The life of a wit is a warfare on earth

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Senior Member
The real importance of the club, however, is that it fostered a satiric temper that was to find unexpected expression in such mature works of the friends as Gulliver’s Travels, , and even, perhaps, The Beggar’s Opera. “The life of a wit is a warfare on earth,” said Pope. Pope’s literary warfare began in 1713, when he announced his intention of translating the Iliad and sought subscribers to a deluxe edition of the work.

Source: The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Hello teachers,

What does the bold written part mean? I know the meanings word by word
but I can't understand the main goal of the saying.

Many thanks in advance.
  • exgerman

    Senior Member
    English but my first language was German
    Here's the context:
    I believe, if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration. The life of a Wit is a warfare upon earth; and the present spirit of the learned world is such, that to attempt to serve it (any way) one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its sake.
    A man who lives by his wits spends his life in dangerous (literary) battles. Pope's life was full of such quarrels.
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    Senior Member
    English - British
    A wit is not the same as a person who lives by his wits. The latter, in the basic sense of the phrase, is someone who makes a living by a range of clever or cunning activities, enterprises etc., without having any settled occupation.

    A wit is a person of intelligence, insight, humour etc., who wins the respect of intellectuals for his knowledge, conversation and views. In fact, the term 'a wit' as used by Pope, Swift and their like is largely equivalent to what we call 'an intellectual' today, making allowance for changed conditions.

    Pope's meaning, as I read it, is first that a wit - any one who takes part in the intellectual life then lived in the London of the coffee houses, clubs and dining circles - finds himself in a constant state of mental warfare, presumably because of the jealous, cut-and-thrust nature of the discussions and exchanges on which one's reputation depended.
    Secondly, he says that any one who wants to be an author has the task of ensuring that his pamphlets or books will prosper in this environment. To make a real contribution as an author is what he means by 'serve the learned world': and for this he says the constancy of a martyr and a willingness to suffer for the sake of that world will be required.
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    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    One aspect of this usage has changed in the three centuries since Pope began to write. Today, warfare is uncountable. We refer to warfare in general, with no article, but not to "a warfare." If we want to refer to a specific bit of warfare, we might say "a war," "a fight," "a battle" or something else like those.


    Senior Member
    English - British
    It seems to me that 'a warfare' is a valid expression in the sense 'a state of warfare'.
    It seems that Pope means 'upon earth' literally. He is saying that an intellectual exists in a state of warfare as long as he lives on earth (implying that the life hereafter, even for a wit, will be one of peace - in which no doubt all questions will be answered and disputes settled).


    In the following context, does "declared class warfare on working people" mean "declared class warfare against working people"?

    Thanks in advance


    In a 2003 interview with, Moyers said, "The corporate right and the political right declared class warfare on working people a quarter of a century ago and they've won." He noted, "The rich are getting richer, which arguably wouldn't matter if the rising tide lifted all boats." Instead, however, "[t]he inequality gap is the widest it's been since 1929; the middle class is besieged and the working poor are barely keeping their heads above water."




    The Pope's “(The life of a wit is a) warfare on earth" appears to me to be different. Because on those days, war happened always on earth and no people could fly to the skies to fight.
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