Alexander Pope Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope

The Rape of the Lock

This commentary on Alexander Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock’ aims to make it as accessible and enjoyable as possible, at the same time containing rigorous analysis of the poetry. As a commentary, it is simply one person’s response to the poem, which other readers may entirely disagree with.

I have worked from various editions of ‘The Rape of the Lock’. The Routledge English Texts edition, edited by Geoffrey Tillotson, first published in 1941 by Methuen & Co Ltd, is invaluable. The Oxford Student Texts edition, edited by Elizabeth Gurr, OUP, 1990, is enormously helpful. J S Cunningham’s edition, published by Hodder, 1961, is still a classic. The edition edited by Frederick Ryland and published by Blackie & Son Limited is full of interesting information. ‘The Rape of the Lock’ edited by Cynthia Wall, Bedford Books, 1998, gives much valuable background and context. The Oxford English Dictionary online is of course another excellent resource. I have been much helped by the proof-reading of Susan Carrdus and by the technical expertise of Cezary Wasowski.

I teach English at Tudor Hall School, Banbury, Oxon OX16 9UR, England.

Should you have any feedback to give, or corrections, then please contact me at: or at

Introduction and Background

‘The Rape of the Lock’ was published in May 1712 when Pope was just twenty-four; he dashed off the first version in ‘less than a fortnight’s time’ at some point during 1711. A scandalous incident in high society had estanged two families who had formerly been friends: Lord Petre had cut off a lock of Arabella Fermor’s hair. The Petres and the Fermors were now of course at loggerheads. ‘A common acquaintance’, John Caryll, asked Pope to ‘write a poem to make a jest of it, and laugh them (the two families concerned) together again’. In the 1712 version, Pope chose as a motto a quotation from Martial, Epigram 86, Book II: ‘Nolueram, Belinda, tuos violare capillos, / Sed juvat, hoc precibus me tribuisse tuis.’ Translation: ‘It is not for me, Belinda, to lay violent hands upon your hair, but it delights me to pay you the tribute you have entreated.’ After the poem was published, the Fermors took against it. Pope wrote on 8 November 1712: “Sir Plume blusters, I hear; nay, the celebrated lady herself is offended, and which is stranger, not at herself, but me.”

During 1713, Pope recast the poem, adding considerably to it, so that when it was published on 4 March 1714 it was five cantos long rather than the initial two. Pope added considerably to this version, which included amongst much else that was new, the sylphs, the gnomes, the dressing-table scene and the game of ombre. The motto this time was taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses 8, 151, ‘a tonso est hoc nomen adepta capillo’ meaning ‘acquired that name from the cut lock’. Pope added a dedication to Arabella Fermor, in which he wrote: ‘ The Human Persons are as Fictitious as the Airy ones; and the Character of Belinda, as it is now manag’d, resembles You in nothing but in Beauty.’ The 1714 edition included a plate for each canto by Louis Du Guernier, which was unusual for a book of verse. A special edition was published at the same time on ‘a fine Royal Paper.’ A week after the 1714 edition had been published, Pope wrote to a friend that it had, ‘in four days time sold to the number [of] three thousand, and is already reprinted tho’ not in so fair a manner as the first impression.’

In 1717 the final version was published, containing Clarissa’s speech in Canto V ‘to open more clearly the Moral of the poem’ as Pope’s editor, Warburton, claimed. Pope himself made no such claim.

Pope tells the story in the form of A Day in the Life of the Beautiful Belinda. She wakes up, makes herself ready to go out and goes to Hampton Court where the Baron snips off a lock of her hair. Belinda becomes hysterical, Clarissa advocates good-humour, there’s a general commotion during the course of which the lock is lost. Pope maintains that it is transformed into a constellation of stars; it is also made famous for ever in his poem.

Heroic Couplets

The poem is written in rhyming couplets – heroic couplets – each line of verse being ten syllables long. The rhythm is iambic; in music you would say there are two beats to the bar. Iambic rhythm has a light syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The word ‘return’ is in iambic rhythm. The two lines that follow are written in regular iambic rhythm (I have underlined the stressed syllables);

And sleepless Lovers, just at twelve, awake.

Belinda still her downy Pillow prest.

Now an example of a ten syllable line with a rhythm that is irregular:

On the rich Quilt sinks with becoming Wo.

Pope uses the rhythm just as a musician would – for effect.

There are many ways in which Pope directs the reader’s attention to important words in his poetry. The rhyming words, of course, are automatically highlighted by their rhyme. Alliteration (words starting with the same letter) often links key words; the stresses usually fall on the important words; assonance (the same vowel sounds) links words; words at the beginning and end of the line are often important, which is why they are placed in these conspicuous positions; there are often contrasting words within a line or a couplet, noticeable because they are opposites placed closely together.

The heroic couplet seems very controlled and balanced; an entity of two rhyming lines, each with ten syllables. The rhyme, and the fact that there is often a definite pause, a semi-colon, a colon or a full stop at the end of the two rhyming lines, increases this feeling that the couplet is self-contained. However, the ideas or emotions contained within the couplet are sometimes far from orderly or moderate, and the very precise format shows this up. The couplet is a tightly-knit unit but the lines so closely juxtaposed within it can be quite different in tone or feeling or content. This can be very funny – the ideas in the first line can be completely undermined by those in the second. For example in the couplet below, distinguished statesmen are discussing international matters – or are they? Maybe they’re just gossiping about who is having a love affair with whom. Pope makes this all the wittier by withholding the gossipy possibility of the couplet till the very last moment. Until the word ‘tyrants’, you think that Britain’s statesmen are discussing international matters.

Here Britain’s Statesmen oft the Fall foredoom (predict, foretell)

Of Foreign Tyrants, and of Nymphs at home. (III, 5,6)

But for all its order and balance, the heroic couplet ultimately has its own inbuilt imbalance: two fives are ten. If you want to break a line exactly in half, with this rhythm it’s impossible.


All the time, as Pope tells the story, he is laughing at the shortcomings of fashionable society and at the ‘little unguarded follies of the female sex’. He does this largely by means of the mock-epic method of story-telling: he constantly alludes to the great epic heroes and the grand epic poems that chronicled their noble deeds and eventual downfall. References to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (which Pope translated), to Virgil’s Aeneid (which Dryden had translated) and to Milton’s Paradise Lost appear again and again. Against the grandeur of these epic tales, one can measure the triviality of society’s doings.

Pope is an intellectual as well as a witty poet. ‘The Rape of the Lock’ is packed with allusions and references that his educated readers three hundred years ago would have relished, but which one tends nowadays to find a struggle. I have therefore commented in some detail on the poem, hoping to make clearer both the literal sense of the storyline and the references. I have looked at the targets of Pope’s criticism – what he was criticising and how. What happens in a poem, novel or play – in this case, the story – is not necessarily the same as what the poem is actually concerned with, what it is really about. Amidst all the plethora of detail involved in unpacking the poem, I have tried to keep the more important concerns in mind. Every now and then I have added a section entitled Read More, which gives detailed contemporary information on some aspect of the poem, often on one of the luxuries mentioned it in. These sections are an optional extra.

The five editions of the poem that I have used have been invaluable.
Pope’s ‘Rape of the Lock’ edited by George Holden, OUP, 1909
‘The Rape of the Lock’ edited by Geoffrey Tillotson, Methuen & Co Ltd, 1941
‘The Rape of the Lock’ edited by edited by J S Cunningham, OUP, 1966
‘The Rape of the Lock’ edited by Elizabeth Gurr, OUP, 1990
‘The Rape of the Lock’ edited by Cynthia Wall, Bedford Books, 1998

Another very helpful book is The Poetry of Alexander Pope by David Fairer, Penguin
Books Ltd, 1989. The Bedford Cultural Edition of The Rape of the Lock, edited by Cynthia Wall, Bedford Book, 1998 is a treasure-trove. You can find out much more about Pope in Maynard Mack’s Alexander Pope: a Life, Yale University Press, 1985. An article in Ideas from the National Humanities Center, Volume 4, Number 1, 1996 is central to my understanding of the heroic couplet. It is ‘The Heroic Couplet: Its Rhyme and Reason’ by J Paul Hunter.

Title page of the second edition of The Rape of the Lock, published 4th March, 1714.
Image courtesy of The Harold Mary Jean Hanson Rare Books Collection, Special Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
The Latin quotation that Pope uses as a motto is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses 8, 151. The full line from which Pope took his motto reads: in avem mutata vocatur
Ciris et a tonso est hoc nomen adepta capillo
“and having been turned into a bird she was called Ciris and acquired that name from the cut lock

Canto I, lines 1 – 12: The Introduction

What dire offence from am’rous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
I sing–This verse to CARYL, Muse! is due:
This, ev’n Belinda may vouchsafe to view:
Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, 5
If She inspire, and He approve my lays.
Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel
A well-bred Lord t’ assault a gentle Belle?
O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor’d,
Could make a gentle Belle reject a Lord? 10
In tasks so bold, can little men engage,
And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty Rage?

Modern version

Dreadful offence can be taken from actions prompted by love
and fights arise for unimportant reasons
that’s what I’m writing about. The muse of poetry should know that my poem was suggested by John Caryll.
Even Belinda may be kind enough to look at my poem.
The topic is unimportant, but the poem will attract much praise
if the muse of poetry inspires my poem and John Caryll approves of it.
Muse of Poetry, can you tell me what could be the strange reason that could make
a well-bred aristocrat attack a gentle and beautiful lady?
And whatever more strange reason, hitherto undiscovered and not as yet explored,
could make a gentle / noble and beautiful lady turn down the attentions of an aristocrat?
Can men who are not tall take part in such bold actions
and can such anger be felt in the hearts of gentle young women?


Pope begins his poem in a way that conspicuously evokes the openings of the great epic poems of old, Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s Aeneid, and, more recently, Milton’s Paradise Lost. He signals the beginning of something formidable in a variety of ways. He calls on the muse – the goddess of poetry – to inspire his song (‘She inspire …my lays’) that is, his poem. He uses special elevated language, instantly recognisable to his educated readers familiar with epic poetry, and appropriate to his great subject; phrases such as ‘dire offence’, ‘mighty contests’, ‘tasks so bold’, ‘mighty rage’ are all redolent of the epic poems of old. Pope also inverts the syntax, using the weighty Latin construction with the verb, ‘I sing’ at the end of the sentence, which echoes Milton’s deliberately stately and old-fashioned constructions at the opening of Paradise Lost. (Rather confusingly, ‘I sing’ comes at the beginning of a line, but grammatically, it’s at the end of a sentence.)

In the opening line and a half, Pope reminds his readers of the abduction of Helen being the ‘amorous cause’ of the Trojan war. ‘What dire offence from am’rous causes springs, / What mighty contests rise…’. Pope declaims, in epic fashion, ‘Say what …., Goddess! could compel …?/ Oh say what …..?’ calling twice upon the goddess who is the muse of poetry to reveal to him, as he is the chronicler or narrator of this tale, the motives that caused the protagonists in this story to behave thus.

But already you can sense that this high-flown opening contains elements of mockery, of spoof, about it. What are ‘trivial things’ doing in such a ceremonious sonorous opening? Why is Pope asking wickedly, what could prompt a ‘gentle Belle (to) reject a Lord?’ (a prize in the marriage market). Somehow the world of the eighteenth century drawing·-room has got in amongst the glorious deeds of the epic hero: ‘ev’n Belinda’ might manage to finish reading the poem; and Pope openly admits that ‘slight is the subject’ (never the case in an epic poem). Here we are in the eighteenth-century world of ‘a well·bred Lord,’ ‘a gentle Belle’, ‘little men’, and ‘soft bosoms’. It’s a far cry from the heroes and battles of epic poetry. The heroine of the poem, the ‘gentle Belle’, is Belinda; this was a fashionable name at the time and very appropriate for Arabella Fermor who was known as Belle. Pope is punning: ‘a gentle Belle’ is a beautiful young woman, but it so happens that it is also Arabella Fermor’s name.

The epic poems of Homer, Virgil and Milton deal with grand subjects – the Trojan wars, ‘man’s first disobedience’. The poets therefore write in an appropriately grand style to convey this. There are a number of episodes that can be expected in epic poems: set pieces such as the hero arming himself for battle, a journey by sea, a journey into the underworld, single combat, a battle, a feast. The gods occasionally intervene in the hero’s fate and sometimes warn him in a dream of dangers lying ahead. Pope will give us all these set pieces, but in miniature. The hero arming himself for battle becomes Belinda getting herself ready at her dressing-table to go to Hampton Court. The sea journey becomes a boat trip up the Thames. The feast is drinking coffee; the journey into the underworld becomes Umbriel’s visit to the Cave of Spleen, and the two battles are transformed into Belinda’s game of cards against the Baron, and the chaos as the members of high society turn on one another after Belinda’s lock of hair is snipped off.

Epic poetry was very well known to educated readers: Pope started to translate Homer’s Iliad in 1713, a six-volume affair, completed in 1720. It was so popular that it provided him with an income for the rest of his life. He then translated (with assistants, since it was such a huge project) Homer’s Odyssey, the Greek epic poem about the adventures of Odysseus (Ulysses) on his way home from the Trojan wars. Milton’s Paradise Lost had been published in 1667, only twenty years before Pope was born. The allusions to well-known moments in epic poetry, parodies of well-known lines, take-offs, spoofs and jokes, which I shall take time to explain, would all have been instantly recognised and appreciated by his readers.

Pope himself published a joke cooking recipe for an all-in-one instant epic poem in a periodical, The Guardian, June 1713:

A Receipt to make an Epick Poem
Take out of any old Poem, History-books, Romance, or Legend … those parts of Story which afford most Scope for long Descriptions: Put these Pieces together, and throw all the Adventures you fancy into one Tale. Then take a Hero, whom you may chuse for the Sound of his Name, and put him into the midst of these Adventures: There let him work, for twelve Books …

In ‘The Rape of the Lock’, Pope is writing what he called ‘an heroi-comical poem’ (what we would call a mock-epic poem). The grand style – ‘dire Offence’, ‘mighty Contests’ – is applied to world-shaking events such as a young woman putting on make-up. This obvious mismatch of style and subject is highly entertaining and also has the effect of ridiculing the trivial events it purports to describe with such earnestness. The style is fitting for the deeds of heroes: here it is applied to an airhead. Warned in true epic fashion of impending disaster in a dream, Belinda no sooner sees a love letter than ‘all the Vision vanish’d from thy Head.’

John Caryll, mentioned in line 3 of the poem, asked Pope to write a poem to try to reconcile two families, the Petres and the Fermors. Lord Petre had cut off a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor’s hair (she was a fashionable beauty) and as a result the families were no longer on good terms. Pope wrote to a friend explaining the situation:

The stealing of Miss Belle Fermor’s hair was taken too seriously, and caused
an estrangement between the two families, though they had lived so long in great friendship before. A common acquaintance and well-wisher to both, desired me to write a poem to make a jest of it, and laugh them together again. It was with this view that I wrote the Rape of the Lock.

It seems inappropriately laborious to assemble all these explanations before even starting to read such a witty, micky-taking poem. Having written the first version of the poem ‘in less than a fortnight’s time in 1712, in two Canto’s’, Pope reworked it in 1714, and added another passage and some more revisions in 1717.

Commentary on Canto I, lines 1 – 12

The opening twelve lines are not that easy to understand. Pope exclaims, in the two opening lines, that he ‘sings’ (that is, writes) about the ‘dire’ (a poetic word meaning dreadful, calamitous) ‘offence’ and the ‘mighty contests’ (battles) that can spring from amorous causes and trivial things. These are all resounding phrases from epic poetry. This poem (‘this verse’) owes its existence to John Caryll, he explains to the Muse (the goddess of poetry, one of the nine muses who inspired the sciences and arts). Even Belinda may ‘vouchsafe’ (be willing to) to read this poem – and here the ambivalence typical of the poem begins to emerge. Is he flattering Belinda, by paying her a compliment: even someone as important as Belinda might read the poem. Or is he teasing her – she’s far too empty-headed to read a whole poem. It’s impossible to tell; the answer remains elusive.

The next two lines seem puzzling.

Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, denied (slight – trivial, unimportant)

If she inspire, and He approve my lays. denied(she – goddess of poetry; He – John Caryll)

The subject of the poem (the snipping off of a lock of hair) is a slight one, but the glory will be considerable if the goddess of poetry inspires it and John Caryll approves of it. (Lays are poems that are sung.) Because of the cleverly ambiguous way that Pope
has phrased ‘If she inspire ..’ he could, flatteringly, be referring to Belinda as well as to the goddess of poetry. At a stroke he is also managing to give an almost literal rendering of Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s Georgics: ‘Slight is the Subject, but the Praise not small, / If Heav’n assist, and Phoebus hear my Call.’

The point of alluding so obviously to a recent translation of Virgil’s Georgics is clarified by J S Cunningham in his edition of the poem.

‘The lines allude to Virgil’s fourth Georgic, famous as an example of raising a mundane subject (the life of bees) to the dignity of poetry. … The kind of relelvance Virgil has here can be judged from a passage in Pope’s Postscript to his translation of the Odyssey: “Laughter implies censure; inanimate and irrational beings are not objects of censure; therefore these may be elevated as much as you please, and no ridicule follows, but when rational beings are represented aboe their real characger, it becomes ridiculous in Art, as it is vicious in Morality. The Bees in Virgil, were they rational beings, would be ridiculous in having their actions and manners represented on a level with crsatures so superior as men; since it would imply folly or pride, which are the proper objects of Ridicule.”‘

Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel
A well-bred Lord t’ assault a gentle Belle?
O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor’d,
Could make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?

Pope is still addressing the goddess of poetry in line 7, asking her to inspire him to say what extraordinary motive could have prompted a well-bred Lord t’assault a gentle Belle. (Gentle can mean either gentle or well-born, noble.) He echoes the Aeneid (Virgil’s epic poem about Aeneas) – ‘Such fierce resentment in heavenly breasts?’ when he mentions the mighty rage that dwells in soft bosoms in line 12.

The curtain rises on the action: a day in the life of the lovely Belinda, a fashionable member of high society. Canto 1 describes her dream and her preparations to go out to Hampton Court.

Canto I, lines 13 – 20: Belinda wakes up briefly and then goes back to sleep.

Sol thro’ white curtains shot a tim’rous ray,
And oped those eyes that must eclipse the day:
Now lap-dogs give themselves the rousing shake, 15
And sleepless lovers, just at twelve, awake:
Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knock’d the ground,
And the press’d watch return’d a silver sound.
Belinda still her downy pillow prest,
Her guardian SYLPH prolong’d the balmy rest:

Modern version

The sun shone nervously through Belinda’s white bed curtains
and opened her eyes – eyes that are so beautiful they must outshine the day.
This is the time that lap-dogs wake up and shake themselves,
and lovers who have lain awake all night wake up, at midday.
Belinda rang her bell three times and knocked the floor with her slipper
and when she pressed her repeater watch it told her the time in a silvery chime.
Then Belinda put her head back on her soft pillow
And the sylph who guarded her saw to it that she slept sweetly for a while longer.


The sun’s rays briefly awaken Belinda, who summons her maid by ringing a hand bell and banging her slipper on the floor, before going back to sleep again. Pope uses a grandiose name, Sol, for the sun. It is the name of the Roman sun god, and establishes us in the world of epic poetry. He personifies the Sun (thus exaggerating the sun’s importance) but even the sun is deferential (‘tim’rous’) in approaching Belinda’s pure (white curtains) and almost sacred bed-chamber. Pope is soon to call Belinda a goddess, and the sun is already behaving as if to a goddess. In hyperbole (exaggeration) Belinda’s eyes are described as brighter than the day (‘must eclipse the day’). No wonder the sun is so reverent.

To compare a beautiful woman’s eyes to the sun was common enough in Elizabethan sonnets, but Pope has intensified the effect of this commonplace comparison. In 1712, in the first version of the poem, he wrote:

Sol through white curtains did his beams display,
And oped those eyes which brighter shine than they.

The updated version of 1714 is far more effective; the sun’s rays have become
‘tim’rous’ and when Belinda’s eyes open they ‘must eclipse’ the day. It’s more dramatic, and makes Belinda’s beauty more powerful if it automatically eclipses the day. Belinda’s superiority to the sun is obvious in this later version. Furthermore, the rhymes ‘ray’ and ‘day’ emphasise the light that will be outshone by Belinda’s eyes in this extravagant image, which the pallid rhyme of ‘display’ and ‘they’ does not.

The story of Belinda’s day starts with the sun shining through her curtains. One can’t exactly say that it starts with the sun rising, since Pope tells us it is already midday! The sun, however, is not so bright as her eyes. And the poem will end with the recognition that ‘those fair suns (Belinda’s eyes) shall set, as set they must (in death)’; and with the lost lock shining as a bright constellation in the night sky. So it moves from the beginning of Belinda’s day to night-time, and from Belinda’s beautiful young woman-hood to her death.

Read more

We’re told that Belinda’s curtains are white. The contemporary furnishing fabrics at the Victoria and Albert Museum are not white, but the image and description give an insight into the fabrics of the time.

Bed Curtain, 1710 silk damask
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Victoria and Albert Museum gives a description of this bed curtain.
‘This silk damask curtain formed part of the hangings of a half-tester bed, that is one with a canopy supported on brackets from posts at the head. The bed was made for Leeds Castle, in Kent. Metal thread had been an important component of grand furnishings in the 17th century, but by the beginning of the 18th century damasks and velvets had become the luxury materials of choice. This reflected the development of upholstery, for which metal thread was impractical.

‘The pattern of the damask, with stylised floral motifs and a huge sunflower in a vase, is typical for the period around 1710. Furnishing fabrics were generally less affected than dress fabrics by rapidly changing fashions, but this silk would have been very much in the current taste of the time, with its combination of semi-naturalistic large-scale plant forms and curious abstract shapes.

‘The large majority of high quality furnishing silks were imported from Italy and France in this period, but some were woven in Spitalfields, and this damask could be English. A very similar version of it exists (at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York City). It was probably woven in China for export to Europe, suggesting that the pattern was fashionable enough to be sent abroad for copying.

‘This silk damask suited the very tall beds fashionable in Britain between 1700 and 1730. Such curtains displayed the full length of this extravagantly long pattern repeat. The combination of semi-naturalistic flowers and abstract scrolling was typical of furnishing fabrics of about 1710.

‘The main feature of the design in each panel is a large flower resembling a sunflower sprouting from an ornamental vase. The vase is supported on a table whose legs descend to form exotic leaves which curl up and flank the vase. Below the table is a cartouche formed by exotic floral motifs and the lowest part of the design consists of two very large leaves curling towards the centre of the silk. The design is typical of the period.’
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Canto I, lines 13 – 20 (continued)

Lapdogs and sleepless lovers finally surface into consciousness at midday. The anguish of the lover, unable to sleep for passion, is gleefully undermined by ‘just at twelve, awake.’ The position of the tortured insomniac is further questioned by being mentioned in the same breath (that is, couplet) as the lap-dogs – to which the lovers are linked through the alliterative initial ls. To put the lovers in the best light possible here: perhaps they are as devoted and faithful to their sweethearts as lap-dogs are to their owners – the Fido of lovers. But it’s also distinctly likely that the lovers are pampered and merely decorative, like lap-dogs, rather than working dogs. Or do society belles treat their many beaux like dogs? Are the lovers completely under the ladies’ control, like dogs? Can young women (whose priorities are confused, as we shall see) not distinguish between the relative importance of lap-dogs and lovers? Later, in Canto III, lap-dogs and husbands are flung into the same line:

Not louder shrieks to pitying Heav’n are cast,

When Husbands or when Lap-dogs breathe their last. (lines 157/8)

Belinda immediately summons her maid, Betty. She’s an impatient girl: she rings a hand-bell and, getting no immediate response, raps the floor with her slipper.

Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knock’d the ground,
And the press’d watch return’d a silver sound.

The pace of the verse accelerates through this couplet. It starts imperiously – ‘Thrice rung the bell’ with its stressed two first syllables, and it hurries on after the comma –

‘the slipper knock’d the ground’. The stressed syllables here are abrupt (‘slipp-‘, ‘knock’d’) like the sound they convey. The line that completes the couplet has no punctuation, and picks up even more speed: ‘And the press’d watch return’d a silver sound.’ The two stressed monosyllables, ‘press’d watch’ mimic Belinda’s action as she gets her watch to chime the nearest quarter-hour. ‘Thrice’ is a number typical of epic poetry, but Pope’s thrice is witty, too. The stressed syllables go in threesomes:
‘Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knock’d the ground.’ And there are three actions
in the couplet – bell-ringing, banging the floor, and pressing the repeater.

However, after all this early-morning (it’s midday) activity, Belinda goes back to sleep (‘Belinda still her downy pillow prest’) and most of the rest of the canto describes her dream. Pope’s poetry is very evocative. ‘Belinda still her downy pillow pressed’ – the lulling, repeated i’s and l’s of ‘Belinda’, ‘still’ and ‘pillow’ evoke a sleepy feeling. The whole couplet is in perfect iambic pentameter; no break in rhythm jars the drowsy peace.

Since ‘The Rape of the Lock’ is set in a rich and materialistic society at almost 300 years’ remove from our own, I have looked up some of the luxury items that Pope refers to. These details are not necessary for an understanding of the poem, but might add to enjoyment of it in picturing the fashionable world of the early 1700s. There was an edition of Pope’s works published towards the end of the 19th century which included notes by J W Croker, and these throw light on some of the items mentioned. You summoned your servants with a hand-bell or by knocking the floor with a shoe. Servants often waited in ante-rooms in order to be able to attend with great promptness. At the time ‘The Rape of the Lock’ was written, London watches were reckoned to be the best in the world. Repeaters (which repeated the time to the nearest quarter of an hour) had depended on pulling a string, but Belinda’s was of an advanced design that struck when you pressed the pendant to activate the chime. It was much easier to do this than to strike a light with flint and tinder in order to see your watch. However, since it is midday, Belinda doesn’t need light. Presumably the sun ‘ope’d those eyes’ only momentarily. Now Belinda’s eyes have closed again and she is feeling around with a sleepy hand for bell, slipper and a rough idea of the time.

Belinda’s dream, organised by her guardian sylph, Ariel, is described at great length. Pope noted: ‘All the verses from hence (line 19) to the end of this Canto were added afterwards’ – that is to say, 1713 when he rewrote the poem which was published in its reworked version the following year, March 1714. He wrote to John Caryll in December 1713:

‘I have been employed, since my being here in the country, in finishing the additions
to The Rape of the Lock, a part of which I remember I showed you.’

Not only did Pope revise much of the poem, he also added a great deal, in particular what he called the ‘machinery’. In epic poetry the gods play a large part, watching over the heroes. How, then, to introduce gods into a mock epic poem, played out in the drawing-rooms of the early eighteenth century? Pope wrote ironically:

The use of these machines (supernatural agents in an epic poem) is evident: since no epic poem can possibly subsist without them, the wisest way is to reserve them for your greatest necessities: when you cannot extricate your hero by any human means, or yourself by your own wit, seek relief from heaven, and the gods will do your business very readily.’ (The Art of Sinking in Poetry)

In the letter of dedication he wrote to Mrs Arabella Fermor (Mrs is a courtesy title; she did not marry until 1715), Pope explained the way he had managed to introduce gods into his poem.

The Machinery … is a Term invented by the Criticks, to signify that Part which the Deities, Angels, or Daemons, are made to act in a Poem: for the ancient Poets (authors of epic poems) … always make (an action) appear of the utmost Importance.

Pope’s version of epic gods and goddesses was to be little spirits presiding over trivia.

… the four Elements (fire, earth, water and air) are inhabited by Spirits, … Sylphs, Gnomes, Nymphs, and Salamanders. The Gnomes or Daemons of Earth delight in mischief: but the Sylphs, whose habitation is in the Air, are the best-condition’d Creatures imaginable. For they say, any mortals may enjoy the most intimate familiarities with these gentle Spirits, upon a condition … an inviolate preservation of Chastity.

In this letter to Arabella Fermor, Pope refers to ‘the Character of Belinda (which) … resembles You in nothing but in Beauty.’ Belinda was a fashionable name at that time and was obviously appropriate for Belle, as Arabella Fermor was known.

However, it could be thought that the sylphs and snomes are a blasphemous, rather than an entertaining, version of guardian angels. In the Bible, Jesus says, ‘See that you don’t despise any of these little ones. Their angels in heaven, I tell you, are always in the presence of my Father in heaven.’ (Matthew Chapter 18 verse 10, Good News Translation) Guardian angels attend and watch over each human being but obviously for an infinitely more serious purpose than that of the sylphs who are simply presiding over fashionable ways and reputation.

In his introduction to ‘The Rape of the Lock’, J S Cunningham describes Pope’s introduction of the sylphs as ‘affectionate scaling-down, of ‘beautiful diminution’. There is a level of delighted half-seriousness on which the sylphs are seen as marvellous, ephemeral images of the recarious loveliness of a young girl in a corrupt but brilliant society …’. ‘Beautiful diminution’ is a phrase of R A Brower’s in his Alexander Pope, Oxford, 1959.

Canto I, lines 20 – 46: Belinda’s guardian Sylph, Ariel, organises her morning dream.

‘Twas He had summon’d to her silent bed
The morning-dream that hover’d o’er her head;
A Youth more glitt’ring than a Birth-night Beau,
(That ev’n in slumber caus’d her cheek to glow)
Seem’d to her ear his winning lips to lay, 25
And thus in whispers said, or seem’d to say.
Fairest of mortals, thou distinguish’d care
Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air!
If e’er one vision touch’d thy infant thought,
Of all the Nurse and all the Priest have taught; 30
Of airy Elves by moonlight shadows seen,
The silver token, and the circled green,
Or virgins visited by Angel-pow’rs,
With golden crowns and wreaths of heav’nly flow’rs;
Hear and believe! thy own importance know, 35
Nor bound thy narrow views to things below.
Some secret truths, from learned pride conceal’d,
To Maids alone and Children are reveal’d:
What tho’ no credit doubting Wits may give?
The Fair and Innocent shall still believe. 40
Know, then, unnumber’d Spirits round thee fly,
The light Militia of the lower sky:
These, tho’ unseen, are ever on the wing,
Hang o’er the Box, and hover round the Ring.
Think what an Equipage thou hast in Air, 45
And view with scorn two Pages and a Chair.
As now your own, our beings were of old,
And once inclos’d in Woman’s beauteous mold;
Thence, by a soft transition, we repair
From earthly Vehicles to these of air. 50

Modern version

It was Belinda’s guardian sylph who had arranged
the dream she had that morning.
She dreamed about a young man even more glamorous and splendidly dressed than a courtier at a royal birthday
Who made her blush even as she slept
and seemed in her dream to whisper in her ear
Most beautiful of humans, looked after
by one thousand airy inhabitants,
if you have ever believed what your nurse and your priest have taught you
about elves seen by moonlight
silver coins left under your pillow and fairy circles in the fields
or the virgin Mary being visited by an angel
with a golden crown and flowers from heaven,
then listen and believe me now. You should be aware of how important you are
and not confine your blinkered ideas to earthly things.
There are some secrets that are hidden from learned men
but are revealed to maids and children.
Even if witty young men don’t believe these secrets

Illustration by Louis Du Guernier for the 1714 edition of Rape of the Lock, engraved by Claude Du Bosc.

Beautiful young women and innocent children will believe them.
You should be aware, then, that numberless spirits fly around you
who are the army of the skies above the lower world.
Although they are invisible, they are always flying around you
as you sit in your box at the theatre and drive around the Ring in Hyde Park.
Remember what a retinue of attendants you have in the air
and scorn a mere sedan chair carried by two servants.
We were once women like you,
From that form we have made our way from mortal bodies
to aerial ones.


In having Ariel, ‘Her Guardian Sylph’, arrange Belinda’s prolonged sleep and ‘Morning-Dream’, Pope is again acknowledging epic conventions: the gods sometimes communicated with epic heroes through dreams. Ariel features in the dream disguised as a handsome young man, spectacularly well-dressed. (‘A Youth more glitt’ring than a Birth-night Beau.’) This is bound to attract Belinda’s attention; in fact, his appearance in her dream makes her blush. Birth-nights were celebrations at Court on the occasion of a royal birthday. Fashionable men were particularly splendidly dressed for these gatherings.

Ariel uses the dream to inform Belinda about her aerial escort; at the end of it he introduces himself: ‘Of these am I, who thy Protection claim,/A watchful Sprite, and Ariel is my Name.’ He then warns her of ‘some dread Event’ that threatens her that day.

The description of Belinda’s escort involves a detailed exposition of the four types of spirit: Salamanders, Nymphs, Gnomes and Sylphs. First Ariel flatters her:

Fairest of Mortals, thou distinguish’d Care
Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air!

She is the most beautiful (fairest does not mean blondest), and is singled out by the Sylphs (the ‘bright inhabitants of air’) for their special attention. Children are taught by their nanny (‘nurse’ is more or less equivalent to au pair) about fairies, who give you money (the silver token) in exchange for your tooth under the pillow, and who dance in fairy rings, leaving dark green rings in the fields. The priest teaches children stories from the Bible, such as the Annunciation (‘Virgins visited by Angel-Pow’rs’), and tales of the saints.

Raymond Stephanson, in his essay, ‘Pope, Biology and Culture’ believes that the reference to ‘things below’ is not only to things that happen in the everyday world (as opposed to the world of the aerial sylphs). He suggests that, in the line, ‘Nor bound thy narrow views to things below,’ ‘things below’ are the female genitalia signifying ‘her value as a sexual commodity’, and are the true ‘prize’ sought by the Baron. This is the beginning of a number of sexual allusions running through the poem.
‘Pope, Biology and Culture,’ p 113, Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, University of Toronto Press, 2016.

In some respects, young women like Belinda, ‘maids … and children … fair and innocent’, are ready to receive ‘secret truths’ that are kept from ‘learned pride’. This is the secret truth that Ariel vouchsafes to Belinda: ‘Know then, unnumber’d Spirits round thee fly.’

Apparently the guardian spirits are always flying around Belinda, be it when she goes to the theatre or when she is driving in Hyde Park. You went to the theatre in order to be seen (which is why Belinda sits conspicuously in a box). Driving in the Ring in Hyde Park provided a similar opportunity. A contemporary noted that he had ‘often computed near 500 coaches, that vie one with another for splendor and equipage’ driving there. The brilliant ‘equipage in air’ that Ariel assures Belinda that she possesses is a carriage and horses with footmen. The ‘two pages and a chair’ refers to a sedan chair in which the passenger was carried by two servants, one in front and one behind, walking in step with each other. J S Cunningham in his edition of ‘The Rape of the Lock’ notes, ‘The belle could depend on receiving homage in the theatre and in the fashionable carriage drive in Hyde Park.’ He suggests that Pope probably adapted a line from Samuel Garth’s ‘The Dispensary’:

How lately did this celebrated Thing
Blaze in the Box, and sparkle in the Ring.

The Dispensary was a mock-heroic poem in six cantos. Garth published it in 1699 to great acclaim. It mocked the greed of the apothecaries and physicians. Garth was a friend of Addison and Pope and delivered the eulogy at John Dryden’s funeral.

Read More about the Ring in Hyde Park

British History Online (BHO) tells us:
‘Mr. Harrison Ainsworth is but recording the actual state of things in the reign of Queen Anne, when he writes, in his historical romance of “St. James’s:”—”Well may we be proud of Hyde Park, for no capital but our own can boast aught like it. The sylvan and sequestered character of the scene was wholly undisturbed, and, but for the actual knowledge of the fact, no one would have dreamed that the metropolis was within a mile’s distance. Screened by the trees, the mighty city was completely hidden from view, while, on the Kensington road, visible through the glade which looked towards the south-west, not a house was to be seen. To add to the secluded character of the place, a herd of noble red deer were couching beneath an oak, that crowned a gentle acclivity on the right, and a flock of rooks were cawing loudly on the summits of the high trees near Kensington Gardens.”

‘During the reign of Queen Anne, the “Ring” held its place as the resort of all the fashion and nobility, even in winter. “No frost, snow, or east wind,” writes the Spectator, in 1711, “can hinder a large set of people from going to the Park in February, no dust nor heat in June. And this is come to such an intrepid regularity, that those agreeable creatures that would shriek at a hind-wheel in a deep gutter, are not afraid in their proper sphere of the disorder and danger of seven crowded Rings.” In the Tatlers, Spectators, and in the plays of the period, there are constant allusions to the brilliant crowds who frequented the “Ring,” around which a full tide of gaudily dressed ladies was whirled day by day. As Mr. Larwood happily remarks:—”It was an endless stream of stout coachmen driving ponderous gilt chariots lined with scarlet, drawn by six heavy Flanders mares; and running footmen trotting in front, graced with conical caps, long silver-headed canes, and quaintly cut silk jackets loaded with gold lace, tassels, and spangles. In those coaches appeared all the beauty and elegance of the kingdom, outvieing each other in splendour and extravagance; for daughters of Eve were scarce who thought, like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, that ‘All the fine equipages that shine in the Ring never gave me another thought than either pity or contempt for the owners that could place happiness in attracting the eyes of strangers.'”


John Macky, in his A Journey through England (1714), tells us that Pall Mall was a very desirable neighbourhood because it was near theatres, coffee houses and chocolate houses, and St James’s Palace (Whitehall had burned down in 1698) and St James’s Park ‘where the best company frequents.’

Canto I, lines 51 – 66: When women die they become sylphs.

Think not, when Woman’s transient breath is fled
That all her vanities at once are dead;
Succeeding vanities she still regards,
And tho’ she plays no more, o’erlooks the cards.
Her joy in gilded Chariots, when alive, 55
And love of Ombre, after death survive. ombre – a card game
For when the Fair in all their pride expire,
To their first Elements their Souls retire:
The Sprites of fiery Termagants in Flame
Mount up, and take a Salamander’s name. 60
Soft yielding minds to Water glide away,
And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental Tea.
The graver Prude sinks downward to a Gnome,
In search of mischief still on Earth to roam.
The light Coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair, 65
And sport and flutter in the fields of Air.

Modern version
Don’t think that when a woman’s short mortal life is over
that her vanities die with her.
She still watches the vanities of future generations
and although she doesn’t play cards any more, she observes games of cards.
Her enjoyment, during her lifetime, in riding in golden carriages
and her love of playing ombre, survive after her death.
For when beautiful proud women die
their souls revert to the original elements (fire, water, earth and air).
The spirits of fiery scolding women
rise into the air and become salamanders.
The spirits of soft, yielding women melt into water
and join the nymphs in sipping tea.
Serious prudes sink and become gnomes
still roaming the earth in search of mischief.
Flirts go back to being sylphs
entertaining themselves and fluttering in the air.


We’re told that it is a woman’s vanities that are supervised by these sylphs – playing cards, travelling in gilded chariots (and, as we learn at the end of the Canto, putting on make-up and getting dressed).

Pope describes the lifestyle of fashionable women, devoted to ‘vanities’ (with its sense of both over-keen preoccupation with how one looks, and also trivial, empty concerns). At the same time, he unobtrusively reminds us of more important values.

Think not, when Woman’s transient breath is fled,
That all her vanities at once are dead:
Succeeding vanities she still regards,
And tho’ she plays no more, o’erlooks the cards.
Her joy in gilded Chariots, when alive,
And love of Ombre, after death survive.
For when the Fair in all their pride expire,
To their first Elements their Souls retire.

In amongst ‘vanities’, cards, ‘gilded Chariots’ and ‘Ombre’, are words of a more serious and spiritual nature, like ‘transient (soon passing) breath is fled’, ‘joy’, ‘love’, ‘Souls’. The phrase ‘Woman’s transient breath’ looks towards Canto 5 when the serious aspects of the poem are spelt out more explicitly. ‘Yourself shall die’ says Clarissa (Canto 5, line 146). ‘Joy’ and ‘love’ are feelings usually reserved for important areas of life – they are two aspects of St Paul’s fruits of the Spirit (see his letter to the Galatians, Chapter 5). But here it seems that joy and love are focused on gambling and gold-painted carriages. And as for these women’s immortal souls (specifically mentioned, and highlighted through the rhyme of ‘live/survive’) we’re exuberantly told that they become nymphs or sylphs and, in this guise, continue to overlook the Cards. That’s obviously the really important element in these women’s lives as the rhyme stresses, ‘regards/Cards’.

There follows a detailed description of the women and the characteristic spirits that they turn into. Noisy, scolding termagants, fiery by nature, become salamanders. (Salamanders were legendary reptiles; it was thought that they could live in fire.) Women who have had ‘soft yielding minds’ become watery tea-drinking nymphs. The sounds of Pope’s poetry often reflect and help to convey what he is describing. Here the watery nature of the nymphs is described with liquid l’s and gentle consonants like ‘ft’; several of the vowel sounds are long and flowing.

Soft yielding minds to Water glide away,

And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental Tea.

Tea was pronounced tay as you can tell from the rhyme; the pronunciation of many words has changed considerably in 300 years. The tea is elemental because it is made with one of the four elements, water.

Women who have been prudes – behaving and speaking in an exaggeratedly priggish and proper way – become gnomes, always hoping to stir up trouble. The heavy d, g and p sounds are reserved for them:

The graver Prude sinks downward to a Gnome.

Light sounds such as I, i, f, and t convey the nature of the airy sylphs (women who have been coquettes, or flirts).

The light Coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair,

And sport and flutter in the Fields of Air.

These transformations are brought about by ‘a soft transition’ which has a highly respectable origin in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. A display of information like this is typical of epic poetry, which often included a passage giving a learned survey of an area of knowledge. The spoof element lies in the fact that this learned survey is devoted to the imaginary and trivial subject of sylphs et al.

Canto I, lines 67 – 78: Sylphs protect young women’s purity.

“Know further yet; whoever fair and chaste
Rejects mankind, is by some Sylph embrac’d:
For Spirits, freed from mortal laws, with ease
Assume what sexes and what shapes they please. 70
What guards the purity of melting Maids,
In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades,
Safe from the treach’rous friend, the daring spark,
The glance by day, the whisper in the dark,
When kind occasion prompts their warm desires, 75
When music softens, and when dancing fires?
‘Tis but their Sylph, the wise Celestials know,
Tho’ Honour is the word with Men below.

Modern Version

In addition, you need to know that whatever beautiful and virtuous young woman
rejects men is protected by a sylph.
Spirits, being free from the laws that govern humans, can easily
take what sex and assume whatever shape they please.
What is it that guards the purity of young yielding maids
at balls at court and midnight masked balls?
What is it that keeps young women safe from friends who might betray them, or from daring and spectacular young men
from glances during daytime,from whispers after dark,
when natural desires prompt young women
added to by soft music and the exhilaration of dancing?
It is their sylphs, as heavenly beings know,
although people on earth think it is honour.


Ariel informs Belinda that sylphs guard the purity of … maids. This high-minded claim is somewhat undermined by the means through which this purity is achieved: the sylphs simply make sure that nothing takes a young woman’s fancy for long. One distraction succeeds another, so that a ‘tender maid’ can withstand any temptation when she has her attention fleetingly caught by the next fun notion.

With varying vanities, from ev’ry part
They (sylphs) shift the moving Toyshop of their (women’s) heart.

Many phrases suggest the lightness and shape-changing faculties of the sylphs: ‘no
mortal laws’, ‘with ease’, ‘what shapes they please’. They acquire military qualities:
‘light Militia’, ‘guards the purity’. But their battleground is the whirl of glittering social occasions at which a girl’s purity might be under attack – ‘courtly balls, and midnight masquerades’ (masked balls). Regarding masqerades, in The Spectator of March 1711, we are told: ‘Whispers, Squeezes, Nods, and Embraces, are the innocent Freedoms of the Place. In short, the whole Design of this libidinous Assembly seems to terminate in Assignations and Intrigues.’ And in The Spectator of June 1711, we find, ‘a promiscuous Assembly of Men and Women were allowed to meet at Midnight in Masques’. And in 1724 the Bishop of London preached a sermon against them. The men at these gatherings are presented as threatening: ‘the treach’rous friend’, ‘the daring spark’, ‘the whisper in the dark’.

The other threat to a woman’s purity comes from the heat of her own passion:
‘melting maids’ easily ‘soften(ed)’ by a ‘spark’; ‘warm desires’ fired by dancing. A spark is literally a lover, or ‘a lively, showy, splendid … man’ but the word wittily continues the fiery images. So do the rhymes: ‘spark/dark; desires/fires. The alliterated words sprinkled through the passage link the vulnerable young women and the occasions of danger: melting Maids/midnight masquerades (the rhyme here helps to make the association). Daring/day/dark/desires/dancing is another group of these words. Apparently it is the sylphs who save the reputation of the society belles at such dangerous places, though humans think it is honour. Already Pope is raising questions as to the values of this fashionable society. Where is true friendship, if you have to seek safety from ‘the treach’rous friend’? What is true honour if the sylphs are simply concerned with keeping a girl ‘chaste’?

Pope’s questioning of society’s values is made all the sharper by his implicit comparison of the sylphs to Milton’s angels in Paradise Lost Book I lines 423 ff.

…. For Spirits when they please
Can either Sex assume, or both; so soft
And uncompounded is thir Essence pure,
……… in what shape they choose,
Dilated or condens’t, bright or obscure,
Can execute their aerie purposes,
And works of love or enmity fulfill.

The sylphs’ work is scarcely as important as the angels’, as the comparison makes clear.

Canto I, lines 79 – 90: Some young women become gnomes after their death.

Some nymphs there are, too conscious of their face,
For life predestin’d to the Gnomes’ embrace. 80
These swell their prospects and exalt their pride,
When offers are disdain’d, and love deny’d:
Then gay Ideas crowd the vacant brain,
While Peers, and Dukes, and all their sweeping train,
And Garters, Stars, and Coronets appear, 85
And in soft sounds, Your Grace salutes their ear.
‘T is these that early taint the female soul,
Instruct the eyes of young Coquettes to roll,
Teach Infant-cheeks a bidden blush to know,
And little hearts to flutter at a Beau. 90

Modern version

There are some young women, too aware of their appearance,
Who are doomed to be protected by gnomes.
The gnomes fill the heads of these young women with over-ambitious proud ideas of marriage to a peer
which makes them reject other offers of marriage and love.
Their empty heads are filled with ideas
of peers, dukes and their servants,
men who, being aristocrats, wear the Order of the Garter, a star or a coronet
and the soft sounds of being addressed as Your Grace.
It is these ideas that corrupt women’s souls,
teach young flirts to roll their eyes,
teach very young women to use rouge on their cheeks,
and their hearts to beat faster at the idea of a fashionable young man.


The next section explores the fate of prudes, ‘too conscious’ (aware) of their beauty (‘their face’) and claimed by the Gnomes. To convey the idea of the protection afforded by both sylphs and gnomes, Pope supplies the word ’embrace’. The sexual connotations of ’embrace’ perhaps ironically highlight the fact that physical love is what the guardian spirits are actually seeking to avoid on behalf of their charges. The gnomes see to it that prudes have such exalted ideas of marrying ‘Peers and Dukes’ and of hearing themselves deferentially addressed as ‘Your Grace’ that ‘offers’ (proposals) are disdain’d and love deny’d’. They can think of nothing but ‘Garters, Stars and Coronets’ (decorations worn by aristocrats). This sort of pride ‘taint(s) the female soul’ and young women who are prudes can only respond to men in a stilted, ‘conscious’ and ‘instruct(ed)’ fashion. They ‘roll’ their eyes (in other words, they ogle), their blushes are not natural, but applied by make-up – ‘a bidden blush’.

This kind of response to other people is tainting (corrupting), says Pope. His poetic technique reflects what he is saying: ‘Gay ideas crowd the vacant brain’ and the next two lines are crammed with the crowding ideas: ‘While Peers and Dukes, and all their sweeping train,/And Garters, Stars and Coronets appear.’ The effect of the gnomes’ embrace is disastrous:

These (gnomes) swell their (young women’s) prospects (expectations) and exalt their pride.
When offers are disdain’d and love deny’d.

‘Swell’ and ‘exalt’ mean approximately the same thing – inflate – and what they inflate,
‘prospects’ and ‘pride’, are emphasised and linked through the alliterative ‘pr’. The result is that offers of marriage and love are kept at a distance (‘disdain’d’, and ‘deny’d’). Again these two are linked with repeated d’s. ‘Pride’ in one line is set against ‘love’ in the next. The irresistible attraction of being called ‘Your Grace’ is conveyed in the seductive s’s of ‘in soft sounds, ‘Your Grace’ salutes their ear.’ These prudes are completely in the gnomes’ power; the gnomes ‘instruct’ and ‘teach’ and this is their teaching: swell the prospects, exalt the pride and see to it that gay ideas crowd the brain and taint the soul. The moral dimension of the poem is more explicit here: ‘taint’ means stain, infect or corrupt.

In addition to the moral dimension, Pope demonstrates the futility of such ‘gay ideas’ through devastating deflation. He does this by making allusion to Virgil’s Aeneid. In the Aeneid, ‘Aeneas leads; and draws a sweeping Train’ (meaning that he draws after himself the epic hero’s retinue). Pope’s version of the ‘sweeping train’ sounds mockingly belittled in comparison.

Then gay Ideas crowd the vacant brain,
While Peers, and Dukes, and all their sweeping train,
And Garters, Stars, and Coronets appear, 85
And in soft sounds, Your Grace salutes their ear.

‘Sweeping trains’ comes from a description of contemporary pomp in The Spectator of March 1712: ‘sweeping Trains, bushy Head-dresses or full-bottomed Periwigs.’

Read more


The art of rolling one’s eyes, or ogling, was ironically commented on by a so-called ‘Ogling-Master’ in The Spectator number 46, April 1711, edited and mostly written by Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719).

Mr. Spectator,

‘I am an Irish Gentleman, that have travelled many Years for my Improvement; during which time I have accomplished myself in the whole Art of Ogling, as it is at present practised in all the polite Nations of Europe. Being thus qualified, I intend, by the Advice of my Friends, to set up for an Ogling-Master. I teach the Church Ogle in the Morning, and the Play-house Ogle by Candle-light. I have also brought over with me a new flying Ogle fit for the Ring; which I teach in the Dusk of the Evening, or in any Hour of the Day by darkning one of my Windows. I have a Manuscript by me called The Compleat Ogler, which I shall be ready to show you upon any Occasion. In the mean time, I beg you will publish the Substance of this Letter in an Advertisement, and you will very much oblige.’

Canto I, lines 91 – 104: Sylphs keep young women pure by distracting them.

Oft, when the world imagine women stray,
The Sylphs thro’ mystic mazes guide their way,
Thro’ all the giddy circle they pursue,
And old impertinence expel by new.
What tender maid but must a victim fall 95
To one man’s treat, but for another’s ball?
When Florio speaks what virgin could withstand,
If gentle Damon did not squeeze her hand?
With varying vanities, from ev’ry part,
They shift the moving Toyshop of their heart; 100
Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive,
Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive.
This erring mortals Levity may call;
Oh blind to truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.

Modern version

Often, when society imagines that women are wandering (pursuing wrong actions)
the sylphs are guiding women through the maze / confusion.
They follow women through the giddy round of their social day
and get rid of one trivial nonsense in a woman’s mind by replacing it with another.
Any tender young maiden must fall victim
to an enjoyable excursion suggested to her by one young man if she weren’t tempted to go to a ball promised by another.
When one of her young lovers, Florio, speaks to her, how could she resist him
if another of her lovers, Damon, didn’t attract her attention by squeezing her hand?
The sylphs shift a young woman’s heart, which is like a toyshop, full of fancy-goods, and they do it by distracting her with lots of different rubbishy attractions.
A young man’s fashionable wig attracts her attention, then another wig catches her eye; ribbons tied to the hilt of a sword thrill her, and then she sees another sword-knot,
One young man catches her fancy, but then another young man makes her forget the first; she admires one fashionable coach but is then captivated by another.
Humans, with their tendency to get things wrong, call this frivolousness
but they don’t see what is really happening; the sylphs are organising it all.


Although it looks as if women are simply wandering from one entertainment to the next, the sylphs are apparently guiding them. The variety of frivolous distractions is dizzying: ‘mystic mazes’, ‘giddy circles(s)’ (which makes it sound as if the young women have lost their sense of direction), ‘varying vanities’. Pope rushes on through four lines to convey the non-stop social whirl. In place of the usual couplets, ended with a full stop or semi-colon, he pauses only for the briefest comma.

Oft when the world imagine women stray,
The sylphs thro’ mystick mazes guide their way,
Thro’ all the giddy circle they pursue,
And old impertinence expel by new.

(An impertinence is a trifle, something of no value. The New World of Words of 1706 defines impertinence as, ‘Extravagace, Silliness, Follery, Nonsense’.) The diversions crowd in on the young women with increasing speed: two are crammed into one line – ‘old impertinence expel by new’; and again ‘one man’s treat … another’s ball’. (A treat is an entertainment or an excursion.) Two men try to attract Belinda in as many lines and the rival attractions they offer are emphasised through the alliteration, ‘Florio speaks …Damon … squeeze(s) her hand.’ Just as the girl is listening to Florio, Damon squeezes her hand and she is distracted again.

This crowding technique comes to a climax in the lines,

… wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive,
Beaus banish beaus, and coaches coaches drive.

One man’s fashionable wig catches a woman’s fancy; then she decides she prefers another man’s wig; the same with sword-knots (ribbons tied to the hilt of the sword), beaus and coaches. The alliteration highlights the jostle of competing distractions; the unwieldy, awkward sounds of the juxtaposed words ‘with sword-knots sword-knots strive’ accentuates the breathless succession of fun things that momentarily catch a girl’s attention. An episode in Book iv of the Iliad describes a battle in exactly the same way:

Now Shield with Shield, with Helmet Helmet clos’d
To Armour Armour, Lance to Lance oppos’d.

The contrast between the serious world of epic battles and the fashionable world of trivia is underlined by Pope’s deliberate parody of the epic style here. And while the epic hero sought honour in battle, the fashionable heroine seeks merely to retain by some means her honour in the social sense (that is, good name, or reputation).

The sylphs keep a young girl’s heart on the move: ‘They (the sylphs) shift the moving toyshop of their (young girls’) heart’. ‘Moving’ means changeable or unstable, and a toyshop in the early eighteenth century sold trinkets and knick-knacks; thus Pope suggests that women’s hearts are essentially frivolous. There is an interesting paragraph in the Guardian of the day:

As I cast my Eye upon her Bosom, it appeared to be all of chrystal, and so wonderfully transparent, that I saw every Thought in her Heart. The first Images I discovered in it were Fans, Silks, Ribbonds, Laces, and many other Gewgaws, which
lay so thick together, that the whole Heart was nothing else but a Toy-shop. These all faded away and vanished, when immediately I discerned a long Train of Coaches and six, Equipages and Liveries that ran through the Heart one after another in a very great hurry (and so on to cards, a play-house, a church, a court, a lap-dog, etc.)’

Pope teasingly adds that humans are wrong when they accuse such dizzy girls of
‘levity’; all this activity has been brought about by the sylphs in the name of
‘protection’, ‘purity’ and ‘honour’. If a girl is constantly seeking new activities, she won’t have time to lose her honour. Pope is gradually establishing values to be set against the endless frivolity of the fashionable world with its giddy circle of vanities. Purity, true friends, honour, love, a heart that is more than a moving toyshop, a brain that is not vacant. His tone is so lively and witty, his touch so light, that the implied criticism is easy to miss.

Pope initiates an on-going joke in this first Canto. The sylphs claim to guard ‘the purity of melting Maids’ – an impressive moral achievement. But in fact they accomplish this simply by exacerbating feminine weaknesses in the form of severe attention deficit. They also encourage a life dedicated to ‘vanities’. They claim power, but actually they only ‘shift’ something that is already ‘moving’. The sylphs make great efforts to enhance a young girl’s beauty (as we shall see them do at the end of Canto 1 when Belinda gets ready to go out, and again in Canto 2 where Ariel explains how they ‘save the powder’ and the scent, and ‘curl … waving Hairs,/Assist … Blushes’). But their ’embrace’ ensures that a girl remains ‘chaste’ and if this is taken to its logical conclusion (as Clarissa does in Canto 5) it means that ‘she who scorns a man, must die a maid’. Is this really what Belinda wants? Are Belinda and her guardian sylphs at cross-purposes? Belinda was certainly remarkably responsive to the charms of the man in her dream ‘that ev’n in Slumber caus’d her cheek to glow’ with his ‘winning lips’. Ariel appeared in Belinda’s dream disguised as a man in order to attract Belinda’s attention. Yet, ironically, his message was, ‘Beware of Man’. Perhaps this joke of Pope’s is really a witty criticism of society’s hypocrisy.

Canto I, lines 105 – 120: Ariel, Belinda’s guardian sylph, warns her that something dreadful will happen to her, and it concerns a man.

Of these am I, who thy protection claim, 105
A watchful sprite, and Ariel is my name.
Late, as I rang’d the crystal wilds of air,
In the clear Mirror of thy ruling Star
I saw, alas! some dread event impend,
Ere to the main this morning sun descend, 110
But heav’n reveals not what, or how, or where:
Warn’d by the Sylph, oh pious maid, beware!
This to disclose is all thy guardian can:
Beware of all, but most beware of Man!”
He said; when Shock, who thought she slept too long, 115
Leap’d up, and wak’d his mistress with his tongue.
‘T was then, Belinda, if report say true,
Thy eyes first open’d on a Billet-doux;
Wounds, Charms, and Ardors were no sooner read,
But all the Vision vanish’d from thy head. 120

Modern version

I am one of these sylphs, and I claim that I protect you;
I am a watchful spirit called Ariel.
Recently, as I flew through the crystal air
I saw, reflected in your astrological star,
some imminent dreadful event
before the sun sets over the western sea.
But heaven did not reveal what would happen, or how or where it would happen.
Warned by your sylph, beware!
This is all your guardian spirit can do, to tell you
Beware of everything, but most of all beware of man.
Ariel said this, when Belinda’s pet dog, Shock, who thought his mistress had slept too long,
Jumped up and licked her awake.
It was at that moment, Belinda, if gossip is correct,
that your eyes first opened on a love letter.
No sooner had you read about the lover’s wounds, your own charms, and the lover’s passion
than the sylph’s dream-vision and warning vanished from your memory.


