Pope eventually identified himself as the author when he collected the epistles under the subtitle “Being the First Book of Ethic Epistles.” He had originally conceived of An Essay on Man as the introduction to an opus magnum on society and morality, but he later abandoned the plan.
Each of the remaining epistles draws upon this premise, describing potential improvements to some aspect of human nature and society with the implicit understanding that the universe is divinely ordered and essentially perfect.
The second epistle discusses humans as unique beings and shows how the psychological balance between self-interest and the “passions,” or emotions, under the guidance of reason, promotes virtuous living.
Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work! The first epistle surveys relations between humans and the universe; the second discusses humans as individuals.
The third addresses the relationship between the individual and society, and the fourth questions the potential of the individual for happiness.
Articulating the values of eighteenth-century optimism, the poem employs a majestic declamatory style and underscores its arguments with a range of conventional rhetorical techniques.
An Essay on Man met with international acclaim upon publication and generated no small share of controversy in ensuing decades.
During the succeeding centuries, however, critics have perceived Pope's poem as fundamentally flawed, both aesthetically and philosophically.
Nearly three hundred years after its publication, the poem generally merits distinction as, in David B.
Widely neglected and relegated to the dustbin of literary history, An Essay on Man has been often perceived as an historical curiosity disconnected from contemporary concerns, literary and otherwise.
However, a number of recent critics have sought to rehabilitate the poem's status in the canon by focusing on its language and ideas in terms of the genre of philosophical poetry.