The text throughout is that of the Globe Edition prepared by Professor A. He is indebted at every step to the labors of earlier editors, particularly to Elwin, Courthope, Pattison, and Hales.
If he has added anything of his own, it has been in the way of defining certain words whose meaning or connotation has changed since the time of Pope, and in paraphrasing certain passages to bring out a meaning which has been partially obscured by the poet's effort after brevity and concision. Contents Perhaps no other great poet in English Literature has been so differently judged at different times as Alexander Pope.
Pope's furious retorts have been secured to immortality by his genius.
It would have been nobler, no doubt, to have answered by silence only; but before one condemns Pope it is only fair to realize the causes of his bitterness. He was taught the rudiments of Latin and Greek by his family priest, attended for a brief period a school in the country and another in London, and at the early age of twelve left school altogether, and settling down at his father's house in the country began to read to his heart's delight.
And as a matter of fact we find that the well-to-do Catholics of Pope's day lived in an atmosphere of disaffection, political intrigue, and evasion of the law, most unfavorable for the development of that frank, courageous, and patriotic spirit for the lack of which Pope himself has so often been made the object of reproach.
In a well-known passage of the Epistle to Arbuthnot, Pope has spoken of his life as one long disease.Tried in a fair court by impartial judges Pope as a poet would be awarded a place, if not among the noblest singers, at least high among poets of the second order.And the flaws of character which even his warmest apologist must admit would on the one hand be explained, if not excused, by circumstances, and on the other more than counterbalanced by the existence of noble qualities to which his assailants seem to have been quite blind. His father was a Roman Catholic linen draper, who had married a second time.In conclusion the editor would express the hope that his labors in the preparation of this book may help, if only in some slight degree, to stimulate the study of the work of a poet who, with all his limitations, remains one of the abiding glories of English literature, and may contribute not less to a proper appreciation of a man who with all his faults was, on the evidence of those who knew him best, not only a great poet, but a very human and lovable personality. With the change of poetic temper that occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century Pope's fame was overshadowed.The romantic poets and critics even raised the question whether Pope was a poet at all.Both as a man and as a poet Pope is sadly in need of a defender to-day. The depreciation of Pope's poetry springs, in the main, from an attempt to measure it by other standards than those which he and his age recognized.The attacks upon his character are due, in large measure, to a misunderstanding of the spirit of the times in which he lived and to a forgetfulness of the special circumstances of his own life.Pope was the only child of this marriage, and seems to have been a delicate, sweet-tempered, precocious, and, perhaps, a rather spoiled child.Pope's religion and his chronic ill-health are two facts of the highest importance to be taken into consideration in any study of his life or judgment of his character.They were excluded from the schools and universities, they were burdened with double taxes, and forbidden to acquire real estate.All public careers were closed to them, and their property and even their persons were in times of excitement at the mercy of informers.