Introduction: Pope and Berkeley

  • Tom Jones


In An Essay on Criticism Alexander Pope says that if one wants to write truly correct and impressive verse it is ‘not enough no Harshness gives Offence,/The Sound must seem an Eccho to the Sense’ (ll. 364–5). He goes on to illustrate this direction with a series of lines whose sound echoes their sense, whose sonic, syntactical and metrical effects seem to imitate the actions being described in the semantic content of the lines. This book asks how it might be possible for the sound to echo the sense.1 It asks what Pope might have thought language was, and how language works, if the sound can be made to echo the sense of a passage of verse. In a note on these lines from An Essay on Criticism, the Twickenham Edition of Pope’s poems gives full details of analogous statements made by Pope in his letters, and by earlier poets, including Marco Girolamo Vida, Dryden and the Earl of Roscommon. The last’s ‘Essay on Translated Verse’ provides the most direct analogue for Pope’s statement. Roscommon says that in good verse the ‘The sound is still a Comment to the Sense.’2 Pope, one might say, is naturalising what Roscommon presents as an artificial activity: only people can offer a comment, whereas an echo is a naturally occurring phenomenon. But Pope says the sound should ‘seem’ an echo. He does not say that it is an echo, a natural imitation of the sense, but only that it should seem to be so.


Philosophical Writing Poetic Language Divine Love Sound Echo Literary Allusion 
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  1. 1.
    The study of iconic relations in language and literature is ongoing in, for example, The Motivated Sign: Iconicity in Language and Literature 2, ed. Olga Fischer and Max Nanny (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2001).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    ‘An Essay on Translated Verse’, l. 345, in Augustan Critical Writing, ed. David Womersley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997), p. 118.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ovid’s Metamorphosis Englished, trans. George Sandys (London: W. Stansby, 1626), pp. 54–5. This is one of the first books Pope read, and one that he ‘liked extremely’. See Joseph Spence, Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters of Books and Men, ed. James M. Osborn, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), I, 14, No. 30.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    For attributions of Guardian papers to Pope and Berkeley, see The Guardian, ed. John Calhoun Stephens (Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1982), pp. 26–8, and David Berman, George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 77.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Benjamin Rand, ed., Berkeley and Percival: The Correspondence of George Berkeley afterwards Bishop of Cloyne and Sir John Percival afterwards Earl of Egmont (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914), p. 110, 7 March 1712/3.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    See Maynard Mack, Alexander Pope: A Life (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, in association with W.W. Norton, 1985), pp. 274–6.Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    See Andrew Keogh, ‘Bishop Berkeley’s Gift of Books in 1733’, Yale University Library Gazette 8 (1933), 1–26, esp. pp. 12, 26.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    British Library, Add, MS 39311: 27–8. Alexander Campbell Fraser, Life and Letters of George Berkeley, D.D (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1871), prints this letter, pp. 235–6. A.A. Luce quotes part of the allusion to Pope, but does not note its context in the letter, The Life of George Berkeley Bishop of Cloyne (London: Thomas Nelson, 1949), p. 59.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    See R.I. Aaron, ‘A Catalogue of Berkeley’s Library’, Mind, n.s. 41:164 (October 1932), 465–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 22.
    George Berkeley and English Literature, pp. 363, 370. See also Gregory Hollingshead, ‘Pope, Berkeley, and the True Key to the Dunciad in Four Books’, English Studies in Canada 10 (1984), 141–55.Google Scholar

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© Tom Jones 2005

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  • Tom Jones

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