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ALEXANDER POPE, ESQ.
ALEXANDER POPE was born in London, May 22, | school at Twyford, near Winchester, and again to 1688, of parents whose rank or station was never another school about Hyde Park Corner; from ascertained; we are informed that they were of which he used sometimes to stroll to the play"gentle blood;" that his father was of a family of house; and was so delighted with theatrical exhiwhich the Earl of Downe was the head; and that bitions, that he formed a kind of play from 'Ogilby's his mother was the daughter of William Turner, Iliad,' with some verses of his own intermixed, Esq. of York, who had likewise three sons, one of which he persuaded his school-fellows to act, with whom had the honour of being killed, and the other the addition of his master's gardner, who personof dying, in the service of Charles the First: the ated Ajax. third was made a general officer in Spain, from whom the sister inherited what sequestrations and forfeitures had left in the family.
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 This, and this only, is told by Pope; who is more exercised his poetry in a lampoon. Yet under those willing, as I have heard observed, to show what his masters he translated more than a fourth part of the father was not, than what he was. It is allowed Metamorphoses.' If he kept the same proportion that he grew rich by trade; but whether in a shop in his other exercises, it cannot be thought that his or on the Exchange, was never discovered, till Mr. loss was great. Tyers told, on the authority of Mrs. Racket, that he was a linen-draper in the Strand. Both parents were papists.
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 Pope was from his birth of a constitution tender In the style of fiction it might have been said of him and delicate; but is said to have shown remarkable se, of Pindar, that, when he lay in his cradle," the gentleness and sweetness of disposition. The weak-Lees swaged about his mouth."
ness of his body continued through his life;* but the Aboat the time of the Revolution, his father, who mildness of his mind perhaps ended with his child was undoubtedly disappointed by the sudden blast hood. His voice, when he was young, was sd of Popish prosperity, quitted his trade, and retired pleasing, that he was called in fondness "the little to Binfield, în Windsor Forest, with about twenty Nightingale." thousand pounds; for which, being conscientiously Being not sent early to school, he was taught to determined not to entrust it to the government, he read by an aunt; and, when he was seven or eight found no better use than that of locking it up in a years old, became a lover of books. He first learn- chest, and taking from it what his expenses reed to write by imitating printed books; a species of quired; and his life was long enough to consume a penmanship in which he retained great excellence great part of it, before his son came to the inherthrough his whole life, though his ordinary hand itance. was not elegant.
To Binfield, Pope was called by his father when When he was about eight, he was placed in he was about twelve years old; and there he had Hampshire, under Taverner, a Romish priest, who, for a few months the assistance of one Deane, anoby a method very rarely practised, taught him the ther priest, of whom he learned only to construe a Greek and Latin rudiments together. He was now little of Tully's Offices.' How Mr. Deane could first regularly initiated in poetry by the perusal of spend, with a boy who had translated so much of 'Ogilby's Homer,' and 'Sandys' Ovid.' Ogilby's Ovid,' some months over a small part of Tully's assistance he never repaid with any praise; but of Offices,' it is now vain to inquire. 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.
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 inFrom the care of Taverner, under whom his pro- telligence. Pope, finding little advantage from exficiency was considerable, he was removed to aternal help, resolved thenceforward to direct himself, and at twelve formed a plan of study, which *This weakness was so great that he constantly wore he completed with little other incitement than the stays. His method of taking the air on the water was to desire of excellence. have a sedan chair in the boat, in which he sat with the glasses down.
His primary and principal purpose was to
poet, with which his father accidently concurred,| Most of his puerile productions were, by his maby proposing subjects, and obliging him to correct turer judgment, afterwards destroyed; ' Alcander,' his performances by many revisals: after which the the epic poem, was burned by the persuasion of old gentleman, when he was satisfied, would say, Atterbury. The tragedy was founded on the legend "these are good rhymes." of St. Genevieve. Of the comedy there is no ac
In his perusal of the English poets he soon distin-count. guished the versification of Dryden, which he con- Concerning his studies, it is related, that he sidered as the model to be studied, and was impres- translated Tully on Old Age; and that, besides his sed with such veneration for his instructer, that he books of poetry and criticism, he read Temple's persuaded some friends to take him to the coffee- Essays, and Locke on Human Understanding. His house which Dryden frequented, and pleased himself with having seen him.
reading, though his favourite authors are not known, appears to have been sufficiently extensive and multifarious; for his early pieces show, with sufficient evidence, his knowledge of books.
