An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot


An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot
Alexander Pope

An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot is a poem by Alexander Pope. You can download the PDF of the poem An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot from here. The ‘Epistle’ is a satire in verse form written by Pope. Pope wrote this poem dedicating it to ‘Dr. Arbuthnot’ after realizing that the latter was suffering from a fatal disease. Being a bold satirist, it had been quite usual for Pope to attract very rude criticism against him. Dr. Arbuthnot, a close friend, had advised him about not naming the people in his satires for naming whom Pope could land up in prison. So, one of the reasons for which Pope wrote the epistle was to thank the physician for his concern.

The epistle could, very conveniently, be divided into seven parts. The first part expresses the poet’s dislike for fake admirers. He mentions how he was fed up of meeting such people and how desperately he desired to avoid them. This sections talks about the artists whose own skills are not worthy enough. They try to convince Pope to amend their works so that they could be successful. So, in this section, Pope mentions the negatives of being famous.

In part two, Pope tries to convince Dr. Arbuthnot that he would not let his satires be dangerous. He won’t ‘name Queens, Ministers or Kings’. He is sure that whoever he ridicules would care more to mend his ways rather than attacking him. however, it is to be noted that Pope is not serious in expecting that the lords and writers he ridiculed would not feel hurt. However, he states clearly that he is more afraid of fake friends than the enemies.

Part three is his attempt to summarize his life as a writer. He frankly states that his physical abilities could not have led him to do anything else. Pope seems to be serious in this part of the poem and the seriousness gets reflected in the way he simplifies his syntax here.

Fourth part is a counterattack on those who had denounced pope. He stated that some critics puzzled him by attacking his inoffensive poems written during his early career; some critics were the editors who were, more or less, obsessed to find petty mistakes; some opposed him because he had not supported their unworthy works. He tells Dr. Arbuthnot that he would be attacked whatever he did. He also mentions Addison as a noteworthy opponent. However, he states that Addison presented a bad example by considering himself perfect.

Part five has been used by pope to establish a connection between intellectual and financial independence. He analyzes intellect as a means for earning money giving his own example. He also presents his belief that the money he had earned attracted fools to him. However, it made him independent.

In part six, Pope clarifies that he considered ridiculing folly to be his duty. He states here that if a person has got exceptional verbal power, it becomes his duty to rebuke impertinence. Here, he has presented a portrait of Lord Hervey who had satirized his works and personality quite rudely at some point of time.

In the final part, he expects Arbuthnot to believe Pope to be having certain qualities. He clarifies that he was neither proud nor servile. He did not give any importance to threats from his opponents. He had had to face really serious things like his father’s death and, when compared to them, the views of the society towards him did not matter at all.

So, the epistle is a response to dr. Arbuthnot’s concern for Pope but also gives expression to the latter’s personal views, qualities as a poet and harsh feelings towards some critics.


Pope decided to write this epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot as a gratitude for the concern shown by the latter towards him. Arbuthnot had cautioned him about the possible dangers of naming people openly while ridiculing them, particularly the influential ones. Although pope responded to his concern in the form of this epistle but he did not show any sign of agreement with his concern. Pope took this occasion to express his fearlessness openly. He did not even avoid mentioning some people openly in this work as well whom he disliked. The only assurance he has given to the doctor is that he is not afraid of anyone and that he is satisfied with his own position in the society. He has also given some general philosophical ideas in the letter by mentioning the conduct of some people. For instance, he has talked against the tendency of people to flatter someone.


An epistle is a literary creation in the form of a letter. It is meant to be read by the person to whom it has been addressed as well as by the readers in general.

This epistle was written by Pope to Dr. Arbuthnot.  He has presented some varied views in the epistle. However, all the views have been presented to suggest that it was his duty to expose impudence and that he was not afraid of serious opposition if he was performing his duty as a writer.

The structure of the letter is such that it could be divided into seven parts.

Pope has used personal views, personal experiences, personal wishes and personal advices to convince Dr. Arbuthnot that the way he treated his satires was the best thing for him to do.

Pope has established himself as a fearless and responsible writer through this epistle.


‘John Arbuthnot’ to whom the epistle has been dedicated was a physician.

Pope wrote this epistle after Arbuthnot had written to him about the lethal disease he was suffering from.

It was published in 1735

The poem includes 419 lines.

It has been written in heroic couplets.

Further Reading

An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot