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ALEXANDER POPE, ESQ.
TO WHICH IS PREFIXED
THE LIFE OF THE AUTHOR,
BY DR. JOHNSON.
PUBLISHED BY CRISSY & MARKLEY,
No. 4 MINOR STREET.
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. 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 as of Pindar, that, when he lay in his cradle, "the gentleness and sweetness of disposition. The weak-bees swarmed about his mouth."
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
ness of his body continued through his life;* but the About 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 so of Popish prosperity, quitted his trade, and retired pleasing, that he was called in fondness "the little to Binfield, in 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.
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 inquire.
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 first regularly initiated in poetry by the perusal of 'Ogilby's Homer,' and 'Sandy's' 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.
Of a youth so successfully employed, and so conspicuously improved, a minute account must be natu rally 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 a ternal 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 have a sedan chair in the boat, in which he sat with the desire of excellence. giasace down.
His primary and principal purpose was to be a
poet, with which his father accidently concurred, Most of his puerile productions were, by his ma by 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 distinguished 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 him- reading, though his favourite authors are not known, self with having seen him. appears to have been sufficiently extensive and Dryden died May 1, 1701, some days before Pope multifarious; for his early pieces show, with sufwas twelve; so early must he therefore have felt ficient evidence, his knowledge of books. 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 to 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 had 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 kind without 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 Letters were given by Cromwell to one Mrs. Thomas; and she many years afterwards sold them to Curll, who inserted them in a volume of his 'Miscellanies."
How the attack was clandestine is not easily perceived, nor how his person is depreciated; but he seems to have known something of Pope's character, in whom may be discovered an appetite to talk too frequently of his own virtues.
Walsh, a name yet preserved among the minor 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? rectaess, 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 eagerly in Italy; a design which Pope probably did not approve, as he did not follow it.
yond his last ability, and hath rashly undertaken a task infinitely above his force. Secondly, while this 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."
All these positions he attempts to prove by quo tations and remarks; but his desire to do mischief is greater than his power. He has, however, justly criticised some passages in these lines:
There are whom Heaven has bless'd with store of wit,
During this period of his life he was indefatigably diligent, and insatiably curious: wanting health for violent, and money for expensive pleasures, and having excited in himself very strong desires of intellectual eminence, he spent much of his time ever 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 judg onec 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; and triumphs over the first couplet in terms too must compare one opinion or one style with another; and when he compares, must necessarily dis-elegant to be forgotten. "By the way, what rare numbers are here! Would not one swear that this tinguish, reject, and prefer. But the account given 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 nation sinking into barbarity.
printed (1703) in Tonson's Miscellany,' in a volume which began with the Pastorals of Phillips, and ended with those of Pope.
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 Critieism;' 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," says