An Essay on Criticism

Alexander Pope wrote his Essay on Criticism at a time when genius was becoming a preoccupation of writers, artists and critics. Critics argued over who had genius; writers and artists nursed it as an ultimate goal. With characteristic wit Pope considers genius in connection with the quarrels between writers and their critics, whose strictures are so often prompted by vain ambition, envy and ‘an itching to deride’. True taste in the critic is as rare as true genius in the poet, maintains Pope, and critics should be aware of their limits when pronouncing judgement. This manuscript of An Essay on Criticism is in Pope’s own hand and was used by the printer for the first edition of the poem, published in 1711. It shows what a close interest Pope took in the printed appearance of his work. The title is a carefully rendered imitation of type; the main text is written in a beautifully even italic.

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Autograph

Fourteen leaves in contemporary blue wrapper, 324 x 208 mm

Twentieth-century Bodleian binding