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 Pope and Swift locate positive values, and how effectively do they communicate them? On the surface, it seems odd to search for positive values in works that are both, to some extent, motivated by avarice and satirising personal enemies. Satire itself is rarely associated with values more positive than topical wit or comedy. Yet both of these poems do convey a variety of positive values aside from their humour. Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot is fuelled by idealism, 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 poems advocate the importance of friendship, and the moral virtuousnessi 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 "morphological map" of the poem and concludes that: "One-third is devoted to poetic autobiography designed to present the poet in as appealing a light as possible"ii. This is an analytical area full of pitfalls, since we can only really impute the thoughts and attitudes of the poem immediately to its dramatic speaker, and if to the author at all, only by an act of biographical inference"iii. As narrator, Pope playing a stylised character, but is doing so using real events from his lifeiv. More importantly, as an oratorial satirist he can only justify his position by representing himself as truly virtuous. Sometimes he 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'd long,/ 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. Mengelv 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 his elderly mothervi - credible. If the typical assumption of the satirist as a malevolent man was still held by the reader, this image of Pope at his most virtuous would be dismissed. While the language 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 the negative tone of events themselves. Dementia has caused a role reversal of parenting. Pope has "to rock the cradle"; but while being a parent looks to the future this relationship is leading 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! fantastic race! 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 Donaghuevii sees Verses On The Death Of Dr. Swift as being subversive, a factor often mistaken for mere irony. Taking the controversial subjects of death and grieving, Swift creates a subject for comedy. Geoffrey Hill claims that Swift achieves his moral purpose here by subverting the natural order of his societyviii. Swift's tone shifts radically in the second half of the poem however. He makes his virtue explicit in the same way that Pope has done. He arouses sympathy by referring to his virtuous actions, such as how he "gave the little wealth he had/To build a house for fools and mad" (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 the world, satire has the power to change thingsix. The way in which Swift's entertaining harshness does not corrupt his morals places him "in the first rank of agreeable moralists in verse"x. Caricatures return in this half, but this time they are repulsive like Pope's. Swift even repeats words from the first half, such as "envy". What was earlier a subject of comedy now leads 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 significance of 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!"


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. Pope has clearly listened to Arbuthnot's advice to not name the names of his subjects, as he declares in 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 shift in 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. This is actually the starting point for Swift to assert a new virtue – pragmatism. He is glad that his friends care but acknowledges that they will move on. Although it seems distasteful, the best must be made of any situation: "Oh! may we all for death prepare!/What has he left? and who's his heir?". People must carry on, women will continue to play cards. However, Swift's hyperbole 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 heart He spent his life's defining part; Where fully, pride and faction sway Remote from St. John, Pope and Gay (line 435) Swift also comments on these friends' skill in writing, albeit within a framework of selfdepreciation. Even Pope has respect for other - mostly earlier - writers. Many see his satire as an 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 values which 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 hostile detractors who plague the successful satirist"xi. Arbuthnot does not fit into the world of parasites whom play and profit on Pope's reputation. Friendship is a moral virtue in a world where, 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 was common in the contemporary scenexii. 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 as though he were their physician and friend. Yet they do not want to be cured but preserved in their folly: "All fly to Twit'nam, and in humble strain/Apply to me to keep them mad or vain." (lines 21-22)"xiii. Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot is a work of polarities between fawning admirers and hateful detractors, as Pope puts it "If foes, they write, if friends, they read me dead". Yet the friend lies between these extremes, opposing both in the process. Dixon's analysis culminates in the idea that by building up the philosophy of friendship Pope is also able to perform a radical feat, locating positive values in the genre of satire itself:


David Jones Texts In Context Essay On Positive Values In The Poetry Of Pope & Swift

"Pope's analogy of the satirist as friend enables him to exalt his own poetical function. For the satirist is considered a critic of his fellow-men who admonishes society only because, like a true friend, he has society's best interests at heart. He is not afraid to blame, though he is also pleased to praise when the opportunity presents itself"xiv. Swift meanwhile does not elevate the moral importance of his poetry at first. He contrarily dismisses it: "For poetry, he's past his prime; He takes an hour to find a rhyme; His fire is out, his wit decayed, His fancy sunk, his Muse a jade I'd have him throw away his pen But there's no talking to some men". (lines 99 – 104) However the second half of the poem conveys truer feelings once again. In a similar fashion to Pope, Swift elevates the importance of satire as "a moral view designed/To cure the vices of mankind" (313-314). Unfortunately this message is again damaged by contradictions due to the shifting tone. Swift claims that he "lashed the vice but spared the name"; his satire does not bear witness to this, with swipes at "Kind Lady Suffolk" or Edmund Curll. Finally, Pope describes his unique independence as a writer as being entirely positive. He was a key figure in the gradual move away from patronage that degraded writing to "Whig state apparatus"xv during the Eighteenth Century. This is manifest in both the motivation behind the Epistle, and also some of its most rhetoric passages. Pope can satirise because he has the integrity of being: "un-plac'd, un-pension'd, no man's heir, or slave". That Pope is proud to be the first independent writer in England is clear, it provides him with the security to "maintain a poet's dignity and ease" (line 263). Pope communicates the positivity of his independence, however, through comparison with a series of negative caricatures in the shape of Atticus, Bufo and Sporus. Atticus demands dependence with the "little senate" laws that he imposes on his friends, Bufo's portrait comes closer to a assessment of sponsorship in its constant references to payment. The Sporus portrait is the pinnacle of corrupt social dependence, and draws to a close three models connected by an increasing danger in patronage. Dependence is even related to the devil, through a reference to Paradise Lost (31720). This, by opposition, makes Pope's independence more holy. These portraits are darker than the refined Horatian satire to which Pope is often compared. Howard Weinbrot argues that Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot is closer in spirit to the angry satirist Juvenalxvi. Critics such as Hammond believe that Pope’s depiction of his objective standpoint through Christian virtue is unconvincing. They argue that he "was covering the tracks of the truth about his literary and commercial success" and point to other contradictions such as Pope's description of writing as an original sin, in between passages on his literary virtue. Hammond also contends that Pope's comfortable existence is proof against his view that his was an age where neglected genius bloomed then died. Yet Hammond’s argument ignores the constantly shifting tone of the satire. Pope is not attempting to formulate a cohesive, logical argument. He has created a stylised character that can evoke conflicting emotions through overlapping positive and negative values. There lies a good point of conclusion. Both poems are positive about the concept of virtuous man – often personified as the author – but neither are moral discourses. Satire is a


