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ALEXANDER POPE was born in London, May 21, 1688. We cannot be sure of anya thing better than respectability in his ancestry, though late in life he himself claimed kinship with the Earls of Downe. His paternal grandfather is supposed to have been a clergyınan of the Church of England. His mother, Edith Turner, came of a family of small gentry and landowners in Yorkshire. Alexander Pope, senior, was a successful linen merchant in London; so successful that he found it possible to retire early from business, and to buy a small estate at Binfield, on the edge of Windsor forest. To this estate, in Pope's twelfth year, the family removed from. Kensington, and here they lived for sixteen years. In 1716 they removed to Chiswick, where a year later the father died. Soon afterwards Pope, then a man of note, leased the estate at Twickenham, on which he was to live till his death, in 1744.
The circumstances of Pope's early life were in many ways peculiar. One of the main reasons for the choice of Binfield was that a bumber of Roman Catholic families lived in that neighborhood. They formed a little set sufficiently agreeable for social purposes, though not offering much intellectual stimulus to such a mind as Pope's very early showed itself to be. But if to be a Roman Catholic in England then meant to move in a narrow social circle, it carried with it also more serious limitations. It debarred from public school and university; so that beyond the inferior instruction afforded by the small Catholic schools which he attended till his twelfth year, Pope had no formal education. Two or three facts recorded of this school experience are worthy of mention : that he was taught the rudiments of Latin and Greek together, according to the Jesuit method; that he left one school in consequence of a flogging which he had earned by satirizing the head master; and that at about the age of ten be built a tragedy on the basis of Ogilvy's translation of Homer. At twelve he had at least learned the rudiments of Greek, and could read Latin fluently, if not correctly. So far as his failings in scholarship are concerned, Pope's lack of formal education has probably been made too much of. He had no bent for accurate scholarship, nor was breadth and accuracy of scholarship an accomplishment of that age. Addison, whose literary career was preceded by a long period of university residence, knew very little of Greek literature, and had a by no means wide acquaintance with the literature of Rome. Yet scholarship in those days meant classical learning.
Pope might no doubt have profited by the discipline of a regular academic career. He needed, as Mr. Courthope says, “training in thought rather than in taste, which he had by nature.' But such a mind as his is not likely to submit itself readily to rigid processes of thought. It is impossible not to see, at least, that the boy Pope knew how to read, if not how to study; and that what Latin and Greek he read was approached as literature, a method more cominon then than now, it is probable. When I had done with my priests,' he wrote to Spence, 'I took to reading by myself, for which I had a very great eagerness and enthusiasm, especially for poetry; and in a very few years I had dipped into a great number of English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek poets. This I did without any design but that of pleasing myself, and got the language by hunting
after the stories in the several authors I read : rather than read the books to get the language.' Virgil and Statius were his favorite Latin poets at this time, as is attested not only by the Pastorals and the early translations of the Thebais, but by the innumerable reminiscences, or 'imitations,'as Pope called them, which may be traced in his later work. In the meantime, as a more important result of his having to rely so much upon his own resources, his creative power was beginning to manifest itself with singular maturity. At twelve he wrote couplets which were long afterwards inserted without change in the Essay on Criticism, and even in The Dunciad. The Pastorals, composed at sixteen, though conventional in conception and not seldom mechanical in execution, contain passages in the poet's ripest manner. With the Essay on Criticism, published five years later, Pope reached his full power. Such development as is to be found in his later work is the result of an increase in mental breadth and satirical force. His style was already formed.
