Page images



THIS illuftrious poet was born at London in 1688, and was defcended from a good family of that name in Oxfordshire, the head of which was the earl of Downe, whofe fole heirefs married the earl of Lindsey, His father, a man of primitive fimplicity and integrity of manners, was a merchant of London, who, upon the Revolution, quitted trade, and converted his effects into money, amounting to near 10,000l. with which he retired into the country; and died in 1717, at the age of feventy-five.

Our poet's mother, who lived to a very advanced age, being ninety-three years old when he died in 1733, was the daughter of William Turner, Efq. of York. She had three brothers, one of whom was killed; another died in the fervice of king Charles; and the eldeft, following his fortunes, and becoming a general officer in Spain, left her what eftate remained after fequeftration and forfeitures of her family. To thefe circumstances our Poet alludes in his Epiftle to Dr. Arbuthnot, in which he mentions his parents,

Of gentle blood (part fhed in Honour's caufe,
While yet in Britain honour had applaufe)

Each parent fprange--What fortune pray?---Their own;
And better got than Beftia's from the throne.

Born to no pride, inheriting no ftrife,

Nor marrying difcord in a noble wife;

Stranger to civil and religious rage,

The good man walk'd innoxious thro' his age:
No courts he faw, no fuits would ever try;

Nor dar'd an oath, nor hazarded a lie:

Unlearn'd, he knew no fchoolmens' fubtle art,
No language but the language of the heart:
By nature honeft, by experience wife,

Healthy by temp'rance and by exercife;

His life, though long, to ficknefs pafs'd unknown;
His death was inftant, and without a groan.



The education of our great Author was attended with circumftances very fingular, and fome of them extremely unfavourable; but the amazing force of his genius fully compensated the want of any advantage in his earliest inftruction. He owed the knowledge of his letters to an aunt; and having learned very early to read, took great delight in it, and taught himself to write by copying after printed books, the characters of which he would imitate to great perfection. He began to compofe verfes farther back than he could well remember; and at eight years of age, when he was put under one Taverner, a prieft, who taught him the rudiments of the Latin and Greek tongues at the fame time, he met with Ogilby's Homer, which him great delight; and this was increased by Sandy's Ovid. The raptures which these authors, even in the difguife of fuch tranflations, then yielded him were fo ftrong, that he spoke of them with pleasure ever after.


From Mr. Taverner's tuition he was fent to a private school at Twiford, near Winchester, where he continued about a year, and was then removed to another near Hyde Park Corner; but was fo unfortunate as to lofe under his two last masters what he had acquired under the first.

While he remained at this fchool, being permitted to go to the playhouse with some of his fchoolfellows of a more advanced age, he was fo charmed with dramatic representations, that he formed the tranflation of the Iliad into a play, from feveral of the fpeeches in Ogilby's tranflation connected with verfes of his own; and the feveral parts were performed by the upper boys of the school, except that of Ajax by the master's gardener. At the age of twelve our young Poet went with his father to refide at his houfe at Binfield, in Windfor Foreft, where he was, for a few months, under the tuition of another prieft, with as little fuccefs as before; fo that he refolved now to become his


own mafter, by reading thofe claffic writers which gave him most entertainment; and by this method, at fifteen, he gained a ready habit in the learned languages, to which he foon after added the French and Italian. Upon his retreat to the Foreft he became first acquainted with the writings of Waller, Spencer, and Dryden; in the laft of which he immediately found what he wanted, and the poems of that excellent writer were never out of his hands; they became his model, and from them alone he learned the whole magic of his versification.

The first of our Author's compofitions now extant in print is an "Ode on Solitude," written before he was twelve years old; which, confidered as the production of fo early an age, is a perfect masterpiece; nor need he have been afhamed of it, had it been written in the meridian of his genius: while it breathes the most delicate spirit of poetry, it at the fame time demonftrates his love of folitude, and the rational pleafures which attend the retreats of a contented country life.

Two years after this he tranflated the First Book of "Statius Thebais," and wrote a coppy of verfes on Silence, in imitation of the Earl of Rochefter's poem on Nothing. Thus we find him no fooner capable of holding the pen than he emloyed it in writing verfes:

"He lifp'd in numbers, for the numbers came."

Though we have had frequent opportunity to obferve that pocts have given early difplays of genius, yet we cannot recollect that, amongst the infpired tribe, one can be found who, at the age of twelve, could produce fo animated an ode, or, at the age of fourteen, tranflate from the Latin. It has been reported indeed concerning Mr. Dryden, that when he was at Westminster school, the mafter, who had affigned a poetical task to fome of the boys of writing a paraphrase on our Saviour's miracle of turning water into

b 2


wine, was perfectly astonished when young Dryderi prefented him with the following line, which he afferted was the beft comment that could be written upon it;

The confcious water faw its God, and blush'd.

This was the only inftance of an early appearance of genius in this great man, for he was turned of thirty before he acquired any reputation; an age in which Mr Pope's was in its full diftinction.

The year following that in which Mr. Pope wrote his poem on "Silence," he began an epic poem, entitled " Alcander," which he afterwards very judiciously committed to the flames, as he did likewise a comedy and a tragedy, the latter taken from a ftory in the legend of St. Genevieve, both of thefe being the product of thofe early days: but his Paftorals, which were written when he was only fixteen years of age, were esteemed by Sir William Trumball, Mr. Granville, Mr. Wycherley, Mr. Walfh, and others of his friends, too valuable to be condemned to the fame fate.

During this period of his life he was indefatigably diligent, and infatiably curious. Wanting health for violent, and money for expenfive pleafures, and having excited in himfelt very trong defires of intellectual eminence, he spent much of his time over his books; but he read only to ftore his mind with facts and images, feizing all that his authors presented with undiftinguishing voracity, and with an appetite for knowledge too eager to be nice. In a mind like his, however, all the faculties were at once involuntarily improving. Judgment is forced upon us by experience. He that reads many books must compare one opinion or one style with another; and, when he compares, muft neceffarily diftinguish, reject, and prefer. But the account given by himself of his ftudies was, that from fourteen to twenty he read


« EelmineJätka »