Epistles to Several Persons: Epistle IV

To Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington

Original Text: 
Alexander Pope, Of false taste; an epistle to the Right Honourable Richard Earl of Burlington. Occasion'd by his publishing Palladio's designs of the baths, arches, theatres, &c. of ancient Rome, 3rd edn. (London, L. Gilliver, 1731 [i.e. 1732]). pam f Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto). A miscellany on taste, by Mr. Pope, &c. viz. I. Of taste in architecture, an epistle to the Earl of Burlington. With notes variorum, and a compleat key .... [and works by other authors] (London, Printed and sold by G. Lawton [etc.] 1732). B-11/350 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
Est brevitate opus, ut currat sententia, neu se
Impediat verbis lassas onerantibus aures:
Et sermone opus est modo tristi, saepe jocoso,
Defendente vicem modo Rhetoris atque Poetae,
Interdum urbani, parcentis viribus, atque
Extenuantis eas consulto.
          (Horace, Satires, I, x, 17-22)
2To gain those riches he can ne'er enjoy:
3Is it less strange, the prodigal should waste
4His wealth to purchase what he ne'er can taste?
5Not for himself he sees, or hears, or eats;
6Artists must choose his pictures, music, meats:
11Think we all these are for himself? no more
12Than his fine wife, alas! or finer whore.
16Some daemon whisper'd, "Visto! have a taste."
17Heav'n visits with a taste the wealthy fool,
19See! sportive fate, to punish awkward pride,
21A standing sermon, at each year's expense,
24And pompous buildings once were things of use.
25Yet shall (my Lord) your just, your noble rules
26Fill half the land with imitating fools;
27Who random drawings from your sheets shall take,
28And of one beauty many blunders make;
29Load some vain church with old theatric state,
30Turn arcs of triumph to a garden gate;
31Reverse your ornaments, and hang them all
32On some patch'd dog-hole ek'd with ends of wall;
33Then clap four slices of pilaster on't,
35Or call the winds through long arcades to roar,
38And, if they starve, they starve by rules of art.
40A certain truth, which many buy too dear:
41Something there is more needful than expense,
42And something previous ev'n to taste--'tis sense:
43Good sense, which only is the gift of Heav'n,
45A light, which in yourself you must perceive;
48To rear the column, or the arch to bend,
49To swell the terrace, or to sink the grot;
50In all, let Nature never be forgot.
51But treat the goddess like a modest fair,
52Nor overdress, nor leave her wholly bare;
53Let not each beauty ev'rywhere be spied,
54Where half the skill is decently to hide.
56Surprises, varies, and conceals the bounds.
57     Consult the genius of the place in all;
58That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
59Or helps th' ambitious hill the heav'ns to scale,
60Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
61Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
62Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
63Now breaks, or now directs, th' intending lines;
64Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.
65     Still follow sense, of ev'ry art the soul,
66Parts answ'ring parts shall slide into a whole,
67Spontaneous beauties all around advance,
68Start ev'n from difficulty, strike from chance;
69Nature shall join you; time shall make it grow
73The vast parterres a thousand hands shall make,
76You'll wish your hill or shelter'd seat again.
77Ev'n in an ornament its place remark,
80His quincunx darkens, his espaliers meet;
81The wood supports the plain, the parts unite,
82And strength of shade contends with strength of light;
83A waving glow his bloomy beds display,
84Blushing in bright diversities of day,
85With silver-quiv'ring rills meander'd o'er--
86Enjoy them, you! Villario can no more;
87Tir'd of the scene parterres and fountains yield,
88He finds at last he better likes a field.
90Or sat delighted in the thick'ning shade,
91With annual joy the redd'ning shoots to greet,
92Or see the stretching branches long to meet!
93His son's fine taste an op'ner vista loves,
94Foe to the dryads of his father's groves;
97The thriving plants ignoble broomsticks made,
98Now sweep those alleys they were born to shade.
100Where all cry out, "What sums are thrown away!"
101So proud, so grand of that stupendous air,
102Soft and agreeable come never there.