Ariel, Belinda’s guardian sylph, warns Belinda that recently, as he was flying through the sky, he saw that some dreadful event was approaching and would take place before the day’s end: ‘Ere (before) to the main (the sea) this morning sun descend’ (sets in the west). ‘As I rang’d the crystal wilds of air’ is a direct reference to a line in Paradise Lost Book IV. Two of the angels, ‘winged warriors’ guarding Paradise, flying above the earth to see ‘far and wide’ if any enemy threatens, have seen a suspicious-looking angel. However, the fact is that Ariel’s guardianship is nothing like as powerful as the angels’ in Paradise Lost. Following epic convention, Ariel has given Belinda a warning in a dream. He uses phrases characteristic of epic poetry, ‘dread event’; and words like ‘heav’n reveals not what … beware’ sound grandiose and portentous with stern doom-laden exclamations.

‘He said’ indicates that Ariel has ended his speech, and it is a standard epic formula; stirring stuff. But he’s warning an airhead. No sooner has Belinda been woken up by her dog Shock, than she sees a love letter and ‘all the vision vanish’d from thy Head.’ Most of Canto One is thus instantly rendered redundant, along with all Ariel’s efforts.

The letter that Belinda’s eyes fall upon is full of love-lorn cliches: Belinda’s charms have wounded the lover, and he is full of ardour (on fire with passion for her). Ironically this new distraction (of a variety that Ariel seems to have prided himself on providing to keep Belinda chaste) makes her forget his warning to ‘beware of man!’

Shock is a lap-dog of a kind probably brought over from Iceland in the 1600s. A description of 1688 reads; ‘curled and rough all over, which by reason of the length of their hair, make shew neither of face, nor of body: these curs are much set by, with Ladys, who usually wash, comb, and trim of all the hair of their hinder parts, leaving only the fore parts and hinder feet jagged’.

‘… Belinda is brought to life not by divine breath but by a lick from her lapdog.’ Glynis Ridley suggests here that Pope is alluding to Hesiod’s Theogony, and also his Works and Days, recounting the story of Pandora, created at Zeus’s request to wreak miseryon the earth. Zeus took the sleeping young woman and breathed life into her. In the Bible, God breathes upon man and he becomes a living being (but we are not told that God breathes on woman). Pope could be parodying either Hesiod or the Bible: if the Bible, then the implications are far more serious than if he is parodying Hesiod.
‘Making the Perfect Woman: Female Automata from Pandora to Belinda’ by Glynis Ridley,Anniversary Essay’s on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock edited by Donald W Nichol, University of Toronto Press, 2016, page 55

Canto I, lines 121 – end of the Canto: Belinda makes herself beautiful at her dressing table.

And now, unveil’d, the Toilet stands display’d,
Each silver Vase in mystic order laid.
First, rob’d in white, the Nymph intent adores,
With head uncover’d, the Cosmetic pow’rs.
A heav’nly image in the glass appears, 125
To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears;
Th’ inferior Priestess, at her altar’s side,
Trembling begins the sacred rites of Pride.
Unnumber’d treasures ope at once, and here
The various off’rings of the world appear; 130
From each she nicely culls with curious toil,
And decks the Goddess with the glitt’ring spoil.
This casket India’s glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.
The Tortoise here and Elephant unite, 135
Transformed to combs, the speckled, and the white.
Here files of pins extend their shining rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.
Now awful Beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms, 140
Repairs her smiles, awakens ev’ry grace,
And calls forth all the wonders of her face;
Sees by degrees a purer blush arise,
And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes.
The busy Sylphs surround their darling care, 145
These set the head, and those divide the hair,
Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown:
And Betty’s prais’d for labours not her own.

Modern version

And now the dressing table is displayed,
the silver vases are set out in order.
First of all, dressed in white, the nymph-like Belinda
bareheaded, adores the cosmetics on the dressing-table.
A divine image is reflected in the looking-glass
and she bows before it, and raises her eyes to it.
A lesser priestess (her maid) at the side of the dressing-table
begins to make her mistress ready, trembling as she does so.
Numberless treasures are opened
from all corners of the world.
From each one, the maid works hard to take
cosmetics and objects that will decorate the goddess-like Belinda.
From one casket she unlocks sparkling jewels from India
and scents from Arabia can be smelled from a box over there.
Here are tortoiseshell and ivory combs,
Here are rows of hair pins,
puffs, powders, patches, bibles, love-letters.
Now awe-inspiring beauty puts on her weapons.
She becomes more beautiful every moment,
makes her smiles lovelier, summons her graces,
And makes herself yet more lovely.
Her cheeks blush
and her eyes sparkle more.
The busy sylphs surround her (she is their darling)
helping to set her coiffure and arrange her hair,
some fold the sleeve of her mantua, and others make folds in the gown
and her maid Betty is praised for things the sylphs, not she, have done.


One of the epic set-pieces always described the ritual of the epic hero arming himself for battle. Pope’s version of this is to describe Betty, the maid, helping to dress Belinda for a social afternoon at Hampton Court, playing cards and drinking coffee. ‘Now awful beauty puts on all its arms (weapons).’ So Belinda is arming herself: dressing, putting on make-up, having her hair arranged (‘set the head’), putting on jewels, scent, patches, ivory and tortoise-shell hair-combs, jewelled hair-pins, rouge, belladonna (for the eyes). And who is she out to conquer? The male sex, of course.

The opening line of this section sounds rather odd nowadays, but the ‘toilet’ is a dressing table with a mirror. Belinda has seated herself at her dressing table and is looking at herself in the mirror. However, the words Pope uses suggest a religious service: ‘mystic’, ‘adores’, ‘head uncover’d’, ‘pow’rs’, ‘priestess’, ‘altar’, ‘heav’nly’, ‘she bends (ie bows her head)’, ‘sacred rites’, ‘goddess’. Startlingly, the object of this worship is Belinda’s own reflection:

A heav’nly Image in the glass appears
To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears.

(she also adores the make-up, ‘Cosmetic pow’rs’.) The altar is the dressing-table.

The word toilet or toilette came from the French word for a small piece of fabric or cloth (toile) laid out on a table so that everything necessary for hair and face could be laid out upon it. During the reign of Louis XIV in France, the ritual of the dressing-table became very fashionable and the fashion spread to England.

Evidently Belinda’s priorities are confused: later in this section we find Bibles scattered amongst the puffs, powders and patches on her dressing-table. Presumably this suggests that the puffs, powders and patches are as important to her as the Bible should be (but isn’t). Besides, the Bible is very likely a miniature decorative Bible of the kind often carried by ladies of the time as ornament, not for reading.

Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax (1661 – 1715) wrote brief lines ‘On the Countess Dowager of ****’ amongst which are these:

‘Nature did ne’er so equally divide
A female heart, ‘twixt piety and pride:
Her waiting-maids prevent the peep of day,
And, all in order, on her toilet lay
Prayer-books, patch-boxes, sermon-notes, and paint,
At once t’improve the sinner and the saint.’

It seems likely that Pope knew these lines and may have had them in mind for Belinda’s toilette. However, these lines stress the moral aspect more obviously than Pope’s. As a reminder of the sort of things that were happening during and just before Pope’s lifetime, Charles Montagu was a friend of Isaac Newton, and as Lord of the Treasury, established what was to become the National Debt and founded the Bank of England. Swift disparagingly claimed that he only provided `good words and good dinners’.

It seems to me that the pace of this section is quite stately and reverent. The commas slow down the movement of the lines: ‘And now, unveil’d, the Toilet stands display’d’. The commas also have the effect of focusing the reader’s gaze at the unveiled, revealed, dressing-table – and the last word, ‘display’d’, is more or less a synonym for unveiled. The repetition emphasises the importance of what is displayed – an altar to the glory and power of beauty. ‘First, rob’d in white, the nymph intent adores ..’ is another line slowed by the commas. The nymph, Belinda, is intent – concentrating hard. ‘Adores’, placed tantalisingly at the end of the line, leads one to imagine that she will be worshipping the proper object of adoration, God. Pope keeps us in suspense for half the next line, too, merely increasing the reverence in which she holds that which she adores by observing that her head is uncovered. Then he reveals the unlikely and entirely wrong object of her worship: make-up. ·The repeated pattern of the phrases ‘to that … to that’ suggests a set ritual – indeed, Pope calls this whole affair ‘the sacred rites of Pride.’ ‘To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears’ – in a church service, the prayer book tells one to stand or kneel at particular moments; here, Belinda bends, and then rears (raises) her eyes. The mood is solemn, as at a religious ritual; yet Pope is mocking, too. This girl is worshipping herself and her appearance. How critical is he of the society that Belinda represents? Is he wittily mocking, or savage?

The whole world has offered objects to adorn (‘deck’) ‘the Goddess’. Or, to put a different slant on the imagery, the whole world has been ransacked for ‘spoil’, that is, plunder or valuables seized in war. In Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid, he used the phrase ‘glitt’ring spoil’ to describe armour captured in battle. Belinda’s ‘spoil’ is jewellery from India, scent from Arabia. The collection of adornments is beautiful: ‘unnumbered treasures’, ‘glitt’ring spoil’, ‘glowing gems’, ‘speckled … white’, ‘shining’. Pope appeals to our senses – the sense of smell: ‘all Arabia breathes from yonder box’, the sense of sight with all the colours – ‘silver’, ‘white’, speckled’ – and the shining adjectives, ‘glitt’ring’, ‘glowing’. The best that the tortoise and the elephant have to offer, in the way of tortoise-shell and ivory combs, goes to adorn Belinda’s hair. These objects are dotted about all over the dressing-table: ‘This casket … yonder box’ (beginning and ending a couplet); ‘the tortoise here …Here files of pins’.

David Fairer points out that ‘according to ancient Indian mythology, the weight of the Earth was supported by an elephant, and the elephant in turn was supported by a tortoise… this story was told by the philosopher John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding of 1689 and Pope would certainly have read it there.’ Locke writes ‘…the Indian before mentioned who, saying that the world was supported by a great elephant, was asked what the elephant rested on; to which his answer was- a great tortoise: but being again pressed to know what gave support to the broad-backed tortoise, replied- something, he knew not what.’ As Fairer says, by alluding to the Hindu myth of the nature of the world, Pope is reminding the reader of the cosmic at the same time as the phrase ‘Cosmetic Pow’rs’ compresses and miniaturises his picture. The similarity of cosmic and cosmetic encapsulates Pope’s artistry. The Poetry of Alexander Pope by David Fairer, Penguin 1989, p 62.

Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billets-doux are scattered about at random. The two objects offering reading-matter are linked by alliterative b’s; one is a love letter, one is the Bible. The Bible would probably have been rendered additionally unreadable to Belinda because it may have been a fashionable ladies’ Bible, only a few inches wide and long with minute print. And what is it doing amongst all the make-up and ornaments on the dressing-table? Does Belinda regard aids to beauty as a priest would regard the Bible – central to his life? Is it another example of the confused, topsy-turvy values of this society and the importance it attaches to appearance; to transient and material things instead of to eternal and spiritual values? (This is a point made much more forcefully by Clarissa in Canto 5.) The pins are probably jewelled hair-pins; the patches are tiny circles of black material worn on the face as beauty accessories. They could be used to hide small-pox scars. The position of a patch on your face could send a coded message.

The Pitt Rivers Museum website tells us: ‘black patches were made out of expensive materials like silk or velvet and cut into shapes such as hearts, circles, diamonds, stars and crescent moons. Women pasted them on the face, neck, and breast, according to a newly emerging language of symbolism: a patch above the lip meant coquetry, on a forehead, grandeur, and at the corner of an eye, passion.’ Apparently, too, a patch beside the mouth was an invitation to be kissed.

Source: Pitt Rivers Museum Body Arts | Patch box

John Gay, friend and contemporary of Pope, wrote ‘The Fan’ published December 1713. It is printed at greater length in Read More at the end of Canto III. But four lines in it are very like these lines of Pope’s:

There stands the Toilette, nursery of charms,
Completely furnished with bright Beauty’s arms; (weapons)
The patch, the power-box, pulville, perfumes,
Pins, paint, a flattering lass, and black-lead combs.

Have the furthest corners of the world produced magnificent offerings only to have them reduced to little potions in pots, caskets and boxes; tortoises and elephants reduced to hair-combs? Or are they gifts fit for a radiantly lovely goddess? Does Belinda represent a grasping, rapacious society, plundering the globe for spoil? Is Belinda a rich, material object herself, adorned with the fruits of Britain’s mercantile prowess? The result is certainly a dazzlingly beautiful girl: ‘Belinda smil’d, and all the World was gay’, says Pope in the next canto.

In the final lines of this section, Beauty puts on its weapons – and the rhyming ‘arms/charms’ tells us what those weapons are. Moment by moment she becomes more lovely: ‘rises in her charms’, ‘repairs her smiles, awakens ev’ry Grace’, ‘calls forth all the Wonders of her Face’, ‘a purer blush arise’, ‘lightnings quicken’. You could read in this that Belinda’s beauty is entirely artificial, achieved through blusher (and belladonna to enlarge the pupils of her eyes), with smiles that aren’t spontaneous. Or you could deduce that she has almost transformed herself (with the help of the sylphs) into a goddess. The charms, smiles, blush, are already there, but everything is enhanced, so the verbs tell us: ‘rises’, ‘repairs, ‘awakens’, ‘calls forth’, ‘arise’, ‘quicken’. Is Pope’s tone admiring or critical; is he emphasising Belinda’s confused values or her loveliness; by comparing her preparations to those of an epic hero arming himself for battle, is Pope belittling or glorifying her actions? And what about the outcome of her immediate battle (conquering men at Hampton Court). Ariel warned her ‘most beware of man’. Will she be conquered herself?

Although this story purports to be concerned with what happens to a particular young woman one day at Hampton Court, neither Belinda nor anyone else is given much individual characterisation. Belinda is important as a representative of fashionable society, not as a unique individual. She is beautiful – her name, Belle, reminds you of this. A belle is also a fashionable young woman. Betty, too, is a typical name for a maid in those days. Florio and Damon are standard names for lovers in light poetry. We never discover the Baron’s name. It is fashionable society that is being portrayed and satirised (criticised) in ‘The Rape of the Lock,’ not particular people. Canto One is primarily a picture of society: fashionable ladies sleeping till after twelve; the activities and preoccupations of society ladies (going to the theatre, driving in the Ring, being called Your Grace, and so on); young women getting dressed to go out. We discover, too, the important values that society ignores in its pursuit of beauty, titles, reputation.

‘The scope of epic is encyclopaedic’* – geographically, historically, with references to the planets and stars, to legend, packed with allusions that range through place and thought and knowledge. Paradise Lost provides a good example of this huge range. But so does ‘The Rape of the Lock’. Not to be behindhand in producing the goods, Pope here offers us India and Arabia. In Canto 2 he mentions ‘the Planets’, ‘the Stars’ and, from classical mythology, Ixion. In Canto 3 we have Japan and China, Asia and Afric(a), Nisus from mythology, and Troy from history/myth. In Canto 5 Pope refers to Rome, Proculus, Galileo and King Louis. The fact that Arabia is compressed into scent, and the tragedy of Troy’s fall at the edge of the sword into a scissor-happy Baron simply enhances the wit and joyousness of this perfect miniature.
* Literary Terms and Criticism by John Peck and Martin Coyle, published by The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1984

Glynis Ridley sees the scene at Belinda’s dressing-table as ‘not simply a scene of luxury, but of grotesque metamorphoses, where the giant carapace of a sea turtle and the ivory tusks of an elephant have been ‘trnasform’d’ (and diminished) for no nobler end than to add to the clutter on Belinda’s dressing-table.’ ‘Making the Perfect Woman: Female Automata from Pandora to Belinda’ by Glynis Ridley,Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock edited by Donald W Nichol, University of Toronto Press, 2016, page 55

In the same chapter, Glynis Ridley references Kimberley Chrisman-Campbell’s ‘Beauty and the Beast: Animals in the Visual and Material Culture of the Toilette.’ Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 42 (2013) pp147-70. This article reminds us that ‘such scenes had one pre-eminent meaning for those who first read of saw them: “Explicitly or implicitly, eighteenth-century toilette scenes referenced the most famous toilette of antiquity, the toilette of Venus.” Glynis Ridley adds: ‘… a toilette scene appears to have been universally understood as a complimentary allusion to its female subject’s likelyness to the most beautiful goddess in the Graeco-Roman pantheon.’ In this reading, Belinda ‘is something more than merely another aristocratic consumer. She is Venus, being attended by supernatural powers to ready her for her entrance at the … court, and her toilette is entirely appropriate to a goddess.’ ‘Making the Perfect Woman: Female Automata from Pandora to Belinda’ by Glynis Ridley, Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock edited by Donald W Nichol, University of Toronto Press, 2016, page 56

Thomas Parnell (1679 – 1718) was a fellow Scriblerian, poet and friend of Pope. He wrote ‘Hesiod: or The Rise of Woman’. This extract from it was included by Pope in his tribute to his dead friend, a book entitled Poems on Several Occasions, published in 1722. The extract below describes Pandora being transformed into a beautiful young woman, and Pope followed it by his own passage describing Belinda at her dressing-table, thus drawing a direct comparison.

To dress the maid, the decent Graces brought
A robe in all the dies of beauty wrought,
And plac’d their boxes o’er a rich brocade
Where pictur’d Loves on ev’ry cover play’d;
Then spread those implements that Vulcan’s art
Had fram’d to merit Cytherea’s heart;
The wire to curl, the close indented comb
To call the locks that lightly wander, home;
And chief, the mirrour, where the ravish’d maid
Beholds and loves her own reflected shade.
Fair Flora lent her stores, the purpled Hours
Confin’d her tresses with a wreath of flow’rs;
Within the wreath arose a radiant crown;
A veil pellucid hung depending down;
Back roll’d her azure veil with serpent fold,
The purfled border deck’d the floor with gold.

Nicholas Hudson calls the scene at Belinda’s dressing-table, ‘this reversed communion’ and notes that ‘the sacred vessels on the table are set out in ‘mystic Order’ and ‘transform in a commercialized version of transubstatiation: ‘The Tortoise here and Elephant unite, / transform’d to Combs, the speckled and the white. ‘Catholic Society and Commercial Idolatry in The Rape of the Lock’, by Nicholas Hudson, Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock edited by Donald W Nichol, University of Toronto Press, 2016, page 100.

Already it’s clear that the poem can be read on many levels. There is airhead Belinda level – who seems unlikely to read the poem at all, and not with any understanding if she should look at it. (‘This, ev’n Belinda may vouchsafe to view’ (but probably not).) But the poem sparkles with wit and erudition – all those allusions to epic poetry – and uses dazzling poetic techniques. It wasn’t written just for bimbettes, but for an educated public too. J Paul Hunter, in his article ‘The Rape of the Lock after Three Hundred Years’, writes: ‘Pope’s poem has been called a vast many things – social satire, cultural critique, leisure-class comedy, gender satire, menagerie narrative, mock poem, examen of luxury, burlesque, court satire, societal verse, closet verse drama, Ovidian transformation, toy heroic …’. (Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock edited by Donald W Nichol, University of Toronto Press 2016.)

Read More
The Spectator magazine; The Park; Patches; Powder box; What was Belinda wearing? Dressing tables; Ladies getting dressed; Fans; A Young Lady’s Day;

The Spectator was a periodical published daily by Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele, both politicians, in the early 18th century. Its 500 issues sold up to 4000 copies a day, and carried news and comment, especially comments on manners, morals and literature. The publication pretended to be the reports by a Mr Spectator on the conversations of a club comprising representatives of the country squirearchy, the town, commerce and the army. Its essays, as seen in this example, show that urban life in the early 18th century was not so far different from today, with observations on begging and binge-drinking. ‘Mr Spectator’ particularly comments on debt – ‘[I am] extremely astonished that Men can be so insensible of the Danger of running into Debt’.

The magazine of essays was a popular model for expressing various views on society in the 18th century. Though often short-lived, they sold well and were read by thousands. The Gentleman’s Magazine, Steele’s The Tatler, Samuel Johnson’s The Rambler and The Idler and others created an enthusiasm for discussing ideas and literature that were at the heart of literate thinking in 18th century England.

This information and the image below come from the British Library’s Learning: Language Literature English Timeline, link:

from the British Library

The Park next to Pall Mall where People of Fashion go

‘From thence we went thro’ the Pallace into the Park about the time when the Court Ladies raise their extended Limbs from their downy Couches, and Walk into the Mall to refresh their charming Bodies with the Cooling and Salubrious Breezes of the Gilded Evening. We could not possibly have chose a luckier Minute to have seen the delightful Park in its greatest Glory and Perfection; for the brightest Stars of the Creation sure (that shine by no other Power than humane Excellence) were moving here with such awful State and Majesty that their Graceful Deportments bespoke ’em Goddesses.’
The London Spy Compleat, in Eighteenteen Parts by Edward (Ned) Ward 1700

Henri Misson, a French traveller in England at the very end of the 17th century, writes on the subject of Hide-Park (sic). ‘The King has a Park so call’d at the End of one of the Suburbs of London. Here the People of Fashion take the Diversion of the Ring: In a pretty high Place, which lies very open, the have surrounded a Circumference of two or three hundred Paces Diameter with a sorry Kind of Ballustrade, or rather with Poles plac’d upon Stakes, but three Foot from the Ground; and the Coaches drive round and round this. When they have turn’d for some Time round one Way, they face about and turn t’other: So rowls the World.’
Henri Misson de Valbourg Memoirs and Observations in his Travels over England 1698, translated by Mr Ozell London 1719

Two articles from The Spectator on women’s accessories and the positioning of patches.

Addison’s Spectator No 69, May 1711: “The single Dress of a Woman of Quality is often the Product of an Hundred Climates. The Muff and the Fan come together from the different Ends of the Earth. The Scarf is sent from the Torrid Zone, and the Tippet from beneath the Pole. The Brocade Petticoat rises out of the Mines of Peru, and the Diamond Necklace out of the Bowels of Indostan.”

And from Addison’s Spectator No 81, June 1711:
‘Qualis ubi audito venantum murmure Tigris Horruit in maculas …’ Statins.
‘About the Middle of last Winter I went to see an Opera at the Theatre in the Hay-Market, where I could not but take notice of two Parties of very fine Women, that had placed themselves in the opposite Side-Boxes, and seemed drawn up in a kind of Battle-Array one against another. After a short Survey of them, I found they were Patch’d differently; the Faces on one Hand, being spotted on the right Side of the Forehead, and those upon the other on the Left. I quickly perceived that they cast hostile Glances upon one another; and that their Patches were placed in those different Situations, as Party-Signals to distinguish Friends from Foes. In the Middle-Boxes, between these two opposite Bodies, were several Ladies who Patched indifferently on both Sides of their Faces, and seem’d to sit there with no other Intention but to see the Opera. Upon Inquiry I found, that the Body of Amazons on my Right Hand, were Whigs, and those on my Left, Tories; And that those who had placed themselves in the Middle Boxes were a Neutral Party, whose Faces had not yet declared themselves. These last, however, as I afterwards found, diminished daily, and took their Party with one Side or the other; insomuch that I observed in several of them, the Patches, which were before dispersed equally, are now all gone over to the Whig or Tory Side of the Face. The Censorious say, That the Men, whose Hearts are aimed at, are very often the Occasions that one Part of the Face is thus dishonoured, and lies under a kind of Disgrace, while the other is so much Set off and Adorned by the Owner; and that the Patches turn to the Right or to the Left, according to the Principles of the Man who is most in Favour. But whatever may be the Motives of a few fantastical Coquets, who do not Patch for the Publick Good so much as for their own private Advantage, it is certain, that there are several Women of Honour who patch out of Principle, and with an Eye to the Interest of their Country. Nay, I am informed that some of them adhere so stedfastly to their Party, and are so far from sacrificing their Zeal for the Publick to their Passion for any particular Person, that in a late Draught of Marriage-Articles a Lady has stipulated with her Husband, That, whatever his Opinions are, she shall be at liberty to Patch on which Side she pleases.
I must here take notice, that Rosalinda, a famous Whig Partizan, has most unfortunately a very beautiful Mole on the Tory Part of her Forehead; which being very conspicuous, has occasioned many Mistakes, and given an Handle to her Enemies to misrepresent her Face, as tho’ it had Revolted from the Whig Interest. But, whatever this natural Patch may seem to intimate, it is well known that her Notions of Government are still the same. This unlucky Mole, however, has mis-led several Coxcombs; and like the hanging out of false Colours, made some of them converse with Rosalinda in what they thought the Spirit of her Party, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected Fire, that has sunk them all at once. If Rosalinda is unfortunate in her Mole, Nigranilla is as unhappy in a Pimple, which forces her, against her Inclinations, to Patch on the Whig Side.
I am told that many virtuous Matrons, who formerly have been taught to believe that this artificial Spotting of the Face was unlawful, are now reconciled by a Zeal for their Cause, to what they could not be prompted by a Concern for their Beauty. This way of declaring War upon one another, puts me in mind of what is reported of the Tigress, that several Spots rise in her Skin when she is angry, or as Mr. Cowley has imitated the Verses that stand as the Motto on this Paper,
… She swells with angry Pride,
And calls forth all her Spots on ev’ry Side.
When I was in the Theatre the Time above-mentioned, I had the Curiosity to count the Patches on both Sides, and found the Tory Patches to be about Twenty stronger than the Whig; but to make amends for this small Inequality, I the next Morning found the whole Puppet-Show filled with Faces spotted after the Whiggish Manner. Whether or no the Ladies had retreated hither in order to rally their Forces I cannot tell; but the next Night they came in so great a Body to the Opera, that they out-number’d the Enemy.
This Account of Party Patches, will, I am afraid, appear improbable to those who live at a Distance from the fashionable World: but as it is a Distinction of a very singular Nature, and what perhaps may never meet with a Parallel, I think I should not have discharged the Office of a faithful SPECTATOR, had I not recorded it.’

The Spectator No 323 March 1712 contains the imagined diary of a young lady who:
‘Shifted a patch for half an hour before I could determine it. Fixed it above my left eyebrow.’

Richard Lovelace, an English poet in the seventeenth century, fought on the side of the king during the Civil War. Here is his poem on the vexed subject of patches:

‘A Black Patch on Lucasta’s Face’ by Richard Lovelace (1659)

Dull as I was, to think that a court fly
Presum’d so neer her eye;
When ’twas th’ industrious bee
Mistook her glorious face for paradise,
To summe up all his chymistry of spice;
With a brave pride and honour led,
Neer both her suns he makes his bed,
And, though a spark, struggles to rise as red.
Then aemulates the gay
Daughter of day;
Acts the romantick phoenix’ fate,
When now, with all his sweets lay’d out in state,
LUCASTA scatters but one heat,
And all the aromatick pills do sweat,
And gums calcin’d themselves to powder beat,
Which a fresh gale of air
Conveys into her hair;
Then chaft, he’s set on fire,
And in these holy flames doth glad expire;
And that black marble tablet there
So neer her either sphere
Was plac’d; nor foyl, nor ornament,
But the sweet little bee’s large monument.

VANITAS VANITATUM by Rowland Watkyns, 1662

LADIES turn conjurers, and can impart
The hidden mystery of the black art,
Black artificial patches do betray;
They more affect the works of night than day.
The creature strives the Creator to disgrace,
By patching that which is a perfect face:
A little stain upon the purest dye
Is both offensive to the heart and eye.
Defile not then with spots that face of snow,
Where the wise God His workmanship doth show,
The light of nature and the light of grace
Is the complexion for a lady’s face.

In a poem entitled THE BURSSE OF REFORMATION, in praise of the New Exchange, printed in ‘Wit restor’d in several select poems not formerly publish’t,’1658, by Sir John Mennes, patches are enumerated among the wares of all sorts to be procured there:
Heer patches are of every cut,
For pimples and for scarrs,
Here’s all the wandring planett signes,
And som oth’ fixed starrs,
Already gum’d to make them stick,
They need no other sky,
Nor starrs for Lilly for to vow
To tell your fortunes by,
Come lads and lasses, what do you lack
Here is weare of all prizes
Here’s long & short; heres wide & straight;
Here are things of all sizes.

Patches were also used for rheum (the common cold), as appears from a passage in Westward Ho, by John Webster and Thomas Dekker, 1607.

“JUDITH. I am so troubled with the rheum too. Mouse, what’s good for it?
HONEY. How often I have told you you must get a patch.”

Powder Boxes

This is a powder box of the kind presumably that Belinda had on her dressing-table. It is a tortoiseshell tobacco or powder box with laque burgauté ornament, German, first half 18th century.

The description that Sotheby’s give of this powder box is: ‘circular with domed lid, the lid lacquered and inlaid with mother of pearl and coloured gold paillons, in the manner associated with Johann Martin Heinrici, with panels of leaves and plants, the sides piqué with stripes and florets, the brass key and hinge plates cast with husk, shell and acanthus ornament.’

What was Belinda wearing?
Information on Women’s Dress from the Victoria and Albert Museum

‘In the early 18th century women wore a dress known as a mantua for formal occasions. The mantua was an open-fronted silk or fine wool gown with a train and matching petticoat. The train was worn looped up over the hips to reveal the petticoat. The bodice had loose elbow-length sleeves finished with wide turned-back cuffs. A hoop petticoat and several under-petticoats wore worn beneath the outer petticoat.
To give the figure the required shape a corset was worn under the bodice. It was made of linen and stiffened with whale bones inserted between parallel lines of stitching. They fastened with lacing down the back which could be laced tightly to give an upright posture to the torso and to emphasise the waist. A ‘busk’ or strip of bone, wood or metal was sometimes incorporated into the front of the stays.’
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


Information from
‘The Mantua was usually worn over a petticoat, which was visible under the front opening of the gown. The petticoat was usually constructed from the same material as the Mantua and was worn over a whale bone hoop. The petticoat could vary in shape and width and the architecture and furniture of the period was often designed to accommodate some of the more extreme styles.
‘The bodice of a Mantua was open fronted and the gap was filled with a stomacher, a stiff ‘V’ shaped separate piece which could be made from the same fabric as the Mantua or in a contrasting colour and was often highly decorated. The stomacher would be pinned or sewed in place after the Mantua had been put on. A narrow belt was often added to finish off the waistline.
‘The main distinguishing feature of the gown was a train, which from about 1710 was doubled up at about the level of the hem line of the petticoat and attached to the back of the bodice with pins.’

A good source of images and information on the mantua style of dress that Belinda would have worn can be found on:

Image of a mantua, 1710. Shrewsbury Museums Service (SHYMS)
Image supplied by Shropshire Council, Shropshire Museums.

How a young lady spent her day

The Spectator No 323 March 1712 written by Joseph Addison

Modo Vir, modo Foemina. Virg.

My following Correspondent, who calls herself Clarinda, is such a Journalist as I require: She seems by her Letter to be placed in a modish State of Indifference between Vice and Virtue, and to be susceptible of either, were there proper Pains taken with her. Had her Journal been filled with Gallantries, or such Occurrences as had shewn her wholly divested of her natural Innocence, notwithstanding it might have been more pleasing to the Generality of Readers, I should not have published it; but as it is only the Picture of a Life filled with a fashionable kind of Gaiety and Laziness, I shall set down five Days of it, as I have received it from the Hand of my fair Correspondent.


You having set your Readers an Exercise in one of your last Weeks Papers, I have perform’d mine according to your Orders, and herewith send it you enclosed. You must know, Mr. SPECTATOR, that I am a Maiden Lady of a good Fortune, who have had several Matches offered me for these ten Years last past, and have at present warm Applications made to me by a very pretty Fellow. As I am at my own Disposal, I come up to Town every Winter, and pass my Time in it after the manner you will find in the following Journal, which I begun to write upon the very Day after your Spectator upon that Subject.

TUESDAY Night. Could not go to sleep till one in the Morning for thinking of my Journal.

WEDNESDAY. From Eight till Ten, Drank two Dishes of Chocolate in Bed, and fell asleep after em.

From Ten to Eleven. Eat a Slice of Bread and Butter, drank a Dish of Bohea, read the Spectator.

From Eleven to One. At my Toilet, try’d a new Head. Gave Orders for Veny to be combed and washed. Mem. I look best in Blue.

From One till Half an Hour after Two. Drove to the Change. Cheapned a Couple of Fans.

Till Four. At Dinner. Mem. Mr. Froth passed by in his new Liveries.

From Four to Six. Dressed, paid a Visit to old Lady Blithe and her Sister, having before heard they were gone out of Town that Day.

From Six to Eleven. At Basset. Mem. Never set again upon the Ace of Diamonds.

THURSDAY. From Eleven at Night to Eight in the Morning. Dream’d that I punted to Mr. Froth.

From Eight to Ten. Chocolate. Read two Acts in Aurenzebe [2] abed.

From Ten to Eleven. Tea-Table. Sent to borrow Lady Faddles Cupid for Veny. Read the Play-Bills. Received a Letter from Mr. Froth. Mem. locked it up in my strong Box.

Rest of the Morning. Fontange, the Tire-woman, her Account of my Lady Blithe’s Wash. Broke a Tooth in my little Tortoise-shell Comb. Sent Frank to know how my Lady Hectick rested after her Monky’s leaping out at Window. Looked pale. Fontange tells me my Glass is not true. Dressed by Three.

From Three to Four. Dinner cold before I sat down.

From Four to Eleven. Saw Company. Mr. Froths Opinion of Milton. His Account of the Mohocks. His Fancy for a Pin-cushion. Picture in the Lid of his Snuff-box. Old Lady Faddle promises me her Woman to cut my Hair. Lost five Guineas at Crimp.

Twelve a-Clock at Night. Went to Bed.

FRIDAY. Eight in the Morning. Abed. Read over all Mr. Froths Letters. Cupid and Veny.

Ten a-Clock. Stay’d within all day, not at home.

From Ten to Twelve. In Conference with my Mantua-Maker. Sorted a Suit of Ribbands. Broke my Blue China Cup.

From Twelve to One. Shut my self up in my Chamber, practised Lady Betty Modely’s Skuttle.

One in the Afternoon. Called for my flowered Handkerchief. Worked half a Violet-Leaf in it. Eyes aked and Head out of Order. Threw by my Work, and read over the remaining Part of Aurenzebe.

From Three to Four. Dined.

From Four to Twelve. Changed my Mind, dressed, went abroad, and play’d at Crimp till Midnight. Found Mrs. Spitely at home. Conversation: Mrs. Brilliants Necklace false Stones. Old Lady Loveday going to be married to a young Fellow that is not worth a Groat. Miss Prue gone into the Country. Tom Townley has red Hair. Mem. Mrs. Spitely whispered in my Ear that she had something to tell me about Mr. Froth, I am sure it is not true.

Between Twelve and One. Dreamed that Mr. Froth lay at my Feet, and called me Indamora. [3]

SATURDAY. Rose at Eight a-Clock in the Morning. Sate down to my Toilet.

From Eight to Nine. Shifted a Patch for Half an Hour before I could determine it. Fixed it above my left Eye-brow.

From Nine to Twelve. Drank my Tea, and dressed.

From Twelve to Two. At Chappel. A great deal of good Company. Mem. The third Air in the new Opera. Lady Blithe dressed frightfully.

From Three to Four. Dined. Miss Kitty called upon me to go to the Opera before I was risen from Table.

From Dinner to Six. Drank Tea. Turned off a Footman for being rude to Veny.

Six a-Clock. Went to the Opera. I did not see Mr. Froth till the beginning of the second Act. Mr. Froth talked to a Gentleman in a black Wig. Bowed to a Lady in the front Box. Mr. Froth and his Friend clapp’d Nicolini in the third Act. Mr. Froth cried out Ancora. Mr. Froth led me to my Chair. I think he squeezed my Hand.

Eleven at Night. Went to Bed. Melancholy Dreams. Methought Nicolini said he was Mr. Froth.

SUNDAY. Indisposed.

MONDAY. Eight a-Clock. Waked by Miss Kitty. Aurenzebe lay upon the Chair by me. Kitty repeated without Book the Eight best Lines in the Play. Went in our Mobbs to the dumb Man [4], according to Appointment. Told me that my Lovers Name began with a G. Mem. The Conjurer was within a Letter of Mr. Froths Name, &c.

Upon looking back into this my Journal, I find that I am at a loss to know whether I pass my Time well or ill; and indeed never thought of considering how I did it before I perused your Speculation upon that Subject. I scarce find a single Action in these five Days that I can thoroughly approve of, except the working upon the Violet-Leaf, which I am resolved to finish the first Day I am at leisure. As for Mr. Froth and Veny I did not think they took up so much of my Time and Thoughts, as I find they do upon my Journal. The latter of them I will turn off, if you insist upon it; and if Mr. Froth does not bring Matters to a Conclusion very suddenly, I will not let my Life run away in a Dream.

Your humble Servant, Clarinda.

To resume one of the Morals of my first Paper, and to confirm Clarinda in her good Inclinations, I would have her consider what a pretty Figure she would make among Posterity, were the History of her whole Life published like these five Days of it.


The Spectator No 8, Friday, March 9, 1711. Addison.

At Venus obscuro gradientes aere sepsit,
Et multo Nebulae circum Dea fudit amictu,
Cernere , ne quis eos–.-Virg
I SHALL here communicate to the World a couple of Letters, which I believe will give the Reader as good an Entertainment as any that I am able to furnish’ him with, and therefore shall make no Apology for them.


‘I am one of the Directors of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, and therefore think myself a proper Person for your Correspondence. I have thoroughly examined the present State of Religion in Great-Britain, and am able to acquaint you with the predominant Vice of every Market-Town in the whole Island. I can tell you the Progress that Virtue has made in all our Cities, Boroughs, and Corporations; and know as well the evil Practices that are committed in Berwitk or Exeter, as what is done in my own Family. In a Word, Sir, I have my Correspondents in the remotest Parts of the Nation, who send me up punctual Accounts from time to time of all the little Irregularities that fall under their Notice in their several Districts and Divisions.

I am no less acquainted with the particular Quarters and Regions of this great Town, than with the different Parts and Distributions of whole Nation. I can describe every Parish by its Impieties, and can tell you in which of our Streets Lewdness prevails, which Gaming has taken the Possession of and where Drunkenness has got the better of them both. When I am disposed to raise a Fine for the Poor, I know the Lanes and Allies that are inhabited by common Swearers. When I would encourage the Hospital of Bridewell, and improve the Hempen Manufacture, I am very well acquainted with all the Haunts and Resorts of Female Night-walkers.

After this short Account of my self, I must let you know, that the Design of this Paper is to give you Information of a certain irregular Assembly which I think falls very properly under your Observation, especially since the Persons it is composed of are Criminals too considerable for the Animadversions of our Society. I mean, Sir, the Midnight Masque, which has of late been frequently held in one of the most conspicuous Parts of the Town, and which I hear will be continued with Additions and Improvements. As all the Persons who compose this lawless Assembly are masqued, we dare not attack any of them in our Way, lest we should send a Woman of Quality to Bridewell, or a Peer of Great-Britain to the Counter: Besides, that their Numbers are so very great, that I am afraid they would be able to rout our whole Fraternity, tho’ we were accompanied with all our Guard of Constables. Both these Reasons which secure them from our Authority, make them obnoxious to yours ; as both their Disguise and their Numbers will give no particular Person Reason to think himself affronted by you.

If we are rightly inform’d, the Rules that are observed by this new Society are wonderfully contriv’d for the Advancement of Cuckoldom. The Women either come by themselves, or are introduced by Friends, who are obliged to quit them upon their first Entrance, to the Conversation of any Body that addresses himself to them. There are several Rooms where the Parties may retire, and, if they please, show their Faces by Consent. Whispers, Squeezes, Nods, and Embraces, are the innocent Freedoms of the Place. In short, the whole Design of this libidinous Assembly seems to terminate in Assignations and Intrigues; and I hope you will take effectual Methods, by your publick Advice and Admonitions, to prevent such a promiscuous Multitude of both Sexes from meeting together in so clandestine a Manner.

I am,
Your humble Servant,
And Fellow Labourer,
T. B.
Not long after the Perusal of this Letter I received another upon the same Subject; which by the Date and Stile of it, I take to be written by some young Templer.


When a Man has been guilty of any Vice or Folly, I think the best Attonement he can make for it is to warn others not to fall into the like. In order to this I must acquaint you, that some Time in February last I went to the Tuesday’s Masquerade. Upon my first going in I was attacked by half a Dozen female Quakers, who seemed willing to adopt me for a Brother; but, upon a nearer Examination, I found they were a Sisterhood of Coquets, disguised in that precise Habit. I was soon after taken out to dance, and, as I fancied, by a Woman of the first Quality, for she was very tall, and moved gracefully. As soon as the Minuet was over, we ogled one another through our Masques; and as I am very well read in Waller, I repeated to her the four following Verses out of his poem to Vandike.

The heedless Lover does not know

Whose Eyes they are that wound him so;
But confounded with thy Art,
Enquires her Name that has his Heart.

I pronounced these Words with such a languishing Air, that I had some Reason to conclude I had made a Conquest. She told me that she hoped my Face was not akin to my tongue; and looking upon her Watch, I accidentally discovered the Figure of a Coronet on the back Part of it. I was so transported with the Thought of such an Amour, that I plied her from one Room to another with all the Gallantries I could invent; and at length brought things to so happy an Issue, that she gave me a private Meeting the next Day, without Page or Footman, Coach or Equipage. My Heart danced in Raptures; but I had not lived in this golden Dream above three Days, before I found good Reason to wish that I had continued true to my Landress. I have since heard by a very great Accident, that this fine Lady does not live far from Covent-Garden, and that I am not the first Cully whom she has passed herself upon for a Countess.

Thus Sir, you see how I have mistaken a Cloud for a Juno; and if you can make any use of this Adventure for the Benefit of those who may possibly be as vain young Coxcombs as my self:, I do most heartily give you Leave.

I am,
Your most humble admirer,
B. L.
I design to visit the next Masquerade my self, in the same Habit I wore at Grand Cairo; and till then shall suspend my Judgment of this Midnight Entertainment.

Below, from The Spectator No 14, March 1711

… it is a kind of acting to go in Masquerade, and a Man should be able to say or do things proper for the Dress in which he appears. We have now and then Rakes in the Habit of Roman Senators, and grave Politicians in the Dress of Rakes. The Misfortune of the thing is, that People dress themselves in what they have a Mind to be, and not what they are fit for. There is not a Girl in the Town, but let her have her Will in going to a Masque, and she shall dress as a Shepherdess. But let me beg of them to read the Arcadia, or some other good Romance, before they appear in any such Character at my House. The last Day we presented, every Body was so rashly habited, that when they came to speak to each other, a Nymph with a Crook had not a Word to say but in the pert Stile of the Pit Bawdry; and a Man in the Habit of a Philosopher was speechless, till an occasion offered of expressing himself in the Refuse of the Tyring-Rooms. We had a Judge that danced a Minuet, with a Quaker for his Partner, while half a dozen Harlequins stood by as Spectators: A Turk drank me off two Bottles of Wine, and a Jew eat me up half a Ham of Bacon.

The Spectator No 101 June 1711

‘a promiscuous Assembly of Men and Women were allowed to meet at Midnight in Masques within the Verge of the Court; with many Improbabilities of the like Nature… ‘

Incidentally, the Bishop of London preached a sermon against masquerades in 1724.

Dressing tables

Notes from Seventeenth-Century Interior Decoration in England France & Holland by Peter Thornton. Yale University Press 1979, pages 241 – 243.

‘In the seventeenth century, a ‘table cloth’ was a cover (usually of linen) that was placed over a table for dining. A ‘table carpet’, on the other hand, was a much more substantial covering. .. Table-carpets mostly consisted of a plain material (woollen cloth, or silk or woollen velvet) trimmed all round with a fringe. … During the first half of the century Turkish rugs, which were expensive and valued possessions were far more often to be seen on tables than on the floor…’ ‘Until the last years of the century, all dressing-tables were simple structures which required no decoration as they were entirely hidden by a ‘Carpet’. The carpet was at first protected from damage by powder and other cosmetics by a small linen cloth – a toilette – but this gradually became a more important feature until the toilette evolved as a richly trimmed cloth in its own right and might be of velvet or silk. … Eventually the word came to embrace the complete dressing-set which could comprise not just the cloth but comb-cases, brushes, mirrors, patch-boxers, flasks, trays and much else …. Such ensembles were given as expensive presents at the end of the century. … About 1700 it became fashionable in Paris to have gauze or muslin covers, gathered in furbelows, laid over a silk toilette. If there was a dressing-glass on the table, this would sometimes be provided with a ‘scarf’ of the same flimsy material which was fixed at the top of the frame and fell down the sides over the edge of the table.’

Below, on the inside of a snuff box lid, is an image of a lady at her dressing table, reading a love-letter.

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Here is a rather larger version of the image, showing the dressing-table more clearly.

The Fitzwilliam Museum provides this description: ‘This image is on the inside of a snuff box
of about 1730 1760.
The box may be of earlier manufacture than the painting in the lid. Tortoise shell with chased gilt metal mounts, inlaid gold piqué point work and a painted polychrome vignette in bodycolour, probably on card, under glass. The interior of the lid is painted with a lady seated before her dressing table and mirror; she reads a letter whilst attended by a coloured servant bringing chocolate or coffee. The thumbpiece and mount of the lid are chased with stylized foliage and flower heads.’

From the description in Treasured Possessions, page 89, Philip Wilson Publishers 2015
‘Completely absorbed in reading a letter, presumably a love-note from the man portrayed on her enamelled bracelet, the aristocratic woman appears unaware of the young servant bearing expensive and exotic imported luxuries for her delectation: chocolate from Central America (served from a fashionable one-handled silver pot into an equally fashionable white porcelain beaker) sweetened with sugar from the West Indies (served in a matching white porcelain covered basin).’
Description, Victoria Avery. From: Victoria Avery, Melissa Calaresu and Mary Laven, Treasured Possessions. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 2015), p. 89.


I have included this detail from a later painting by Johann Zoffany (1733 – 1810) because it shows the scarf around the dressing-table mirror. The painting is of Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons (detail) 1765.

Portrait of Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, first wife of James II by Nicholas Dixon, British painter c 1660 – 1708. She is sitting at her dressing-table which is covered by a table-carpet.

Lady at her Toilette by Jacob Ochtervelt 1634,5 – 1708,10. Painted possibly about 1670 from The Minneapolis institute of Arts. The table in this painting is covered by a velvet table-carpet covered with a white linen toilette.


Cosmetics and washing

Ladies often used wash-balls. Here is a ‘Composition for best Wash balls. Take forty pounds of rice in fine powder, twenty-eight pounds of fine flour, twenty-eight pounds of Starch powder, twelve pounds of white lead, and four pounds of Oris root in fine powder; but no whitening. Mix the whole well together, and passit twice through a fine hair seive; then place it in a a dry place, and keep it for use. ‘ These wash balls were extremely bad for the skin with ingredients like white lead in them. As an article in The Spectator No 41 observes: ‘Her skin is so tarnished with this Practice, that when she first wakes in a Morning, she scarce seems young enough to be the Mother of her whom I carried to bed the Night before.’ Here’s an advertisement for ‘bloom’ (blisher). ‘The famous Bavarian Red Liquor, which gives such a blushing Colour to the Cheeks of those that are white or pale, that it is not to be distinguished from a natural fine Complection, nor perceived to be Artificial by the nearest Friend, is nothing of Paint, or in the least hurtful, but good in many Cases to be taken inwardly; it renders the Face delightfully handsome and beautiful, is not subject to be rub’d off like Paint, therefore cannot be discovered by any one.’

The usual way of darkening the hair was by the mechanical means of a leaden comb. ‘Jenny Trapes! What that Carrot pated Jade that Lodges at the Corner of White Horse Alley! – The Same indeed, only She has black’d her Hair with a Leaden Comb.’ From Tunbridge Walks, ed 1703

The toilette in contemporary literature

In The Tatler number 116, January 1709, Addison describes a woman to be the most consummate work of nature. The offerings of the world may be cast before her (similar to those on Belinda’s dressing table) but he draws the line at the petticoat.

‘I consider women as a beautiful romantic animal, that may be adorned with furs and feathers, pearls and diamonds, ores and silks. The lynx shall cast its skin at her feet to make her a tippet; the peacock, parrot and swan shall pay contribution to her muff, the sea shall be searched for shells, and the rocks for gems; and every part ofnature furnish out its share towards the embellishment of a creature that is the most consummate work of it. All this I shall indulge them in; but as for the petticoat I have been speaking of, I neither can nor will allow it’.

A contemporary and friend of Pope’s, John Gay (1685 – 1732), wrote ‘The Toilette, a town eclogue’ in 1716. This is just two years after the second edition of ‘The Rape of the Lock ‘was published in 1714, with the newly-included section about the toilette that ends Canto 1.

This early contribution to the town eclogue genre consists of the lover’s complaint of one Lydia, a bitter old maid who finds herself bereft of admirers.
Enotes give the context. ‘Gay’s satire is about a woman of thirty-five, a lady of fashion, who has lost her lover to a much younger woman. Gay catches the victim of age and love as she dresses in the morning, surrounded by her parrot, her lapdog, and all the other paraphernalia of a lady of fashion’s dressing-room at the time. Lydia mourns not only the loss of her lover, Damon; she mourns as well the loss of her youth and the inconsistency of love. Life seems suddenly empty to her, and she wonders what to do with her time; she thinks of going shopping at the Exchange, but she knows that shopping will only remind her of similar times spent with her faithless lover in the past.’

‘The Encyclopaedia Britannica online describes an eclogue as ‘a short pastoral poem, usually in dialogue, on the subject of rural life and the society of shepherds, depicting rural life as free from the complexity and corruption of more civilized life. The eclogue first appeared in the Idylls of the Greek poet Theocritus (c. 310–250 BC), generally recognized as the inventor of pastoral poetry. The Roman poet Virgil (70–19 BC) adopted the form for his 10 Eclogues, or Bucolics…. In the 18th century English poets began to use the eclogue for ironic verse on nonpastoral subjects, such as Jonathan Swift’s “A Town Eclogue. 1710. Scene, The Royal Exchange.”
The Encyclopedia of British Literature, 1660 – 1789 Blackwell Reference tells us:
The town eclogue had its origins in the early eighteenth-century delight in mixing genres and registers, especially among the Scriblerians. Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), who famously asked Alexander Pope (1688–1744) “What think you, of a Newgate pastoral, among the whores and thieves there?” This question gave rise to John Gay’s Beggars Opera.

LYDIA by John Gay
Now twenty springs had cloath’d the Park with green,
Since Lydia knew the blossom of fifteen;
No lovers now her morning hours molest,
And catch at her Toilette half undrest;
The thund’ring knocker wakes the street no more,
No chairs, no coaches croud her silent door;
Her midnights once at cards and Hazard fled,
Which now, alas! she dreams away in bed.
Around her wait Shocks, monkeys and mockaws,
To fill the place of Fops, and perjur’d Beaus,
In these she views the mimickry of man,
And smiles when grinning Pug gallants her fan;
When Poll repeats, the sounds deceive her ear,
For sounds, like his, once told her Damon’s care.
With these alone her tedious mornings pass;
Or at the dumb devotion of her glass,
She smooths her brow, and frizles forth her hairs,
And fancys youthful dress gives youthful airs;
With crimson wooll she fixes ev’ry grace,
That not a blush can discompose her face.
Reclin’d upon her arm she pensive sate,
And curs’d th’ inconstancy of youth too late.

O Youth! O spring of life! for ever lost!
No more my name shall reign the fav’rite Toast.
On glass no more the di’mond grave my name,
And rhymes mispell’d record a lover’s flame:
Nor shall side-boxes watch my restless eyes,
And as they catch the glance in rows arise
With humble bows; nor white glov’d Beaus encroach
In crouds behind, to guard me to my coach.
Ah hapless nymph! such conquests are no more,
For Chloe’s now what Lydia was before!

‘Tis true, this Chloe boasts the peache’s bloom,
But does her nearer whisper breathe perfume?
I own her taper shape is form’d to please,
Yet if you saw her unconfin’d by stays!
She doubly to fifteen may make pretence,
Alike we read it in her face and sense.
Her reputation! but that never yet
Could check the freedoms of a young Coquet.
Why will ye then, vain Fops, her eyes believe?
Her eyes can, like your perjur’d tongues, deceive.

What shall I do? how spend the hateful day?
At chappel shall I wear the morn away?
Who there frequents at these unmodish hours,
But ancient matrons with their frizled tow’rs,
And gray religious maids? my presence there
Amid the sober train would own despair;
Nor am I yet so old; nor is my glance
As yet fixt wholy to devotion’s trance.

Strait then I’ll dress, and take my wonted range
Through ev’ry Indian shop, through all the Change;
Where the tall jarr erects his costly pride,
With antick shapes in China’s azure dy’d;
There careless lies the rich brocade unroll’d,
Here shines a cabinet with burnish’d gold;
But then remembrance will my grief renew,
‘Twas there the raffling dice false Damon threw;
The raffling dice to him decide the prize.
‘Twas there he first convers’d with Chloe’s eyes;
Hence sprung th’ ill-fated cause of all my smart,
To me the toy he gave, to her his heart.
But soon thy perj’ry in the gift was found,
The shiver’d China dropt upon the ground;
Sure omen that thy vows would faithless prove;
Frail was thy present, frailer is thy love.

O happy Poll, in wiry prison pent;
Thou ne’er has known what love or rivals meant,
And Pug with pleasure can his fetters bear,
Who ne’er believ’d the vows that lovers swear!
How am I curst! (unhappy and forlorn)
With perjury, with love, and rival’s scorn!
False are the loose Coquet’s inveigling airs,
False is the pompous grief of youthful heirs,
False is the cringing courtier’s plighted word,
False are the dice when gamesters stamp the board,
False is the sprightly widow’s publick tear;
Yet these to Damon’s oaths are all sincere.

Fly from perfidious man, the sex disdain;
Let servile Chloe wear the nuptial chain.
Damon is practis’d in the modish life,
Can hate, and yet be civil to a wife.
He games; he swears; he drinks; he sighs; he roves;
Yet Chloe can believe he fondly loves.
Mistress and wife can well supply his need,
A miss for pleasure, and a wife for breed.
But Chloe’s air is unconfin’d and gay,
And can perhaps an injur’d bed repay;
Perhaps her patient temper can behold
The rival of her love adorn’d with gold,
Powder’d with di’monds; free from thought and care,
A husband’s sullen humours she can bear.

Why are these sobs? and why these streaming eyes?
Is love the cause? no, I the sex despise;
I hate, I loath his base perfidious name.
Yet if he should but feign a rival flame?
But Chloe boasts and triumphs in my pains,
To her he’s faithful, ’tis to me, he feigns.

Thus love-sick Lydia rav’d. Her maid appears;
A band-box in her steady hand she bears.
How well this ribband’s gloss becomes your face,
She crys, in raptures! then, so sweet a lace!
How charmingly you look! so bright! so fair!
‘Tis to your eyes the head-dress owes its air.
Strait Lydia smil’d; the comb adjusts her locks,
And at the Play-house Harry keeps her box.

By the time Jonathan Swift gets going on the matter of a lady’s dressing-room, 18 years after Pope’s second edition of ‘The Rape of the Lock’ when he added the section of Belinda getting dressed, the satire really starts to bite. But whether Swift is criticising the over-idealistic notions of the young man, Strephon, or whether he is satirising the apparent perfection of the young lady who issues forth after five hours of dressing, is unclear. When you look at Swift’s poem, you realise that, although Pope criticises Belinda’s confused priorities, he is being positively kind compared to Swift.

Notes from Wikipedia on ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’.
‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ is a poem written by Jonathan Swift first published in 1732. In the poem, Strephon sneaks into his lover Celia’s dressing room while she is away only to become disillusioned at how filthy and smelly it is. Swift uses this poem to satirize both women’s vain attempts to match an ideal image and men’s expectation that the illusion be real. For the poem’s grotesque treatment of bodily functions, Swift was slandered by literary critics and psychoanalyzed as suffering from “the excremental vision.”

‘This poem chronicles the misadventure of Strephon as he explores his mistress’s vacant dressing room. Beginning with an ideal image of his lover he looks through the contents of her room, but encounters only objects that repulse him. He finds sweaty smocks, dirt-filled combs, oily cloths, grimy towels, snot encrusted handkerchiefs, jars of spit, cosmetics derived from dog intestines, and a mucky, rancid clothes chest. Beholding this filth, culminating in the discovery of her chamber pot, he is slapped with the reality that Celia (the name “Celia” means “heavenly”) is not a “goddess,” but as disgustingly human as he is, as shown in line 118: “Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!”

‘Ever after his discovery of Celia’s nauseating dressing room he can never look at women the same way again. In every woman he sees through the powdered wigs and painted faces to the grime beneath.

‘Swift ends the poem by suggesting that if young men only ignore the stench and accept the painted illusion, they can enjoy the “charms of womanhood.”

‘He couldn’t handle the realization that women aren’t perfect and angelic as they appear to be. He realized that women do indeed defecate, they smell, they get sick, and they are human beings. Another interpretation of the poem is that he was perhaps on the side of women, and men for that matter, in calling everyone to be more merciful and accept people the way they are. Both Strephon and Celia are metaphors for men and women, representing everything good and bad. He comments on the “game” that courting, mating, and existing together has become.

