Alexander Pope "Essay on Man": An Analytical Overview.

In Milton’s day the questioning all centered in the doctrine of the “Fall of Man,” and questions of God’s Justice were associated with debate on fate, fore-knowledge, and free will. In Pope’s day the question was not theological, but went to the root of all faith in existence of a God, by declaring that the state of Man and of the world about him met such faith with an absolute denial. Pope’s argument, good or bad, had nothing to do with questions of theology. Like Butler’s, it sought for grounds of faith in the conditions on which doubt was rested.  Milton sought to set forth the story of the Fall in such way as to show that God was love.  Pope dealt with the question of God in Nature, and the world of Man.
Pope’s argument was attacked with violence by M.De Crousaz, Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics in the University of Lausanne, and defended by Warburton, then chaplain to the Prince of Wales, in six letters published in 1739, and a seventh in 1740, for which Pope (who died in 1744) was deeply grateful. His offense in the eyes of de Crousaz was that he had left out of account all doctrines of orthodox theology. But if he had been orthodox of the orthodox, his argument obviously could have been directed only to the form of doubt it sought to overcome. And when his closing hymn was condemned as the freethinker’s hymn, its censurers surely forgot that their arguments against it would equally apply to the Lord’s Prayer, of which it is, in some degree, a paraphrase.
The first design of the "Essay on Man" arranged it into four books, each consisting of a distinct group of Epistles. The First Book, in four Epistles, was to treat of man in the abstract, and of his relation to the Universe.  That is the whole work as we have it now.  The Second Book was to treat of Man Intellectual; the Third Book, of Man Social, including ties to Church and State; the Fourth Book, of Man Moral, was to illustrate abstract truth by sketches of character. This part of the design is represented by the Moral Essays, of which four were written, to which was added, as a fifth, the Epistle to Addison which had been written much earlier, in 1715, and first published in 1720. The four Moral essays are two pairs. One pair is upon the Characters of Men and on the Characters of Women, which would have formed the opening of the subject of the Fourth Book of the Essay: the other pair shows character expressed through a right or a wrong use of Riches: in fact, Money and Morals.  The four Epistles were published separately.  The fourth (to the Earl of Burlington) was first published in 1731, its title then being “Of Taste;” the third (to Lord Bathurst) followed in 1732, the year of the publication of the first two Epistles on the “Essay on Man.”  In 1733, the year of publication of the Third Epistle of the “Essay on Man,” Pope published his Moral Essay of the “Characters of Men.” In 1734 followed the Fourth Epistle of the “Essay on Man;” and in 1735 the “Characters of Women,” addressed to Martha Blount, the woman whom Pope loved, though he was withheld by a frail body from marriage.  Thus the two works were, in fact, produced together, parts of one design.
Pope’s Satires, which still deal with characters of men, followed immediately, some appearing in a folio in January, 1735. That part of the epistle to Arbuthnot forming the Prologue, which gives a character of Addison, as Atticus, had been sketched more than twelve years before, and earlier sketches of some smaller critics were introduced; but the beginning and the end, the parts in which Pope spoke of himself and of his father and mother, and his friend Dr. Arbuthnot, were written in 1733 and 1734. Then follows an imitation of the first Epistle of the Second Book of the Satires of Horace, concerning which Pope told a friend, “When I had a fever one winter in town that confined me to my room for five or six days, Lord Bolingbroke, who came to see me, happened to take up a Horace that lay on the table, and, turning it over, dropped on the first satire in the Second Book, which begins, ‘Sunt, quibus in satire ’ He observed how well that would suit my case if I were to imitate it in English. After he was gone, I read it over, translated it in a morning or two, and sent it to press in a week or a fortnight after” (February, 1733). “And this was the occasion of my imitating some others of the Satires and Epistles.”  The two dialogues finally used as the Epilogue to the Satires were first published in the year 1738, with the name of the year, “Seventeen Hundred and Thirty-eight.” Samuel Johnson’s “London,” his first bid for recognition, appeared in the same week, and excited in Pope not admiration only, but some active endeavor to be useful to its author.
The reader of Pope, as of every author, is advised to begin by letting him say what he has to say, in his own manner to an open mind that seeks only to receive the impressions which the writer wishes to convey. First let the mind and spirit of the writer come into free, full contact with the mind and spirit of the reader, whose attitude at the first reading should be simply receptive. Such reading is the condition precedent to all true judgment of a writer’s work.  All criticism that is not so grounded spreads as fog over a poet’s page. Read, reader, for yourself, without once pausing to remember what you have been told to think.
Pope's purpose in this poem is to vindicate the ways of God to man. Like Milton, Pope faces the problem of the existence of evil in a world presumed to be the creation of a good God. Tho ugh the poem is didactic, it is richly musical and is distinguished by subtly beautiful visual imagery. It is an affirmative poem. Hope is the process of the poem in which it paves little by little into faith. Man must have faith, believe, submit. He request man not to change the human graduation through his pride since such change may lead to the destruction of universal order. Dennis says: "Pope is condemned as an enemy of religion who read into Homer Popish beliefs, while his verses is described as an eternal monotony." "The Rape of the Lock" on the ground that they are pagan, devoid of allegorical significance, and not justly proportioned to the main theme. Like most of his contemporaries he complained of the degeneration of literary taste, which he attributes to the growing concern of his generation with politics and business affairs. He had previously pointed out the need for balanced judgments, and he further explains that literature appealed not only to the intellect but to the emotion as well. Pope's power of expression, he declares, surpassed his power of thought, and he calls attention to the equivocal manner in which that poet employed the terms "Nature" and "Wit". 
Pope was interested in denouncing literary abuses than in fostering a positive appreciation of literary excellences. He mainly directed towards improving the methods and standards of criticism. His views on the critical business are presented in his "Essay on Criticism" and his judgement in his "Preface to Shakespeare." In form the essay follow the Horatian tradition in its desultory character, but while lacking in system it is not wholly without a plan. He laments the corrupt taste of his day, blinded as it had been by ignorance and pedantry; however, on taste as a touchstone he does not enlarge, beyond stating that "true taste" was best arrived at by a study of the rules, which after all were none other than "Nature Methodized", and here he makes use of Rapin's dictum. Moreover, the rules, he explained, were no arbitrary precepts, but laws deduced from the great works of antiquity, and on them judgement could safely be based, since "to copy nature was to copy them." In his Essay he states definitely that rules alone with their fixed standards would not suffice, and that in forming judgement a poet's aim and his environment had to be taken into account. Elsewhere, he states that each work should be judged "with the same spirit as the author writ." 
Pope condemns judgements based solely on popular opinion, or animated by prejudices in favor of either the old or the new. Nor, he held, should political or sectarian interests, any more than personal feelings, be allowed to influence the critic. Your true critic, he urges, was one who endowed with knowledge and discrimination, uttered disinterested judgements with modesty, courtesy and good breeding, and who refraining from magnifying trifling faults, loved to praise with reason on his side. Such qualities has distinguished the long line of critics from Aristotle to Boileau. 
On points of literature, he has also something to say when he recalls that beauty depends on context or setting that in verse the sound must seem an echo of the sense, or that in the choice of diction "the oldest of the new and the newest of the old" were to be condemned. 
In conclusion, Dr. Johnson says about Pope: "A poet may neither violate essential principles by a desire for novelty, nor debar himself from the attainment of beauties ... by a needless fear of breaking rules which no literary dictator had authority to enact.