An Epistle to Arbuthnot

By Alexander Pope

Edited and annotated by Jack Lynch

This poem, taking the form of a verse letter from Pope to his friend and physician John Arbuthnot, spells out Pope’s satirical principles — or, at least, how he’d like them to be interpreted.

The copy-text is the first edition, dated 1734 (though actually issued in 1735). I’ve closed some open quotations and silently corrected a few obvious typos. In line 149 I’ve replaced the first edition’s “Damon” with the more familiar ”Fanny.” The line numbers in the first edition are often wrong, so I’ve fixed them here. I’ve made a PDF of the first edition, scanned from my personal copy, available.

Neque sermonibus Vulgi dederis te, nec in Præmiis humanis spem posueris rerum tuarum; suis te oportet illecebris ipsa Virtus trahat ad verum decus. Quid de te alii loquantur, ipsi videant, sed loquentur tamen. Tully.


This Paper is a Sort of Bill of Complaint, begun many years since, and drawn up by snatches, as the several Occasions offer’d. I had no thoughts of publishing it, till it pleas’d some Persons of Rank and Fortune [the Authors of Verses to the Imitator of Horace, and of an Epistle to a Doctor of Divinity from a Nobleman at Hampton Court,] to attack in a very extraordinary manner, not only my Writings (of which being publick the Publick may judge) but my Person, Morals, and Family, whereof to those who know me not, a truer Information may be requisite. Being divided between the Necessity to say something of Myself, and my own Laziness to undertake so awkward a Task, I thought it the shortest way to put the last hand to this Epistle. If it have any thing pleasing, it will be That by which I am most desirous to please, the Truth and the Sentiment; and if any thing offensive, it will be only to those I am least sorry to offend, the Vicious or the Ungenerous.

Many will know their own Pictures in it, there being not a Circumstance but what is true; but I have, for the most part spar’d their Names, and they may escape being laugh’d at, if they please.

I would have some of them know, it was owing to the Request of the learned and candid Friend to whom it is inscribed, that I make not as free use of theirs as they have done of mine. However I shall have this Advantage, and Honour, on my side, that whereas by their proceeding, any Abuse may be directed at any man, no Injury can possibly be done by mine, since a Nameless Character can never be found out, but by its Truth and Likeness.

Dr. A R B U T H N O T.

Shut, shut the door, good John! fatigu’d I said,
Tye up the knocker, say I’m sick, I’m dead,
The Dog-star rages! nay ’tis past a doubt,
All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out:
Fire in each eye, and Papers in each hand, [5]
They rave, recite, and madden round the land.

    What Walls can guard me, or what Shades can hide?
They pierce my Thickets, through my Grot they glide;
By land, by water, they renew the charge;
They stop the Chariot, and they board the Barge. [10]
No place is sacred, not the Church is free;
Ev’n Sunday shines no Sabbath-day to me:
Then from the Mint walks forth the Man of Ryme,
Happy! to catch me, just at Dinner-time.

    Is there a Parson, much bemus’d in Beer, [15]
A maudlin Poetess, a ryming Peer,
A Clerk, foredoom’d his Father’s soul to cross,
Who pens a Stanza when he should engross?
Is there, who lock’d from Ink and Paper, scrawls
With desp’rate Charcoal round his darken’d walls? [20]
All fly to Twit’nam, and in humble strain
Apply to me, to keep them mad or vain.
Arthur, whose giddy Son neglects the Laws,
Imputes to me and my damn’d works the cause:
Poor Cornus sees his frantic Wife elope, [25]
And curses Wit, and Poetry, and Pope.

    Friend to my Life, (which did not you prolong,
The World had wanted many an idle Song)
What Drop or Nostrum can this Plague remove?
Or which must end me, a Fool’s Wrath or Love? [30]
A dire Dilemma! either way I’m sped,
If Foes, they write, if Friends, they read me dead.
Seiz’d and ty’d down to judge, how wretched I!
Who can’t be silent, and who will not lye;
To laugh, were want of Goodness and of Grace, [35]
And to be grave, exceeds all Pow’r of Face.
I sit with sad Civility, I read
With honest anguish, and an aching head;
And drop at last, but in unwilling ears,
This saving counsel, “Keep your Piece nine years.” [40]

    “Nine years!” cries he, who high in Drury-lane
Lull’d by soft Zephyrs through the broken pane,
Rhymes ere he wakes, and prints before Term ends,
Oblig’d by hunger and Request of friends:
“The Piece you think is incorrect? why take it, [45]
I’m all submission, what you’d have it, make it.”