Dryden died May 1, 1701, some days before Pope was twelve; so early must he therefore have felt the power of harmony, and the zeal of genius. He that is pleased with himself easily imagines Who does not wish that Dryden could have known that he shall please others. Sir William Trumthe value of the homage that was paid him, and ball, who had been ambassador at Constantinople, foreseen the greatness of his young admirer? and secretary of state, when he retired from busi
The earliest of Pope's productions is his 'Ode on ness fixed his residence in the neighbourhood of Solitude,' written before he was twelve, in which Binfield. Pope, not yet sixteen, was introduced there is nothing more than other forward boys have to the statesman of sixty, and so distinguished him. attained, and which is not equal to Cowley's per-self, that their interviews ended in friendship and formances at the same age. correspondence. Pope was, through his whole His time was now wholly spent in reading and life, ambitious of splendid acquaintance; and he writing. As he read the classics, he amused him- seems to have wanted neither diligence nor success self with translating them; and at fourteen made a in attracting the notice of the great; for, from his version of the first book of the 'Thebais,' which, first entrance into the world, and his entrance was with some revision, he afterwards published. He very early, he was admitted to familiarity with must have been at this time, if he had no help, a those whose rank or station made them most conconsiderable proficient in the Latin tongue. spicuous. By Dryden's Fables,' which had then been not From the age of sixteen, the life of Pope, as an long published, and were much in the hands of author, may be properly computed. He now wrote poetical readers, he was tempted to try his own his 'Pastorals,' which were shown to the Poets and skill in giving Chaucer a more fashionable appear-critics of that time; as they well deserved, they ance, and put January and May,' and the Pro- were read with admiration, and many praises were logue of the Wife of Bath,' into modern English, bestowed upon them and upon the Preface, which He translated likewise, the Epistle of Sappho te is both elegant and learned in a high degree; they Phaon' from Ovid, to complete the version which were, however, not published till five years afterwas before imperfect; and wrote some other small wards. pieces, which he afterwards printed.*
Cowley, Milton, and Pope, are distinguished
He sometimes imitated the English poets, and among the English poets by the early exertion of professed to have written at fourteen his poem-upon their powers; but the works of Cowley alone were 'Silence,' after Rochester's Nothing. He frau now published in his childhood, and therefore of him formed his versification, and the smoothness of his only can it be certain that his puerile performances numbers surpassed his original; but this is a small received no improvement from his maturer studies. part of his praise; he discovers such acquaintance At this time began his acquaintance with Wychboth with human and public affairs, as is not easily erley, a man who seems to have had among his conceived to have been attainable by a boy of four-contemporaries his full share of reputation, to teen in Windsor Forest. have been esteemed without virtue, and caressed Next year he was desirous of opening to himself without good humour. Pope was proud of his nonew sources of knowledge, by making himself ac-tice: Wycherley wrote verses in his praise, which quainted with modern languages; and removed for he was charged by Dennis with writing to himself; a time to London, that he might study French and and they agreed, for a while, to flatter one another. Italian, which, as he desired nothing more than to It is pleasant to remark how soon Pope learned the read them, were by diligent application soon de- cant of an author, and began to treat critics with spatched. Of Italian learning he does not appear contempt, though he had yet suffered nothing from to have ever made much use in his subsequent them. studies.
