Epistle 1 – Intro to An Essay on Man

by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

To Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke

Awake, my St. John!1 leave all meaner things
To low ambition and the pride of kings.
Let us (since life can little more supply
Than just to look about us and to die)
Expatiate free o’er all this scene of man;
A mighty maze! but not without a plan;
A wild, where weeds and flowers promiscuous shoot;
Or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit.
Together let us beat this ample field,
Try what the open, what the covert yield;
The latent tracts, the giddy heights explore
Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar;
Eye nature’s walks, shoot folly as it flies,
And catch the manners living as they rise;
Laugh where we must, be candid where we can;
But vindicate the ways of God to man.

Essay on Man: Index to first lines

Reading by Martin Geeson for Librivox.org. Download entire audiobook here.

1.  “… the name of St. John was always pronounced “Sinjin” by the common people of that day; and so it must have been by Lord Bolingbroke himself, else his friend Pope would never have addressed him in a line so unmusical as “Awake, my St. John, leave all meaner things.”

Nor would Swift, the friend and companion of both, have written … “Where folly, pride, and faction sway / Remote from St. John, Pope, and Gray.” from Georgia scenes, characters, incidents, etc., in the first half-century of the republic (1870) by Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (The Turn Out pp 81-82)

Alexander Pope

“It has been asserted that the Essay an Man was in substance the work of [Lord Henry St. John] Bolingbroke; that his Lordship supplied the materials in prose, and that Pope turned them into verse. The subject has been carefully examined by Mr. Roscoe (Life of Pope, p. 394, et seq.), who, from a comparison of dates and contemporary documents has, I think, satisfactorily shewn [sic], 1. That the Essay on Man was begun, and a great part of it completed, several years before Lord Bolingbroke had commenced to write on the subject. 2. That Lord Bolingbroke continued to write his philosophical work long after Pope had published his Essay. 3. That his Lordship has himself explicitly stated, that the Poem of Pope was an original, and not imitated.” From The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope (Pope, Dyce), W. Pickering (1835)
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