    Three things another’s modest wishes bound,
My Friendship, and a Prologue, and ten Pound.

    Pitholeon sends to me: “You know his Grace,
I want a Patron; ask him for a place.” [50]
Pitholeon libell’d me — “but here’s a Letter
Informs you Sir, ’twas when he knew no better.
Dare you refuse him? Curl invites to dine,
He’ll write a Journal, or he’ll turn Divine.”

    Bless me! a Packet — “’Tis a stranger sues, [55]
A Virgin Tragedy, an Orphan Muse.”
If I dislike it, “Furies, death and rage!”
If I approve, “Commend it to the Stage.”
There (thank my stars) my whole Commission ends,
The Play’rs and I are, luckily, no friends. [60]
Fir’d that the House reject him, “’Sdeath I’ll print it,
And shame the Fools — your int’rest, sir, with Lintot.”
Lintot, dull rogue! will think your price too much.”
“Not, sir, if you revise it, and retouch.”
All my demurs but double his attacks; [65]
At last he whispers, “Do, and we go snacks.”
Glad of a quarrel, strait I clap the door,
“Sir, let me see your works and you no more.”

    ’Tis sung, when Midas’ Ears began to spring,
(Midas, a sacred Person and a King) [70]
His very Minister who spy’d them first,
(Some say his Queen) was forc’d to speak, or burst.
And is not mine, my Friend, a sorer case,
When ev’ry Coxcomb perks them in my face?

    “Good friend forbear! you deal in dang’rous things. [75]
I’d never name Queens, Ministers, or Kings;
Keep close to Ears, and those let Asses prick;
’Tis nothing” — Nothing? if they bite and kick?
Out with it, Dunciad! let the secret pass,
That Secret to each Fool, that he’s an Ass: [80]
The truth once told, (and wherefore should we lie?)
The Queen of Midas slept, and so may I.

    You think this cruel? take it for a rule,
No creature smarts so little as a Fool.
Let Peals of Laughter, Codrus! round thee break, [85]
Thou unconcern’d canst hear the mighty Crack.
Pit, Box, and Gall’ry in convulsions hurl’d,
Thou stand’st unshook amidst a bursting World.
Who shames a Scribler? break one cobweb thro’,
He spins the slight, self-pleasing thread anew; [90]
Destroy his Fib, or Sophistry, in vain,
The Creature’s at his dirty work again;
Thron’d in the Centre of his thin designs;
Proud of a vast Extent of flimzy lines!
Whom have I hurt? has Poet yet, or Peer, [95]
Lost the arch’d eye-brow, or Parnassian sneer?
And has not C–lly still his Lord, and Whore?
His butchers H—ley, his Free-masons M—r?
Does not one Table Bavius still admit?
Still to one Bishop Ph—ps seem a Wit? [100]
Still Sapho — “Hold! nay see you, you’ll offend:
No Names! — be calm! — learn Prudence of a Friend!
I too could write, and I am twice as tall;
But Foes like these!” — One Flatt’rer’s worse than all.
Of all mad Creatures, if the Learn’d are right, [105]
It is the Slaver kills, and not the Bite.
A Fool quite angry is quite innocent;
Alas! ’tis ten times worse when they repent.

    One dedicates in high Heroic prose,
And ridicules beyond a hundred foes; [110]
One from all Grubstreet will my fame defend,
And, more abusive, calls himself my friend.
This prints my Letters, that expects a Bribe,
And others roar aloud, “Subscribe, subscribe.”

    There are, who to my Person pay their court: [115]
I cough like Horace, and tho’ lean, am short,
Ammon’s great Son one shoulder had too high,
Such Ovid’s nose, and “Sir! you have an Eye—”
Go on, obliging Creatures, make me see
All that disgrac’d my Betters, met in me: [120]
Say for my comfort, languishing in bed,
“Just so immortal Maro held his head:”
And when I die, be sure you let me know
Great Homer dy’d three thousand years ago.

    Why did I write? what sin to me unknown [125]
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 dis-obey’d. [130]
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.