103Greatness, with Timon, dwells in such a draught
105To compass this, his building is a town,
106His pond an ocean, his parterre a down:
107Who but must laugh, the master when he sees,
108A puny insect, shiv'ring at a breeze!
109Lo, what huge heaps of littleness around!
110The whole, a labour'd quarry above ground.
111Two cupids squirt before: a lake behind
112Improves the keenness of the Northern wind.
113His gardens next your admiration call,
114On ev'ry side you look, behold the wall!
115No pleasing intricacies intervene,
116No artful wildness to perplex the scene;
117Grove nods at grove, each alley has a brother,
118And half the platform just reflects the other.
119The suff'ring eye inverted Nature sees,
120Trees cut to statues, statues thick as trees;
121With here a fountain, never to be play'd;
122And there a summerhouse, that knows no shade;
125Unwater'd see the drooping sea horse mourn,
126And swallows roost in Nilus' dusty urn.
127     My Lord advances with majestic mien,
128Smit with the mighty pleasure, to be seen:
129But soft--by regular approach--not yet--
131And when up ten steep slopes you've dragg'd your thighs,
132Just at his study door he'll bless your eyes.
134In books, not authors, curious is my Lord;
135To all their dated backs he turns you round:
137Lo, some are vellum, and the rest as good
139For Locke or Milton 'tis in vain to look,
140These shelves admit not any modern book.
141     And now the chapel's silver bell you hear,
142That summons you to all the pride of pray'r:
144Make the soul dance upon a jig to heaven.
147On gilded clouds in fair expansion lie,
149To rest, the cushion and soft dean invite,
151     But hark! the chiming clocks to dinner call;
152A hundred footsteps scrape the marble hall:
154And gaping Tritons spew to wash your face.
156No, 'tis a temple, and a hecatomb.
157A solemn sacrifice, perform'd in state,
158You drink by measure, and to minutes eat.
159So quick retires each flying course, you'd swear
161Between each act the trembling salvers ring,
162From soup to sweet wine, and God bless the King.
163In plenty starving, tantaliz'd in state,
164And complaisantly help'd to all I hate,
165Treated, caress'd, and tir'd, I take my leave,
166Sick of his civil pride from morn to eve;
167I curse such lavish cost, and little skill,
168And swear no day was ever pass'd so ill.
170Health to himself, and to his infants bread
171The lab'rer bears: What his hard heart denies,
172His charitable vanity supplies.
173     Another age shall see the golden ear
174Embrown the slope, and nod on the parterre,
175Deep harvests bury all his pride has plann'd,
177     Who then shall grace, or who improve the soil?
179'Tis use alone that sanctifies expense,
180And splendour borrows all her rays from sense.
181     His father's acres who enjoys in peace,
182Or makes his neighbours glad, if he increase:
183Whose cheerful tenants bless their yearly toil,
184Yet to their Lord owe more than to the soil;
185Whose ample lawns are not asham'd to feed
186The milky heifer and deserving steed;
187Whose rising forests, not for pride or show,
188But future buildings, future navies, grow:
189Let his plantations stretch from down to down,
190First shade a country, and then raise a town.
191     You too proceed! make falling arts your care,
192Erect new wonders, and the old repair;
193Jones and Palladio to themselves restore,
196Proud to accomplish what such hands design'd,
197Bid harbours open, public ways extend,
198Bid temples, worthier of the God, ascend;
199Bid the broad arch the dang'rous flood contain,
200The mole projected break the roaring main;
201Back to his bounds their subject sea command,
202And roll obedient rivers through the land;
203These honours, peace to happy Britain brings,
204These are imperial works, and worthy kings.


