40 Pages

(g) EPISTLE TO DR ARBUTHNOT (1735) [TE IV: 91–127]

Pope advertises the fact that his poem is a patchwork or hybrid, created from several existing fragments and versions [37]. As the poem emerges from various levels of publicity – private notes, manuscript circulation, miscellany fragment, letter – so it is about the various forms of publicity which writing and writers have to engage with. In his ‘Advertisement’ Pope gives as the occasion for publication two verse attacks on him: Verses Address’d to the Imitator ... of Horace, compiled in ‘witty fornication’ (Pope’s phrase) between Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lord Hervey, and Hervey’s Epistle to a Doctor of Divinity from a Nobleman at Hampton Court which transgressed the boundaries of public and private in that they attacked not only his writing (‘of which being publick the Publick judge’), but his ‘Person, Morals, and Family’ (TE IV: 95) [36]. The poem is, on the other hand, addressed to a dying friend, and acts as a testimony to that mutual regard. The most obviously autobiographical of Pope’s poems, it gives not only a defence of his stance as a writer but a beautifully imagined mythic account of his parentage. Not introspective in the manner of Wordsworth, it defines a personal space which is always under pressure from the selfish probing of the Dunces, but also always made meaningful by the presence of the virtuous.