    But why then publish? Granville the polite, [135]
And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write;
Well-natur’d Garth inflam’d with early praise,
And Congreve lov’d, and Swift endur’d my Lays;
The courtly Talbot, Somers, Sheffield read,
Ev’n mitred Rochester would nod the head, [140]
And St. John’s self (great Dryden’s friends before)
With open arms receiv’d one Poet more.
Happy my Studies, when by these approv’d!
Happier their Author, when by these belov’d!
From these the world will judge of Men and Books, [145]
Not from the Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cooks.

    Soft were my Numbers, who could take offence
While pure Description held the place of Sense?
Like gentle Fanny’s was my flow’ry T heme,
A painted Mistress, or a purling Stream. [150]
Yet then did Gildon draw his venal quill;
I wish’d the man a dinner, and sat still.
Yet then did Dennis rave in furious fret;
I never answer’d, I was not in debt.
If want provok’d, or madness made them print, [155]
I wag’d no war with Bedlam or the Mint.

    Did some more sober Critic come abroad?
If wrong, I smil’d; if right, I kiss’d the rod.
Pains, reading, study, are their just pretence,
And all they want is spirit, taste, and sense. [160]
Comma's and points they set exactly right,
And ’twere a sin to rob them of their Mite.
Yet ne’er one sprig of Laurel grac’d these ribalds,
From slashing B—ley down to pidling T—ds.
Each Wight who reads not, and but scans and spells, [165]
Each Word-catcher that lives on syllables,
Such piece-meal Critics some regard may claim,
Preserv’d in Milton’s or in Shakespear’s name.
Pretty! in Amber to observe the forms
Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms; [170]
The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare,
But wonder how the Devil they got there?

    Were others angry? I excus’d them too;
Well might they rage; I gave them but their due.
A man’s true merit ’tis not hard to find, [175]
But each man’s secret standard in his mind,
That Casting-weight Pride adds to Emptiness,
This, who can gratify? for who can guess?
The Bard whom pilfer’d Pastorals renown,
Who turns a Persian Tale for half a crown, [180]
Just writes to make his barrenness appear,
And strains, from hard-bound brains, eight lines a year:
He, who still wanting, though he lives on theft,
Steals much, spends little, yet has nothing left:
And he, who now to sense, now nonsense leaning, [185]
Means not, but blunders round about a meaning:
And he, whose fustian’s so sublimely bad,
It is not poetry, but prose run mad:
All these, my modest Satire bad translate,
And own’d, that nine such poets made a Tate. [190]
How did they fume, and stamp, and roar, and chafe?
And swear, not Addison himself was safe.

    Peace to all such! but were there one whose fires
True Genius kindles, and fair fame inspires,
Blest with each talent and each art to please, [195]
And born to write, converse, and live with ease:
Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne,
View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
And hate for arts that caus’d himself to rise; [200]
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;
Alike reserv’d to blame, or to commend, [205]
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; [210]
While Wits and Templers 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?

    What though my Name stood rubric on the walls, [215]
Or plaister’d posts, with Claps in capitals?
Or smoking forth, a hundred Hawkers load,
On Wings of Winds came flying all abroad?
I sought no homage from the Race that write;
I kept, like Asian Monarchs, from their sight: [220]
Poems I heeded (now be-rym’d so long)
No more than Thou, great George! a Birth-day Song.
I ne’er with Wits or Witlings pass’d my days,
To spread about the Itch of Verse and Praise;
Nor like a Puppy daggled thro’ the Town, [225]
To fetch and carry Sing-song up and down;
Nor at Rehearsals sweat, and mouth’d, and cried,
With Handkerchief and Orange at my side;
But sick of fops, and poetry, and prate,
To Bufo left the whole Castalian state. [230]

    Proud as Apollo on his forked hill,
Sat full-blown Bufo, puff’d by every quill;
Fed with soft dedication all day long,
Horace and he went hand in hand in song.
His Library, (where Busts of Poets dead [235]
And a true Pindar stood without a head,)
Receiv’d of Wits an undistinguish’d race,
Who first his Judgment ask’d, and then a Place:
Much they extoll’d his pictures, much his seat,
And flatter’d ev’ry day, and some days eat: [240]
Till grown more frugal in his riper days,
He paid some Bards with Port, and some with Praise,
To some a dry Rehearsal was assign’d,
And others (harder still) he paid in kind.
Dryden alone (what wonder?) came not nigh, [245]
Dryden alone escap’d this judging eye:
But still the great have kindness in reserve,
He help’d to bury whom he help’d to starve.

