Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot

by Alexander Pope

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"I Lisped In Numbers, For The Numbers Came"

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 241

Context: According to the advertisement of the first publication of this work, which was written by the poet himself, the epistle is a complaint against persons who had in one way or another attacked Pope, not only through his person, but also through his family and morals. The epistle takes the form of a dialogue between Dr. John Arbuthnot, the poet's friend, and the poet. Arbuthnot, in addition to being Pope's intimate, was physician to Queen Anne and a well-known literary figure of the time. In the dialogue Pope complains that he gets no rest from flatterers, foes, and would-be writers–all of whom besiege his door. The flatterers, he says, are the worst, for what the flatterer intends as praise proves ridicule in its exaggeration. Others, complains Pope, comment ridiculously that he coughs like Horace, has Ovid's nose, and holds his head in illness like Virgil. He goes on, answering a rhetorical question he puts to himself:

Why did I write? what sin to me unknown
Dipp'd me in ink, my parents', or my own?
As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame,
I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came.
I left no calling for this idle trade,
No duty broke, no father disobey'd.
The Muse but serv'd to ease some friend, not wife,
To help me through this long disease, my life;
To second, Arbuthnot! thy art and care,
And teach the being you preserv'd, to bear.

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