1] Published in December 1731, though completed in April (that is, before Epistle II and therefore placed before it in this text). The original title was An Epistle to the Right Honourable Richard Earl of Burlington, Occasioned by his Publishing Palladio's Designs of the Bathes, Arches, and Theatre's of Ancient Rome. The half-title read Of Taste. In the second edition, it was changed to Of False Taste. In 1735 when it was included in the Works, it was changed again to Of the Use of Riches. Each of these titles calls attention to an aspect of the poem. The original title relates the poem to Burlington's 1730 volume of designs of ancient Roman buildings by the Renaissance architect, Palladio. Burlington and Pope shared similar views on architecture and gardening. Later Pope related the Epistle to his scheme for the projected fourth book of the Essay on Man (q.v.) and published it as one of the four epistles in the Epistles to Several Persons, popularly called the four Moral Essays.
Pope's summary of Epistle IV is as follows.
"The vanity of expense in people of wealth and quality. The abuse of the word taste, V.13.
That the first principle and foundation, in this as in everything else, is good sense, V.40.
The chief proof of it is to follow Nature, even in works of mere luxury and elegance. Instanced in architecture and gardening, where all must be adapted to the genius and use of the place, and the beauties not forced into it, but resulting from it, V.50.
How man are disappointed in their most expensive undertakings, for want of this true foundation, without which nothing can please long, if at all; and the best examples and rules will but be perverted into something burdensome or ridiculous, V.65.
A description of the false taste of magnificence; the first grand error of which is to imagine that greatness consists in the size and dimension, instead of the proportion and harmony of the whole, V.97, and the second, either in joining together parts incoherent, or too minutely resembling, or in the repetition of the same too frequently, v. 105 ff.
A word or two of false taste in books, in music, in painting, even in preaching and prayer, and lastly in entertainments, V.133 ff.
Yet Providence is justified in giving wealth to be squandered in this manner, since it is dispersed to the poor and laborious part of mankind (recurring to what is laid down in the first book [the Essay on Man], Epistle II, and in the Epistle [to Bathurst] preceding this) v. 159 ff.
What are the proper objects of Magnificence, and a proper field for the expense of great men, and finally the great and public works which become a prince." 'Tis strange, the miser should his cares employ, / To gain those riches he can ne'er enjoy:/Is it less strange, the prodigal should waste/His wealth, to purchase what he ne'er can taste?/Not for himself he sees, or hears, or eats.' Back to Line
7] Topham. "[Pope] A gentleman famous for a judicious collection of drawings." Richard Topham (d. 1735), art collector. Back to Line
8] Pembroke: Thomas Herbert, eighth Earl of Pembroke (1656-1733), a Whig politician and a collector of statues, pictures, and coins. dirty Gods: Renaissance pseudo-antiques. Back to Line
9] Hearne: Thomas Hearne (1678-1735), mediaevalist, issued numerous small editions of middle English historical texts. Back to Line
10] Mead ... Sloone: "[Pope] Two eminent physicians; the one had an excellent library; the other the finest collection in Europe of natural curiosities; both men of great learning and humanity." Richard Mead (1673-1754) was physician to George II and his Queen, as well as Pope's physician in 1743. He had a library of 30,000 volumes. Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was first physician to George II and President of the Royal College of Physicians, 1719-35. Back to Line
13] Virro: the point of the name is not known.
