"Next to Shakespeare, we recall, Pope has contribted more to our common language than any other poet. It is a gift not lightly to be dismissed." — Maynard Mack quoted by Donald W. Nichol

Donald W. Nichol's delightful “To err is Popean,” his TLS celebration of the three-hundredth anniversary of the publication of An Essay on Criticism, points out that “While Pope's verbal nuggets may not be so abundantly embedded in our collective subconscious as the Bible's or Shakespeare's, his influence may be more pervasive than we realize” (14). Pope's words, Nichol explains, “have turned up in the usual places — allusions or parodies in other poems, plays, novels, films and book titles — but also in more unexpected and postmodern places: cartoons, coffee mugs, computer games, paintings, pop songs, posters and podcasts” (14). Concentrating on a few lines from the Essay, epecially "A little learning is a dangerous thing" and "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," shows how they have appeared in book titles, dialogue in movies and television shows, and popular music, such as Elis Presley's Can't help falling in love. Drawing upon online searches and the iTubes store (which has 779 examples of Fools rush in), Nicholl does an entertaining job of showing how widely Pope's gemlike verse has permeated our language.


Nichol, Donald W. “To err is Popean: An Essay on Criticism at 300.” Times Literary Supplement (May 13, 2013): 14-15.

Last modified 30 August 2013