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THE LIFE OF
THIS illuftrious poet was born at London in 1688,
and was descended from a good family of that name in Oxfordshire, the head of which was the earl of Downe, whole fole heiress married the earl of Lindsey, His father, a man of primitive simplicity 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 seventy-five.
Our poet's mother, who lived to a very advanced age, being ninety-three years old when the died in 1733, was the daughter of William Turner, Esq. of York. She had three brothers, one of whom was killed ; another died in the service of king Charles; and the eldest, following his fortunes, and becoming a general officer in Spain, left her what estate remained after sequestration and forfeitures of her family. To these circumstances our Poet alludes in his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, in which he mentions his parents,
Of gentle blood (part med in Honour's cause,
The education of our great Author was attended with circumstances very singular, and some of them extremely unfavourable; but the amazing force of his genius fully compensated the want of any advantage in his earliest instruction. 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 compose verses farther back than he could well remember; and at eight years of age, when he was put under one Taverner, a priest, wlio taught him the rudiments of the Latin and Greek tongues at the same time, he met with Ogilby's Homer, which gave him great delight; and this was increased by Sandy's Ovid. The raptures which these authors, even in the disguise of such translations, then yielded him were so strong, that he spoke of them with pleasure ever after.
From Mr. Taverner's tuition he was sent to a private school at T ford, near Winchester, where he continued about a year, and was then removed to another near Hyde-Park Corner; but was so unfortunate as to lose under his two last masters what he had acquired under the first.
While he remained at this school, being permitted to go to the playhouse with some of his schoolfellows of a more advanced age, he was so charmed with dramatic representations, that he formed the tranllation of the Iliad into a play, from several of the speeches in Ogilby's translation connected with verses of his own ; and the several 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 reside at his house at Binfield, in Windsor Forest, where he was, for a few months, under the tuition of another priest, with as little fuccess as before; so that he resolved now to become his
own master, by reading those classic writers which gave him moft entertainment; and by this method, at fifteen, he gained a ready habit in the learned languages, to which he soon after added the French and Italian. Upon his retreat to the Forest he became first acquainted with the writings of Waller, Spencer, and Dryden; in the last of which he iinmediately found what he wanted, and the poems of that excel. lent 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 compositions now extant in print is an " Ode on Solitude," written before he was twelve years old; which, considered as the production of so early an age, is a perfect masterpiece; nor need he have been ashamed of it, had it been written in the meridian of his genius: while it breathes the most delicate fpirit of poetry, it at the same time demonstrates his love of solitude, and the rational pleafures which attend the retreats of a contented coun
Two years after this he translated the First Book of “ Statius Thebais," and wrote a copyy of verses on Silence, in imitation of the Earl of Rochester's poem on Nothing. Thus we find him no sooner 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 observe that poets have given early displays of genius, yet we cannot recollect that, amongst the inspired tribe, one can be found who, at the age of twelve, could produce so animated an ode, or, at the age of fourteen, translate from the Latin. It has been reported indeed concerning Mr. Dryden, that when he was at Westminster school, the master, who had assigned a poetical task to some of the boys of writing a paraphrase on our Saviour's miracle of turning water inta b 2
wine, was perfectly astonished when young Dryden presented him with the following line, which he afserted was the best comment that could be written upon it;
The conscious water saw its God, and bluth'd. This was the only instance of an early appearance of genius in this great man, for he was turned of thirty betore he acquired any reputation; an age in which Mr Pope's was in its full distinction.
The year following that in which Mr. Pope wrote his poem on
Silence," he began an epic poem, entitled " Alcander,” which he afterwards very judici. ously committed to the flames, as he did likewise a comedy and a tragedy, the latter taken from a story in the legend of St. Genevieve, both of these being the, product of those early days: but his Pastorals, which were written when he was only sixteen years of age, were esteemed by Sir William Trumball, Mr. Granville, Mr. Wycherley, Mr. Walsh, and others of his friends, too valuable to be condemned to the same fate.
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 himselt very Itrong deiires of intellectual eminence, he spent much of his time over his books; but he read only to store his mind with facts and images, leizing all that his authors presented with undistinguishing 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, must necessarily distinguish, reject, and prefer. But the account given by himfelf of his ftudies was, that from fourteen to twenty he read