But the fondness of Wycherley was too violent
He then returned to Binfield, and delighted him- to last. His esteem of Pope was such, that he subself with his own poetry. He tried all styles and mitted some poems to his revision; and when Pope, many subjects. He wrote a comedy, a tragedy, an perhaps proud of such confidence, was sufficiently epic poem, with panegyrics on all the princes of bold in his criticisms, and liberal in his alterations, Europe; and, as he confesses, "thought himself the the old scribbler was angry to see his pages degreatest genius that ever was." Self-confidence is faced, and felt more pain from the detection, than the first requisite to great undertakings. He, in- content from the amendment of his faults. They deed, who forms his opinion of himself in solitude, parted; but Pope always considered him with kindwithout knowing the powers of other men, is very ness, and visited him a little time before he died. liable to error: but it was the felicity of Pope to rate himself at his real value.
Another of his early correspondents was Mr. Cromwell, of whom I have learned nothing par
ticular but that he used to ride a hunting in a tye-writings, by one who was wholly a stranger to him, wig. He was fond, and perhaps vain, of amusing at a time when all the world knew he was perse himself with poetry and criticism: and sometimes cuted by fortune; and not only saw that this was sent his performances to Pope, who did not forbear attempted in a clandestine manner, with the utmost such remarks as were now and then unwelcome. falsehood and calumny, but found that all this was Pope, in his turn, put the juvenile version of 'Sta-done by a little affected hypocrite, who had nothing tius' into his hands for correction. in his mouth at the same time but truth, candour, Their correspondence afforded the public its first friendship, good-nature, humanity, and magnaniknowledge of Pope's epistolary powers; for his mity." Letters were given by Cromwell to one Mrs. How the attack was clandestine is not easily perThomas; and she many years afterwards sold them ceived, nor how his person is depreciated; but he to Curll, who inserted them in a volume of his seems to have known something of Pope's charac'Miscellanies." ter, in whom may be discovered an appetite to talk
Walsh, a name yet preserved among the minor too frequently of his own virtues. poets, was one of his first encouragers. His regard The pamphlet is such as rage might be expected was gained by the 'Pastorals,' and from him Pope to dictate. He supposes himself to be asked two received the counsel from which he seems to have questions; whether the Essay will succeed? and regulated his studies. Walsh advised him to cor- who or what is the author? rectness, which, as he told him, the English poets Its success he admits to be secured by the false had hitherto neglected, and which therefore was opinions then prevalent; the author he concludes to left to him as a basis of fame; and being delighted be "young and raw." with rural poems, recommended to him to write a "First, because he discovers a sufficiency bepastoral comedy, like those which are read so yond his last ability, and hath rashly undertaken a eagerly in Italy; a design which Pope probably did task infinitely above his force. Secondly, while this not approve, as he did not follow it. little author struts, and affects the dictatorian air,
Pope had now declared himself a poet; and he plainly shows, that at the same time he is unthinking himself entitled to poetical conversation, der the rod: and, while he pretends to give laws to began at seventeen to frequent Will's, a coffee- others, is a pedantic slave to authority and opinion. house on the north side of Russel-street, in Covent-Thirdly, he hath, like school-boys, borrowed both garden, where the wits of that time used to assem- from living and dead. Fourthly, he knows not his ble, and where Dryden had, when he lived, been own mind, and frequently contradicts himself. accustomed to preside. Fifthly, he is almost perpetually in the wrong."
During this period of his life he was indefatiga- All these positions he attempts to prove by quobly diligent, and insatiably curious: wanting health|tations and remarks; but his desire to do mischief for violent, and money for expensive pleasures, and is greater than his power. He has, however, having excited in himself very strong desires of justly criticised some passages in these lines: intellectual eminence, he spent much of his time
There are whom Heaven has bless'd with store of wit,
Yet wants as much again to manage it;
over his books; but he read only to store his mind with facts and images, seizing all that his authors presented with undistinguishing voracity, and with an appetite for knowledge too eager to be nice. In It is apparent that wit has two meanings, and that a mind like his, however, all the faculties were at what is wanted, though called wit, is truly judgonce involuntarily improving. Judgment is forced ment. So far Dennis is undoubtedly right; but not upon us by experience. He that reads many books content with argument, he will have a little mirth; must compare one opinion or one style with ano-and triumphs over the first couplet in terms too ther; and when he compares, must necessarily dis-elegant to be forgotten. "By the way, what rare tinguish, reject, and prefer. But the account given numbers are here! Would not one swear that this by himself of his studies was, that from fourteen to youngster had espoused some antiquated Muse, who had sued out a divorce on account of impotence twenty he read only for amusement, from twenty to twenty seven for improvement and instruction; that from some superannuated sinner; and, having been in the first part of this time he desired only to P-xed by her former spouse, has got the gout in know, and in the second he endeavoured to judge. her decrepit age, which makes her hobble so The 'Pastorals,' which had been for some time damnably?" This was the man who would reform handed about among poets and critics, were at last a printed (1709) in Tonson's Miscellany,' in a volume which began with the Pastorals of Phillips,| and ended with those of Pope.
