The ideas of literary theory arevery basic ways of thinking and they are used by critics when they talk aboutand view art, culture and literature.
The different schools of literarycriticism allow critics to concentrate on particular aspects of a piece of workthat they consider significant. Biographical criticism is one of the schools ofliterary criticism that can be applied to just about any author and their work.Biographical criticism starts with the main idea that literature is written byreal people. Sometimes knowing a single fact about an author’s life can enrichthe readers perspective on the piece of literature and the author (Brizee,Allen, et al). Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Criticism” is a great example ofliterary theory and moral philosophy. This poem also delves into Pope’s beliefsas a critic and a poet. AlexanderPope was born an only child on May 21, 1688 in London, England and died in 1774(biography.
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com). He grew up with his father in Windsor Forest, Benfield.Growing up, Pope was an avid reader and he often read outside where he gainedan appreciation for the natural world. As a child, he suffered from spinaltuberculosis which unfortunately left him with permanent physical disabilitiesthat caused him to never grow any taller than four and a half feet(poetryfoundation.org).
His physical appearance made him an easy target formany of his literary enemies in his later years. They often referred to him asa “humpbacked toad” (poets.org). Poperemained ill throughout the rest of his life. However, he was able to supporthimself as a full-time writer and translator (poetryfoundation.org).
He was abright and determined individual and his efforts led him to later be known asthe first full-time professional English writer. At this time in Britain therewas anti-Catholic legislation that prevented him from attending public schoolsor a university, and running for public office. Since his religion prohibitedhim from a formal education, Pope was mostly self-educated.
He was also tutoredby Catholic priests for a brief period of time and he attended Catholic schoolsat Hyde Park Corner, London and Twyford, Winchester. “He taught himself French,Italian, Latin and Greek, and read widely, discovering Homer at the age of six”(Butt, John Everett). He was rather unpopular with the press because of hisphysical disabilities, his involvement in a religious minority, and hisexclusion from public education. However, he did not let this stop him fromsucceeding “Atthe age of sixteen, Pope wrote some of his earliest poems that were publishedin Jacob Tonson’s Poetical Miscellanies of 1710” (poets.org). This is whatfirst brought recognition to his name.
Not long after this occurred, he wrote “AnEssay on Criticism” when he was just twenty-three years old. The success from “AnEssay on Criticism” introduced Pope to a wider group of friends including JohnGay, and Johnathan Swift, who later became lifelong friends (Butt, John Everett).'”Alexander Pope was most notable for his epic poem”The Rape of the Lock” andhis translations of Homer’s “Iliad”‘ (biography.
com). These and many others ofhis writings made him a central character in the Neoclassical movement of theearly 18th century (poetryfoundation.com). AlexanderPope believes that the value of literary work depends on its truth to natureand not whether it is modern or ancient. ‘”Pope’s, “An Essay on Criticism”draws inspiration from the previous verse-essays of Horace, Vida and Boileau,as well as those of two minor Restoration writers, the Earls of Mulgrave andRoscommon.
It also draws upon precepts from the Roman Quintilian and the Frenchcritics, Rapin and Le Bossu”‘ (Bate, W.J.). The viewpoints of “An Essay onCriticism” are centered around the neoclassic tradition.
Pope emphasizes theimportance of humility and studying deeply, particularly studying those poetsand critics who truly understand poetry and follow Nature. In this poem, Popegives his point of view on the question that if poetry should be written basedon a set of rules created by artists from the classical period or it benatural. ‘”This essay by Pope is neoclassical in its premises; in the traditionof Horace and Boileau. Pope believes that the value of literary work dependsnot on its being ancient or modern, but on its being true to Nature… When thepoet is asked to follow Nature, he is actually asked to “stick to the usual,the ordinary, and the commonplace.”‘ He is to portray the world as he sees it. Popeexplains that by taking the ideas of artists from the classical period, acritic has to judge the text (bachelorandmaster).”‘ In order to be a goodcritic, the person must have honesty, courage, and modesty.
The poem is dividedinto three sections that cover general qualities needed by the critic,particular laws for the critic, and the ideal character of the critic (poetryfoundation.org).This poem was an attempt to identify and define Pope’s own role as a poet and acritic.
His main concern for this piece of literature is his advice for critics,poets, and artists. AlexanderPope’s “An Essay on Criticism” opened up many opportunities for his career as afull time professional English writer.