Alexander Pope

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Developed by. Toggle navigation. Alexander Pope Writer and Poet. Further reading Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Alexander Pope, studio of Michael Dahl. Alexander Pope memorial. Related Commemorations See all commemorations. John Conduitt Politician , Writer and Soldier. John Gay b. Poet and Playwright. Aaron Hill b. Writer and Poet.

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George Frederic Handel Musician and Composer. He read translations of the Greek, Latin, French and Italian poets, and by the age of twelve, when he was finally settled at home and left to himself, he was not only a confirmed reader, but an eager aspirant to the highest honours in poetry. There is a story, which chronological considerations make extremely improbable, that in London he had crept into Will's coffee-house to look at Dryden, and a further tale that the old poet had given him a shilling for a translation of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe; he had lampooned his schoolmaster; he had made a play out of John Ogilby's Iliad for his schoolfellows; and before he was fifteen he had written an epic, his hero being Alcander, a prince of Rhodes, or, as he states elsewhere, Deucalion.

There were, among the Roman Catholic families near Binfield, men capable of giving a direction to his eager ambition, men of literary tastes, and connexions with the literary world. These held together as members of persecuted communities always do, and were kept in touch with one another by the family priests. Pope was thus brought under the notice of Sir William Trumbull, a retired diplomatist living at Easthampstead, within a few miles of Binfield.

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Thomas Dancastle, lord of the manor of Binfield, took an active interest in his writings, and at Whiteknights, near Reading, lived another Roman Catholic, Anthony Englefield, "a great lover of poets and poetry. Wycherley introduced him to William Walsh, then of great renown as a critic. Wycherley's correspondence with Pope was skilfully manipulated by the younger man to represent Wycherley as submitting, at first humbly and then with an ill-grace, to Pope's criticisms. The publication Elwin and Courthope, vol. Walsh's contribution to his development was the advice to study "correctness.

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He used to encourage me much, and used to tell me that there was one way left of excelling; for, though we had several great poets, we never had any one great poet that was correct, and he desired me to make that my study and aim" Spence, p. Trumbull turned Pope's attention to the French critics, out of the study of whom grew the Essay on Criticism ; he suggested the subject of Windsor Forest , and he started the idea of translating Homer.

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It says something for Pope's docility at this stage that he recognized so soon that a long course of preparation was needed for such a magnum opus, and began steadily and patiently to discipline himself. The epic was put aside and afterwards burnt; versification was industriously practised in short "essays"; and an elaborate study was made of accepted critics and models. He learnt most, as he acknowledged, from Dryden , but the harmony of his verse also owed something to an earlier writer, George Sandys, the translator of Ovid. At the beginning of the 18th century Dryden's success had given great vogue to translations and modernizations.

The air was full of theories as to the best way of doing such things.

Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive / Authors / Alexander Pope

What Dryden had touched, Pope did not presume to meddle with — Dryden was his hero and master; but there was much more of the same kind to be done. He knew little Latin and less Greek, but there were older versions in English which helped him to the sense; and, when the correspondents to whom he submitted his versions pointed out mistranslations, he could answer that he had always agreed with them, but that he had deferred to the older translators against his own judgment. It was one of Pope's little vanities to try to give the impression that his metrical skill was more precocious even than it was, and we cannot accept his published versions of Statius and Chaucer published in "miscellanies" at intervals between and as incontrovertible evidence of his proficiency at the age of sixteen or seventeen, the date, according to his own assertion, of their composition.

But it is indisputable that at the age of seventeen his skill in verse astonished a veteran critic like Walsh, and some of his pastorals were in the hands of Sir George Granville afterwards Lord Lansdowne before His metrical letter to Cromwell, which Elwin dates in , when Pope was nineteen, is a brilliant feat of versification, and has turns of wit in it as easy and spirited as any to be found in his mature satires.

Pope was twenty-one when he sent the "Ode on Solitude" to Cromwell, and said it was written before he was twelve years old. Precocious Pope was, but he was also industrious; and he spent some eight or nine years in arduous and enthusiastic discipline, reading, studying, experimenting, taking the advice of some and laughing in his sleeve at the advice of others, "poetry his only business," he said, "and idleness his only pleasure," before anything of his appeared in print. In these preliminary studies he seems to have guided himself by the maxim formulated in a letter to Walsh dated July 2, that "it seems not so much the perfection of sense to say things that had never been said before, as to express those best that have been said oftenest.

His aim was simply to condense, methodize, and give as perfect and novel expression as he could to floating opinions about the poet's aims and methods, and the critic's duties, to "what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed " 1. The youthful author said that he did not expect the sale to be quick because "not one gentleman in sixty, even of liberal education, could understand it. The town was fairly dazzled by the young poet's learning, judgment, and felicity of expression.

Alexander Pope

Many of the admirers of the poem doubtless would have thought less of it if they had not believed all the maxims to be original. Addison has been made responsible for the exaggerated value once set on the essay, but Addison's paper Spectator , No. He deprecated the attacks made by Pope on contemporary literary reputations, although he did full justice to the poet's metrical skill.