David Jones Texts In Context Essay On Positive Values In The Poetry Of Pope & Swift

process to criticise the follies and vices of mankind, not paint an idyllic portrait of them. Nor is didacticism their main purpose. As satires, the communication of positive values is impeded by contradictions, uncertainties and the shifting tone. Nevertheless, there is often positivity beneath the surface. Brean Hammond sums up the impression that Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot leaves: "Pope comes across as the supremely rational poet, the ideal spokesman for the public values of his age, the poet who, through his art, shaped his life into the paradigmatic statement of what it was to be a well-balanced, moderate, integrated eighteenth-century man. It is important . . . that his poetry reflects these qualities."xvii 2091 Words.


David Jones Texts In Context Essay On Positive Values In The Poetry Of Pope & Swift

Printed Abrams, M.H. & Greenblatt, S, ed. The Norton Anthology Of English Literature: Seventh Edition, Volume 1. USA: Norton, 1999.
Source of all quotations from Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift and most of those from Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot

Donaghue, Denis, ed. Johnathan Swift: A Critical Anthology. Great Britain: Penguin Book Ltd, 1971.
Especially for: the essay by Denis Donaghue The Sin Of Wit William Hazlitt's Lecture On The English Poets Geoffrey Hill’s Jonathan Swift: The Poetry Of “Reaction”

Donaghue, Denis. Jonathan Swift: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969. Dixon, Peter. The World Of Pope's Satires: An Introduction To The Epistles and Imitations. London: Methuen, 1968 Hammond, Brean S. Pope: Harvester New Readings Brighton: Harvester, 1986 Mack, Maynard, ed. Essential Articles For The Study Of Alexander Pope. USA: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. 1964
Especially for the essay by Elias F. Mengel Jr, Patterns of Imagery in Pope's Arbuthnot

Newton-de Molina, ed. On Literary Intention: Critical Essays. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1976
Especially for the essay by W.K. Wimsatt and M.C. Beardsley The Intentional Fallacy

Internet Theall, Dr D.F. ed, Alexander Pope (1688-1744) Epistles to Several Persons: Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot University Of Toronto Libraries (1997) http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/pope14.html
An electronic version of Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot used for some quotations.


David Jones Texts In Context Essay On Positive Values In The Poetry Of Pope & Swift


i In Patterns of imagery in Pope's Arbuthnot Elias F. Mengel, Jr identifies a (perhaps unconvincing) chain of imagery in the Epistle. It runs: animal-filth-persecution-virtuous man. The concept of virtuous man is a positive image asserted after a string of negative ones. ii Hammond, Brean S. Pope: Harvester New Readings. iii This is the assertion of W.K. Wimsatt and M.C. Beardsley in The Intentional Fallacy. iv Brean Hammond utilises the theory of Frenchman Pierre Machery, which determines the authorial intention of a text through what it does not say, to issue this warning: "what Pope reveals of himself is not, in any naïve sense, what is true, nor is it (equally naively) a pack of lies, but rather an ideological construction of self". [Hammond, Brean S. Pope: Harvester New Readings.] v Elias F. Mengel, Jr. Patterns of imagery in Pope's Arbuthnot vi Brean Hammond sees this closing section as an attempt by Pope to redress the balance, having "gone a little too far in his militant brand of Virtue" and turned this positive value slightly sour. [Hammond, Brean S. Pope: Harvester New Readings.] vii Donaghue, Denis' The Sin Of Wit from Jonathan Swift: A Critical Introduction, 1969. Reproduced in Johnathan Swift: A Critical Anthology viii “The situation of Verses On The Death of Dr. Swift is defeat, either by bodily humiliation or the trivia of daily encounters . . . wit converts the necessitous failure into moral and rhetorical victory. The prime significance of [the poem] is that it challenges and reverses in terms of metaphor the world's routine of power and, within the same parentheses, considers all alternatives including anarchy”. Geoffrey Hill, from Jonathan Swift: The Poetry of "Reaction" in Vickers, P (Ed) Jonathan Swift: A Critical Anthology. ix Brean Hammond sees this as an unanswered question raised by Epistle To Dr. Arbuthnot's moral elevation of satire. [Hammond, Brean S. Pope. Harvester New Readings.] x William Hazlitt, from Lecture On The English Poets, 1818, in Jonathan Swift: A Critical Anthology, page 104. xi Dixon, Peter. The World Of Pope's Satires: An Introduction To The Epistles and Imitations xii "A faithful friend is the medicine of life" quotes Addison, according to Peter Dixon's The World Of Pope's Satires: An Introduction To The Epistles and Imitations xiii Dixon, Peter. The World Of Pope's Satires: An Introduction To The Epistles and Imitations xiv Dixon, Peter. The World Of Pope's Satires: An Introduction To The Epistles and Imitations xv Hammond, Brean S. Pope: Harvester New Readings. xvi Hammond, Brean S. Pope: Harvester New Readings. xvii Hammond, Brean S. Pope: Harvester New Readings.

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