    May some choice patron bless each grey goose quill!
May ev’ry Bavius have his Bufo still! [250]
So, when a statesman wants a day’s defence,
Or envy holds a whole week’s war with sense,
Or simple pride for flatt’ry makes demands,
May dunce by dunce be whistled off my hands!
Blest be the Great! for those they take away, [255]
And those they left me — for they left me Gay,
Left me to see neglected Genius bloom,
Neglected die! and tell it on his tomb;
Of all thy blameless life the sole return
My verse, and Queensb’ry weeping o’er thy Urn! [260]
Oh let me live my own! and die so too!
(“To live and die is all I have to do:”)
Maintain a Poet’s Dignity and Ease,
And see what friends, and read what books I please.
Above a patron, though I condescend [265]
Sometimes to call a Minister my Friend:
I was not born for Courts or great Affairs;
I pay my Debts, believe, and say my Pray’rs;
Can sleep without a poem in my head,
Nor know, if Dennis be alive or dead. [270]

    Why am I ask’d what next shall see the light?
Heav’ns! was I born for nothing but to write?
Has life no joys for me? or (to be grave)
Have I no friend to serve, no soul to save?
“I found him close with Swift” — “Indeed? no doubt,” [275]
(Cries prating Balbus) “something will come out.”
’Tis all in vain, deny it as I will.
“No, such a genius never can lie still,”
And then for mine obligingly mistakes
The first lampoon Sir Will. or Bubo makes. [280]
Poor guiltless I! and can I choose but smile,
When ev’ry coxcomb knows me by my Style?

    Curst be the Verse, how well soe’er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy Man my foe,
Give Virtue scandal, Innocence a fear, [285]
Or from the soft-ey’d Virgin steal a tear!
But he, who hurts a harmless neighbour’s peace,
Insults fall’n Worth, or Beauty in distress,
Who loves a Lye, lame slander helps about,
Who writes a Libel, or who copies out: [290]
That Fop whose pride affects a Patron’s name,
Yet absent, wounds an Author’s honest fame;
Who can your merit selfishly approve,
And show the sense of it without the love;
Who has the vanity to call you friend, [295]
Yet wants the honour, injur’d, to defend;
Who tells what’er you think, whate’er you say,
And, if he lie not, must at least betray:
Who to the Dean and silver Bell can swear,
And sees at Cannons what was never there; [300]
Who reads, but with a lust to misapply,
Make Satire a Lampoon, and Fiction, Lye.
A lash like mine no honest man shall dread,
But all such babbling blockheads in his stead.

    Let Sporus tremble — “What? that thing of silk, [305]
Sporus, that mere white curd of ass’s milk?
Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?
Who breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?”
Yet let me flap this Bug with gilded wings,
This painted Child of Dirt that stinks and stings; [310]
Whose Buzz the Witty and the Fair annoys,
Yet Wit ne’er tastes, and Beauty ne’er enjoys,
So well-bred Spaniels civilly delight
In mumbling of the Game they dare not bite.
Eternal Smiles his Emptiness betray, [315]
As shallow streams run dimpling all the way.
Whether in florid Impotence he speaks,
And, as the Prompter breathes, the Puppet squeaks;
Or at the Ear of Eve, familiar Toad,
Half Froth, half Venom, spits himself abroad, [320]
In Puns, or Politicks, or Tales, or Lyes,
Or Spite, or Smut, or Rymes, or Blasphemies.
His Wit all see-saw between that and this,
Now high, now low, now Master up, now Miss,
And he himself one vile Antithesis. [325]
Amphibious Thing! that acting either Part,
The trifling Head, or the corrupted Heart!
Fop at the Toilet, Flatt’rer at the Board,
Now trips a Lady, and now struts a Lord.
Eve’s Tempter thus the Rabbins have exprest, [330]
A Cherub’s face, a Reptile all the rest;
Beauty that shocks you, Parts that none will trust,
Wit that can creep, and Pride that licks the dust.

