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An Essay on Man

An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope
By: (1688-1744)

Pope’s Essay on Man, a masterpiece of concise summary in itself, can fairly be summed up as an optimistic enquiry into mankind’s place in the vast Chain of Being.

Each of the poem’s four Epistles takes a different perspective, presenting Man in relation to the universe, as individual, in society and, finally, tracing his prospects for achieving the goal of happiness.

In choosing stately rhyming couplets to explore his theme, Pope sometimes becomes obscure through compressing his language overmuch. By and large, the work is a triumphant exercise in philosophical poetry, communicating its broad and commonplace truths in superbly balanced phrases which remind us that Pope, alas, is one of the most quoted but least read writers in English:

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always To be Blest.”

(Summary by Martin Geeson)

First Page:

AN ESSAY ON MAN. MORAL ESSAYS AND SATIRES

BY ALEXANDER POPE.

CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED: LONDON , PARIS & MELBOURNE . 1891.

INTRODUCTION.

Pope's life as a writer falls into three periods, answering fairly enough to the three reigns in which he worked. Under Queen Anne he was an original poet, but made little money by his verses; under George I. he was chiefly a translator, and made much money by satisfying the French classical taste with versions of the "Iliad" and "Odyssey." Under George I. he also edited Shakespeare, but with little profit to himself; for Shakespeare was but a Philistine in the eyes of the French classical critics. But as the eighteenth century grew slowly to its work, signs of a deepening interest in the real issues of life distracted men's attention from the culture of the snuff box and the fan. As Pope's genius ripened, the best part of the world in which he worked was pressing forward, as a mariner who will no longer hug the coast but crowds all sail to cross the storms of a wide unknown sea... Continue reading book >>


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