Johnson and Pope: Agon or Admiration Society?
"Johnson and Pope: Agon or Admiration Society?" Timothy Erwin, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, firstname.lastname@example.org At the 2020 ASECS meeting in Toronto a speaker suggested that Samuel Johnson and Alexander Pope engaged in "a lifelong agon." The idea deserves sustained discussion. When the unknown Johnson published "London" (1738), he entered willingly or not into a competition with Pope, whose "One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty Eight: A Dialogue" appeared about the same time. Pope was impressed, saying of the anonymous author that his identity would soon be known. Late in life Johnson wrote a critical biography of Pope describing him as the Augustan poet par excellence: "If Pope be not a poet, then where is poetry to be found?", he asks.
At the same time there are real differences between the two, even perhaps some dislike. In the "Life of Pope" Johnson the earnest moralist clearly has little patience with the borrowed ethical system of the "Essay on Man." It's easy to read between the lines of Johnson's "Life of Savage" to find that Richard Savage, who depended on Pope for moral and financial support, was abandoned on his deathbed. This roundtable invites a shared consideration of the careers of Pope and Johnson as they intersect in any number of ways, from common themes to differences in social and political attitudes.