8 December 2015
[POPE, Alexander]. An Essay on Criticism. London: for W. Lewis; and sold by W. Taylor, T. Osborn, and J. Graves, 1711.
4° (227 x 166mm). (Evenly browned throughout, discrete repairs to title, first leaf of text and a few other leaves, title somewhat soiled, without half-title and final advertisement leaf). Gilt-panelled brown morocco by Riviere (rebacked, preserving old spine).
FIRST EDITION OF POPE’S FIRST SEPARATELY PUBLISHED WORK which appeared on 15 May 1711. According to his letter to John Caryll, 19 July 1711 (Corr. i. 128), a thousand copies were printed. By 1722 there were seven separately printed editions, the poem had also been included in Works (1717) and several editions of Miscellaneous Poems and Translations. Clarity of expression is placed foremost among the desiderata for good style, and the Essay, which is so often unknowingly quoted, offers itself as a brilliant example: “True wit is nature to advantage dressed,/ What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed”. “True expression” is likened to an “unchanging sun,” a steady illumination. Warnings already appear against “dullness,” “Shameless bards,” and “mad, abandoned critics.” The “bookful blockhead” is a danger even in church. “Nay, fly to altars; there they’ll talk you dead:/ For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Foxon (Pope and the Eighteenth-Century Book Trade 23) observes that the quarto format of the first edition “allowed more scope for typographical excellence”. A second edition printed in octavo followed eighteen months later, priced at sixpence instead of a shilling; the third edition was printed in duodecimo. Foxon P806; Griffith 2; Rothschild 1562.
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