‘This poem is full of satire, starting in the first line: “Five hours (and who can do it less in?) / By haughty Celia spent in dressing;”

‘He starts out from the beginning commenting on the length of time it takes women to prepare themselves. He goes on into greater detail about the repulsive things he sees and finds:

“As from within Pandora’s box, / When Epimethus oped the locks, / A sudden universal crew / Of human evils upward flew, / He still was comforted to find / That hope at last remained behind. // So Strephon, lifting up the lid / To view what in the chest was hid, / The vapours flew from out the vent. / But Strephon cautious never meant / The bottom of the pan to grope, / And foul his hands in search of hope.” // This is a satirical comment on the women’s box of belongings and beauty tools. It symbolized evil and human flaws. We picture Strephon going through the box, as we watch laughing at him for not being able to find anything good inside.

The Lady’s Dressing Room by Jonathan Swift 1732

Five hours, (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in dressing;
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Arrayed in lace, brocades and tissues.

Strephon, who found the room was void,

And Betty otherwise employed,
Stole in, and took a strict survey,
Of all the litter as it lay;
Whereof, to make the matter clear,
An inventory follows here.

And first a dirty smock appeared,

Beneath the armpits well besmeared.
Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide,
And turned it round on every side.
On such a point few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest,
But swears how damnably the men lie,
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.
Now listen while he next produces
The various combs for various uses,
Filled up with dirt so closely fixt,
No brush could force a way betwixt.
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead and hair;
A forehead cloth with oil upon’t
To smooth the wrinkles on her front;
Here alum flower to stop the steams,
Exhaled from sour unsavory streams,
There night-gloves made of Tripsy’s hide,
Bequeathed by Tripsy when she died,
With puppy water, beauty’s help
Distilled from Tripsy’s darling whelp;
Here gallypots and vials placed,
Some filled with washes, some with paste,
Some with pomatum, paints and slops,
And ointments good for scabby chops.
Hard by a filthy basin stands,
Fouled with the scouring of her hands;
The basin takes whatever comes
The scrapings of her teeth and gums,
A nasty compound of all hues,
For here she spits, and here she spews.
But oh! it turned poor Strephon’s bowels,
When he beheld and smelled the towels,
Begummed, bemattered, and beslimed
With dirt, and sweat, and earwax grimed.
No object Strephon’s eye escapes,
Here petticoats in frowzy heaps;
Nor be the handkerchiefs forgot
All varnished o’er with snuff and snot.
The stockings why should I expose,
Stained with the marks of stinking toes;
Or greasy coifs and pinners reeking,
Which Celia slept at least a week in?
A pair of tweezers next he found
To pluck her brows in arches round,
Or hairs that sink the forehead low,
Or on her chin like bristles grow.

The virtues we must not let pass,

Of Celia’s magnifying glass.
When frightened Strephon cast his eye on’t
It showed visage of a giant.
A glass that can to sight disclose,
The smallest worm in Celia’s nose,
And faithfully direct her nail
To squeeze it out from head to tail;
For catch it nicely by the head,
It must come out alive or dead.

Why Strephon will you tell the rest?

And must you needs describe the chest?
That careless wench! no creature warn her
To move it out from yonder corner;
But leave it standing full in sight
For you to exercise your spite.
In vain the workman showed his wit
With rings and hinges counterfeit
To make it seem in this disguise
A cabinet to vulgar eyes;
For Strephon ventured to look in,
Resolved to go through thick and thin;
He lifts the lid, there needs no more,
He smelled it all the time before.
As from within Pandora’s box,
When Epimetheus op’d the locks,
A sudden universal crew
Of human evils upwards flew;
He still was comforted to find
That Hope at last remained behind;
So Strephon lifting up the lid,
To view what in the chest was hid.
The vapors flew from out the vent,
But Strephon cautious never meant
The bottom of the pan to grope,
And foul his hands in search of Hope.
O never may such vile machine
Be once in Celia’s chamber seen!
O may she better learn to keep
Those “secrets of the hoary deep!”

As mutton cutlets, prime of meat,

Which though with art you salt and beat
As laws of cookery require,
And toast them at the clearest fire;
If from adown the hopeful chops
The fat upon a cinder drops,
To stinking smoke it turns the flame
Pois’ning the flesh from whence it came,
And up exhales a greasy stench,
For which you curse the careless wench;
So things, which must not be expressed,
When plumped into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from whence they fell.
The petticoats and gown perfume,
Which waft a stink round every room.
Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!

But Vengeance, goddess never sleeping

Soon punished Strephon for his peeping;
His foul imagination links
Each Dame he sees with all her stinks:
And, if unsavory odors fly,
Conceives a lady standing by:
All women his description fits,
And both ideas jump like wits:
But vicious fancy coupled fast,
And still appearing in contrast.
I pity wretched Strephon blind
To all the charms of female kind;
Should I the queen of love refuse,
Because she rose from stinking ooze?
To him that looks behind the scene,
Satira’s but some pocky queen.
When Celia in her glory shows,
If Strephon would but stop his nose
(Who now so impiously blasphemes
Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams,
Her washes, slops, and every clout,
With which he makes so foul a rout)
He soon would learn to think like me,
And bless his ravished sight to see
Such order from confusion sprung,
Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.

Notes by Jack Lynch
1. The names Strephon and Celia come from classical pastoral poetry or romance.
2. Betty is the generic name for a maidservant.
3. Lead was used as a cosmetic to whiten the face.
4. Front, “forehead.”
5. Allum flower, or powded alum, is used as an antiperspirant.
6. Tripsy, a typical name of a lapdog.
7. Whelp, “puppy.”
8. Gallypots, “jars.”
9. Pomatum, “ointment for the hair.”
10. Hard, “near.”
11. Frowzy, “messy.”
12. Coifs and Pinners, “night caps.”
13. Glass, “mirror.”
14. Machine, “Any complicated piece of workmanship” (Johnson).
15. “Those Secrets of the hoary deep”: See Paradise Lost, 2.890-91: “Before their eyes in sudden view appear/The secrets of the hoary Deep.”
16. Satira, the heroine of The Rival Queens by Nathaniel Lee; quean, “A worthless woman, generally a strumpet” (Johnson). Pocky suggests either smallpox or a venereal disease.

‘The Progress of Beauty’, 1719, by Jonathan Swift 1667 – 1745

Professor Cynthia Wall writes: ‘Swift … attends a lady’s toilette in ‘The Progress of Beauty’ (1719/ 20) but brutally dimembers what Belinda had so carefully prepared, suggesting a dark end to that bright beginning. The lead in the lady’s make-up destroys the complexion it was intended to improve, and the general artificiality of cosmetic enhancement degenerates into grotesque horrors, with nothing of the original woman left: ‘Two Balls of Glass may serve for Eyes, / White Lead can plaister up a Cleft, / But these alas, are poor Supplyes / If neither Cheeks, nor Lips be left.’
The ‘progress’ is from beauty to ‘cancerous or venereal destruction’

When first Diana leaves her bed, Diana – goddess of the moon and of chastity

Vapours and steams her looks disgrace,

A frowzy dirty-colour’d red

Sits on her cloudy wrinkled face:

But by degrees, when mounted high,

Her artificial face appears

Down from her window in the sky,

Her spots are gone, her visage clears.

‘Twixt earthly females and the moon,

All parallels exactly run;

If Celia should appear too soon,

Alas, the nymph would be undone!

To see her from her pillow rise,

All reeking in a cloudy steam,

Crack’d lips, foul teeth, and gummy eyes,

Poor Strephon! how would he blaspheme!

The soot or powder which was wont

To make her hair look black as jet,

Falls from her tresses on her front,

A mingled mass of dirt and sweat.

Three colours, black, and red, and white

So graceful in their proper place,

Remove them to a different light,

They form a frightful hideous face:

For instance, when the lily slips

Into the precincts of the rose,

And takes possession of the lips,

Leaving the purple to the nose:

So Celia went entire to bed,

All her complexion safe and sound;

But, when she rose, the black and red,

Though still in sight, had changed their ground.

The black, which would not be confined,

A more inferior station seeks,

Leaving the fiery red behind,

And mingles in her muddy cheeks.

The paint by perspiration cracks,

And falls in rivulets of sweat,

On either side you see the tracks

While at her chin the conflu’nts meet.

A skilful housewife thus her thumb,

With spittle while she spins anoints;

And thus the brown meanders come

In trickling streams betwixt her joints.

But Celia can with ease reduce,

By help of pencil, paint, and brush,

Each colour to its place and use,

And teach her cheeks again to blush.

She knows her early self no more,

But fill’d with admiration stands;

As other painters oft adore

The workmanship of their own hands.

Thus, after four important hours,

Celia’s the wonder of her sex;

Say, which among the heavenly powers

Could cause such wonderful effects?

Venus, indulgent to her kind,

Gave women all their hearts could wish,

When first she taught them where to find

White lead, and Lusitanian dish.

Love with white lead cements his wings; a (poisonous) lead-based cosmetic paste

White lead was sent us to repair

Two brightest, brittlest, earthly things,

A lady’s face, and China-ware.

She ventures now to lift the sash;

The window is her proper sphere;

Ah, lovely nymph! be not too rash,

Nor let the beaux approach too near.

Take pattern by your sister star;

Delude at once and bless our sight;

When you are seen, be seen from far,

And chiefly choose to shine by night.

In the Pall Mall when passing by, fashionable London street near St James’s Park

Keep up the glasses of your chair, windows of a sedan chair

Then each transported fop will cry,

“G—-d d—-n me, Jack, she’s wondrous fair!”

But art no longer can prevail,

When the materials all are gone;

The best mechanic hand must fail,

Where nothing’s left to work upon.

Matter, as wise logicians say,

Cannot without a form subsist;

And form, say I, as well as they,

Must fail if matter brings no grist.

And this is fair Diana’s case;

For, all astrologers maintain,

Each night a bit drops off her face,

When mortals say she’s in her wane:

While Partridge wisely shows the cause

Efficient of the moon’s decay,

That Cancer with his pois’nous claws zodiac sign but also breast cancer (milky way)

Attacks her in the milky way:

But Gadbury,[2] in art profound,

From her pale cheeks pretends to show

That swain Endymion is not sound,

Or else that Mercury’s her foe. used to treat venereal disease often with fatal effect

But let the cause be what it will,

In half a month she looks so thin,

That Flamsteed[3] can, with all his skill,

See but her forehead and her chin.

Yet, as she wastes, she grows discreet,

Till midnight never shows her head;

So rotting Celia strolls the street,

When sober folks are all a-bed:

For sure, if this be Luna’s fate, Luna, the moon, which like Celia will wane

Poor Celia, but of mortal race,

In vain expects a longer date

To the materials of her face.

When Mercury her tresses mows,

To think of oil and soot is vain:

No painting can restore a nose,

Nor will her teeth return again.

Two balls of glass may serve for eyes,

White lead can plaister up a cleft;

But these, alas, are poor supplies

If neither cheeks nor lips be left.

Ye powers who over love preside!

Since mortal beauties drop so soon,

If ye would have us well supplied,

Send us new nymphs with each new moon!

Another poem describing the lady at her toilette is John Gay’s ‘The Lady and the Wasp.’
Professor Cynthia Wall writes: ‘Gay’s fable ‘the Lady and the Wasp’ (1726) watches Doris – like Belinda – at her dressing table, plagued (if deservedly) by a pesky wasp, the diminshed beau that her vain habits inevitably attracts: ‘Nor were they basih’d, ’til she found / That wasps have stings, and felt the wound.
‘Her (Doris’s) beauty, like Belinda’s, attracts a buzz of admirers; her vanity, like Belinda’s, contributes to her getting stung.’

Illustration to Fable VIII ‘The Lady and the Wasp’ in Gay’s ‘Fables’; a woman sitting at a dressing table at left, waving her arms and turning away from a wasp flying above, as her maid standing behind attempts to swat it. 1727 Etching and engraving British Museum number 1934,0608.11
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Extract from the 1727 first edition of ‘The Lady and the Wasp’

© The Trustees of the British Museum

The Lady and the Wasp Fable VIII

What whispers must the beauty bear!
What hourly nonsense haunts her ear!
Where’er her eyes dispense their charms,
Impertinence around her swarms.
Did not the tender nonsense strike,
Contempt and scorn might soon dislike.
Forbidding airs might thin the place,
The slightest flap a fly can chase.
But who can drive the numerous breed?
Chase one, another will succeed.

Who knows a fool, must know his brother;
One fop will recommend another:
And with this plague she’s rightly curs’d,
Because she listened to the first.

As Doris, at her toilet’s duty,

Sat meditating on her beauty,
She now was pensive, now was gay,
And lolled the sultry hours away.
As thus in indolence she lies,
A giddy wasp around her flies.

He now advances, now retires,
Now to her neck and cheek aspires.
Her fan in vain defends her charms;
Swift he returns, again alarms;
For by repulse he bolder grew,
Perched on her lip, and sipp’d the dew.

She frowns, she frets. ‘Good God!’ she cries,

‘Protect me from these teasing flies!
Of all the plagues that heaven hath sent,
A wasp is most impertinent.’

The hovering insect thus complained:

‘Am I then slighted, scorned, disdained?
Can such offence your anger wake?
‘Twas beauty caused the bold mistake.
Those cherry lips that breathe perfume,
That cheek so ripe with youthful bloom,
Made me with strong desire pursue
The fairest peach that ever grew.’

‘Strike him not, Jenny,’ Doris cries, Jenny is Doris’s maid

‘Nor murder wasps like vulgar flies:

For though he’s free (to do him right)
The creature’s civil and polite.’
In ecstacies away he posts;
Where’er he came, the favour boasts;
Brags how her sweetest tea he sips,
And shows the sugar on his lips.

The hint alarmed the forward crew;

Sure of success, away they flew.
They share the dainties of the day,
Round her with airy music play;

And now they flutter, now they rest,
Now soar again, and skim her breast.
Nor were they banished, till she found
That wasps have stings, and felt the wound.

Canto II

Canto II, lines 1 – 18 Belinda, looking very beautiful, starts her journey up the Thames to Hampton Court.

Belinda takes the boat up the Thames to Hampton Court. And that is all that actually happens in Canto Two.

Not with more glories, in th’ etherial plain,
The Sun first rises o’er the purpled main,
Than, issuing forth, the rival of his beams
Launch’d on the bosom of the silver Thames.
Fair Nymphs, and well-drest Youths around her shone. 5
But ev’ry eye was fix’d on her alone.
On her white breast a sparkling Cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore.
Her lively looks a sprightly mind disclose,
Quick as her eyes, and as unfix’d as those: 10
Favours to none, to all she smiles extends;
Oft she rejects, but never once offends.
Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,
And, like the sun, they shine on all alike.
Yet graceful ease, and sweetness void of pride, 15
Might hide her faults, if Belles had faults to hide:
If to her share some female errors fall,
Look on her face, and you’ll forget ’em all.

Modern version

Even the sun, rising over the purple ocean, does not rise
with more glory in the skies
than the sun’s rival (Belinda), emerging and
setting off up the silver river Thames.
Beautiful young women and fashionable young men surrounded her
but every eye was fixed exclusively on her.
She wore a sparkling crucifix on her white bosom
which Jews might kiss and non-Jews adore (the cross or the beautiful bosom?).
Her lively appearance reveals a mind as quick as her eyes
and equally unconcentrated.
She smiles on everyone but has no favourites;
often she says no to requests but never does so offensively.
Her eyes, as bright as the sun, look at the people who are gazing at her
and, just like the sun, her eyes shine on everyone.
Her easy graceful manner and her sweetness
would hide her faults if beautiful young women had faults.
If she does make mistakes
you would forget them as soon as you looked at her (lovely) face.


Belinda appears in all her glory; in beauty and brightness she is the rival of the sun’s rays. Many words meaning shining emphasise the glittering occasion: the sun rises with ‘glories’; the beautiful young women and fashionably dressed men around Belinda ‘shone’; Belinda wears a ‘sparkling Cross’. It’s a colourful scene: the sun rises over the purple sea in the ‘Etherial Plain’ (the Heavenly plain, in other words, the sky) and Belinda sets off up the silver Thames. She is the centre of everybody’s attention: ‘ev’ry eye was fix’d on her alone.’

Belinda’s boat journey up the Thames to Hampton Court is Pope’s miniaturised version of the epic hero’s customary journey by sea or river. Very miniaturised indeed: while Belinda makes her way from London to Hampton court, in Homer’s Odyssey,the hero experiences a ten-year journey through the Aegean Sea. It’s possible that ‘the silver Thames’ is Pope’s allusion to Homer’s famous ‘wine dark sea’. In fact in the early 18th century, far from being silver, the Thames would have had shores encrusted with coal dust and water full of sewage.

Pope starts with a panoramic wide lens view, looking at the sun rising over the sea, withholding the real focus of his (and everybody else’s) attention until the end of line three: ‘the rival of his beams’. His eye ranges over a crowd of fashionable young people, but they are all looking at Belinda. Even greater close-up reveals details of her dress and looks: the ‘sparkling Cross’ she wears as an ornament (it has no religious significance; it would be perfectly all right for Jews to kiss it, or Infidels (disbelievers) to adore it). The grammar in this line, starting ‘which’, leaves it unclear whether Jews and Infidels are kissing and adoring Belinda’s ‘white breast’ or the jewellery. ‘Which’ could refer to either. Already ideas and images from the first Canto are re-emerging: the idea of Belinda as a rival to the sun in glory and importance; the matter of her questionable priorities and moral values.

Glynis Ridley argues, in ‘Female Automata from Pandora to Belinda’ that in the line ‘ev’ry eye was fix’d on her alone’ (II 6), ‘Belinda is not simply a matchless beauty but an irresistible temptress whose charms override the force of religious and cultural prohibitions: ‘On her white Breast a sparkling Cross she wore, / Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore.’ (II 7,8)’. ‘Making the Perfect Woman: Female Automata from Pandora to Belinda’ by Glynis Ridley,Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock edited by Donald W Nichol, University of Toronto Press, 2016, page 54

Another question is raised in the next couplet.

Her lively looks a sprightly mind disclose,

Quick as her eyes, and as unfix’d as those.

It starts as a compliment: her looks reveal a lively, sprightly, quick mind. But at the very end of the couplet lies a Parthian shot undermining everything that has gone before: her mind is ‘unfix’d’ – that is, scatty, rather than ‘lively’. Actually, we already knew this; at the end of her long detailed dream containing an important warning, a love letter sent everything straight out of her head. The one thing she can concentrate on is her make-up and her reflection in the mirror: ‘the nymph intent adores,…’. Her eyes may also be ‘unfix’d’ because she can’t see clearly; belladonna drops made your pupils larger (more beautiful, supposedly) but as a result everything you were trying to see was out of focus. ”Unfix’d’ also reminds us of ‘ev’ry eye was fix’d on her alone’; is she worth this ‘fix’d’ undivided attention?

Pope seems ambivalent in the perfect balance and antitheses of the next couplet.

Favours to none, to all she smiles extends,

Oft she rejects, but never once offends.

‘None’ is set against ‘all’; ‘oft is set against ‘never’. The initial impression is of a girl who is perfectly poised, smiling but never going too far (‘favours’ has sexual connotations), never giving offence despite some necessary rejections. But perhaps she is really vacuous and ungiving, thinking that a smile will always do the trick and she doesn’t have to give anything that really costs her much, or hurts her.

Again Belinda’s eyes are compared to the sun (a compliment), and they shine unselectively on absolutely everybody (a criticism?). As in the earlier couplet, the criticism is kept back until the very end of the couplet, for maximum impact: as you read, ‘And, like the sun …’ you are still expecting a compliment. What you get is, ‘they shine on all alike’. This line conspicuously alludes to a line in St Mattew’s Gospel, Chapter 5, verse 45: ‘For He (God) maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ Is Belinda nearly sacrilegious in thinking that her gaze is comparable to God’s? Or is it another example of her, and society’s, confused values; beauty confused in importance with spiritual matters. Her ‘graceful ease’ (a characteristic of good breeding), and ‘sweetness void of pride’ sound delightful, but then comes a mention of faults (quickly disclaimed: ‘if Belles had faults to hide’). Each time Pope praises Belinda’s perfection he implies a possibility of something less than perfect. Even the extravagant claim, ‘Look on her face, and you’ll forget ’em (female errors)all’ is hedged about with conditions, ‘If to her share some female errors fall …’. Pope may be whole-heartedly admiring Belinda’s loveliness here; but it is a loveliness largely created by artificial means, as he has taken care to tell us.

David Fairer points out the complex way in which Pope uses the mock epic style. He ‘exploits the comic gap between heroic rhetoric and modern life’ to the detriment of modern life and its superficial values. However, ‘Belinda, floating down the Thames in Canto II, is enhanced, rather than diminished, by her implied comparison to Shakespeare’s Cleopatra.’ (Eighteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology, page 126)

Canto II, lines 19 – 28: Belinda has two beautiful locks or ringlets that hang down her neck.

This Nymph, to the destruction of mankind,
Nourish’d two Locks, which graceful hung behind 20
In equal curls, and well conspir’d to deck
With shining ringlets the smooth iv’ry neck.
Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains,
And mighty hearts are held in slender chains.
With hairy springes we the birds betray, 25
Slight lines of hair surprise the finny prey,
Fair tresses man’s imperial race ensnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair.

Modern version

This young woman had two beautifully dressed locks of hair
which completely finished off the men who looked at them.
They were both curled, and adorned
Belinda’s smooth ivory neck with shining ringlets.
Love imprisons his slaves in mazes like these
and chains as slim as these locks of hair padlock the mighty hearts of men.
We snare birds with traps of fine hair
and catch fish with fine fishing lines.
Beautiful hair ensnares the kingly race of men
And a single hair can draw (attract) us men irresistibly towards beauty.


The feature that most irresistibly ‘insnare(s)’ ‘man’s imperial race’ is the

…. two Locks, which graceful hung behind
In equal curls, and well conspir’d to deck
With shining ringlets the smooth iv’ry neck.

Detail from the portrait of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, by Sir Godfrey Kneller showing the coiffure of the Duchess of Marlborough. ‘A formal arrangement of the front hair, with many puffs and trailing ringlets adopted in the reign of Queen Anne that the wearing of an upstanding cap began in England, and the head was differently arranged to suit this new departure. In the portraits of Anne and her favourites we find the new element of the cow-horn curl, a formal arrangement of the front locks which was combined with a multitude of puffs and bends and trailing ringlets.’ From

Portrait circa 1710 – 20, sitter and artist unknown. Shows contemporary coiffure of curls down the neck. Lawrences of Crewkerne, Fine Art Auctioneers

Belinda’s ringlets apparently have the most fatal effect on men; phrases resounding from the world of epic poetry convey this – ‘the destruction of mankind’, ‘mighty hearts’, ‘man’s imperial race’. The joke is that all this sonorous build-up is simply about two curls; the grandiose language is completely out of place. There are several words in this section suggesting some sort of trap – ‘ensnare’, ‘springes’ (snares made of horsehair to trap birds), ‘betray’, ‘surprize’, ‘conspir’d’, ‘draws’. Other words suggest imprisonment – ‘detains’, ‘held’, ‘chains’. ‘A single hair’ or ‘fair tresses’ seem so delicate and slight, yet they can imprison men in the bonds of love. The many words meaning a trap imply that women set out deliberately to catch men, just as fish and birds are caught. The couplet that makes this clear is set out so that its content is imprisoned between the first word of the couplet, ‘Love’, and the last, ‘chains.’

Lovein these labyrinths his slaves detains,
And mighty hearts are held in slender chains.

The repeated and chiming ls in ‘love,’ ‘labyrinths’, ‘slaves’, ‘held’, ‘slender’, weave their way lightly around the alliterating hs of ‘hearts are held’ – these being the mighty hearts of epic heroes. And it’s the ls that ‘detain’ the mighty ‘hearts’.

‘The idea of a woman’s hair binding or drawing or enmeshing a lover reaches back into classical literaure’. J S Cunningham, who made this comment, cites The Satires of Persius, the Roman poet of the first century AD. And Glynis Ridley reads more into the couplet. ‘This Nymph, to the Destruction of Mankind, ‘ Nourish’d two Locks’ (II 19, 20) For Belinda’s hair threatens to ensnare not only the Baron but also (in ‘the Destruction of Mankind’) to precipitate a second Fall.’ ‘Making the Perfect Woman: Female Automata from Pandora to Belinda’ by Glynis Ridley,Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock edited by Donald W Nichol, University of Toronto Press, 2016, page 54

In the next section we find that the Baron ‘the bright locks admir’d’ and resolves if necessary to resort to fraud to acquire ‘the prize’. It’s not clear whether he is a victim, ensnared by Belinda’s beauty or whether he is the one in the wrong. Again, in describing the effect of ‘a single hair’, Pope is alluding to classical poetry, this time Dryden’s 1692 translation of the Roman writer, Persius. Dryden’s translation of the relevant line reads: ‘Can draw you to her with a single hair.’

Canto II, lines 29 – 46: The Baron has been up before sunrise making a petition to Love that he may possess one of Belinda’s locks of hair.

Th’ advent’rous Baron the bright locks admir’d;
He saw, he wish’d, and to the prize aspir’d. 30
Resolv’d to win, he meditates the way,
By force to ravish, or by fraud betray;
For when success a Lover’s toil attends,
Few ask, if fraud or force attain’d his ends.

For this, ere Phoebus rose, he had implor’d 35
Propitious heav’n, and ev’ry pow’r ador’d,
But chiefly Love–to Love an Altar built,
Of twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt.
There lay three garters, half a pair of gloves;
And all the trophies of his former loves; 40
With tender Billet-doux he lights the pyre,
And breathes three am’rous sighs to raise the fire.
Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent eyes
Soon to obtain, and long possess the prize:
The pow’rs gave ear, and granted half his pray’r, 45
The rest, the winds dispers’d in empty air.

Modern translation

The daring, aristocratic young man admired Belinda’s shining locks of hair;
he saw them, he wished to own one, and set his sights on acquiring one as a prize.
Determined to win it, he thought about a way of doing so,
whether to seize a lock by force, or whether to deceive Belinda by trickery.
For if he could succeed
very few people would ask whether he had achieved his ambition by deceit or force.
For this reason, before sunrise, he had begged
the heavens and adored all the powers
but chiefly the power of Love. He had constructed an altar to Love
made up of twelve huge guilded volumes of French romances.
Three garters, one glove
and all the love-tokens from his former (cast-off) lovers lay on the altar.
With sentimental love letters he sets light to the fire
and breathes three love-lorn sighs to help the flames catch.
Then he falls flat on the ground, and begs the powers, with his eyes aflame with passion,
that he may soon acquire the prize, Belinda’s lock of hair, and own it for a long time.
The powers listened to his request and granted half of it
and the rest of his prayer was blown away by the winds.


In flashback, Pope now introduces the Baron. Not all ‘sleepless Lovers, just at twelve, awake’. The Baron has been up before sunrise.
Pope starts in heroic style: ‘Th’advent’rous Baron the bright locks admir’d, / He saw, he wish’d, and to the prize aspir’d. / Resolv’d to win …’ It seems the Baron is the very type of manliness, adventurous (daring) and energetic (the verse is full of verbs – action words – ‘saw’, ‘wish’d’, ‘aspir’d’, ‘resolv’d’). However, his plans seem less than heroic: ‘by force to ravish, or by fraud Betray’. (Ravish means to seize and carry off, the ‘rape’ of the poem’s title.) The alliterative fs stress the dubious means by which he aims to succeed: force or fraud. However, even in epic poetry, deeds were not always without sinister undertones. Pope’s next two lines are very like a line in the Aeneid.

For when Success a Lover’s Toil attends,
Few ask, if Fraud or Force attain’d his Ends. (Rape of the Lock)

Whether deceit or valour, who would ask in warfare? (Aeneid,ii, 390)

In true heroic fashion, the Baron builds an altar and prays to the gods. The gods, also true to epic convention, grant only half his prayer (compare the Aeneid). But Pope sends up the whole epic undertaking. The Baron builds an altar to love, constructed of ‘twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt’. These, the blockbusters of the day, were written in the first half of the seventeenth century. They were incredibly long, sometimes twelve volumes and several thousand pages. The pages have a gold edge to them, ‘neatly gilt.’ On the altar are ‘trophies of his former loves’ – prizes from his former sweethearts: a glove; garters – bands tied either above or below your knee that held your stocking up; odds and ends. The Baron uses a discarded love-letter to light the fire and fans the flames with three loving sighs (presumably sighs of fiery passion). His eyes are certainly ‘ardent’ – on fire with love. In her edition of the poem, Cynthia Wall notes: The baron builds an altar to Love, but it is as cluttered and unconsciously revealing as Belinda’s own dressing table: ‘There lay three Garters, half a Pair of Gloves; / And all the Trophies of his former Loves.’ (The Rape of the Lock edited by Cynthia Wall, p 29, Bedford Cultural Edition, Macmillan Press Ltd 1998).

The Baron’s request in prayer is articulated in a couplet packed with verbs and with a line running on to a stressed initial syllable, showing how impatient he is to possess the prize.

Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent eyes
Soon to obtain, and long possess the prize.

‘Soon’ is almost immediately followed by ‘long’; ‘possess’ and ‘prize’ contain energetic ps and s’s. Is this the portrait of a hero, or of a heartless, serial heart-breaker, ditching garters, gloves and old love-letters as so much trash? Is his idea of love simply winning a ‘prize’, a ‘trophy’? He’s certainly an impatient, take-the-waiting-out-of-wanting sort of man. He was up at dawn, ‘he had implor’d/Propitious heav’n, and every pow’r ador’d’. The energetic, explosive ps crowd in, without even a pause at the end of the line.

Canto II, lines 47 – 68: Belinda makes her way up the Thames and many sylphs surround her.

But now secure the painted vessel glides,
The sun-beams trembling on the floating tides:
While melting music steals upon the sky,
And soften’d sounds along the waters die; 50
Smooth flow the waves, the Zephyrs gently play,
Belinda smil’d, and all the world was gay.
All but the Sylph–with careful thoughts opprest,
Th’ impending woe sat heavy on his breast.
He summons strait his Denizens of air; 55
The lucid squadrons round the sails repair:
Soft o’er the shrouds aërial whispers breathe,
That seem’d but Zephyrs to the train beneath.
Some to the sun their insect-wings unfold,
Waft on the breeze, or sink in clouds of gold; 60
Transparent forms, too fine for mortal sight,
Their fluid bodies half dissolv’d in light,
Loose to the wind their airy garments flew,
Thin glitt’ring textures of the filmy dew,
Dipt in the richest tincture of the skies, 65
Where light disports in ever-mingling dyes,
While ev’ry beam new transient colours flings,
Colours that change whene’er they wave their wings.

Modern Version

But now the boat sails (up the Thames) free from any care
the sunbeams glinting on the water
while beautiful music is played
and the sounds at last die along the waters.
The river’s waves are smooth, the west wind blows gently,
Belinda smiled and all the world was happy.
All, that is, except for the sylph, who was weighed down with care;
The approaching disaster weighed heavily on him.
He immediately summons the inhabitants of the air,
the shining squadrons meet round the boat’s sails (literally the ropes, but Pope means the sails here).
Airy whispers are just heard amongst the sails
that to humans seemed to be breezes.
Some (sylphs) unfolded their wings to the sun,
wafted on the breeze, or sank in golden clouds;
their shapes were transparent, too fine for humans to see.
Their adaptable bodies seeming half dissolved in light,
their airy garments billowed loosely in the breeze
like thin glittering textures of dew
dipped in the richest colours of the skies,
Where light plays in constantly mingling colours,
While every sunbeam throws new colours,
Colours that change whenever the sylphs beat their wings.
In the midst of the crowd, on the golden mast of the boat,
(which made him) a head taller than any of the others, was Ariel.
His purple wings opened to the sun
He raised his blue wand, and began to speak.

The rest of this beautiful Canto, describing the sylphs and Ariel’s speech, was added in the 1713 rewriting of the poem, published in 1714. Pope switches the scene back to the present as Belinda’s boat makes its way up the Thames. It is a sunny day with gentle westerly breezes and smooth waves on the river. The perfect natural background emphasises the overall harmony of the scene.

But now secure the painted vessel glides,
The sun-beams trembling on the floating tydes;
While melting music steals upon the sky,
And soften’d sounds along the waters die;
Smooth flow the waves, the Zephyrs gently play,
Belinda smil’d and all the world was gay.

The liquid ls give soft, watery sounds; the long vowels and repeated ms evoke a dreamy, gentle atmosphere. The ls permeate the lines: vessel/glides/trembling floating/melting/steals/flow/gently play. Serene long vowels soothe the ear: glides/tides steals/beams/smooth/waves/play/smiled. The ms create a web of harmony: beams trembling/melting music/smooth. The recurring s’s hush rather than hiss: secure sun-beams/steals/sky/softened sounds/smooth/smil’d. And in addition to the rhyming words, there are several words with chiming vowels, giving an added impression of harmony: beams/ steals, trembling/melting, waves/play, floating/flow. ‘The sound must seem an Echo to the sense’ wrote Pope in his Essay on Criticism.

In conspicuous contrast to all this happiness and harmony, Belinda’s guardian sylph, meanwhile, is weighed down in epic fashion by anxious thoughts of ‘th’impending woe’ – the disaster that threatens Belinda before the end of the day. In the Aeneid‘anxious Cares already seiz’d the Queen’ (Dryden’s translation) and in the Iliad‘with various thoughts opprest, / His country’s cares lay rolling in his breast’ (Pope’s translation). He summons his fellow sylphs, with whom he shares the task of protecting Belinda. The ‘lucid (shining) squadrons (a military term for a specific group)’ immediately gather round the sails of the boat carrying Belinda to Hampton Court.

There follows a breathtakingly beautiful passage describing the sylphs. David Fairer in his book, The Poetry of Alexander Pope, calls it ‘a kind of tapestry of sound’. Perhaps it sounds all the more beautiful now we know of the threats: the Baron’s plans and Ariel’s worry over the ‘impending woe’.

The lucid squadrons round the sails repair (gather)
Soft o’er the shrouds aerial whispers breathe, (sails)
That seem’d but Zephyrs to the train beneath. (West winds, breezes)
Some to the sun their insect-wings unfold,
Waft on the breeze, or sink in clouds of gold;
Transparent forms, too fine for mortal sight,
Their fluid bodies half dissolv’d in light.
Loose to the wind their airy garments flew,
Thin glitt’ring textures of the filmy dew, (gauzy, very thin)
Dipt in the richest tincture of the skies, (colour)
Where light disports in ever-mingling dyes, (plays)
While ev’ry beam new transient colours flings, (quickly passing)
Colours that change whene’er they wave their wings.
Amid the circle, on the gilded mast,
Superior by the head, was Ariel plac’d;
His purple pinions opening to the sun, (wings)
He rais’d his azure wand, and thus begun. (sky-blue)

You need to read passages like this aloud to hear the full wonder of what Pope is doing. People on board the vessel think that they hear the westerly breezes whisper in the sails, but in fact it is the swish of the delicate feathery wings, ‘insect-wings’ of the sylphs. The gentle sibilants (s and z) give us this with the added puff of th in breathe/that/beneath’: ‘Soft o’er the shrouds (sails) aerial whispers breathe/That seem’d but Zephyrs…’. The light breath of their passing is continued with the repeated fs in soft/unfold/waft/forms/half/flew/filmy/flings. Their delicate, filigree lightness is suggested through the repeated light vowel sound i in insect/wings/sink/dissolv’d//wind/thin/flitt’ring/filmy/dipt/richest/tincture/mingling/flings/wings and so on.

The sylphs are constantly on the move, conveyed through the many verbs of delicate movement -unfold/waft/sink/flew/wave. The soft ls convey filigree delicacy – fluid/dissolv’d/light/loose/flew. Many of the words suggest delicacy, fragility -insect-wings/waft/transpararent forms, too fine for mortal sight/fluid bodies half dissolv’d/airy garments/thin glitt’ring textures of the filmy dew. There is colour and light everywhere – gold/light/glitt’ring/richest tincture/light/ever-mingling dyes/beam/transient colours/colours that change/gilded/purple/azure. The restless, haphazard, delicate movements of the sylphs are mimicked through the meaning of the verbs and the unpredictable stresses in these lines; none of the rhythms or stressed words are heavy and they are never consistent.

Waft on the breeze, or sink in clouds of gold …
Their fluid bodies half dissolv’d in light.
Loose to the wind their airy garments flew…
… ev’ry beam new transient colours flings,
Colours that change whene’er they wave their wings.

Many of the words actually mean change, or existing only momentarily: fluid/half dissolved in light/loose/transient/colours that change.

The sylphs are the mock epic verson of the epic gods, reduced to flimsy proportions. Here they add a delicate, shimmering, beautiful, fragile yet very feminine aura to the poem.

Ariel, the ‘chief’, addresses his troops as the hero in an epic poem would. The epic hero is always taller than his followers; Ariel, too, is taller – but Pope undermines his apparent eminence by explaining that this is only because he is placed on the mast-head. He exhorts all the different kinds of spirits to ‘hear’ – the sylphs, sylphids, fays, fairies, genii, elves and daemons.

Canto II, lines 69 – 90: Ariel, Belinda’s guardian sylph, speaks to his troops.

Amid the circle, on the gilded mast,
Superior by the head, was Ariel plac’d; 70
His purple pinions op’ning to the sun,
He rais’d his azure wand, and thus begun.
Ye Sylphs and Sylphids, to your chief give ear!
Fays, Fairies, Genii, Elves, and Dæmons, hear!
Ye know the spheres and various tasks assign’d 75
By laws eternal to th’ aërial kind.
Some in the fields of purest Æther play,
And bask and whiten in the blaze of day.
Some guide the course of wand’ring orbs on high,
Or roll the planets thro’ the boundless sky. 80
Some less refin’d, beneath the moon’s pale light
Pursue the stars that shoot athwart the night,
Or suck the mists in grosser air below,
Or dip their pinions in the painted bow,
Or brew fierce tempests on the wintry main, 85
Or o’er the glebe distil the kindly rain.
Others on earth o’er human race preside,
Watch all their ways, and all their actions guide:
Of these the chief the care of Nations own,
And guard with Arms divine the British Throne. 90

Modern Version

Sylphs and female sylphs (sylphides), listen to your chief;
fays, fairies, geniuses, elves and demons, pay attention!
You know the different areas of action and tasks given
by eternal law to angels.
Some play in in the purest region of the skies, above the moon,
and delight in the daylight.
Some direct the journey of comets
or roll the planets through the universe.
Some, in the skies between the earth and the moon, a less refined part of the heavens, in the moonlight
follow shooting stars
Or suck in the mists in the heavier air
or dip their wings in the rainbow
or provoke fierce storms on the winter oceans
or ensure that the kindly rain falls on farmland.
Others are in charge of human beings on earth;
they watch what the humans do and guide their actions.
The most important angels preside over the nations
and guard the British throne (the queen), with heavenly weapons.


Eternal laws have assigned to ‘the aerial kind’ – angels – various duties (‘spheres’) and tasks. Their activities are cosmic: they guide the course of comets and planets, pursue shooting stars, initiate fierce tempests, oversee the kindly rainfall on cornfields.
Others on earth o’er human race preside,

Watch all their ways, and all their actions guide:
Of these the chief the care of Nations own,
And guard with Arms divine the British Throne.

The seriousness and importance of what the angels do is made clear: ‘preside’, ‘watch’, ‘guide’, ‘guard’. These important words (all verbs, actively affecting human life) are in key places – either our attention is drawn to them because they are the rhyming words (preside/guide), or they are the first and last words in the line, a conspicuous position. In one line, the care and watchfulness of the angels is literally illustrated: ‘Watch’ starts the lines and ‘guide’ ends it, so that the ‘ways’ and ‘actions’ of humans are encompassed by the guarding angels. The alliterating ws help us to see the close link between the angels watching and the human ways. In addition, ‘watch’ is atypically stressed, increasing our sense of its importance.

The order in these lines is very evident: phrases like ‘all their’ are repeated, and the word order and rhythm are repeated too – ‘o’er human race preside… and all their actions guide’ with its adjective noun verb pattern. This reliable order and consistent pattern perhaps reflects the order of a life governed by angels, in contrast with the topsy..turvy, whim-inspired life governed by sylphs and fashion (described in the next section). To the chief angels is assigned the ‘care of nations’, and they guard the British throne with their divine weapons.

Canto II, lines 91 – 100: Ariel’s speech continues.

Our humbler province is to tend the Fair,
Not a less pleasing, tho’ less glorious care;
To save the powder from too rude a gale,
Nor let th’ imprison’d-essences exhale;
To draw fresh colours from the vernal flow’rs; 95
To steal from rainbows e’er they drop in show’rs
A brighter wash; to curl their waving hairs,
Assist their blushes, and inspire their airs;
Nay oft, in dreams, invention we bestow,
To change a Flounce, or add a Furbelow. 100

Modern Version
Our (the sylphs’) more humble task is to look after beautiful women,
less important but just as pleasing as the angels’ tasks.
We have to save powder from being blown away by too strong a wind,
and preserve the precious fragrance of scent.
We have to take bright colours for a lotion from spring flowers
and steal (colours) from rainbows before they let the colours disappear in showers.
We have to curl the wavy hair of young beauties,
help their cheeks to blush and inspire their manner.
Often, through dreams, we give a young woman the idea of
changing a flounce (gather) on her dress or adding a furbelow (a pleat).

Wittily juxtaposed with the lofty responsibilities of the angels are the offices of the sylphs. Some of the same elevated words are used: the angels are given the ‘care’ of nations; the sylphs have the ‘care’ of ‘tend(ing) the fair’. Angels ‘guard with Arms divine the British Throne’; fifty sylphs are to ‘guard’ the petticoat of Belinda, and ‘Ariel himself shall be the guard of Shock’. Thus Pope makes teasingly and abundantly clear how trivial the sylphs’ tasks are; angels watch over human ways and actions while the sylphs commandeer exactly the same words to supervise appearance, petticoats and lap-dogs.

Or, to put it another way, Pope is reminding us of the really important human activities, guided by the angels, and the superficiality of beauty, appearance, fashion, presided over by the sylphs. The many verbs illustrating the sylphs’ ceaseless activities are ‘save’, ‘draw’, ‘steal’ ‘curl’, ‘assist’, ‘inspire’ – rather less weighty than the angels’ watching, guarding and guiding. Occasionally the words are weighty but the actions aren’t: when they save something, it’s only powder in a rough wind, or ensuring that ‘essences’ (scent) doesn’t evaporate; when they inspire women (‘the fair’) the result is revealed in ‘airs’ and changes to flounces and furbelows (ornamental trimmings or pleats on the petticoat – that is, the skirt – of a dress). The sylphs’ preoccupations are with the world of appearance: powder, scent, colour, curls, blushes, airs (demeanour, impression), flounces and furbelows. I was puzzled by the business of stealing a ‘brighter wash’ from the rainbows before they dropped in showers. However, it seems that dew, especially that collected on Mayday, was an excellent beauty lotion (a wash is a cosmetic lotion for the complexion). Cowslip washes were thought to get rid of freckles. This may explain the sylphs’ preoccupation with vernal flow’rs and rainbows.)

Green’s Dictionary of Slang tells us that a furbelow could be a reference to a petticoat typically worn by a whore, thence by metonymy to the woman herself, and thence the pubic hair and / or vagina. (Metonymy means using a quality or an attribute for the thing itself, such as ‘the turf’ for horse racing.) This does not exactly make sense in the lines

Nay oft, in dreams, invention we bestow,
To change a Flounce, or add a Furbelow.

On the other hand, it keeps us aware of the sexual undercurrent of the poem, and the whereabouts of Belinda’s ‘true value’ (Raymond Stephanson), which is what the Baron is really pursuing. Following this line of thought, the lock of hair stands for a different sort of hair, as Belind makes explicit at the end of Canto IV.

At the same time, Pope is making it clear how lovely the fashionable young women of high society are. He weaves a beautiful aura of colour and scent into this section: ‘essences’, ‘fresh colours … vernal flowers’, ‘rainbows’, ‘brighter’, ‘blushes’. Even as he mocks and criticises society (here, its superficiality, its obsession with appearance) he shows through the sensuous writing an enjoyment of the beauty of the fashionable world.

Canto II, lines 101 – 122: Ariel warns his troops that some dire event threatens Belinda that day.

This day, black Omens threat the brightest Fair,
That e’er deserv’d a watchful spirit’s care;
Some dire disaster, or by force, or slight;
But what, or where, the fates have wrapt in night.
Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law, 105
Or some frail China jar receive a flaw;
Or stain her honour or her new brocade;
Forget her pray’rs, or miss a masquerade;
Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball;
Or whether Heav’n has doom’d that Shock must fall. 110
Haste, then, ye spirits! to your charge repair:
The flutt’ring fan be Zephyretta’s care;
The drops to thee, Brillante, we consign;
And, Momentilla, let the watch be thine;
Do thou, Crispissa, tend her fav’rite Lock; 115
Ariel himself shall be the guard of Shock.

To fifty chosen Sylphs, of special note,
We trust th’ important charge, the Petticoat:
Oft have we known that seven-fold fence to fail,
Tho’ stiff with hoops, and arm’d with ribs of whale; 120
Form a strong line about the silver bound,
And guard the wide circumference around.

Modern Version

Today, dreadful omens threaten the most beautiful young woman
that ever deserved the care of a watchful spirit.
Some dire disaster, either by force or deceit
– but what it is or where it will happen is the secret of fate.
Either the young woman will lose her virginity
or some fragile china jar will crack;
either she will blot her virtue and reputation or she will stain the silk brocade of her new dress.
She may forget to say her prayers, or miss a masked ball
Or it might be that her little dog Shock will fall out of her arms.
Hurry then, spirits; get back to looking after Belinda.
The fluttering fan can be little West Wind’s special province;
the diamond earrings can be your special job, Brillante;
Momentilla, look after the watch,
and Crispissa, you look after her favourite lock of hair.
Ariel himself will guard Shock, the little dog.
Fifty specially selected sylphs of noted ability
will guard and take responsibility for that most important object of all, the petticoat.
That seven-layer defence has often failed
although it is stiffened with hoops and whalebone.
Sylphs must form a strong line around the fringed edge which, like Achilles’ shield, is bound with silver.
And carefully guard the whole circumference of the petticoat.


Having outlined the duties of the angels and of the sylphs (or, in more serious terms, Pope having reminded us of the confused values of this society), Ariel draws attention to the reason for his speech. He alerts the watchful spirits to the fact that ‘black Omens threat the brightest Fair’; ‘Some dire disaster’. Again alliteration draws our attention to the important words: ‘black’ and ‘brightest’ contrast; ‘dire disaster’ is a phrase taken straight from the world of epic. However, the list of possible disasters that Ariel offers immediately plunges us back into the world of fashionable drawing-rooms – ‘China jar(s)’, ‘new brocade’, ‘necklace(s)’.

As Ariel names the misfortunes that might overtake Belinda, Pope questions and ridicules society’s values in a dazzling poetic display. He shows us the confusion between the important and the unimportant by linking or juxtaposing completely unexpected things.

Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law,
Or some frail China jar receive a flaw,
Or stain her honour, or her new brocade,
Forget her pray’rs, or miss a masquerade,
Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball;
Or whether Heav’n has doom’d that Shock must fall.

In the first couplet, the opening line is serious, to do with morality, right or wrong behaviour. (Diana was the goddess of chastity; thus one possible evil is for Belinda to lose her virginity.) With the ‘Or’ of the second line of the couplet, Pope builds up our expectations of an equally serious possibility to befall Belinda. Instead, we are offered a crack in a China jar. The shock lies in yoking together, in one rhyming couplet, the moral and the material. Evidently Belinda’s society values a China jar quite as highly as chastity – or values chastity no more highly than a China jar. There was a craze for Chinese porcelain in the early 18th century. With the ‘china jar’, Pope is underlining the importance of appearance in this society; if you can’t see it, it doesn’t matter. At the same time, he raises the idea that virginity is as fragile and as precious and beautiful and valuable as a China jar.

A pair of large Kangxi porcelain Famille Verte jars and domed covers c.1690 – 1710 Well painted in bright Famille Verte enamels including overglaze blue. There are two panels showing river scenes and two with the ‘Hundred Antiques’ pattern . One of the landscape scenes. shows a promontory with buildings and a large watch tower keeping guard over the the entrance to the river, jagged mountains loom in the distance.

A pair of Kangxi blue and white porcelain vases c.1690-1720

In the next line, ‘Or stain her honour, or her new brocade’, Pope uses the one verb ‘stain’ for two quite difference things – a moral quality (‘honour’) and a new piece of material or dress ‘brocade’. This literary device is called zeugma and, as with the preceding couplet, the effect is shocking and witty, raising questions. Which matters more – the expensive, fashionable dress or the ‘honour’? He does the same thing in ‘… lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball’ – juxtaposing emotional wellbeing with possessions and asking (by implication) which is more important? Again, spiritual concerns and fun are linked (they are obviously considered equally important by fashionable young ladies) in the fourth line, and this time Pope does it through the exact balance of the line. Verb plus noun joined by ‘or’ to verb plus noun. This has the effect of making us equate and assess the comparative importance of the forgotten prayers and the missed masquerade.

Fashionable brocade was very beautiful. The beautiful example below, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, was made in about 1708. Much brocade was made in Spitalfields by the community of Huguenots who had fled from France and established themselves in East London.

Possibly, says Ariel, ‘Heav’n has doom’d (decreed, ordered) that Shock must fall’.
‘Heav’n has doom’d’ is elevated language, typical of epic poetry and arousing expectations of very serious concerns. But what do we get: ‘Shock must fall’ – the little dog might fall out of Belinda’s arms. Raising expectations in order to let them go flat on their face is bathos, a comic deflating technique.

Thus throughout these lines, the serious and the superficial live uneasily alongside each other: lofty epic language reminding one of epic heroes’ serious and honourable ideals- ‘black omens’, ‘fates’, ‘doom’d’, ‘dire disaster’; serious moral values – chastity, honour, prayers; emotional wellbeing – a happy heart; set against expensive jars, new dresses, dances, jewellery and lap-dogs. The moral values that are allowed to slide and the broken heart can’t be seen; the cracked jar, stained brocade, a missed ball are much more obviously spoilt or missed.

The pace accelerates as Ariel sends the sylphs off, each with specific responsibilities, and the stressed word ‘Haste’ starts the line. The sylphs’ names accord with their duties: Zephyretta, with a name like the little western breezes, looks after ‘the flutt’ring fan (soft fs and ts mimic the fan’s gentle noise). The ‘drops’ are diamond earrings, so Brillante (brilliants are diamonds) is apt; Momentilla reminds one of little moments of time; crisp used to be the word for curl, hence Crispissa’s tending of ‘her fav’rite Lock’.

There is a terrific build-up to the guarding of Belinda’s petticoat (the name for the skirt, over which a loose dress or mantua coat was pinned back). Military terms suggest serious intent and remind us of epic battles: ‘arm’d’, ‘a strong line’, ‘guard’. It is a ‘sev’nfold Fence’ with a ‘Silver Bound’ which is a very obvious reference to Achilles’ shield in the Iliad. The god Vulcan made it for him, from seven layers of leather bound with silver. Achilles would have used his shield in fighting and in preserving his honour as a warrior; presumably Belinda’s petticoat, so like the shield, is to preserve her honour, or chastity. The Spectatorof 1711 reports: ‘A female who is thus invested in whalebone is sufficiently secured against the approaches of an ill-bred fellow.’ But you can’t take this for granted as the alliterative fs underline:

Oft have we known that sev’nfold fence to fail,
Tho’ stiff with Hoops, and arm’d with Ribs of Whale.

The ‘Ribs of Whale’ is whalebone, a light, flexible substance – Belinda’s petticoat is hooped and stiffened with it. The very considerable size of these fashionable petticoats came in for a certain amount of teasing. Addison writes in The Guardian No 114, July 1713, on the subject of ‘the great petticoat’.

‘Many are the inconveniences that accrue to her majesty’s loving subjects from the said petticoats, as hurting men’s shins, sweeping down the ware (merchandise, goods for sale) of industrious females in the street, etc. I saw a young lady fall down the other day; and believe me, Sir, she very much resembled an overturned bell without a clapper. Many other disasters I could tell you of, that befal themselves, as well as others, by means of this unwieldy garment. I wish, Mr. Guardian, you would join with me in showing your dislike of such a monstrous fashion, and I hope when the ladies see it is the opinion of two of the wisest men in England, they will be convinced of their folly.’

Breval, or, more probably, Francis Chute, wrote a mocking poem ‘The Petticoat: an heroi-comical poem’ (1716). He pokes fun at the hoop, a linen underskirt extended by horizontal bands of whalebone. ‘The whalebones spread the swelling canvas wide.’

Canto II, lines 123 to the end of the Canto

Ariel tells his troops that they will be punished if they let anything happen to Belinda.

Whatever spirit, careless of his charge,
His post neglects, or leaves the fair at large,
Shall feel sharp vengeance soon o’ertake his sins, 125
Be stopp’d in vials, or transfix’d with pins;
Or plung’d in lakes of bitter washes lie,
Or wedg’d whole ages in a bodkin’s eye:
Gums and Pomatums shall his flight restrain,
While clogg’d he beats his silken wings in vain; 130
Or Alum styptics with contracting pow’r
Shrink his thin essence like a rivel’d flow’r:
Or, as Ixion fix’d, the wretch shall feel
The giddy motion of the whirling Mill,
In fumes of burning Chocolate shall glow, 135
And tremble at the sea that froths below!

He spoke; the spirits from the sails descend;
Some, orb in orb, around the nymph extend;
Some thrid the mazy ringlets of her hair;
Some hang upon the pendants of her ear: 140
With beating hearts the dire event they wait,
Anxious, and trembling for the birth of Fate.

Modern Version

If any spirit neglects his duty or leaves the beautiful young woman unattended
he will soon experience the punishment for his sins.
He will be imprisoned by the stopper in a glass bottle or pinned down with pins.
Or lie plunged in lakes of cosmetic lotions
or wedged for aeons in the eye of a needle.
Unguents and ointments shall hinder his flight
and his silken wings will be clogged so that he cannot fly
Or astringents to stop bleeding will contract
his thin essence like a shrivelled flower.
Or, like Ixion bound to his wheel, the wretched sylph shall feel
the chocolate mill whirling him round and round;
in fumes of roasting chocolate he will glow
and tremble at the sea of chocolate that froths beneath him.
He finished speaking; the spirits descended from the sails.
Some, hovering in circles, move around the young woman.
Some thread themselves through the ringlets of her hair,
Some hang upon her earrings.
With their hearts beating fast, they await the terrible event,
anxious and trembling to see what Fate will bring.


Ariel promises that terrible punishments will be meted out to any sylphs who fail to protect Belinda. The sylphs will undergo tortures reminiscent of those threatened by Jove in the Iliad, and the torments of the fallen angels on the burning lake in Hell in Paradise Lost. They will ‘feel sharp vengeance soon o’ertake (their) Sins’ (the hissing s’s convey the tortures in store). They will be ‘plung’d in Lakes’ (like the burning lake in Milton’s Hell). But this will be a ‘lake of bitter Washes’ (cosmetic lotions); and when they are captured, it is to be ‘wedg’d whole Ages in a Bodkin’s Eye’. A bodkin here is rather like a needle, made of bone, ivory or steel.

As so often, Pope refers to Milton’s Paradise Lost in this section of the poem. In Book 5 ofParadise Lost, the army of angels is called together by God. Milton writes,

….Thus when in Orbes

Of circuit inexpressible they stood, (in such great numbers that it’s impossible to describe)

Orb within Orb, the Father (God) …. thus spake.

Hear all ye Angels, Progenie of Light,
Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Vertues, Powers, (five of the nine orders of angels)
Hear my Decree …
….So spake th’ Omnipotent (the all-powerful, ie, God)

Pope lifts Milton’s words, ‘orb within orb’, picturing the sylphs – the mock heroic equivalent of the angels – as hovering around Belinda in circles, ‘orb in orb’. The way Ariel’s speech is opened and ended mimics God’s: ‘…and thus began. … He spoke.’ Earlier in the canto, on lines 73 and 74, Pope imitated Milton’s list of the orders of angels, as he listed the orders of sylphs: ‘Ye Sylphs and Sylphids, to your chief give ear! / Fays, Fairies, Genii, Elves, and Dæmons, hear!’ You could see this as blasphemous but I think the tone of Pope’s poem is sunnier than that. He reminds his reader of the foibles of high society, not of the vice and corruption. Whereas Milton, in his epic poem, was justifying the ways of God to man, Pope is laughing the two offended families, the Fermors and the Petres, together.

The legendary and appalling punishment of Ixion (expelled from Heaven by the king of the gods and tied to a fiery wheel which rolled eternally through the skies) is to be emulated for any neglectful sylph. ‘… as Ixion fix’d, the Wretch shall feel/The giddy Motion of the whirling Mill,/In fumes of burning Chocolate shall glow’. It’s all a bit different: epic torments are carried out in terms of hairpins, lotions and hot chocolate – deflation in spades. The poetry is as celestial as ever: heavy-sounding, unwieldy words like ‘stop’d’, ‘plung’d’, ‘wedg’d’, ‘clog’d’, with their heavy gs and ds, convey to us the torture of these delicate creatures with their ‘silken wings’. But where we would expect burning lakes of Hell, we get vials (small glass bottles), pins, washes (cosmetic lotions), bodkins, gums and pomatums (creams), alom stypticks (astringents, toners) and chocolate (a fashionable drink for ladies; chocolate powder was combined with hot water in a pot, whirled together with a swizzle stick or stirrer between the palms of your hands). Pope conveys the delicate fragility of the sylphs with the light i sounds that he used earlier in the canto: ‘silken wings’, ‘thin, ‘rivelled’(shrivelled). The torture of the sylph stuck on the chocolate mill is given through the cracking xs of ‘Ixion fix’d’. And the relentless swirling of the wheel is reflected in the run-on line

the wretch shall feel

The giddy motion of the whirling Mill.

