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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 himfelf 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, who 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 Twiford, 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 fchooltellows of a more advanced age, he was so charmed with dramatic representations, that he formed the translation 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 maiter'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 prieit, with as little fuccess as before; so that he resolved now to become his
@wn' master, by reading those classic writers which gave him most 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 immediately 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 spirit of poetry, it at the fane 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 coppy 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 lisp'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 Westminiter school, the master, who had assigned a poetical talk to fome of the boys of writing a paraphrase on our Saviour's miracle of turning water into
wine, was perfectly astonished when young Drydent presented him with the following line, which he alferted was the best coinment that could be written upon its
The conscious water saw its God, and blun'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 judiciously 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 fixteen years of age, were esteemed by Sir William Trumbail, Mr. Granville, Mr. Wycherley, Mr. Walsh, and others of his friends, too valuable to be condemned to the fame, 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 himself very strong desires 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, muft necessarily diftinguish, reject, and prefer. But the account given by himself of his studies was, that from fourteen to twenty. he read
only for amusement, from twenty to twenty-seven for improvement and instruction; that in the first part of this time he desired only to know, and in the second he endeavoured to judge.
The three great writers of pastoral dialogue, which Mr. Pope in some measure feems to imitate, are Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenfer. Mr. Pope is of opinion that Theocritus excels all others in nature and fimplicity.
That Virgil, who copies Theocritus, refines on his original; and in all points, in which judgment has the principal part, is much fuperior to his matter.
That among the moderns, their success has been greatest who have most endeavoured to make these Ancients their pattern. The most confiderable genius appears in the famous Tafso, and our Spenser. Tasso, in his Aminta, has far excelled all the pastoral writers, as in his Gierusalemme he has outdone the epic poets of his own country. But as this piece seems to have been the original of a new sort of poem, the paitoral comedy, in Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the Ancients. Spenser's Calendar, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the most complete work of this kind which any nation has produced ever since the time of Virgil; but this he laid before Mr. Pope's Pastorals appeared.
Mr. Walih pronounces on our Shepherd's Boy (as Mr. Pope called himself) the following judgment, in a letter to Mr. Wycherley.
“ The verses are very tender and easy. The Au“ thor seems to have a particular genius for this kind “ of poetry, and a judgment that much exceeds the “ years you told me he was of. It is no flattery at all “ to say, that Virgil had written nothing so good at “ his age. I shall take it as a favour if you will bring
me acquainted with him ; and if he will give him" self the trouble any morning to call at my house, “ I Thall be very glad to read the verses with him, and
“ give him my opinion of the particulars more largely " than I can well do in this letter.”
Thus early was Mr. Pope introduced to the acquaintance of men of genius, and so improved every advantage, that he made a more rapid progress towards a confummation in fame than any of our English po
His Messiah, his Windsor Forest, (the first part of which was written at the same time with his Palto. rals,) and his Essay on Criticism in 1709, were highly received.
In 1712 he wrote the “ Rape of the Lock,” occa- · fioned by a frolic of gallantry, rather too familiar, in which Lord Petre cut off a lock of Mrs. Arabella Fermor's hair. This, whether by stealth or violence, was so much refented, that the commerce of the two families, before very friendly, was interrupted.
The “ Rape of the Lock” stands forward in the classes of literature, as the most exquisite example of ludicrous poetry. Berkeley congratulated him upon the display of powers more truly poetical than he had shewn before ; with elegance of description and juftness of precepts, he had now exhibited boundless fertility of invention.
This poemn established his poetical character in such a manner, that he was called upon by the public voice to enrich our language with the translation of the 6 Iliad,” which he began at twenty-five, and executed in five years. This was published for his own benefit, by subscription, the only kind of reward which he received for his writings, which do honour to our age and country.
By the success of his subscription Pope was relieved from those pecuniary distresses with which, notwithstanding his popularity, he had hitherto struggled. Lord Oxford had often lamented his disqualification for public employment, but never proposed a pension. While the translation of “ Homer" was in its progress, Mr. Craggs, then secretary of state, offered to