13-14. planted: rhymes with "wanted." Back to Line
14] wanted: (1) desired, (2) lacked. Back to Line
15] Visto: vista, the view at the ends of avenues of trees in Queen Anne's gardens. Here it suggests one who devotes himself to gardening and building. Back to Line
18] Ripley. "[Pope] This man was a carpenter, employed by a first minister [Sir Robert Walpole, who raised him to an architect, without any genius in art, and after some wretched proofs of his insufficiency in public buildings, made him comptroller of the board of works." Back to Line
20] Bubo: see note to Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, 299. George Bubb Dodington spent £140,000 completing a family mansion. Back to Line
22] magnifience: an Aristotelean virtue (see the Nichomean Ethics). Pope's essay is centrally concerned with this virtue, which deals with the expenditure of large sums of money. Back to Line
23] "[Pope] The Earl of Burlington was then publishing the Designs of Inigo Jones, and the Antiquities of Rome by Palladio." Back to Line
34] rustic: artificially roughened or roughhewn surface. Back to Line
36] Venetian door: "[Pope] a door or window, so called, from being much practiced at Venice by Palladio and others." Back to Line
37] Palladian: after Palladio (1518-80), the Italian architect, who published the most famous of the Renaissance texts on classical architecture, and whose style of building became very popular in the eighteenth century. It is well illustrated by the centre-piece of Chiswick House designed by Burlington and William Kent. Back to Line
39] brother peer: a general, not a specific reference. Back to Line
44] the seven: the seven liberal arts. Back to Line
46] "[Pope] Inigo Jones, the celebrated Architect, and M. Le Nôtre, the designer of the best gardens of France." Inigo Jones (d. 1652) was an English architect who used the Palladian style. André Le Nôtre (1613-1700) laid out the gardens at Versailles and Fontainebleau. Back to Line
47] Pope was a leader in the attack on the symmetrical style, favouring a more "natural" one where landscape and garden harmonized. His essays on gardening (cf. Guardian, 173) and his own garden at Twickenham were influential in the movement. Back to Line
55] Pope once told Spence: "All the rules of gardening are reducible to three heads:-- the contrasts, the management of surprises, and the concealment of bounds ... I have expressed them all in two verses; (after my manner, in very little compass) which are an imitation of Horace's Omne tulit punctum [De Arte Poetica, 343]." Back to Line
70] Stowe: "[Pope] the seat and gardens of the Lord Viscount Cobham in Buckinghamshire." Richard Temple (1675-1749), Viscount Cobham, was a Whig politician and soldier to whom Pope had addressed Moral Epistle I, On Man. At Cobham's family seat, Stowe, he entertained friends and erected monuments and temples to their memory in his elaborate landscape gardens. He was a practitioner of the new style of gardening and architecture. Pope said he esteemed Cobham "as well as any friend" he had. Back to Line
71] Versailles: see note on line 46. Back to Line
72] Nero's terraces. Suetonius tells us that Nero's Golden House contained fields, vineyards, pastures, and woods (see Life of Nero, ch. 21). Back to Line
74] floats: flood. Back to Line
75] "[Pope] This was done in Hertfordshire, by a wealthy citizen, at the expense of above Żã5,000 by which means (merely to overlook a dead plain) he let in the north wind upon his house and parterre, which were before adorned and defended by beautiful woods." Back to Line
78] "[Pope] Dr. S. Clarke's busto placed by the Queen in the Hermitage, while the Dr. duly frequented the Court." Back to Line
79] Villario: probably adopted from "villa." A synthetic character. Back to Line
89] Sabinus: "Father Sabinus, planter of the vine" (Aeneid VIII, 178-79). The contemporary reference is not clear. Back to Line
95] "[Pope] The two extremes in parterres, which are equally faulty; a boundless green, large and naked as a field, or a flourished carpet, where the greatness and nobleness of the piece is lessened by being divided into too many parts, with scrolled works and beds, of which the examples are frequent." Back to Line
96] "[Pope] Touches upon the ill taste of those who are so fond of Evergreens (particularly Yews, which are the most tonsile) as to destroy the nobler Forest trees, to make way for such little ornaments as Pyramids of dark green continually repeated, not unlike a Funeral procession." Back to Line
99] Timon's villa: "[Pope] This description is intended to comprise the principles of a false taste of magnificence, and to exemplify what was said before, that nothing but good sense can attain it." Timon: a spendthrift Athenian patron of the arts who became a misanthropist after realizing the pointlessness of his activities (see Plutarch's life and Shakespeare's play). Back to Line
104] Brobdingnag: the kingdom of giants in Gulliver's Travels, II.
103-4. drought: rhymed with "thought." Back to Line
123] Amphitrite: a Nereid or sea-nymph and wife of Poscidon, the king of the sea gods. Back to Line
124] "[Pope] The two famous statues of the Gladiator pugnans and Gladiator motiens. Back to Line
130] "[Pope] The Approaches and Communications of house with garden, or of one part with another, ill judged and inconvenient." Back to Line
133] "[Pope] The false Taste in Books; a satire on the vanity in collecting them, more frequent in men of Fortune than the study to understand them.... some have carried it so far, as to cause the upper shelves to be filled with painted books of wood . . ." Back to Line
136] Aldus: Aldus Manutius, Renaissance Venetian printer of Greek texts.