Whatever may have been the importance, for good and ill, of Pope's early method of education a far more potent factor in determining the conduct of his life and the nature of his work lay in his bodily limitations. The tradition that in his childhood he was physically normal is made dubious by the reported fact that his father was also small and crooked, though organically sound. At all events, the Pope whom the world knew was anything but normal, stunted to dwarfishness, thin co emaciation, crooked and feeble, so that he had to wear stays and padding, and all his life subject to severe bodily pain. Pope's relations with other men were seriously affected by this condition. Masculine society in eighteenth-century England had little place for weaklings. The late hours and heavy drinking of London were as little possible for the delicate constitution of Pope as the hard riding and heavy drinking of the country gentlemen with whom he was thrown at Binfield. In a letter from Binfield in 1710 Pope writes : 'I assure you I am looked upon in the neighborhood for a very sober and well-disposed person, no great hunter, indeed, but a great esteemer of the noble sport, and only unhappy in my want of constitution for that and drinking. It is a misconception of Pope's character to suppose him lacking in a natural robustness of temper to which only his physical limitations denied outlet. Before reaching manhood he had been given more than one rude lesson in discretion. At one time over-confinement to his books had so much reduced his vitality as to convince him that he had not long to live. fortunate chance put his case into the hands of a famous London physician, who prescribed a strict diet, little study, and much horseback riding. Pope followed the advice, recovered, and thereafter, for the most part, took excellent care of himself; it was the price which he had to pay for living. One unfortunate result was that he was thrown back upon the companionship of women, always petted, always deferred to, always nursed. Such conditions naturally developed the acid cleverness, the nervous brilliancy of the poet Pope ; and it is matter of great wonder that from such conditions anything stronger should survive; that there is, when all is said, so much virility and restraint in the best of his work.
The Pastorals, Pope's first considerable poetical achievement, were according to the poet written in 1704, at the age of sixteen. They were, like all modern pastorals, conventional; but they contain some genuine poetry, and are wonderful exercises in versification. Their diction is often artificial to the point of absurdity, but now and then possesses a stately grace, as in the famous lines :
Where'er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade;
Pope had probably been encouraged to write the Pastorals by Sir William Trumbull, to whom the first of them is inscribed. Trumbull was a man of Oxford training, who after a distinguished diplomatic career had come to end his life upon his estate near Binfield, and who had been drawn to the deformed boy by the discovery of their common taste for the classics. For some time before the publication of the Pastorals the manuscript was being circulated privately among such men of established literary reputation as Garth, Walsh, Congreve, and Wycherley, and such patrons of letters as George Granville, Halifax, and Somers. To Walsh in particular Pope afterward expressed his obligation. He used to encourage me much,' we read in a letter to Spence, written long after, “and used to tell me 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.' The dictum has become famous, but though Walsh probably meant, by .correctness,' justice of taste as well as measured accuracy of poetic style, his over-praise of the Pastorals leads us to think that form was the main thing in his mind. If Pope's statement of the date at which the Pastorals were written is reliable, however (and we must keep in mind from the outset the fact that, as Mr. Courthope says, Pope in mature life systematically antedated his compositions in order to obtain credit for precocity '), he did not become acquainted with Walsh until some time after they were written. The critic's advice, therefore, amounted simply to an encouragement in pursuing the method which Pope had already adopted : in employing more rigid metrical scheme than any previous poet, even Sandys or Dryden, had attempted. The bookseller Jacob Tonson was shown the manuscript, and offered to publish it ; and in 1709 it appeared in Tonson's Sixth Miscellany.
Through Walsh Pope became acquainted with Wycherley, who introduced the young poet to literary society in London ; that is, to the society of the London coffee-houses. The character of the older resorts had already begun to change. Even Will's had ceased to be the purely literary club of Dryden's day. It was natural that the age of Anne, in which increasing public honors were paid to literary men, should have been also an age in which literary men took an increasing interest in politics. At about the time wher Pope first came up to London, Whig and Tory were beginning to edge away from each other; and though Will's for a time remained a sort of neutral ground, the old hearty interchange of thought and companionship was no longer possible. Part-political, partliterary clubs, like the Kitcat, the October Club, and the Scriblerus Club, sapped the strength of the older and freer institution; and its doom was sealed when in 1712 Addison established at Button's a resort for literary Whigs.
During his first years of London experience, Pope probably knew Richard Steele more intimately than any one else. They had met at Will's, and through Steele Pope had been presented to Addison, and had later become a frequenter of Button's.
was Steele who urged Pope to write the Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, who got his Messiah published in The Spectator and printed various short papers of his in The Guardian. Another Whig friend was Jervas the painter, a pupil of Kneller, but an artist of no very considerable achievement. The poet at one time had some lessons in painting from bim, and always held him in esteem. So far Pope allowed himself to associate with the Whigs; but he had no intention of taking rank as a Wbig partisan. If he wrote prose for Whig journals, it was in honor of the Tory government that the conclusion was added to Windsor Forest in 1713. To Swift's admiration for this poem, Pope owed the beginning of his life-long friendship with the Dean; but it was a friendship which committed him no more to Toryism than Addison's had to Whiggery. “A old Dryden said before me,' he wrote in 1713, “it is not