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The life and writings of Pope, “ the great Poet of Reason,” and “the Prince of Rhyme,” have exhaufted the copiousness of Ruffhead, and received every possible illutration from the candid and well informed criticism of Spence, the clegant and classical taste of Dr. Warton, and the acutc precilior of Dr. Johnson.
The facts stated, in the present account, are chiefly taken from the narratives of Ruffhead, and Dr. Johnson, whose copiousness and accuracy leave liitle to be correed or supplied.
Ruffhead's information was collected from original manuscrip's, communicated by Warburton, and Dr. Johnson's intelligence from Spence's MS. collections, communicated by the Duke of Newcaftle.
Alexander Pope was born in London, May 21, 1688. His father, Alexander Pope, was a linen.' draper in the Strand, of a good family in Oxfordshire, and a distant relation of the Earl of Downe. His mother, Editha Turner, was the daughter of William Turner, Esq. of York. She had three brothers, one of whom was killed, another died in the service of Charles I, and the eldest, on the discomfiture of the royalists, going abroad, and becoming a general oíficer in Spain, left her what semained of the family estate, after fequestrations and forfeiture. Both parents were Papists.
About the time of the Revolution, his father quitted his trade, and retired to Binfield in Windsor Forest, worth about 20,000 l. which he put into a chest, and spent as he wanted it ; for, being a Papilt, he could not purchase land, and he made a point of conscience not to lend it to the new government; so that when Pope came to the inheritance, great part of the money was expended.
He was, from his birth, of a very delicate constitution, but is said to have shown remarkable gentleness and sweetness of disposition. His voice, when he was young, was so pleasing, that he was called in fondness “ the little nightingale."
He was taught to read very carly by an aunt, and when he was seven or eight years old, disa covered an eager desire for information and improveme He first learned to write by copying printed books, which he executed with great neatness and accuracy; though his ordinary hand was not elegant.
At eight years old he was placed in Hampshire, under Taverner, a Romish priest, who taught him the Greek and Latin rudiments together. He met with “ Ogilby's Homer,” and “Sandys's Ovid," which he read with a delight that showed the bent of his genius. Ogilby's aslistance he never repaid with any praise; but of Sandys he declared in his notes to the Iliad, that English poetry owed much of its beauty to his cranflations.
He was sent from Taverner, under whom his proficiency was considerable, to a private school at Twyford near Winchester, where he continued a year; from this school he was sent to another at Hyde Park Corner, being then about ten years age.
In the two last schools he considered himself as having made very little progress, of which he was so sensible, that among his earliest pieces, there is a satire on his master at Twyford ; yet, under those masters, he tranflated more than a fourth part of " Ovid's Metamorphoses."
While he was at the school at Hyde Park Corner, he was frequently carried to the play house, and was so captivated with the drama, that he turned the chief transactions of the “ Iliad" into a kind of play, composed of a number of speeches from Ogilby's translation, conected with verses of his own.
He prevailed upon his school-fellows to take part in this play, and upon his master's gardener, to ad the part of Ajax.
At twelve years old, he was called by his father to Binfield, and there he had for a few months the assistance of one Deane, another pricht, of whom he learned only to construe a little of “ Tully's Othces," which, after having translated “ Ovid,” he might certainly do without great advances in learning.
Hitherto, then, he must have known little more than what he learned during one year under Taverner; and from this time, till twenty, he became his own preceptor; and gained what other krowledge he had by reading the claslics, especially the poets, to whom he applied with great allidity and delight.
His primary and principal purpose was to be a poet, with which his father accidentally concurred, by proposing subjects, and obliging him to correct his performance, by many revisals, after which, when he was satisfied, he would say, " These are good rhymes.”
In perusing the English poets he soon distinguished the versification of Dryden, which he confider. ed as the model to be studied, and was impressed with such veneration for his inftructor, that he persuaded a friend to conduct him to 3 coffee-house which Dryden frequented, and pleased himself with having seen him.
.“ Who does not wish that Dryden could have known the value of the homage that was paid him, and foreseen the greatness of his young admirer ?"
The earliest of his productions is the Ode on Solitude, written when he was twelve, in which there is nothing remarkable.
His time was now wholly spent in reading and writing. He soon learned to read Homer in the original, as he himself records in one of his imitations of Horace.
Bred up at home, full early I begun
To read in Greek the wrath of Peleus' son. As he read the claslics, he amused himself with translating them; and at fourteen made a version of the first book of the Thebaid of Statius, which, with some revision, he afterwards published. He translated likewise the Epifle of Sappbo to Phaon, and Dryope and Pomona, from Ovid, which he afterwards printed.
He was also tempted, by “ Dryden's Fables," to try his skill in reviving and imitating Chaucer's January and May, and the Prologue of tbe Wife of Batb, which he put into modern English.
He sometimes imitated the Englih poets, and professed to have written about this time, the poem upon Silence, in imitation of Rochester's “ Nothing." (He had now formed his versification, aslifted by the rich melody of Dryden ; and the smoothness of his numbers surpassed his original.)
