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" Does Pope talk to you," says Bolingbroke to Swift in 1731, " of the noble work which, at my instigation, he has begun in such a manner that he must be convinced by this time I judged better of his talents than he did I " And Bolingbroke proceeds to describe the Essay on Man, of which it seems that three (out of four) epistles were now finished. Pope, being apparently nervous on his first appearance as a philosopher, withheld his name.
He had been originally introduced to Bolingbroke by Swift, but had probably seen little of the brilliant minister who, in the first years of their acquaintance, had too many occupations to give much time to the rising poet.
Bolingbroke, however, had been suffering a long eclipse, whilst Pope was gathering fresh splendour.
Bolingbroke is acting the temperate recluse, having nothing for dinner but mutton-broth, beans and bacon, and a barndoor fowl.
Whilst his lordship is running after a cart, Pope snatches a moment to tell how the day before this noble farmer had engaged a painter for 2001.
In 1725 Bolingbroke settled at Dawley, near Uxbridge, and for the next ten years he was alternately amusing himself in playing the retired philosopher, and endeavouring, with more serious purpose, to animate the opposition to Walpole.
Pope, who was his frequent guest, sympathized with his schemes, and was completely dazzled by his eminence.He might again conceivably have written an interesting work, though it would hardly have been a poemif he had versified the arguments by which a coherent theory might be supported.Unluckily, he was quite unqualified for either undertaking, and, at the same time, he more or less aimed at both.IT is a relief to turn from this miserable record of Pope's petty or malicious deceptions to the history of his legitimate career.I go back to the period when he was still in full power.If he had fairly grasped some definite conception of the universe, whether pantheistic or atheistic, optimist or pessimist, proclaiming a solution of the mystery, or declaring all solutions to be impossible, he might have given forcible expression to the corresponding emotions.He might have uttered the melancholy resignation and the confident hope incited in different minds by a contemplation of the mysterious world.He is thus attempting the greatest task to which poet or philosopher can devote himselfthe exhibition of an organic and harmonious view of the universe.In a time when men's minds are dominated by a definite religious creed, the poet may hope to achieve success in such an undertaking without departing from his legitimate method.His philosophical writings are equally superficial and arrogant, though they show here and there the practised debater's power of making a good point against his antagonist without really grasping the real problems at issue.Bolingbroke received a pardon in 1723, and returned to England, crossing Atterbury, who had just been convicted of treasonable practices.