Swift and Pope on Satire

Topics: Satire, Literature, Jonathan Swift Pages: 7 (2704 words) Published: October 12, 2011
Swift said that he wrote Gulliver’s Travels to 'vex the world'. Discuss the purpose of Augustan satire, with reference to works by Swift and Pope.

This essay will strive to prove that the ‘Augustan Age’ was the first example of a literary community using satire to directly challenge cultural, social, political and challenging intellectual issues. It is quite usual to find in satiric works of the 18th century an unusually direct assault from the writers against contemporary government officials. Before the ‘Augustan Age’, satirists had concerned themselves with disputes of religion or literature. For instance, English writers such as ‘Ben Jonson’ had previously been inclined to deal in broad social types, or those trying to deal with these issues had to conceal their meanings behind complicated, elaborate allegories. ‘Augustan’ satire tended to deal head on with the contemporary politics. Its aims were the leaders and commonly its subjects were Walpole, Marlborough, George II or Lord Wharton. This kind of direct action by satirists was largely due to the common mans ability to see how; “the Great Man of the state could be identified with the arch-criminal” (The Augustan Vision, 1978). This was only able to happen because of the centralisation of politics and culture, as the nation became more prepared, organised and commercial. Paralleled by the crime industry. The ‘Augustan Age’ is primarily concerned with literary works of the eighteenth century. This century has also been named the ‘Neoclassical Age’, and the ‘Age of Reason’. The term itself is derived from the awkward and self-conscious imitation of the innovative ‘Augustan’ writers, ‘Virgil’ and ‘Horace’, by many writers of the epoch. It references to the original ‘Augustan Age’ under the reign of ‘Caesar Augustus’ of Rome. More specifically, the ‘Augustan Age’ was ‘post-Restoration’ and encompassed much of ‘Alexander Pope’s’ writing life (~1690-1744). The key writers to consider from this age are split between poetry; ‘Alexander Pope’ and ‘John Dryden’, and prose; ‘Jonathan Swift’ and ‘Joseph Addison’. To form the link between the ‘Restoration’ and ‘Augustan literature’ we must initially focus on ‘Dryden’, although it is ‘Pope’ that is associated mostly with the ‘Augustan Age’, despite ‘Jonathan Swift’ or ‘Daniel Defoe’s’ more lasting influence in literary history. Although ‘Dryden’ wrote mostly coarse and vulgar comedies in the ‘Restoration’ vein, his verses of satire were admired by his contemporaries and influenced generations of poets to follow him. Literature of this period conformed to ‘Pope’s’ aesthetics, and therefore qualified as ‘Augustan’. It was distinguishable by its endeavouring spirit of harmony and poetic accuracy, and also in how it mimicked and imitated the classical models of mock-heroism, such as ‘Homer’, ‘Cicero’, ‘Virgil’ and ‘Horace’. Within the verse written at this time were tight heroic couplets, with prose and satire predominating writing forms. A simplistic and superficial overview of this period would be disingenuous, as important as it was; ‘neoclassicism’ was only a single strain of literature at the beginning of the 18th century. It just happened to be that the definitive voices in literary circles at the time were representing ‘neoclassicism’, and thus ‘neoclassicism’ is often used to describe this era. Furthermore, many of the qualities of order, clarity and artistic correctness that were devised in ‘Dryden’s’ ‘An Essay of Dramatic Poesy’ (1668) and promoted by ‘Pope’ in his ‘Essay on Criticism’ (1711), were generically recycled by contemporaries such as ‘Swift’, ‘Addison’ and ‘John Gay’. These works have formed the basis for a large proportion of English literary criticism, maintaining that ‘nature’ can be the only true model and benchmark of writing. Unlike the romantic poets who later idealised nature as a wild, spiritual behemoth, the ‘Augustan’s’ ‘nature’ was constructed from classical theory: God’s providential...

Bibliography: Pat Rogers, The Augustan Vision
Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub
The memoirs of the Extraordinary Life, Works, and Discoveries of Martinus Scriblerus, ed. Charles kerby-Miller (1988) 143
Samuel Johnson, “Milton,” in ‘The Lives of the English Poets (1905)
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