An Essay on Man
Autograph manuscript [ca. 1731]
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909
The text of An Essay on Man was the result of a tortuous composition process. Pope first made prose notes on the philosophical arguments he wished to put forth, then worked out couplets on scraps of paper and composed a first draft. On fresh sheets, shown here, he neatly copied the verses he had composed thus far and reworked them heavily. Another fair copy with further revisions followed. Even after the poem was published, Pope continued to refine it for later editions. Dr. Johnson, who studied examples of Pope's manuscripts, found them a source of delight for those who wish "to trace the mind from the rudeness of its first conceptions to the elegance of its last."