Alexander Pope, an English poet, born in London, May 22, 1688, died at Twickenham, Middlesex, May 30, 1744. His father was a Roman Catholic, who, having acquired a small fortune as a linen merchant, retired to Bin-field in Windsor forest. Alexander inherited a crooked body and a sickly constitution. Having taught himself to write by copying out of printed books, he learned a little Greek and Latin from a priest, and was then sent to school, first at Twyford, where he was flogged for lampooning his master, and afterward in London, where he studied little but Dryden, Spenser, Waller, Ogilby's translation of Homer, and Sandys's translation of Ovid. Dryden was his master in the art of poetry; he had the warmest admiration for him, studied his works minutely, copied his style, and records that when about 12 years old he had a glimpse of the great poet, then in the last year of his life. Soon after this Pope went home to Binfield, and continued a course of self-education with diligence until he was 19 or 20. He taught himself French, Latin, and Greek, through the 'medium of translations.
The earliest of his pieces extant is an " Ode on Solitude," written when he was about 12. From his 13th to his 15th year he was engaged upon "Alcander," an epic poem of which he had finished four books when he burned it. He also composed a comedy and a tragedy, which he destroyed, and gave promise of his satirical powers in some "Lines to the Author of a Poem entitled Successio " (Elkanah Settle), which were printed in 1712 by Lintot in a volume of " Miscellaneous Poems and Translations." His imitations of some of the English poets, translations of the first book of the Thebais of Statius, of Ovid's epistle from Sappho to Phaon and part of the " Metamorphoses," and of the fables of " January and May" and the " Wife of Bath " from Chaucer, belong to nearly the same period; but none of his youthful compositions were published earlier than his 21st year. About 1704 he was introduced by Sir William Trumbull to the veteran dramatist Wycherley, under whose auspices he made his first acquaintance with the coffee-house wits of London. Wycherley submitted his verses to the boy poet for correction; but the freedom, with which Pope exercised his critical office resulted in a quarrel, Garth and Congreve were also among his early friends.
In 1709 he established his position as the first poet of his time by the publication of his " Pastorals," written five years before. They appeared in the sixth volume of Tonson's "Poetical Miscellany," with the version of Chaucer's "January and May," and a translation of the episode of Sarpedon from the Iliad. He had already begun the "Essay on Criticism," which was published anonymously in 1711, and assailed byl John Dennis with the most extravagant abuse, while Addison praised it in the " Spectator " (No. 253) as " a masterpiece in its kind." In the next year Pope contributed to the " Spectator " the " Messiah, a Sacred Eclogue." The first sketch of the " Rape of the Lock," a mere skeleton of what the poem afterward became, appeared in Lintot's collection of "Miscellaneous Poems and Translations " in 1712. It originated in a quarrel between two families of quality on account of the stealing of a lock of hair from the head of a reigning belle; Pope was urged " to write a poem to make a jest of it, and laugh them together again," and its literary success was such that the author determined to enlarge it. It was accordingly printed in 1714 with the addition of the supernatural machinery and a dedication to Miss Arabella Fermor, the heroine of the piece.
In 1713 he went to London, where for a year and a half he studied painting under Jervas, a pupil of Sir Godfrey Kneller. He had a strong natural taste for the art, but his bad eyesight was an insuperable bar to success; and after throwing away " three Dr. Swifts, two Lady Bridgewaters, a duchess of Montague, half a dozen earls, and one knight of the garter," and executing a few pieces which have had a better fate, he returned to literature. In 1713 appeared his descriptive poem on " Windsor Forest," mostly written when he was 16 years old, the publication of which led to his intimacy with Swift and Arbuthnot, and an " Ode for Music on St. Cecilia's Day," which is unfortunate in provoking comparison with the composition of Dryden on the same subject. In the mean time Pope had made the acquaintance of Teresa and Martha Blount, young ladies of good family and nearly his own age. Martha, the younger, was his devoted friend through life and his principal heir. Her intercourse with him did not escape scandal, but it is now agreed that no imputations could be more unjust.
Another of his friends was Gay; and Steele, who was one of the first to appreciate his genius, introduced him to Addison. For the first performance of Addison's " Cato " (1713) he wrote a prologue which was as popular as the tragedy itself; and when Dennis attacked the play he hastened to revenge his friend in a " Narrative of Dr. Robert Norris [a noted quack who pretended to cure lunatics] concerning the strange and deplorable Frenzy of J. D." Pope contributed to the " Guardian" several papers, including a sarcastic parallel between his own pastorals and those of his rival Ambrose Philips, whom Steele in the same publication had pronounced the legitimate successor of Spenser. - Pope had thus far been supported by a moderate allowance from his father; all his poetry together had not brought him £100. He now issued proposals for a poetical translation of the Iliad, to be published by subscription in six volumes at a guinea each; over 650 copies were subscribed rfor. But Pope was no master of Greek, and, [with all the help of various translations, had at first such "terrible moments " that he wished a hundred times somebody would hang him.
