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Literature generally had come to be associated with wit and had been under attack from the Puritans also, who saw it as morally defective and corrupting.On the other side, writers such as John Dryden and William Wycherley, as well as moralists such as the third earl of Shaftesbury, defended the use and freedom of wit.
Even identifies the chief fault of humankind as the original sin of “pride” and espouses an ethic based on an ordered and hierarchical universe, it nonetheless depicts this order in terms of Newtonian mechanism and expresses a broadly deistic vision.
The same contradictions permeate the , which effects an eclectic mixture of a Roman Catholic vision premised on the (negative) significance of pride, a humanistic secularism perhaps influenced by Erasmus, a stylistic neoclassicism with roots in the rhetorical tradition from Aristotle, Horace, Longinus, and modern disciples such as Boileau, and a modernity in the wake of figures such as Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke.
That Pope was born a Roman Catholic affected not only his verse and critical principles but also his life.
In the year of his birth occurred the so-called “Glorious Revolution”: England’s Catholic monarch James II was displaced by the Protestant King William III of Orange, and the prevailing anti-Catholic laws constrained many areas of Pope’s life; he could not obtain a university education, hold public or political office, or even reside in London.
Pope’s notions of wit were worked out in the context of this debate, and his redefinition of “true” wit in was a means not only of upholding the proper uses of wit but also of defending literature itself, wit being a mode of knowing or apprehension unique to literature.1 It would be facile to dismiss Pope’s as an unoriginal work, as a hotchpotch of adages drawn from the likes of Aristotle, Horace, Quintilian, Longinus, and Boileau.
While the isolated insights offered by Pope may not be original, the poem as a whole undertakes a number of endeavors that, in their poetic unification, might well be viewed as novel.Some critics have argued that the resulting conglomeration is inharmonious; in fairness to Pope, we might cite one of his portraits of the satirist: Verse-man or Prose-man, term me which you will, 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.(II.i) Clearly, labels can oversimplify: yet it is beyond doubt that, on balance, Pope’s overall vision was conservative and retrospective.He is essentially calling for a return to the past, a return to classical values, and the various secularizing movements that he bemoans are already overwhelming the view of nature, man, and God that he is attempting to redeem.Indeed, Pope’s poem has been variously called a study and defense of “nature” and of “wit.” The word “nature” is used twenty-one times in the poem; the word “wit” forty-six times.Pope’s family, in fact, moved to a small farm in Windsor Forest, a neighbourhood occupied by other Catholic families of the gentry, and he later moved with his mother to Twickenham.However, Pope was privately taught and moved in an elite circle of London writers which included the dramatists Wycherley and Congreve, the poet Granville, the critic William Walsh, as well as the writers Addison and Steele, and the deistic politician Bolingbroke.15), and while he recognizes that some critics are failed poets (l. 120–123) Perhaps ironically, Pope’s advice here seems modern insofar as he calls for a knowledge of all aspects of the author’s work, including not only its subject matter and artistic lineage but also its religious, national, and intellectual contexts.105), he points out that both the best poetry and the best criticism are divinely inspired: Both must alike from Heav’n derive their Light, These that criticism itself is an art and must be governed by the same rules that apply to literature itself. He is less modern in insisting that the critic base his interpretation on the author’s intention: “In ev’ry Work regard the Writer’s ” (ll. Pope specifies two further guidelines for the critic.Various parties contested the right to define it and to invest it with moral significance.A number of writers such as Nicolas Malebranche and Joseph Addison, and philosophers such as John Locke, argued that wit was a negative quality, associated with a corrupting imagination, distortion of truth, profanity, and skepticism, a quality opposed to “judgment,” which was a faculty of clear and truthful insight.