Alexander Pope: An Essay on Man

(3696 words)

Pope originally designed An Essay on Man, which comprises four separate epistles, as part of a work that was planned to be very much larger, his grand poetical enterprise, or “opus magnum”, as he called it in a letter to Swift, which was to offer a “system of ethics in the Horatian way”. Pope uses the word “man” throughout the poem in its abstract, generic sense to refer to human kind, rather than in its specific meaning to refer to male members of the species. This essay adopts the same usage. The initial overall design was for a group of moral poems, or “Ethic Epistles”, that dealt with human life and manners in a wide variety of aspects, including a book on the “Nature and State of Man” (An Essay o…

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Gordon, Ian. "An Essay on Man". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 13 March 2002
[, accessed 25 September 2016.]