Three words in one line stress the dizzying constant movement of the mill, ‘giddy’, ‘motion’ and ‘whirling’.

You can clearly see the bodkin with its eye, in this agate and gold etui set of circa 1710, made in London, which is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. An etui contained the essentials for the sewing or dressing table. This one is made of agate, mounted in gold, set with an emerald and diamonds, with gold suspension chains, containing (from the left) scissors, fruit knife, combined pen and pencil and bodkin. According to the inscription, the étui was a gift from Queen Anne (ruled 1702-1714) to Abigail Masham (died 1734), who, as Abigail Hill, was appointed as a personal maid to the queen about 1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum

A scented ointment (pomatum), sounds like a modern cosmetic. However, Gerard, in his Herballof 1597, writes: ‘There is likewise made an ointment with the pulpe of Apples and Swines grease and Rose water, which is vsed to beautifie the face … called in shops Pomatum, of the Apples whereof it is made.’ The tortured sylph would be suffocated in pig fat. An alum styptic can be had today on Amazon; it is used by men who cut themselves when they are shaving, as it is something that lessens bleeding, as the styptic works by contracting and the alum is an astringent. John Durant, student in physick in London in 1697 gives this description of styptich water: ‘Gascoynes powder, the royal styptich water, which stops blood in an instant, also good for watery eyes, rheumatick eyes, inflamations in your eyes, pin, or web, and strengthens them to admiration; with many other things worthy of note.’

I wonder if Pope is doing two things here. He is giving us a miniaturised world in the Rape of the Lock by inventing cosmetic hellish tortures for the sylphs. But is he also suggesting that ‘the fair’ go through hellish torments in order to make themselves beautiful? Certainly the lead that was used in many cosmetic preparations had unpleasant, sometimes fatal, effects. Emma Chambers writes: ‘Although this era was known as the Age of Enlightenment, most fashionable men and women poisoned themselves with red and white lead make-up and powder. (Swinfield: p97) The make-up they used caused the eyes to swell and become inflamed, attacked the enamel on the teeth and changed the texture of the skin causing it to blacken, it was also not uncommon to suffer baldness, and for a time it became fashionable to shave the front hairline. It was known that heavy use of lead could cause death. (Baker: p210)’

The passage ends with a terrific build-up of momentous words and epic phrases in anticipation of the ‘dire event’: ‘beating hearts’, ‘trembling’, ‘the birth of fate’. The last two lines are modelled on a line from theIliad: ‘And Fate now labours with some vast Event.’

With beating Hearts the dire Event they wait,
Anxious, and trembling for the Birth of Fate.

And what is this dire event (we know it from the title of the poem)? The snipping off of one lock of hair.

The whole passage, indeed much of the Canto, serves to remind us of the really important values and actions that Belinda’s society has forgotten. Pope amusingly, wittily, good-humouredly points them out. Women in fashionable society have an obsession with appearance; they have confused values and morals. And love – is love a matter of ensnaring a man? or of betraying a woman? The sylphs add a shimmering beauty to Belinda and to the poem but are they really an effective bodyguard when compared to the power of the gods in the epic poems? As in the first Canto, Pope gives us a detailed picture of high society, with its beautiful and precious possessions brought to England by the East India Company, like china jars and rich brocades.

Chocolate pot, circa 1704, 5 Maker’s mark of William Fawdery

It was in fact a chocolate mill that the sylphs were to be tortured in, not a pot, but this is a fine example of a chocolate pot by a famous silversmith.

Chocolate pot and stirrer
Silver and wood, Origin: London, date: 1738-1739, 25 cm height; 1263 g gross weight
Marks/Maker: London, sterling standard, 1738-9, maker’s mark of Paul Crespin
This form of pot is exceptional, if not unique, in silver. It is, however, one commonly used for Continental copper coffee pots and there seems to be a deliberate intention to imitate this utilitarian form.
Credit: WA1946.111 Paul Crespin, Chocolate pot and stirrer, Silver and wood, 1738-1739 
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Chocolate ingredients and preparation

‘Chocolate was usually sold ground and pressed into cakes wrapped in paper. In England, the cakes were small, two or four ounces, because of the high cost of the product. In America where it was cheaper, the one-pound size was more common. By the start of the eighteenth century, the British were drinking chocolate with water and brandy, with milk, and with port or sherry. All three versions used sugar and spices and were frothed with a chocolate mill, or molinilloin Spanish, rubbed briskly between the palms. “You may likewise put in a slice of white bread or bisquet and eat that with the choc,” said the recipe. Other embellishments included lemon peel, eggs, musk, and ambergris.’


Read more

The craze for Chinese porcelain; What Belinda wore; brocade; shoes and pattens; The Silk Weavers of Spitalfields; Petticoats; Steps to a beautiful complexion; Chocolate

The craze for Chinese porcelain

his grew up at the beginning of the 18th century. In The Spectator number 37 of April 1711, Addison describes a visit to a lady (Leonora) whose library does not only contain books. In fact, her library is almost as much of a jumble as Belinda’s dressing table, and part of the admixture is china.

‘Some Months ago, my Friend Sir Roger, being in the Country, enclosed a Letter to me, directed to a certain Lady whom I shall here call by the Name of Leonora, and as it contained Matters of Consequence, desired me to deliver it to her with my own Hand. Accordingly I waited upon her Ladyship pretty early in the Morning, and was desired by her Woman to walk into her Lady’s Library, till such time as she was in a Readiness to receive me. The very Sound of a Lady’s Library gave me a great Curiosity to see it; and as it was some time before the Lady came to me, I had an Opportunity of turning over a great many of her Books, which were ranged together in a very beautiful Order. At the End of the Folios (which were finely bound and gilt) were great Jars of China placed one above another in a very noble Piece of Architecture. The Quartos were separated from the Octavos by a Pile of smaller Vessels, which rose in a very delightful Pyramid. The Octavos were bounded by Tea Dishes of all Shapes Colours and Sizes, which were so disposed on a wooden Frame, that they looked like one continued Pillar indented with the finest Strokes of Sculpture, and stained with the greatest Variety of Dyes. That Part of the Library which was designed for the Reception of Plays and Pamphlets, and other loose Papers, was enclosed in a kind of Square, consisting of one of the prettiest Grotesque Works that ever I saw, and made up of Scaramouches, Lions, Monkies, Mandarines, Trees, Shells, and a thousand other odd Figures in China Ware. In the midst of the Room was a little Japan Table, with a Quire of gilt Paper upon it, and on the Paper a Silver Snuff-box made in the Shape of a little Book. I found there were several other Counterfeit Books upon the upper Shelves, which were carved in Wood, and served only to fill up the Number, like Fagots in the muster of a Regiment. I was wonderfully pleased with such a mixt kind of Furniture, as seemed very suitable both to the Lady and the Scholar, and did not know at first whether I should fancy my self in a Grotto, or in a Library.’

What Belinda wore; the style of dress and examples of silk brocade of the period.
Or stain her honour or her new brocade’ (Canto II, line 107)

Mantuas: information from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

‘The late 1670s saw a new development in the style of women’s dress that would have a far-reaching effect throughout the following century. The stiff constricting boned bodice-and-skirt style previously worn by women was now replaced with the mantua, a more loosely draped style of gown. The mantua was thought to display silk designs to their best advantage, as they were draped rather than cut; as such, it is believed the garment was named after Mantua in Italy, where expensive silks were produced. However, it has also been suggested that the name derives from manteau, the French term for a coat.

The mantua was a coatlike construction, with sleeves cut in one piece with the back and front. It was pleated at the shoulders and fell to the waist, where it was held in place by a sash. From there it was folded back into a bustle shape and worn over a matching petticoat. As the style evolved, the pleats at the front were reduced in number and the bodice was opened, with the torso now covered by a stiffened piece of fabric in the form of an inverted triangle, tapering into a narrow waist. This piece of fabric was known as a stomacher. Early examples are often intricately embroidered. While these gowns appear quite substantial, they were actually precariously fastened with pins to hold the stomacher in place.

‘Originally an informal style, and banned for its informality from the French court by Louis XIV, the mantua gradually became acceptable as formal dress and remained a popular choice for court dress in England until the mid-century. Its popularity was such that dressmakers were referred to as mantua-makers.’

In his poem ‘Trivia’, John Gay tells us that a woman of fashion was hampered in her movement by the skirts of her dress, particularly the ‘long trailing Manteau (which) sweeps the Ground.’ The manteau or mantua was a formal gown with a long skirt held up at the back by pins, buttons or loops. In ‘The Fan’, Gay wonders ‘How to adjust the Manteau’s sweeping Train.’

from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Mantua, circa 1708

There is more information on Women’s Dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Silk mantua gown of 1710-20 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert Museum describes the silk mantua gown of 1710-20 shown above.

‘By the early 18th century, the mantua was worn by women as formal day wear. The pale blue silk of this hand-sewn example is brocaded in silver in a large-scale pattern of fantastic fruits and leaves, a typical design for the 1720s. The train of the gown is folded up and the sides held back with a loop and button. This complicated draping required a reversal of the silk when sewn together, so that only the right side of the fabric would show when properly arranged.’

‘The bodice had loose elbow-length sleeves finished with wide turned-back cuffs. A hoop petticoat and several under-petticoats wore worn beneath the outer petticoat.

To give the figure the required shape a corset was worn under the bodice. It was made of linen and stiffened with whale bones inserted between parallel lines of stitching. They fastened with lacing down the back which could be laced tightly to give an upright posture to the torso and to emphasise the waist. A ‘busk’ or strip of bone, wood or metal was sometimes incorporated into the front of the stays.’
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A good source of images and information on the mantua style of dress that Belinda would have worn can be found on

Dress fabric of brocaded silk satin, woven at Spitalfields, London, circa.1709
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Victoria and Albert Museum provides the following information: ‘On a background of cream silk twill and spotted in broad bands of magenta, alternating with mixed pink and white spots, are shapes of oriental fans and vases woven in green satin. There is further decoration, mostly of delicate sprays of flowers rising from rocks. … The fairly complicated woven structure of this silk allows its limited range of colours to achieve maximum effect. Against the bold green satin of the ground the different shades of pink and cream vary in the details they pick out, highlighting the sprays of blossom and painted porcelain…. This patterned silk could have been chosen by a male or a female customer, since in this period its pattern would have been considered suitable for both sexes. We know that in this case it came from a woman’s gown, as it shows traces of where it had been pleated into the waistband of a petticoat. …The designer of this silk was inspired by goods from the Indies. The porcelain vases and other motifs were thought to have an exotic feel. Raw silk was one of the most important Chinese commodities imported by the East India Company in the late 17th century. Reference: Victoria and Albert Museum number T.173-1965

Brocaded silk damask

Length of brocaded silk damask, circa 1708, possibly made in Spitalfields, London.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Reference number 711-1864

The Victoria and Albert Museum tells us: ‘This length of woven silk (see image above) was intended for clothing. It might have been chosen for a woman’s gown, a man’s waistcoat or a nightgown, worn informally at home. The complexity of its woven structure would have made it expensive, while its bold pattern and distinctive colouring date it to a fairly brief period when such a combination was highly fashionable.

‘This silk shows what a bold visual effect a brocaded damask could achieve. The designer has set brightly-coloured plant forms against a background of more formal architectural-type motifs whose subtle lines become apparent with the reflection of light. This was a typical juxtaposition of effects in fashionable silks of the early 1700s, which showed a particular exoticism which has been given the name ‘bizarre’. This silk shows an English interpretation of the style. Influences included the highly patterned textiles and other decorative objects imported into Europe by the East India companies.

‘This silk was acquired by the Museum in 1864 as Italian. Its design considered at that time too exotic to be English. But we now know from the signed and dated designs of the master weaver throughout the first half of the eighteenth century dress silks designed and woven in Spitalfields were of a quality to rival imported fabrics from France, but with a uniquely English character to their design. The exotic pattern of this example is typical of the taste for the bizarre in textile design in Europe at the beginning of the eighteenth century, though the English interpretation of the bizarre style was less extreme than the French or Italian. This silk is close in style to the early work of the silk designer and master weaver, James Leman (about 1688-1745). His designs set bold, brightly-coloured plant forms, which were often stylised and out of scale, against a background of more formal, architectural-type motifs woven as a subtle damask.’

Left, Mantua, (1710).
Image supplied by Shropshire Council, Shropshire Museums.

Shrewsbury Museums Service (SHYMS)

The Shrewsbury Museums Service describes this mantua as follows:
Early eighteenth century mantua in brocaded silk satin with a ‘bizarre’ design, dated to 1708-9. A one-pieceoped robe dress with pleats forming revers in mantua style with the skirt cut open with trained skirt designed to be pulled back to reveal the petticoat in front. The fabric is of light green silk, brocaded with four other colours. The bodice has a low neckline with full elbow length sleeves pleated into cuffs. This early eighteenth century example is a rare survival from Aqualate Hall, near Newport. The brocaded silk satin was probably made in Spitalfields.

In 1970, the clothing historian, Janet Arnold, wrote an article about the mantua at the Shropshire Museums. She specialised in the patterns for making clothes, and she focuses here on the way the dress was cut so as to show the costly brocade to best advantage. Here is a short excerpt from her article, ‘A Mantua c 1708-9 Clive House Museum, College Hill, Shrewsbury’. ‘Randle Holme mentions mantuas in The Academy of Armory printed in 1688. ‘There is a kind of loose Garment without, and Stiffe Bodies under them and was a great fashion for women about the year 1676. Some called them Mantuas.’ It was probably a relief to wear one of these gowns, … after the rigidly boned bodices of the 1670s. In the early years the mantua had a negligee appearance, being cut in a simple T-shape, the sleeve in one with the front and back. The next development was to drape the fabric into pleats at the front at back bodice and over the shoulder. Later the body of the mantua was made up over a linen foundation and could be cut separately from the skirt at the front and side panels but the centre back bodice and skirt were still cut in one piece. This method of construction for the bodice continued until the 1770s, the skirt slowly changing in shape and arrangement of pleating to fit over each new style of hooped petticoat.

‘At the end of the seventeenth century the loosely pleated style displayed the new silks with their large patterns to advantage. Matching the large repeats called for considerable ingenuity of the part of the dressmaker and the less cutting there was, the easier her task. When the mantua was on display for six months … it was possible to see how the simple arrangement of the pleats and train drew attention to the pattern of the material.’

The link to the Shropshire Museums is

Image supplied by Shropshire Council, Shropshire Museums.”
Mantua. 18th century (1710). Detail of the brocaded silk satin used in the mantua pictured two pages back. The brocaded silk satin has a ‘bizarre’ design, and was probably woven in Spitalfields. Shrewsbury Museums Service (SHYMS):


‘The Rape of the Lock’ does not mention shoes, but there are some beautiful examples extant. The silk shoes pictured below, dated between 1700 and 1730, are in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge gives the following description of these beautiful shoes. The link

English, c.1700–30.
Yellow silk taffeta, bound with ribbon; floss silk embroidery in French knots, tied with ribbon. Design of scrolling stems with leaves and flowers, carnation, rose, etc., so arranged that there is a carnation on each toe and a rose on each heel with a five petalled blue flower above it.
The left shoe has a rose, the right a carnation at each side of the seam.


length, whole, 7, in
height, back, 5.25, in
height, heel, 3, in

Description below in Treasured Possessions, pages 150-1
The exaggerated pointed toes and thick cuving three-inch heels were designed with fashion in mind, rather than function. Their stylish owner … would proably have only worn them indoors, covering them with pattens if she stepped outside.
Embroidered carnations, roses and trailing foliage cover the yellow ground in vibrant bursts of pink, green, yellow and blue. Only semi-naturalistic, the bright tones and fantastic forms are clearly influenced by imported Indian and Chinese textiles. As was common until the end of the eighteenth century, these shoes were made on ‘strights’, so there is no difference in shape between the left and right sides. (Information from Sophie Pitman, Treasured Possessions Avery, Victoria. Calaresu, Melissa. Laven, Mary. 2015. Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, p 150,London: Philip Wilson Publishers

The London guild of shoemakers was called the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers. ‘Fashionable shoes – both for men and women – had high heels. Heels were not used to display one’s legs but signfied social status. High heels allowed the richest in society to tower over the poorer.’ (Information from Professor Giorgio Riello, Treasured Possessions, p 150)

‘Whilst gentlemen normally wore leather shoes, leadies’ shoes were made of expensive fabrics such as fine woollens, silks and velvets. Ladies also worse patens, hat is to say platforms or clogs that encased the shoe. These could be made to match the fabrics used for the shoe’s upper, and were removed once a lady entered into a private space. Pattens were necessary to navigate the mudd world of early modern Europe. Henri Misson, in his memoirs and Observations (1698), reported how “the streets of London are so dirty that the women are forc’d to raise themselves upon Pattens … to keep themselves out of the dirt and wet.”‘ (Information from Professor Giorgio Riello, Treasured Possessions, p 150)
Avery, Victoria. Calaresu, Melissa. Laven, Mary. 2015. Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. London: Philip Wilson Publishers, p. 150-1, Fig. 164, and p. 269, Cat. 152

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Pair of shoes and Pattens Fitzwilliam Museum
A patten was an overshoe with a wooden sole raised on an iron ring to protect the shoes from the dirt in ‘foul streets.’

There is another lovely shoe of the period to be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is leather, covered with silk satin and decorated with silver-gilt braid and embroidery. Britain, 1700-10.

The link is:

The silk weavers of Spitalfields

from British History Online

Pages 132-137

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

‘The origin of this important industry as located in Spitalfields dates from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685, when the French Protestants, driven by persecution from their own country, took refuge in England in large numbers. Long before this, however, silk-weavers from abroad had settled in England, and during the reign of Henry VIII a considerable number of silkworkers, principally from Rouen, made their homes in this country. During the reign of Elizabeth, French and Flemish refugees had crowded into England, but do not appear to have settled in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green, which were at that time mere country hamlets.

‘A great body of the refugees of 1685 occupied a large district which is usually called Spitalfields, but which includes also large portions of Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, and Mile End New Town. The great majority brought with them little beyond the knowledge of their occupations, and being in great necessity (need), subscriptions for their immediate relief were procured to a large amount by means of the King’s Briefs. On 16 April 1687 an Order in Council prescribed a fresh general collection in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The amount thus obtained was about £200,000, which formed a fund known as the Royal Bounty. A lay French committee composed of the chiefs of the immigration was entrusted with the annual distribution of a sum of £16,000 amongst the poor refugees and their descendants. A second committee composed of ecclesiastics under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, and the Lord Chancellor, was formed for dividing amongst the distressed pastors and their churches an annual sum of £1,718 drawn from the public treasury.

‘From the first report of the French committee, dated December 1687 and published in the following year, it appears that 13,050 French refugees were settled in London, the greater part of whom were probably located in Spitalfields. The editor of Stow’s Survey of London pays a high tribute to the character and industry of the refugees. Speaking of Spitalfields he writes: ‘Here they have found quiet and security, and settled themselves in their several trades and occupations; weavers especially. Whereby God’s blessing surely is not only brought upon the parish by receiving poor strangers, but also a great advantage hath accrued to the whole nation by the rich manufactures of weaving silks and stuffs and camlets, which art they brought along with them. And this benefit also to the neighbourhood, that these strangers may serve for patterns of thrift, honesty, industry, and sobriety as well.’

‘The principal source of information as to the Spitalfields weavers themselves is contained in the registers of the various Huguenot churches to which they belonged. A cluster of eleven of these congregations existed (fn. 3) from the latter part of the 17th century to the beginning of the 19th, in Spitalfields, Shoreditch, Petticoat Lane, and Wapping.

‘The registers of one of these churches, that known as ‘La Patente,’ which after various migrations settled in Brown’s Lane near Spitalfields Market, have been printed by the Huguenot Society. (fn. 4) They extend from 1689 to 1786, when the congregation was merged in the London Walloon Church, and show that the French population of the district consisted very largely of silk weavers and their allied trades. A great preponderance of weavers over those engaged in other trades is found in the settlements of foreign refugees; and the editor, Mr. William Minet, (fn. 5) suggests in explanation that the new religion may have spread specially among the men of this trade.

‘The strangers were skilled weavers from Lyons and Tours, who set up their looms in Spitalfields and there manufactured in large quantities lustrings, velvets, brocades, satins, very strong silks known as paduasoys, watered silks, black and coloured mantuas, ducapes, watered tabies, and stuffs of mingled silk and cotton-all of the highest excellence, which previously could only be procured from the famous looms of France. The refugees soon taught the people of Spitalfields to produce these and other goods of the finest quality for themselves, and their pupils soon equalled and even excelled their teachers. Weiss says that the figured silks which proceeded from the London manufactories were due almost exclusively to the skill and industry of three refugees, Lauson, Mariscot, and Monceaux.

The artist who supplied the designs was another refugee named Beaudoin. A workman named Mongeorge brought them the secret recently discovered at Lyons, of giving lustre to silk taffeta: this enabled Spitalfields to obtain a large share of the trade for which Lyons had long been famous. Up to that time large quantities of black lustrings specially made for English use, and known as English taffetas, had been annually imported from France. The manufacture of lustrings and a la mode silks, then articles in general use, was rapidly brought by the Spitalfield weavers to a state of great excellence, and the persons engaged in this industry were, in 1692, incorporated by charter under the name of the Royal Lustring Company. The company then procured the passing of an Act prohibiting the importation of foreign lustrings and alamodes, alleging as a ground for passing such a restriction in their favour that the manufacture of these articles in England had now reached a greater degree of perfection than was obtained by foreigners.

‘An anonymous writer in 1695, who declaims against the tricks of stock-jobbers and the great number of joint-stock trading companies, makes exception in favour of (among other undertakings) the Royal Lustring Company, which he says has ‘throve, and will so long as they keep the stock-jobbers from breaking in upon them.’ In spite of its prohibition the importation of French goods still continued, and for its greater protection the company received a confirmation of their charter by Act of Parliament in 1698, (fn. 9) and an important extension of their powers and privileges. The sole right ‘of making, dressing and lustrating of plain and black alamodes, renforcez, and lustrings’ in England and Wales was granted to them for fourteen years. Before the expiration of its charter, however, a change in the public taste had set in, fabrics of a different texture had become fashionable, and the company lost all its money and was finally broken up.

‘The weavers in 1713 presented a petition to Parliament against the commercial treaty with France, in which they stated ‘that by the encouragement of the Crown and of divers Acts of Parliament, the silk manufacture is come to be above twenty times as great as it was in the year 1664, and that all sorts of as good black and coloured silks, gold and silver stuffs and ribands, are now made here as in France. The black silk for hoods and scarfs, not made here above twenty-five years ago, hath amounted annually to above £300,000 for several years past, which before were imported from France. Which increase of the silk manufacture hath caused an increase of our exportation of woollen goods to Turkey, Italy &c.’

‘The silk industry received a great impetus from the exertions of Sir Thomas Lombe, who introduced from Italy the process of organzining (or preparing for the weaver) raw silk by machinery, for which he was granted a patent in 1718. When his patent ran out in 1732 he applied for a renewal on the grounds that it was owing to his ingenuity that silk was now 5s. a pound cheaper in England. Such outcry, however, was raised by the cotton manufacturers and others, who wished to use his apparatus, that Parliament refused the renewal, but voted him £14,000 as compensation.

‘In 1718 also a certain John Apletree conceived the notion of rendering England independent of importing Italian raw silk by a system of silkworm farming upon an extensive scale. A patent was granted him, and he issued a prospectus inviting the public to subscribe to the amount of a million pounds. A plantation of silkworms was actually made in Chelsea walled park. The apparatus included an evaporating stove and ‘a certain engine called the Egg Cheste.’ But the English climate not being suitable for silkworm farming, the experiment soon proved a complete failure.

‘The Spitalfields industry now advanced with great rapidity; but foreign competition, in spite of prohibitory legislation, continued to increase, and was much encouraged by the preference shown to French materials and fashions over those of native design. On the other hand, the tide of fashion in France set with at least equal strength in favour of English goods.

‘The growing fashion for wearing Indian calicoes and printed linen was the cause of serious disturbances in 1719. On 13 June a mob of about 4,000 Spitalfields weavers paraded the streets of the City attacking all females whom they could find wearing Indian calicoes or linens, and sousing them with ink, aqua fortis, and other fluids. The Lord Mayor obtained the assistance of the Trained Bands to suppress the rioters, two of whom were secured by the Horse Grenadiers and lodged in the Marshalsea Prison. As soon as the Guards left, the mob re-assembled, the weavers tearing all the calico gowns they could meet with. The troops were hurried back from Whitehall, and new arrests were made. The weavers then attempted to rescue their comrades, and were not deterred by volleys of blank cartridge fired by the soldiers; one of the troops then fired ball, wounding three persons. The next day four of the mob were committed to Newgate for rioting, and on Sunday night two more were sent there for felony in tearing the gown off the back of one Mrs. Beckett.’


Spitalfields had been relatively rural until the Great Fire of London. By 1666, traders had begun operating beyond the city gates – on the site where today’s market stands. The landmark Truman’s Brewery opened in 1669 and in 1682 King Charles II granted John Balch a Royal Charter giving him the right to hold a market on Thursdays and Saturdays in or near Spital Square.
The success of the market encouraged people to settle in the area and following the edict of Nantes in 1685, Huguenots fleeing France brought their silk weaving skills to Spitalfields. Their grand houses can still be seen around what is now the conservation area of Fournier Street. Today these houses are home to many artists including Gilbert and George.


Joseph Addison had a good deal to say on the subject of women’s petticoats. Here is his article in The Tatler Number 116, January 1709

—Pars minima est ipsa puella sui. Ovid.

THE court being prepared for proceeding on the cause of the Petticoat, I gave orders to bring in a crimi ∣ nal who was taken up as she went out of the puppet-show about three nights ago, and was now standing in the street with a great concourse of people about her. Word was brought me, that she had endeavoured twice or thrice to come in, but could not do it by reason of her petti ∣ coat, which was too large for the entrance of my house, though I had ordered both the folding-doors to be thrown open for its reception. Upon this, I desired the jury of matrons, who stood at my right hand, to inform themselves of her condition, and know whether there were any private reasons why she might not make her appearance separate from her petticoat. This was ma ∣ naged with great discretion, and had such an effect, that upon the return of the verdict from the bench of ma ∣ trons, I issued out an order forthwith, that the criminal should be stripped of her incumbrances, till she became little enough to enter my house. I had before given dire ∣ ctions for an engine of several legs, that could contract or open itself like the top of an umbrello, in order to place the petticoat upon it, by which means I might take a leisurely survey of it, as it should appear in its proper dimensions. This was all done accordingly; and forth ∣ with, upon the closing of the engine, the petticoat was brought into court. I then directed the machine to be set upon the table, and dilated in such a manner as to show the garment in its utmost circumference; but my great hall was too narrow for the experiment; for before it was half unfolded, it described so immoderate a circle, that the lower part of it brushed upon my face as I sat in my chair of judicature. I then enquired for the person that belonged to the petticoat; and to my great surprize, was directed to a very beautiful young damsel, with so pretty a face and shape, that I bid her come out of the croud, and seated her upon a little crock at my left hand.

“My pretty maid, said I, do you own yourself to have been the inhabitant of the garment before us?”

The girl I found had good sense, and told me with a smile, that notwithstanding it was her own petticoat, she should be very glad to see an example made of it; and that she wore it for no other reason, but that she had a mind to look as big and burly as other persons of her quality; that she had kept out of it as long as she could, and till she began to appear little in the eyes of all her acquaintance; that if she laid it aside, people would think she was not made like other women. I always give great allowances to the fair sex upon account of the fashion, and therefore was not displeased with the defence of the pretty criminal. I then ordered the vest which stood before us to be drawn up by a pully to the top of my great hall, and af ∣ terwards to be spread open by the engine it was placed upon, in such a manner, that it formed a very splendid and ample canopy over our heads, and covered the whole court of judicature with a kind of silken rotunda, in its form not unlike the cupola of St. Paul’s. I entered up ∣ on the whole cause with great satisfaction as I sate under the shadow of it.

The council for the petticoat was now called in, and ordered to produce what they had to say against the popular cry which was raised against it. They answered the objections with great strength and solidity of argument, and expatiated in very florid harangues, which they did not fail to set off and furbelow, if I may be allowed the metaphor, with many periodical sentences and turns of oratory. The chief arguments for their client were taken, first, from the great benefit that might arise to our woollen manufactury from this invention, which was cal ∣ culated as follows: the common petticoat has not above four yards in the circumference; whereas this over our heads had more in the semi-diameter; so that by al ∣ lowing it twenty-four yards in the circumference, the five millions of woollen petticoats, which according to Sir William Petty (supposing what ought to be supposed in a well-governed state, that all petticoats are made of that stuff,) would amount to thirty millions of those of the ancient mode. A prodigious improvement of the woollen trade! and what could not fail to sink the power of France in a few years.

To introduce the second argument, they begged leave to read a petition of the rope-makers, wherein it was represented, that the demand for cords, and the price of them, were much risen since this fashion came up. At this, all the company who were present lifted up their eyes into the vault; and I must confess we did discover many traces of cordage which were interwoven in the stiffening of the drapery.

A third argument was founded upon a petition of the Greenland trade, which likewise represented the great consumption of the whale-bone which would be occasioned by the present fashion, and the benefit which would thereby accrue to that branch of the British trade.

To conclude, they gently touched upon the weight and unweildiness of the garment, which they insinuated might be of great use to preserve the honour of families.

These arguments would have wrought very much upon me, (as I then told the company in a long and elaborate discourse) had I not considered the great and additional expence which such fashions would bring upon fathers and husbands; and therefore by no means to be thought of till some years after a peace. I further urged, that it would be a prejudice to the ladies themselves, who could never expect to have any money in the pocket, if they laid out so much on the petticoat. To this I added the great temptation it might give to virgins, of acting in security like married women, and by that means give a check to matrimony, an institution always encouraged by wise societies.

At the same time, in answer to the several petitions produced on that side, I shewed one subscribed by the women of several persons of quality, humbly setting forth, that since the introduction of this mode, their respective ladies had (instead of bestowing on them their cast-gowns) cut them in shreds, and mixed them with the cordage and backram, to complete the stiffening of their underpetticoats. For which, and sundry other, reasons, I pronounced the petticoat a forfeiture. But to shew that I did not make that judgment for the sake of filthy lucre, I ordered it to be solded up, and sent it as a present to a widowgentlewoman, who has five daughters, desiring she would make each of them a petticoat out of it, and send me back the remainder, which I design to cut into stomachers, caps, facings of my wastcoat-sleeves, and other garnitures suitable to my age and quality.

I would not be understood that, while I discard this monstrous invention, I am an enemy to the proper ornaments of the fair sex. On the contrary, as the hand of nature has poured on them such a profusion of charms and graces, and sent them into the world more amiable and finished than the rest of her works; so I would have them bestow upon themselves all the additional beauties that art can supply them with, provided it does not interfere with, disguise, or pervert, those of nature.

I consider woman as a beautiful romantic animal, that may be adorned with furs and feathers, pearls and diamonds, ores and silks. The lynx shall cast its skin at her feet to make her a tippet; the peacock, parrat, and swan, shall pay contributions to her muff; the sea shall be searched for shells, and the rocks for gems; and every part of nature furnish out its share towards the embellishment of a creature that is the most consummate work of it. All this I shall indulge them in; but as for the petticoat I have been speaking of, I neither can nor will allow it.

Addison continued to have fun at the expense of women’s petticoats in The Spectator, No 127, July 1711.


‘You have diverted the Town almost a whole Month at the Expence of the Country, it is now high time that you should give the Country their Revenge. Since your withdrawing from this Place, the Fair Sex are run into great Extravagancies. Their Petticoats, which began to heave and swell before you left us, are now blown up into a most enormous Concave, and rise every Day more and more: In short, Sir, since our Women know themselves to be out of the Eye of the SPECTATOR, they will be kept within no Compass. You praised them a little too soon, for the Modesty of their Head-Dresses; for as the Humour of a sick Person is often driven out of one Limb into another, their Superfluity of Ornaments, instead of being entirely Banished, seems only fallen from their Heads upon their lower Parts. What they have lost in Height they make up in Breadth, and contrary to all Rules of Architecture widen the Foundations at the same time that they shorten the Superstructure. Were they, like Spanish Jennets, to impregnate by the Wind, they could not have thought on a more proper Invention. But as we do not yet hear any particular Use in this Petticoat, or that it contains any thing more than what was supposed to be in those of Scantier Make, we are wonderfully at a loss about it.

The Women give out, in Defence of these wide Bottoms, that they are Airy, and very proper for the Season; but this I look upon to be only a Pretence, and a piece of Art, for it is well known we have not had a more moderate Summer these many Years, so that it is certain the Heat they complain of cannot be in the Weather: Besides, I would fain ask these tender constitutioned Ladies, why they should require more Cooling than their Mothers before them.

I find several Speculative Persons are of Opinion that our Sex has of late Years been very sawcy, and that the Hoop Petticoat is made use of to keep us at a Distance. It is most certain that a Woman’s Honour cannot be better entrenched than after this manner, in Circle within Circle, amidst such a Variety of Out-works and Lines of Circumvallation. A Female who is thus invested in Whale-Bone is sufficiently secured against the Approaches of an ill-bred Fellow, who might as well think of Sir George Etherege ‘s way of making Love in a Tub, [1] as in the midst of so many Hoops.

Among these various Conjectures, there are Men of Superstitious tempers, who look upon the Hoop Petticoat as a kind of Prodigy. Some will have it that it portends the Downfal of the French King, and observe that the Farthingale appeared in England a little before the Ruin of the Spanish Monarchy. Others are of Opinion that it foretels Battle and Bloodshed, and believe it of the same Prognostication as the Tail of a Blazing Star. For my part, I am apt to think it is a Sign that Multitudes are coming into the World rather than going out of it.

The first time I saw a Lady dressed in one of these Petticoats, I could not forbear blaming her in my own Thoughts for walking abroad when she was so near her Time , but soon recovered myself out of my Error, when I found all the Modish Part of the Sex as far gone as her self. It is generally thought some crafty Women have thus betrayed their Companions into Hoops, that they might make them accessory to their own Concealments, and by that means escape the Censure of the World; as wary Generals have sometimes dressed two or three Dozen of their Friends in their own Habit, that they might not draw upon themselves any particular Attacks of the Enemy. The strutting Petticoat smooths all Distinctions, levels the Mother with the Daughter, and sets Maids and Matrons, Wives and Widows, upon the same Bottom. In the mean while I cannot but be troubled to see so many well-shaped innocent Virgins bloated up, and waddling up and down like big-bellied Women.

Should this Fashion get among the ordinary People our publick Ways would be so crowded that we should want Street-room. Several Congregations of the best Fashion find themselves already very much streightened, and if the Mode encrease I wish it may not drive many ordinary Women into Meetings and Conventicles. Should our Sex at the same time take it into their Heads to wear Trunk Breeches (as who knows what their Indignation at this Female Treatment may drive them to) a Man and his Wife would fill a whole Pew.

You know, Sir, it is recorded of Alexander the Great, [2] that in his Indian Expedition he buried several Suits of Armour, which by his Direction were made much too big for any of his Soldiers, in order to give Posterity an extraordinary Idea of him, and make them believe he had commanded an Army of Giants. I am persuaded that if one of the present Petticoats happen to be hung up in any Repository of Curiosities, it will lead into the same Error the Generations that lie some Removes from us: unless we can believe our Posterity will think so disrespectfully of their Great Grand-Mothers, that they made themselves Monstrous to appear Amiable.

When I survey this new-fashioned Rotonda in all its Parts, I cannot but think of the old Philosopher, who after having entered into an Egyptian Temple, and looked about for the Idol of the Place, at length discovered a little Black Monkey Enshrined in the midst of it, upon which he could not forbear crying out, (to the great Scandal of the Worshippers) What a magnificent Palace is here for such a Ridiculous Inhabitant!

Though you have taken a Resolution, in one of your Papers, to avoid descending to Particularities of Dress, I believe you will not think it below you, on so extraordinary an Occasion, to Unhoop the Fair Sex, and cure this fashionable Tympany that is got among them. I am apt to think the Petticoat will shrink of its own accord at your first coming to Town; at least a Touch of your Pen will make it contract it self, like the sensitive Plant, and by that means oblige several who are either terrified or astonished at this portentous Novelty, and among the rest,

Your humble Servant, &c.



Smallpox was a particularly virulent disease that left all survivors with pock-marks on their skin — deep pits created by pustules drying out and scarring the epidermis. This disease is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why almost everyone who wanted to be fashionable wore a lot of makeup in order to hide the scars.

Step One to A Beautiful Complexion

The picture on the left shows a “patch-box”, in which pieces of silk, taffeta, or even leather were applied to the face with an adhesive in order to hide the pock-marks. These were considered to be quite fashionable at the time, and were often dyed brilliant colors. (Gunn, 113.)

Other people who did not want to wear patches on their faces to hide skin disfigurement would use a thick coat of face powder to make their complexions look white and smooth. Unfortunately, the base element in face powder that made people’s faces look so pale was not the talc that we use today, but finely flaked lead ! For the full, tantalizing recipe for Lead Face Powder, click here. (WARNING: Do not recreate this at home! Lead is easily absorbed by the body and has the side effects of severe head pain, nausea, dizziness, bowel problems, blindness, and, if large enough amounts have been ingested, paralyzation or even death.) (Gunn, 110.)

Many a young lady’s death in the 1700’s can be attributed not only to poor sanitation in English towns and cities, but also to their avid use of harmful cosmetics.

Applying Finishing Touches to One’s Face

Rouge was another favorite cosmetic. Its name is derived from the French word for “red.” Like the popular white face powder, rouge was created from questionable ingredients, including carmine (a lead-based pigment.) People used rouge with wet bits of wool to daub fashionable red spots on their cheeks — the general idea was that it made an aesthetically pleasing contrast to one’s pale, powdered face. (Gunn, 115.) Lead Face Powder

several thin plates of lead
a big pot of vinegar
a bed of horse manure
perfume & tinting agent

Steep the lead in the pot of vinegar, and rest it in a bed of manure for at least three weeks. When the lead finally softens to the point where it can pounded into a flaky white powder (chemical reaction between vinegar and lead causes lead to turn white), grind to a fine powder. Mix with water, and let dry in the sun. After the powder is dry, mix with the appropriate amount of perfume and tinting dye. Gunn, Fenja The Artificial Face London: Trinity Press, 1973
A history of the development and abuse of cosmetics, as well as studies of individual cultures in which beauty aids and cosmetics played a significant role, either good or bad. projects/leisure/sanitation.html

Alum styptics ‘Gascoynes powder, the royal styptich water, which stops blood in an instant, also good for watery eyes, rheumatick eyes, inflamations in your eyes, pin, or web, and strengthens them to admiration; with many other things worthy of note. By John Durant, student in physick… London : printed for Sam. Clark, in George-yard, in Lombard-street, 1697.


Hot Chocolate, 18th-19th Century Style posted on August 9th, 2008 by Vic Sanborn from

Vic Sanborn writes: ‘When sixteenth-century explorers brought cocoa beans from Mexico to Seville in 1585, little did they realize how much their exotic taste would appeal to European palates. Or perhaps they did. At that time hot chocolate was flavored with a mix of peppers and spices.

‘The first recipe for a chocolate drink was published in Spain in 1644 by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma in his book, A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate. The spices included hot chillis, and the recipe goes as follows:

100 cacao beans
2 chiles (black pepper may be substituted)
A handful of anise
“Ear flower” *
1 vanilla pod
2 ounces cinnamon
12 almonds or hazelnuts
pound sugar
Achiote (annatto seeds) to taste –
All of these ingredients were boiled together and then frothed with a molinillo, the traditional Aztec carved wooden tool. The achiote was used to redden the color of the drink. From Chiles and Chocolate

*Also known as “xochinacaztli” (Nahuatl) or “orejuela” (Spanish).

“Chiles and Chocolate” goes on to provide another chocolate recipe published in France 50 years later. This one has significantly reduced the amount of chili peppers. The recipe was published in 1692 by M. St. Disdier of France, who was in the chocolate business:

2 pounds prepared cacao
1 pound fine sugar
1/3 ounce cinnamon
1/24 ounce powdered cloves
1/24 ounce Indian pepper (chile)
1 1/4 ounce vanilla
A paste was made of these dried ingredients on a heated stone and then it was boiled to make hot chocolate.

‘The primary difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate today is that hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder, which lacks the fat of cocoa butter. Hot chocolate is made from melted chocolate bars mixed with cream.

‘According to Khodorowsky and Robert: “The vogue for drinking chocolate, already established in Spain, reached the British Isles thanks to a Frenchman, who in 1657 opened the first chocolate factory in London. Unlike in France, where it was a pleasure strictly limited to the aristocracy, this ‘excellent West Indian drink’ was made available to the middle classes from the outset. Soon, alongside the coffee houses which made their appearance from 1652, there opened the first chocolate houses. London was also the setting, in 1674, for a historic invention: solid chocolate, presented in the form of ‘Spanish rolls’ or pastilles, and sold by the Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll shop.” – The Gates of Vienna: The History of Cacao and Chocolate

‘After 1700 chillis disappeared as a major ingredient in chocolate drinks, although they were still used in traditional Mexican mole sauces. In Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, Sidney Mintz offers a plausible explanation for the replacement of sugar for chillis:

Raimundo Madrazo, Hot Chocolate, mid-18th Century

‘The seemingly unquenchable desire for sugar in the modern world is not simply the outcome of the tongue’s biologically based affinity for sweetness, but rather the historical result of a conjuncture of factors. As Mintz traces sugar’s transformation from a medicinal additive to a luxury good among the upper classes, he argues that sugar “embodied the social position of the wealthy and powerful.” He points to “sugar’s usefulness as a mark of rank—to validate one’s social position. To elevate others, or to define them as inferior.” Sugar use traveled down to other classes in large part because their members accepted the meanings of their social superiors: “those who controlled the society held a commanding position not only in regard to the availability of sugar, but also in regard to at least some of the meanings that sugar products acquired … the simultaneous control of both the foods themselves and the meanings they are made to connote can be a means of a pacific domination.” – Tasting Empire: Chocolate – History cooperative

‘During the 18th century, techniques were invented to improve the grinding of cocoa beans and by the end of that century chocolate was prepared with milk and sugar. It wasn’t until the 19th century that chocolate was molded into shapes and eaten as solid bars.

‘Even with the new grinding mills, the process of making chocolate remained laborious. Jim Gay, who makes chocolate in Colonial Williamsburg, explained in an article for American Heritage Chocolate:

‘The chocolate production process [he] follows involves “roasting cocoa beans, shelling them, crushing them in a large mixing bowl and transferring them to a heated grinding stone. Using an iron rolling pin, the cocoa beans are ground into a liquid and sugar and spices are added.”  Gay explained that 18th-century chocolate “isn’t something you’re used to.” Its less sweet than modern chocolate and grittier because its impossible to grind the particles that finely using hand-made processes. Gay also said that “each month [the chocolate] has a slightly different texture and flavor; the flavor profiles always [change].” –

‘The craze for drinking tea, chocolate, and coffee during this period resulted in an increased demand for porcelain and ceramic tea sets, chocolate pots, and coffee mugs. In response to public demand porcelain manufactures began to make specialized vessels that reflected the unique requirements that each beverage demanded in brewing and presentation, and which led to instantly identifiable tea, chocolate, andd coffee set. Coffee pots were generally taller and slimmer than short round tea pots, which were designed to keep boiling water hot. Spouts were placed low on the body of small chocolate pots, which also sported a straight handle.

‘In comparison to chocolate pots, coffee pot spouts were long and sometimes arched, while the chocolate pot spout was fairly short (see image below). The inside of a coffee pot spout typically had a filter, or small partition with holes that kept the grounds from getting into the cup. A chocolate pot was made with a hinged finial that allowed for the insertion of a swizzle stick for stirring the hot chocolate. To prevent their loss, some of these finials were attached to the pot with a silver chain.

‘Due to the complexity of making the beverage, chocolate never attained the same popularity as coffee. By the latter part of the 18th century coffee houses had sprung up by the hundreds in London, and although the craze for chocolate had largely gone out of fashion by 1750, one of the most famous chocolate houses, White’s, still leaves a lasting impression:

‘The fame of St. James’s Street rests mainly upon its association with the coffee or chocolate houses and clubs which for some two and a half centuries have made it and Pall Mall the social rendezvous of masculine aristocratic society in London. This association dates back to the reign of William III, and more particularly to the fire of January 1697/8 which ravaged the Palace of Whitehall and resulted in the removal of the Court to St. James’s. Only two chocolate houses – White’s (1693) and Ozinda’s (1694) – are known to have been in existence in St. James’s Street and Pall Mall before the fire, but the succeeding years saw the establishment of the Cocoa Tree (1698), the Smyrna (1702), the Thatched House Tavern (1704 or 1705) and the St. James’s Coffee House (1705), all catering for the new client created in the neighbourhood by the presence of the Court of St. James.- Jermyn Street Asscociation

Canto III

This canto opens with an imposing description of Hampton Court, where ‘the heroes and the nymphs resort,/To taste a while the pleasures of a Court’. Here Belinda plays a game of ombre (a card game) against ‘two advent’rous Knights’ (the Baron and another man), which she wins. Then everyone drinks coffee and, as Belinda ‘bends her head’ over her coffee cup, the Baron snips off one of the two beautiful locks of hair that were singled out for special mention in Canto II. Belinda gives ‘screams of horror’.

Canto III, lines 1 – 8: Hampton Court Palace stands near the Thames and many important people gather there.

Close by those meads, for ever crown’d with flow’rs,
Where Thames with pride surveys his rising tow’rs,
There stands a structure of majestic frame,
Which from the neighb’ring Hampton takes its name.
Here Britain’s statesmen oft the fall foredoom 5
Of foreign Tyrants and of Nymphs at home;
Here thou, great ANNA! whom three realms obey.
Dost sometimes counsel take–and sometimes Tea.

Modern Version

Near the flowery fields
next to the Thames
The imposing
Hampton Court Palace stands.
This is where Britain’s statesmen often predict the fall
of foreign tyrants and of women in fashionable society.
This is where Queen Anne, who rules over three kingdoms
sometimes consults her advisers and sometimes drinks tea.

Cardinal Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace after acquiring the original manor in 1515; he then presented it to Henry VIII. It continued to be a royal residence until the time of George II; William III had it partly rebuilt by Christopher Wren. In Pope’s time it was apparently ‘difficult to say whether it was better known as the home of statesmen or the resort of wits.’ Whereas William III had often spent time there, Queen Anne only went there occasionally.

Hampton Court is ‘a structure of majestic frame’ whose grandeur is impressed upon us by words like ‘crown’d’, ‘rising tow’rs’, ‘majestic’, and through the company that gathers there, ‘Britain’s statesmen’ and ‘great Anna whom three realms obey’. The opening lines are to some extent modelled on Dryden’s translation of the description of the walls and ‘rising tow’rs’ of Carthage in the Aeneid. But the elevated tone soon collapses into gossip:

Here Britain’s statesmen oft the fall foredoom (predict)
Of foreign Tyrants, and of Nymphs at home;
Here thou, great ANNA! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take – and sometimes Tea.

The statesmen are engaged in foreign affairs, ‘oft the fall foredoom/Of foreign Tyrants’ but are also gossiping about who’s going to bed with whom, ‘… the fall foredoom … of Nymphs at home’. The tastiness of the gossip is heightened by the alliterating and repeated fs/phs. Maybe you could describe this diplomatically as ‘foreign’ and ‘home’ affairs. Even Queen Anne, ruler of three kingdoms (the union of England and Wales with Scotland had taken place in 1707), sometimes takes advice there, and sometimes takes tea. So how seriously is she treating state affairs? As if they were a cup of tea? The two are surprisingly juxtaposed through the zeugma. And the sting in the tail, the undermining effect, is left till the last moment in both couplets: right up to the end, we think that the statesmen are concerned with grave matters, ditto Queen Anne.

Canto III, lines 9 – 18 The fashionable world gossips at Hampton Court.

Hither the heroes and the nymphs resort,
To taste awhile the pleasures of a Court; 10
In various talk th’ instructive hours they past,
Who gave the ball, or paid the visit last;
One speaks the glory of the British Queen,
And one describes a charming Indian screen;
A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes; 15
At ev’ry word a reputation dies.
Snuff, or the fan, supply each pause of chat,
With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.

Modern version

This is where fashionable young men and women gather
to enjoy being at court.
They talk in a way that will improve their minds about various things,
such as the most recent ball or visit.
One talks about the importance of the British queen
and another describes a charming screen from the east;
a third gives the low down on other people’s movements, looks and glances;
every time anyone opens their mouth, somebody’s reputation is in ruins.
During the pauses in coversation they take snuff or fan themselves,
sing, laugh or look meaningfully at someone.

In Dryden’s rendering of the Aeneid, it is the heroes who pass the time in talk: ‘While thus, in talk, the flying Hours they pass.’ As for the fashionable young men and womenin Pope’s allusive version, ‘In various talk th’instructive hours they past’ – but we soon find out that instructive is hardly the word. We are here at the centre of the world of scandalous tittle-tattle:
… one describes a charming Indian screen;

A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes;
At ev’ry word a reputation dies.
Snuff, or the fan, supply each pause of chat,
With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.

You can hear the chat in the colloquial and fashionable slang words Pope uses –
‘charming’, ‘and all that’. You can see why the sylphs were so concerned about Belinda’s reputation – never mind her honour – if ‘at ev’ry word a reputation dies’. This is evidently a social world that is every bit as fatal as the battlefield, in its own way. Everyone is watching everybody else, ‘interprets motions, looks, and eyes’ – gestures and glances are full of meaning. The interpretation could be almost literal – the way you used your fan could send out different meanings. The Spectatorof 1711 tells us that ‘women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them’. The business of taking snuff (powdered tobacco) was a special feature of Queen Anne’s reign. People began to make it for themselves from rolled tobacco with little ivory rasps which they carried in their pockets. By 1711 it was quite normal for ladies to take it, too.

A tortoiseshell snuff box with gold piqué ornament, probably Dresden, circa 1710
The snuff box is rectangular, the lid panel decorated in gold piqué point with a bird overflying flowering shrubs, gilt-metal mounts with gadrooned borders.

Read more

The Spectatorof April 1711 provides ironic information on ogling: (which means to look at someone admiringly, lecherously, flirtatiously …)

Mr. Spectator,

‘I am an Irish Gentleman, that have travelled many Years for my Improvement; during which time I have accomplished myself in the whole Art of Ogling, as it is at present practised in all the polite Nations of Europe. Being thus qualified, I intend, by the Advice of my Friends, to set up for an Ogling-Master. I teach the Church Ogle in the Morning, and the Play-house Ogle by Candle-light. I have also brought over with me a new flying Ogle fit for the Ring; which I teach in the Dusk of the Evening, or in any Hour of the Day by darkning one of my Windows. I have a Manuscript by me called The Compleat Ogler, which I shall be ready to show you upon any Occasion. In the mean time, I beg you will publish the Substance of this Letter in an Advertisement, and you will very much oblige,

And in The Tatler, it seems that women employ the ars of ‘singing, dancing, tossing, ogling, squeaking, smiling, sighing, fanning, frowning, and all those irresistible arts which women put in practice, to captivate the hearts of reasonable creatures’ (men).


Joseph Addison wrote an article in The Spectator, No 102, June 1711, on the use of the fan. He describes this in terms of a military exercise!


‘Women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution with them. To the end therefore that Ladies may be entire Mistresses of the Weapon which they bear, I have erected an Academy for the training up of young Women in the Exercise of the Fan, according to the most fashionable Airs and Motions that are now practis’d at Court. The Ladies who carry Fans under me are drawn up twice a-day in my great Hall, where they are instructed in the Use of their Arms, and exercised by the following Words of Command,

‘Handle your Fans,
Unfurl your fans.
Discharge your Fans,
Ground your Fans,
Recover your Fans,
Flutter your Fans.

‘By the right Observation of these few plain Words of Command, a Woman of a tolerable Genius, [who [1]] will apply herself diligently to her Exercise for the Space of but one half Year, shall be able to give her Fan all the Graces that can possibly enter into that little modish Machine.

‘But to the end that my Readers may form to themselves a right Notion of this Exercise, I beg leave to explain it to them in all its Parts. When my Female Regiment is drawn up in Array, with every one her Weapon in her Hand, upon my giving the Word to handle their Fans, each of them shakes her Fan at me with a Smile, then gives her Right-hand Woman a Tap upon the Shoulder, then presses her Lips with the Extremity of her Fan, then lets her Arms fall in an easy Motion, and stands in a Readiness to receive the next Word of Command. All this is done with a close Fan, and is generally learned in the first Week.

‘The next Motion is that of unfurling the Fan, in which [are [2]] comprehended several little Flirts and Vibrations, as also gradual and deliberate Openings, with many voluntary Fallings asunder in the Fan itself, that are seldom learned under a Month’s Practice. This Part of the Exercise pleases the Spectators more than any other, as it discovers on a sudden an infinite Number of Cupids, [Garlands,] Altars, Birds, Beasts, Rainbows, and the like agreeable Figures, that display themselves to View, whilst every one in the Regiment holds a Picture in her Hand.

‘Upon my giving the Word to discharge their Fans, they give one general Crack that may be heard at a considerable distance when the Wind sits fair. This is one of the most difficult Parts of the Exercise; but I have several Ladies with me, who at their first Entrance could not give a Pop loud enough to be heard at the further end of a Room, who can now discharge a Fan in such a manner, that it shall make a Report like a Pocket-Pistol. I have likewise taken care (in order to hinder young Women from letting off their Fans in wrong Places or unsuitable Occasions) to shew upon what Subject the Crack of a ‘Fan may come in properly: I have likewise invented a Fan, with which a Girl of Sixteen, by the help of a little Wind which is inclosed about one of the largest Sticks, can make as loud a Crack as a Woman of Fifty with an ordinary Fan.

‘When the Fans are thus discharged, the Word of Command in course is to ground their Fans. This teaches a Lady to quit her Fan gracefully when she throws it aside in order to take up a Pack of Cards, adjust a Curl of Hair, replace a falling Pin, or apply her self to any other Matter of Importance. This Part of the Exercise, as it only consists in tossing a Fan with an Air upon a long Table (which stands by for that Purpose) may be learned in two Days Time as well as in a Twelvemonth.

‘When my Female Regiment is thus disarmed, I generally let them walk about the Room for some Time; when on a sudden (like Ladies that look upon their Watches after a long Visit) they all of them hasten to their Arms, catch them up in a Hurry, and place themselves in their proper Stations upon my calling out Recover your Fans. This Part of the Exercise is not difficult, provided a Woman applies her Thoughts to it.

‘The Fluttering of the Fan is the last, and indeed the Master-piece of the whole Exercise; but if a Lady does not mis-spend her Time, she may make herself Mistress of it in three Months. I generally lay aside the Dog-days and the hot Time of the Summer for the teaching this Part of the Exercise; for as soon as ever I pronounce Flutter your Fans, the Place is fill’d with so many Zephyrs and gentle Breezes as are very refreshing in that Season of the Year, tho’ they might be dangerous to Ladies of a tender Constitution in any other.

‘There is an infinite Variety of Motions to be made use of in the Flutter of a Fan. There is the angry Flutter, the modest Flutter, the timorous Flutter, the confused Flutter, the merry Flutter, and the amorous Flutter. Not to be tedious, there is scarce any Emotion in the Mind [which [3]] does not produce a suitable Agitation in the Fan; insomuch, that if I only see the Fan of a disciplin’d Lady, I know very well whether she laughs, frowns, or blushes. I have seen a Fan so very angry, that it would have been dangerous for the absent Lover [who [3]] provoked it to have come within the Wind of it; and at other times so very languishing, that I have been glad for the Lady’s sake the Lover was at a sufficient Distance from it. I need not add, that a Fan is either a Prude or Coquet according to the Nature of the Person [who [3]] bears it. To conclude my Letter, I must acquaint you that I have from my own Observations compiled a little Treatise for the use of my Scholars, entitled The Passions of the Fan; which I will communicate to you, if you think it may be of use to the Publick.’

The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, has a section on fans on its website:

Wedge-shaped brisé fan (hu shan)
Chinese, c. 1710-20, reference
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

This very beautiful fan is in the Fitzwilliam Museum collection. The Fitzwilliam provides this description:

‘The popularity of fans in Europe spawned a massive export industry in China, and between the late 17th and early 20th centuries, millions of fans were shipped to the West. Sometimes their themes depicted Chinese life, sometimes they drew on Western-inspired scenes, and sometimes they combined elements of both, like the wedge-shaped brisé fan here. The centre panel of the fan is decorated with a number of European-looking figures. A dense floral motif encircles it, and the fan as a whole is brilliantly coloured with reds, blues, and greens. In both colour scheme and motifs (such as crab and fish), this fan in fact resembles Chinese porcelain made for the Western market.’
© Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge.

‘Ivory sticks, pierced, painted in red, green, slate ble, brown, black, and gold, the head strengthened with tortoiseshell…’ (from the Treasured Possessions catalogue, page 268, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2015)

How Scandal is spread and reputations lost British Museum 1868,0808.3445

How see we Scandal (for our sex too base),
Seat in dread Empire in the Female Race,
‘Mong Beaus and Women, Fans and Mchlin Lace,
Chief seat of Slander, Ever there we see
Thick Scandal circulate with right Bohea.
There, source of black’ning Falshood’s Mint of Lies,
Each Dame th’Improvement of her Talent tries,
And at each Sip a Lady’s Honour dies;
Truth rare as Silence, or a Negro Swan,
Appears among those Daughters of the Fan.

