Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot

by Alexander Pope

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"Sit Attentive To His Own Applause"

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 257

Context: Pope's poem, written in the form of a dialogue between himself and Dr. John Arbuthnot, his friend and a fellow literary man, became a vehicle for satirizing many persons, among them Charles Gildon, Lewis Theobald, Ambrose Philips, and Edmund Curll. Some of the persons perhaps deserved the acid comments made about them; but in other cases no reason is known, at least, for the poet's attacks. For example, Pope thought he had real reason for attacking Joseph Addison. He believed that Addison had been the rival translator of an English version of Homer's Iliad. He also believed that Addison had paid Charles Gildon ten pounds to abuse him in a biography of William Wycherley that Gildon wrote. About 1720 Pope wrote a satirical portrait of Addison, using the name Atticus for him; this portrait, first published in 1722, three years after Addison's death, was later incorporated into the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot. The quotation about sitting attentive to his own applause appears in the portrait, given in part below:

Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;
Alike reserv'd to blame, or to commend,
A tim'rous foe, and a suspicious friend;
Dreading ev'n fools, by flatterers besieg'd,
And so obliging, that he ne'er oblig'd;
Like Cato, give his little senate laws,
And sit attentive to his own applause;
While wits and Templars ev'ry sentence raise,
And wonder with a foolish face of praise–
Who but must laugh, if such a man there be?
Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?

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