Douglas H. White (essay date 1970)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Place of Reason,” in Pope and the Context of Controversy: The Manipulation of Ideas in An Essay on Man, University of Chicago Press, 1970, pp. 74-125.

[In the essay below, White discusses Pope's idea of reason as subservient to passion for humankind and places Pope's understanding of reason within the context of prevailing eighteenth-century philosophical thought.]

In his insistence that moral and physical evil should be accounted for in the same way, Pope gives one specific demonstration of a point that he reiterates throughout the Essay on Man. Man is not a special creature, apart from the fabric of the creation, for whose benefit the entire...

(The entire section is 18191 words.)

I. R. F. Gordon (essay date 1976)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Pope's Beliefs,” in A Preface to Pope, Longman Group Ltd., 1976, pp. 109-24.

[In the following essay, Gordon explores the intellectual and ethical background of Pope's thought in An Essay on Man, highlighting the poem's expression of prevalent philosophical, religious, and political ideas in early eighteenth-century England.]

Papist or Protestant, or both between,
Like good Erasmus in an honest Mean,
In Moderation placing all my Glory,
While Tories call me Whig, and Whigs a Tory.

Imitation of Horace, Satire II, i, 1733 (65-8)

The separation of Pope's beliefs into the philosophical, religious and political...

(The entire section is 7005 words.)

Laura Brown (essay date 1985)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The ‘New World’ of Augustan Humanism: An Essay on Criticism (1711), An Essay on Man (1733-4),” in Alexander Pope, Basil Blackwell, 1985, pp. 46-93.

[In the following excerpt, Brown analyzes the logic of An Essay on Man, maintaining that the poem incoherently addresses the often contradictory ideological values of capitalism and Christianity.]

We now turn to Pope's two major theoretical treatises, one aesthetic, the other philosophical. An Essay on Criticism was published in 1711, within two years of Windsor-Forest (1713) and the first version of The Rape of the Lock (1712). An Essay on Man was written...

(The entire section is 10291 words.)

G. Douglas Atkins (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “‘Some Strange Comfort’: Construction and Deconstruction in An Essay on Man,” in Quests of Difference: Reading Pope's Poems, University Press of Kentucky, 1986, pp. 39-65.

[In the following essay, Atkins explains the theodicy of An Essay on Man in relation to Pope's notion of “the ‘proper,’” deconstructing the poem's central opposition between divine impartiality and human expectation.]

Many of the concerns that structure An Essay on Criticism continue in An Essay on Man. Whereas the earlier poem reveals Pope's commitment to certain distinctions and oppositions, his theodicy revolves around his commitment to the...

(The entire section is 8041 words.)

Rebecca Ferguson (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “‘Steering betwixt extremes’: An Essay on Man,” in The Unbalanced Mind: Pope and the Rule of Passion, Harvester Press, 1986, pp. 64-94.

[In the following essay, Ferguson links the dialectic of An Essay on Man to its poetic form, emphasizing philosophical and literary dimensions of the concept of discordia concors.]

In the preceding chapters I have made note of two very generalised but significant anticipations of the Essay on Man's philosophy some years before any detailed plans for the work had been laid down by Pope; the first of these is the emphasis on the terms ‘grace and nature, virtue and passion’ developed in Eloisa...

(The entire section is 11977 words.)

Howard Erskine-Hill (essay date 1988)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Pope on the Origins of Society,” in The Enduring Legacy: Alexander Pope Tercentenary Essays, edited by G. S. Rousseau and Pat Rogers, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 79-93.

[In the following essay, Erskine-Hill discusses the political character of the third epistle of An Essay on Man, tracing the influence of contemporary debates, literary antecedents, and Bolingbroke on Pope's interpretation of the origins of society and government.]


Most readers agree that Pope's poetry is comprehensively social, and few deny that, implicitly or explicitly, in a variety of ways, it is often political. It is then surprising that in...

(The entire section is 7297 words.)

Harry M. Solomon (essay date 1993)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Trivializing An Essay on Man,” in The Rape of the Text: Reading and Misreading Pope's Essay on Man, University of Alabama Press, 1993, pp. 6-31.

[In the following essay, Solomon details the historical development of the critical consensus that now regards An Essay on Man as a fundamentally flawed work.]

If the question were asked, What ought to have been the best of Pope's poems?” Thomas De Quincey wrote, “most people would answer, the Essay on Man. If the question were asked, What is the worst? all people of judgement would say, the Essay on Man.1 Ours must be an age of judgment, for the current consensus is...

(The entire section is 12019 words.)