The verse epistle
chapterposted on 07.11.2006, 14:41 by W.J. Overton
Although accepted as an important form in the long eighteenth century, the verse epistle has received less than its due of critical attention. Its neglect may be explained in part by the difficulty of defining it. Unlike most literary forms, such as elegy or pastoral, its subject matter is unrestricted. Most kinds of poem may be written as epistles, including elegies and pastorals; the style and tone will vary as widely as the subject; and any appropriate verse form may be used. A further reason why critics have on the whole neglected the verse epistle is that most of those who wrote in the form, especially during its heyday in the eighteenth century, are now, except for Pope, little known. Examples include John Byrom, John Oldmixon, and Allan Ramsay, all of whom wrote at least as many epistles as Pope, if not more. The fact that the form was so widely practiced is a good reason for studying it, especially when scholars and critics are transforming the canon of the period’s verse. Other reasons are the light it casts on eighteenth-century culture and society, including the advances in communications, literacy, social behavior and publishing that helped promote it. For example, as Karina Williamson points out, “It can scarcely be a coincidence that the beginning of this period saw the foundation of the Post Office in Britain (1660), the rapid development of a nationwide network of postal services, and hence a vast increase in letter writing of all kinds” (Williamson 2001: 76).
- The Arts, English and Drama
- English and Drama