Alexander Pope

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What is Augustan satire, and how did John Dryden and Alexander Pope contribute to the genre?

Augustan satire is a style of mannered, allusive poetry which contained scurrilous attacks on its targets, and which dominated English poetry in the first half of the eighteenth century. John Dryden's work in the late seventeenth century was a highly influential precursor to Alexander Pope's work and was much admired by Pope.

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The Augustan era in English poetry was named after—and, to some extent, modeled on—the Augustan era in Rome, when Horace was the most famous satirist. Horatian satire is comparatively mild and high-minded, ostensibly aimed at raising the moral tone of society by pointing out its flaws. The Augustan satire of the eighteenth century in Britain was much more scurrilous and wounding towards its subjects, and this was largely due to the influence of Alexander Pope. Pope suggested the term "Augustan" to later literary historians by addressing his Epistle to Augustus to King George II. His own verse did not greatly resemble Horace's and was more influenced by the satire of Juvenal, who lived a hundred years after the age of Augustus.

Pope's main attributes as a poet were his metrical regularity and technical skill, the vicious personal attacks he made on his targets, and his celebration of reason and order rather than emotion and sensibility. All of these qualities could be said to have their roots in the poetry of John Dryden, whose work Pope greatly admired. Dryden died in 1700, meaning that his satires were written before the period generally identified as the era of Augustan satire (approximately 1700–1750s or 1760s). However, his verse satires in rhyming couplets clearly show the most important attributes of Augustan satire. If not an Augustan poet himself, Dryden was their most important precursor.

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