The Pope And Blackmore Feud Essay

918 words - 4 pages

In the article, “A Mock-Biblical Controversy: Sir Richard Blackmore in the Dunciad,” Thomas Jemielity calls Blackmore “the Everlasting Blackmore” for two reasons: one, because Blackmore’s favourite form was the epic (he wrote at least four epics between 1695 and 1723), and two, because Alexander Pope’s ridicule of Blackmore in Peri Bathous immortalizes him as a prominent figure in Eighteenth-century poetry (265). Unlike most poets who perfected the lyric and pastoral first, Blackmore ambitiously began his poetic career with an epic called, Prince Arthur: An Heroick Poem in Ten Books (1695), and this decision, as Samuel Johnson indicates, left him “that much more open to criticism” (Solomon 43). Johnson’s prediction was unequivocally accurate, and no one criticized Blackmore more than Pope, who included Blackmore’s poetry in Peri Bathous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry (1727), a “how-to” manual on writing bad poetry. This essay will begin with a discussion of the possible causes behind the Blackmore-Pope, followed by an analysis of Peri Bathous, a comparison between Prince Arthur, and Creation, and finally a brief look at Pope’s Essay on Man (1734) and Blackmore’s Creation. Ultimately, this essay will show how Pope’s ridicule of Blackmore in Peri Bathous was not fully justified as Pope initiated their feud, unfairly chose Blackmore’s first work instead of his best work to criticize, and failed to acknowledge Blackmore for his contributions to An Essay on Man, Pope’s greatest work.
The cause of the Pope-Blackmore feud is by no means easy to explain, especially with so many speculations as to why their antagonism started in the first place. One possible explanation comes from Abigail Williams who claims that Pope and Blackmore’s conflicting political beliefs initiated the feud. During the Eighteenth century, the Tories associated bad poetry with Whiggism, so Pope, being a Tory, believed that he must combat the Whig poetry of Blackmore through criticism (Williams 10, 18). Another theory comes from Harry Solomon who believes the Wits (particularly Pope and Jonathan Swift) determined to retaliate against Blackmore for his surly treatment of John Dryden, a poet the Wits revered (174-176). In addition, Solomon offers another explanation, arguing the fight began after Blackmore called Swift an “impious Buffoon” and an “insolent Derider of the Worship of his Country,” in his Essays upon Several Subjects (Solomon 29; Jemielity 252); however, these three explanations are insufficient as they simplify the feud too much by reducing it to a trivial squabble of name-calling. The best explanation is a combination of several critics’ assertions that all stem from Blackmore accusing Pope “of writing a profane travesty” called A Roman Catholick Version of Psalm One: For the Use of a Young Lady (Johnston 219-220). Blackmore wrote his...

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