Addison and Pope became acquainted with one another, and Pope's sacred eclogue, "Messiah," was printed as No.


In the Essay on Criticism Pope provoked one bitter personal enemy in John Dennis, the critic, by a description of him as Appius, who "stares, tremendous, with a threat'ning eye. Pope never forgot this brutal attack, which he described in a note inserted after Dennis's death, as late as , as written "in a manner perfectly lunatic.

William, 4th Baron Petre, had surreptitiously cut off a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor's hair, and the liberty had been resented; Pope heard the story from his friend John Caryll, who suggested that the breach between the families might be healed by making the incident the subject of a mock-heroic poem like Boileau's Lutrin. Pope caught at the hint; the mock-heroic treatment of the pretty frivolities of fashionable life just suited his freakish sprightliness of wit, and his studies of the grand epic at the time put him in excellent vein.

The Rape of the Lock is admitted to be a masterpiece of airiness, ingenuity, and exquisite finish. But the poem struck Taine as a piece of harsh, scornful, indelicate buffoonery, a mere succession of oddities and contrasts, of expressive figures unexpected and grinning, an example of English insensibility to French sweetness and refinement. Sir Leslie Stephen objected on somewhat different grounds to the poet's tone towards women.

His laughter at Pope's raillery was checked by the fact that women are spoken of in the poem as if they were all like Belinda. The poem shows the hand of the satirist who was later to assert that "every woman is at heart a rake," in the epistle addressed to Martha Blount. Windsor Forest , modelled on Sir John Denham's Cooper's Hill , had been begun, according to Pope's account, when he was sixteen or seventeen. It was published in March with a flattering dedication to the secretary for war, George Granville, Lord Lansdowne, and an opportune allusion to the peace of Utrecht.

This was a nearer approach to taking a political side than Pope had yet made. His principle had been to keep clear of politics, and not to attach himself to any of the sets into which literary men were divided by party. Although inclined to the Jacobites by his religion, he never took any part in the plots for the restoration of the Stuarts, and he was on friendly terms with the Whig coterie, being a frequent guest at the coffee-house kept by Daniel Button, where Addison held his "little senate.

Nevertheless he induced Lintot the bookseller to obtain from John Dennis a criticism of Cato. On the publication of Dennis's remarks, the violence of which had, as Pope hoped, made their author ridiculous, Pope produced an anonymous pamphlet, The Narrative of Dr Robert Norris concerning the. Frenzy of Mr John Dennis , which, though nominally in defence of Addison, had for its main purpose the gratification of Pope's own hostility to Dennis.

Addison disavowed any connivance in this coarse attack in a letter written on his behalf by Steele to Lintot, saying that if he noticed Dennis's attack at all it would be in such a way as to allow him no just cause of complaint. Coolness between Addison and Pope naturally followed this episode. When the Rape of the Lock was published, Addison, who is said to have praised the poem highly to Pope in private, dismissed it in the Spectator with two sentences of patronizing faint praise to the young poet, and, coupling it with Tickell's "Ode on the Prospect of Peace," devoted the rest of the article to an elaborate puff of "the pastorals of Mr Philips.

Within a few weeks of the publication of the poem, and when it was the talk of the town, there began to appear in the Guardian Nos. Modern pastoral poets were ridiculed for introducing Greek moral deities, Greek flowers and fruits, Greek names of shepherds, Greek sports and customs and religious rites. They ought to make use of English rural mythology — hobthrushes, fairies, goblins and witches; they should give English names to their shepherds; they should mention flowers indigenous to English climate and soil; and they should introduce English proverbial sayings, dress, and customs.

All excellent principles, and all neglected by Pope in Windsor Forest.

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The poem was fairly open to criticism in these points; there are many beautiful passages in it, showing close though somewhat professional observation of nature, but the mixture of heathen deities and conventional archaic fancies with modern realities is incongruous, and the comparison of Queen Anne to Diana was ludicrous. But the sting of the articles did not lie in the truth of the oblique criticisms.

The pastorals of Ambrose Philips, published four years before, were again trotted out. Here was a true pastoral poet, the eldest born of Spenser , the worthy successor of Theocritus and Virgil! Pope took an amusing revenge, which turned the laugh against his assailants. He sent Steele an anonymous paper in continuation of the articles in the Guardian on pastoral poetry, reviewing the poems of Mr Pope by the light of the principles laid down.

Ostensibly Pope was censured for breaking the rules, and Philips praised for conforming to them, quotations being given from both. The quotations were sufficient to dispose of the pretensions of poor Philips, and Pope did not choose his own worst passages, accusing himself of actually deviating sometimes into poetry. Although the Guardian 's principles were also brought into ridicule by burlesque exemplifications of them after the manner of Gay 's Shepherd's Week , Steele, misled by the opening sentences, was at first unwilling to print what appeared to be a direct attack on Pope, and is said to have asked Pope's consent to the publication, which was graciously granted.

