Who are Sidney, Pope, and Johnson?
Sir Philip Sidney - A famous Renaissance courtier, soldier, and poet, his poetry, according to J.C.A. Rathmell,
...[is]characterized by the frequent appearance of a sly and subtle wit that is always threatening into question, albeit affectionately, the heroic and romantic values it ostensibly celebrates.
Having traveled throughout Europe extensively, Sidney wrote of the many lessons he learned in music, history, astronomy, Italian literature, and his travels in Apologie for Poetry. Sidney also became very interested in political and diplomatic issues. For instance, he was a courier for the newly crowned Elector Palatine and was dispatched with messages for Emperor Rudolf II. And, while he was in Prague, Sidney met with the new emperor there, daringly expressing to him the need to combat the threat of Spanish domination in Europe. But, despite his diplomacy, Sidney is best remembered for his lovely sonnet sequence, Astrophel and Stella (1591). In this work, his experiments with rhyme served to release the Elizabethan sonnet from the restrictions of the Italian sonnets.
In 1586, Sidney was wounded while fighting for the Protestant cause in Spain. Unfortunately, gangrene set into the wound in his leg and Sidney died at the age of 31.
Alexander Pope - An eighteenth-century poet of what is known as the Augustan Age, Pope also was a Greek scholar who translated the Iliad and the Odyssey into English. As the master of the epigram, he is one of the most frequently quoted authors in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
Pope is also famous for his heroic couplets and his criticisms and satire. In his Essay on Criticism (1711), Pope argues that poets should first follow Nature, which is
Life, Force, and Beauty, must to all impart,/At once the SOURCE, and END, and TEST of ART. (ll. 72-73)
His Essay on Man, Pope writes an argument for man's salvation in the manner in which Milton did as he attempted to "vindicate the ways of God to man," but it makes the assumption that man must seek his own salvation after his fall.
Probably his most famous satire is The Rape of the Lock, a long poem that mocks the idle upper-class of his time; in this long poem, he uses fictitious names that are recognizable to his contemporaries as living people. The climax of the poem occurs in imitation of an actual occurrence in which a young man "rapes" (cuts) a young belle's lock of hair as a souvenir. (In the real situation, the belle reacted excessively to this stealth of her hair.)
Having contracted Pott's disease, a form of tuberculosis which attacks the bones, Pope only grew to be four feet, six inches tall, and he suffered from a hunchback. Further isolated by being a Catholic, Pope was mainly a recluse at Twickerham where he created beautiful gardens and grottoes that delighted his guests. Pope died in 1744 at the age of 56.
Samuel Johnson - Also referred to as Dr. Johnson, was a great literary force who wrote poems, essays, literary criticisms, and biographies. He was also a lexicographer and editor. Like Pope, he, too, suffered from the ravages of scrofula as he lost sight in one eye and hearing in one hear. But, despite his unappealing appearance, Johnson was a brilliant student.
In 1755, Johnson published a dictionary of the English language. Earlier he published London: A Poem in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal. This work contained horrible descriptions of daily life in London, which was, in fact, the type of life Johnson endured at the time as his father had gone in debt and Johnson was forced to leave Oxford. In time, however, he became a proficient essayist, writing for The Rambler. In addition, Johnson produced an edition of Shakespeare's works.
The preface is especially important in its rejection of the neoclassical unities of time, place, and action. Johnson rejected the unities of time and space with typical common sense.
Johnson also wrote a novella entitled Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, which helped to defray the expenses of his mother's funeral. In this fairy tale, Johnson moralizes that the world of pleasure as well as political power, education and poetry will not provide happiness.
Even today, Samuel Johnson is regarded as an important critic; in fact, there are societies which have been formed and are dedicated to the study of Johnson's criticisms.