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ENG 6018
Criticism and Theory I

Class 13: Addison, Pope, Young

Reading Assignment:

    Addison, Young, Pope (NATC 416-455)
    Report: Grace Veach, Josh Cundiff

Class Objectives:

  • Analyze Addison's essays;
  • Analyze Pope's poem Essay on Criticism;
  • Analyze Young's Conjectures on Original Composition;

The readings for this week characterize the variety of forms that literary debate took in the first half of the eighteenth century. They also address the key concerns that emerge in this era: the rise of the print/public sphere and the dynamic between neoclassical imitation and original composition. Pope's work is the most important of the pieces that we are reading for this week, and I ask that you take time to read and appreciate the form and content. For those of you unused to the compressed heroic couplet that Pope masters, I will supply a link to the notes and discussion questions I use for my undergraduate survey in eighteenth-century literature. Careful scrutiny of Pope's lines yields great rewards. Read it slowly.

Notes and Discussion Questions:


In what sense does Addison bring philosophy out of the closet and into the clubs and tearooms in these essays?

According to this, what is the difference between wit and judgment? What does Addison add to Locke and why?

Explain the differences among true, false and mixed wit.

How does Addison improve upon Dryden's definition of wit?

What role do ancient writers play for Addison?

How does Addison represent mob-readers (423) and what might this have to do with the rise in print culture?

Most anthologies and criticism refer to Spectator No. 412 as on the subject of "Pleasures of the Imagination" not "on the sublime," as it is labeled in NATC. Why do you think that would be? How much does this essay concern itself with the sublime?

Examine Addison's theory of novelty (p. 424) and compare this to the idea of recognition valued by Aristotle (and a cornerstone of thought on mimesis).

What are the sources of pleasure for the imagination described here? How does beauty operate on the viewer? How does it compare to the other pleasures?


I have put Pope in between Addison and Young because his work really falls here. In fact, Pope's poem is actually the earliest of the three documents we are reading, but it is published more contemporaneously with Addison. Young's piece represents a MUCH later set of aesthetic priorities, and some of the shift can be attributed to Pope's death in 1744. So, I ask you to consider this poem BEFORE you consider Young.

For additional ideas, suggestions, and notes, see my former class .

Walter Jackson Bate has suggested that the poem may be broken into three parts. Part I deals with General Qualities needed to be a critic; part II with particular laws of criticism; and part III with the character of the ideal critic. Examine the poem and offer provisional summaries of what each entails (i.e. what are the general qualities needed to be a critic; what are the particular laws of criticism; what is the ideal character of a critic.)

How does this treatise represent the relationship between criticism and poetry?

How is "wit" defined? (Be aware that the term is used in multiple ways throughout the poem. This is a more difficult question than it at first appears.) Similarly, how is "nature" defined. (Yes, this is also a slippery subject.)

Our classical authors appear in endearing portraits as critics in this poem. What are the characters of these authors as they appear in Pope's text? Why do you think he represents them this way?

What role do the ancients play in imitation? What role do they play in the understanding of nature?

In his particular rules for critics, Pope frequently demonstrates the type of poetic flaws he describes. How does he do this? What is the effect?

How does Pope's prescription for the critic compare with earlier authors, say Horace and Longinus? Again, who would you want to be your reviewer?

Why is there such an insistence on the morality of the critic? What does this suggest about Pope's operating theory of literature? What does it suggest about the writing environment he inhabits?

Who do you think is Pope's audience? Why does he end the poem in the way that he does?

Finally, assess the value of this work as a poem. What would it lose in translation in prose? Might these observations feed back into our understanding of either Horace or Vinsauf as translated?


Written at the end of Young's life, this essay seems fairly revolutionary. The editors call it "life affirming." How is it? What reasons might you suggest for his embrace of originality?

Examine the critical context for this debate, in particular the influence of Longinus on the piece.

What are the dangers of imitation proposed here, and how might it relate to the opening claim that "the Press is overcharged" with compositions? (427)

On page 428, Young offers some interesting motivations or justifications for writing that seem strikingly modern. What are they? How are they different than previous theories of composition?

Why are original imitations better than imitations of authors? Why are there so few in his age? Is this necessary?

What is "right imitation" for Young (431)?

What is nature's role in this quest for originality?

What is the relationship between genius and learning? How does this compare to the use of these terms in Addison and Pope?

Examine the paradox of genius described on page 433.

Young borrows two rules from ethics for composition: "Know thyself" and "reverence thyself." What do these have to do with composition?

Evaluate Young's advice to aspiring writers in context with that given by earlier writers, Horace, Vinsauf, Pope.

Evaluate Young's assessment of Shakespeare and Jonson in contrast to Dryden. What is the role of learning versus nature for Young?

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