Alexander Pope (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
Fame and reputation have not dealt evenly with Alexander Pope, the leading English poet of the early eighteenth century. Following his death, he was generally ranked among the greatest of English poets, but his reputation declined during the Romantic period, when neoclassicism fell into disfavor. In the twentieth century, Pope has found enthusiastic readers, although their numbers are small. His place in literary history remains secure, yet he is studied as a poet of a remote era and remote sensibility rather than as a living influence upon contemporary literature. In his lengthy biography of the poet, Maynard Mack has attempted to depict Pope’s life, to clarify his literary principles and values, and to interpret his achievements.
As Mack points out, Pope’s remoteness from the present results, in part, from his view of the purpose of poetry and literature. Pope believed that poetry had an important function in society at large as an influence on manners, morals, and taste—it should appeal not merely to aesthetic sensibilities but to reason as well, and the poet indeed had a legitimate role as an adviser to rulers and political leaders. Even Pope’s age was hostile to this exalted view of poetry, for the rulers of England, the first Hanoverian kings, who neither read nor spoke English, cared little about English literature. Moreover, the great prime minister of Pope’s era, Sir Robert Walpole, was contemptuous of poetry and poets. Readers of a...
(The entire section is 1924 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
The Atlantic. CCLVI, December, 1985, p. 112.
Christian Science Monitor. LXXVIII, February 12, 1986, p. 21.
Contemporary Review. CCXLVII, November, 1985, p. 277.
Encounter. LXVI, January, 1986, p. 38.
History Today. XXXV, October, 1985, p. 60.
Kirkus Reviews. LIII, September 1, 1985, p. 938.
Library Journal. CX, September 1, 1985, p. 102.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 24, 1985, p.11.
The Nation. CCXLII, March 1, 1986, p. 245.
The New Republic. CXCIV, March 3, 1986, p. 33.
New Statesman. CX, August 23, 1985, p. 24.
The New York Review of Books. XXXIII, March 13, 1986, p. 29.
The New York Times Book Review. XCI, March 2, 1986, p. 11.
Times Literary Supplement. September 13, 1985, p. 997.
Washington Post Book World. XVI, February 9, 1986, p. 10.
(The entire section is 88 words.)