that makes it compelling ('"Wit, and Burke, and Pope": The Literary Art of Self-Defence in An Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot and A Letter to a Noble Lord ', British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 15 (1992), 35-49 (p. 48)). The question, of course, is complicated in those poems where Pope is imitating a Horatian original.

(3) The Reputation and Writings of Alexander Pope (London: Heinemann, 1976), p. 206.

(4) 'Pope's Moral, Political and Cultural Combat', in Pope, ed. by Brean Hammond (London: Longman, 1996), pp. 41-63 (p. 43).

(5) Alexander Pope: A Life, p. 639. In slightly more guarded vein, Howard Erskine-Hill talks about the way in which Pope's later political poetry 'challenged with great eloquence what looked like and perhaps was a long national decline into self-interest and short views' (Poetry of Opposition and Revolution: Dryden to Wordsworth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 95).

(6) Fabricant, p. 43. A slightly different critical gambit from those opposed to Pope is to find flaws and fissures in his ideology. See, for example, Brean Hammond, Pope, pp. 143-69 (p. 162).

(7) Critics have commented on the vulnerable nature of the self in these poems. Frank Stack ends his book by looking at the way in which 'both Pope and Horace hint that "self" is an ideal to be achieved and rarely attained' (Pope and Horace: Studies in Imitation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 280). In a different vein, G. Douglas Atkins writes in his discussion of Arbuthnot of Pope's 'equivocation and indeterminacy' (Quests of Difference: Reading Pope's Poems (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986), p. 145.

(8) See Howard Erskine-Hill, The Augustan Idea in English Literature (London: Arnold, 1983), p. 347.

(9) Erskine-Hill discusses the extent to which Pope envisaged as a group the imitations of Horace, those of Horace via Donne, and those that have no direct Horatian source (The Augustan Idea, pp. 348-49).

(10) All quotations from Pope are taken from The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. by John Butt and others (London: Methuen, 1939-69), and from The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, ed. by George Sherburn, 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), abbreviated as Corr.

(11) Swift: Poetical Works, ed. by Herbert Davis (London: Oxford University Press, 1967).

(12) Reading Pope's Imitations of Horace (Toronto: Toronto University Press; London : Associated University Presses, 1989), p. 52. The two principal adversaries in the debate over Pope's attitude towards Horace are Howard D. Weinbrot and Erskine-Hill. Weinbrot argues that in the Epistle to Augustus, Pope 'characterizes Horace as the literary and Augustus as the political paradigms of what should not be the relationship between the coercive power of the state and the freer needs of the artist' (Augustus Caesar in 'Augustan' England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 212). Erskine-Hill disputes the idea (The Augustan Idea, pp. 292, 308).

(13) Griffin comments on the sexual anxiety, and rightly describes Sporus as a 'shape-changer' (Griffin, pp. 182, 188).

(14) This is the Augustinian view. See G. R. Evans, Augustine on Evil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 5-6.

(15) Erskine-Hill, arguing that 'a definition cannot really hope to encompass the range of connected meanings' of corruption, devotes several pages to a survey of it (The Social Milieu of Alexander Pope (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975), pp. 267-78).

(16) Thomas Gordon and John Trenchard, Cato's Letters: or, Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and other Important Subjects (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), no. 31, 27 May 1721; Craftsman, no. 27, 10 March 1727; no. 161, 2 August 1729.

(17) For example, 'it is difficult to determine whether (in the fashionable vices) the fine gentlemen imitate the gentlemen of the road, or the gentlemen of the road the fine gentlemen' (The Beggar's Opera, ed. by Bryan Loughrey and T. O. Treadwell (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), p. 121).

(18) Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 109.

(19) A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and his Church, 1628-1688 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 74.

(20) Thomas Woodman argues that Pope was the 'last major poet in England to aspire to the great Renaissance ideal of the laureate poet' ('Wanting Nothing but the Laurel: Pope and the Idea of the Laureate Poet', in Pope: New Contexts, ed. by David Fairer (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990), pp. 45-58 (p. 45)).

(21) Fuchs writes that 'what upsets Pope is the knowledge [...] that he matters very little in a world where power lies apart from him' (Fuchs, p. 60).

(22) The lines are an addition by Pope to his Horatian original.

(23) Butt calls Pope the 'most allusive of our poets' (Twickenham Edition, IV, xliv). Mack describes the 'autobiographical figure of the 30's' as 'a Roman figure [...] a recognizable seventeenth-century figure' and 'very plainly a version of the historical Alexander Pope' (The Garden and the City, pp. 110-11).

(24) They were not the 'powerful elite' Ian Donaldson calls them ('Concealing and Revealing: Pope's Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot', Yearbook of English Studies, 18 (1988), 181-99 (p. 99).

(25) A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995), p. 8.

(26) Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed on 10 November 1995.

(27) In the original the words apply to Lucilius, not to Horace, as W. J. Courthope was the first to point out (The Works of Pope, ed. by W. Elwin and W. J. Courthope, 10 vols (London: Murray, 1871-89), III, 297-98). See also Erskine-Hill, The Augustan Idea, p. 295.

(28) Greene, in particular, comments on the importance of drama (Greene, pp. 263-64).

(29) Hammond offers a different account, that the Pope of the Horatian poems is 'an ideological construction of self', and that his inconsistencies are those of his ideology (Hammond, p. 162).

(30) Pat Rogers describes Pope's 'artistic mission' as being to 'fight in the thick of the battle' (Essays on Pope (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 97.

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Author:Richardson, John
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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