nation sinking into barbarity.
In another place Pope himself allowed that Dennis had detected one of those blunders which are called "bulls." The first edition had this line, What is this wit
The same year was written the Essay on Criticism;' a work which displays such extent of comWhere wanted scorn'd: and envied where acquired? prehension, such nicety of distinction, such ac- "How," says the critic, "can wit be scorned quaintance with mankind, and such knowledge both where it is not? Is not this a figure frequently of ancient and modern learning, as are not often at- employed in 'Hibernian land? The person that tained by the maturest age and longest experience. wants this wit may indeed be scorned, but the It was published about two years afterwards; and, scorn shows the honour which the contemner has being praised by Addison in the 'Spectator' with for wit." Of this remark Pope made the proper sufficient liberality, met with so much favour as use, by correcting the passage. enraged Dennis, "who," he says, "found himself I have preserved, I think, all that is reasonable attacked, without any manner of provocation on his in Denis's criticism; it remains that justice be done side, and attacked in his person, instead of his to his delicacy "For his acquaintance,"
Dennis, "he names Mr. Walsh, who had by no but he might with equal propriety, have placed means the qualifications which this author reckons Prudence and Justice before it, since without Prunecessary to a critic, it being very certain that he dence, Fortitude is mad; without Justice, it is miswas, like this Essayer, a very indifferent poet; he chievous. loved to be well dressed; and I remember a young As the end of method is perspicuity, that series little gentleman whom Mr. Walsh used to take is sufficiently regular that avoids obscurity; and into his company, as a double foil to his person and where there is no obscurity, it will not be difficult capacity. Inquire, between Sunning-hill and Oak- to discover method.
ingham, for a young, short, squab gentleman, the
In the 'Spectator' was published the 'Messiah,'
very Bow of the God of Love, and tell me whether which he first submitted to the perusal of Steele, he be a proper author to make personal reflections?-and corrected in compliance with his criticisms. He may extol the ancients, but he has reason to It is reasonable to infer, from his Letters, that thank the gods that he was born a modern; for had his verses on the Unfortunate Lady' were written he been born of Grecian parents, and his father about the time when his Essay' was published. consequently had by law had the absolute disposal The lady's name and adventures I have sought of him, his life had been no longer than that of one with fruitless inquiry.* of his poems, the life of half a day.-Let the per- I can therefore tell no more than I have learned son of a gentleman of his parts be never so con- from Mr. Ruffhead, who writes with the confidence temptible, his inward man is ten times more ridicu- of one who could trust his information. She was a lous; it being impossible that his outward form, woman of eminent rank and large fortune, the ward though it be that of downright monkey, should dif- of an uncle, who, having given her a proper educafer so much from human shape, as his unthinking, tion, expected, like other guardians, that she immaterial part, does from human understanding." should make at least an equal match; and such he Thus began the hostility between Pope and Den- proposed to her, but found it rejected in favour of a nis, which, though it was suspended for a short young gentleman of inferior condition. time, never was appeased. Pope seems, at first, Having discovered the correspondence between to have attacked him wantonly; but though he al- the two lovers, and finding the young lady deterways professed to despise him, he discovers, by mined to abide by her own choice, he supposed mentioning him very often, that he felt his force or that separation might do what can rarely be done his venom. by argument, and sent her into a foreign country, Of this 'Essay,' Pope declared, that he did not where she was obliged to converse only with those expect the sale to be quick, because "not one gen-from whom her uncle had nothing to fear. tleman in sixty, even of a liberal education, could Her lover took care to repeat his vows; but his understand it." The gentlemen, and the educa- letters were intercepted and carried to her guartion, of that time, seem to have been of a lower dian, who directed her to be watched with still character than they are of this. He mentioned a greater vigilance, till of this restraint she grew so thousand copies as a numerous impression. impatient, that she bribed a woman servant to proDennis was not his only censurer: the zealous cure her a sword, which she directed to her heart. Papists thought the monks treated with too much From this account, given with evident intention contempt, and Erasmus too studiously praised; but to raise the lady's character, it does not appear that to these objections he had not much regard. she had any claim to praise, nor much to compas
The Essay' has been translated into French by sion. She seems to have been impatient, violent, Hamilton, author of the Comte de Grammont,' and ungovernable. Her uncle's power could not whose version was never printed; by Robotham, have lasted long; the hour of liberty and choice secretary to the King for Hanover, and by Resnel; and commented by Dr. Warburton, who has discovered in it such order and connexion as was not perceived by Addison, nor, as is said, intended by the author.
