Pope’s writings were the epitome of what the Augustan Age is meant to represent, elegance and wit and learning worn lightly. Yet Pope seemed in himself to come from a very different world, for he was physically deformed and his upbringing seemed at odds with the world of inherited privilege which he celebrated. But that tension may have been what contributed to a strikingly independent outlook, and an acidity that perhaps contributed significantly to the brilliance of his writing.
The subtlety with which he wielded his pen sometimes makes Dryden’s satire seem more like a blunderbuss. Pope’s rapier wit can be seen at its best in the portrait of Sporus, though the use of the catamite the Emperor Nero married was not something the object of the satire, Lord Hervey, would have taken lightly –
Let Sporus tremble — “What? that thing of silk, 
Sporus, that mere white curd of ass’s milk?
Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?
Who breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?”
Yet let me flap this Bug with gilded wings,
This painted Child of Dirt that stinks and stings; 
Whose Buzz the Witty and the Fair annoys,
Yet Wit ne’er tastes, and Beauty ne’er enjoys,
So well-bred Spaniels civilly delight
In mumbling of the Game they dare not bite.
Eternal Smiles his Emptiness betray, 
As shallow streams run dimpling all the way.
Whether in florid Impotence he speaks,
And, as the Prompter breathes, the Puppet squeaks;
Or at the Ear of Eve, familiar Toad,
Half Froth, half Venom, spits himself abroad, 
In Puns, or Politicks, or Tales, or Lyes,
Or Spite, or Smut, or Rymes, or Blasphemies.
His Wit all see-saw between that and this,
Now high, now low, now Master up, now Miss,
And he himself one vile Antithesis. 
Amphibious Thing! that acting either Part,
The trifling Head, or the corrupted Heart!
Fop at the Toilet, Flatt’rer at the Board,
Now trips a Lady, and now struts a Lord.
Eve‘s Tempter thus the Rabbins have exprest, 
A Cherub’s face, a Reptile all the rest;
Beauty that shocks you, Parts that none will trust,
Wit that can creep, and Pride that licks the dust. Continue reading