‘WHY DID I WRITE?’

An Epistle from Mr. Pope, to Dr. Arbuthnot …

London: Printed by J. Wright for Lawton Gilliver … 1734.

Folio, pp. [4], ‘30’ [i.e. 20]; slightly dusty and foxed, outer leaves reinforced with Japanese paper at inner margin, else a good copy, in modern boards.

£600

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First edition of Pope’s best known Epistle, one his finest and most accessible poems. A number of passages were written years earlier but are cleverly integrated here.

Pope’s denunciation of Lord Hervey – here named Paris, but in subsequent editions Sporus – is one of the best-known in Augustan verse:

Let Paris tremble – “What? that Thing of silk,
“Paris, that mere white Curd of Ass’s milk?
“Satire or Shame alas! can Paris feel?
“Who breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?”

There is much autobiographical here also, from the opening in which Pope hides from a swarm of scribblers – ‘Shut, shut the door, good John … All bedlam, or Parnassus is let out’ – to the lines in which he explains his genesis as a poet:

Why did I write? what sin to me unknown
Dipt me in Ink, my Parent’s, or my own?
As yet a Child, nor yet a Fool to Fame,
I lisp’d in Numbers, for the Numbers came.

Foxon P802; Griffith 352; Rothschild 1623.

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