Alexander Pope’s An Epistle from Mr. Pope, to Dr. Arbuthnot (better known simply as Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot) is a poetic “letter” (epistle) of 420 lines written in heroic couplets. In his epistle, addressed to his close friend, the writer and physician John Arbuthnot, who died just before the poem was published, Pope discusses the current state of artistic and political affairs in England while examining his own long career as England’s foremost poet—and most feared satirist.
As was his habit in verse satire, Pope writes in the first person, speaking directly to Arbuthnot (who occasionally interrupts Pope to caution him or to offer a different point of view). Pope’s voice is his own and is fittingly “conversational”; his tone is alternately indignant, comical, bitter, ironic—a rich “orchestration” of moods and attitudes. Throughout much of the poem, readers get a keen sense of Pope’s playfulness: He charms readers with his theatrical posturings (as in the opening vignette, in which a horde of bad writers storms the door of Pope’s retreat at Twickenham), while reminding them with a wink—that they are, after all, only posturings.
The poetic tradition of which Pope was the acknowledged master prized control, and in Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot Pope is always in control. When he indulges in self-dramatization, or seems to skirt the edges of self-pity (“how wretched I!”), he does so knowingly,...
(The entire section is 555 words.)