The Enduring Wisdom in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man
If learned men of a past era came to this present age of technological advance, modern man might be surprised at the observations these humans of yesterday would make. Over three centuries ago, two such men -- Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope -- made observations concerning their own time which have interesting insights to today's world. One thing Jonathan Swift might choose to expound upon is the institution of political democracy. In Gulliver's Travels, he comments, "That all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end: and which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion, to be left to every man's conscience, or at least in the power of the chief magistrate to determine." So although he believes that every man has the right to choose his own "end" -- religion -- he also accepts the authority of the "chief magistrate" -- the king -- to determine a state-wide religion. This idea is hardly acceptable to democracy advocates today. Alexander Pope, in his "An Essay on Man," propounds the "Great Chain of Being" theory of existence and order:
Vast Chain of Being! which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see,
No glass can reach! from Infinite to thee,
Know thy own point: this kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heaven bestows on thee.
In this "Great Chain of Being", every creature and thing occupies a place -- it seems reasonable to assume that since there exists more than one "link" in the human spectrum, that different humans occupy different social positions. Kings, for example, might be born into authority. Although modern democracy says this is an evil system, it provides stability and continuity to a precarious culture. Pope also accepts the idea of "God" as ruler of all, and throughout "An Essay on Man" presents "God" as all-knowing and all-powerful -- acting considerably more like a king than an elected official.
Pope's "An Essay on Criticism" presents some interesting ideas when applied to the modern infatuation with science-fiction. He believes that "good" writing uses well-established rules; it follows the path of successful writers of the past. Pope heeds his own advice regarding rules in "The Rape of the Lock" as well as his other pieces: "The Rape of the Lock" is written in the epic style previously used by Homer, Virgil, Milton, and other various poets of ancient times; "An Essay on Criticism" is written in the form of the heroic couplet -- a fitting form for an essay on literary rules. The science-fiction genre does not fit very well with Pope's literary theory on established rules. Modern science-fiction writers and editors place the beginning of their genre with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, who both wrote during the end of the nineteenth century: hardly...