A Background on Alexander Pope and the English Augustan Age

10 Aug
Portrait of Alexander Pope

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Alexander Pope was born May 21 1688 and Died May 30 1744. His father was a Cloth Merchant and both his parents were Catholic. They lived in London until a state law relocated Catholics 10 miles away from London or Westminster. He had tuberculosis of the bone and has been described as 4’6” in height, humpbacked, and suffering from blinding headaches, bone & joint pain, and short of breath. His Family moved to Binfield/Berkshire. At this point he became self-taught. His aunt taught him how to read and he attended Catholic Schools until his illness crippled his spine. His self studies primarily composed of the classics with a focus on Horace and Virgil. He saw them as models of poetry (University of Massachussets Amherst, nd).

The period prior to the Augustan age was the Restoration, and after the Augustan age came romanticism. The English Augustan age spanned 1700-1740 with the reign of Queen Anne, King George and King George II. Pope is a dominant figure in this period’s poetry since his poems lines became memes of the time. Dryden is mentioned four times in Pope’s “An Essay On Criticism” and he influenced pope’s works as both use heroic couplets. English Augustinian poets were very interactive with one another. Responding or expanding another poet’s work was normal, as was arguing back via satire.

Though Dryden and Pope are classified as Neoclassical writers; one must remember that during their lifetime they were not conscious of this period. Their actions, and theory were a new ideal they were pushing for in opposition to their prior and contemporary literary schools. Aside from Dryden, Pope also commends Aristotle, Homer, Horace, Dionysius, Quintillian, Longinus, Vida, Boileau, Wentworth Dillon & Walsh in lines 645-734 as they are also Neoclassicists. Nature in neoclassicism is returning to the classics, which are identical to nature. The ambiguity is that there are rules, however the writer must also be inspired and a great inspiration leads to a work being truly transcendental.

Alexander Pope Quote

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Though Neoclassicism was wide spread in the English Augustine age there were other movements during the period; namely the Nature poetry and Graveyard or Churchyard poetry. The Graveyard poets had a melancholy tone (Nestvold 2001), and focused on topics mortality (Noyes, 1956). It emerged from lyric poetry during the Restoration period and is noted as a precursor to gothic fiction; since they often used imagery with skulls, coffins, epitaphs and worms. Examples include Thomas Parnell‘s A Night-Piece on Death (1721) and Edward Young’s Night Thoughts (1742). The mood, which is this school’s significant contribution to English poetry was viewed as weak by the neoclassical school.

Both movements presuppose the oncoming Romanticism literary movement. Pastoral poetry overlaps both the restoration and the Augustinian periods and were philosophical or theistic. Strictly speaking Pastoral refers to shepherding lifestyle as an ideal contrary of urban life.  Alexander Pope’s Pastorals (1709) and Sir Philip Sidney’s The Twenty Third Psalm are examples of the genre.

In summary, during the Restoration literary movement topics were extremely varied with philosophical, political, or sexual elements. The poets are known to be courtiers with combative wit. Pope writes against the extremes and competition for praise. However, Dryden the writer Pope repeatedly refers to is from this period. Pope enjoyed his style as they were both neoclassicist and he adopted the heroic couplet which Dryden uses too. Pastoral literature was present during the Restoration and the Augustinian Age and focuses on country life. Pope has literary contributions to Pastoral poetry. Though Neoclassicism was predominant due to Pope’s popularity there were other movements during the Augustinian Age. The school of Nature poetry uses a contrary definition of nature to Pope’s; it is wild and grand. The school of churchyard or graveyard poetry uses macabre imagery and it’s melancholic mood is deemed weak by the Neoclassicism school. Nature poetry leads to the emergence of Romanticism, and Churchyard or Graveyard poetry is said to be the predecessor of Gothic literature. Each are movements in their own right, marking themselves different from the return to the classics Pope was pushing for.

Skim deep

Image by Brett Jordan via Flickr

Works Cited:

  • Dryden, John. “Almanzor And Almahide Or The Conquest Of Granada By Spaniards, A Tragedy, Part First” The Works Of John Dryden Vol4. Project Gutenberg, 13 March. 2005. Web. 31 July. 2011.
  • Nestvold, Ruth. The Augustan Age. ruthnestvold.com 2001. Web. 4 August 2011.
  • Noyes, Russell (1956). English Romantic Poetry and Prose. New York: Oxford University Press. 1956. Text.
  • Pope, Alexander “An Essay on Criticsm” Norton anthology of English literature. 6th ed. New York: W.W. Norton Co., Inc., 1996. Text.
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst. “A very brief biography of Alexander Pope”. (n.d.) Web. 3 Aug 2011.
This is an excerpt from a research paper I did. Contact me if you need citation details.
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4 Responses to “A Background on Alexander Pope and the English Augustan Age”

  1. Inspiration August 10, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    Nice post today. I really enjoyed reading it very much. Please share my poem “The Inspiration” also. Thanks again for writing this.

    • cyferREDrose August 11, 2011 at 2:39 am #

      Hi Kevin,
      Thank you for the feed back =) I found your haiku to have good meaning, but Im not sure how to link you. I use zemantia for the related articles link. If you know how I can link you through my plug in please let me know so I can do so =)

  2. cyferREDrose August 11, 2011 at 2:44 am #

    Kevin’s haiku “The Inspiration” can be read at this link =) http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/8278671/the_inspiration.html?cat=42

    He has interesting content on creative writing as well, his site is well worth a look.

  3. summer January 16, 2016 at 8:41 am #

    very good effort. i got much information after read this post

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