would have come in time. But her desires were too hot for delay, and she liked self-murder better than suspense.
Nor is it discovered that the uncle, whoever he was, is with much justice delivered to posterity as Almost every poem, consisting of precepts, is so "a false guardian;" he seems to have done only far arbitrary and immethodical, that many of the that for which a guardian is appointed; he endeaparagraphs may change places with no apparent in-voured to direct his niece till she should be able to convenience; for of two or more positions, depend-direct herself. Poetry has not often been worse ing upon some remote and general principle, there employed than in dignifying the amorous fury of a is seldom any cogent reason why one should pre-raving girl.
cede the other. But for the order in which they Not long after, he wrote the Rape of the Lock,' stand, whatever it be, a little ingenuity may easily the most airy, the most ingenious, and the most degive a reason. "It is possible," says Hooker, lightful of all his compositions, occasioned by a "that, by long circumduction, from any one truth frolic of gallantry, rather too familiar, in which all truth may be inferred" Of all homogeneous Lord Petre cut off a lock of Mrs. Arabella Fermor's truths, at least of all truths respecting the same hair. This, whether stealth or violence, was so general end, in whatever series they may be pro- much resented, that the commerce of the two faduced, a concatenation by intermediate ideas may milies, before very friendly, was interrupted. Mr. be formed, such as, when it is once shown, shall Caryl, a gentleman who, being secretary to King appear natural; but if this order be reversed, ano- James's queen, had followed his mistress into ther mode of connexion equally specious may be France, and who, being the author of 'Sir Solomon found or made. Aristotle is praised for naming Single,' a comedy, and some translations, was en. Fortitude first of the cardinal virtues, as that with
out which no other virtue can steadily be practised;\
* Consult, however, Gent. Mag. vol. ii. p. 314.
titled to the notice of a Wit, solicited Pope to en
About this time he published the 'Temple of deavour a reconciliation by a ludicrous poem, which Fame,' which, as he tells Steele in their corresmight bring both parties to a better temper. In pondence, he had written two years before; that compliance with Caryl's request, though his name is, when he was only twenty-two years old, an was for a long time marked only by the first and early time of life for so much learning, and so much last letter C-1, a poem of two cantos was writ- observation as that work exhibits.
ten (1711,) as is said, in a fortnight, and sent to On this poem Dennis afterwards published some the offended lady, who liked it well enough to remarks, of which the most reasonable is, that show it; and, with the usual process of literary some of the lines represent Motion as exhibited by transactions, the author dreading a surreptitious Sculpture.
edition, was forced to publish it.