When he was fifteen, having made a considerable progress in the learned languages, he went to London to learn the French and Italian, which, by diligent application, he foon acquired.
He then returned to Binfield, and delighted himself with his own poctry. He wrote a comedy, a tragedy, Alcander an epic poem in four books, with panegyrics on all the princes of Europe ; and, as he confeffes, " thought himself the greatest genius that ever was.”
The subje&t of the comedy is not known, but the tragedy was founded on the legend of St. Ge. pevieve. Most of his puerile productions were afterwards destroyed. The epic poem was burne by the persuasion of Atterbury. Some of its extravagancies are produced in the Art of Sinking in poetry, figned Anonymous.
About this time, it is related, that he translated Tully on Old Age; and that, besides his booke of poetry and criticism, he read “ Temple's Essays," and “ Locke on Human Understanding."
Books were noe the only mcans through which he acquired information. He early procured the acquaintance of men of talents and literature, and improved himself by conversation.
At fixteen, he acquired the friendship of Sir William Trumball, a statesman of fixty, who had been in the highest offices at home and abroad.
From that age, the life of Pope, as an author, may be properly computed. He now wrote his Paffon rals, which were for some time handed about among poets, and critics, and at last printed in Tonson's * Miscellany,'' 1709, in the same volume with the “ Pastorals” of Philips.
He had by this the become acquainted' with Garth, Steele, Gay, Addison, Congreve, Granville, Halifax, Somers, Walsh, Wycherly, Cromwell, and other wits. He lot the friendship of Wycherlý, by correcting his bad poetry, and of Cromwell, by correcting his bad taste.
Their correspondence afforded the public its first knowledge of Pope's epistolary powers; for his letters were given by Cromwell’to Mrs. Thomas, and she, many years afterwards, sold them to Curll, who inserted them in a volume of his miscellanics.
Walsh was one of his first encouragers. He received an advice from him, which seems to have regulated his studies. Walsh advised him to correctness, hitherto negle&ed by the English poets, and therefore an untrodden path to fame.
He had now declared himself a poet, and thinking himself entitled to poetical conversation, began at seventeen to frequen: Will's Coffee-house, where the wits of that time used to assemble.
Soon after the Pastorals, appeared the FDuy on Critici, ma, which procured him, as it deserved,
very high character. It was praised by Addison, attacked ly Dennis, and commented by Ware burton, who has discovered in it such order and connection as was not perceived by Addison, nor, as is said, intended by the author. It has been translated into French by Hamilton, by Robotham, and by Refoel. It has also been tranflated into Latin verse by several writers ; particularly by Smart, and Dr. Kirkpatrick, the author of a poem called “ The Sea-Piece," which, though it is little known, bas many very fine passages.
About the same time, he wrote the Ode for St. Cecilia's'Day, which he undertook at the desire of Steele.
lo the 's Spectator” was published the Meliab, which he first submitted to the perusal of Sccele, and corrected in compliance with his criticisnı.
The Elegy to tbe Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, was probably written about the time when his Ejay on Criticism was published. Who the lady was, has not been ascertained. According to Ruffhead, she was a woman of high rank and large fortune, the ward of an uncle; she was in love with a young gentleman of an inferior condition. The uncle disapproved of her attachment, and pro. posed another person as a match. Finding she was determined to abide by her own choice, he sent her abroad. Deprived of every opportunity of conversing or corresponding with her lover, the becime desperate, and procured a sword, which the directed to her heart.
la the “ Gentleman's Magazine," vol. li. p. 314, it is allerted, that the lady's name was Within bury; that he was in love with Pope, and would have married him; that her guardian, though she was deformed in her person, looked upon such a match as beneath her, and sent her to a convent, where she put an end to her life. How far this account is true, cannot be known. Pope certainly, from the Elegy, and the concluding lines of the Eloisa, appears to have been very deeply affe&ed by her face. Dr. Johnson has censured her conduct with unreasonable severity. Halty and culpable she was undoubtedly; but it ought to be considered, thac no person ever has, or can be happy against violent inclinations, with constancy to a forced partner for life. To those on whom love has made a deep impression, nothing but its object can give happiness or peace of mind; considerations, indeeds that weigh little with the family pride of parents. It is evident that an indulgence of pallion may be attended with happiness, but that the disappointment of it cannot.
In 1712, he produced Tbe Dying Cbriflian to bis Soul, in imitation of the verses of Adrian, and the Iragnent of Sappbo, by the advice of Steele. It strongly resembles an ode of Flaeman, of whom ho was probably a reader, as he certainly was of Crashaw, Carew, Quarles, and Herbert.
He contributed to the Spectator, Nos. 404, 408, and 409, and some other papers.
In 1912, he published The Rape of the Lock, in its present form. It was occafioned by a frolic of gallantry, in which Lord Petre cut off a lock of Mrs. Arabella Fermor's hair. This erifling cause produced a serious quarrel between the two families. Mr. Caryll, Secretary to King James's Queen, and author of the comedy of “Sir Solomon Single," and of several translations in “ Dryden's Miltellanics," solicited Pope to endeavour a reconciliation, by a ludicrous poeni. The first sketch was written in less than a fortnight, and published in 1711, in two cantos, without his name.