    Not Fortune’s Worshipper, nor Fashion’s Fool,
Not Lucre’s Madman, nor Ambition’s Tool, [335]
Not proud, nor servile, be one Poet’s praise,
That, if he pleas’d, he pleas’d by manly ways;
That Flatt’ry, even to Kings, he held a shame,
And thought a Lye in Verse or Prose the same:
That not in Fancy’s Maze he wander’d long, [340]
But stoop’d to Truth, and moraliz’d his song:
That not for Fame, but Virtue’s better end,
He stood the furious Foe, the timid Friend,
The damning Critic, half-approving Wit,
The Coxcomb hit, or fearing to be hit; [345]
Laugh’d at the loss of Friends he never had,
The dull, the proud, the wicked, and the mad;
The distant Threats of Vengeance on his head,
The Blow unfelt, the Tear he never shed;
The Tale reviv’d, the Lye so oft o’erthrown; [350]
Th’ imputed Trash, and Dulness not his own;
The Morals blacken’d when the Writings ’scape;
The libell’d Person, and the pictur’d Shape;
Abuse on all he lov’d, or lov’d him, spread,
A Friend in Exile, or a Father, dead; [355]
The Whisper that to Greatness still too near,
Perhaps, yet vibrates on his Sovereign’s ear:—
Welcome for thee, fair Virtue! all the past:
For thee, fair Virtue! welcome ev’n the last!

    “But why insult the Poor, affront the Great?” [360]
A Knave’s a Knave, to me, in ev’ry State:
Alike my scorn, if he succeed or fail,
Sporus at court, or Japhet in a Jayl,
A hireling Scribler, or a hireling Peer,
Knight of the Post corrupt, or of the Shire; [365]
If on a Pillory, or near a Throne,
He gain his Prince’s Ear, or lose his own.

    Yet soft by Nature, more a Dupe than Wit,
Sapho can tell you how this Man was bit:
This dreaded Sat’rist Dennis will confess [370]
Foe to his Pride, but Friend to his Distress:
So humble, he has knock’d at Tibbald’s door,
Has drunk with Cibber, nay has rym’d for Moor.
Full ten years slander’d, did he once reply?
Three thousand Suns went down on Welsted’s Lye: [375]
To please a Mistress, One aspers’d his life;
He lash’d him not, but let her be his Wife:
Let Budgel charge low Grubstreet on his quill,
And write whate’er he pleas’d, except his Will;
Let the Two Curls of Town and Court, abuse [380]
His Father, Mother, Body, Soul, and Muse.
Yet why? that Father held it for a rule,
It was a Sin to call our Neighbour Fool,
That harmless Mother thought no Wife a Whore, —
Hear this! and spare his Family, James More! [385]
Unspotted Names! and memorable long,
If there be Force in Virtue, or in Song.

    Of gentle Blood (part shed in Honour’s Cause,
While yet in Britain Honour had Applause)
Each Parent sprung — “What Fortune, pray?” — Their own, [390]
And better got, than Bestia’s from the Throne.
Born to no Pride, inheriting no Strife,
Nor marrying Discord in a Noble Wife,
Stranger to Civil and Religious Rage,
The good Man walk’d innoxious thro’ his age. [395]
No Courts he saw, no Suits would ever try,
Nor dar’d an Oath, nor hazarded a Lye:
Un-learn’d, he knew no Schoolman’s subtle Art,
No Language, but the Language of the Heart.
By Nature honest, by Experience wise, [400]
Healthy by Temp’rance and by Exercise:
His Life, tho’ long, to sickness past unknown;
His Death was instant, and without a groan.
O grant me, thus to live, and thus to die!
Who sprung from Kings shall know less joy than I. [405]

    O Friend! may each Domestick Bliss be thine!
Be no unpleasing Melancholy mine:
Me, let the tender Office long engage
To rock the Cradle of reposing Age,
With lenient Arts extend a Mother’s breath, [410]
Make Languor smile, and smooth the Bed of Death,
Explore the Thought, explain the asking Eye,
And keep a while one Parent from the Sky!
On Cares like these if Length of days attend,
May Heav’n, to bless those days, preserve my Friend, [415]
Preserve him social, cheerful, and serene,
And just as rich as when he serv’d a Queen!
Whether that Blessing be denied or giv’n,
Thus far was right, the rest belongs to Heav’n.


