Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Rape of the Lock

First published anonymously in Lintot's Miscellany in May 1712, but revised, expanded, and published separately under Pope's name on March 2, 1714. To this edition Pope added the following dedicatory letter:
To Mrs. Arabella Fermor
It will be in vain to deny that I have some regard for this piece, since I dedicate it to You. Yet you may bear me witness, it was intended only to divert a few young Ladies, who have good sense and good humour enough to laugh not only at their sex's little unguarded follies, but at their own. But as it was communicated with the air of a secret, it soon found its way into the world. An imperfect copy having been offered to a Bookseller, you had the good nature for my sake to consent to the publication of one more correct: This I was forced to, before I had executed half my design, for the Machinery was entirely wanting to complete it.

The Machinery, Madam, is a term invented by the Critics, to signify that part which the Deities, Angels, or Dæmons are made to act in a poem: For the ancient poets are in one respect like many modern ladies: let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance. These Machines I determined to raise on a very new and odd foundation, the Rosicrucian doctrine of Spirits.

I know how disagreeable it is to make use of hard words before a lady; but 'tis so much the concern of a poet to have his works understood and particularly by your sex, that you must give me leave to explain two or three difficult terms.

The Rosicrucians are a people I must bring you acquainted with. The best account I know of them is in a French book called Le Comte de Gabalis, which both in its title and size is so like a novel, that many of the fair sex have read it for one by mistake. According to these gentlemen, the four elements are inhabited by spirits, which they call Sylphs, Gnomes, Nymphs, and Salamanders. The Gnomes or Dæmons of Earth delight in mischief; but the Sylphs, whose habitation is in the air, are the best-conditioned creatures imaginable. For they say, any mortals may enjoy the most intimate familiarities with these gentle spirits, upon a condition very easy to all true adepts, an inviolate preservation of Chastity.

As to the following Cantos, all the passages of them are as fabulous as the Vision at the beginning or the Transformation at the end; (except the loss of your Hair, which I always mention with reverence). The human persons are as fictitious as the airy ones, and the character of Belinda, as it is now managed, resembles you in nothing but in Beauty.

If this poem had as many graces as there are in your person, or in your mind, yet I could never hope it should pass through the world half so uncensured as you have done. But let its fortune be what it will, mine is happy enough, to have given me this occasion of assuring you that I am, with the truest esteem,
Your most obedient, Humble Servant,
A. Pope

The Rape of the Lock was written at the request of John Caryl, a Catholic man of letters and Pope's lifelong friend and correspondent. In the year 1711, Robert, Lord Petre (the Baron of the poem), a relative of Caryl's, caused a serious quarrel by the theft of a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor's hair (Pope's Belinda). Caryl requested a jesting poem to laugh the families out of their anger, and Pope obliged with the 1712 two-canto version of The Rape of the Lock, which had only 334 lines. The version of 1714 exploited far more fully the idea of a "heroi-comical" poem. This involved the addition of the "celestial machinery," of Rosicrucian spirits--the sylphs. Other epic or "heroic" analogues added in 1714 included Belinda's toilet (the arming for battle), the card game of ombre (epic games), and the Cave of Spleen (descent to the underworld).
The present version contains one other addition made in 1717, Clarissa's speech in Canto V, which Pope said (with some irony) opened "more clearly the moral of the poem." The importance of The Rape of the Lock and its proper comprehension by its audience was underlined by a prose publication called the Key to the Lock. In this work, Pope, writing under the pseudonym of Esdras Barnevelt, carries on a comic attack on the poem, pointing out some of the religious overtones, such as the sylphs as guardian angels, Belinda's toilet as a parody of the Mass. Nolueram, Belinda .... I didn't wish to violate your locks, Belinda, but I'm happy to have granted this to your prayers (Martial, Epigrams, XII, 84).

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