The engraved image of the Tea-table (circa 1710) from the British Museum pictured above makes the connection between women, the tea-table and gossip. The engraving originally illustrated a series of essays published in a newspaper, Nathaniel Mist’s Weekly Journal and Saturday Post. The second essay in the series is a poem on the tea-table, the lines of which were printed below the plate by the print-seller John Bowles. The engraved image represents the verse’s argument by an iconographic allegory. Under the table a horned man lurks, representing scandal and two more men listen at the window literally eavesdropping. Envy is a filthy, topless hag carrying a snake drives two women out of the room, Justice, carrying scales and Truth sort of naked. Gossip and scandal are everywhere.

The British Museum provides the following description of the image. ‘Satire on gossipping women; five fashionable ladies drink tea at a table placed on a carpet in an affluent interrior. On the table, as well as the tea service, are a closed fan, a muff and an open book lettered, “Chit Chat”. A devil lurks beneath the table and Envy drives Justice and Truth out of a door at upper left; two gentlemen eavesdrop at an open window on the right. On the back wall, left to right: an alcove with shelves displaying porcelain, a fireplace above which is a painting showing a monk carrying a woman on his back towards a church or monastery, and a mirror in an elaborate frame. Three columns of etched verse describe the slanderous conversation taking place.’

Etching and engraving BM description date circa 1710 satirical print published by John Bowles.

Tea and gossip were a well-known combination. A satirist in 1707 argued that tea was secondary to the talk it occasioned, describing how tea-drinking women were ‘letting a loose to their Passions and their busine Tongues, which are the Ambassadors of their evil Intentions … and Backbiting the whole World, is the chief Diversion among ’em, and Scandal the principal Dish of the Collation.’

Indian screens

It seems that the ‘charming Indian screen’ mentioned in line 14 was very likely from Japan, ‘Indian’ being a general word for the East. Such objects had become very popular. The Woman of Taste written in 1733, probably by Thomas Newcomb, contains these lines:

‘Ne’er choose a sceen, and never touch a fan,
Till it has sail’d from China or Japan.’

Red and White Plum Blossoms, Ogata Kōrin, circa 1710, Edo Period
Pair of twofold screens, colors on silver and gold leaf over paper
Each screen: height 156.0 cm, width 172.2 cm.

Canto III, lines 19 – 104 Belinda plays a game of ombre against two men, and wins.

Mean while, declining from the noon of day,
The sun obliquely shoots his burning ray; 20
The hungry Judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jury-men may dine;
The merchant from th’ Exchange returns in peace,
And the long labours of the Toilet cease.
Belinda now, whom thirst of fame invites, 25
Burns to encounter two advent’rous Knights,
At Ombre singly to decide their doom;
And swells her breast with conquests yet to come.
Straight the three bands prepare in arms to join,
Each band the number of the sacred nine. 30

Meanwhile, the afternoon passes
and the sun sinks
and judges who want their next meal sign sentences
and members of the jury bring in a guilty verdict on some poor wretch so that they can eat sooner,
businessmen return from the Royal Exchange
and young women are ready to be seen.
Belinda, eager to win
wants to play two young men
at ombre in order to conquer them
and others.
Each of the players prepares themselves
and each of them takes nine cards.

Soon as she spreads her hand, th’aërial guard
Descend, and sit on each important card:
First Ariel perch’d upon a Matadore,
Then each, according to the rank they bore;
For Sylphs, yet mindful of their ancient race, 35
Are, as when women, wondrous fond of place.
Behold, four Kings in majesty rever’d,
With hoary whiskers and a forky beard;
And four fair Queens whose hands sustain a flow’r,
Th’ expressive emblem of their softer pow’r; 40
Four Knaves in garbs succinct, a trusty band,
Caps on their heads, and halberts in their hand;
And particolour’d troops, a shining train,
Draw forth to combat on the velvet plain.

Modern Version

As soon as Belinda spreads out her hand of cards, the sylphs
come down and sit on each important card.
Ariel perches on the Ace of Spades, the card of highest value
and after him each sylph according to his rank.
For sylphs, remembering their rank when they were women
still think status is very important.
Next we see the four kings (of spades,clubs, hearts and diamonds)
with white whiskers and forked beards.
There are four beautiful queens who each hold a flower in their hands
as an emblem of their gentler power.
Four knaves, with their long robes tucked up about their waists,
wear caps on their heads and carry halberts in their hands. (A halbert is a combined spear and battle-axe.)
A bright group of many-coloured troops
come out to fight on the green baize card table.

The skilful Nymph reviews her force with care: 45
Let Spades be trumps! she said, and trumps they were.

Now move to war her sable Matadores,
In show like leaders of the swarthy Moors.
Spadillio first, unconquerable Lord!
Led off two captive trumps, and swept the board. 50
As many more Manillio forc’d to yield,
And march’d a victor from the verdant field.
Him Basto follow’d, but his fate more hard
Gain’d but one trump and one Plebeian card.
With his broad sabre next, a chief in years, 55
The hoary Majesty of Spades appears,
Puts forth one manly leg, to sight reveal’d,
The rest, his many-colour’d robe conceal’d.
The rebel Knave, who dares his prince engage,
Proves the just victim of his royal rage. 60
Ev’n mighty Pam, that Kings and Queens o’erthrew
And mow’d down armies in the fights of Lu,
Sad chance of war! now destitute of aid,
Falls undistinguish’d by the victor spade!

Belinda, a skilful card player, looks carefully at her hand.
Let Spades be trumps she said, and they were.

Modern Version

Now she plays her spades and clubs, the black suits of highest value
like dark leaders.
First the ace of spaces, the most valuable card
took two trumps and won.
Then the two of spades won two more –
another victory on the card table.
She played the ace of clubs next
but this card only took one trump and one card of low value.
Then Belinda played the king of spades
who carries a short broad sword;
he was depicted with one leg as the other
was hidden by his many-coloured robe.
The knave who dared take on the king
became a victim of that royal and angry person.
Even the knave of clubs, a powerful card in games of Loo
that overthrows kings and queens and whole armies
falls to the conquering king of spades
a sad and helpless victim of war

Thus far both armies to Belinda yield; 65
Now to the Baron fate inclines the field.
His warlike Amazon her host invades,
Th’ imperial consort of the crown of Spades.
The Club’s black Tyrant first her victim dy’d,
Spite of his haughty mien, and barb’rous pride: 70
What boots the regal circle on his head,
His giant limbs, in state unwieldy spread;
That long behind he trails his pompous robe,
And, of all monarchs, only grasps the globe?

Cards from a standard English pack manufactured in c.1725

Modern Version

So far, Belinda is winning against the two men.
Now the Baron starts to do better.
His queen of Spades , the consort of the king of spades
invades Belinda’s army of cards.
The first victim of the queen of Spades was Belinda’s king of clubs
in spite of his proud bearing and arrogance.
What use is his crown
when his huge limbs are tangled in a heap on the ground
so that his robes of state trail behind him
and he is the only king to grasp an orb.

The Baron now his Diamonds pours apace; 75
Th’ embroider’d King who shows but half his face,
And his refulgent Queen, with pow’rs combin’d
Of broken troops an easy conquest find.
Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, in wild disorder seen,
With throngs promiscuous strow the level green. 80
Thus when dispers’d a routed army runs,
Of Asia’s troops, and Afric’s sable sons,
With like confusion different nations fly,
Of various habit, and of various dye,
The pierc’d battalions dis-united fall, 85
In heaps on heaps; one fate o’erwhelms them all.
The Knave of Diamonds tries his wily arts,
And wins (oh shameful chance!) the Queen of Hearts.
At this, the blood the virgin’s cheek forsook,
A livid paleness spreads o’er all her look; 90
She sees, and trembles at th’ approaching ill,
Just in the jaws of ruin, and Codille.
And now (as oft in some distemper’d State)
On one nice Trick depends the gen’ral fate.
An Ace of Hearts steps forth: The King unseen 95
Lurk’d in her hand, and mourn’d his captive Queen:
He springs to Vengeance with an eager pace,
And falls like thunder on the prostrate Ace.
The nymph exulting fills with shouts the sky;
The walls, the woods, and long canals reply. 100

Oh thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate,
Too soon dejected, and too soon elate.
Sudden, these honours shall be snatch’d away,
And curs’d for ever this victorious day.

Modern Version

The Baron now plays his diamonds.
The king of diamonds, who is represented in profile
and the brightly shining queen of diamonds, together find
Belinda’s remaining cards easy to defeat.
Her clubs, diamonds and hearts are seen to be in wild disorder
and are jumbled crowds of them are scattered over the card table.
They are like a routed army of troops from Asia and Africa
that is scattered
with similar confusion different nations of different skin colours
and wearing different uniforms flee and
the wounded battalions of men fall in disunity
in heaps. They are all conquered.
The knave of diamonds artfully
wins the queen of hearts.
At this point, Belinda’s cheeks went pale
and pallor spread over her face.
She sees what is going to happen and trembles
as ruin and Codille (losing the game).
Now, as often happens in kingdoms
what happens next depends on one move (trick).
The Baron played the ace of hearts but Belinda held the king of hearts
in her hand, mourning his queen of hearts who had been taken.
She played the king of hearts
and the card fell like thunder on the ace which was lying flat on the card table.
Belinda exulted and shouted so loudly
that the walls, woods and the water at the east front of the palace echoed.

Humans are so thoughtless. They are blind to what lies in store for them.
They despair too soon and are jubilant too soon.
The honour of winning the game of ombre will suddenly be snatched away
and this day, when Belinda won the game will be for ever cursed.


A standard epic device is to indicate that it is evening by mentioning labourers fininishing their daily work. Pope’s version of this is horrifying:

The hungry Judges soon the Sentence sign,
And Wretches hang that Jury-men may Dine.

Does he mean this? Is it elegant teasing, or bitter criticism? If the latter, he has opened the door onto the outside world in a most unexpected way. And it heightens the effect (which the constant allusions to the world of epic poetry also gives) of this fashionable society leading a hermetically sealed existence, unaware of the ordinary concerns of human experience. (Clarissa makes the point at the beginning of Canto V.) ‘Merchants’(businessmen) return from the Exchange because that is where many of them transacted their business affairs – at the Royal Exchange, to the north of London Bridge. They also conducted business at coffee shops. ‘The long Labours of the Toilette’ refers to the protracted business of a woman putting on make-up and preparing herself to go out and be seen. It is Pope’s anticlimactic take on ‘the resounding line looking forward to the clonclusion of Aeneas’s trials: ‘And the long Labours of your Voyage end’ in Dryden’s rendering. (I am indebted to J S Cunningham’s notes in his edition of The Rape of the Lock for this insight.)

A description of the court of King William Ill at Kensington tells us: ‘At this Assembly, the only diversion (amusement) is playing at Cards. For which purpose there are two Tables for Basset and three or four more for Picket and Ombre … the rest of the Company either sit or stand, talking on various Subjects, or justle about from one end of the (picture) Gallery to the other, some to admire, and most to find fault’. ‘All that follows of the game at ombre was added since the first edition, till verse (line) 102 …’ writes Pope of the edition he recast and amplified in 1713, published March 1714. Ombre, pronounced omber, came from Spain (the name derives from the Spanish word hombre, a man) and it is rather like whist. You use the full pack minus its 8s, 9s and 10s. Each player has nine cards (hence ‘the sacred nine’ which is also a reference to the Muses, the goddesses of arts and learning).

The exceedingly long description of the game played out between Belinda, the Baron and one other, in part represents the detailed description of a battle which in epic poetry was a recognised set piece. The piece is full of words associated with warriors and battle – indeed the game is presented as a battle. For example, we have ‘knights’,’doom’, ‘conquests’, ‘arms to join’ (engage in battle), ‘troops’, ‘a shining train, / Draw forth to combat (fights) on the velvet plain’ (a phrase used in epic poetry to denote a green field; here a battlefield, and green baize covered card table), ‘force’ (soldiers, forces) ‘war’, ‘forc’d to yield’; ‘a victor from the verdant (green) field’, ‘armies’, ‘fights’, ‘chance of war’ and so on. It also reflects the fact that Pope is writing on two levels, the airhead and the sophisticated. Arabella Fermor might enjoy the details of a game of cards, something she’d be familiar with. And at a more sophisticated level, the appeal is to the educated reader to see the joke, the references to epic poetry, the parodies of passages from Virgil and of a line from the Bible. The outlandish names for the cards (such as Spadillio, Manillio) are enjoyably ostentatious, elegant periphrasis, a characteristic of epic poetry. They are also recognisable as the terms for cards in ombre: Spadille, Manille. And in the eighteenth century, the exotic and things foreign (such as the extravagant names here) were much prized.

A suggestion of sexual innuendo imbues some lines, but it is only a suggestion: Belinda ‘burns to encounter two advent’rous knights’ and ‘swells her breast with conquests yet to come.’ Is the burning and swelling a passion for playing cards or sexual passion? Could there be a pun on ‘two advent’rous knights’ / nights? ‘The Knave of Diamonds tries his wily arts, / And wins (oh shameful chance!) the Queen of Hearts.’ At this point ‘the virgin’s’ pink cheeks become pale, and she trembles at the prospect of ‘ruin’. Obviously, this makes sense in terms of the game of cards, but is Pope hinting at sexual implications? Has the Baron offered Belinda a jewel (diamond)? Has he won her heart? Why is it shameful and what ruin awaits her? Sexual ruin? (‘At every word a reputation dies.’) I am indebted to Elizabeth Gurr for this idea, editor of Oxford Student Texts edition of the poem.

The sylphs ‘descend and sit on each important card’ (as we knew from Canto I). The game is not too hard to follow, and most editions give substantial notes on what the strange terms mean. Belinda pronounces that Spades should be trumps in tones reminiscent of the Creation in Genesis. ‘And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light’. ‘Let Spades be trumps! she said, and trumps they were’. Belinda is the sun (‘the light’) of this little fashionable world, and of the poem. She is a goddess – but isn’t this too proud, imagining that you are right up there with God? Epic heroes often met their fall just after a moment of overweening pride.

Pope has all sorts of fun with the verse. Elizabeth Gurr points out the ‘quirky, humorous quality’ of the couplet describing the kings. ‘… four kings, in majesty rever’d / With hoary whiskers and a forky beard.’ She comments on the odd alliteration of ‘four kings … forky…’. And Pope keeps inverting the order of the words putting the verb last, in epic style, to describe this game of cards. ‘The Club’s black tyrant first her victim died’. When all that has happened is that Belinda’s queen of spades has taken the king of clubs.

At first Belinda does extremely well in the game, winning four tricks; then the Baron starts to do better and wins the next four. ‘The Knave of Diamonds tries his wily arts,/And wins (oh shameful chance!) the Queen of Hearts’. Possibly more is happening here than simply a game of cards. Has the Baron given Belinda a jewel (a diamond – the knave of diamonds tries his wily arts, and later in the Canto we find that Belinda is wearing diamond earrings)? Does he win her heart (we are told a few lines later that to Ariel’s horror he finds ‘an earthly Lover lurking at her heart’. And when she woke up, she certainly read the Baron’s love letter with an interest that drove Ariel’s dream-warning out of her head.). ‘At this’ Belinda goes pale – at the prospect of losing the game? or at the prospect of the Baron’s interest in her? It’s left tantalisingly unclear.

She sees, and trembles at th’approaching ill (disaster),
Just in the jaws of ruin, and Codille. (the final trick to win the game)

The grand language builds up to a climax, ‘th’approaching ill/Just in the jaws of ruin…’ and is deflated by the witty zeugma, ‘and Codille’. It’s the Ace of Hearts that the Baron plays, and which Belinda takes, thus winning the game. Of ombre, certainly. Of love?

Her triumph in winning is commented upon in lines worthy of epic poetry, warning of imminent tragedy.

Oh thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate,
Too soon dejected, and too soon elate!
Sudden, these honours shall be snatch’d away,
And curs’d for ever this victorious day.

Canto III, lines 105 – 124 Everyone has a drink of coffee.

For lo! the board with cups and spoons is crown’d, 105
The berries crackle, and the mill turns round;
On shining Altars of Japan they raise
The silver lamp; the fiery spirits blaze:
From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide,
While China’s earth receives the smoking tide: 110
At once they gratify their scent and taste,
And frequent cups prolong the rich repast.
Straight hover round the Fair her airy band;
Some, as she sipp’d, the fuming liquor fann’d,
Some o’er her lap their careful plumes display’d, 115
Trembling, and conscious of the rich brocade.
Coffee, (which makes the politician wise,
And see thro’ all things with his half-shut eyes)
Sent up in vapours to the Baron’s brain
New Stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain. 120
Ah cease, rash youth! desist ere’t is too late,
Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla’s Fate!
Chang’d to a bird, and sent to flit in air,
She dearly pays for Nisus’ injur’d hair!

Modern version

Look, the sideboard is laid with cups and spoons,
the coffee berries crackle as they are roasted, and then they are ground in the coffee mill.
On the shining varnished tables, there are silver lamps with flames
to heat the coffee.
The steaming coffee and hot milk that will quench people’s thirst are poured from silver spouts
into coffee cups made of Chinese porcelain.
The drinkers are pleased by the smell of the coffee and by its taste
and they drink several cups.
The sylphs immediately hover round the beautiful Belinda.
Some fanned the steaming coffee as she sipped it,
Some carefully spread their wings across her lap
for fear that the rich brocade of her dress might be spoiled by spilt coffee.
Coffee (which, as we know, makes politicians even wiser
so that they can see through everything even with his eyes half-shut)
through its steam, sent up into the Baron’s mind
new plans to acquire the shining lock of Belinda’s hair.
Unwise young man, stop before it’s too late
fear the punishment of the gods and remember the fate of Scylla.
She was changed to a bird and condemned to fly through the air
and paid dearly for stealing her father’s hair.

This description of coffee-drinking is Pope’s miniaturised version of the epic feast.

For lo! the board with cups and spoons is crown’d (table)
The berries crackle, and the mill turns round;
On shining Altars of Japan they raise
The silver lamp; the fiery spirits blaze.

Lacquered furniture, such as chests, screens and tables, began arriving in England from Japan in the seventeenth century, and was very fashionable in Pope’s day. Or it may be that these were tables covered with a particularly hard varnish that came from Japan in a process known as japanning. It was a very fashionable finish to furniture of the time. As was the case while Belinda was getting ready to go out (end of Canto I), the words here suggest a religious ceremony – with the shining altars and the special items like silver lamps. All that the assembled company is actually doing is drinking coffee.

I assume the lamp with its spirits is to heat the water for the coffee, or to keep the made coffee warm. The pleasure-giving (‘grateful’) coffee is poured from silver coffee pots (‘silver spouts’) into porcelain cups (‘China’s earth’). These are all luxury items, many brought to England from the East. People have ‘frequent cups’ of coffee and Belinda is sipping the ‘fuming liquor’ (it’s steaming hot). The grand words in this section suggest that coffee-drinking is almost a ritual; the appeals to the senses make the ceremony seem more immediate. (‘The berries crackle’ – hearing; the coffee smells and tastes delicious – ‘they gratify their scent and taste’; the shining Altars and the silver lamp and spouts appeal to the sense of sight.)

‘China’s earth receives the smoking Tyde.’
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s description of this cup reads:
‘Cup of porcelain painted in underglaze blue with scene of travellers approaching a city; made in China (Jingdezhen), Qing dynasty, mark and period of Kangxi, 1710-1722
Tall bell shape with small, rather high foot and spreading mouth, delicately potted. Minutely painted in rich blue with a continuous scene in which horsemen and bullock-carts are seen approaching the gate of a city with a tall flagpole, the walls with towers along their length.’
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This is a detail of a page from a porcelain sales catalogue from the East India Company, 1704. The British Library tells us: ‘At this time the East India Company was Britain’s most powerful trading organisation, shipping goods such as spices, fabrics, tea and porcelain from Asia to Europe in vast quantities. This page lists a range of the Company’s newly acquired porcelain (or ‘china ware’), including blue and white ‘custard cups’, painted chocolate cups ‘with handles crack’d’, and large painted porcelain lions on stands.’

‘From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide’

Queen Anne silver coffee pot, 1713 Britannia silver. Owned by AkzoNobel, on long-term loan to The Courtauld Gallery. Image courtesy of The Courtauld Gallery, London and of AkzoNobel.

‘On shining Altars of Japan they raise
The silver lamp; the fiery spirits blaze:’

A teakettle over a spirit lamp

Bullet shape with ivory knop finial, raffia-bound swing handle, leaf-capped spout, sides engraved with baroque strap and diaperwork incorporating masks and foliate scrolls above a baroque coat of arms, the spirit stand on three scroll supports terminating in shell feetf, with a petalled rinm above a pierced fretwork band, with large detachable spirit lamp
13 in. high (33 cm.)

A Teakettle over a spirit lamp

George II silver teakettle Stand and Lamp, London 1727

Coffee Houses

Henri Misson, writing about coffee-houses in 1698, says, ‘These houses, which are very numerous in London, are extreamly convenient. You have all Manner of News there: You have a good Fire, which you may sit by as long as you please; You have a Dish of Coffee, you meet your Friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t Care to spend more.’
Memoirs and Observations in his Travels over England, 1698, translated by Mr Ozell London 1719

There’s a verse written in 1674 extolling the virtues of coffee over wine.

When the sweet Poison of the Treacherous Grape
Had acted on the world a general rape;
Drowning our Reason and our souls
In such deep seas of large o’erflowing bowls,
When foggy Ale, leavying up mighty trains
Of muddy vapours, had besieg’d our Brains,
Then Heaven in Pity
First sent amongst us this All-Healing Berry,
Coffee arrives, that grave and wholesome Liquor,
That heals the stomach, makes the genius quicker,
Relieves the memory, revives the sad,
And cheers the Spirits, without making mad.

Canto III (continued)

The sylphs instantly go into action; they cool Belinda’s hot coffee, they act as a napkin in case she should spill any on her rich brocade dress. As Raymond Stephanson points out in his essay, ‘Pope, Biology and Culture’, ‘lap’ could also mean female genitalia, in which case the sylphs are guarding something far more important (although it’s possible that Belinda does not share this opinion). But the coffee that fills politicians with wisdom inspires the Baron with ‘New stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain.’ (The mention of coffee making the politician wise refers to amateur politicians who tended to gather in coffee houses. Pope evidently had a low opinion of them: their ‘half-shut eyes’ which at first glance looks like a compliment, on second thoughts looks more like a criticism – they’re half asleep, although they think they’re setting the world to rights.)

‘Pope, Biology and Culture’ by Ramond Stephanson, in Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, University of Toronto Press, 2016, pp 118, 119.

Pope exhorts the Baron to desist, and to remember the classical legend about the fate of Scylla who plucked out a most important hair of her father, King Nisus, to give to the enemy, Minos, whom she loved. She was turned into a bird and rejected by both Minos and her father.

Ah cease, rash youth! desist ere ’tis too late,
Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla’s Fate!
Chang’d to a bird, and sent to flit in air,
She dearly pays for Nisus’ injur’d hair!

With repeated exclamation and exhortations, Pope evokes a solemn tone of warning: cease, rash youth! desist/Fear/think of Scylla’s Fate!/dearly pays. These exhortations are emphasised in several ways: they’re situated in conspicuous places (the beginning of the line). They’re additionally highlighted through the broken iambic rhythm, throwing the stress onto the first syllable of the line – ‘Fear the just Gods, … Chang’d to a bird’. ‘Fear’ and ‘chang’d’ are monosyllables, which directs the full force of the broken rhythm onto the whole word. The repetition of words that are almost synonymous – ‘cease’, ‘desist’ – increases their impact. The comparison between the Baron’s act and Scylla’s stresses the importance of locks of hair and what happens to those who steal them.

Canto III, lines 125 – 146 Clarissa lends the Baron a pair of scissors. Ariel resigns his post as he realises that Belinda is interested in ‘an earthly lover.’

But when to mischief mortals bend their will, 125
How soon they find fit instruments of ill!
Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting grace
A two-edg’d weapon from her shining case:
So Ladies in Romance assist their Knight,
Present the spear, and arm him for the fight. 130
He takes the gift with rev’rence, and extends
The little engine on his fingers’ ends;
This just behind Belinda’s neck he spread,
As o’er the fragrant steams she bends her head.
Swift to the Lock a thousand Sprites repair, 135
A thousand wings, by turns, blow back the hair;
And thrice they twitch’d the diamond in her ear;
Thrice she look’d back, and thrice the foe drew near.
Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought
The close recesses of the Virgin’s thought; 140
As on the nosegay in her breast reclin’d,
He watch’d th’ Ideas rising in her mind,
Sudden he view’d, in spite of all her art,
An earthly Lover lurking at her heart.
Amaz’d, confus’d, he found his pow’r expir’d, 145
Resign’d to fate, and with a sigh retir’d.

Modern version

But when humans are determined to make mischief
they quickly find a way of carrying out the misdeed.
Just at that moment, Clarissa gracefully drew
a pair of scissors from her bag.
In the same way, ladies in medieval romance help their knight,
present him with his spear and help to arm him for his battle.
The Baron takes what she gives him and puts
the little pair of scissors just over the ends of his fingers.
He spread the scissors behind Belinda’s neck
as she bent her head over the delicious and steaming coffee.
A thousand sylphs rush to the hair
and three times they twitch her diamond earring to warn her.
She looked behind her three times, and three times the enemy came closer to her.
Just at that moment, Ariel looked into
her mind.
As he leaned against the tiny bunch of flowers at her breast
he saw the ideas in her mind
and suddenly he saw, although she had done her best to conceal the fact,
her heart was given to a human lover.
In amazement and confusion, he found he had no more power to protect her,
he resigned himself to whatever might happen, and left her.

The dreadful moment has come. There is a great build up: Pope opens with a generalisation made in a grand declamatory tone (wickedly punctured when we discover that the ‘fit (appropriate) instrument’ is a little pair of scissors). The Baron is bent on ‘mischief and Clarissa – presumably one of the young women gathered around drinking coffee – hands him something that turns out to be a tiny pair of scissors. However, it takes some ingenuity to work this out, as the ‘fit instrument of ill’ is variously described as ‘a two-edg’d weapon’, a ‘little engine’, ‘the glitt’ring Forfex’, ‘the fatal engine’, ‘the sheers’ and ‘the conqu’ring force of unresisted steel’. Many of these gloriously unlikely terms for the scissors are examples of periphrasis – a roundabout way of describing something; here an ordinary little object is described in grandiose, epic terms which involves us in some enjoyable riddle-solving. Pope called it a ‘Manner of expressing a known idea, which should be so misteriously couch’d (expressed), as to give the Reader the Pleasure of guessing what it is that the Author can possibly mean: and a surprise when he finds it’. (The Art of Sinking) Used to describe a little pair of scissors, the epic words bring about a witty sense of deflation when you discover the answer.
Battle images elevate the Baron’s attempt on the lock to epic proportions. Clarissa has drawn a ‘weapon’ from her case, thus assisting the ‘knight’ by presenting him with ‘the spear’ to ‘arm him for the fight’. The joke is, the scissors are so minute, he can’t even get his fingers through them, ‘extends/The little engine on his finger’s ends’. (Much of this passage was added in 1713.) He opens the blades of the scissors behind Belinda as she bends her head to take another sip of coffee.

The sylphs react with an urgency reflected in the accelerating pace of the verse.

Swift to the Lock a thousand Sprites repair,
A thousand wings, by turn, blow back the hair;
And thrice they twitch’d the diamond in her ear;
Thrice she look’d back, and thrice the foe drew near.

The word ‘swift’ is stressed, and this broken rhythm initiates a spate of verbs, ‘repair’, ‘blow’, ‘twitch’d’. The trouble is, these emergency actions are useless – in fact, one sylph even manages to get cut in half by the scissors, but soon becomes whole again as Pope dismissively points out. The sylphs are powerless to avert disaster. The numbers (three and a thousand) traditional in epic poetry provide no help. The repeated phrases (‘a thousand Sprites’, ‘A thousand wings’, thrice they twitch’d’, ‘Thrice she look’d back’, ‘thrice the foe drew near’) moving their position in the lines, mimic the movement of hair, earrings, Belinda’s glance, the Baron’s approach. The tension increases. Ariel has to retire becuse he finds ‘An earthly Lover lurking at her heart. (In Canto I we were told the sylphs embraced women who reject mankind.) Belinda fancies the Baron, and Ariel therefore finds ‘his pow’r expir’d’. The epic model here is the Iliad, where the god Apollo left the hero, Hector.

Canto III, lines 147- 160 The Baron cuts off one of Belinda’s locks. Belinda is appalled.

The Peer now spreads the glitt’ring Forfex wide,
T’ inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.
Ev’n then, before the fatal engine clos’d,
A wretched Sylph too fondly interpos’d; 150
Fate urg’d the shears, and cut the Sylph in twain,
(But airy substance soon unites again)
The meeting points the sacred hair dissever
From the fair head, for ever, and for ever!

Then flash’d the living lightning from her eyes, 155
And screams of horror rend th’ affrighted skies.
Not louder shrieks to pitying heav’n are cast,
When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last;
Or when rich China vessels fall’n from high,
In glitt’ring dust and painted fragments lie! 160

Modern version

The Baron now opens the scissor blades
in order to snip off the lock. Now he closes them, to cut the lock from her head.
Even at that moment, before the scissor blades closed
a wretched sylph, driven to extremely of loyalty,
got caught in the scissors.
Destiny urged the blades to close and cut the sylph in half
but aerial substance soon unites again.
The scissors’ blades cut the lock
from Belinda’s beautiful head for ever and ever.

Then her eyes flashed like lightning
and she screamed with horror.
Women do not shriek louder than she did
even when husbands or lapdogs die
or when beautiful china vases fall
to lie in fragments and glittering dust.

We are reminded that the blades of the scissors are open (‘forfex’ comes from the Latin for shears, and was obscure even in the eighteenth century) ‘t’inclose the Lock’; then the Baron joins the blades to divide the lock – that is, to cut it off. What the Baron does is reflected through the line-endings and the rhymes.

He … spreads the glitt’ring Forfex wide,
T’inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.

He spreads (opens) the scissors’ blades wide (spreads and wide mean approximately the same). Meanwhile, ‘the Lock’ is enclosed in the middle of the couplet, just as it is enclosed between the scissor blades. Then the blades join and divide (cut off) the curl. The contrast between the blades which join and the ringlet which is thus divided highlights the deed. So does the rhyme wide/divide – the widely spread blades have divided, snipped, the curl.

Pope calls the scissors ‘the fatal Engine’ which is exactly what Dryden’s 1697 translation of the Aeneid called the Trojan Horse. (The Greeks deceived the Trojans and managed to enter Troy in the horse and destroy the city.) Is Pope deliberately using this phrase to draw attention to the fact that Belinda’s lock of hair is hardly another Troy? Or is he suggesting that both the Baron and the Greeks have treacherously deceived their victims? A wretched Sylph manages to get bisected at this point, but, says Pope callously, ‘airy Substance soon unites again’. Pope’s own notes direct us to compare this moment to that in Paradise Lost Book VI when the good angels, led by the Archangel Michael, are fighting the evil angels. Michael wounds Satan, ‘but the ethereal substance closed/Not long divisible’. The whole thing is wonderfully out of proportion, by the time the arch-fiend and ‘a wretched Sylph’ are in comparable positions.

It’s a cosmic act: ‘Fate urg’d the sheers’. The Fates were three goddesses who spun the thread of a human life. When the time came to end it, they cut the thread. This sombre allusion is largely dissipated by the second throwaway line of the couplet:

Airy substances may unite again, but what of mortals when their thread is cut? As so often, a sadder implication runs alongside the joke.

The Fatal Engine from the Agate and gold etui set 1710 Victoria and Albert Museum

Belinda’s screams of outrage are formidable: ‘screams of horror’, ‘louder shrieks’. Pope follows an epic formula when he starts line 157, ‘Not louder shrieks to pitying heav’n are cast,/When husbands … breathe their last … ‘ (Virgil describes the noise of battle in a similar way in the Iliad: ‘Not half so loud the bellowing Deeps resound…’) The trouble is, the other events that provoke comparable screams are the demise of lapdogs and the breaking of ‘rich China vessels fall’n from high’. Lovers and lapdogs have been found in the same line before now, and china vessels have shared a couplet with chastity. Is the fragile beauty of Belinda herself, with one of the two beautiful locks gone, comparable to a fragmented china vessel? Or is the snipping off of her lock a kind of rape (as the memory of the earlier line in Canto II – ‘By force to ravish’ – and the poem’s title suggest)?

Canto III, lines 161 – to the end of the Canto The steel of the scissors that cut off Belinda’s lock of hair is compared to the steel weapons that conquered Troy in the Aeneid.

Let wreaths of triumph now my temples twine
(The victor cry’d) the glorious Prize is mine!
While fish in streams, or birds delight in air,
Or in a coach and six the British Fair,
As long as Atalantis shall be read, 165
Or the small pillow grace a Lady’s bed,
While visits shall be paid on solemn days,
When num’rous wax-lights in bright order blaze,
While nymphs take treats, or assignations give,
So long my honour, name, and praise shall live! 170
What Time would spare, from Steel receives its date,
And monuments, like men, submit to fate!
Steel could the labour of the Gods destroy,
And strike to dust th’ imperial tow’rs of Troy;
Steel could the works of mortal pride confound, 175
And hew triumphal arches to the ground.
What wonder then, fair nymph! thy hairs should feel,
The conqu’ring force of unresisted steel?

Modern Version

Now I deserve to wear a victor’s laurel crown on my head
cried the Baron; the glorious prize is mine.
My reputation, name and praise of what I have just done, shall live
as long as fish swim in streams, birds delight in flying,
or beautiful British women drive in the park in coaches drawn by six horses,
as long as people read The New Atalantis,
or ladies receive visits while they are in bed, propped on small pillows,
when numerous wax candles burn brightly
while young women go on picnics and make assignations with young men.
What time would have allowed to grow has been cut short by steel scissors,
The lock of hair that distinguished Belinda has had to yield before fate, just as men’s lives do.
Weapons made from steel destroyed the walls of Troy that were built by the gods Apollo and Poseidon,
and razed to dust the impressive towers of Troy.
Weapons made from steel overthrew the work of proud men
and brought triumphal arches to the ground.
It’s no wonder, then, beautiful Belinda, that your hair should give way
to the conquering power of steel that they did not resist.

Meanwhile the Baron is triumphant: ‘the Victor’ with ‘the glorious Prize’. He asserts that his ‘honour, name, and praise (for having secured the lock) shall live’ for as long as a number of things that (ironically) seem unlikely to last, or continue to be fashionable, for very long at all. His list of long-lasting objects starts well enough: ‘While fish in streams, or birds delight in air’ (in other words, for as long as fish delight in streams and birds delight in air). But it continues less reliably: ‘Or in a Coach and six the British Fair’ (no carriage in the Ring was complete without its six grey Flanders mares and its coat of arms on the panels). And the couplet implies yet another example of society’s confused values. It is natural for fish to delight in streams and birds in air; they must have streams and air in order to live and move. But for a fashionable woman to delight in a similar way in a coach and six (a display of her riches)? Must she have a coach drawn by six horses in order to live? The next line is even more dubious: ‘As long as Atalantis shall be read’. This was a salacious (and probably libellous) book about contemporary scandals. One volume was published in 1709 (after which its author, Mrs Manley, was arrested) and another just before ‘The Rape of the Lock’ was written. The ‘small pillow’ and the ‘visits’ refer to evening visits, an important event in the day of a fashionable woman. The lady would be attended by servants carrying lights ‘numerous wax-lights in bright order blaz(ing)’. The visitors were received in the bedchamber, and the bed would be covered with a rich counterpane and graced by a small pillow with a worked case and lace edging. What the Baron seems to regard as eternal seems transient in the extreme – his estimate of what is important is hopelessly askew. The language echoes this. Four lines begin with ‘While’ culminating in ‘So long my honour, name, and praise shall live!’

It’s not clear whether the last eight lines of the Canto are spoken by the triumphant
Baron or form a commentary by Pope. The lines look back over historic events: ‘Steel’ (swords) have put an end to ‘monuments’ as well as ‘men’; steel has destroyed even ‘th’Imperial tow’rs of Troy’ said to have been built by the gods, Apollo and Poseidon. If ‘steel’ has destroyed, struck to dust, confounded (defeated) and hewed to the ground so much that is magnificent, what wonder then that steel (in the guise of tiny scissors) should conquer Belinda’s lock? Pope is teasingly alluding to a line of Catullus here, in The Lock of Berenice – quid facient crines, cum ferro talia cedant? what shall locks of hair do, when such things as this yield to steel? The end of the Canto thus builds up to a glorious collapse: all the business about ‘submit to Fate, the Labour of the Gods, ‘th’Imperial Tow’rs of Troy and ‘Triumphal Arches’ are comparable to a lock of hair under attack from a little pair of scissors, grandiloquently described as ‘The conqu’ring Force of unresisted (impossible to resist) Steel?’ A magnificent rhetorical question applied to a not-so-magnificent event.

Predictably, Pope structures this climactic ending perfectly. ‘Steel’ is repeated four times – indeed the word begins and ends the last six lines (‘Steel could the labour of theGods destroy … the conqu’ring forceof unresisted steel?’). You could say that steel encloses the last six lines just as the scissor blades enclosed the curl. Two of these lines start with ‘Steel could the …’ – an emphatic position for the word, with the broken iambic rhythm stressing the forceful monosyllable. Alliterative s’s often reinforced by alliterative st’s drive home the power of steel: What Time wou’d pare, from Steel receives its date/ submit/destroy/strike to dust/force/unresisted steel. Steel has razed to the ground ‘tow’rs of Troy’ and ‘triumphal arches’ (the grandeur highlighted through the word meanings (like triumphal), the historical associations of Troy’s towers, and the alliterative ts. The rhymes, too, drive the idea home: destroy/Troy; confound(ruin)/ground.

The speed and excitement of the last forty lines are such that one might not notice how often – almost insistently – Pope deflates. ‘A two-edg’d weapon’ comes from a tiddly little manicure case; anxious Ariel is perched on a minute nosegay pinned to Belinda’s bodice. He, like the fallen angels inParadise Lostis, ‘Amaz’d, confus’d’ and he ‘found his pow’r expir’d’ (but he hadn’t got any to start with). ‘Fate urg’d the Sheers’ sounds global, then accidentally snipped a sylph in half- but never mind. Belinda shrieks in epic fashion (as loudly as when lapdogs die or china jars break). The Baron triumphs like the Roman emperors of old with their ‘wreaths of Triumph’ but all he’s done is cut off a curl. This deflation is witty, amusing, and critical. What a storm in a teacup. It’s just as well the last line’s question remains unanswered.

Read More

Coffee houses; The East India Company; Fans; other texts on rapes
The Courtauld Institute of Art’s description of coffee and coffee houses.

‘Pasqua Rosee’s coffeehouse at St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill in the city of London was opened in about 1652 through the agency of his employer, a merchant of the English Levant Company, Daniel Edwards. Both Edwards, who imported the raw material into London, and Rosee, his servant, had firsthand experience of coffee culture in the Ottoman trading city of Smyrna (modern Izmir) and their coffeehouse sought to commercialise and replicate it in the mercantile centre of London.

‘The 17th and 18th century coffeehouse was a hub of intellectual and social engagement, where people of relatively diverse social backgrounds could read newspapers, debate and comment on world events, where tradesmen made business deals and where travellers exchanged bits of news. All this is suggested in the Rules and Orders of the Coffee-house, which was published in 1674:

‘Enter, sirs, freely, but first, if you please,
Peruse our civil orders, which are these.
First, gentry, tradesmen, all are welcome hither,
And may without affront sit down together:
Pre-eminence of place none here should mind,
But take the next fit seat that he can find…

‘Coffeehouses were known as ‘penny universities’ because customers, including students, artists, writers, merchants and businessmen, were charged a penny as an entrance fee, which covered the drink, newspapers, pamphlets and the latest news and gossip.

‘Some of the greatest English writers of the 18th century, including John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson were frequent clients of coffeehouses and their presence attracted customers.

‘Coffeehouses had vocal supporters and detractors, and numerous pamphlets were published either condemning the drink – for example claiming it caused impotence – or praising its restorative virtues. Satirists criticized the kinds of conversations occurring in coffeehouses: gabbling, gossiping, wheedling and idleness were four attributes thought to be engendered by drinking coffee. Coffeehouses were also, more seriously, potential breeding grounds for political rebellion, where the “seeds of sedition” (A Character of Coffee and Coffee-Houses, published in 1661) were planted.  Charles II famously tried to stifle their potential for dissent by issuing a ban on coffeehouses in 1675. The ban was lifted shortly after huge public protests.’

John Macky, in his A journey through England of 1722, writes:
The Parties have their different Places, where however a Stranger is always well received; but a Whig will no more go to the Cocoa-Tree or Osinda’s, than a Tory will be seen at the Coffee-House of St James’s. … The Royal-Exchange is the Resort of all the trading part of this City, Foreign and Domestick, from half an Hour after One till near Three in the Afternoon.

A gentleman throws hot coffee in the face of his opponent.
From the frontispiece of Ned Ward’s satirical poem ‘Vulgus Brittanicus’ (1710) as reproduced in Peter Brown, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea Drinking 1600-1850 (an Exhibition at FairFax House, York-1st September to 20th November 1995) (York Civic Trust, 1995)

Cynthia Wall, editor of the Bedford Cultural Edition of The Rape of the Lock, Bedford Books, 1998, writes:

‘London’s literati of the early eighteenth century congregated at either Will’s or Button’s coffee shop. Pope told Spence, ‘It was Dryden who made Will’s Coffee-House the great resort for the wits of his time.’ Those ‘wits’ included the playwright William Congreve, …. and the now-elderly poet and dramatist William Wycherley, who enthusiastically sponsored the young Pope… By 1713, Pope was spending a great deal of time in London … and he became a frequent visitor at the rival coffee house, Button’s. There, the literary circle centered around a group of Whig writers headed by Joseph Addison, who with Richard Steele would later publish the Spectator and Tatler periodicals. …

‘The coffee house was no small institution in the literary and social milieu of the early eighteenth century. The kind of public dialogue and exchange of poetic and political views that Pope experienced at Will’s and Button’s was part of the growing professionalization and democratization of literature, which was gradually moving out of the realm of the arisocracy, from under the shades of patronage, and into a more public and publicized world. Literacy was expanding, print technology was improving, and booksellers rather than politicians were beginning to assume control over publishing and printing. The coffee house, which arose to accommodate the enormous demand for that exotic, relatively new drink, offered a new kind of social space in which people – mostly but not entirely men – from a wide range of professions and classes gathered to drink coffee, and ‘not only … hear the latest gossip but also … read the most recent newspaper, newletter, pamphlet, or manuscript poetry collection’ and argue about politics, religion, and literature.’
(The lines ‘not only … poetry collection’ are qoted from ‘Coffeehouses and Restoration Political Culture’ by Steve Pincus, Journal of Modern History 67, December 1995.)

Tobacco and coffee, pepper and spices, cocoa, sugar and tea…

Notes from Global Objects by Maxine Berg and Helen Clifford pp 103 – 110 of Treasured Possessions.
Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, Europe’s trade in luxuries from distant parts of the globe increased rapidly. ‘Tobacco and coffee, pepper and spices, cocoa, sugar and tea. … They came with clothing textiles, silk and fine cotton, printed and embroidered, alongside the Persian carpets associated with Eastern luxury, and exotic porcelain accoutrements for drinking the new hot drinks, coffe, chocolate and tea.’ Meanwhile, trade with the New World grew twice as quickly as trade with the East; the New World provided cocoa and tobacco, and plantations of sugar and coffee soon grew up to provide for the appetite for these things in Europe. It was not until about 1709-10 that Meissen in Saxony began production of hard-paste porcelain in Europe; before then, porcelain had come exclusively from China (and the Dutch imported it from Japan). ‘Tea imports into Britain more than tripled from the beginning of the century to 1718.’
Maxine Berg and Helen Clifford, ‘Global Objects’, in Victoria Avery, Melissa Calaresu and Mary Laven, Treasured Possessions. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 2015), pp. 102-111.

The East India Company

Much tea, silk and porcelain was brought to England from the east by the East India Company. The company was given a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth 1 on 31st December, 1600.

Wikipedia provides the following information about the Company. The East India Company (EIC) … was an English and later British joint-stock company, formed to pursue trade with the East Indiesbut ended up trading mainly with the Qing China.

Originally chartered as the “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies”, the company rose to account for half of the world’s trade, particularly trade in basic commodities that included cotton, silk, Indigo dye, salt,saltpetre, tea and opium. The company also ruled the beginnings of the British Empire in India.

The company received a Royal charter from Queen Elizabeth 31 December 1600, making it the oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies. Wealthy merchants and aristocrats owned the Company’s shares. The government owned no shares and had only indirect control.

The company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions.


The Fan by John Gay, published December 1713.

This poem by John Gay serves as a comment on the way fans were used at the time ‘Snuff, or the fan, supply each pause of chat.’ However, it also bears comparison to the famous dressing-table (toilette) scene at the end of Canto I, and to the battle involved in the game of ombre in Canto III.

I sing that graceful toy, whose waving play,
With gentle gales relieves the sultry day.
Not the wide fan by Persian dames display’d,
Which o’er their beauty casts a grateful shade;
Nor that long known in China’s artful land,
Which, while it cools the face, fatigues the hand;
Nor shall the muse in Asian climates rove,
To seek in Indostan some spicy grove,
Where stretch’d at ease the panting lady lies,
To shun the fervour of meridian skies,
While sweating slaves catch every breeze of air,
And with wide-spreading fans refresh the fair;
No busy gnats her pleasing dreams molest,
Inflame her cheek, or ravage o’er her breast,
But artificial zephyrs round her fly,
And mitigate the fever of the sky.

Nor shall Bermudas long the muse detain,
Whose fragrant forests bloom in Waller’s strain,
Where breathing sweets from every field ascend,
And the wild woods with golden apples bend;
Yet let me in some odorous shade repose,
Whilst in my verse the fair Palmetto grows:
Like the tall pine it shoots its stately head,
From the broad top depending branches spread;
No knotty limbs the taper body bears,
Hung on each bough a single leaf appears,
Which shrivell’d in its infancy remains,
Like a clos’d fan, nor stretches wide its veins,
But as the seasons in their circle run,
Opes its ribb’d surface to the nearer sun;
Beneath this shade the weary peasant lies,
Plucks the broad leaf, and bids the breezes rise.
Stay, wandering muse, nor rove in foreign climes,
To thy own native shore confine thy rhymes.
Assist, ye Nine, your loftiest notes employ,
Say what celestial skill contriv’d the toy;
Say how this instrument of love began,
And in immortal strains display the fan.

Strephon had long confest his amorous pain,
Which gay Corinna rally’d with disdain;
Sometimes in broken words he sigh’d his care,
Look’d pale, and trembled when he view’d the fair;
With bolder freedoms now the youth advanc’d,
He dress’d, he laugh’d, he sung, he rhym’d, he danc’d:
Now call’d more powerful presents to his aid,
And, to seduce the mistress, brib’d the maid;
Smooth flattery in her softer hours apply’d,
The surest charm to bind the force of pride.
But still unmov’d remains the scornful dame,
Insults her captive, and derides his flame.
When Strephon saw his vows dispers’d in air,
He sought in solitude to lose his care:
Relief in solitude he sought in vain,
It serv’d, like music, but to feed his pain.
To Venus now the slighted boy complains,
And calls the goddess in these tender strains.

O potent queen, from Neptune’s empire sprung,
Whose glorious birth admiring Nereids sung,
Who ‘midst the fragrant plains of Cyprus rove,
Whose radiant presence gilds the Paphian grove,
And curling clouds of incense hide the skies;
O beauteous goddess, teach me how to move,
Inspire my tongue with eloquence of love,
If lost Adonis e’er thy bosom warm’d,
If e’er his eyes or godlike figure charm’d,
Think on those hours when first you felt the dart,
Think how you pin’d in absense of the swain:
By those uneasy minutes know my pain.
Even while Cydippe to Diana bows,
And at her shrine renews her virgin vows,
The lover, taught by thee, her pride o’ercame;
She reads his oaths, and feels an equal flame!
Oh, may my flame, like thine, Acontius prove,
May Venus dictate, and reward my love.
When crowds of suitors Atlanta try’d,
She wealth and beauty, wit and fame defy’d;
Each daring lover with advent’rous pace
Pursu’d his wishes in the dangerous race;
Like the swift hind, the bounding damsel flies,
Strains to the goal, the distanc’d lover dies.
Hippomenes, O Venus, was thy care,
You taught the swain to stay the flying fair,
Thy golden present caught the virgin’s eyes,
She stoops; he rushes on, and gains the prize.
Say, Cyprian deity, what gift, what art,
Shall humble into love Corinna’s heart,
If only some bright toy can charm her sight,
Teach me what present may suspend her flight.

Thus the desponding youth his flame declares.
The goddess with a nod his passion hears.

Far in Cytherea stands a spacious grove,
Sacred to Venus and the god of love;
Here the luxuriant myrtle rears her head,
Like the tall oak the fragrant branches spread;
Here nature all her sweets profusely pours,
And paints the enamell’d ground with various flowers;
Deep in the gloomy shade a grotto bends,
Wide thro’ the craggy rock an arch extends,
The rugged stone is cloth’d with mantling vines,
And round the cave the creeping woodbine twines.

Here busy Cupids, with pernicious art,
Form the stiff bow, and forge the fatal dart;
All share the toil; while some the bellows ply,
Others with feathers teach the shafts to fly:
Some with joint force whirl round the stony wheel,
Where streams the sparkling fire from temper’d steel;
Some point their arrows with the nicest skill,
And with the warlike store their quivers fill.

A different toil another forge employs;
Here the loud hammer fashions female toys.
Hence is the fair with ornament supply’d,
Hence sprung the glittering implements of pride;
Each trinket that adorns the modern dame,
First to these little artists ow’d its frame.
Here an unfinish’d diamond-crosslet lay,
To which soft lovers adoration pay;
There was the pollish’d crystal bottle seen,
That with quick scents revives the modish spleen
Here the yet rude unjointed snuff-box lies,
Which serves the rally’d fop for smart replies;
There piles of paper rose in glided reams,
The future records of the lover’s flames;
Here clouded canes ‘midst heaps of toys are found,
And inlaid tweezer-cases strow the ground.
There stands the toilette, nursery of charms,
Completely furnish’d with bright beauty’s arms;
The patch, the powder-box, pulville, perfumes,
Pins, paints, a flattering glass, and black-lead combs.

The toilsome hours in different labour slide,
Some work the file, and some the graver guide;
From the loud anvil the quick blow rebounds,
And their rais’d arms descend in tuneful sounds.
Thus when Semiramis, in ancient days,
Bade Babylon her mighty bulwarks raise;
A swarm of labourers different tasks attend:
Here pullies make the pond’rous oak ascend,
With echoing strokes the cragged quarry groans,
While there the chissel forms the shapeless stones;
The weighty mallet deals resounding blows,
Till the proud battlements her towers enclose.

Now Venus mounts her car, she shakes the reins,
And steers her turtles to Cythera’s plains;
Straight to the grot with graceful step she goes,
Her loose ambrosial hair behind her flows:
The swelling bellows heave for breath no more,
All drop their silent hammers on the floor;
In deep suspense the mighty labour stands,
While thus the goddess spoke her mild commands.

Industrious Loves, your present toils forbear,
A more important task demands your care;
Long has the scheme employ’d my thoughtful mind,
By judgement ripen’d, and by time refin’d.
That glorious bird have ye not often seen
Who draws the car of the celestial queen?
Have ye not oft survey’d his varying dyes,
His tall all gilded o’er with Argus’ eyes?
have ye not seen him in the sunny day
Unfurl his plumes, and all his pride display,
Then suddenly contract his dazzling train,
And with long-trailing feathers sweep the plain?
Learn from this hint, let this instruct your art;
Thin taper sticks must from one centre part:
Let these into the quadrant’s form divide,
The spreading ribs with snowy paper bide;
Here shall the pencil bid its colours flow,
And make a miniature creation grow.
Let the machine in equal foldings close,
And now its plaited surface wide dispose.
So shall the fair her idle hand employ,
And grace each motion with the restless toy,
With various play bid grateful zephyrs rise,
While love in ev’ry grateful zephyr flies.

The master Cupid traces out the lines,
And with judicious hand the draught designs,
The expecting Loves with joy the model view,
And the joint labour eagerly pursue.
Some slit their arrows with the nicest art,
And into sticks convert the shiver’d dart;
The breathing bellows wake the sleeping sire,
Blow off the cinders and the sparks aspire;
Their arrow’s point they soften in the flame,
And sounding hammers break its barbed frame:
Of this, the little pin they neatly mold,
From whence their arms the spreading sticks unfold;
In equal plaits they now the paper bend,
And at just distance the wide ribs extend,
Then on the frame they mount the limber skreen,
And finish instantly the new machine.

The goddess pleas’d, the curious work receive,
Remounts her chariot, and the grotto leaves;
With the light fan she moves the yielding air,
And gales, till then unknown, play round the fair.

Unhappy lovers, how will you withstand,
When these new arms shall grace your charmer’s hand?
In ancient times, when maids in thought were pure,
When eyes were artless, and the look demure,
When the wide ruff the well-turn’d neck enclos’d,
And heaving breasts within the stays repos’d,
When the close hood conceal’d the modest ear,
Ere black lead-combs disown’d the virgin’s hair;
Then in the muff unactive fingers lay,
Nor taught the fan in fickle forms to play.

How are the sex improv’d in amorous arts,
What new-found snares they bait for human hearts!

When kindling war the ravish’d globe ran o’er,
And flatten’d thirsty plains with human gore,
At first, the brandish’d arm the javelin threw,
Or sent wing’d arrows from the twanging yew;
In the bright air the dreadful fauchion shone,
Or whistling slings dismiss’d the uncertain stone.
Now men those less destructive arms despise,
Wide-wasted death from thundering cannon flies,
One hour with more battalions strows the plain,
Tan were of yore in weekly battles slain.
So love with fatal airs the nymph supplies,
Her dress disposes, and directs her eyes.
The bosom now its panting beauty shows,
The experienc’d eye resistless glances throws;
Now vary’d patches wander o’er the face,
And strike each gazer with a borrow’d grace;
The fickle head-dress sinks and now aspires
A towery front of lace on branching wires.
The curling hair in tortur’d ringlets flows,
Or round the face in labour’d order grows.

How shall I soar, and on unweary’d wing
Trace varying habits upward to their spring!
What force of thought, what numbers can express,
The inconstant equipage of female dress?
How the strait stays the slender waist constrain,
How to adjust the manteau’s sweeping train?
What fancy can the petticoat surround,
With the capacious hoop of whalebone bound?
But stay, presumptuous muse, nor boldy dare
The Toilette’s sacred mysteries declare;
Let a just distance be to beauty paid;
None here must enter but the trusty maid.
Should you the wardrobe’s magazine rehearse,
And glossy manteaus rustle in thy verse;
Should you the rich brocaded suit unfold,
Where rising flowers grow stiff with frosted gold,
The dazzled muse would from her subject stray,
And in a maze of passions lose her way.
John Gay

During 1713 Gay wrote such trifles as papers on “Reproof and Flattery,” and “Dress,” which were printed in the Guardianon March 24th and September 21st respectively; and some verses, “Panthea,” “Araminta,” “A Thought on Eternity,” and “A Contemplation on Night,” which appeared in Steele’s “Poetical Miscellany.” A more ambitious work was “The Fan,” which had occupied him during the earlier part of the year. He was greatly interested in its composition, and corresponded with Pope while it was being written. “I am very much recreated and refreshed with the news of the advancement of ‘The Fan,’ which I doubt not will delight the eye and sense of the fair, as long as that agreeable machine shall play in the hands of posterity,” Pope wrote to him, August 23rd, 1713: “I am glad your Fan is mounted so soon, but I would have you varnish and glaze it at your leisure, and polish the sticks as much as you can. You may then cause it to be borne in the hands of both sexes, no less in Britain than it is in China, where it is ordinary for a mandarin to fan himself cool after a debate, and a statesman to hide his face with it when he tells a grave lie.”[3]Again, on October 23rd, Pope wrote: “I shall go into the country about a month hence, and shall then desire to take along with me your poem of ‘The Fan.'”

From Life and Letters of John Gay by Lewis Melville, 1921.

Other Rapes – smocks and buckets

Belinda might consider herself lucky. She only lost one lock of hair. In 1715, Giles Jacob wrote ‘The Rape of the Smock: an heroi-comical poem in two books’. Professor Cynthia Wall notes: ‘Written in two cantos, like the first version of ‘The Rape of the Lock,’ the poem employs many of the patterns and symbols used by Pope, including the opening (‘I sing!’), the emphasis on aggression and vanity (both male and female), the detailing of clothes and cosmetics, the love of lapdogs … and most important, the hypocritical distinctin between virtue and the reputation of virtue…..The fetish is no longer a lock of hair but a woman’s undergarment … and the final terms for restoring the smock require the real, not just the metaphorical, loss of virginity.’ ‘The Rape of the Smock’ is far more sexually explicit than the ‘Rape of the Lock.’
(A smock is a woman’s undergarment worn next to the skin.)

It opens:

A Virgin’s smock, I sing! the direful Cause
Of horrid Bloodshed, and of Breach of Laws …

Caelia is undressing, unaware that she is watched by Philemon, who

‘Thro’ Crevice small, with Joy his Bliss reviews,
In Extasie the pleasing Sight pursues;
Her beauteous Face now unobserv’d alas!
His Eye he fixes on another Place:
He view’d her Breast; but lower, what was there!
Too much to view, and not enjoy the Fair.’

and so forth.

