Images Reflect from Art to Art; Pope's 'Epistle to a Lady'

Robert W. Williams


Alexander Pope's great interest in painted or sketched portraits, especially in the middle and later years of his life, is well documented in his correspondence. His involvement with the large number of portraits of himself produced during his lifetime is the subject of an exhaustive study by William Wimsatt. Nowhere in Pope's poetry is this interest displayed so extensively as in his Moral Essay II, the Epistle to a Lady of 1735. Reuben Brower has summed up the main points made to date about the poem's connection with Pope's interest in painting; Brower draws his information from F. W. Bateson's edition of the poem, and Jean Hagstrum's The Sister Arts. Bateson supplies information on specific paintings Pope may have seen, and draws attention to the technical terms drawn from painting that occur in the poem; Hagstrum, commenting on the poem's structure, regards it as an example of a well known genre-the "gallery" of portraits of men and women, either in prose or verse, of which Andrew Marvell's poem "The Gallery" is a typical example. A thorough investigation of the poem's use of the "gallery" device and the techniques of painting proves instructive. In expressing the complex and subtle ideas of Epistle to a Lady, Pope draws very fully on his interest in, and knowledge of, painting.

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