Du Sueil: Abbé du Sueil, famous eighteenth-century French binder. Back to Line
138] wood: disguised through fashioning and lettering to look like a book.
Locke: John Locke (1632-1704), philosopher and author of the extremely influential Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Back to Line
143] "[Pope] The false taste in music, improper to the subjects, as of light airs in churches, often practiced by organists, etc." Back to Line
145] "[Pope] And in painting (from which even Italy is not free) of naked figures in churches, etc., which has obliged some popes to put draperies on some of those of the best masters." Back to Line
146] "[Pope] Verrio (Antonio) painted many ceilings, etc., at Windsor, Hampton Court, etc., and Laguerre at Blenheim Castle, and other places." Back to Line
148] Cf. Milton, Il Penseroso, line 166: "And bring all Heav'n before mine eyes." Cf. line 104 above. Back to Line
150] "[Pope] This is a fact; a reverend Dean of Peterborough, preaching at Court, threatened the sinner with punishment in `a place which he thought it not decent to name in so polite an assembly'." Back to Line
153] "[Pope] Taxes the incongruity of Ornaments (though sometimes practised by the ancients) where an open mouth ejects the water into a fountain, or where the shocking images of serpents, etc., are introduced in Grottos or Buffets." Back to Line
155] "[Pope] The proud festivals of some men are here set forth to ridicule where pride destroys the ease, and formal regularity all the pleasurable enjoyment of the entertainment." Back to Line
160] Sancho's dread Doctor: "see Don Quixote, chap. xviii." In this section as Sancho is trying to eat a meal, the "doctor-magician" taking care of his health causes each dish to disappear just as Sancho is about to eat it. Back to Line
169] "[Pope] The moral of the whole, where Providence is justified in giving wealth to those that squander it in this manner. A bad taste employs more hands and diffuses expense more than a good one. This recurs to what is laid down in Book I, Ep. II, v. 230-7 [Essay on Man II, lines 230 ff.] and in the Epistle preceding this [Moral Essay III v. 161 etc." Back to Line
176] Ceres: goddess of the generative powers of nature. Back to Line
178] Bathurst: Allan Bathurst (1685-1775), a Tory M.P. and later peer, an enthusiastic landscape gardener, a man of worldly wisdom, and an intimate of Pope, Congreve, and Swift.
Boyle: Lord Burlington, to whom the poem is dedicated. Back to Line
194] Vitruvius: Vitruvius Pollio (50-26 B.C.), Roman architect, whose ten-book treatise De Architectura dealt with the site, setting, and external decoration as well as the building itself. It became the most important classical reference work for neo-classicists after the Renaissance. Back to Line
195] "[Pope] The poet after having touched upon the proper objects of magnificence and expense in the private works of great men, comes to the great and public works which become a prince. This poem was published in the year 1732, when some of the new-built churches, by the act of Queen Anne, were ready to fall, being founded in boggy land (which is satirically alluded to in our author's imitation of Horace, Bk. II, Satire ii [line 119]. Shall half the new-built Churches round the fall); others were vilely executed through fraudulent cabals between undertakers, officers, etc. Dagenham breach had done very great mischiefs. Many of the Highways throughout England were hardly passable; and most of those which were repaired by Turnpikes were made jobs for private lucre, and infamously executed, even to the entrances of London itself. The proposal of building a Bridge at Westminster had been petitioned against and rejected; but in two years after the publication of this poem, an Act for building a bridge passed through both houses. After many debates in the committee, the execution was left to the carpenter above mentioned l. 18n who would have made it a wooden one; to which our author alludes in these lines; "Who builds a bridge that never drove a pile?/Should Ripley venture all the world would smile." See the notes on that place [To Augustus, note on line 186]." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
D. F. Theall
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.143.