Another Rape is that of the Bucket. John Ozell translated ‘La secchia rapita’ by Alessandro Tassoni (The Rape of the Bucket), some say in 1710, some in 1728.

Canto IV

Ariel has been forced to leave Belinda, and Umbriel, ‘a dusky, melancholy sprite’, takes his place. He is a gnome whose aim is to stir up mischief. He travels to the underworld, to visit the Cave of Spleen. Here the goddess of Spleen resides, bedridden, with ‘Pain at her side, and Megrim (migraine) at her head’, attended by two handmaids, Ill-nature and Affectation. The goddess gives the gnome a ‘wond’rous Bag’ which contains ‘Sighs, sobs, and passions, and the war of tongues’ (quarrels); she also gives him a vial (a little glass bottle), filled with fears, sorrows, griefs and tears – in other words, everything needed for a major wobbly. On returning to Belinda, Umbriel first empties the bag over her head and then the vial; both actions occasion speeches from Belinda and her friend Thalestris, and from another friend, Sir Plume (if you can call his inarticulate stuttering a speech).

The spleen was thought to be the part of the body where mirth was found. However, if this became disordered (perhaps as the result of an east wind) the result would be disease (afflicting only fashionable people). Spleen (as a disease) was supposed to affect the invalid with headaches and melancholy (the Elizabethan word for it); it was also known as hysteria, hypochondria or an attack of the vapours. To this list you could add ill-temper and being neurotic.

This descent to the underworld or into hysteria is Pope’s mock heroic version of the epic hero’s journey to the underworld; it was added in the 1714 edition of the poem. The Palace of Spleen appears to be a terrifying, spectral place, a weird and disturbing landscape; in fact this journey is taking place inside Belinda – it pictures her neurotic inner self. The gnomes, if you look back to Canto I, made sure that important emotions like love were denied, and that their charges, the prudes, focused their ambitions on becoming, for example, duchesses. Belinda sallied forth from her dressing-table armed to conquer men with her beauty, but when the Baron succumbs to her charms and cuts off a lock of her hair, she affects horror. As Clarissa says in Canto V, ‘she who scorns a man, must die a maid’. We are not explicitly told that Belinda’s outbreak of rage and tears is affectation. However, Pope describes in some detail Affectation, the handmaid of the Goddess of Spleen, presumably because this quality is a recognisable element of an attack of Spleen. he Shorter Oxford English Dictionary draws on the 1709 understanding of a prude as a name applied adversely, with implications of affectation. This behaviour of Belinda’s is essentially prudish, and thus Umbriel takes charge of her. She has lost the right to be under Ariel’s care because an earthly lover is lurking in her heart, and her prudish reaction to the loss of her lock gives her to Umbriel’s custody.

Pope’s note on the opening of Canto IV directs us to the Aeneid Book IV where Queen Dido is, like Belinda, oppressed by ‘anxious cares’. Dido’s cares spring from her love for Aeneas; Belinda’s cares, you would imagine, arise from outrage at the attack on her beautiful lock and its obvious visible effect on her flawless beauty. But we’re told that ‘secret passions labour’d in her breast’ – feelings for the Baron which she can’t cope with or understand? Or the sulkiness, bad-temper and hysteria of Spleen, about to be described in detail? The Cave of Spleen is an image of Belinda’s discordant and conflicting feelings. It pictures for us both elderly unattractive maids such as Ill-nature, ‘an ancient Maid’ with a ‘wrinkled Form’, and stirrings of sexuality – ‘Maids turn’d Bottels, call aloud for Corks.’ Is this what happens if you take the gnomes’ embrace too far? And when Belinda cries out to the Baron at the end of the Canto, what does she mean, exactly?

Oh hadst thou, Cruel! been content to seize
Hairs less in sight, or any Hairs but these!

Do looks matter more than virtue? Is she only interested in the pretence of being chaste? No wonder her feelings are so confused, and the result is the ugliness and confusion of the Cave of Spleen.

Canto IV, lines 1 – 10: Belinda is anxious and thoughtful.

But anxious cares the pensive nymph oppress’d,
And secret passions labour’d in her breast.
Not youthful kings in battle seiz’d alive,
Not scornful virgins who their charms survive,
Not ardent lovers robb’d of all their bliss, 5
Not ancient ladies when refus’d a kiss,
Not tyrants fierce that unrepenting die,
Not Cynthia when her manteau’s pinn’d awry,
E’er felt such rage, resentment, and despair,
As thou, sad Virgin! for thy ravish’d Hair. 10

Modern Version

But anxious cares weighed heavily on the thoughtful young woman
and her heart was full of secret passions.
No-one ever felt such rage, resentment and despair
as sad Belinda over the lock that the Baron had cut off:
Not young kings taken alive in battle,
not old maids
not passionate lovers deprived of happiness,
not old ladies when they are refused a kiss,
not fierce tyrants who die without repenting of their crimes,
not a young woman when her dress is not pinned quite right.

Belinda is both anxious, despairing and furious at the loss of her lock of hair. The six lines starting ‘Not …’ build up to ‘E’er felt such rage, resentment and despair’ (as Belinda does now). The epic threesome again. The couplets are more complex and less haphazard than they may appear. The first line of each couplet comes straight from the world of epic poetry with its male heroism, aspirations and power: ‘youthful kings in battle seiz’d alive’, ‘ardent lovers’, ‘tyrants fierce’. The second line of each couplet comes from Pope’s contemporary world, and more specifically, from rather unpleasant ladies in fashionable society: ‘scornful virgins who their charms survive’ (outlive), ‘ancient ladies when refus’d a kiss’, and ‘Cynthia (a common name in romantic poetry) when her manteau’s pinn’d awry’. A manteau or mantua is a loose upper garment swept back to reveal the skirt beneath (as illustrated in Canto II).

It has been suggested that the ‘rage, resentment, and despair’ are felt in turn by the people in each couplet, but I am not convinced how exactly this works out. The pairs of people in the couplets are connected in various ways. The youthful kings have been seized and imprisoned and are thus forced to waste their lives: the scornful virgins of society have survived too long, outliving their ‘charms’ and they too have wasted their lives – they’re unmarried and negative in their outlook. The ‘ardent lovers robb’d’ are linked through alliteration to the ‘ancient ladies… refus’d’ – both, in their different ways have missed out on love. The women don’t come too well out of this comparison with the epic world – it’s quite a harsh criticism of the negative, life–denying attitudes of women in society.

Pope compares Belinda’s anxious cares and secret passions to those of a heroine of epic poetry in another way. In addition to the couplets mixing the epic and the contemporary world, he refers closely to the beginning of the fourth book of the Aeneid. Queen Dido here is falling in love with Aeneas.

But anxious Cares already seiz’d the Queen:
She fed within her Veins a Flame unseen:
The Heroe’s Valour, Acts, and Birth inspire
Her Soul with Love, and fan the secret Fire. (Dryden’s rendering)

Two conclusions emerge: Pope is comparing trivial with epic when he writes

But anxious cares the pensive nymph oppress’d,
And secret passions labour’d in her breast.

He is also suggesting that Belinda is secretly in love with the Baron.

Canto IV, lines 11 – 24: Umbriel, a dusky, melancholy sprite, has taken Ariel’s place.

For, that sad moment, when the Sylphs withdrew
And Ariel weeping from Belinda flew,
Umbriel, a dusky, melancholy sprite,
As ever sully’d the fair face of light,
Down to the central earth, his proper scene, 15
Repair’d to search the gloomy Cave of Spleen.

Swift on his sooty pinions flits the Gnome,
And in a vapour reach’d the dismal dome.
No cheerful breeze this sullen region knows,
The dreaded East is all the wind that blows. 20
Here in a grotto, shelter’d close from air,
And screen’d in shades from day’s detested glare,
She sighs for ever on her pensive bed,
Pain at her side, and Megrim at her head.

Modern version

For, at the sad moment when the sylphs withdrew their protection from Belinda
and Ariel wept as he flew away from her,
a dark spirit called Umbriel,
who was as gloomy a spirit as ever contaminated and darkened the world of light,
went down to the place he belonged, in the centre of the earth,
the gloomy Cave of Spleen.
His black wings carried him quickly
to the dismal cave shrouded in mist.
There is never any good weather in this gloomy region;
the wind is always in the east.
Here, in a sheltered and airless grotto,
screened by shade from the glare of daylight,
the goddess of Spleen lies always sighing and thoughtful on her bed,
in pain and with a migraine.


Pope now introduces us to the underworld, the Cave of Spleen, and its goddess, the Goddess of Spleen. ‘In 18th-century England, the ‘spleen’ was a particular emotional illness, and those who suffered from it were irritable, angry, hypochondriacal, gloomy and especially concerned for their health. These … qualities were considered as an outstanding quality of the English, which distinguished them from other nations and, at the same time, as an especial attribute of social superiority.’ Anita Kracke: ‘The Spleen – many-sided and indispensable’. Link:
J S Cunningham writes: ‘This very various affliction, a favourite of eighteenth-century hypochondriacs, had long been the subject of scientific and speculative inquiry. Its name is derived from that organ of the body which medical theory held responsible for control of the black bile or melancholy humour. A disordered spleen led to the ascent of vapours from this humour into the head: hence, ‘the vapours’ was an alternative name for the malady, and the misty East wind was thought to bring it on. The causes and symptoms of spleen or melancholia had been comprehensively catalogued, most notably in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.’

You can also read, ‘Hysteria in the Eighteenth Century’ by Diana Faber, link:

This is part of the first stanza of ‘The Spleen’ (1713) by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea
A Pindaric Poem
What art thou, Spleen, which ev’ry thing dost ape?
Thou Proteus to abused mankind,
Who never yet thy real cause could find,
Or fix thee to remain in one continued shape.
Still varying thy perplexing form,
Now a Dead Sea thou’lt represent,
A calm of stupid discontent,
Then, dashing on the rocks wilt rage into a storm.
Trembling sometimes thou dost appear,
Dissolved into a panic fear;
On sleep intruding dost thy shadows spread,
Thy gloomy terrors round the silent bed,
And crowd with boding dreams the melancholy head;
Or, when the midnight hour is told,
And drooping lids thou still dost waking hold,
Thy fond delusions cheat the eyes,
Before them antic specters dance,
Unusual fires their pointed heads advance,
And airy phantoms rise.


The next section introduces the gnome Umbriel (his name means ‘shade’ in Latin); he is ‘dusky’ he ‘sully’d (dirtied) the fair face of light’ and his ‘proper scene’ – that is, the place where he belongs – is ‘the central earth’, and immediately ‘the gloomy Cave of Spleen’. Gloom and darkness are stressed both in this section and the next. Umbriel flies on ‘sooty pinions’ (wings), to the ‘dismal dome’ (building, where the Goddess of Spleen lives). The gossamer shimmering of the sylphs is replaced by heavy and repeated ds: dusky/down (a conspicuously stressed monosyllable at the beginning of a line)/dismal dome/dreaded/day’s detested glare. True, the light i’s of the sylphs are still with us in ‘swift on his sooty pinions flits the Gnome’ but somehow it sounds unattractive, since the swift flitting is directed downwards towards darkness and disease. And the jerkily discordantly stressed monosyllables are unpleasant, too.

Pope has fun with the word ‘vapour’, which means both a cloud of mist and was used to describe an attack of spleen, ‘having a fit of the vapours’. The adjectives for this place are extremely depressing: dismal, sullen, dreaded, detested. The goddess herself is horribly afflicted by all the symptoms of Spleen, brought on by the ‘dreaded East’ wind. She lies in a stuffy grotto, ‘shelter’d close from air’ and ‘screen’d in shades’ from the glare of daylight because she has such a thumping migraine. ‘She sighs for ever’. To such a person, ‘the fair face of light’ of line fourteen has become ‘day’s detested glare’,

Canto IV, lines 25 – 38: The goddess of Spleen is attended by her handmaids, Ill-nature and Affectation.

Two handmaids wait the throne: alike in place, 25
But diff’ring far in figure and in face.
Here stood Ill-nature like an ancient maid,
Her wrinkled form in black and white array’d;
With store of pray’rs, for mornings, nights, and noons,
Her hand is fill’d; her bosom with lampoons. 30

There Affectation, with a sickly mien,
Shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen,
Practis’d to lisp, and hang the head aside.
Faints into airs, and languishes with pride,
On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe, 35
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness, and for show.
The fair ones feel such maladies as these,
When each new night-dress gives a new disease.

Modern Version

Two attendants wait upon the throne of the goddess of Spleen. Their place is similar
but they look very different.
On one side stands Ill-nature like an elderly virgin,
wrinkled and dressed in black and white.
Her hands are filled with a collection of prayers to be said at morning, at night and at midday,
and her heart is full of cruel attacks on people.
On the other side stands Affectation, not looking very well.
Her cheeks are rouged so as to look young and beautiful;
she is good at lisping and hanging her head to one side.
She faints and languishes
and sinks onto her rich bedquilt looking attractively miserable,
wrapped up in a gown to show off rather effectively that she is unwell.
Beautiful women are subject to illnesses like this
when every new ailment is an opportunity to show off a new pretty informal gown.

Spleen is attended by ‘Ill-nature like an ancient maid’ and ‘Affectation, with a sickly mien’ – a delightful pair. Personifying these two attributes, making them into actual people, emphasises their qualities. lll-nature is ‘ancient’ and ‘wrinkled’ and oddly she has a ‘store of pray’rs’ (a strange way to describe them) for every occasion in her hand (not in her heart, where you might expect to find them). Her heart, ‘bosom’, is filled with ‘lampoons’ – cruel personal written attacks or hate-mail. The prayers don’t accord very convincingly with the lampoons, and revealingly, it’s her heart that’s full of the hate-mail. The constant prayers are just a cover-up. In The Spectator 185 of October 1711, we find, ‘Zeal is therefore a great Ease to a malicious Man, by making him believe he does God Service, whilst he is gratifying the bent of a perverse revengeful Temper.’

The other handmaid is Affectation (pretence, something put on, not genuine).

Affectation, with a sickly mien, (expression)
Shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen,
Practis’d to lisp, and hang the head aside,
Faints into airs, and languishes with pride,
On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe,
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness and for show.
The fair-ones feel such maladies as these,
When each new night-dress gives a new disease.

The number of words here to do with disease gives an unwholesome feel to the passage: sickness/faints/sinks/languishes/sickly mien/maladies/disease. But surprisingly these words often don’t go well with their companions in the same line – for instance, ‘languishes’ shares a line with ‘pride’, ‘sickness’ with ‘show’, ‘new night-dress’ with ‘new disease’, and ‘becoming’ (attractive) is an odd word to describe ‘woe’ (misery). The rhymes link surprising attributes too: ‘a sickly mien’ rhymes with ‘the roses of eighteen’, ‘woe’ rhymes with ‘show’. Evidently the illness and woe is affected (assumed or put on) as an attention-seeking device. It’s the ‘fair-ones’ who manage to ‘feel’ these maladies. As so often, to treat serious matters like woe and sickness as an opportunity to show off clothes and seek attention reveals a serious confusion in society’s values. It’s a confusion that Pope conveys as being a disease, affectation. In Canto V, Clarissa says, if only ‘to dance all night, and dress all day,/Charm’d the small-pox … away’. Pope himself, constantly afflicted by disease and pain, spoke feelingly of ‘this long disease, my life’. In 1713 Lord Petre (the Baron of the poem) died of smallpox.

Pope highlights through alliteration the way in which affected ladies of fashion seize upon sickness, maladies, disease, as an opportunity to show off becoming new clothes:’for sickness and for show’, ‘new night-dress … new disease’, ‘fair-ones feel’. (A night-dress is a sort of tea-gown, finery in which one could receive visitors in a state of alluring indisposition, not an M and S nightie.) The sounds ‘Practis’d to lisp’ mimic the lisping, affected way of speaking (see The Tatler number 77 in Read More); in ‘hang the head’ the rhythms and the alliteration draw attention to the behaviour of the affected woman. Instead of the regular iambic pentameter which is the pulse of the poem, several of the stresses in these lines are shoved unexpectedly forwards onto the first syllable, against the beat, just like the affected women who are shoving themselves forward for attention. For example, ‘Shows in her cheek’, ‘Practis’t to lisp’, ‘Faint into airs’, ‘Wrap’t in a gown’. In each case the accented word is the verb, the affected action of the attention­seeking woman. After these lines about imagined ailments comes the implication of a real one in ‘each new night-dress gives a new disease.’ The suggestion is that of sexually transmitted disease. (This suggestion is given graphic reality in Hogarth’s series of paintings, Marriage a la Mode.)

Spleen is sheltered, screened, sighs for ever; she is accompanied by pain, migraine, ill-nature and affectation. That’s to say, if you decide to give way to melancholy, hysteria and neurosis, you will be afflicted by pain and migraine (probably because you are a hypochondriac); you will be depressed (sighs for ever), sulky (because spleen is a sullen region). You will channel most of your energies into being ill-natured (your bosom will be filled with heartfelt lampoons). You will be affected, not spontaneous, hanging the head, fainting, languishing and sinking on rich quilts in order to attract attention. Both the ill-nature and the affectation are attributes of women who are no longer young (Ill-nature is ‘like an ancient maid’ and she has a ‘wrinkled form’. Does the ill-nature stem in part from her failure to get married? In figure and … face, Affectation is quite different, but she’s not in her first youth either. She ‘shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen’; she tries to be alluring with her lisping and her new night-dress and her ‘becoming woe’ but the overall effect is tiresome, diseased and negative.

The Spectator No 45 furnishes a satirical description of such a lady. ‘The Lady, tho’ willing to appear undrest, had put on her best Looks, and painted herself for our Reception. Her Hair appeared in a very nice Disorder, as the Night Gown which was thrown upon her Shoulders was ruffled with great Care.’

Canto IV, lines 39- 54: The misty and nightmarish setting of the Palace of Spleen.

A constant Vapour o’er the palace flies;
Strange phantoms rising as the mists arise; 40
Dreadful, as hermit’s dreams in haunted shades,
Or bright, as visions of expiring maids.
Now glaring fiends, and snakes on rolling spires,
Pale spectres, gaping tombs, and purple fires:
Now lakes of liquid gold, Elysian scenes, 45
And crystal domes, and angels in machines.

Modern Version

There is a constant cloud of mist over the palace of spleen
and strange phantoms rise with the mists.
Some are the stuff of nightmares,
some very bright and fantastical.
At one moment you see glaring devils, snakes supported on their coils,
pale ghosts, open tombs and purple fires,
the next moment you see lakes of liquid gold, heavenly scenes,
domes made of crystal and angels appearing from theatrical devices.

Pope describes the nightmare setting around the Palace of Spleen, that ‘dismal Dome’ of line 18 where the Goddess of Spleen ‘sighs for ever on her pensive Bed’. Apparently hallucinations were common symptoms of someone suffering from spleen. Pope wrote to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu on 5 February 1716/7:

‘I am foolish again; and methinks I am imitating, in my ravings, the dreams of splenetic enthusiasts and solitaires, who fall in love with saints, and fancy themselves in the favour of angels and spirits, whom they can never see or touch.’
(‘Enthusiast’ in this sense means prophetic or poetic ecstasy, fancied inspiration; a solitaire is someone who lives alone and perhaps relclusively.)

In the phantasmagoric landscape of ‘the gloomy Cave of Spleen’, strange phantoms appear in the rising mists – some dreadful (inspiring dread, the stuff of nightmares and horror), some bright but fantastic. Pope is having fun here with the word ‘vapour’ – it means the mist that flies (swirls) around the Palace, but it also refers to an attack of Spleen, commonly called ‘a fit of the vapours.’ A most appropriate word, therefore, for the all-pervasive mist and gloom.

The strange phantoms to be seen here are the kind that would haunt a hermit’s dreams: ‘glaring Fiends, and Snakes on rolling Spires/Pale Spectres, gaping Tombs, and Purple Fires. The horrors are linked and highlighted through initial s’s: strange, shades, snakes, spires, spectres, and through assonance: snakes, pale, gaping. The many adjectives intensify the terror: strange, dreadful, haunted, glaring, pale, gaping. There is a slow, horror-ridden, broken rhythm, repeated in some of the lines,

strange phantoms rising …
Pale Spectres, gaping

It’s continual; there’s no let-up: ‘a constant Vapour’. Perhaps the inescapable horror is conveyed through the number of present participles – it keeps on and on: rising, glaring, rolling, gaping. Hallucination and depression, recognised symptoms of Spleen, are terrifyingly evoked here.

The visions of expiring maids are bright but unreal:

Now lakes of liquid Gold, Elysian Scenes Elysian – heavenly, delightful
And Crystal Domes, and Angels in Machines.

Contemporary operas and pantomimes involved complicated stage effects. For example, Angels in Machines refers to stage machinery that enabled angels to be suspended in air. The visions of these maids are as unreal as a stage representation.

Since the journey to the Cave of Spleen is Pope’s mock-epic version of the epic hero’s journey to the underworld, the mists appropriately represent the dark of the underworld. The ‘snakes on rolling spires’ (spirals, coils) remind us of Milton’s serpent, the Devil in his epic poem, Paradise Lost, ‘erect amidst his circling spires.’ This strange scene represents an illusory, distorted and unrealistic perception of the world. Things here are no more real than they are on the stage. It contrasts strongly with Clarissa’s commonsense version of life and how to behave, at the beginning of Canto V.

Canto IV, lines 47 – 54 The nightmarish setting (continued)

Unnumber’d throngs on every side are seen,
Of bodies chang’d to various forms by Spleen.
Here living Tea-pots stand, one arm held out,
One bent; the handle this, and that the spout: 50
A Pipkin there, like Homer’s Tripod walks;
Here sighs a Jar, and there a Goose-pie talks;
Men prove with child, as pow’rful fancy works,
And maids turn’d bottles, call aloud for corks.

Modern Version

There are countless crowds to be seen everywhere
of bodies changed to various odd shapes by attacks of Spleen (melancholy / hypochondria / hysteria).
Here are live teapots, with one arm held out like a spout

and one arm bent like a handle.

A little earthenware container is over there, walking like a tripod on three legs,
and here is a jar, sighing, and there a goose-pie is talking.
People’s fancy makes men believe they are pregnant
and virgins who have turned into bottles are shouting for cork stoppers.

Umbriel now makes his way through a fantastic band of ‘Bodies chang’d to various forms by Spleen.’ These are illusions experienced by people in a state of Spleen. Indeed, Pope comments on ‘there a Goose-pye talks’: ‘Alludes to a real fact, a Lady of distinction imagin’d herself in this condition.’ As so often, Pope has a scene from epic poetry in mind when he describes these strange figures. In Virgil’s Aeneid, ‘various Forms unnumbered Specters more: / Centaurs, and double Shapes, besiege the Door…’.

There are crowds of figures in distorted shapes brought on by powerful fancy (in other words, they are completely deluded). ‘Living Tea-pots’, ‘a pipkin’ (a small vessel) walking about, a jar sighing, pregnant men (it’s on record that a man actually did imagine that he was pregnant!) and (very basic and fairly insulting), ‘Maids turn’d bottles, call aloud for corks.’ Virgins / bottles call aloud for men to supply the equivalent of a cork to the relevant orifice. It’s maids, frustrated into ill-nature, affectation and neurosis, who seem to be particularly prone to Spleen. These distorted perceptions and wild fantasies are very different from Clarissa’s common-sense reminder of the real world where you find small-pox, old-age, ‘frail beauty must decay’, all shall fade and – tellingly – ‘she who scorns a man, must die a maid.’ Her moral, or solution, is ‘keep good-humour still’ – a quality conspicuously absent in the Cave of Spleen.

The rhythm and punctuation in some of the lines are as distorted as the shapes that splenetics have fancied themselves transformed to:

Here living Tea-pots stand, one arm held out,
One bent; the handle this, and that the spout.

Look at what Pope has done to this couplet: he’s sort of bent it. The rhythms are so up the spout that I had to count the syllables to make sure Pope hadn’t cheated: he hadn’t. This fantastic scene is a witty version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses: ‘Of bodies chang’d to various Forms I sing.’ The walking pipkin has a reputable ancestor in the Iliad (Book 18).

Canto IV, lines 55 – 78: Umbriel asks the Queen of Spleen for something with which to ‘touch Belinda with chagrin.’

Safe past the Gnome thro’ this fantastic band, 55
A branch of healing Spleenwort in his hand.
Then thus address’d the pow’r: “Hail, wayward Queen!
Who rule the sex to fifty from fifteen:
Parent of vapours and of female wit,
Who give th’ hysteric, or poetic fit, 60
On various tempers act by various ways,
Make some take physic, others scribble plays;
Who cause the proud their visits to delay,
And send the godly in a pet to pray.
A nymph there is, that all thy pow’r disdains, 65
And thousands more in equal mirth maintains.
But oh! if e’er thy Gnome could spoil a grace,
Or raise a pimple on a beauteous face,
Like Citron-waters matrons’ cheeks inflame,
Or change complexions at a losing game; 70
If e’er with airy horns I planted heads,
Or rumpled petticoats, or tumbled beds,
Or caus’d suspicion when no soul was rude,
Or discompos’d the head-dress of a Prude,
Or e’er to costive lap-dog gave disease, 75
Which not the tears of brightest eyes could ease:
Hear me, and touch Belinda with chagrin,
That single act gives half the world the spleen.”

Modern Version

The gnome Umbriel made his way safely through this fantastic crowd
with a branch of the fern leaf of the plant spleenwort in his hand.
Then he addressed the goddess, the Queen of Spleen. ‘Greetings, perverse Queen,
ruler of women from the age of fifty to the age of fifteen,
initiator of melancholia and of creative genius in women,
who makes women either hysterical or creative,
who acts on different temperaments in different ways,
some women respond by taking medicine, others by writing plays.
You cause proud women to delay their visits
and inspire the devout to pray in a fit of ill temper.
There is a young woman I want to draw to your attention, who thinks nothing of your power,
and keeps many more people in an equally cheerful state.
But, if ever I, your servant gnome, could spoil elegance
or produce a spot on a beautiful face
or inflame older women’s cheeks in the same way as a drink of brandy and lemon
or make people go pale as they lose a game,
if ever I managed to make a man suspect his wife for no reason
or rumpled her petticoat or left the bed in a mess
or caused suspicion for no reason
or messed up the head-dress of a prudish virgin
or gave a disease to a constipated lap-dog
which even the tears of the prettiest, brightest-eyed owner could make better,
hear my prayer, and give Belinda a fit of bad-temper
because that one action would give half the world (all the men in the world) an attack of spleen and melancholy and unhappiness.


Umbriel makes his way through this ‘fantastic Band’ holding a branch of spleenwort, a herb that was supposed to cure attacks of spleen. This is a nod at the epic hero, Aeneas, who carried a golden bough to travel safely through the Underworld. Umbriel’s speech to the Goddess of Spleen constitutes most of this passage. The speech lists common symptoms of people suffering from spleen. It is modelled on a speech in the Aeneid. The Goddess seems principally to rule (or affect) women during the years when they are at the mercy of hormones: ‘Who rule the Sex to Fifty from Fifteen’. Some periodicals wrote of the spleen as afflicting both sexes – indeed, Pope does mention the pregnant man. Umbriel respectfully attributes to the unpredictable Queen the power of causing vapours (hysterics), hysterics, creative genius (female wit, poetic fit(s), scribbl(ing) Plays). The Queen of Spleen causes some of her subjects to become hypochondriacs (some take physic), and sends people off in a huff to pray. ‘And send the godly in a pett, to pray. The alliterated ‘pett’ and ‘pray’ highlights the fact that being in a pett is not a recommended state of mind for praying.

Belinda (‘a nymph there is’) disdains (doesn’t recognise) the power of Spleen, and, worse still, makes thousands of people as happy as she is. Umbriel (who as a Gnome is dedicated to stirring up ‘mischief’ – Canto 1, line 64) reminds the goddess of all his misery-inducing tactics – he has an excellent track-record – and asks her if she would consent to ‘touch Belinda with chagrin’ (bad temper, ill-humour). His credentials to date are: spoiling a grace (a pleasing, attractive quality or feature), seeing to it that spots appear on beautiful faces; making women’s cheeks go bright red (producing the same effect as if they’d drunk citron waters – brandy with lemon rind. Mind you, if you wake at noon and take ‘a large dram (a draught, a drink) of citron water’ as the lady in Swift’s ‘Journal of a Modern lady’ did – no wonder your cheeks are puce. Umbriel has also succeeded in making husbands imagine that their wives are unfaithful (husbands of unfaithful wives were said to grown horns, but these are ‘airy’ because imaginary, without foundation. Of course, the rumpled petticoats and tumbled beds would add fuel to the husbands’ suspicions. Other triumphs of distress are to mess up a prude’s head-dress, and cause illness in a constipated ‘costive’ lap dog. Think of all the mischief I have caused and please let me stir up some more, urges Umbriel. Touch Belinda with chagrin. Many of the rhyming words act almost as a catalogue of mischiefs: wit/fit, delay/pray, heads (with horns)/beds, chagrin (pronounced shagreen)/spleen.

Read More

Excerpt from Swift’s ‘Journal of a Modern Lady’ (1728)

The modern dame is waked by noon,
(Some authors say not quite so soon,)
Because, though sore against her will,
She sat all night up at quadrille.
She stretches, gapes, unglues her eyes,
And asks if it be time to rise;
Of headache and the spleen complains;
And then, to cool her heated brains,
Her night-gown and her slippers brought her,
Takes a large dram of citron water.
Then to her glass; and, “Betty, pray,
Don’t I look frightfully to-day?
But was it not confounded hard?
Well, if I ever touch a card!
Four matadores, and lose codille!
Depend upon’t, I never will.

A contemporary satirist wrote: ‘Her closet is always as well stored with juleps, restoratives, and strong waters as an apothecary’s shop or a distiller’s laboratory. As soon as she rises she must have a salutary dram to keep her stomach from the cholic; a whet before she eats, to procure appetite; after eating, a plentiful dose for concotion (digestion); and to be sure a bottle of brandy under her bedside for fear of fainting in the night.’

Canto IV, lines 79- 88: The goddess of Spleen gives Umbriel a bag of unhappiness.

The Goddess with a discontented air
Seems to reject him, tho’ she grants his pray’r. 80
A wond’rous Bag with both her hands she binds,
Like that where once Ulysses held the winds;
There she collects the force of female lungs,
Sighs, sobs, and passions, and the war of tongues.
A Vial next she fills with fainting fears, 85
Soft sorrows, melting griefs, and flowing tears.
The Gnome rejoicing bears her gifts away,
Spreads his black wings, and slowly mounts to day.

Modern Version

The goddess of spleen seems to reject Umbriel’s request and looks thoroughly discontented
but she grants what he asks for.
She ties up a remarkable bag
similar to the one in which Ulysses contained the winds (in The Odyssey).
In this bag, the goddess collects the full force of women’s lungs,
sighs, sobs, passions and quarrels.
Next, she fills a small glass bottle with fainting fears / panic attacks,
sorrows, grief and tears.
Full of pleasure, Umbriel carries her presents away,
spreads his black wings and slowly flies up to earth again.

The Goddess of Spleen fills a bag with sighs, sobs, passions and quarrels, and a little glass bottle with sorrow, griefs and tears. Umbriel ascends, making his way back through the Underworld, or world of Belinda’s subconscious mind and emotions. He returns to the reception room in Hampton Court where he finds Belinda and the assembled coffee drinkers and card-players.

The Goddess of Spleen grants Umbriel’s wish in a way typical of splenetic people: she is thoroughly difficult and appears to be rejecting his request even while she accedes to it. Wakefield writing in the 1790s observes: ‘that way-ward humour (mood), which inclines people under the influence of this queen to mortify by refusal, even when the request is in unison with their own disposition’.

The bag full of screams and quarrels (the force of female lungs) is reminiscent of a bag that Ulysses was given in the Odyssey (Book 10). It contained the force of the winds that would blow against him as he sailed home.

There she collects the force of female lungs,
Sighs, sobs, and passions, and the war of tongues.

Force and war are powerful, aggressive words: the sighs, sobs and passions are
emotional. Belinda is going to be directing the full force of her emotions at the
Baron. The rhyme lungs/tongues points towards the forthcoming noise.

A vial next she fills with fainting fears (a little glass bottle)
Soft sorrows, melting griefs, and flowing tears.

The soft fs and Is in these lines are very feminine. The Baron is going to be subjected to all the force of feminine emotions (fears, sorrows, griefs, tears) as well as the power of female lungs. There is a pattern of fs that links the emotional words, fainting fears, soft, griefs, flowing. Again, the rhyme brings to our notice the emotional weapons, fears and tears.

Canto IV, lines 89 -120: Umbriel rips open the bag of unhappiness over Belinda.

Sunk in Thalestris’ arms the nymph he found,
Her eyes dejected and her hair unbound. 90
Full o’er their heads the swelling bag he rent,
And all the Furies issu’d at the vent.
Belinda burns with more than mortal ire,
And fierce Thalestris fans the rising fire.
“O wretched maid!” she spread her hands, and cry’d, 95
(While Hampton’s echoes, “Wretched maid!” reply’d)
“Was it for this you took such constant care
The bodkin, comb, and essence to prepare?
For this your locks in paper durance bound,
For this with tort’ring irons wreath’d around? 100
For this with fillets strain’d your tender head,
And bravely bore the double loads of lead?
Gods! shall the ravisher display your hair,
While the Fops envy, and the Ladies stare!
Honour forbid! at whose unrivall’d shrine 105
Ease, pleasure, virtue, all our sex resign.
Methinks already I your tears survey,
Already hear the horrid things they say,
Already see you a degraded toast,
And all your honour in a whisper lost! 110
How shall I, then, your helpless fame defend?
‘Twill then be infamy to seem your friend!
And shall this prize, th’ inestimable prize,
Expos’d thro’ crystal to the gazing eyes,
And heighten’d by the diamond’s circling rays, 115
On that rapacious hand for ever blaze?
Sooner shall grass in Hyde-park Circus grow,
And wits take lodgings in the sound of Bow;
Sooner let earth, air, sea, to Chaos fall,
Men, monkeys, lap-dogs, parrots, perish all!” 120

Modern Version

He found Belinda sunk in the arms of her friend Thalestris,
with dejected eyes and her carefully dressed hair hanging loose.
He ripped open the overfull bag over the heads of both of them
and all the furies streamed out of the hole he had torn in the bag.
Belinda is in a burning passion of anger
and her friend Thalestris, who fiercely supports her, fans the fire of her rage.
Thalestris cries out, ‘O, wretched young woman,
(and Hampton Court grounds echo her cry, ‘Wretched young woman’)
was it to have your lock of hair cut off that you took such trouble
to prepare the hairpins, combs and scent?
Was it for this that you curled your hair
with extremely uncomfortable curling irons and metal headbands
and courageously endured lead curlers?
Shall the rapist who seized your lock display it in public
while fops envy him and ladies stare at it?
Care for your reputation forbids any such idea. All women would go without ease, pleasure or virtue to ensure that our reputation remains secure.
It seems to me that I can already see your tears,
already hear the horrible things society is saying about you,
already see you having lost your celebrity as a popular and admired young woman,
and your reputation lost in one malicious gossiping whisper.
Then, how will I be able to defend your reputation?
It will be scandalous to be known as your friend!
And shall this lock that the Baron has seized as a trophy
be exposed in a crystal ring set with diamonds
blazing on his rapacious hand?
I would sooner let grass grow in the fashionable drive in Hyde Park
or see fashionable young men take lodgings in the East end of London,
sooner let earth, air, and sea revert to primeval chaos,
and men, pet monkeys, pet lap-dogs and parrots all perish.


Umbriel finds Belinda sunk in her friend’s arms. He tips open the bag filled with the force of female lungs, and empties the contents over the Belinda and Thalestris. Belinda is already in a heap, ‘Her eyes dejected and her hair unbound’ (which is always a sign of distress in epic poetry and is an almost exact replication of Dryden’s description of mourning women in the Aeneid.). The Furies (of Greek legend) come out of Umbriel’s bag. Since Belinda’s friend is called Thalestris, the name of the Queen of the Amazons, a race of warrior women, and Belinda herself is aflame with anger (‘ire’), the uproar is going to be monumental. ‘Fierce Thalestris fans the rising fire’ of Belinda’s rage, and the alliterative fs stress the fury.

Thalestris commiserates with Belinda in a way calculated to increase Belinda’s wrath; she adopts the position that the snipping of this curl is an absolute disaster. ‘Sooner let earth, air, sea, to Chaos fall’ than let the Baron (emotively dubbed ‘the ravisher’) keep and display the captured lock.
Thalestris’ speech is modelled on a speech in the Iliad (Book 7). This completely undermines the hysteria of the moment.

O wretched maid! she spread her hands, and cry’d,
(While Hampton’s echoes, wretched maid! reply’d)
Was it for this you took such constant care
The bodkin, comb, and essence to prepare?
For this your locks in paper durance bound, (imprisonment)
For this with tort’ring irons wreath’d around? (curlers)
For this with fillets strain’d your tender head, (headbands)
And bravely bore the double loads of lead?

She calls Belinda, ‘O wretched maid!’ and evidently she is declaiming the speech at the top of her voice, since the echo ‘wretched maid!’ reverberates. (Pope actually gives the echo effect in the couplet, repeating the phrase at its beginning and end.) ‘The bodkin’ that Thalestris mentions is a long pin that Belinda will have used to fasten up her hair and the ‘essence’ is scent. The ordeals that Belinda endured to present such perfect beauty to the world are stressed by repeated rhetorical questions: ‘Was it for this … For this … For this … For this …? Since they are rhetorical questions they serve simply to increase Belinda’s sense of outrage without helping her to find a solution.

In order to appear so beautiful, Belinda seems to have undergone torments worthy of an epic hero in durance vile. Hairdressing techniques of the time could be pretty punitive. ‘Hair was crimped in heated irons and curled in papers kept in place by pliable lead ties’ (David Fairer in Eighteenth-century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology). Her hair curlers imprisoned (‘durance’) her locks; the curling irons were ‘tort’ring’, the fillets (headbands sometimes made of metal for binding hair) ‘strain’d’ her head, and she ‘bravely bore’ loads of lead (again, to do with hair curlers).

Thalestris follows this catalogue of torments with several indignant exclamations, again calculated to arouse Belinda’s sense of being outrageously ill used.

Gods! shall the ravisher display your hair,
While the Fops envy, and the Ladies stare!
Honour forbid! at whose unrival’d shrine
Ease, pleasure, virtue, all, our sex resign.

The rhymes hair/stare enhance the impression of the Lock becoming an object in the public gaze. The Baron is cast in the role of villain (‘the ravisher’) rather than seen as a rather over-the-top joker. The second couplet, starting ‘Honour forbid …’ is something of a giveaway. What does honour mean? Is it virtue, chastity, purity? Or is it merely reputation (possibly completely undeserved, but to be kept up at all costs)? Honour has a shrine (a casket, or tomb, containing the relics of a saint, visited by pilgrims and held in reverence). Thalestris is giving honour religious status, but is this endorsed by moral reality? The female sex apparently resigns (is willing to give up) ease and pleasure in order to be thought honourable by everyone else in society. Shockingly, women are quite ready to give up ‘virtue’ to achieve this end. If honour can be acquired by giving away virtue, or chastity, then it obviously doesn’t involve virtue. It’s only cosmetic, superficial – a reputation that will hold good in fashionable society. At which point one remembers the epic heroes’ ideal of honour – the real McCoy. Society’s version falls very short of this. The rhyming words shine (with its religious connotations) and resign (what one would do to acquire a reputation) reflect this conflict of values.

Methinks already I your tears survey,
Already hear the horrid things they say,
Already see you a degraded toast,
And all your honour in a whisper lost!
How shall I, then, your helpless fame defend?
‘Twill then be infamy to seem your friend!

Thalestris’ imagination is running ahead of her, and the repeated ‘already’ demonstrates the speed at which the gossip about Belinda might spread. We rush from ‘your tears’ to ‘horrid things they say’ (very colloquial; you can hardly believe the poem was written 300 years ago) to ‘a degraded (cheapened) toast (beauty to whom healths were drunk)/And all your honour in a whisper lost’. The hissing s’s of ‘whisper lost’ mimic the sound of the scandalous gossip spreading like wildfire. Thalestris paints a dire picture: ‘honour’, ‘fame’ (good name), ‘toast’ all ‘lost’, ‘degraded’, helpless’, ‘infamy’ (public disgrace). Pope plays on the contrast between ‘fame’ and ‘infamy’ (stigma). Thalestris implies that she won’t want to run the risk of social ‘infamy’ by continuing to be Belinda’s friend.

Thalestris immediately proceeds to pursue another outrageous train of thought. How can one stomach the idea of the Baron keeping and displaying the lock? She suspects he would have the lock of hair (or part of it) set in a diamond ring,

Expos’d thro’ crystal to the gazing eyes
And heightened by the diamond’s circling rays,
On that rapacious hand for ever blaze?

She feels (rightly, remembering Canto 11, line 44) that the Baron regards the lock as a ‘prize’, a trophy. The z sound is repeated in words that suggest the Baron is not going to keep his acquisition under wraps: ‘prize’ (twice), ‘eyes’, ‘rays’, ‘blaze’ ‘the gazing eyes’. The rhyming ‘rays/gaze’ emphasises how the Baron is going to exhibit the lock in public.

In folk songs, the rivers will run dry and the rocks melt in the sun if ever the singer proves false to the man she loves. Pope’s version is rather more urbane. Before the Baron shows off his trophy to all and sundry, grass, declares Thalestris, shall grow in Hyde Park Circus (the Ring was a famously dusty, grass-less place for driving, despite being so fashionable). Wits would be found living in the city rather than Thalestris accepting the idea that the Baron would wear the Lock set in a ring. By Pope’s time the fashionable part of London, where ‘wits’ would live, was west of the City. Merchants lived in the City, within earshot of Bow bells – the bells of St Mary le Bow Church in Cheapside, the east end of London which was the commercial district.

Sooner let earth, air, sea, to Chaos fall,
Men, monkeys, lap-dogs, parrots, perish all!

It’s rather like an exercise in the exams of the 1950s: in the second line of the couplet, what is the odd man out in this list? ‘Men’. So are men only fashion accessories, along with monkeys, lap-dogs and parrots? They’re linked to the monkeys through the alliterating m. The rhythm in this couplet is very disjointed, reflecting the chaotic sentiments of Thalestris. As so often, the priorities expressed are utterly confused: in the first line Thalestris consigns the basic elements of planet Earth to Chaos rather than have the Baron wear Belinda’s lock in a ring. In the second, she’s wanting to abolish men and fashion accessories rather than let this outrage occur. Earth, air, sea and parrots are hopelessly jumbled, sharing a couplet. Thalestris wants to be rid of the lot (‘fall/all’) rather than have Belinda’s lock and the proprieties so outrageously flouted.

Canto IV, lines 121 – 130: Thalestris demands that Sir Plume ask for Belinda’s lock to be returned.

She said; then raging to Sir Plume repairs,
And bids her Beau demand the precious hairs;
(Sir Plume of amber snuff-box justly vain,
And the nice conduct of a clouded cane)
With earnest eyes, and round unthinking face, 125
He first the snuff-box open’d, then the case,
And thus broke out–“My Lord, why, what the devil?
“Z–ds! damn the lock! ‘fore Gad, you must be civil!
Plague on’t!’t is past a jest–nay prithee, pox!
Give her the hair”–he spoke, and rapp’d his box. 130

Modern Version

When Thalestris had said this, she went in a rage over to her beau, Sir Plume,
and told him to demand Belinda’s precious lock back again.
Sir Plume was rightly proud of his amber snuff-box
and the exquisite way he managed his fashionable cane.
He had an earnest expression in his eyes and a round face which showed he had no capacity for thought
and he opened his snuff-box and then addressed Thalestris’s question.
He said, ‘Good gracious, what the devil,
God’s wounds, damn the lock of hair, God knows you have to be polite,
a plague on the whole matter, it’s past a joke, no, I beg you, a pox on the whole business,
give the girl back her lock of hair.’ And he rapped his snuff box.

After her outburst, allegedly in defence of her friend but actually increasing Belinda’s emotional distress, Thalestris rages off to her Beau, Sir Plume. She demands that he reclaim the lock. Sir Plume’s qualifications for this task are presented, ironically, as being impressive. He’s the possessor of a fancy amber snuff-box (fashion accessory) – ‘justly’ (rightly) is entirely ironic. Pope’s Sir Plume was in fact Arabella Fermor’s second cousin, Sir George Browne. He was very annoyed at finding himself caricatured in this way.

The syntax belittles Sir Plume, too. As Barbara M Benedict writes, ‘Belinda’s beauty relies on commodities that make her identity a display of consumption. … She is not alone: Sir Plume is defined by his fashionable accoutrements, one of which is an action – conduct of the cane – entirely dependent on the object. Moreover, Pope tucks Sir Plume into parentheses, cabining him in syntax.’ Curiosity: A cultural history of early Modern Inquiry, by Barbara M Benedict, University of Chicago Press

He is also very skilful at twirling his Malacca walking stick or cane (made of streaked or clouded timber). Canes were often very luxurious. In his poem ‘Trivia’, John Gay refers to fashionable young men with amber-headed canes for ’empty show’ (in other words, carried beneath the arm). But canes could also be useful in summoning a coach or a chair, and you could use a cane to fend off footpads. The way you carried and twiddled your cane was a serious fashion issue (as instanced by The Tatler of December 1709 – it’s in Read More). Alliterating c’s connect and draw our attention to this important dexterity: conduct, clouded, cane.

Fluent articulate sentences are not Sir Plume’s forte:

‘My Lord, why, what the devil?

Zounds! Damn the lock! ‘fore Gad, you must be civil!
Plague on’t! ’tis past a jest – nay prithee, pox!
Give her the hair’ – he spoke, and rapp’d his box.

He is so incoherent that he’s reduced to rapping the snuff-box; he’s lost for words. The only sentence he manages to muster is ‘Give her the hair’; the rest is rapid, stuttering exclamations and oaths. It is additionally funny that Pope has set these stuttering ejaculations in elegant heroic couplets. (The rhythm is lost of course – it would be too much for Sir Plume to speak rhythmically.)

Pope may have taken the idea of Sir Plume’s incoherence from an article in The Tatler No 13, May 1709. The writer went to ‘a common Swearer: never was creature so puzled as myself, when I came first to view his brain: half of it was worn out, and filled up with mere expletives, that had nothing to do with any other parts of the texture; therefore, when he called for his cloths in a morning, he would cry, ‘John?’ – John does not answer. ‘What a plague! nobody there? What the devil, and rot me, John, for a lazy dog as you are!’ I knew no way to cure him. .. The last recital I gave him of what he said for half an hour before was, ‘What, a pox rot me! where is the wash-ball? call the chairmen! damn ’em, I warrant they are at the ale-house already! zounds, and confound them!’

Raymond Stephanson points out that ‘The five speeches about the ‘rape’ that follow in rapid succession – by Thalestris, Sir Plume, the Baron, Belinda, and then Clarissa – each articulate some version of what those hairs mean culturally… By far the simplest take on the matter … Sir Plume’s stuttering demand acknowledges the violation of social protocol. “You must be civil…” … Belinda and the Baron represent the least civil and most dangerous accounts…’. ‘Pope, Biology and Culture’ by Ramond Stephanson, Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, University of Toronto Press, 2016, pp125, 126.

Canto IV, lines 131 – 140: The baron refuses to return the lock of hair.

“It grieves me much” (reply’d the Peer again)
“Who speaks so well should ever speak in vain.
But by this Lock, this sacred Lock I swear,
(Which never more shall join its parted hair;
Which never more its honours shall renew, 135
Clipp’d from the lovely head where late it grew)
That while my nostrils draw the vital air,
This hand, which won it, shall for ever wear.”
He spoke, and speaking, in proud triumph spread
The long-contended honours of her head. 140

Modern Version

The Baron replied, ‘It distresses me a great deal
that anyone who speaks so persuasively should ever speak in vain.
But I swear, by this lock of hair
which will never again rejoin the hair of
the head where it grew and which it honoured,
as it has been snipped from Belinda’s beautiful head,
that while I live and breathe
I shall wear the lock on this hand which won the lock from Belinda.’
When he had finished speaking, he proudly and triumphantly spread out
the tresses in the lock of hair.

The Baron speaks in well-turned, elegant articulate sentences, a contrast to Sir Plume. He models his speech on a passage from the Iliad (Book 1). Ironically, he praises Sir Plume for the way he has expressed his request: ‘It grieves me much …/Who speaks so well should ever speak in vain.’ He describes the Lock as if it were a holy object, worthy of worship – ‘this sacred Lock’. Is he thus reflecting the importance of beauty in this society? or simply praising Belinda’s lovely lock while making abundantly clear his intention not to relinquish it? Does he know how society will interpret his ownership of the lock?

He spoke, and speaking, in proud triumph spread
The long-contended honours of her head.

(Honours are beautiful things that make an object honoured.)

Canto IV, lines 141 – end of Canto: Umbriel breaks the little bottle of sorrows over Belinda’s head. Belinda wishes she had never come to Hampton Court.

But Umbriel, hateful Gnome! forbears not so;
He breaks the Vial whence the sorrows flow.
Then see! the nymph in beauteous grief appears,
Her eyes half-languishing, half-drown’d in tears;
On her heav’d bosom hung her drooping head, 145
Which, with a sigh, she rais’d; and thus she said.
“For ever curs’d be this detested day,
Which snatch’d my best, my fav’rite curl away!
Happy! ah ten times happy had I been,
If Hampton-Court these eyes had never seen! 150
Yet am not I the first mistaken maid,
By love of Courts to num’rous ills betray’d.
Oh had I rather un-admir’d remain’d
In some lone isle, or distant Northern land;
Where the gilt Chariot never marks the way, 155
Where none learn Ombre, none e’er taste Bohea!
There kept my charms conceal’d from mortal eye,
Like roses, that in deserts bloom and die.
What mov’d my mind with youthful Lords to roam?
Oh had I stay’d, and said my pray’rs at home! 160
‘Twas this, the morning omens seem’d to tell,
Thrice from my trembling hand the patch-box fell;
The tott’ring China shook without a wind.
Nay, Poll sat mute, and Shock was most unkind!
A Sylph too warn’d me of the threats of fate, 165
In mystic visions, now believ’d too late!
See the poor remnants of these slighted hairs!
My hands shall rend what ev’n thy rapine spares:
These in two sable ringlets taught to break,
Once gave new beauties to the snowy neck; 170
]The sister-lock now sits uncouth, alone,
And in its fellow’s fate foresees its own;
Uncurl’d it hangs, the fatal shears demands,
And tempts once more thy sacrilegious hands.
Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize 175
Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!”

Modern Version

But the hateful gnome Umbriel can’t endure this.
He breaks open the little bottle of sorrows.
Look! Belinda is now in the throes of a fit of grief – although she still looks beautiful.
Her eyes are half drowned in tears.
Her head hung drooping on her heaving bosom,
and she raised it and said,
‘May this hateful day be for ever cursed,
when my best and favourite curl was snatched away.
I would have been ten times happier
if I had never seen Hampton Court.
But I’m not the first young woman to have made the mistake
of loving to frequent the fashionable court and by so doing exposing myself to unhappiness and betrayal.
I would much rather have stayed on some
isolated island or in a distant Northern land, even if that meant I would not be admired,
where guilded carriages never make ruts in the road
and no-one learns how to play ombre or drink the best tea.
There I would have kept my beauty hidden from human eyes,
like roses that flower and die in deserts.
What persuaded me to keep company with young aristocrats?
I wish I had stayed at home and said my prayers.
This is what the omens seemed to foretell this morning,
I dropped my patch-box three times,
a china vase wobbled, although there was no wind,
the parrot was silent and my little lap-dog Shock was unkind to me!

One of the sylphs warned me of what would happen
in a dream, and now it’s too late, I believe what I dreamed.
See what’s left of my hair!
My hands will rip up what your theft has left of my hair.
My hair was trained to part into two black ringlets
which made my white neck seem even whiter.
Now the only lock left falls in a strange, lonely way
and suspects that it will share the fate of its fellow lock.
It hangs, straight, uncurled, asking for the disastrous scissors
and tempts your sacrilegious hands again.
You cruel man, if only you had been content to seize
hairs on parts of my body that can’t be seen, or any hairs but the lock.

Umbriel now instigates more mischief: the Goddess of Spleen had given him a little vial (glass bottle) in addition to the swelling bag. He empties the content of the vial (fears, sorrows and tears) over Belinda’s head and Belinda

in beauteous grief appears,

Her eyes half-languishing, half-drown’d in tears,
On her heav’d bosom hung her drooping head,
Which, with a sigh, she rais’d …

Several verbs in these lines suggest a despairing posture: languishing (drooping), hung, drooping. Pope tells us that Belinda raises her head ‘with a sigh’ and the many h’s convey sounds of sighing and depression: half-languishing, half-drown’d, heav’d bosom hung her drooping head.

Belinda’s speech is modelled on Achilles’ lament for his friend Patroclus in the Iliad (Book 18). It begins: ‘Curs’d be that Day…’. Is Belinda lamenting her lost beauty or just complaining? And can the loss of a lock really be compared to the loss of a friend in death? The discrepancy between a lock of hair and a friend gives you the answer. The opening is phrased in grandiose epic elevated language: ‘For ever curs’d be this detested day’ but is instantly deflated by ‘Which snatch’d my best, my (up to this point it could still be an event of some magnitude – but now comes the crash: it’s only a curl) fav’rite curl away!’ Pope follows the same pattern in the next couplet: ‘Happy! ah ten times happy had I been’ (an adaptation of Dido’s cry in the Aeneid). It’s a lofty claim, but is undermined by ‘If Hampton-Court these eyes had never seen.’ The exclamations accentuate the apparently solemn tone, making the build-up all the greater and the damp squib all the damper when it comes in the second line of the couplet. Belinda associates herself tragically with all the other mistaken maids who have been betray’d, the rhyme and the exclamation highlighting the hysterical seriousness with which she views this altogether trivial event.

Oh had I rather un-admir’d remain’d
In some lone isle, or distant Northern land

We seem to have wandered into the realms of the wildly unlikely – a heroine of Legend, perhaps, on a lone isle? This, from Belinda, whose entire mission in life is to be admired (‘ev’ry Eye was fix’d on her alone’ II, line 6). She repeats the construction ‘0 had I stay’d …’ and ‘Oh Hadst thou, Cruel …’ She wishes she had never been a member of fashionable society with its gilt Chariots (which generally left deep ruts in the mud of the roads), its cards and its ‘in’ drink – Bohea tea. (According to Dr Johnson, this was ‘a species of tea, of higher colour, and more astringent tastes than green tea’. It was the name given to the finest kinds of black tea from China.)

There (in some lone isle) kept my charms conceal’d from mortal eye,
Like roses, that in desarts bloom and die.
What mov’d my mind with youthful Lords to road?
O had I stay’d, and said my pray’rs at home!

In these lines Belinda paints an exaggerated picture of Self Like a Rose, blossoming and dying unseen in a Desart. She laments her decision to play cards with ‘youthful Lords’. The rhetorical question and the dramatic exclamation that answers this question are highly self-dramatising. Clearly the convent beckons. Such an over-reaction to a trivial event is funny. It also shows how naive and immature Belinda is, responding in such an exaggerated way. Does she, who wears a cross as a jewel, and whose Bible is scattered amongst her puffs, powders, patches and billet doux, honestly think she would have spent the day on her knees? She has very little self-knowledge if she does. On the other hand, it is possible in this hawk-eyed society, where ‘at ev’ry word a reputation dies’, that Belinda is not exaggerating the event. She knows exactly how her world will receive the sight of her and the interpretation they will put on it.

Rather like someone poring over their star-sign in a magazine, Belinda remembers various ‘Morning omens’: she dropped her box of patches, a China ornament wobbled, the parrot was quiet and the little lap-dog was in some way ‘unkind’. She should have read these warnings more accurately. In the Aeneid, Virgil notes a comprehensive set of omens that precede the death of Dido; indeed, such omens were common in poetry. Belatedly, Belinda remembers Ariel’s attempt to warn her in a dream that morning: ‘Some dread Event impend(s)’. Belinda pictures her life in epic phrases: ‘Twas this, the morning omens seem’d to tell’; ‘the threats of fate’, ‘mystic visions’. All this elevated language is rather undermined by the trivia of reality, the world of the eighteenth-century young society beauty: ‘the patch box’, ‘Poll’, ‘Shock’ – these are ridiculous little omens.

Again, Belinda exaggerates and dramatises the event, commanding everyone to look:
‘See …’, and the hairs are personified, thereby increasing their importance – from being mere things they are raised to the status of people. ‘The poor remnants of these slighted hairs!’ and ‘The sister-lock now sits uncouth, alone,/And in its fellow’s fate forsees its own.’ Phrases like ‘what … thy rapine spares’ and ‘the sister-lock now sits … alone’ suggest families being torn apart, as in an epic battle. But we’re talking about a curl. ‘Fate’ normally applies to something momentous, not to a curl. The Baron is accused of having ‘sacrilegious hands’ as if he’d committed an offence against God. The moral language, ‘tempts’ and ‘sacrilegious’ shows us that the moral code of this society revolves around appearance.

Belinda herself is ‘the goddess’ of appearance, the culmination of this worship of appearance. She is also the representative, in her reactions to the loss of the curl, of her society. She sees the Baron’s daring joke as ‘rapine’ (like the rape of the Sabine women, a notorious event in legend). In a childish tantrum, Belinda asserts that she will wreck the remaining curl, even if the Baron doesn’t yield to the temptation of snipping it off.

