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Positive Values in Pope & Swift (B Core essay)

Positive Values in Pope & Swift (B Core essay)

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Published by David Jones
Essay answering the question "In Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot and Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, where do Pope and Swift locate positive values, and how effectively do they communicate them?"
Essay answering the question "In Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot and Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, where do Pope and Swift locate positive values, and how effectively do they communicate them?"

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Published by: David Jones on Aug 26, 2009
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05/18/2010

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DAVID JONES
Texts In Context
 November 2000
Essay On Pope's
 Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot 
& Swift's
Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift 
In
Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot 
and
Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift 
, where do Popeand Swift locate positive values, and how effectively do they communicatethem?
On the surface, it seems odd to search for positive values in works that are both, to someextent, motivated by avarice and satirising personal enemies. Satire itself is rarely associatedwith values more positive than topical wit or comedy. Yet both of these poems do convey avariety of positive values aside from their humour.
 Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot 
is fuelled byidealism,
Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift 
commends pragmatism. The tone shifts in both of their closing sections, explicitly focussing on morality. Throughout however, both poemsadvocate the importance of friendship, and the moral virtuousness
i
of the authors themselves.In
 Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot 
Pope's moral virtue is emphasised from the start, in his polite treatment of irritating fans. Brean Hammond creates a rather clinical "morphologicalmap" of the poem and concludes that: "One-third is devoted to poetic autobiography designedto present the poet in as appealing a light as possible"
.This is an analytical area full of  pitfalls, since w
e can only really impute the thoughts and attitudes of thepoem immediately to its dramatic
speaker 
, and if to the author at all, onlyby an act of biographical inference"
. As narrator,
Pope playing a stylisedcharacter, but is doing so using real events from his life
.More importantly, as an oratorialsatirist he can only justify his position by representing himself as truly virtuous. Sometimeshe does this in rhetorical statements that are in themselves unconvincing: Not fashion's worshiper, nor fashion's fool, Not lucre's madman, nor ambition's tool, Not proud, not servile, be one poet's praise,That if he pleased, he pleased by manly ways:That flattery, even to kings, he held a shame,And thought a lie in verse or prose the same(lines 334 to 339)Pope's advocacy of moral virtue in his poetry is also aloof: "not in Fancy's Maze he wander'dlong,/ But stoop'd to truth, and moralized song". Generally however, Pope's delineation of "himself" is subtle and gradual, hidden behind the satirical attacks.Elias F. Mengel
v
sees Pope's elevation of himself, sometimes to a mock-heroic level,as a necessity in order to make the closing image - of himself praying for and nursing hiselderly mother 
- credible. If the typical assumption of the satirist as a malevolent man wasstill held by the reader, this image of Pope at his most virtuous would be dismissed. While thelanguage remains witty it is not funny at all, genuinely deep emotion has infiltrated the satire.
 
David Jones
Texts In Context
Essay On Positive Values In The Poetry Of Pope & Swift 
But though the poem closes dwelling on Pope's positive devotion, it is overshadowed by thenegative tone of events themselves. Dementia has caused a role reversal of parenting. Popehas "to rock the cradle"; but while being a parent looks to the future this relationship isleading nowhere. Throughout both poems we will see that positive values are often presented beneath negative coating, and vice versa.Swift's aspiration to moral virtuousness is initially very different. He and Pope mock the same shortcomings of the human condition, but while Pope attacks all those around him,Swift is part of the mass himself: "
We
all behold" (line 12). He writes frankly, even in a positive light, about the more base elements of human character:"How patiently you hear him groan!How glad the case is not your own!"(lines 29 & 30)Swift's hyperbolic portraits are full of an odd admiration here: "Vain humankind! fantasticrace! The various follies who can trace?". They are given comic vitality by the punchiness of his octosyllabic couplets:"If with such talents Heaven hath blessed 'em,Have I not reason to detest 'em?"(lines 64 & 65)Dennis Donaghue
sees
Verses On The Death Of Dr.
Swift as being subversive, a factor oftenmistaken for mere irony. Taking the controversial subjects of death and grieving, Swift createsa subject for comedy. Geoffrey Hill claims that Swift achieves his moral purpose here bysubverting the natural order of his society
.Swift's tone shifts radically in the second half of the poem however. He makes hisvirtue explicit in the same way that Pope has done. He arouses sympathy by referring to hisvirtuous actions, such as how he "gave the little wealth he had/To build a house for fools andmad" (lines 479-80). He argues that his earlier writings preserved "Fair Liberty" in Ireland.This demonstrates an important principle. Rather than merely
recording 
the problems of theworld, satire has the power to change things
. The way in which Swift's entertainingharshness does not corrupt his morals places him "in the first rank of agreeable moralists inverse"
x
. Caricatures return in this half, but this time they are repulsive like Pope's. Swift evenrepeats words from the first half, such as "envy". What was earlier a subject of comedy nowleads to tragedy. The constantly shifting tone in both poems has important implications –  positive and negative values are subjective, depending upon the particular satiric slant.Peter Dixon sees the most positive aspect
 Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot 
in the significanceof Pope's friendship to the Doctor himself. Pope and Arbuthnot's dialogue and interaction (for this is how Dixon sees the poem, though this view is contentious and may be flawed)embodies the positive values in intellectual debate itself. Pope writes to him without form or ceremonies and the two give and take advice. Their friendship is dramatized:. . .Still to one bishop Phillips seem a wit?Still Sapho - A. Hold! for god's sake – you'll offend. No names – be calm – learn prudence of a friend.I too could write, and I am twice as tall;But foes like these – P. One flatterer's worse than all!"
2
 