The estrangement from Addison was completed in connexion with Pope's translation of Homer. This enterprise was definitely undertaken in The work was to be published by subscription, as Dryden's Virgil had been. Men of all parties subscribed, their unanimity being a striking proof of the position Pope had attained at the age of twenty-five. It was as if he had received a national commission as by general consent the first poet of his time. But the unanimity was broken by a discordant note. A member of the Addison clique, Tickell, attempted to run a rival version. Pope suspected Addison's instigation; Tickell had at least Addison's encouragement.

Pope afterwards claimed to have been magnanimous, but he spoiled his case by the petty inventions of his account of the quarrel. The translation of Homer was Pope's chief employment for twelve years.

Translations of Homer

The new pieces in the miscellanies published in , his "Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady," and his "Eloisa to Abelard," were probably written some years before their publication. His "Eloisa to Abelard " was based on an English translation by John Hughes of a French version of the Letters, which differed very considerably from the original Latin. The Iliad was delivered to the subscribers in instalments in , , and Pope's own defective scholarship made help necessary. For the translation of the Odyssey he took Elijah Fenton and Broome as coadjutors, who between them translated twelve out of the twenty-four books.

The profitableness of the work was Pope's chief temptation to undertake it. The translation of Homer had established Pope's reputation with his contemporaries, and has endangered it ever since it was challenged. Opinions have varied on the purely literary merits of the poem, but with regard to it as a translation few have differed from Bentley's criticism, "A fine poem, Mr Pope, but you must not call it Homer.

Broome was weak enough to sign a note at the end of the work understating the extent of Fenton's assistance as well as his own, and ascribing the merit of their translation, reduced to less than half its real proportions, to a regular revision and correction — mostly imaginary — at Pope's hands.

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To Mr. The poem was first published in Toggle navigation. Edition: current; Page: [ 62 ] Not fiercer pangs distract the mournful dame, Whose first-born infant feeds the funeral flame. Who now but January exults with joy?

These falsehoods were deemed necessary by Pope to protect himself against possible protests from the subscribers. In he edited the poems of Thomas Parnell, and in made a considerable sum by an unsatisfactory edition of Shakespeare, in which he had the assistance of Fenton and Gay. Pope, with his economical habits, was rendered independent by the pecuniary success of his Homer, and enabled to live near London. The estate at Binfield was sold, and he removed with his parents to Mawson's Buildings, Chiswick, in , and in to Twickenham, to the house with which his name is associated.

Here he practised elaborate landscape gardening on a small scale, and built his famous grotto, which was really a tunnel under the road connecting the garden with the lawn on the Thames. He was constantly visited at Twickenham by his intimates, Dr John Arbuthnot, John Gay, Bolingbroke after his return in , and Swift during his brief visits to England in and , and by many other friends of the Tory party.

With Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, he was on terms of affectionate intimacy, but he blundered in his evidence when he was called as a witness on his behalf in In his father died, and he appears to have turned to the Blounts for sympathy in what was to him a very serious bereavement. He had early made the acquaintance of Martha and Teresa Blount, both of them intimately connected with his domestic history.

Their home was at Mapledurham, near Reading, but Pope probably first met them at the house of his neighbour, Mr Englefield of Whiteknights, who was their grandfather. He begun to correspond with Martha Blount in , and after the letters are much more serious in tone. He quarrelled with Teresa, who had apparently injured or prevented his suit to her sister; and although, after her father's death in , he paid her an annuity, he seems to have regarded her as one of his most dangerous enemies. His friendship with Martha lasted all his life. So long as his mother lived he was unwearying in his attendance on her, but after her death in his association with Martha Blount was more constant.

In defiance of the scandal-mongers, they paid visits together at the houses of common friends, and at Twickenham she spent part of each day with him. His earlier attachment to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was apparently a more or less literary passion, which perished under Lady Mary's ridicule. The year may be taken as the beginning of the third period of Pope's career, when he made his fame as a moralist and a satirist. It may be doubted whether Pope had the staying power necessary for the composition of a great imaginative work, whether his crazy constitution would have held together through the strain.

He toyed with the idea of writing a grand epic. He told Spence that he had it all in his head, and gave him a vague and it must be admitted not very promising sketch of the subject and plan of it. But he never put any of it on paper. He shrank as with instinctive repulsion from the stress and strain of complicated designs. Even his prolonged task of translating weighed heavily on his spirits, and this was a much less formidable effort than creating an epic. He turned rather to designs that could be accomplished in detail, works of which the parts could be separately laboured at and put together with patient care, into which happy thoughts could be fitted that had been struck out at odd moments and in ordinary levels of feeling.

Edward Young's satire, The Universal Passion , had just appeared, and been received with more enthusiasm than any thing published since Pope's own early successes. This alone would have been powerful inducement to Pope's emulous temper. Swift was finishing Gulliver's Travels , and came over to England in The survivors of the Scriblerus Club — Swift, Pope, Arbuthnot, and Gay — resumed their old amusement of parodying and otherwise ridiculing bad writers, especially bad writers in the Whig interest.

Two volumes of their Miscellanies in Prose and Verse were published in