Although Belinda says that her hair broke (divided) in two sable ringlets (the dark hair setting off to perfection the whiteness of her neck), Arabella Fermor’s hair was actually fair auburn. (There are three portraits of her.) However, black hair was fashionable, and black lead combs were used to darken fair hair.

Looking at some of the diction (words) in Belinda’s speech, you will find: ‘For ever curs’d, detested day, mistaken maid … to num’rous ills betray’d, the morning omens, trembling hand, threats of fate, mystic visions, thy rapine, fellow’s fate, fatal sheers, tempts, thy sacriligious hands. The tone of these words is serious, grand, lofty, elevated, moral, tragic, doomed. If you look at the style there are exclamations and rhetorical questions. There are references to worlds far removed from fashionable London. Set against this, you have all the ridiculous flotsam, jetsam and fashion accessories of a very young woman facing her first setback, pettishly and rather naively. ‘my best, my fav’rite curl’ ‘the patch-box’, ‘Poll’, ‘Shock’, ‘these hairs’, ‘uncurl’d it hangs’, ‘ombre’, ‘bohea’. The grand and the trivial are bound closely together in heroic couplets; the effect is funny, witty, and shows Belinda’s complete failure to comprehend the nature of true tragedy.

In the Aeneid, Aeneas relates how, at the fall of Troy, Cassandra, ‘the royal Prophetess’, was dragged by her hair, and could not be kept safe ‘from sacrilegious Hands’. Pope’s description of Belinda’s lone lock, which ‘tempts once more thy sacrilegious hands’ is a direct reference to Cassandra’s fate, and stresses the trivial nature of Belinda’s loss.

The last couplet is quite a dig at Belinda’s immaturity – and also at the values of her society.

Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize
Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!

It’s a huge dramatic and tragic exclamation (‘cruel!’ refers to the Baron) and makes one wonder if she realises what she’s saying. Certainly it underlines the moral code of this society: only what can be seen matters.

J Paul Hunter focuses his attention on these last two lines, and Pope’s crucial rewriting of them in the 1714 version of the poem. In the 1712 version, they are spoken by Thalestris:

Oh had the Youth but been content to seize
Hairs less in sight – or any Hairs but these!

In the 1714 version they are spoke by Belinda as ‘the final, climactic couplet of Canto IV … and addressed directly to the Baron himself:

Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize
Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!

‘In Belinda’s mouth almost the same words become a proto-Freudian slip and we hear, as well as outrage and regret, at least the makings of desire. It’s the difference between onlook and involvement, and it transforms the way we think about the poem’s central figure – making her more vulnerable, more feminine (in Pope’s terms), and more human (in ours).’ (From ‘Introduction: The Rape of the Lock after Three Hundred Years by J Paul Hunter in Anniversary Essays on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock edited by Donald W Nichol, University of Toronto Press, 2016)
Maynard Mack, in his Alexander Pope, A Life, writes of, ‘the erotic shimmer that hangs over the entire poem like a heat haze over a meadow on an April afternoon.’ (p 252) However, some critics of Pope’s day and ours see in the poem a more explicit element verging on coarseness.

So, what is the overall effect of this speech and of the Canto? The speech is funny – all this commotion about a curl. Pope is promoting good-humour, laughing the two families together again. It shows the immaturity and naivety of adopting this position – and, since Belinda is not developed as an individual character, it seems that her reactions probably represent the reactions of at least a section of fashionable society. Her speech also highlights the confused values of this society, as does the whole poem. Appearance is the most important attribute of all, and the day on which beauty is marred is a day to be spoken of in terms of epic tragedy. Moral words, tragic words, epic phrases are applied to the loss of the curl.

The canto as a whole describes – in terms of a visit to the Underworld, or Hell – the unattractive results of being neurotic, hysterical and hypochondriacal. By implication, it is advocating good temper and common sense in the place of waywardness, affectation, ill-nature, sickliness, pride, fantasy, being a martyr to your hormones. Keeping a sense of proportion is the key, not elevating your efforts to curl your hair to scenes of torture. Not seeing a joke in terms of rape and sacrilege.

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Ridiculous fashions: canes and lisping; Beaux; effects of Spleen

Here is an extract from The Tatler, number 77, written by Sir Richard Steele.

‘About five years ago, I remember it was the fashion to be short sighted. A man would not own an acquaintance until he had first examined him with his glass. At a lady’s entrance into the play-house, you might see tubes (the ‘glass’ mentioned) immediately levelled at her from every quarter of the pit and side-boxes. However, that mode of infirmity is out (of fashion), and the age has recovered its sight: but the blind seem to be succceeded by the lame, and a janty (jaunty, stylish) limp is the present beauty. I think I have formerly observed, a cane is part of the dress of a prig (a fop or dandy), and always worn upon a button, for fear he should be thought to have an occasion (need) for it, or be esteemed really, and not genteelly a cripple…. Before the limpers came in, I remember a race of ispers, fine persons, who took an aversion to particular letters in our language. Some never uttered the letter H; and others had a mortal aversion to S.’

The Tatler, number 103 of December 1709, ridiculed the mannerisms of fashionable young men with their canes. This is an extract from an article imagining that men using fashionable canes are making petitions to persuade the judge (supposedly writing this piece) to allow them to continue to do so.

‘… your petitioner having been bred up to a cane from his youth, it is now become as necessary to him as any other of his limbs.

‘That a great part of his behaviour depending upon it, he should be reduced to the utmost necessities if he should lose the use of it.

‘That the knocking of it upon his shoe, leaning one leg upon it, or whistling with it on his mouth, are such great reliefs to him in conversation, that he does not know how to be good company without it.

‘That he is at present engaged in an amour, and must despair of success, if it be taken from him.

‘Your petitioner therefore hopes, that you worship will not deprive him of so useful and so necessary a support.

‘Upon the hearing of his case, I was touched with some compassion, and the more so, when upon observing him nearer I found he was a prig (a dandy, a fop). I bid him produce his cane in court, which he had left at the door. He did so, and I finding it to be very curiouly clouded, with a transparent amber head, and a blue ribbon to hang upon the wrist, I immediately ordered my clerk to lay it up, and deliver out to him a plain joint, headed with walnut.’


Henri Misson de Valbourg Memoirs and Observations in his Travels over England 1698, translated by Mr Ozell London 1719

Henri Misson notes that, ‘A Beau is so much the more remarkable in England, because generally speaking, the English Men dress in a plain uniform manner,’ They are ‘Creatures compounded of a Perriwig and a Coat laden with Powder as white as a Miller’s, a Face besmear’d with Snuff, and a few affected airs.’

Colley Cibber, in The Careless Husband 1704 describes a beau: ‘You always see him with a Cane dangling at his Button, his Breast open, no gloves, one Eye tuck’d under his Hat, and a Toothpick.’

Ned Ward writes: ‘A Beau is a Narcissus that is fallen in Love with himself and his own Shadow. Within Doors he is a great Friend to a great Glass, before which he admires the Works of his Taylor more than the whole Creation. His Body’s but a Poor Stuffing of a Rich Case, like Bran to a Lady’s Pincushion; that when the outside is stript off, there remains nothing that’s Valuable. His Head is a Fool’s Egg, which lies hid in a Nest of Hair; His Brains are the Yolk, which Conceit has Addled.’ and much more in the same vein. In Hickelty Pickelty, you read ‘His first Care is his Dress, the next his Body; and in the uniting these Two lies his Soul and Faculties. His business is in the Side Box, the Stage, and the Drawing Room; his Discourse consists of Dress, Equipage, and the Ladies, and his extream Politeness in writing Billet deux; which he never fails to shew in all Companies.’

Ladies afflicted by Spleen

Richard Steele writes, in The Spectator 336, of the scourge to shopkeepers posed by Ladies of Fashion who are troubled by Spleen.

‘I am …. one of the top China Women about Town; and though I say it, keep as good Things and receive as fine Company as any o’this End of the Town, let the other be who she will. In short I am in a fair Way to be easy, were it not for a Club of Female Rakes who, under pretence of taking their innocent rambles, forsooth, and diverting the Spleen, seldom fail to plague me twice or thrice a day to cheapen Tea, or buy a Skreen. What else should they mean? as they often repeat it. These Rakes are your idle Ladies of Fashion, who having nothing to do employ themselves in tumbling over my Ware. One of these No Customers (for, by the way, they seldom or never buy anything) calls for a set of Tea Dishes, another for a Bason, a third for my best Green Tea, and even to the Punch bowl; there’s scarce a piece in my Shop but must be displaced, and the whole agreeable Architecture disordered, so that I can compare ’em to nothing but to the Night Goblins that take a Pleasure to overturn the Disposition of Plates and Dishes in the kitchens of your housewifely Maids. Well, after all this Racket and Clutter, this is too dear, that is their Aversion’, another thing is Charming, but not wanted. The Ladies are cured of the Spleen, but I am not a Shilling the better for it.’

Canto V

Canto V opens with an explicit plea for good sense from Clarissa. This goes down like a lead balloon, and the assembled company begin to fight – the women against the men. In the midst of the melee the Lock disappears. Some say it went to the Lunar Sphere, but Pope authoritatively maintains that it became a beautiful constellation ‘Which adds new glory to the shining sphere!’ (sky). He also points out that the Muse of Poetry has consecrated Belinda’s lock to fame (in his poem, ‘The Rape of the Lock’!). The last pair of rhymes endorses this: ‘fame’/’name’.

Canto V, lines 1 – 8: Everyone is sorry for Belinda but the Baron remains hard-hearted.

She said: the pitying audience melt in tears.
But Fate and Jove had stopp’d the Baron’s ears.
In vain Thalestris with reproach assails,
For who can move when fair Belinda fails?
Not half so fix’d the Trojan could remain, 5
While Anna begg’d and Dido rag’d in vain.
Then grave Clarissa graceful wav’d her fan;
Silence ensu’d, and thus the nymph began.

Modern Version

That is what she said, and the sympathetic audience weep.
But, through the efforts of Fate and the king of the gods, the Baron’s ears were deaf to all appeals.
Thalestris’ reproachful pleas have no effect on him,
for who could move his feelings when beautiful Belinda herself has failed?
Aeneas was not half so resolute as the Baron
while Anna, the sister of his lover Dido, begged him to return and Dido raged against him to no effect.
Then serious Clarissa gracefully waved her fan (to indicate a wish to speak).
Everyone fell silent, and this is what she said.


The first six lines of the Canto describe the failure of Belinda’s speech to persuade the Baron to restore her lock. He is deaf to all appeal: ‘Fate and Jove had stopp’d the Baron’s ears.’ He is more obdurate even than Aeneas was when Anna begged him not to leave his lover, her sister Dido. In Dryden’s rendering of the Aeneid, this reads:

His harden’d Heart nor Pray’rs not Threatnings move;
Fate, and the God, had stop’d his Ears to Love.

As usual, Pope’s allusion to truly epic events undercuts the seriousness of the occasion.

Canto V, lines 9 – 34: Clarissa’s speech to the assembled company, advising good sense.

“Say why are Beauties prais’d and honour’d most,
The wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast? 10
Why deck’d with all that land and sea afford,
Why Angels call’d, and Angel-like ador’d?
Why round our coaches crowd the white-glov’d Beaux,
Why bows the side-box from its inmost rows;
How vain are all these glories, all our pains, 15
Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains:
That men may say, when we the front-box grace:
‘Behold the first in virtue as in face!’
Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm’d the small-pox, or chas’d old-age away; 20
Who would not scorn what housewife’s cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use?
To patch, nay ogle, might become a Saint,
Nor could it sure be such a sin to paint.
But since, alas! frail beauty must decay, 25
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since Locks will turn to grey;
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man, must die a maid;
What then remains but well our pow’r to use,
And keep good-humour still whate’er we lose? 30
And trust me, dear! good-humour can prevail,
When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”

Tell me, why are beautiful young women the people to be most praised and honoured,
why should it be they who are passionately adored by wise men and toasted by empty headed men?
Why are they adorned with all the treasures that can be found on land or in the sea,
why are they called angels and adored as if they were angels?
Why do the fashionable young men, wearing their white gloves, crowd around the coaches of young women?
Why do young men in the side-boxes of the theatre bow when young women arrive to take their seats?
How unimportant all these moments of glory, and all our efforts are
unless good sense keeps the admiration that our beauty has evoked.
So that people say, when we sit elegantly in the front box at the theatre,
‘Look, she is as good as she is beautiful.’
If only dancing all night and spending the day thinking about clothes
could cast a spell over killer diseases like smallpox, or abolished old age.
Who would not then be scornful of good housewifery
and who would bother to learn anything useful?
Then, wearing patches and eyeing up men might be what a Saint would do,
And it wouldn’t be bad to wear make-up.
But since, tragically, beautiful hair will turn grey as beauties get older,
and since, whether you were made up or not, all beautiful looks will fade,
and since the woman who scorns men must die old and unmarried,
what is left to us women but to use our power well
and maintain our good temper whatever happens to us?
Trust me, Belinda dear, good temper can win through when affected behaviour and outbursts of temper, and screaming and scolding don’t get you what you want,
beautiful women may roll their pretty eyes in vain.
People notice charm but it’s virtue that wins over people’s innermost being.


‘Then grave Clarissa graceful wav’d her fan.’ The exact iambic rhythm suggests calm, control, harmony, dignity – a contrast to the hysterical wobbly we’ve just witnessed from Belinda. The assonance of the long vowel sounds in ‘grave’, ‘graceful’, ‘wav’d’ reflects this composure. ‘Grave’ means sober or serious and it is a quality new to the poem. It’s not a quality this society recognises: Belinda, for example, is either rivalling the sun in beauty or so despairing that she wishes she’d kept her ‘charms concealed from mortal eye’. The emotions are extreme; the descriptions are hyperbolic. Here, instead of assailing or raging, ‘grave Clarissa’ gracefully waves her fan, and starts to speak. Moderation is her hallmark. After she has spoken, everyone throws sense and moderation to the winds and ‘begin th’attack’ with such undignified energy that ‘Fans clap … and tough whalebones crack.’ Not Clarissa’s style at all, with her graceful, sober waving of her fan.

Pope added this speech of Clarissa’s in 1717, with a note ‘A new Character introduced in the subsequent Editions, to open more clearly the MORAL of the Poem, in a parody of the speech of Sarpedon to Glaucus in Homer.’ (A parody is an imitation, a take-off.) Pope had translated this speech in the Iliad. It is a call to arms designed to inspire Sarpedon’s companion, Glaucus. A rough summary of the speech is: Why do we boast about our power (there follows a long description of their lands, herds, vines and feasts) and why are we ‘Admir’d as Heroes, and as gods obey’d?’ Unless we prove our superiority by our deeds, ‘the first in Valour (bravery), as the first in Place.’ If, through care, we could avoid death, we wouldn’t bother to fight. But age must come, plus ‘Disease and Death’s inexorable Doom’. We will win either way, ‘Brave tho’ we fall (in battle), and honour’d if we live.’ I’m surprised that Pope describes Clarissa’s speech as a parody of this since it is modelled directly on it, both in structure and sentiment without any witty burlesque or satire.

It’s slightly puzzling that Pope describes Clarissa as ‘a new Character’ since it was she who lent the Baron her scissors, ‘the fatal sheers’, ‘unresisted steel.’

The tone of the speech is quite different from anything that has gone before. It’s moralistic and instructive, rather than satirical and entertaining. It’s full of words advocating reason and virtue. It also lets in the clear daylight of the real world, complete with ‘small-pox’, ‘old-age’, grey hair and the undeniable fact that ‘she who scorns a man, must die a maid.’ Get real, Belinda. Clarissa’s is the voice of reason and realism; also of hope, which Belinda and Thalestris have wildly discarded, ‘trust me, dear! good-humour can prevail.’ (Good-humour is cheerful, tolerant good temper.) She promotes the idea that ‘good sense preserve(s) what beauty gains’ and introduces the idea of goodness (‘virtue’, ‘merit’): ‘Behold the first in virtue as in face’ and ‘Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.’

Clarissa starts by asking questions – ‘why’ is repeated five times – in fact, the same question, expressed in different ways, is repeated five times. Why are beautiful young women ‘prais’d and honour’d’ more than anyone else? Being Clarissa, representative of sense, goodness and moderation, she then supplies an answer to the questions (in contrast to the hysterical rhetorical questions of Thalestris and Belinda which merely got everyone even more worked up). This beauty, the special preserve of young women, is quite pointless ‘unless good sense preserve what beauty gains’ (that is, the admiration of everybody) and unless people are able to say, when they see lovely young women, ‘behold the first in virtue as in face.’

In effect, Clarissa is explicitly questioning the values of this society: are beautiful young women so much praised and admired only for their appearance? Society lavishes hyperbolic praise on young women – calling them Angels and adoring them as such because they are so beautiful. Clarissa introduces the idea that young women should be angels because they are good – ‘the first in virtue’ – not just because they are lovely – ‘as in face’. The rhymes echo the meaning- goodness and beauty should be combined: ‘grace’ (meaning here, adorn, decorate with one’s presence, but with another meaning of God’s heavenly help)/face (beauty).

The first nine lines of Clarissa’s speech are in regular iambic pentameter, reflecting control and moderation. The second section starts rather more emotionally: ‘Oh! if …’ and continues with feeling, ‘alas’. It questions the ultimate usefulness of dancing, dressing, putting on patches, ogling (making bedroom eyes) curling hair and putting on make-up. Do any of these enjoyable activities keep disease, old age or death at bay? If only they did, fun and superficial pleasures could be women’s guiding star. But, alas, says Clarissa, fun doesn’t rid life of its serious threats, of its inescapable experiences.

Pope yokes the trivial (dancing and dressing) and the inexorable (small-pox and old-age) in the same couplet, demonstrating the transience of the trivial:

Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm’d the small-pox, or chas’d old-age away.

Lord Petre (the Baron of the poem) had died of smallpox in 1713, which makes this couplet all the more poignant: real life actually had pricked the bubble of the hermetically sealed fashionable world. The fun of dancing and dressing is highlighted through the alliterated ds; its inability to defeat disease and old age is similarly stressed through the linking ‘charm’d’ and ‘chas’d.’ The tone is not judgemental – it’s perfectly understanding, indeed sad that pleasure is not more effective. ‘Oh! if …’.

But since, alas! frail beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since Locks will tum to grey;
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade, painted – made-up
And she who scorns a man, must die a maid …

Pope is intensifying his technique here. It’s not just in one couplet that the superficial and the inevitable are juxtaposed; it’s in one line: ‘frail beauty … decay’, ‘curl’d … Locks will tum to grey’ and ‘painted … all shall fade’. The emphasis is on the passing of time, its ravages, death. It’s shown chronologically in each line; we move from ‘curl’d’ to ‘grey’, ‘painted’ to ‘fade’ – a youthful opening to the line and ‘decay’, ‘grey’, ‘fade’ ‘must die’ at the end of the line. Repeated vowel sounds insist on the effects of age or on the transience of beauty in the face of time: ‘frail’, ‘decay’, ‘grey’, ‘painted’, ‘not painted’, ‘fade’, ‘maid’. The rhymes confirm the same thing: decay/grey. The verbs allow no escape – they embody Death and Time’s imperative: ‘must decay, all shall fade, will turn, must die. Even the steady rhythm has temporarily departed: Curl’d or uncurl’d – the stress has moved to the beginning of the line here. Relentless logic accompanies these unacceptable truths: ‘Since …’, ‘since …’. As one critic puts it, Pope is ‘placing the heroine’s beauty in the context of ultimate defeat’ not by the scissors, which is how Belinda sees it, but by time and death.

Clarissa’s speech thus places the incident of the lock in a much wider context, the context of a whole human life. Why does society place so much value on a quality that must at best be transient? Why not embrace values that will do more for you and be lasting? Yet Pope’s opening of the window of reality with its attendant death and disease on this bubble world introduces not a critical note, more a wistful, yearning tone – ‘alas! frail beauty must decay.’ The very fragility of beauty makes it the more precious.

Practical, motherly Clarissa (‘trust me, dear’) moves on to outline what steps can be taken in the face of inexorable defeat:

What then remains, but well our pow’r to use,
And keep good-humour still whate’er we lose?
And trust me, dear! good-humour can prevail succeed, see you through,
When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail. flights of whim or caprice

‘Good humour can prevail’ – it’s not as certain as the must/will/shall of the march of time, but it’s a good bet. The rhymes prevail/fail put all this affected, capricious and hysterical behaviour into perspective. Airs and flights, and screams, and scolding don’t get you that far. You can choose which formula to go for: ‘Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.’ The alliterated ‘sight’ (beauty is only sight deep) and ‘soul’ make the contrast between the options clear and helps you to weigh up which is the more enduring and important.

This speech is very direct; there’s a straight delivery of the ideas. For the time being the witty mock epic style is replaced by serious, straightforward advice. The mood is sadder, too. Running an eye quickly over the lines, you can see that there are, for instance, fewer exclamation marks (because the tone is moderate, not OTT). There are lots of serious words. The voice of Clarissa is instructive: ‘good-humour can prevail’, ‘merit wins the soul’.

Although Clarissa’s speech is, according to Pope, a parody of Sarpedon’s speech to his companion Glaucus, it doesn’t seem to me that it loses by the comparison. Clarissa is offering Belinda sound advice in the face of inevitable adversity, just as Sarpedon did to his friend before a battle. Sarpedon asks why they should boast about their importance: ‘Admir’d as Heroes, and as Gods ohey’d’. Clarissa asks why Beauties should be so praised and admired, called Angels and adored. Clarissa points out that perhaps disease and age, certainly death, are inescapable; so does Sarpedon.

Could all our Care elude the gloomy Grave and
Since, alas! ignoble Age must come,
Disease, and Death’s inexorable Doom.

Sarpedon recommends that ‘great Acts superior Merit prove’ and says that he and Glaucus must be ‘The first in Valour, as the first in Place.’ Clarissa, adapting material appropriately, advises that beauties should be ‘the first in Virtue as in Face.’ The similarities are marked, and I see no mock-epic criticism of vices and follies.

Canto V, lines 35 – 44: Battle in the drawing-room

So spoke the Dame, but no applause ensu’d; 35
Belinda frown’d, Thalestris call’d her Prude.
“To arms, to arms!” the fierce Virago cries,
And swift as lightning to the combat flies.
All side in parties, and begin th’ attack;
Fans clap, silks rustle, and tough whalebones crack; 40
Heroes’ and Heroines’ shouts confus’dly rise,
And bass, and treble voices strike the skies.
No common weapons in their hands are found,
Like Gods they fight, nor dread a mortal wound.

Modern Version

That’s what Clarissa said, but no-one applauded her.
Belinda frowned, and her friend Thalestris said Clarissa was a prude.
Thalestris calls on everyone to fight
and everyone begins the attack
as quickly as a flash of lightning.
Women make a loud clapping sound with their fans, the silk of their dresses rustle and the whalebones in their petticoats crack.
Men’s and women’s shouts rise in a cacophony
and the sounds of deep and higher voices rises to the skies.
They use unusual weapons
and fight like the gods of legend, not fearing severe wounds.


The beau-monde is entirely unimpressed. After an epic speech there was applause;
however, Pope specifies here, ‘but no Applause ensu’d’. As usual, the airhead,
vacuous fashionable set has missed the point altogether. Clarissa had spelt it out that
‘she who scorns a Man (as Prudes do) must die a Maid’. However, “Belinda frown’d, Thalestris call’d her Prude.’ Clarissa was actually warning Belinda that if she
continued to behave like a Prude she would end up a maid (no doubt ill-natured, affected and splenetic to boot). All to no avail. Society prefers outrage to good-humour, and embarks on a quarrel.

Belinda’s friend Thalestris (named for the Queen of the Amazons, the race of warrior women) is typically the one to initiate the fight. She’s a ‘fierce Virago’ (which means a female warrior). This fight is Pope’s mock epic version of an epic battle – specifically the battle of the gods in Homer’s lliad, Book 20. The set-to demonstrates the undignified huffing and puffing of polite society’s indignation at the loss of the Lock – and Pope is poking fun at the behaviour of the Petres and the Fermors.

Heroes and Heroines shouts confus’dly rise,
And base, and treble voices strike the skies. bass
No common weapons in their hands are found,
Like Gods they fight, nor dread a mortal wound.

This sounds like gods engaging in epic battle; in fact, deflatingly, polite society is shoving and yelling in a most undignified and inelegant way. ‘Fans clap, Silks russle, and tough whalebones crack’ is the ridiculous smart fashionable reception-room version of an epic battle. ‘No common weapons in their Hands are found’ says Pope, pretending that, like the gods, these men and women have special weapons, and that like gods they do not ‘dread a mortal (fatal) wound’. Fans are certainly unusual weapons, though the Spectator reports that ‘Women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution (damage) with them’. Ladies were known to ‘discharge’ (fire) fans loudly enough to make the noise resemble the ‘Report of a Pocket-Pistol’. Whalebones stiffened women’s clothes, such as corsets and girdles. Obviously these men and women don’t fear a mortal wound if they’re quarrelling in a drawing-room, using, for example, fans as weapons. ‘Death’ also had a well-known sexual connotation, much used in Elizabethan poetry – that of male orgasm. Yon find this meaning fairly explicitly a few lines later, ‘a living death I bear’, and ‘Who sought no more than on his foe to die’, ‘Thou by some other shalt be laid as low./Nor think, to die dejects my lofty mind.’ This is the battle of the sexes, fought to the death only in a sexual sense.

Canto V, lines 45 – 52: A description of how the gods fought on Mount Olympus

So when bold Homer makes the Gods engage, 45
And heav’nly breasts with human passions rage;
‘Gainst Pallas, Mars; Latona, Hermes arms;
And all Olympus rings with loud alarms:
Jove’s thunder roars, heav’n trembles all around,
Blue Neptune storms, the bellowing deeps resound: 50
Earth shakes her nodding tow’rs, the ground gives way.
And the pale ghosts start at the flash of day!

Modern Version

In the same way, in the Iliad, Homer describes the gods in battle
experiencing human emotions in their godlike breasts,
Mars fights against Pallas Athene, and Latona fights against Hermes
and the mountain where they live echoes to the sound of war.
Jove makes his thunder roar and the skies tremble,
the god of the sea raises storms and the oceans resound,
earth shakes and there are earthquakes,
and ghosts walk.


Pope extends the comparison of this drawing room shindy to a passage from the lliad in which the gods fought on Mount Olympus: ‘So when bold Homer makes the Gods engage’ (in battle): In a simile of epic proportions, he tells us how the gods fought: ‘gainst Pallas, Mars; Latona, Hermes Arms’. Here the proper nouns (the names of the gods and goddesses) are juxtaposed and give the effect of colliding with each other, as in battle ·· it’s a technique borrowed from Ovid and Statius. As in the Hampton Court reception rooms, men and women, gods and goddesses are fighting each other.

CantoV, lines 53 – 70: Continued description of the fight in the drawing-room.

Triumphant Umbriel on a sconce’s height
Clapp’d his glad wings, and sate to view the fight:
Propp’d on the bodkin spears, the Sprites survey 55
The growing combat, or assist the fray.

While thro’ the press enrag’d Thalestris flies,
And scatters death around from both her eyes,
A Beau and Witling perish’d in the throng,
One died in metaphor, and one in song. 60
“O cruel nymph! a living death I bear,”
Cry’d Dapperwit, and sunk beside his chair.
A mournful glance Sir Fopling upwards cast,
“Those eyes are made so killing”–was his last.
Thus on Mæander’s flow’ry margin lies 65
Th’ expiring Swan, and as he sings he dies.

When bold Sir Plume had drawn Clarissa down,
Chloe stepp’d in, and kill’d him with a frown;
She smil’d to see the doughty hero slain,
But, at her smile, the Beau reviv’d again. 70

Modern Version

Umbriel, from his vantage point on a sconce (a candle holder attached to the wall), triumphantly
flapped his wings with a clapping sound and settled himself to watch the fight he had provoked.
The sylphs prop themselves on their spears (Belinda’s bodkins) in order to watch or help in the escalating battle.
Enraged Thalestris makes her way rapidly through the crowd
and gives everybody death stares.
A fop and a dunce died,
one spouting metaphors and one singing a line from an opera.
‘You are so cruel, I’m enduring a living death (I’ve reached a sexual climax),’
cried out Mr Handsome and sank onto the floor beside his chair.
Sir Fashionable looked sadly upwards
and his last words were a line from the opera Camilla, ‘Those eyes are made so killing.’
Like the dying swan lying by the flowery banks of the river Meander,
he expires as he is singing.
When bold Sir Plume had pulled Clarissa down
Chloe stepped in and frowned at him, whereupon he died at once.
She smiled at the formidable hero’s death
but when she smiled she brought the fop back to life again.


Meanwhile Umbriel, the wretched gnome who brewed all this mischief, has a grandstand view of the fight from a sconce (a candle on a wall bracket with a mirror behind it to increase the light). To help us identify the epic allusion, Pope adds a note: ‘Minerva in like manner, during the Battle of Ulysses with the Suitors in Odyssey (Book 22), perches on a beam of the roof to behold it.’

A pair of silver sconces, made in England circa 1680. The oval back plate engraved with a Chinoiserie scene of hoho birds, exotic plants and a chinaman
Silver, the oval gadroon-edged frame with scroll branch. The back of the frame has four fittings for nuts and a bar pierced with a key-hole shape to so the sconce can be hung from a hook on a wall. The detachable central back plate is engraved with a Chinoiserie scene of hoho birds, exotic plants and a pagoda. The scroll branch supports a detachable circular drip pan and screw-on sconce, both decorated with gadrooned borders. Behind the back plate is a wood pad covered with maroon velvet. (with M.52A-1961)
height, frame, 10¾, inches,
frame, 4⅜, inches
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The Sprites are ‘Propp’d on the bodkin spears,’ in order to watch the affray; similarly in the Aeneid, ‘Prop’d on his Lance the pensive Heroe stood.’ It’s a heroic posture.

Meanwhile Thalestris is rampaging around the drawing-room giving the men death-stares in a way that invites Pope’s mockery:

thro’ the press enrag’d Thalestris flies,
And scatters death around from both her eyes,
A Beau and Witling perish’d in the throng…

This action apes that of the enraged Aeneas:

As Storme the Skies, and Torrents tear the Ground,
Thus rag’d the Prince, and scatter’d Deaths around.

Thalestris’s actions finish off a Beau (an affected dandy, a fop) and a Witling (a man with hardly any brains). Dapperwit (one of her two victims) sinks beside his chair, crying, ‘O cruel nymph! a living death I bear’ (which is a bawdy metaphor). Sir Fopling manages to say, ‘Those eyes are made so killing’ before he is done for. ‘Those eyes are made so killing’ is a line from a very popular opera, Camilla performed in 1705. These drawing-room heroes ‘die’ with lines from pop-songs and vulgar innuendo on their lips – a far cry from the heroes of the epic battles of old. Dapperwit and Fopling are names of characters in plays by Wycherley and Etherege – names hardly likely to prompt our admiration. According to Pope, Sir Fopling’s last utterance is like that of ‘Th’expiring Swan’. In legend, the mute swan was thought to sing only as it died. In mentioning Maeander’s flow’ry margin, Pope is alluding to one of Ovid’s Letters from the Black Sea. This is (a) an allusion to an intellectual and serious piece of poetry; (b) Pope writes the lines romantically and beautifully, using words like ‘flow’ry margin’, ‘th’expiring Swan’, ‘as he sings he dies’. It’s gloriously and preposterously inappropriate for this ridiculous situation and highlights how ludicrous this hubbub is by that very means. (Pope was, after all, intending to laugh the two families together again.)

Now the camera moves to another comer of the room, where doughty / formidable (used ironically) Sir Plume almost seems to have got the better of Clarissa. However, another lady, Chloe, steps in and ‘kill’d him with a frown’. In other words, she looked cross. The Petres and Fermors are reacting as if the whole business were a war: Pope’s exaggerated description of the quarrel shows that there is no need to behave like this.

The Spectator No 377 of May 1712 had mocked ‘dying for Love’ and contained a list of such farcical deaths. For example:
Tim. Tattle, killed by the Tap of a Fan on his left Shoulder by Coquetilla
Sir Simon Softly, murder’d at the Play-house in Dryry-lane by a Frown
Sir Christoper Crazy, Bar., hurt by the Brush of a Whalebone Petticoat
Roger Blinko, cut off in the twenty-first Year of his Age by a White-wash.

Canto V, lines 71 – 74: The gods step in: the king of the gods, Jove, takes action.

Now Jove suspends his golden scales in air,
Weighs the Men’s wits against the Lady’s hair;
The doubtful beam long nods from side to side;
At length the wits mount up, the hairs subside.

Modern Version

Now the king of the gods hangs the scales in the air
and weighs the men’s intelligence against Belinda’s lock of hair.
The scales take a long time to settle
but at last the lock of hair is seen to be heavier than the brains of the men.


At this point, in the way of epic stories, the gods intervene. Jove (the king of the gods) ‘weighs the Men’s wits against the Lady’s Hair.’ Since we have just been shown how tiny the men’s wits are, it’s not surprising that the hairs in the Lock weigh more than the wits! Pope’s own note (Vid. Homer, lliad 8 and Virgil, Aeneid 12) reminds us that the king of the gods acts similarly in the Iliad (Book 8), and in the Aeneid (Book 12). In fact, God does too in Paradise Lost (Book 4). In epic poetry, of course, the situation is serious. In the Aeneid for example it’s a matter of life and death:

Jove sets the Beam; in either Scale he lays (the balance from which the scales hang)
The Champions Fate, and each exactly weighs.
On this side Life, and lucky chance ascends:
Loaded with Death, that other Scale descends.

Compared to the Aeneid, ‘The Rape of the Lock’ is a very light-hearted story, told in
epic-speak in order to entertain. But even so, this is a reminder that human doings are puny compared with those of greater powers.

Canto V, lines 75 – 102: Amid the chaos of the fight, the lock is lost.

See, fierce Belinda on the Baron flies, 75

With more than usual lightning in her eyes:
Nor fear’d the Chief th’ unequal fight to try,
Who sought no more than on his foe to die.
But this bold Lord with manly strength endu’d,
She with one finger and a thumb subdu’d: 80
Just where the breath of life his nostrils drew,
A charge of Snuff the wily virgin threw;
The Gnomes direct, to ev’ry atom just,The pungent grains of titillating dust.
Sudden, with starting tears each eye o’erflows, 85
And the high dome re-echoes to his nose.

Now meet thy fate, incens’d Belinda cry’d,
And drew a deadly bodkin from her side.
(The same, his ancient personage to deck,
Her great great grandsire wore about his neck, 90
In three seal-rings; which after, melted down,
Form’d a vast buckle for his widow’s gown:
Her infant grandame’s whistle next it grew,The bells she jingled, and the whistle blew;
Then in a bodkin grac’d her mother’s hairs, 95
Which long she wore, and now Belinda wears.)

“Boast not my fall” (he cry’d) “insulting foe!
Thou by some other shalt be laid as low,
Nor think, to die dejects my lofty mind:
All that I dread is leaving you behind! 100
Rather than so, ah let me still survive,
And burn in Cupid’s flames–but burn alive.”

“Restore the Lock!” she cries; and all around
“Restore the Lock!” the vaulted roofs rebound.
Not fierce Othello in so loud a strain 105
Roar’d for the handkerchief that caus’d his pain.
But see how oft ambitious aims are cross’d,
And chiefs contend ’till all the prize is lost!
The Lock, obtain’d with guilt, and kept with pain,
In ev’ry place is sought, but sought in vain: 110
With such a prize no mortal must be blest,
So heav’n decrees! with heav’n who can contest?

Modern Version

Look, fierce Belinda is attacking the Baron
with more than usual brilliance in her eyes.
The Baron wasn’t afraid to try to fight her,
he only wanted to die on his enemy (to have an orgasm).
Belinda finished off the bold young man and all his manly strength
with one finger and thumb.
She threw snuff
into his nostrils.
The gnomes directed every atom of the pungent and sneeze-inducing snuff
into his nose.
Suddenly, tears pour from his eyes
as he sneezes loudly.

Now meet your fate, shouted the enraged Belinda
and drew a dagger – in fact, a hairpin – from her side.
Her great great grandfather wore the metal that this dagger was made of
as a decoration round his neck
but in those days the metal was made into three rings. Afterwards, when they were melted down,
they were made into a huge buckle for his widow’s dress.
Then the buckle was made into a whistle for Belinda’s grandmother when her grandmother was a baby
who jingled the bells and blew the whistle.
Then it was made into a decorative hairpin and Belinda’s mother wore it for a long time
and now Belinda wears it.

‘Don’t boast about my death,’ cried the Baron, ‘you insulting enemy.
You will be laid low (made to lie down) by some other man (your lover).
And don’t think that the thought of death / orgasm depresses me.
All that I dread is leaving you.
Rather than leave you, please allow me to survive
and burn in the flames of passion, but burn alive.’

‘Give me back my lock of hair!’ Belinda cries, and everywhere
‘Give me back my lock of hair’ echoes round the vaulted roofs.
Even fierce Othello when he roared for the handkerchief
that caused him so much pain, didn’t shout this loudly.
But look at the frequency with which ambitious aims fail
and leaders fight until the prize is lost!
This lock of hair, obtained by devious means and kept by the Baron causing such pain to Belinda,
is looked for everywhere, but no-one can find it.
No mortal human being must be blessed by owning such a prize, says heaven
and who can argue with heaven?


Belinda, meanwhile, attacks the Baron ‘With more than usual lightning in her eyes’. Though the reference to lightning makes Belinda sound like a warrior queen, elemental thunderstorms gleaming from her eyes, Pope presumably means us to remember the belladonna drops she had applied in Canto I line 144, to make her eyes appear more beautiful. He tells us that the Baron ‘sought no more than on his foe (Belinda) to die’. She overcomes the Baron simply by using ‘one finger and a thumb’, in other words, she throws a pinch of snuff at him that makes him helpless with sneezes. Pope describes this Scarlet Pimpernel trick in a very grand way: the Baron’s breathing is ‘the breath of life’ and the noise of his sneezes becomes ‘the high dome (of Hampton Court reception rooms) re-echoes to his nose.’

‘Now meet thy fate, incens’d Belinda cry’d, / And drew a deadly (this is true high style, but Pope immediately undermines the grandeur in laughable bathos) bodkin (decorative hair pin) from her side.’ Pope now embarks on a detailed history and family tree of this hair pin: it started as a signet-ring, was melted down to form a vast buckle, then it was turned into a baby’s toy (a whistle) and is now a hair pin. Every detail is concerned with triviality: appearance or toys. Pope himself adds a note to point out that this is a glorious spoof on Homer’s description of Agamemnon’s Sceptre in the Iliad – a very different affair for Agamemnon’s Sceptre was made by Vulcan, blacksmith of the Roman gods, for the king of the gods.

Belinda has just one aim: to get her lock of hair back. The echo in the couplet stresses this:

Restore the Lock! She cries and all around
Restore the Lock! The vaulted roofs rebound.

The run-on line serves to increase the echo effect here as does the rhyme
‘around’/’rebound’ (echo). Pope compares Belinda’s cries and demands to those of Othello demanding the handkerchief of his wife- in other words, comparing the trivial (Belinda) with the tragic (Othello).

Canto V, lines 113 – 140: Pope gives various possibilities as to the whereabouts of the lock but tells us that in fact it rose to the skies.

From now on Pope no longer mocks the fuss over the loss of the lock: the last forty lines of the poem extol the beauty of the lock and of its owner, placing them in the context of the end of life. Preposterously, the fight at Hampton Court assumes such proportions that the lock is lost in the affray: ‘chiefs contend ’till all the prize is lost’. Tongue in cheek, Pope ascribes this to the fact that obviously ‘no mortal must be blest’ with such a prize as Belinda’s lock; heaven has decreed this. And, says Pope mischievously, ‘with heav’n, who can contest?’ Incidentally, this fulfils half the Baron’s prayer, which was ‘Soon to obtain and long possess the prize.’ (canto II, lines 44-6). ‘The Pow’rs gave ear, and granted half his pray’r / The rest, the winds dispers’d in empty air.’

Some thought it mounted to the Lunar sphere,

Since all things lost on earth are treasur’d there.
There Hero’s wits are kept in pond’rous vases, 115
And beau’s in snuff-boxes and tweezer-cases.
There broken vows and death-bed alms are found,
And lovers’ hearts with ends of riband bound,
The courtier’s promises, and sick man’s pray’rs,
The smiles of harlots, and the tears of heirs, 120
Cages for gnats, and chains to yoke a flea,
Dry’d butterflies, and tomes of casuistry.

But trust the Muse–she saw it upward rise,
Tho’ mark’d by none but quick, poetic eyes:
(So Rome’s great founder to the heav’ns withdrew, 125
To Proculus alone confess’d in view)
A sudden Star, it shot thro’ liquid air,
And drew behind a radiant trail of hair.
Not Berenice’s Locks first rose so bright,
The heav’ns bespangling with dishevell’d light. 130
The Sylphs behold it kindling as it flies,And pleas’d pursue its progress thro’ the skies.

This the Beau monde shall from the Mall survey,
And hail with music its propitious ray.
This the blest Lover shall for Venus take, 135
And send up vows from Rosamonda’s lake.
This Partridge soon shall view in cloudless skies,
When next he looks thro’ Galileo’s eyes;
And hence th’ egregious wizard shall foredoom
The fate of Louis, and the fall of Rome. 140

Modern Version

Some people thought the lock ascended to the air between the earth and the moon
since everything that is lost on earth is treasured there.
That is where the intelligence of young heroes is preserved in heavy vases
and the intelligence of young fops in minute snuff-boxes and tweezer cases.
In the lunar sphere you can also find broken promises, money given to the poor when rich men are dying,
and the hearts of lovers tied up with ribbon,
the false promises of courtiers, the prayers of terminally ill men,
the smiles of sex-workers and the pretended desolation of heirs waiting by a sick-bed,
cages made for midges, and chains harnessed to a flea,
natural history collections of butterflies and heavy volumes of philosophy.

But you should trust the muse of poetry – she saw it rise (‘it’ being the lock of hair),
although only the alert eyes of the poet could see it.
Just as Romulus, the founder of Rome, was said to have disappeared into the heavens –
a fact confirmed by Proculus,
so the lock, like a shooting star, sped through the clear air
drawing behind it a shining trail of hair.
Even Berenice’s locks of hair did not rise so brightly,
spangling the skies with light.
The sylphs watch it, catching fire as it flies,
and, pleased, they watch its journey.

Members of fashionable society will be able to look at this star from the Mall,
and greet its lucky beams of light with music.
Lovers by Rosamonda’s Lake will imagine
that this star is Venus, and they will make promises to it.
The star-gazer, John Partridge, shall see it in clear skies
when he next looks through his telescope,
and therefore this wizard will predict
the fate of the king of France and the downfall of the Pope.


Pope dismisses the solution that some people have put forward as to the lock’s
whereabouts, namely that ‘it mounted to the lunar sphere, / Since all things lost on earth are treasur’d there.’ (It sounds like a sort of rubbish-tip in the sky.) The lunar sphere
is the air between the earth and the moon. In Canto II, line 81, we were told that the sylphs lived there ‘beneath the Moon’s pale light.’. Pope’s own note on this directs us to Ariosto Canto XXXIV. Lodovico Ariosto (1474-1533) was an Italian poet. He wrote Orlando Furioso – an epic poem in 45 cantos about the siege of Paris and the madness of Orlando. Sir John Harington translated the poem into English in 1591. In Canto 34 of this long and strange poem, one of the characters, Astolfo, travels to the moon on a whale in search of the mad Orlando’s lost wits. Here he finds ‘A mighty masse of things strangely confus’d, / Things that on earth were lost, or were abus’d.’ Examples are ‘the vowes that sinners make, and never pay’, and ‘Large promises that Lords make, and forget.’ ‘Man’s wit’ is kept in jars. This goes some way to explaining the otherwise baffling lines:

There Heroes’ Wits are kept in pondrous Vases,
And Beaus’ in Snuff-boxes and Tweezer-Cases.

The full glory of Pope’s modernising can be seen when you discover from the Tatler that Tweezer-cases could be ‘not much bigger than your Finger, with seventeen several instruments in it, all necessary every hour of the day, during the whole course of a man’s life.’ What size can the beaus’ wits be? Do you need a magnifying glass even to see them? The broken vows and alms (money given to the poor) are evidently lifted straight from Orlando Furioso, as are ‘courtiers’ promises (flattering important people in order to advance their own careers), ‘smiles of harlots, and the tears of heirs,’ insincere manifestations of love. These fake prayers, promises and love are jumbled in with cages for gnats and chains to yoke a flea, / Dried butterflies, and tomes (volumes) of Casuistry (unreadably long, dull, scholarly books). Cages for gnats and chains to yoke a flea are idiotic concepts if taken literally (is it possible that they are Pope’s witty version of a sledgehammer to crack a nut?). Pope is certainly poking fun at the current mania for natural history collections. This is fun; it’s also sad – do humans devote – and waste – their entire lives specialising in ridiculous, pointless objects and in feeling only insincere emotions? Pope, as so often, implies the opposite: if it is ridiculous to spend your life devising cages for gnats, what would sensible people devote their lives to? To sincere prayers, promises that are kept, vows that are honoured, heartfelt emotions.

The Muse of Poetry, asserts Pope, saw the lock rise to its true position in the skies,
‘midst the stars’ in the ‘shining sphere’. In the same way, Romulus, one of the ‘great founder(s)’ of Rome, was caught up to heaven- a report endorsed by one Julius Proculus. Another comparison is made, this time with Berenice. She vowed to hang up her hair in Venus’s temple if her husband returned victorious from war. She kept her vow, but the hair was stolen. An explanation was that the king of the gods had made it into a constellation. I take it that this time Pope really is praising the beautiful lock and according it its rightful place alongside famous persons or locks of hair in legend. He’s giving the lock mythical status.

A sudden star, it shot through liquid air
And drew behind a radiant trail of hair.

Pope’s own note draws attention to these lines’ origins in Ovid’s Metamorphoses which reads: ‘a star shines, trailing its fiery hair in a broad path.’ This passage describes what really happened to the lock: it was transformed into a ‘sudden star’ and, like a comet, made its way through the skies. ‘Dischevel’d’ (loose, untidy hair) is witty in that it comes directly and most appropriately from the French ‘chevelure’ (hair, or tail of a comet). It also conveys the radiance of the glittering comet, ‘radiant trail of hair’.

We as readers are privileged to ‘mark’ the progress of the lock along with Pope’s own ‘quick poetic eyes.’ The alliterated s’s in ‘sudden star, it shot through liquid air’ stress its hurtling passage through the sky. Numerous words suggest the lock’s shimmering brightness: ‘radiant’, ‘bright’, ‘bespangling’, ‘light’, ‘kindling’. The rhymes ‘bright’ / ‘light’ enhance this. Liquid l’s convey its flowing beauty: ‘liquid’, ‘trail’, ‘bespangling’, ‘disheveled light’, ‘kindling’. Some light ‘i’ sounds portray the aerial lightness of the starry lock: ‘liquid’, ‘kindling’, and the other longer but still light ‘i’ sound in ‘rise’ / ‘eyes’, ‘bright’ / ‘light’, ‘flies’ / ‘skies’.

Fashionable society (the beau-monde) will be able to admire the lock-turned-star from St James’s Park. Charles II had made the Park public and improved it by adding lines of trees, a canal and the Mall (on the north side of the Park). Throughout the eighteenth century, this was a fashionable evening promenade, and sometimes there was music and dancing. People played pall-mall, a kind of croquet. Rosamonda’s Lake was a pond in one corner of the Park, drained and filled up in 1770. It was known for ‘disastrous love’. Hence a ‘Lover’, who would be likely to be standing by Rosamonda’s Lake, seeing the star of Belinda’s lock and mistaking it for the star Venus. Venus is both the evening star and, as Venus was the goddess of love, it would be the star a lover would particularly look for. Partridge (1644-1715), according to Pope’s own notes, ‘was a ridiculous Star-gazer, who in his Almanacks every year, never fail’d to predict the downfall of the Pope, and the King of France’. To see the star, he therefore looks through Galileo’s eyes – a telescope; Galileo was famed for his improvements to the telescope. Partridge is an egregious (absurd) wizard (because he predicts events) – absurd because he never fails to predict the same events and they have never happened yet! Belinda may have made a lot of fuss about very little, and the two families may have been absurdly acrimonious over the event, but they are not alone in their foolishness. Pope has mentioned many of humanity’s absurdities, and Partridge is another in the long list.

Canto V, lines 141 – 150: Belinda’s lock has been immortalised amongst the stars and in Pope’s poem.

Then cease, bright nymph! to mourn thy ravished hair,
Which adds new glory to the shining sphere!
Not all the tresses that fair head can boast,
Shall draw such envy as the lock you lost.
For, after all the murders of your eye,
When, after millions slain, yourself shall die:
When those fair suns shall set, as set they must,
And all those tresses shall be laid in dust,
This lock, the Muse shall consecrate to fame,
And ‘midst the stars inscribe Belinda’s name. 150

Modern version

Therefore, beautiful Belinda, stop mourning your stolen lock of hair,
which is now adding new glory to the shining skies.
Not all your hair
will make people so envious of your beauty as the lock you lost.
For when, after you have murdered millions of men simply by looking at them,
you also die;
when your eyes, as lovely as the sun, close in death
and your hair laid in the dust of the grave
the Muse of Poetry shall consecrate your lock of hair to lasting fame
and write your name amongst the stars.


What a beautiful ending! Pope exhorts Belinda not to lament the lock of hair that was ravish’d (snatched away). It adds new glory to the already shining sky. It will arouse more envy as a star than ever it could on Belinda’s ‘fair head’. And, when Belinda’s beautiful tresses have been ‘laid in dust’ in the grave, the Muse of Poetry will make Belinda’s lock famous (in Pope’s poem!) and Belinda’s name will be written amongst the stars. The lines are beautiful, flattering, elegiac.

Pope reminds us of the incident that prompted the writing of the poem: ‘mourn thy ravish’d hair.’ Repeated words impress upon us the beauty and brightness of Belinda and her hair, now immortalised in the sky: ‘bright Nymph’, ‘glory’, ‘shining sphere’. The rhymes stress that the lock is now gloriously established in the sky: ‘hair’ / ‘sphere’ (pronounced sphare in those days). Synonyms give the lock of hair due prominance in this final section: ‘hair’, ‘tresses’ (twice), ‘lock’.

Pope returns to the hyperbolic metaphors of love-poetry that he used in the early Cantos, where Belinda’s eyes were compared favourably to the sun in their brightness.

Sol thro’ white curtains shot a tim’rous ray
And ope’d those eyes that must eclipse the day. Canto I, lines 13,14
‘the rival of his beams’ Canto II, line 3
Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike. Canto II, line 13

Now ‘those fair suns shall set, as set they must / And all those tresses shall be laid in dust’. The exaggerated language is set in elegiac mood; Belinda’s beauty must die with her. Pope even takes the language of hyperbole ‘after all the murders of your eye’ and ‘the millions slain’ (lovers slain by a glance from Belinda) into the inexorable truth of human existence: ‘yourself shall die.’ The lovely hair itself will be ‘laid in dust’. As occurred in Clarissa’s speech, the beautiful is juxtaposed with inescapable death, emphasising the precious transience of beauty.

For, after all the murders of your eye,
When, after millions slain, yourself shall die;
When those fair suns shall set, as set they must
And all those tresses shall be laid in dust.

The rhymes insist: ‘eye’ / ‘die’; ‘must’ / ‘dust’. The verbs, ‘shall’ and ‘must’, emphasise inexorable death. There is no escaping time; all the lines repeatedly refer to it in words such as ‘when’, ‘after’. Similarly, in The Iliad,

But when the Day decreed (for come it must)
Shall lay this dreadful Hero in the Dust …

But Pope ends the poem on an upbeat note: this is the apotheosis. Belinda’s ephemeral beauty and name are translated to the skies, there to be glorified for ever:

This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to fame,
And midst the stars inscribe Belinda’s name.

Again, the rhymes underline it for us: ‘fame’ / ‘name’. Earlier, Pope had exaggerated in order to deflate, now he builds up and exalts. Two things are never in doubt in this brilliant and teasing poem: Belinda’s beauty and the uncertainty of life. Lord Petre himself, the original ‘villain’ in the piece, died of smallpox in 1713 before the second, amplified version of ‘The Rape of the Lock’ was published.

Background and context (2)corrected

  • Pope’s early life and times
  • Extract from an article on the couplet: ‘Form as Meaning’ by J Paul Hunter
  • The Scriblerus Club by Valerie Rumbold
  • Extract from introduction to Oxford World’s Classics edition of Pope’s work by Pat Rogers
  • Article on ‘The Rape of the Lock’ by Peter Ackroyd
  • ‘A Key to the Lock’ by Esdras Barnivelt (aka Alexander Pope)

Pope’s early Life and Times

A brief look at British history just before and during Pope’s lifetime may help in understanding the background of his poem. The fact that Pope’s family were Catholic had a considerable impact on what he was and was not able to do in early eighteenth century England.

David Fairer explains the situation in his book The Poetry of Alexander Pope, Penguin Books Ltd, 1989.
‘The year of Pope’s birth into a Roman Catholic family was a momentous one in British history. In 1688 the Catholic king, James II, fled to France and his son-in-law, the Protestant Prince William of Orange, was invited from Holland to take the throne as William III. This bloodless revolution was of permanent significance for England’s Catholics. They began to suffer a series of repressive measures, and by the time of Pope’s adolescence Catholics were viciously discriminated against in many aspects of life. If Pope wished to, he could not vote, attend university, enter politics or the professions, or become a schoolmaster; he could not possess a horse of over £5 in value, he could not own a house within ten miles of London; nor could he inherit property.’

An article on The Glorious Revolution by Dr Edward Vallance on the BBC History website provides a useful background. The link is:

The text of Dr Vallance’s article reads thus:
The Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689 replaced the reigning king, James II, with the joint monarchy of his protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange. It was the keystone of the Whig (those opposed to a Catholic succession) history of Britain.

‘According to the Whig account, the events of the revolution were bloodless and the revolution settlement established the supremacy of parliament over the crown, setting Britain on the path towards constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. But it ignores the extent to which the events of 1688 constituted a foreign invasion of England by another European power, the Dutch Republic. Although bloodshed in England was limited, the revolution was only secured in Ireland and Scotland by force and with much loss of life.

‘Moreover, the British causes of the revolution were as much religious as political. Indeed, the immediate constitutional impact of the revolution settlement was minimal. Nonetheless, over the course of the reign of William III (1689-1702) society underwent significant and long-lasting changes.

‘To understand why James II’s most powerful subjects eventually rose up in revolt against him we need to understand the deep-seated fear of ‘popery’ in Stuart England. ‘Popery’ meant more than just a fear or hatred of Catholics and the Catholic church. It reflected a widely-held belief in an elaborate conspiracy theory, that Catholics were actively plotting the overthrow of church and state.

‘In their place would be established a Catholic tyranny, with England becoming merely a satellite state, under the control of an all-powerful Catholic monarch (in the era of the Glorious Revolution, identified with Louis XIV of France). This conspiracy theory was given credibility by the existence of some genuine catholic subterfuge, most notably the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

‘A new crisis of ‘popery and arbitrary government’ erupted in the late 1670s. Public anxieties were raised by the issue of the royal succession. Charles II fathered no legitimate offspring. This meant that the crown would pass to his brother, James, Duke of York, whose conversion to Catholicism had become public knowledge in 1673.

‘Public concern about the succession reached fever pitch in the years 1678-1681. The so-called ‘exclusion crisis’ was provoked by allegations made by Titus Oates, a former Jesuit novice, of a popish plot to assassinate Charles II and place his brother on the throne. The fantastical plot was given credibility by the mysterious death of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, the magistrate who first investigated Oates’ claims.

‘Whig politicians within parliament, led by the earl of Shaftesbury, promoted exclusion bills which would have prevented James from succeeding to the throne. But the radical tactics deployed by the king’s opponents, including mass petitions and demonstrations, gradually alienated some initial supporters of exclusion.

‘Charles’s hand was strengthened further by an agreement with France reached in March 1681, by which the king received £385,000 over three years. With this financial support, and with public opinion turning against his critics, Charles was able to dissolve parliament on 28 March 1681.’

Timeline 1678 – 1720

1678 The Popish Plot, supposedly a plot to murder Charles II in order to establish Roman Catholicism in England again. This plot prompts strong anti-Roman Catholic feeling.

1679 – 81 Attempts are made to stop Charles II’s brother, James, a Catholic, from being allowed to become king when Charles should die.

1685 Charles II dies; James II becomes king.

1688 Pope is born into a Catholic family. The Glorious Revolution forces James II to leave England for France.

1689 William III and James II’s daughter, Mary, become king and queen of England. The Oath of Allegiance requires everyone to swear to be loyal to the Church of England.

1690 Penal laws make it legal to persecute Catholics. These laws continue until 1698.

1700 Pope’s family move to Windsor Forest outside London. There is an anti-Catholic Ten Mile Law that stipulated that Catholics should not own property within ten miles of London, and this may have prompted the Pope family’s move.

John Dryden dies.

1702 William II dies and Anne (Mary’s sister) becomes queen.

1704 The Duke of Marlborough defeats the French at Blenheim. The next year, 1705, the building of Blenheim Palace began, a palace designed as a reward to the duke for his triumphs against the French during the War of the Spanish Succession that had culminated at Blenheim.

1705 Pope begins to mix in literary circles of William Wycherley (1641-1715), Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and others.

1707 The Act of Union joins Scotland and England as Great Britain.

1709 Pope publishes his first works. He meets fellow Catholic, John Caryll.

Richard Steel starts The Tatler.

1711 Addison and Steele start The Spectator.

Addison publishes Pope’s ‘An Essay on Criticism’ in The Spectator.