“You will not any longer attend to the vulgar mob’s gossip nor put your trust in human rewards for your deeds; virtue, through her own charms, should lead you to true glory. Let what others say about you be their concern; whatever it is, they’ll say it anyway.” Cicero [Marcus Tullius Cicero, often known as “Tully”], De Re Publica 6.23.
John Hervey, Baron Hervey of Ickworth, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. See below.
John Serle, Pope’s servant.
It was common to muffle the knocker in the house of a sick person.
Sirius, the dog-star, is visible in late August; that time of year is known as the “dog-days.” It was traditionally a time when poets read their work in ancient Rome: see Juvenal’s third Satire.
Bedlam, or Parnassus
Bedlam, “[Corrupted from Bethlehem, the name of a religious house in London, converted afterwards into an hospital for the mad and lunatick.] A madhouse; a place appointed for the cure of lunacy” (Johnson). Parnassus is a mountain in Greece sacred to the Muses, and is therefore associated with poetry and the arts.
Pope built a grotto in an underground passage on his estate.
Pope’s house at Twickenham was on the River Thames.
The Mint was a region in London where people could not be arrested for debt. It attracted many people trying to hide from the law.
Bemus’d in
A pun on the name Laurence Eusden, the recently deceased poet laureate.
“To copy in a large hand.”
Giddy Son
James Moore Smythe, son of Arthur Moore, had stolen some of Pope’s verses in his play, The Rival Ladies.
Latin for “horn”; the name suggests a man who has been cuckolded, since cuckolds were traditionally imagined to wear horns.
Friend to my life
The poem is addressed to Dr. John Arbuthnot, Pope’s friend and physician.
“A medicine not yet made publick, but remaining in some single hand” (Johnson). Johnson quotes this line from Pope as an example.
Brought to a bad end.
Nine years
In the Ars Poetica, Horace suggested that an aspiring poet should hold on to his works for nine years before publishing them.
Drury Lane was one of the two legitimate theatres in London; the area around it was notorious for its prostitutes and other low-life. That the poet is “high” suggests he’s in an attic with broken windows.
“The west wind; and poetically any calm soft wind” (Johnson). It’s a poetic word ironically inappropriate in this context.
The term is the legal term, which was also the season for publishing.
Pope’s note: “The name taken from a foolish Poet at Rhodes, who pretended much to Greek. Schol. in Horat. lib. i. Dr. Bentley pretends that this Pitholeon libelled Caesar also. See notes on Hor. Sat. X. 1. I.” Richard Bentley, a classical scholar and editor of Horace, was one of Pope’s particular enemies; see line 164 and note.
His Grace
The form of address for a duke or a bishop.
Edmund Curll, a sleazy publisher who often pirated Pope’s works.
“Pleads,” without any suggestion of a lawsuit.
That is, actors.
Bernard Lintot, Pope’s publisher on many of his works.
“A share; a part taken by compact” (Johnson). Johnson quotes this line from Pope. To go snacks meant to share the profits.
Midas’ ears
In ancient mythology, Midas, the king of Phrygia, judged a musical contest between Pan and Apollo by giving the award to Pan. Apollo, angry, gave him ass’s ears.
Some say his Queen
[Pope’s note:] The Story is told by some of his Barber, but by Chaucer of his Queen. See Wife of Bath’s Tale in Dryden’s Fables.
Impudently pushes forward.
A conventional name for a poet.
Pit, box, and gall’ry
Parts of a theatre.
Parnassian sneer
A quotation from Pope’s own Dunciad, 2.5.
Colley Cibber, playwright and poet laureate. Pope attacked him in many poems, including the revised version of The Dunciad.
John Henley, a preacher who had delivered a sermon on butchers.
A bad Roman poet who attacked Horace and Virgil.
Ambrose Philips, a poet often attacked by Pope, who called him “Namby Pamby” — the origin of the term.
The real Sappho was a seventh-century B.C. poet from Lesbia in Greece. Pope applies the name here to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, once a friend, later a bitter enemy.
Grub Street was a section of London in which poor writers tried to eke out a living. As Wall Street now means finance and Fleet Street means journalism, Grub Street came to stand for the whole milieu of hack writing. Johnson defines it as “Originally the name of a street in Moorfields in London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems; whence any mean production is called grubstreet.
Prints my Letters
Curll had published a pirated edition of Pope’s correspondence. The story is more complicated than it seems, though, since Pope apparently manipulated him into publishing them.
Subscribe, subscribe
Publication by subscription was becoming common. Writers would announce a project and seek support before the work was finished. Those who paid in advance would see their names listed in the book. Pope was one of the first to make a fortune from this method of publication in his translation of Homer.
Pope was very short — four foot six. He suffered from tuberculosis of the spine, which also gave him a bad hunchback.
Ammon’s great Son
That is, Alexander the Great.
Ovid’s nose
Ovid’s name was Publius Ovidius Naso; naso is Latin for “nose.”
Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Virgil, the author of the Aeneid.
Lisp’d in numbers
Lisp, “To speak with too frequent appulses of the tongue to the teeth or palate, like children”; numbers, “Verses; poetry” (Johnson). Pope claims to have been speaking metrical poetry from childhood.
This long disease
Pope was in fact plagued by many diseases throughout his life.
Granville . . . St. John
A catalogue of Pope’s friends and supporters.
great Dryden’s friends before
[Pope's note:] All these were Patrons or Admirers of Mr. Dryden, tho’a scandalous Libel against him, entituled, Dryden’s Satyr to his Muse, has been printed in the Name of the Lord Somers, of which he was wholly ignorant.
Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cooks
[Pope’s note:] Authors of secret and scandalous History.
Lord Hervey, discussed below in lines 305 and following.
Charles Gildon, a critic and poet who had attacked Pope.
John Dennis, another critic and poet who attacked Pope.
Slashing B—ley down to pidling T—ds
Richard Bentley was England’s greatest classical scholar and one of Pope’s enemies. “Tibbald” is Lewis Theobald, who had viciously attacked Pope’s edition of Shakespeare in a book called Shakespeare Restored. Pope gave both of them prominent places in his Dunciad.
“A person; a being. Obsolete” (Johnson).
Persian Tale
Pope’s note: “Ambrose Philips translated a book called the Persian Tales.” Half a crown was the usual charge for a prostitute.
“A kind of cloth made of linen and cotton,” and therefore metaphorically “A high swelling kind of writing made up of heterogeneous parts, or of words and ideas ill associated; bombast” (Johnson).
Here, “bade.”
Nahum Tate, a poet and playwright most famous today for his happy-ending version of King Lear (1681), who also did a translation of the Psalms.
Joseph Addison, co-author of The Spectator, was originally one of Pope’s friends. They had a falling out, not only over literary matters (Addison preferred the Homer translation by Tickell to the one by Pope) but also over politics. The next verse paragraph, with its satire on “Atticus,” is an extended attack on Addison.
Fond to rule
Fond of ruling.
Addison wrote a play called Cato, a huge success. When he and Pope were on good terms, Pope contributed a verse prologue to the play.
Law students, who studied at the Inner or Middle Temple.
Books were advertised by having their title pages pasted up like posters, known as “claps.” Rubric means “in red,” a color sometimes used on title pages.
King George II. One of the functions of the poet laureate — a position then held by Colley Cibber — was to write celebratory odes on the king’s birthday. He here suggests that the king ignores such tributes.
“A pretender to wit; a man of petty smartness” (Johnson).
Dragged through the mud.
Oranges were used as air-fresheners.
A caricature of a literary patron. Castalia is a spring on Parnassus (the “forked hill” in the next line), and the Castalian state therefore represents poetry.
“To swell or blow up with praise” (Johnson). It was common to write fulsome tributes to patrons in the works they supported.
Pindar stood without a head
Pope’s note: “Ridicules the affectation of antiquaries, who frequently exhibit the headless trunks and terms of statues for Plato, Homer, Pindar, etc.”
Help’d to bury
Pope’s note: “Mr. Dryden, after having liv’d in Exigencies, had a magnificent Funeral bestow’d upon him by the contributions of several Persons of Quality.”
A pun — not only left him happy, but left him John Gay, Pope’s friend, best known today as the author of The Beggar’s Opera.
Charles Douglas, 3d Duke of Queensbury, paid for a monument to Gay in Westminster Abbey. Pope provided the epitaph.
To live and die
See Sir John Denham’s poem, “Of Prudence”: “Learn to live well, that thou may’st die so too;/ To live and die is all we have to do.”
The name of a Roman lawyer. It refers here to George Hay, 7th Earl of Kinnoul, a former friend of Pope.
Sir Will. or Bubo
“Sir Will.” is Sir William Yonge, a politician whom Pope disliked. “Bubo,” Latin for “owl,” refers to George Bubb Dodington, notorious for his lack of taste. The word also suggests “booby,” which Johnson defines as “A dull, heavy, stupid fellow; a lubber.”
Cannons is the estate of the Duke of Chandos. In his Epistle to Burlington, Pope attacked “Timon’s villa” as a model of bad taste. Many readers insisted this was an attack on Chandos, but Pope denied it.
Sporus was a favorite and lover of the emperor Nero. Pope uses the name for Lord Hervey (pronounced Harvey), a former friend of Pope, who was rumored to be bisexual.
“To lay colours on the face” (Johnson) — that is, to wear cosmetics. Hervey, very pale-skinned, wore rouge.
At the ear of Eve
Pope’s note: “In the fourth Book of Milton [Paradise Lost, 4.800], the Devil is represented in his Posture. It is but justice to own that the Hint of Eve and the Serpent was taken from the Verses on the Imitator of Horace.” Eve is here Queen Caroline, whom Hervey served. The Verses were a satirical attack on Pope written by Hervey.
“A dressing table” (Johnson).
A term from falconry.
Pictur’d Shape
Referring to the satirical illustrations of Pope’s deformed body that had appeared in several publications.
Japhet Crook, a forger.
“One who serves for wages,” or “A mercenary; a prostitute” (Johnson). A peer is a member of the House of Lords.
Knight of the post
“A hireling evidence” (Johnson) — that is, someone paid to give false evidence in court.
Lose his own
One penalty for libel and other offenses — and a fate suffered by Japhet Crook — was to be set in the stocks and to have one’s ears cut off.
Duped or deceived.
Pope’s note: “This man had the impudence to tell in print that Mr. P. had occasioned a Lady’s death, and to name a person he never heard of. He also published that he had libelled the Duke of Chandos; with whom (it was added) that he had lived in familiarity, and received from him a present of five hundred pounds; the false-hood of both which is known to his Grace. Mr. P. never received any present farther than the subscription for Homer, from him, or from Any great Man whatsoever.”
Eustace Budgell. Pope’s note: “Budgel in a Weekly Pamphlet call’d the Bee, bestow’d much abuse on him [Pope], in the imagination that he writ some things about the Last Will of Dr. Tindal, in the Grubstreet Journal; a Paper wherein he never had the least Hand, Direction, or Supervisal, nor the least knowledge of its Authors. He took no notice of so frantick an Abuse; and expected that any man who knew himself Author of what he was slander’d for, would have justify’d him on that Article.”
Two Curls

