Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pope's Iliad Revisited

A printed and signed receipt.About a month ago, we announced on this blog the acquisition of the first edition of Pope's translation of the Iliad. That copy was one of 750 printed for the original subscribers who funded Pope's work. We now have in our collection an interesting piece of physical evidence regarding that edition: a receipt for the Duke of Argyle's subscription completed and signed by Pope.

Some people may be surprised to learn that Pope was responsible for managing the subscriptions rather than his publisher. But it was not the book that the subscribers were sponsoring so much as the project. The subscriptions gave the nobility of England an opportunity to practice a kind of national patronage by paying Pope directly and funding him while he completed the translation. That it was Pope they funded, and the Iliad they desired to see wrought into English, shows how the nobility saw themselves, Britain, and the young poet. This was, after all, a country that traced its mythical roots to the Trojan War and was in the midst of building its own massive empire. A truly English version of the Iliad by the nation's most promising young poet was a project worth their attention and patronage.