1712 First version of ‘The Rape of the Lock’ appears. Pope meets Swift, John Gay (1685 – 1732), Thomas Parnell (1679-1718) and John Arbuthnot (1667-1735) and they form the Scriblerus Club.

1714 Expanded version of ‘The Rape of the Lock’ published.

Queen Anne dies; George 1 becomes king.

1717 Pope adds Clarissa’s speech to ‘The Rape of the Lock’.

1719 Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) publishes Robinson Crusoe.

1722 Daniel Defoe publishes Journal of a Plague Year; Moll Flanders.

Artists working during the late 17th and early 18th century

John Dryden (1631-1700) was a playwright and poet, a translator and critic, a satirist, and a writer on theology. He was made poet laureate in 1668. However, when William III came to the throne he was deprived of the laureateship. The direct cause of this was that he was Catholic and had just written a fable criticising the Anglican church.

Daniel Defoe (1660 – 1731) was a trader, journalist, novelist and spy. He was famously the author of Robinson Crusoe.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) author of Gulliver’s Travels, 1726, a work intended to “vex the world, not to divert it.” Swift was a brilliant satirist, poet and founder member of the Scriblerus Club with Pope. He lived mainly in Dublin as dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral.

John Gay (1685-1732) was a poet and playwright, a friend of Pope and another member of the Scriblerus Club. He is most famous for The Beggar’s Opera (1728), satirising both society and politicians. Gay suffered badly in the collapse of the South Sea Bubble.

Addison (1672-1719) and Steele (1672-1729)

Joseph Addison was an essayist, poet, dramatist, translator and politician. His flagging fortunes were revived when he was asked to write a poem commemorating the victory at the Battle of Blenheim. He is best known for The Spectator, which was published daily, starting in 1711

Sir Richard Steele was an essayist, dramatist and politician. He founded the Tatler, and with Addison, the Spectator and the Guardian.

Samuel Richardson (1689 – 4 July 1761), publisher, printer and author of Pamela, Clarissa, and The History of Sir Charles Grandison, epistolary novels.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754), author of the picaresque novel Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews, also of the parody of Pamela, Shamela. He was co-founder of the Bow Street Runners, the first police force.

Many artists were working during Pope’s lifetime. The painter, William Hogarth (1697 -1764), made etchings of ‘The Rape of the Lock’ in 1717. He was also a printmaker, satirist, and cartoonist. Charles Jervas (1675? – 1739) was a portrait painter, and painted several portraits of his friend, Pope. Godfrey Kneller (?1646-1723), another portrait painter, was born in Germany but worked in England as portrait painter to the court. He too was a friend of Pope’s.

Celebrated architects were working during this time: Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736); Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), architect of Blenheim Palace.

Musically, this was the era of Jeremiah Clarke (1674-1707), John Blow (1649-1708) and Handel (1685-1759). Purcell had died in 1695, shortly after writing the funeral music for Queen Mary in 1694.

Expanded timeline

A quick look at Wikipedia shows in more detail what was happening in Britain in the second decade of the 18th century. It was an age of invention and of several ‘firsts’.


24 February – The London premiere of Rinaldo by George Frideric Handel, the first Italian opera written for the London stage, at the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket.

1 March – First edition of the magazine The Spectator published.

19 March – Thomas Ken, bishop and hymn-writer, died (born 1637)

7 May – David Hume, philosopher born (died 1776)

11 August – The first race meeting is held at Ascot Racecourse.

1 September – William Boyce, composer born (died 1779)

8 September – The South Sea Company receives a Royal Charter.

22 September – Thomas Wright born, astronomer, mathematician, instrument maker, architect, garden designer, antiquary and genealogist (died 1786)

15 December – Occasional Conformity Act bars nonconformists and Roman Catholics from public office.

Undated: Alexander Pope publishes the poem An Essay on Criticism.


The first known working Newcomen steam engine is built by Thomas Newcomen with John Calley to pump water out of mines in the Black Country, the first practical device to harness the power of steam to produce mechanical work.

John Arbuthnot creates the character of “John Bull” to represent Britain.

Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, is completed.

Barnaby Lintot’s Miscellaneous Poems, including, anonymously, Alexander Pope‘s poem ‘The Rape of the Lock.’

17 January – John Stanley born, composer (died 1786)

12 July – Richard Cromwell died, Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland (born 1626)


4 February – Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury died, politician and philosopher (born 1671)

27 March – First Treaty of Utrecht between Britain and Spain. Spain cedes Gibraltar and Minorca.

11 April – Second Treaty of Utrecht signed between Britain and France ending the War of the Spanish Succession. France cedes Newfoundland, Acadia, Hudson Bay and St Kitts.

14 April – First performance, in London, of Thomas Addison‘s libertarian play Cato, a Tragedy.

13 October – Allan Ramsay born, painter (died 1784)

24 November – Laurence Sterne born, Irish-born English novelist (died 1768)

October/November – Fabian Stedman died, pioneer of change ringing (born 1640)

14 December – Thomas Rymer died, historian (born 1641)

Board of Longitude established.

John Rowley of London produces an orrery (a clockwork model of the solar system) to a commission by Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery and named after him.

Matthew HaleThe History and Analysis of the Common Law of England, the first published history of English law (posthumous)


King George c.1714, painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller

March – The Scriblerus Club, an informal group of literary friends, is formed by Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay, John Arbuthnot (at whose London house they meet), Thomas Parnell, Henry St. John and Robert Harley.

25 March – Archbishop Tenison’s School, the world’s earliest surviving mixed gender school, is endowed by Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury, in Croydon.

July Parliament offers the Longitude prize to anyone who can solve the problem of accurately determining a ship’s longitude.

1 August – Richard Wilson born, painter (died 1782)

1 August – Queen Anne died (born 1665)

1 August – George, elector of Hanover, becomes King George I of Great Britain following the death of Queen Anne.

18 September – King George arrives in Britain for the first time, landing at Greenwich.

20 October – Coronation of King George I at Westminster Abbey, giving rise to Coronation riots in over twenty towns in England.

1 November – John Radcliffe died, physician (born 1652)


A Jacobite mob sacks Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, going on to destroy another at Monton. (Jacobites supported the claim of James II to the British throne. Many of the supporters came from the Scottish Highlands. The major Jacobite uprisings were in 1715 and in 1745,6, ending with the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 when Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stuart) was defeated.)

1 August The Riot Act comes into force.

6 September – First of the major Jacobite Rebellions in Scotland against the rule of King George I: The Earl of Mar raises the standard of James Edward Stuart and marches on Edinburgh.

13 November – Battle of Sheriffmuir is fought between Jacobites and the Duke of Argyll‘s army. Although the action is inconclusive, Argyll halts the Jacobite advance.

14 November – Battle of Preston: Government forces defeat a Jacobite incursion at the conclusion of a five-day siege and action, the last battle fought on English soil.


1 January – William Wycherley died, playwright (born c. 1641)

January – The Duke of Argyll disperses the remainder of the Jacobite troops.

10 February – The pretender James Francis Edward Stuart flees to France. He dismisses Lord Bolingbroke as his secretary of state.

24 February – Execution of the Jacobite leaders James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, and William Gordon, 6th Viscount of Kenmure.

4 August – George Seton, 5th Earl of Winton, under sentence of death for his part in the Jacobite rising of 1715, escapes from the Tower of London and flees into exile on the continent.

30 August (bapt.)Lancelot “Capability” Brown born, landscape architect (died 1783)

29 September – The original Portland Bill Lighthouse is first illuminated.

9 November – Caroline of Ansbach, Princess of Wales, gives birth to a stillborn son.

24 December (4 January 1717 New Style) – Britain, France and the Dutch Republic sign the Triple Alliance[2] in an attempt to maintain the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Britain having signed a preliminary alliance with France on 17 November (28 November New Style).


Chalybeate mineral springs are discovered in Cheltenham.

The English pirate Edward Teach is given command of a sloop in the Bahamas.

26 December – Thomas Gray born, poet (died 1771)


1 January – Count Carl Gyllenborg, the Swedish ambassador, is arrested in London over a plot to assist the Pretender James Francis Edward Stuart.

4 January – The Dutch Republic, Britain and France sign the Triple Alliance.

February – As part of the treaty between France and Britain, James Stuart leaves France and seeks refuge with the Pope.

19 February – David Garrick born, actor (died 1779)

2 March – Dancer John Weaver performs in the first ballet in Britain, shown at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, The Loves of Mars and Venus.

8 March – Abraham Darby Ist died, first of that name of three generations of a Quaker family that was key to the development of the Industrial Revolution (born 1678)

17 July – George Frideric Handel‘s Water Music performed on a barge on the River Thames for King George I.

July – Indemnity Act frees most Jacobites from imprisonment.

September – The first known Druid revival ceremony is held by John Toland at Primrose Hill, in London, at the Autumnal Equinox, to found the Mother Grove, which is later to become the Ancient Order of Druids.

November – A rift between the King and his son the Prince of Wales leads to the latter being banished from the royal household.

Thomas Fairchild, a nurseryman at Hoxton in the East End of London, becomes the first person to produce a successful scientific plant hybrid, Dianthus Caryophyllus barbatus, known as “Fairchild’s Mule”.

24 September – Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford born, writer (died 1797)

30 October – Jonathan Hornblower born, pioneer of steam power (died 1780)


6 January – Richard Hoare died, goldsmith and banker (born 1648)

5 June – Thomas Chippendale born, furniture maker (died 1779)

30 July – William Penn died, Quaker and founder of the Pennsylvania colony (born 1644)

22 November – Blackbeard died, pirate (born c. 1680)

24 November – ‘Calico Jack‘ Rackham becomes captain of the pirate sloop Ranger in The Bahamas.

17 December – War of the Quadruple Alliance: Britain, the Kingdom of France, the Holy Roman Empire and the Dutch Republic declare war on Spain.

The Proper motion of stars discovered by Edmond Halley.

The Charitable Infirmary, Dublin, is founded by six surgeons in Ireland, the first public voluntary hospital in the British Isles.

Greenwich Hospital receives a Royal Charter (revoked in 1829).

The Transportation Act of 1718 creates the punishment of penal transportation as an alternative to a death sentence.


18 January – Samuel Garth dies, physician and poet (born 1661)

April – Bank rate set at 5%, at which it will remain for more than a century.

25 April – Daniel Defoe‘s (anonymous) novel Robinson Crusoe.

10 June – British Government forces defeat an alliance of Jacobite and Spanish forces at the Battle of Glen Shiel in Scotland.

17 June – Joseph Addison dies, writer and politician (born 1672)

18 September – James Figg claims to be the first English bare-knuckle boxing champion, a title he will hold until at least 1730

The South Sea Company proposes a scheme by which it would buy more than half the national debt of Britain in exchange for concessions.


17 February – Treaty of The Hague signed between Britain, France, Austria, the Dutch Republic and Spain ending the War of the Quadruple Alliance.

April – “South Sea Bubble”: A scheme for the South Sea Company to take over most of Britain’s unconsolidated government debt massively inflates share prices; they rise to a peak in August.

18 July – Gilbert White born, naturalist and cleric (died 1793)

5 August – Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea died, English poet (born 1661)30 August – Samuel Whitbread born, brewer and politician (died 1796)

September – “South Sea Bubble”: share prices, led by those of the South Sea Company, collapse.

16 November – Pirate captain “Calico Jack” Rackham is brought to trial at Spanish Town in Jamaica; he is hanged at Port Royal two days later.

29 December – Haymarket Theatre opens in London.

31 December – Charles Edward Stuart born, pretender to the British throne (died 1788)

Prominent literary forms in the early 18th century
The couplet

‘Form as Meaning: Pope and the Ideology of the Couplet’ by J. Paul Hunter; The Eighteenth Century, Vol. 37, No. 3, Ideology and Form in Eighteenth-Century Literature (Fall 1996), pp. 257-270

I have taken short extracts from J Paul Hunter’s article.

‘Here are three basic points about the nature of the couplet and the way it was understood by Pope and the other coupleteers who made it the representative verse form of those complex years from the mid-seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth … First, couplets formally involve a careful paying of oppositions or balances but no formal resolution. … the opposing units are kept in formal tension, rather than being resolved. Rather than privileging one half or the other of the conflict or negotiating a successful compromise, the closed couplet tends to privilege the balancing itself – the preservation and acceptance of difference rather than a working out of modification or compromise. … This principle of creative tension is signalled by the harmony of rhyme in which opposites are yoked together by a convenient … similarity of sound. … Often, the force of a couplet hangs on our noticing the conflict between the words. Practically any couplet in ‘The Rape of the Lock’ illustrates the tendency: ‘reveal’d / conceal’d’. …

‘… Each couplet involves … a structure of four fundamental units – …. for not only do the two lines play off against each other, but the first and second halves of each line – divided rhetorically by a caesura and syntactically by some crucial grammatical relationship that implies cause / effect – also play against one another. … Here, for example, is the very first couplet in ‘The Rape of the Lock’, the summary statement of what the poet is about to sing:

What dire offence from amorous causes springs
What might contests rise from trivial things.

Here the four key terms (dire offence / amorous Causes; mighty Contests; trivial Things) invoke the subject matter of the Iliad and ‘The Rape of the Lock’….

‘Third, the couplet … is not a verse form but a rhyme scheme. Its stanza unit is … not a pair of lines but paragraph, as the print typography for the time makes dramatically clear. Pope’s poems … always develop through a careful building, unit by unit. … Pope’s thinking is never complete in a single couplet … We move not toward compromise or resolution but rather deeper into human examples and distinctions, farther and farther into the uncertain and the unknown.’

Helpful link:

The Scriblerus Club

Valerie Rumbold gives the following information in her article on the Scriblerus Club in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
‘The Scriblerus Club [Scriblerians] (1714) is the name given, from the later eighteenth century (Goldsmith, 37; Johnson, 4.47–8, 296), to a literary grouping usually identified as Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, and Thomas Parnell (Spence, no. 218, 1.95; Memoirs … of Martinus Scriblerus, 27, 351–9) . Pope later told Joseph Spence that Queen Anne’s lord treasurer, Robert Harley, first earl of Oxford, to whom several verse invitations were addressed, would also ‘come and talk idly with them almost every night’ (Spence, no. 218, 1.95). According to Pope, the character of Martinus Scriblerus was originally conceived as a focus for the club’s satire against current trends in culture and scholarship.

‘The design of the Memoirs of Scriblerus was to have ridiculed all the false tastes in learning, under the character of a man of capacity enough that had dipped in every art and science, but injudiciously in each. It was begun by a club of some of the greatest wits of the age: Lord Bolingbroke, the Bishop of Rochester, Mr. Pope, Congreve, Arbuthnot, Swift, and others. Gay often held the pen, and Addison liked it very well and was not disinclined to come into it. (Spence, no. 135, 1.56)

‘Pope may not have been distinguishing sharply here between what later commentators have referred to as the Scriblerus Club and an earlier, more broadly based project for a satirical periodical, The Works of the Unlearned (21 Oct 1713, Pope, Correspondence, 1.195; Spectator, no. 457, 14 Aug 1712) . The club that worked together on Scriblerus in spring 1714 was both more select and more exclusively tory in its political outlook. Swift, having left the whigs, wanted a group that guaranteed intimacy between key writers and the tory ministry, while Pope sought an alternative to his increasingly awkward association with Joseph Addison’s whig circle. The only full meetings of the five writers that can now be documented took place in March and April 1714. Arbuthnot’s lodgings at St James’s Palace were probably a favourite venue.

‘The club never achieved anything like the institutional solidity of the contemporary Whig Kit-Cat Club or, later, Johnson’s literary club, and meetings very soon lapsed. By April 1714 Pope had retreated to the country with Parnell to work on his translation of Homer’s Iliad, and by May, Swift had left London in despair at the disarray of the tory leadership, returning to Ireland in August. In June 1714, when a meeting of the remaining members was attempted, Gay was appointed to an embassy to Hanover, which would end all too soon with Queen Anne’s death on 1 August. Arbuthnot and Pope had no success in rekindling Swift’s enthusiasm for Scriblerus; and in the coming years the task of completing the Memoirs was not high on anyone’s agenda. In the act of rebuffing Arbuthnot’s suggestion (made on 26 June 1714) that the project be continued Swift gave a lively idea of the various characteristics of the club’s members, and of the collaborative interplay between them:

‘”You [Arbuthnot] every day give better hints than all of us together could do in a twelvemonth; And to say the Truth, Pope who first thought of the Hint has no Genius at all to it, in my Mind. Gay is too young; Parnel has some Ideas of it but is idle; I could putt together, and lard, and strike out well enough, but all that relates to the Sciences must be from you.” (3 July 1714, Swift, Correspondence, 2.46)
But in the end it was Pope, the longest surviving active member, who was most influential in shaping the club’s image for posterity.

‘The poet and clergyman Thomas Parnell, the shortest lived of the group, was Swift’s protégé and, like him, a former whig. Having come to England from Ireland after the death of his wife, he contributed enthusiastically to Scriblerian collaborations, working particularly closely with Pope. Parnell’s Homer’s Battle of the Frogs and Mice, with the Remarks of Zoilus, to which is Prefix’d, the Life of the said Zoilus (1717) brings together several typically Scriblerian strands: mock-heroic verse, mock-scholarly commentary, and defence of the work of a fellow member (in this case Pope’s Homer). Parnell returned to Ireland after the queen’s death, but, having visited London in 1718, died suddenly on his way home, and was commemorated by Pope in the dedicatory ‘Epistle to Robert Earl of Oxford, and Earl Mortimer’ prefixed to his selective memorial edition of Parnell’s work (Poems on Several Occasions, 1722):

For him, thou oft hast bid the World attend,
Fond to forget the Statesman in the Friend;
For Swift and him, despis’d the Farce of State,
The sober Follies of the Wise and Great;
Dextrous, the craving, fawning Crowd to quit,
And pleas’d to ‘scape from Flattery to Wit. (ll. 7–12)

Coloured by Oxford’s suffering at the hands of the incoming Hanoverian regime in August 1714, the poem idealizes the club as part of a lost age.

‘The royal physician, John Arbuthnot, already close to Swift and Oxford, was a pivotal figure in the group, contributing a quickfire inventiveness across fields ranging from politics, through classical scholarship, to scientific and medical topics. Of all the club’s members he was apparently the least interested in claiming his contributions to collaborative work. He seems to have composed Virgilius restauratus, the satire on Richard Bentley’s and Lewis Theobald’s methods of textual emendation that Pope attributed to Scriblerus when he included it in the appendices to his Dunciad variorum in 1729. An Essay of the Learned Martinus Scriblerus Concerning the Origine of the Sciences has also been attributed to Arbuthnot on grounds of style and subject. Like Parnell, Arbuthnot also became at the end of his life the subject of Pope’s commemoration, in An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1735). With this tribute, another element in Pope’s representation of his Scriblerian friends fell into place.

‘John Gay, who had been collaborating with Pope since about 1711, was already experienced in farce and parody by the time of the club’s documented meetings. He supported Pope against Ambrose Philips in The Shepherd’s Week (1714); and once back from Hanover he produced the mock-tragic satirical farce The What d’ye Call It (1715), the mock-Georgic Trivia (1716), and the satirical farce Three Hours after Marriage (1717). Pope and Arbuthnot also contributed significantly to Three Hours after Marriage, reviving the collaborative mode of the original Scriblerus Club, but incurring in the process a critical onslaught whose intended victim was Pope. Gay’s aptness as a creative collaborator, and his acute sense of generic conventions and how they could be played upon for satiric effect, were complemented by his inventiveness with the parodic scholarly apparatus crucial to Scriblerian satire on modern learning (for example the commentary to The Shepherd’s Week or the bizarre index to Trivia). His masterpiece, The Beggar’s Opera (1728), a further development of generic parody, is in part a response to a hint from Swift: ‘what think you of a Newgate pastoral, among the whores and thieves there?’ (30 Aug 1716, Pope, Correspondence, 1.360; Spence, no. 244, 1.107) . Pope linked The Beggar’s Opera with the partial reunion of club members during Swift’s visit to England in 1726, reporting that ‘’twas writ in the same house with me and Dr. Swift’ (Spence, no. 137, 1.57). In the commentary to his 1729 Dunciad variorum Pope would also celebrate Gay’s triumph in terms that anticipate his own defiant political satire of the 1730s.

‘Jonathan Swift had crafted satirical personae before the Scriblerus Club came into being (notably in A Tale of a Tub, 1704) and would go on doing so long after it lapsed (for example, M. B. Drapier, supposed author of The Drapier’s Letters, 1724, and Simon Wagstaff, projector of Polite Conversation, 1738). He would also develop his parodic subversion of traditional genres (as in the poems on women and sexuality from his later years). Pope also commented that Swift’s masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels (1726), derived in part from the original Scriblerus project: “It was from a part of these memoirs that Dr. Swift took his first hints for Gulliver’ (Spence, no. 135, 1.56). Moreover, in Pope’s 1729 account of the genesis of the Dunciad he declared Swift ‘in a sort to be Author of the Poem’ insofar as ‘the first sketch … was snatch’d from the fire by Dr. Swift’ (Pope, Dunciad, Variorum, 1729 appx 1). The club, and his friendship with Swift in particular, had become a key element in Pope’s self-construction. For Swift, writing to Pope in September 1723, the club’s meetings seem to have been remembered as a brief glimpse of a largely impracticable ideal:
I have often endeavoured to establish a Friendship among all Men of Genius, and would fain have it done. They are seldom above three or four Cotemporaries and if they could be united would drive the world before them; I think it was so among the Poets in the time of Augustus, but Envy and party and pride have hindred it among us.” (20 Sept 1723, Pope, Correspondence, 2.199)
After a last visit to England in 1727 Swift never saw the surviving members of the club again.

‘Alexander Pope, who came to the meetings of 1714 with the accomplished mock heroics of the enlarged Rape of the Lock already behind him, would, as he moved into mid-career, give Scriblerus high-profile roles in several publications. After Arbuthnot’s death in 1735 he acquired the Memoirs materials, which he finally published in 1741 with other Scriblerian works, alongside his correspondence with Swift (Spence, no. 134, 1.55; Memoirs, 78) . As published, the Memoirs of the Extraordinary Life, Works, and Discoveries of Martinus Scriblerus remains an awkward construction, although its disparate styles and attempted links can be seen as offering ‘some insight into the style of Scriblerian collaboration’ (Nokes, 228). In comparison, members’ master-works like Gulliver’s Travels, The Beggar’s Opera, and the Dunciad—whatever their connection with the club’s discussions of Queen Anne’s last year—gained power from a mature indignation at Hanoverian rule under Sir Robert Walpole, and from a longer perspective, inflected by the writers’ individual talents and concerns, on what they saw as its moral, political, and cultural degeneracy.

‘In introducing the Memoirs Pope invokes ‘the Reign of Queen Anne’, only to add, in ironic parenthesis, ‘which, notwithstanding those happy Times which succeeded, every Englishman has not forgot’ (Memoirs, 91). Those ‘happy Times’ of whig ascendancy and increasing commercialization of literature and scholarship had in fact already offered Scriblerus significant opportunities for satirical outings, making the Memoirs, when they finally appeared, a belated prospectus for a literary persona who was already in the public domain and whose career did not fit particularly well with the detailed exploits of the Memoirs. In preparing the ground for the first Dunciad in 1728 Pope had presented the scholar–critic Scriblerus as the author of Peri Bathous, or, The Art of Sinking in Poetry (a parody of the Longinian sublime so beloved of whig poets); and in 1729 he had deployed him as a commentator on the Dunciad variorum, also taking the opportunity to attribute to him Arbuthnot’s Virgilius restauratus. Beyond the publication of the Memoirs, however, Scriblerus had one more outing to look forward to. In the Dunciad in Four Books (1743), and as part of a strategic commemoration of the club members’ trials and triumphs, Scriblerus’s Virgilius restauratus was promoted from the appendices to be partially incorporated into the body of the commentary. In a new turn on an old joke, he would find his critical opinions subjected to patronizing critique by the fictionalized ‘Bentley’.

‘Whether or not, as posited in the influential but speculative account by Kerby-Miller, there was an agreed Scriblerian programme whose component works the members undertook to produce over the longer term, it is clear that the meetings of March–April 1714 provided a brief but intense cross-fertilization of attitudes and techniques that Parnell, Arbuthnot, Gay, Swift, and Pope continued to develop in individual ways as their careers matured and diverged. Appreciation of works associated with the club has highlighted their brilliant wit and generic inventiveness, the edgy mix of antagonism and fascination with which they confronted modernizing trends in contemporary culture, their deftly insinuating political subversiveness, and their conservative pessimism about human nature. The Scriblerus Club as subsequently identified by Goldsmith and Johnson has often been invoked as the highwater mark of eighteenth-century satire, and as a key influence on Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and later satirists.’
Article by Professor Valerie Rumbold, Dept of English Literature, University of Birmingham

Extracts from articles on ‘The Rape of the Lock’

Pat Rogers writes the Oxford World’s Classics introduction from which I have taken the following extract.
‘It (‘The Rape of the Lock’) was styled ‘an heroi-comical poem’, and it is in its subtle traffic with traditional epic that some of the most delicate humour is found – echoes of the story of the Fall in Paradise Lost are especially prominent. Mock-heroic is a mode of satire which operates at once by belittlement and aggrandizement. The big deeds of epic are scaled down, but trivial actions are granted the dignity of big words. The Rape boils a full-dress epic down to a comically shrivelled miniature. At the same time it reduces the cosmos of epic adventures to a tiny domestic frame. Instead of the fabled plains of Ilium, a young lady’s boudoir; instead of the wine-dark Aegean, girded with the islands of myth, a short stretch of polluted urban water… Specific bits of the standard epic narrative are parodied. … The Rape is in my belief Pope’s greatest poem with its formal perfection, its imaginative density, its shimmering verse textures, and its wonderfully controlled moods.’
Selected Poetry of Alexander Pope, OUP, October 2008, edited by Pat Rogers
Professor Pat Rogers, University of South Florida

Writing in The Guardian of 2 October 2004, Peter Ackroyd contributes the following insights.

‘Hair apparent’: Alexander Pope described ‘The Rape of the Lock’ as ‘very like tickling’.

‘The Rape of the Lock’ was first published anonymously in two cantos in 1712. Alexander Pope was 24 and enjoyed a promising career as a poet which, as Samuel Johnson said, had become “the business of his life”. He had published some verses and completed An Essay on Criticism, which marked his claim to authority in literary matters. Yet he was in a very real sense an outsider. He suffered from tuberculosis of the bone that left him hunched and deformed, leading him once to lament “this long disease, my life”. He was also a Roman Catholic and, in the circumstances of the day, considered a subversive. He was, for example, denied access to the great universities.
So his real academy became the London coffee houses among the wits and hacks. The Rape of the Lock is addressed to just such an audience of the cultural and the articulate literati who haunted Will’s or Button’s. He stirred up envy and enmity even here, and once declared that “the life of a wit is warfare upon earth … one must have the constancy of a martyr”. The Rape of the Lock is itself an image of warfare in miniature.

‘The poem is set in a self-confident and expanding world, of burgeoning trade and steadily increasing comfort. Yet it is also an arena of conflict where peace and harmony are continually imperilled and where the boundaries between order and chaos are constantly threatened. The narrative is based upon a real incident in what we might now describe as “the war of the sexes”. A certain Lord Petre had the courage – or folly – to surreptitiously cut off a lock of hair from the pretty head of a young lady named Arabella Fermor; just as the ravishment of Helen led to a long and bloody war, so the theft of the lock led to coldness between the two families involved. Pope was commissioned, by a friend of both sides, to compose a poem that might mollify all parties. “It was in this view,” Pope wrote later, “that I wrote my Rape of the Lock.”

‘It is of course written in the genre known as “mock-heroic”, although Pope makes sure that the mockery does not go too far. He was translating Homer’s Iliad at approximately the same time, and there is a subdued but implicit contrast between the exploits of the classical armies and the manoeuvres of Belinda and the Baron. It is a world of delicacy and refinement, but not one that survives intense scrutiny; like the world of Brobdingnag as seen by Gulliver, it can be monstrous and disgusting. When the values of the classical world are applied to it, it is superficial and absurd. Nevertheless it shimmers with a strange beauty, as if transience had been caught eternally and a painted mist become a sculpted form. It may all be artifice, like the poet himself who, as Johnson said, “hardly drank tea without a stratagem” (I love it). But it is brilliant artifice. It is the great art of unreality.

‘It was composed in the verse form of the heroic couplet, mediated by the iambic pentameter that has been a constant presence in English poetry; it seems to close down its argument and description with each clinching rhyme, but at the same time it evokes a world of intricate and harmonious order. It is life measured as a dance. Pope’s own description was of a “whimsical piece of work … a sort of writing very like tickling”. No critic could give a better account.

‘It (‘The Rape of the Lock’) was a success at the time. It sold 3,000 copies in the first four days, and proceeded through several editions. But Pope was attacked by those who disliked him anyway. He was accused of salaciousness and scandal-mongering. “Of all blockheads,” John Dennis wrote, “he is the most emphatically dull … ’tis such sad deplorable stuff.” Pope was never one to suffer foolish critics willingly, however, and he had his revenge. In response to the virulent criticism, he devised A Key to the Lock, a prose narrative supposed to reveal the papist tendencies of the poem and to expose the poet as a subversive renegade.

‘It was a brilliant parody of the worst excesses of the allegorical critics of the period, who would peer through the “machinery” of the latest drama or epic to uncover unhealthy political tendencies. It was a satire on those who provide abstruse explanations of the most innocent narrative or who unnecessarily complicate a simple theme. But it is also a brilliant exercise in self-interpretation: with the purpose of divulging the secret meaning of The Rape of the Lock as a papist tract, he uses great ingenuity and subtlety in his analysis. He forestalls obloquy and ridicule by indulging in them. But it is also a mighty act of self-promotion, whereby The Rape of the Lock becomes a significant document. In that, of course, he has been proved triumphant. Never has so great a poem emerged from so trivial a cause. The stolen hair has achieved immortality.’

The Key to the Lock

The full text can be found at

Professor Cynthia Wall, Department of English, University of Virginia, is editor of A Bedford Cultural Edition of The Rape of the Lock. In her introduction to ‘A Key to the Lock,’ she writes, ‘Pope first published this ‘key’ to his own work anonymously in 1715. It’s a multiple satire: first, it parodies the popular genre of authorized and unauthorized keys to satirical work published usually by the booksellers; second, it anticipates and caricatures all the hostile critical interpretations of the Rape; and third, it satirizes the religious and political paranoia of the day. … Esdras Barnivelt … claims to decode the nefarious papist subtext (or secret plot) of the poem to smuggle into the minds of innocent readers wicked Catholic ideas about overthrowing the government and the state religion. … ‘A Key’ is Pope at his cleverest, at once teaching us how not to read (how not to force an interpretation onto a text, twisting everything to fit a preconceived meaning), and enticing us to read on.’

Nicholas Hudson writes: ‘Pope’s Protestant narrator in A Key to the Lock certainly exaggerates the references to Catholic doctrine in the poem …’

A Key to the Lock
Or, A Treatise proving, beyond all Contradiction, the dangerous Tendency of a late Poem, entitled, The RAPE of the LOCK, TO GOVERNMENT and RELIGION.
LONDON: Printed for J. ROBERTS near the Oxford Arms in Warwick-lane. 1715.

Extracts from A KEY to the LOCK.

SINCE this unhappy Division of our Nation into Parties, it is not to be imagined how many Artifices have been made use of by Writers to obscure the Truth, and cover Designs, which may be detrimental to the Publick; in particular, it has been their Custom of late to vent their Political Spleen in Allegory and Fable. If an honest believing Nation is to be made a Jest of, we have a Story of John Bull and his Wife; if a Treasurer is to be glanced at, an Ant with a white Straw is introduced; if a Treaty of Commerce is to be ridiculed, ’tis immediately metamorphosed into a Tale of Count Tariff.
But if any of these Malevolents have never so small a Talent in Rhime, they principally delight to convey their Malice in that pleasing way, as it were, gilding the Pill, and concealing the Poyson under the Sweetness of Numbers. Who could imagine that an Original Canto of Spencer should contain a Satyr upon one Administration; or that Yarhel‘s Kitchin, or the Dogs of Egypt, should be a Sarcasm upon another.
It is the Duty of every well designing Subject to prevent, as far as in him lies, the ill Consequences of such pernicious Treatises; and I hold it mine to warn the Publick of the late Poem, entituled, the RAPE of the LOCK; which I shall demonstrate to be of this nature. Many of these sort of Books have been bought by honest and well-meaning People purely for their Diversion, who have in the end found themselves insensibly led into the Violence of Party Spirit, and many domestick Quarrels have been occasioned by the different Application of these Books. The Wife of an eminent Citizen grew very noisy upon reading Bob Hush; John Bull, upon Change, was thought not only to concern the State, but to affront the City; and the Poem we are now treating of, has not only dissolved an agreeable Assembly of Beaus and Belles, but (as I am told) has set Relations at as great a distance, as if they were married together.

It is a common and just Observation, that when the Meaning of any thing is dubious, one can no way better judge of the true Intent of it, than by considering who is the Author, what is his Character in general, and his Disposition in particular.

Now that the Author of this Poem is professedly a Papist, is well known; and that a Genius so capable of doing Service to that Cause, may have been corrupted in the Course of his Education by Jesuits or others, is justly very much to be suspected; notwithstanding that seeming Coolness and Moderation, which he has been (perhaps artfully) reproached with, by those of his own Profession. They are sensible that this Nation is secured with good and wholesome Laws to prevent all evil Practices of the Church of Rome; particularly the Publication of Books, that may in any sort propagate that Doctrine: Their Authors are therefore obliged to couch their Designs the deeper; and tho’ I cannot averr that the Intention of this Gentleman was directly to spread Popish Doctrines, yet it comes to the same Point, if he touch the Government: For the Court of Rome knows very well, that the Church at this time is so firmly founded on the State, that the only way to shake the one is by attacking the other.
What confirms me in this Opinion, is an accidental Discovery I made of a very artful Piece of Management among his Popish Friends and Abettors, to hide this whole Design upon the Government, by taking all the Characters upon themselves.
Upon the Day that this Poem was published, it was my Fortune to step into the Cocoa Tree (a coffee house), where a certain Gentleman was railing very
liberally at the Author, with a Passion extremely well counterfeited, for having (as he said) reflected upon him in the Character of Sir Plume. Upon his going out, I enquired who he was, and they told me, a Roman Catholick Knight.
I was the same Evening at Will‘s, and saw a Circle round another Gentleman, who was railing in like manner, and showing his Snuffbox and Cane to prove he was satyrized in the same Character. I asked this Gentleman’s Name, and was told, he was a Roman Catho|lick Lord.
A Day or two after I was sent for, upon a slight Indisposition, to the young Lady’s to whom the Poem is dedicated. She also took up the Character of Belinda with much Frankness and good Humour, tho’ the Author has given us a Key in his Dedication, that he meant something further. This Lady is al|so a Roman Catholick. At the same time others of the Characters were claim’d by some Per|sons in the Room; and all of them Roman Catholicks.
But to proceed to the Work it self.
In all things which are intricate, as Alle|gories in their own Nature are, and especially those that are industriously made so, it is not to be expected we should find the Clue at first sight; but when once we have laid hold on that, we shall trace this our Author through all the Labyrinths, Doublings and Turnings of this intricate Composition.
First then let it be observed, that in the most demonstrative Sciences some Postulata are to be granted, upon which the rest is naturally founded. I shall desire no more than one P|stulatum to render this obvious to the meanest Capacity; which being granted me, I shall not only shew the Intent of this Work in general, but also explain the very Names, and expose all his fictitious Characters in their true Light; and we shall find, that even his Spirits were not meerly contrived for the sake of Machinary.
The only Concession which I desire to be made me, is, that by the Lock is meant

I. First then I shall discover, that BELINDA represents GREAT BRITAIN, or (which is the same thing) her late MAJESTY. This is plainly seen in his Description of her.
On her white Breast a sparkling Cross she bore.
Alluding to the antient Name of Albion, from her white Cliffs, and to the Cross, which is the Ensign of England.
II. The BARON, who cuts off the Lock, or Barrier Treaty, is the E. of O_…d.
III. CLARISSA, who lent the Scissars, my Lady M_…m.
IV. THALESTRIS, who provokes Belinda to resent the Loss of the Lock or Treaty, the D_…s of M_…gh.
V. SIR PLUME, who is mov’d by Thalestris to redemand it of Great Britain, P_…ce Eu_…ne, who came hither for that purpose.
There are other inferior Characters, which we shall observe upon afterwards; but I shall first explain the foregoing.
The first Part of the Baron‘s Character is his being adventrous, or enterprizing, which is the common Epithet given the E_… of O_…d by his Enemies. The Prize he aspires to is the T_…y, in order to which he offers a Sacrifice.
—an Altar built
Of twelve vast French Romances neatly gilt.
Our Author here takes occasion maliciously to insinuate this Statesman’s Love to France; representing the Books he chiefly studies to be vast French Romances. These are the vast Prospects from the Friendship and Alliance of France, which he satyrically calls Romances, hinting thereby, that these Promises and Protestations were no more to be relied on than those idle Legends. Of these he is said to build an Altar; to intimate, that all the Foundation of his Schemes and Honours was fix’d upon the French Romances abovementioned.
A Fan, a Garter, Half a Pair of Gloves.
One of the things he sacrifices is a Fan, which both for its gaudy Show and perpetual Flutt’ring, has been made the Emblem of Woman. This points at the Change of the Ladies of the Bed|chamber; the Garter alludes to the Honours he conferr’d on some of his Friends; and we may without straining the Sense, call the Half Pair of Gloves, a Gauntlet; the Token of those Military Employments, which he is said to have sacrificed to his Designs. The Prize, as I said before, means the T_…y, which he makes it his Prayers soon to obtain, and long to possess.
The Pow’rs gave ear, and granted half his Pray’r,
The rest the Winds dispers’d in empty Air.
In the first of these Lines he gives him the T_…y, and in the last suggests that he should not long possess that Honour.

That Thalestris is the D_…s of M_…gh, appears both by her Nearness to Belinda, and by this Author’s malevolent Suggestion, that she is a Lover of War.
To Arms, to Arms, the bold Thalestris cries.
But more particularly in several Passages in her Speech to Belinda, upon the cutting off the Lock, or Treaty. Among other things she says, Was it for this you bound your Locks in Paper Durance? Was it for this so much Paper has been spent to secure the Barrier Treaty?
Methinks already I your Tears survey,
Already hear the horrid things they say;
Already see you a degraded Toast.
This describes the Aspersions under which that good Princess suffer’d, and the Repentance which must have followed the Dissolution of that Treaty, and particularly levels at the Refusal some People made to drink her M_…y’s Health.

Sir Plume (a proper Name for a Soldier) has all the Circumstances that agree with P_…ce Eu_…ne.
Sir Plume of Amber Snuff-box justly vain,
And the nice Conduct of a clouded Cane,
With earnest Eyes—
‘Tis remarkable, this General is a great Taker of Snuff as well as Towns; his Conduct of the clouded Cane gives him the Honour which is so justly his due, of an exact Conduct in Battle, which is figured by his Truncheon, the Ensign of a General. His earnest Eye, or the Vivacity of his Look, is so particularly remarkable in him that this Character could be mistaken for no other, had not this Author purposely obscur’d it by the fictitious Circumstance of a round, unthinking Face.

Having now explained the chief Characters of his Human Persons (for there are some others that will hereafter fall in by the by, in the Sequel of this Discourse) I shall next take in pieces his Machinary, wherein his Satyr is wholly confined to Ministers of State.
The SYLPHS and GNOMES at first sight appeared to me to signify the two contending Parties of this Nation; for these being placed in the Air, and those on the Earth, I thought agreed very well with the common Denomi|nation, HIGH and LOW. But as they are made to be the first Movers and Influencers of all that happens, ’tis plain they represent promiseuously the Heads of Parties, whom he makes to be the Authors of all those Changes in the State, which are generally imputed to the Levity and Instability of the British Nation.
This erring Mortals Levity may call.
Oh blind to Truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.
But of this he has given us a plain Demonstration; for speaking of these Spirits, he says in express Terms.
—The chief the Care of Nations own,
And guard with Arms Divine the British Throne.

And here let it not seem odd, if in this mysterious way of Writing, we find the same Person, who has before been represented by the Baron, again described in the Character of Ariel; it being a common way with Authors, in this fabulous Manner, to take such a Liberty. As for instance, I have read in the English St. Evremont, that all the different Characters in Petronius are but Nero in so many different Appearances. And in the Key to the curious Romance of Barclay‘s Argenis, that both Polarchus and Archombrotus mean only the King of Navarre.
We observe in the very Beginning of the Poem, that Ariel is possess’d of the Ear of Belinda; therefore it is absolutely necessary that this Person must be the Minister who was nearest the Queen. But whoever would be further convinced, that he meant the late T_…r, may know him by his Ensigns in the following Line.
He rais’d his Azure Wand.—

His sitting on the Mast of a Vessel shows his presiding over the S_…th S_…a Tr_…de. When Ariel assigns to his Sylphs all the Posts about Belinda, what is more clearly described, than the Tr_…r’s disposing all the Pla|ces of the Kingdom, and particularly about her M_…y? But let us hear the Lines.
—Ye Spirits, to your Charge repair,
The flutt’ring Fan be Zephyretta‘s Care;
The Drops to thee, Brillante, we consign,
And, Momentilla, let the Watch be thine;
Do thou, Crispissa, tend her fav’rite Lock.
He has here particularized the Ladies and Women of the Bed-Chamber, the Keeper of the Cabinet, and her M_…y’s Dresser, and impudently given Nick-names to each.

To put this Matter beyond all dispute, the Sylphs are said to be wond’rous fond of Place, in the Canto following, where Ariel is perched uppermost, and all the rest take their Places subordinately under him.
Here again I cannot but observe, the excessive Malignity of this Author, who could not leave this Character of Ariel without the same invidious Stroke which he gave him in the Character of the Baron before.
Amaz’d, confus’d, he saw his Pow’r expir’d,
Resign’d to Fate, and with a Sigh retir’d.
Being another Prophecy that he should resign his Place, which it is probable all Ministers do with a Sigh.

At the Head of the Gnomes he sets Ʋmbriel, a dusky melancholy Spright, who makes it his Business to give Belinda the Spleen; a vile and malicious Suggestion against some grave and worthy Minister. The Vapours, Fantoms, Visions, and the like, are the Jealousies, Fears, and Cries of Danger, that have so often affrighted and alarm’d the Nation. Those who are described in the House of Spleen under those several fantastical Forms, are the same whom their Ill-willers have so often called the Whimsical.
The two foregoing Spirits being the only considerable Characters of the Machinary, I
shall but just mention the Sylph that is wounded with the Scissars at the Loss of the Lock, by whom is undoubtedly understood my L_…d To_…d, who at that time received a Wound in his Character for making the Barrier Treaty, and was cut out of his Employment upon the Dissolution of it: But that Spirit reunites, and receives no Harm; to signify, that it came to nothing, and his L-rdsh-p had no real Hurt by it.
But I must not conclude this Head of the Characters, without observing, that our Au|Au|thor has run through every Stage of Beings in search of Topicks for Detraction; and as he has characterized some Persons under Angels and Men, so he has others under Animals, and things inanimate. He has represented an eminent Clergy-man as a Dog, and a noted Writer as a Tool. Let us examine the former.
—But Shock, who thought she slept too long,
Leapt up, and wak’d his Mistress with his Tongue.
Twas then, Belinda, if Report say true,
Thy Eyes first open’d on a Billet-doux.
By this Shock, it is manifest he has most audatiously and profanely reflected on Dr. Sa_…ch_…ll, who leapt up, that is, into the Pulpit, and awaken’d Great Britain with his Tongue, that is, with his Sermon, which made so much Noise; and for which he has frequently been term’d by others of his Enemies, as well as by this Author, a Dog: Or perhaps, by his Tongue, may be more literally meant his Speech at his Trial, since immediately thereupon, our Author says, her Eyes open’d on a Billet-doux; Billets-doux being Addreses to Ladies from Lovers, may be aptly interpreted those Addresses of Loving Subjects to her M_…y, which ensued that Trial.

The other Instance is at the End of the third Canto.
Steel did the Labours of the Gods destroy,
And strike to Dust th’Imperial Tow’rs of Troy.
Steel could the Works of mortal Pride confound,
And hew triumphal Arches to the Ground.

Here he most impudently attributes the Demolition of Dunkirk, not to the Pleasure of her M_…y, or her Ministry, but to the frequent Instigations of his Friend Mr. Steel; a very artful Pun to conceal his wicked Lampoonery!
Having now considered the general Intent and Scope of the Poem, and open’d the Characters, I shall next discover the Malice which is covered under the Episodes, and particular Passages of it.
The Game at Ombre is a mystical Representation of the late War, which is hinted by his making Spades the Trump; Spade in Spanish signifying a Sword, and being yet so painted in the Cards of that Nation; to which it is well known we owe the Original of our Cards. In this one Place indeed he has unawares paid a Compliment to the Queen, and her Success in the War; for Belinda gets the better of the two that play against her, the Kings of France and Spain.
I do not question but ev’ry particular Card has its Person and Character assigned, which, no doubt, the Author has told his Friends in private; but I shall only instance in the Description of the Disgrace under which the D_… of M_…ough then suffer’d, which is so apparent in these Verses.
Ev’n mighty Pam, that Kings and Queens o’er|threw,
And mow’d down Armies in the Fights of Lu,
Sad Chance of War! now destitute of Aid,
Falls undistinguish’d—

That the Author here had an Eye to our modern Transactions, is very plain from an unguarded Stroke towards the End of this Game.
And now, as oft in some distemper’d State,
On one nice Trick depends the gen’ral Fate.

After the Conclusion of the War, the publick Rejoicings and Thanksgivings are ridiculed in the two following Lines.
The Nymph exalting fills with Shouts the Sky,
The Walls, the Woods, and long Canals reply.
Immediately upon which there follows a malicious Insinuation, in the manner of a Prophecy (which we have formerly observ’d this seditious Writer delights in) that the Peace should continue but a short time, and that the Day should afterwards be curst which was then celebrated with so much Joy.
Sudden these Honours shall be snatch’d away,
And curst for ever this Victorious Day.

As the Game at Ombre is a satyrical Representation of the late War; so is the Tea-Table that ensues, of the Council-Table and its Consultations after the Peace. By this he would hint, that all the Advantages we have gain’d by our late extended Commerce, are only Coffee and Tea, or things of no greater Value. That he thought of the Trade in this Place, appears by the Passage where he represents the Sylphs particularly careful of the rich Brocade; it having been a frequent Complaint of our Mercers, that French Brocades were imported in too great Quantities. I will not say, he means those Presents of rich Gold Stuff Suits, which were said to be made her M_…y by the K_… of F_…, tho’ I cannot but suspect, that he glances at it.
Here this Author, as well as the scandalous John Dunton, represents the Mi_…ry in plain Terms taking frequent Cups.
And frequent Cups prolong the rich Repast.

Upon the whole, it is manifest he meant something more than common Coffee, by his calling it,
Coffee that makes the Politician wise.
And by telling us, it was this Coffee, that
Sent up in Vapours to the Baron‘s Brain
New Stratagems
I shall only further observe, that ’twas at this Table the Lock was cut off; for where but at the Council Board should the Barrier Treaty be dissolved?

The ensuing Contentions of the Parties upon the Loss of that Treaty, are described in the Squabbles following the Rape of the Lock; and this he rashly expresses, without any disguise in the Words.
All side in Parties
Here first you have a Gentleman who sinks beside his Chair: a plain Allusion to a Noble Lord, who lost his Chair of Pre_…nt of the Co_…l.

I come next to the Bodkin, so dreadful in the Hand of Belinda; by which he intimates the British Scepter so rever’d in the Hand of our late August Princess. His own Note upon this Place tells us he alludes to a Scepter; and the Verses are so plain, they need no Remark.
The same (his antient Personage to deck)
Her great great Grandsire wore about his Neck
In three Seal Rings, which, after melted down,
Form’d a vast Buckle for his Widow’s Gown;
Her Infant Grandame’s Whistle next it grew,
The Bells she gingled, and the Whistle blew,
Then in a Bodkin grac’d her Mother’s Hairs,
Which long she wore, and now Belinda wears.

An open Satyr upon Hereditary Right. The three Seal Rings plainly allude to the three Kingdoms.
These are the chief Passages in the Battle, by which, as hath before been said, he means the Squabble of Parties. Upon this Occasion he could not end the Description of them, without testifying his malignant Joy at those Dissentions, from which he forms the Prospect that both should be disappointed, and cries out with Triumph, as if it were already accomplished.
Behold how oft ambitious Arms are crost,
And Chiefs contend till all the Prize is lost.

The Lock at length is turn’d into a Star, or the Old Barrier Treaty into a new and glorious Peace; this no doubt is what the Author, at the time he printed his Poem, would have been thought to mean, in hopes by that Complement to escape Punishment for the rest of his Piece. It puts me in mind of a Fellow, who concluded a bitter Lampoon upon the Prince and Court of his Days, with these Lines.
God save the King, the Commons, and the Peers,
And grant the Author long may wear his Ears.

Whatever this Author may think of that Peace, I imagine it the most extraordinary Star that ever appear’d in our Hemisphere. A Star that is to bring us all the Wealth and Gold of the Indies; and from whose Influence, not Mr. John Partridge alone, (whose worthy Labours this Writer so ungenerously ridicules) but all true Britains may, with no less Authority than he, prognosticate the Fall of Lewis, in the Restraint of the exorbitant Power of France, and the Fate of Rome in the triumphant Condition of the Church of England.
We have now considered this Poem in its Political View, wherein we have shewn that it hath two different Walks of Satyr, the one in the Story it self, which is a Ridicule on the late Transactions in general; the other in the Machinary, which is a Satyr on the Ministers of State in particular. I shall now show that the same Poem, taken in another Light, has a Tendency to Popery, which is secretly insinuated through the whole.
In the first place, he has conveyed to us the Doctrine of Guardian Angels and Patron Saints in the Machinary of his Sylphs, which being a Piece of Popish Superstition that hath been endeavoured to be exploded ever since the Reformation, he would here revive under this Disguise. Here are all the Particulars which they believe of those Beings, which I shall sum up in a few Heads.
1st. The Spirits are made to concern themselves with all human Acts in general.
2dly. A distinct Guardian Spirit or Patron is assigned to each Person in particular.
Of these am I, who thy Protection claim,
A watchful Sprite—
3dly. They are made directly to inspire Dreams, Visions, and Revelations.
Her Guardian Sylph prolong’d her balmy Rest,
‘Twas he had summon’d to her silent Bed
The Morning Dream—

4thly. They are made to be subordinate, in different Degrees, some presiding over others. So Ariel hath his several Under-Officers at Command.
Superior by the Head was Ariel plac’d.

5thly. They are employed in various Offices, and each hath his Office assigned him.
Some in the Fields of purest Aether play,
And bask and whiten in the Blaze of Duy.
Some guide the Course, &c.

6thly. He hath given his Spirits the Charge of the several Parts of Dress; intimating thereby, that the Saints preside over the several Parts of Human Bodies. They have one Saint to cure the Tooth-ach, another cures the Gripes, another the Gout, and so of all the rest.
The flutt’ring Fan be Zephyretta‘s Care,
The Drops to thee, Brillante, we consign, &c.

7thly. They are represented to know the Thoughts of Men.
As on the Nosegay in her Breast reclin’d,
He watch’d th’ Ideas rising in her Mind.

8thly. They are made Protectors even to Animals and irrational Beings.
Ariel himself shall be the Guard of Shock.
So St. Anthony presides over Hogs, &c.

9thly. Others are made Patrons of whole Kingdoms and Provinces.
Of these the chief the Care of Nations own.
So St. George is imagined by the Papists to defend England; St. Patrick, Ireland; St. James, Spain, &c. Now what is the Consequence of all this? By granting that they have this Power, we must be brought back again to pray to them.

The Toilette is an artful Recommendation of the Mass, and pompous Ceremonies of the Church of Rome. The unveiling of the Altar, the Silver Vases upon it, being rob’d in White, as the Priests are upon the chief Festivals, and the Head uncover’d, are manifest Marks of this.
A heav’nly Image in the Glass appears,
To that she bends—
Plainly denotes Image-Worship.

The Goddess, who is deck’d with Treasures, Jewels, and the various Offerings of the World, manifestly alludes to the Lady of Loretto. You have Perfumes breathing from the Incense Pot in the following Line.
And all Arabia breaths from yonder Box.

The Character of Belinda, as we take it in this third View, represents the Popish Religion, or the Whore of Babylon; who is described in the State this malevolent Author wishes for, coming forth in all her Glory upon the Thames, and overspreading the Nation with Ceremonies.
Not with more Glories in th’aetherial Plain,
The Sun first rises o’er the purple Main,
Than issuing forth the Rival of his Beams,
Launch’d on the Bosom of the Silver Thames.

She is dress’d with a Cross on her Breast, the Ensign of Popery, the Adoration of which is plainly recommended in the following Lines.
On her white Breast a sparkling Cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore.

Next he represents her as the Ʋniversal Church, according to the Boasts of the Papists.
And like the Sun she shines on all alike.
After which he tells us,
If to her Share some Female Errors fall,
Look on her Face, and you’ll forget them all.
Tho’ it should be granted some Errors fall to her share, look on the pompous Figure she makes throughout the World, and they are not worth regarding. In the Sacrifice following soon after, you have these two Lines.
For this, e’er Phoebus rose, he had implor’d
Propitious Heav’n, and ev’ry Pow’r ador’d.
In the first of them, he plainly hints at their Matins; in the second, by adoring ev’ry Power, the Invocation of Saints.

Belinda‘s Visits are described with numerous Wax-Lights, which are always used in the Ceremonial Parts of the Romish Worship.
—Visits shall be paid on solemn Days,
When num’rous Wax-lights in bright Order blaze.

The Lunar Sphere he mentions, opens to us their Purgatory, which is seen in the following Line.
Since all things lost on Earth are treasur’d there.
It is a Popish Doctrine, that scarce any Person quits this World, but he must touch at Purgatory in his way to Heaven; and it is here also represented as the Treasury of the Romish Church. Nor is it much to be wonder’d at, that the Moon should be Purgatory, when a Learned Divine hath in a late Treatise proved Hell to be in the Sun*.

I shall now before I conclude, desire the Reader to compare this Key with those upon any other Pieces, which are supposed to be secret Satyrs upon the State, either antient or modern; as with those upon Petronius Arbiter, Lucian‘s true History, Barclay‘s Argenis, or Rablais‘s Garagantua; and I doubt not he will do me the Justice to acknowledge, that the Explanations here laid down, are deduced as naturally, and with as little force, both from the general Scope and Bent of the Work, and from the several Particulars, and are every way as consistent and undeniable as any of those; and ev’ry way as candid as any modern Interpretations of either Party on the mysterious State Treatises of our Times.
To sum up my whole Charge against this Author in a few Words: He has ridiculed both the present Mi_…ry and the last; abused great Statesmen and great Generals; nay the Treaties of whole Nations have not escaped him, nor has the Royal Dignity it self been omitted in the Progress of his Satyr; and all this he has done just at the Meeting of a new Parliament. I hope a proper Authority may be made use of to bring him to condign Punishment: In the mean while I doubt not if the Persons most concern’d would but order Mr. Bernard Lintott, the Printer and Publisher of this dangerous Piece, to be taken into Custody, and examin’d; many further Discoveries might be made both of this Poet’s and his Abettor’s secret Designs, which are doubtless of the utmost Importance to the Government.

Howard Erskine-Hill writes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,
‘The masterpiece of Pope’s earlier period, The Rape of the Lock (1712, 1714) had its origin in a quarrel between two Catholic families, apparently over the provocative cutting off of a lock of hair by Lord Petre from the head of Arabella Fermor. Pope’s friend Caryll, a friend of each family and always interested in Pope’s literary projects, suggested that he write a poem to ‘laugh them together again’ (Spence, 104). This is probably the only grain of historical truth in the story, acknowledged in the third line: ‘This Verse to C[aryl]l, Muse! is due’. Caryll’s invitation was a sheer gift to Pope. Obviously aware of the celebrated mock epics of Boileau (Le lutrin, 1674) and Dryden (Mac Flecknoe, 1676), and of The Dispensary (1699) by Sir Samuel Garth, Pope might be thought to have been waiting for the right occasion to arise to call on his epic and comic talent.

‘The poem, especially as expanded into its five-canto version of 1714, published with decorations and no longer anonymous, is far from being a mere social satire in which a trivial quarrel is mocked by being presented in epic terms. Indeed, by the time the poem has been thoughtfully read it is not really clear that the quarrel is trivial. The ‘Heroi-Comical’ in Pope’s hands is a volatile mixture: some of its comedy rebounds on the epic conventions that are primarily deployed to mock the foolish and vain. In the shining lock of hair Pope contemplates beauty, reputation, conquest in love and war, anger, humour, and resignation. The political facets of the poem, parts only of the total multi-faceted effect, have recently come more into the light, so that the work has its own angle on historical change. Not only does the poem have many targets, all seen through the prism of Belinda and her lock, but it also has many tones, those of subtle comedy, outright farce, and lofty sadness. This last is the predominant tone of Clarissa’s speech in canto 5 which Pope added only on the publication of his Works (1717). Pope did not add this speech ‘to open more clearly the MORAL of the Poem’ as his editor Warburton would after the poet’s death make him say. All Pope ever said of this speech was that it was a parody of ‘the speech of Sarpedon to Glaucus in Homer’ (l. 7n., Poems, 2.199), which he had already translated in epic mode. Clarissa’s speech is a moral in the poem, not the moral of it.’

Alexander Pope Alexander Pope
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