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rhymes are sometimes unsuitable; in his " Melancholy,"he makes breath rhyme to birth in one place, and to earth in another. Those faults occur but seldom; and he had such power of words and numbers as fitted him for translation; but in his original works, recollection seems to have been his business more than invention. His imitations are so apparent, that it is part of his reader's employment to recall the verses of some former poet. Sometimes he copies the most popular writers, for he seems scarcely to endeavour at concealment; and sometimes he picks up fragments in obscure corners. His lines to Fenton,
Serene, the sting of pain thy thoughts beguile,
brought to my mind some lines on the death of Queen Mary, written by Barnes, of whom I should not have expected to find an imitator: *
But thou, O Muse! whose sweet nepenthean tongue
To detect his imitations were tedious and useless. What he takes he seldom makes worse; and he cannot be justly thought a mean man, whom Pope chose for an associate, and whose co-operation was considered by Pope's enemies as so important, that "he was attacked by Henley with this ludicrous distich:
Pope came off clean with Homer; but tbey say
Alexander Pope was born in London, May 22, 1688, of parents whose rank of station was never ascertained: we are informed that they were of "gentle blood that his father was of a family of which the Earl of Downe was the head; and that his mother was the daughter of William Turner, Esquire, of York, who had likewise three sons, one of whom had the honour of being killed, and the other of dying, in the service of Charles the First; the third was made a general officer in Spain, from whom the sister inherited what sequestrations and forfeitures had left in the family.
This, and this only, is told by Pope; who is more willing, as I have heard observed, to shew what his father was not, than what he was. It is allowed that he grew rich by trade; but whether in a shop or on the Exchange was never discovered till Mr. Tyers told, oh the authority of Mrs. Racket, that he was a linen-draper in the Strand. Both parents were papists.
Pope was from his birth of a constitution tender and delicate; but is said to have shewn remarkable gentleness and sweetness of disposition. The weakness of his body continued through his life but the mildness of his mind perhaps ended with his childhood. His voice when he was young was so pleasing, that he was called in fondness " the little "Nightingale."
Being not sent early to school, he was taught to read by an aunt; and when he was seven or eight years old, became a lover of books. He first learned to write by imitating printed books; a species of penmanship in which he retained great excellence through his whole life, though his ordinary hand was not elegant.
When he was about eight, he was placed in Hampshire under Taverner, a Romish priest, who, by a method very rarely practised, taught him the Greek and Latin rudiments together. He was now first regularly initiated in poetry by the perusal of "Ogilby's Homer," and " Sandys' Ovid?' Ogilby's assistance 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 translations. Sandys very rarely attempted original composition.
From the care of Taverner, under whom his proficiency was considerable, he was removed to a school at Twyford near Winchester, and again to another school about Hyde-park Corner; from which he used sometimes to stroll to the playhouse;
* This weakness was so great that he constantly wore slays. His method of taking the air on the water was to have a sedan «hair in the boastj in which he sat with the glasses down.
and was so delighted with theatrical exhibitions* that he formed a kind of a play from Obilby's Iliad," with some verses of his own intermixed, . which he persuaded his school-fellows to act, with the addition of his master's gardener, who per-' sonated Ajax. ,. .". V.> .* "if:« V'
At the two. last schools he used to represent himself as having lost part of what Taverner had taught him; and on his master at Twyford he had already exercised his poetry in a lampoon. Yet under those masters he translated more than a fourth part of the "Metamorphoses." If he kept the same proportion in his other exercises, it cannot be thought that his loss was great.
He tells of himself, in his poems, that " he lisp'd 'in numbers;" and used to say that he could not remember the time when he began to make verses. In the style of fiction it might have been said of him as of Pindar, that when he lay in his cradle, '' the bees swarmed about his mouth."
About the time of the Revolution, his father, who was undoubtedly disappointed by the sudden blast of Popish prosperity, quitted his trade, and retired to Binfield in Windsor Forest, with about twenty thousand pounds; for which, being conscientiously determined not to entrust it to the government, he found^no better use than that of locking it up in a chest, and taking from it what his expeaces J required; and his life was long enough to consume a great part of it, before his son came to . the^eri^pj^ 3tli btTS ^.loan^.i to iswoq eiit ttal
..^..3il|fi^.]^^v?*!^«g)«di!»y,j>wfather when he was about twelve y$ats oldandi there he had for: a few months, the assistance of one Deane, another priest, of whom he learned only to construe a little of "Tully's Offices." How Mr. Deane could spend with a boy, who had translated so much of ''Ovid," some months over a small part of "Tully's Offices," it is now vain to enquire.
Of a youth so successfully employed, and so conspicuously improved, a minute account must be naturally desired; but curiosity must be contented with confused, imperfect, and sometimes improbable intelligence. Pope, finding little advantage from external help, resolved thenceforward to direct himself, and at twelve formed a plan of study, which he completed with little other incitement than the desire of excellence.
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 performances by many revisals; after which the old gentleman, when he was satisfied, would say, "these are good rhymes."
In his perusal of the English poets he soon distin- .' guished the versification of Dryden, which he Considered as the model to be studied, and was im-'.1 pressed with such veneration for his instructor, that he persuaded some friends to take him to the51 coffee-house which Dryden frequented, and pleased himself with having seen himi :' 3 I; p 1«: ';vJ >f
Dryden died May 1, 1701, some days'! befdrW i Pope was twelve; so early must he therefore have felt the power of harmony, and the zeal1 df g&irrosV '* Who does hot wish that Dryden could have known the value of the homage that was paid him, and foreseen the greatness of his young admirer?