But as the work went on the task became lighter, and he fell into the method of translating 30 or 40 verses before he got up, and working upon it the rest of the morning. " My usual method," he says, "was to take advantage of the first heat, and then to correct each book, first by the original text, then by other translations, and lastly to give it a reading for the versification only." The first volume appeared in 1715 and the last in 1720. Besides the subscription money, he received from Lintot the publisher £200 for each volume; and his total receipts, according to Dr. Johnson, were £5,320, not reckoning the large sums (including £200 from the king and £100 from the prince of Wales) paid by some of his subscribers in addition to the price. The life of Homer prefixed to the work was written by Parnell, and the information for the notes was gathered principally from Eustathius by Broome, Jortin, and another whose name is not mentioned. Almost simultaneously with the publication of the first volume appeared a translation of the first book of the Iliad by Tickell, to which Addison gave the preference.
The result was an open quarrel with Addison, whom Pope afterward satirized in a piece first published in 1723, and again in 1727, and finally, with some changes, incorporated with the " Prologue to the Satires." During the progress of the Iliad Pope Often visited London, gamed) drank, had "luxurious lobster nights," grew ashamed of business, railed at poor authors, and frequented the drawing rooms of women of rank and fashion, and the country seats of the nobility, where his charming conversation made him always welcome. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu made a particular impression upon him, and was one of his correspondents. Buthe soon tired of a life of dissipation, and, the estate at Binfield having been sold, removed with his parents to Chis-wick, where he'published a collection of his poems (fol. and 4to, 1717), in which first appeared his " Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady," and the "Epistle of Eloisato Abelard." Soon after this, his father having died, he purchased the lease of a villa on the Thames at Twickenham. Near this he persuaded Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to take up her residence on her return to England (October, 1718); but the ardor of his affection soon cooled; they met seldom, finally quarrelled, and the lady to whom he had addressed the most impassioned love verses became the object of his coarsest satires.
No satisfactory explanation of their quarrel has ever been given; but it is commonly attributed to a declaration of love by the poet under circumstances which provoked the lady into an immoderate fit of laughter. While her influence was on the decline he was smitten by the charms of another lady, " the mild Erinna, blushing in her bays," with the idea of whom he says he became so mad as to steal her portrait and pass whole days in sitting before it. She is now ascertained to have been Judith Cowper, afterward Mrs. Madan, the aunt of the poet Cowper. - Pope's reputation was now so high that Tonson made him an offer to undertake an edition of Shakespeare. The work was published in 1725 in 6 vols. 4to, and, though abounding in faults of all kinds, had at least the merit of pointing out the way for some future correction of the text. His blunders and shortcomings were exposed by Theobald in a treatise called "Shakespeare Restored," and afterward in a formal edition, for which he was suitably rewarded in the "Dunciad." At the same time Pope had "undertaken" for Lintot a translation of the Odyssey, three volumes of which appeared in 1725, and the remaining two in 1726. Though he professed to have had the assistance of two friends (Broome and Fenton), he concealed the amount of this assistance, his own share comprising only 12 books, or one half the whole work.
His net profits from the translation amounted to £2,-885. In 1727-'8 he published in conjunction with Swift three volumes of "Miscellanies," in which appeared his " Treatise of Martinus Scriblerus on the Bathos, or the Art of Sinking in Poetry," which gave rise to the " Dunciad." The " Treatise " was intended to form part of a larger prose work entitled " Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus," in which Pope, Swift, Arbuthnot, Parnell, Lord Oxford, Atterbury, Oongreve, Gay, and others undertook to ridicule all the false tastes in learning. The project was abandoned in 1715, when the members of the Scriblerus club were dispersed, but to it we owe both the "Dunciad " and " Gulliver's Travels." The authors attacked in the "Treatise " retaliated in a number of publications, and even threatened Pope with personal violence. Thus provoked he determined to crush the whole host of scribblers, and, guided by the advice of Swift, who contributed largely to the prolegomena and notes, produced in 1728 "The Dunciad." The plan was borrowed from Dry den's "MacFlecknoe," and the hero at first was Theobald, who in a later edition was dethroned to make room for Col-ley Cibber. The sensation caused by the poem was immense.