David Jones
Texts In Context
Essay On Positive Values In The Poetry Of Pope & Swift 
(lines 100-104)The opening urgent language gives way to playfulness and hyperbole on "twice". Their familiarity and good humour is endearing, especially considering the surrounding tone. Popehas clearly listened to Arbuthnot's advice to not name the names of his subjects, as he declaresin his prose opening: "I have, for the most part, spared their names, and they may be escaped being laughed at, if they please". Yet Pope dilutes this as a result of the poem's constant shiftin tone. His replacement of Edmund Curll's name with "This" is actually
more
offensive.Early in
Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift 
it appears that the poet dismisses the value of friendship, by defining the (short) amounts of time that each friend will grieve his death. Thisis actually the starting point for Swift to assert a new virtue – pragmatism. He is glad that hisfriends care but acknowledges that they will move on. Although it seems distasteful, the bestmust be made of any situation: "Oh! may we all for death prepare!/What has he left? andwho's his heir?". People must carry on, women will continue to play cards. However, Swift'shyperbole should also be noted. He cites pragmatism as an ideal, but the closing sentiment of the poem indicate that he would not be content for the legacy of his work to be lining dishes at"the patry-cook's".Swift does place value in friendship, but defines it by its absence, in his isolation:In exile with a steady heartHe spent his life's defining part;Where fully, pride and faction swayRemote from St. John, Pope and Gay(line 435)Swift also comments on these friends' skill in writing, albeit within a framework of self-depreciation. Even Pope has respect for other - mostly earlier - writers. Many see his satire asan attempt to bring the works of Horace and Donne up to date.The purity of Arbuthnot's character is another positive. He is an embodiment of valueswhich the poet seeks to uphold, and this is why he has been chosen as recipient of the letter itself: "Dr Arbuthnot is the poet's true friend, the antithesis of the false flatterers and hostiledetractors who plague the successful satirist"
. Arbuthnot does not fit into the world of  parasites whom play and profit on Pope's reputation. Friendship is a moral virtue in a worldwhere, in Pope's picture generally, moral virtue does not exist. Dixon focuses on the metaphor of the friend as a physician. This builds upon imagery that began with Ecclesiasticus and wascommon in the contemporary scene
. Pope describes Arbuthnot as a "Friend to my life".Dixon goes further:"It is one of the poem's delightful minor ironies that these men of rhyme seek Pope's advice asthough he were their physician and friend. Yet they do not want to be cured but preserved intheir folly: "
 All fly to Twit'nam, and in humble strain/Apply to me to keep them mad or vain.
"(lines 21-22)"
.
 Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot 
is a work of polarities between fawning admirers and hatefuldetractors, as Pope puts it "If foes, they write, if friends, they read me dead". Yet the friendlies between these extremes, opposing both in the process. Dixon's analysis culminates in theidea that by building up the philosophy of friendship Pope is also able to perform a radicalfeat, locating positive values in the genre of satire itself:
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