Alexander Pope has long been considered one of the greatest satirists that English literary tradition has ever seen. His methods of satire are original and unique from those of the traditional Augustan poet, and his comments on the ideals and morals of his contemporaries have provided us with a valuable insight into Augustan lifestyles.
Alexander Popeâ€™s â€˜The Rape of the Lockâ€™ has its foundation in an amorous joke played by the young Lord Petre on Miss Arabella Fermor. The ensuing rift between the two prominent aristocratic families caused a mutual acquaintance to approach Pope, with a view to healing the estrangement with the production of a humorous poem. The poem first appeared in1712 in a two-canto form, a mere 334 lines, but was revised by Pope and reappeared in its current five-canto form in 1714. This later version, which differed only slightly to the definitive 1736 edition, features elements which confirmed the status of the piece as one of the greats of the Augustan age. This final version includes a â€˜Dedicatory Letterâ€™ to Miss Fermor, which serves the purpose of excusing the previous â€˜imperfectâ€™ draft, with which the lady was less than pleased, as well as introducing the theme of the poem: the â€˜little unguarded folliesâ€™ of the fair sex. Pope tells us that with the aid of certain devices he will explore this theme, and it is at this point that we become acquainted with the â€˜machineryâ€™ of the poem. This â€˜machineryâ€™, he explains is the part which will be played by the supernatural elements in the tale. .
Based on the Rosicrucian Doctrine, which would have been familiar to all intellectual minds of the age, Popeâ€™s â€˜machineryâ€™ is made up of spirits and deities whose origins are the four elements; gnomes from earth, nymphs from water, salamanders from fire and sylphs from air.