Pope lived during a period of intense and varied scientific activities — the development of the microscope, and Newton's formulation of a theory explaining the gravitational basis of the universe, for example — which revealed a great deal about the nature of things: for Pope, these discoveries seemed to provide scientific corroboration for a crucially important concept which he expressed in various ways, but which can be expressed as the fundamentally conservative notion that the physical universe itself, and man's place in it, are aspects of an orderly Divine scheme of things which, though it is too vast for the merely human intellect to comprehend, is nevertheless both majestic and meaningful.

Pope's acceptance of this concept, and the ways in which he managed to incorporate it into his work, are revealing: contemporary scientific discoveries, that is, seemed to him to provide acceptable answers to questions which had previously been matters of religious faith or philosophical belief. With what questions does he seem to have concerned himself most? Much more so than darker and more sceptical figures like Swift or Johnson (who were in any case much more dubious about the validity of the very notion of scientific "progress") Pope seems to have regarded contemporary scientific and technological advances — those, at any rate, which could be incorporated into his belief-system — as being somehow reassuring.

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Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000