Pope and Swift Satirists of Their Day Essay

  • Length: 3 pages
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  • Subject: Literature
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #27113522

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Pope and Swift: Satirists of Their Day

In Swift's Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift and Pope's An Epistle to Arbuthnot, the authors seem to vindicate their use of satire, while satirizing others. Alexander Pope, in his preface to An Epistle to Arbuthnot, identifies the motivation of the poem as a response to attacks on his "Person, Morals, and Family" and to give "truer information" of himself (Pope 1733). Pope warns readers that many would recognize allusions to them in it, "but I have, for the most part spar'd their Names, and they may escape being laugh'd at" (Pope 1733). In 1731, shortly before Pope wrote his Epistle, Pope's friend Jonathan Swift completed Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift and published it almost a decade later in 1739. After his friend Esther Johnson died, the theme of death "became a frequent feature in Swift's life" (Wikipedia, 2012). Swift then began composing this poem as a satirical take on his own obituary. In a letter to a friend, Swift describes the letter as an occasion "to tell what my friends and enemies will say on me after I am dead" (Lynch 2012).

In both Swift's Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift and Pope's An Epistle to Arbuthnot, satire is used to discuss the public, relationships with contemporaries, and plagiarism. Both poets adopt an implicit moral superiority as they chide contemporaries of their day for their faults. Yet this tone they adopt is akin to that of contemporary standup comedians. Although comedians rail against and insult others of their times, their task is a genre that is understood to function in this way. Therefore, Swift and Pope's characterization of plagiarism, the public, and their friends and contemporaries is quite convincing, especially considering that, on the one hand, they were genuine literary talents, but on the other, they were prone to "accusations of plagiarism, posing and hypocrisy" (Deutsch 1993, 8). I agree with and am convinced by the tone of their verse, since it has the potential to take the hubris out of their contemporary attackers.

Satirizing against the public

In his introduction, lines 1-70, Swift defends himself as the best satirist of his day. Immediately, two sections follow in which his friends initially speak ill of him, and later, his friends praise him. First, his friends are heard speaking of his mental deterioration close to his death, "Besides, his Memory decays, / He recollects not what he says" (Swift, 85-86). Further, his friends begin to doubt his capacity for poetry, the very thing he claimed mastery of in the introduction, saying "For Poetry, he's past his Prime, / He takes an Hour to find a Rhime: / His Fire is out, his Wit decay'd, / His Fancy sunk, his Muse a Jade" (Swift, 99-103). But then, "then their Tenderness appears," namely, those who speak of him highlight his good traits. They remark on how old he had become and how he was not given over to much wine (Swift, 106-114). Finally, about a third of the way through the poem, "The Dean is dead" (Swift, 150). In the voice of mournful friends who just heard the news of his death, it is announced that Swift bequeathed all his inheritance to the public (156). Lynch observes that "Swift's will gave much of his property to set up a house for the insane" (Swift 2012). His friends are heard protesting against this turn of events, saying, "To publick Use! A perfect Whim! / What had the Publick done for him! / Meer Envy, Avarice, and Pride! / He gave it all: -- But first he dy'd (Swift, 157-160). The personas behind the protest would have much rather had Swift leave the inheritance to his friends or blood relatives (Swift, 160-164).

Satirizing against the friends and contemporaries

Swift provides an interesting look into his relationships with his three friends, Pope, Gay, and Arbuthnott. He seems to suggest, by allotting different time periods to how long each of the friends lament, their relative closeness to him: "Poor Pope will grieve a Month; and Gay / A Week; and Arbuthnot a Day (Swift, 207-208). The scant time of lamentation given Arbuthnot makes sense in light of Swift's comment in line 55, "Arbuthnot is no more my Friend." In fact, in line 208, Swift may be satirically using the spelling of…

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