An Essay on Man

Princeton Univ. Jul. 2016. 256p. ed. by Tom Jones. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780691159812. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781400880447. LIT
Pope's poem An Essay on Man—formulated to "vindicate the ways of God to man"—was one of the most widely disseminated and well-known publications of the 18th century, notably impacting Enlightenment writers Voltaire, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Jones (English, Univ. of St. Andrews, UK; Poetic Language) provides a reliable modern version. His copy text is that identified by Pope scholar Maynard Mack as the 1743b edition. Jones's substantial editorial apparatus includes a comprehensive introductory essay (of over 100 pages) summarizing the poem and situating it in literary, historical, and philosophical context. Substantive footnotes trace the poet's "possible analogues, sources, and parallels," and a catalog of "Pope's Knowledge of Authors Cited" is included. In the poem's opening remarks, Pope explains how writing in verse rather than prose permitted him to present his "principles, maxims, or precepts" memorably and with fewer words. He was right.
VERDICT Highly recommended to academic libraries.

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