It was received so well, that he eolarged it by the addition of the machinery of the Sylpbs, and extended it into five cantos. At its first appearance, Addison declared it was " mestum fal,” a delicious little thing, and gave him no encouragemene to retouch it. This was imputed to jealousy in Addison, but contains no proof that he was actuated by any bad paflion. Pope fortunately did not follow Addison's advice; his attempt was justified by success.
When the Guardian was begun, he contributed the paper concerning the little club, under the name of Dick Dislich, a letter signed Gratbo, a description of the Gardens of Alcinous, and a very severe ironical criticism on “ Philips's Pastorals," in which he pretends to praise Philips, but with great art takes the superiority to himself.
About this time, he published The Temple of Fame, written two years before; which, as Steele obserres, has a thousand beauties.
In 1713, he published Windfor Foreft, of which part was written at fixteen, and the latter was added afterwards. It is dedicated to Lansdowne, who was then high in reputation and influence among the T'ories.
When the tragedy of " Cato” made its appearance, he introduced it by a folemn and sublime Prelogue; and when Dennis published his “ Remarks," undertook, not indeed to vindicate, but to. revenge Addison by A Narrative of the Midngs of John Dennis. Addison espresed no approbariot of the ridicule of Pope against Dennis, and perhaps did not think he deserved much by his officiousness,
Two other pamphlets, published about this time against Edmund Curll, a bookseller, who lived by the publication and sale of productions on which respectable men of the profesion would have no intereft, are ascribed to Pope, and printed in “ Pope and Swift's Miscellanics.” Curll was concerned in many libellous pieces, both against individuals and the state; but it cannot be denied that English literature owes him considerable obligations.
About this time, he wrote the Epifle from Eloisa to Abelard; in consequence, as Savage told Dr. Johnson, of his perufal of Prior’s “ Nutbrown Maid,” which it not only excells, but every composition of the same kind.
He had a strong inclination to unite the Art of Painting with that of Poetry, and put himself under the tuition of Jervas, to whom, about this time, he addressed an encomiaftic Epifle, with “ Dryden's translation of Fresuoy."
A picture of Betterton, copied by Pope from Kneller, was in the possession of the late Earl of Mansfield, and is said to be still at Caenwood.
After Betterton's death, he published, under his name, a version into modern English, of Chaucer's prologues, and one of his tales, which were believed by Fenton to have been the performance of Pope himself.
In 1713, when he was in his twenty-fifth year, he circulated proposals for publishing his translation of the Iliad, with notes, hy subscription, in 6 vols. 411, for fix guineas.
The proposals were very favourably received; and the leading men, political and literary, of both parties, were busy to recommend his undertaking, and to promote his intereft; but the Turics, in general, encouraged the subscription much more than the Whigs.
To him the hands of jarring faction join,
To heap their tribute on his Homer's thrine. HAYLEY. His contract with Linto the bookseller was very advantagcous. It was agreed that he should re. ceive 200 l. for the copy-right of each volume, and that Lintot should fupply the copies to be de. livered to subscribers, or presented to friends, at his own expence.
The subscribers were five hundred and seventy.five. The copies for which fubfcriptions were given, were fix hundred and fifty-four; but only fix hundred and sixty were printed. For those copies Pope had nothing to pay; he therefore received, including the two hundred pounds a voiume, five thousand three hundred and twenty pounds four shillings, withont deduction.
At first he found himself embarrassed with difficulties, which retarded his progress; but practice increased his facility of verlification, and in a short time he represents himself as dispatching regu. larly fisty lines a-day.
It is not very likely, as Dr. Johnson obferves, that he overflowed with Greek; but Latin tranf. lations were always at hand, and from them be could obtain his author's sense with fufficient certainty. He had the poetical tranflation of Eobanus Hefus, the French Homers of La Valterie, and Dacier, and the English of Chapman, Hobbes, and Ogilby. With Chapman he had very free quent consultations; and perhaps never translated any pafluge eill he had read his version, which, indeed, he has been sometimes suspected of uling instead of the original.
Broome, in the preface to his “ Poems,” declares himfelf the commentator, “ in part upon the Iliad;" and it appears from Fenton's letter, preserved in the Museum, that Broome was at first en. gaged in consulting Exftatbius, of whole work there was then no Latin version; but that after a time, he delifted. Another Canbridge man was then employed, who soon grew weary of the work; and a third, that was recommended by Thirlby, is now discovered to have been Jortin, a man fince well known to the learned world, who complained that Pope having accepted and approved his performance, never testified any curiosity to see him. Broome then offered his service a second time, and was probably accepted, as they had afterwards a closer correspondence.
Parnell contributed the Life of Homer which Pope found so harsh, that he took great pains in correcting it; and by his own diligence, with such help as kindness or money could procure him, in somewhat more than five years, he completed the English llind, with notes, which is allowed to be the best version of poetry that ever was written ; and its publication must, therefore, be sonfidered as one of the great events in the annals of learning. Halifax expected the dedication of hia