On the morning of publication the "dunces" besieged the printer's shop in crowds to prevent its sale, and failing in that held weekly clubs to concert hostilities. In 1731 appeared Pope's epistle on "Taste" (afterward entitled "Of False Taste," and finally " Of the Use of Riches "), addressed to Lord Burlington, and in the next year an epistle to Lord Bathurst " On the Use of Riches." These are now known as the fourth and third of the " Moral Essays;" the first, to Lord Cobham, " On the Knowledge and Characters of Men," appeared in 1733, and the second, " To a Lady " (Martha Blount), " On the Characters of Women," in 1735. The four epistles composing the " Essay on Man," a work Which he had in mind as early as 1725, were published anonymously in 1732, '3, and '4. The "Moral Essays" and "Essay on Man" were but parts of a great scheme which the author did not live to accomplish. The " Imitations of Horace" were begun while the "Essay on Man" was still in progress, that of the first satire of the second book appearing in 1733. Lord Hervey and Lady Montagu, having been satirized in this poem, the former as "Lord Fanny " and the latter as Sappho, replied jointly in " Verses to the Imitator of Horace," and Hervey alone in a "Letter from a Nobleman at Hampton Court to a Doctor of Divinity." Pope answered them in a " Letter to a Noble Lord," which on second thought he suppressed, and in a poetical "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot" (1735), which he calls " a sort of bill of complaint, begun several years before and drawn up by snatches." It now stands as the "Prologue to the Satires." - A volume of Pope's letters to Mr. Henry Cromwell had been printed by Curll as early as 1726. Cromwell had given them to his mistress Mrs. Thomas, who sold them to Curll for ten guineas; and though Pope expressed great displeasure, he made no effort to suppress them.
Three years afterward a volume of his correspondence with Wycherleywas published, undoubtedly by his own contrivance, though he declared the manuscripts had been surreptitiously obtained. In 1735 appeared a volume entitled" Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence for thirty years," which was also unauthorized. It was published by Curll, who received the books, already printed, from an unknown correspondent styling himself P. T. Not more than 300 copies were furnished him, all of which were imperfect. Pope soon came forward with a " genuine edition" (1737), professedly in self-defence; but it is significant that many of the letters in this genuine edition correspond with those in Curll's, while they differ essentially from the originals; and the conviction is irresistible that P. T. was Pope himself. That the letters were transformed greatly from their original language, addresses altered, names interpolated or suppressed, parts of different letters combined, whole letters forged, and dates changed, to the confusion of all the poet's, biographers, has long been known. The publication of his correspondence with Swift (1741) was probably effected by a similar contrivance.
His last important work was " The New Dun-ciad," which appeared separately in 1742, and was combined with the former satire, as a fourth book, in 1743. It is superior to the other in its object, which was to satirize all false pretenders to taste and science, but it has been objected that the subjects introduced do not harmonize with the previous parts of the work. In the substitution of Cibber for Theobald when the whole was republished in 1743 he made a capital mistake, for the descriptions of the dull and witless editor of Shakespeare became ludicrously inappropriate when applied to the gossiping and vivacious comedian. Pope now resolved to devote his remaining days to preparing with the assistance of Warburton a complete edition of his works. He lived to supervise only the "Dunciad," the " Essay on Man," and the "Essay oh Criticism." His disease was dropsy in the breast. He was buried in the parish church of Twickenham, where 17 years afterward Warburton erected a monument to his memory. - Despite his fondness for little intrigues, his petulance, his, vanity, and his frequent disregard for truth, Pope was warm and persevering in his friendships, social, generous, and benevolent. His devotion to his mother, who lived with him to the age of 93, was remarkable.
He apparently felt little attachment to his religion (Roman Catholic), but he resisted great temptations to change it when such a step wouldhave opened to him the highest worldly advantages. The deformity of his person was redeemed by a fine, thoughtful countenance, and a quick, piercing eye. The minute description of his habits given by Dr. Johnson applies only to the later years of his life, when he was so weak that he .could hardly stand erect without the support of corsets, and required the assistance of a maid to dress and undress him. To the last he was a diligent student; he seldom published anything till he had kept it several years by him; and probably no poet ever possessed in a higher degree " the last and greatest art, the art to blot." His letters are admirable specimens of prose composition, full of humor, wit, and vivacity, but too studiously elaborate to be models of epistolary style. Some of them, like many of his other prose writings and poems, are grossly indecent. - The best editions of Pope's works are "Warburton's (9 vols. 8vo, 1751-'60), Bowles's (10 vols., 1807), and Roscoe's, with a memoir (10 vols., 1824). A new critical edition, commenced by J. W. Croker and continued by the Rev. Whitwell Elwin, was begun in 1861; the eighth volume, constituting the third volume of the correspondence, and including many letters never before printed, was published in London in 1872. There is an excellent life of Pope by R. Carruthers in Bonn's " Illustrated Library " (1857), and it was also published in 4 vols. 8vo (1858). Among recent editions of his poetical works are those edited by C. Cowden Clarke (2 vols., 1873), and by W. M. Rossetti (1873). A great deal of information concerning Pope has been brought to light within the last few years in the London "Athenaeum" and "Notes and Queries".