Of the Epistle from 'Eloisa to Abelard,' I do not The event is said to have been such as was de- know the date. His first inclination to attempt a sired, the pacification and diversion of all to whom composition of the tender kind arose, as Mr. Savage it related, except Sir George Brown, who com- told me, from his perusal of Prior's Nut-brown plained with some bitterness, that in the character Maid.' How much he has surpassed Prior's work of Sir Plume, he was made to talk nonsense. it is not necessary to mention, when perhaps it Whether all this be true I have some doubt; for at may be said with justice, that he excelled every Paris, a few years ago, a niece of Mrs. Fermor, composition of the same kind. The mixture of rewho presided in an English Convent, mentioned ligious hope and resignation gives an elevation and Pope's work with very little gratitude, rather as dignity to disappointed love, which images merely an insult than an honour; and she may be supposed natural cannot bestow. The gloom of a convent to have inherited the opinion of her family. strikes the imagination with far greater force than the solitude of a grove.
At its first appearance it was termed by Addison "merum sal." Pope, however, saw that it was capable of improvement; and, having luckily contrived to borrow his machinery from the Rosicrucians, imparted the scheme with which his head was teeming to Addison, who told him that his work, as it stood, was "a delicious little thing," and gave him no encouragement to retouch it.
This piece was, however, not much his favourite in his latter years, though I never heard upon what principle he slighted it.
In the next year (1713) he published Windsor Forest:' of which part was, as he relates, written at sixteen, about the same time as his Pastorals; and the latter part was added afterwards; where This has been too hastily considered as an in- the addition begins, we are not told. The lines stance of Addison's jealousy; for, as he could not relating to the Peace confess their own date It is guess the conduct of the new design, or the possi-dedicated to Lord Lansdowne, who was then in bilities of pleasure comprised in a fiction of which high reputation and influence among the Tories; there had been no examples, he might very rea- and it is said, that the conclusion of the poem gave sonably and kindly persuade the author to acqui-great pain to Addison, both as a poet and a poliesce in his own prosperity, and forbear an attempt tician. Reports like this are often spread with which he considered as an unnecessary hazard. boldness very disproportionate to their evidence Addison's counsel was happily rejected. Pope foresaw the future efflorescence of imagery then budding in his mind, and resolved to spare no art, or industry of cultivation. The soft luxuriance of his fancy was already shooting, and all the gay varieties of diction were ready at his hand to colour and embellish it.
Why should Addison receive any particular disturbance from the last lines of Windsor Forest?" If contrariety of opinion could poison a politician, he would not live a day; and as a poet, he must have felt Pope's force of genius much more from many other parts of his works.
The pain that Addison might feel it is not likely His attempt was justified by its success. The that he would confess; and it is certain that he so well 'Rape of the Lock' stands forward, in the classes suppressed his discontent, that Pope now thought of literature, as the most exquisite example of lu- himself his favourite: for, having been consulted in dicrous poetry. Berkeley congratulated him upon the revisal of 'Cato,' he introduced it by a Prothe display of powers more truly poetical than he logue; and, when Dennis published his Remarks, had shown before: with elegance of description undertook, not indeed to vindicate, but to revenge and justness of precepts, he had now exhibited his friend, by a 'Narrative of the Frenzy of John boundless fertility of invention. Dennis.'
He always considered the intermixture of the There is reason to believe that Addison gave no machinery with the action as his most success-encouragement to this disingenuous hostility; for, ful exertion of poetical art. He indeed could never says Pope in a letter to him, "indeed your opinion, afterwards produce any thing of such unexampled that 'tis entirely to be neglected, would be my own excellence. Those performances, which strike in my own case; but I felt more warmth here than with wonder, are combinations of skilful genius I did when I first saw his book against myself with happy casualty; and it is not likely that any (though indeed in two minutes it made me heartily felicity, like the discovery of a new race of preterna- merry.") Addison was not a man on whom such tural agents, should happen twice to the same man. cant of sensibility could make much impression. Of this poem the author was, I think, allowed to He left the pamphlet to itself, having disowned it enjoy the praise for a long time without disturbance. to Dennis, and perhaps did not think Pope to have Many years afterwards Dennis published some re-deserved much by his officiousness. marks upon it, with very little force, and with no This year was printed, in the 'Guardian,' the effect; for the opinion of the public was already ironical comparison between the Pastorals of Philips settled, and it was no longer at the mercy of criti-and Pope; a composition of artifice, criticism, and cism. literature, to which nothing equal will easily be