Pope’s note: “In some of Curl’s and other pamphlets, Mr. Pope’s father was said to be a Mechanic [i.e., an unskilled workman], a Hatter, a Farmer, nay a Bankrupt. But, what is stranger, a Nobleman [i.e., Hervey] (if such a Reflection can be thought to come from a Nobleman) has dropt an allusion to this pitiful Untruth, in his Epistle to a Doctor of Divinity: And the following line,

Hard as thy Heart, and as thy Birth Obscure,

had fallen from a like Courtly pen, in certain Verses to the Imitator of Horace. Mr. Pope’s father was of a Gentleman’s family in Oxfordshire, the Head of which was the Earl of Downe, whose sole Heiress married the Earl of Lindsey. — His Mother was the Daughter of William Turnor, Esq; of York: She had three Brothers, one of whom was kill’d, another died in the Service of King Charles, the eldest following his Fortunes, and becoming a General Officer in Spain, left her what Estate remain’d after the Sequestrations and Forfeitures of her family — Mr. Pope died in 1717, aged 75; She in 1733, aged 93, a very few weeks after this poem was finished. The following inscription was placed by their son on their Monument, in the Parish of Twickenham, in Middlesex.

Alexandro . Pope . Viro . Innocvo
Probo . Pio . Qvi . Vixit . Annos . LXXV . Ob . MDCCXVCII
Et . Edithæ . Conivgi . Incvlpabili . Pientissimæ
Qvae . Vixit . Annos . XCIII . Ob . MDCCXXXIII
Parentibvs . Benemerentibvs . Filivs . Fecit . Et . Sibi”

Lucius Calpurnius Bestia, a roman consul who was bribed to enter into a dishonorable peace. Pope is probably alluding to the Duke of Marlborough.
Nor dar’d an Oath, nor hazarded a Lye
Pope was a Roman Catholic, and Catholics were forced to take oaths or be deprived of many of their civil rights. Many simply took the oaths and lied; Pope and his father refused, and suffered the consequences.
Serv’d a Queen
Arbuthnot had been a courtier to Queen Anne, but after George I took the throne in 1714 he lost his position.