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he sulkily remarks, that the weakness of his body lasted through life; the mildness of his mind probably ended with his childhood.'
Of premature genius, Pope's infancy affords no examples : he was sickly; and where the difficulty was, to keep him in existence, it must have been considered of trivial import to teach him to read or write : accordingly, he seems to have known but little of either until he was eight years old. His first acquirement was imitating print with a pen ;-a voluntary contrivance, by which, though he could not learn to write, he may have been allured to read.
At the age of eight he was put under the tuition of a priest of the name of Taverner, or Banister, who taught him the elements of Greek and Latin. The tutor was a Jesuit.
But the literature of the French and Italian Jesuit was rarely transmitted to his English brother: if we are to estimate his classical attainments from those of his pupil, the mantle of scholarship had not crossed the channel. Pope was a tyro in ancient literature to the end of his life: he possessed better titles to fame.
Either the Jesuits literature was soon exhausted, or his pupil was found refractory; for Pope was removed from his tuition, which seems to have been carried on at home, to the rougher discipline
of a public school, kept by a Roman catholic at Twyford, near Winchester: there the natural consequence followed: the petted child offended his master by some impertinence; he was flogged ; and his parents, startled at this novel exertion of discipline, hurried him away. His biographers discover the future satirist in the transaction, and dignify the offence with the name of a lampoon : the lampoon of a child of eight years of age ! Infant epigrams have fortunately, since, become more stingless, or schoolmasters less sensitive.
At this school Ogilby's Homer and Sandys' Ovid fell into his hands : Ogilby's lines rank among the crudest labors of unpoetic versification; Sandys' are smooth. Pope's taste was Ovidian to the last; but Ogilby's ruggedness was forgotten in the native life and vigor of Homer. Pope had already visited theatres, and his first experiment on his own powers was a drama from the Iliad, performed by the boys; the gardener, possibly alike from his magnitude and his brains, acting the broad-shouldered and plodding son of Telamon.
But this desultory education could not succeed; and at the age of twelve, Pope discovered, or the discovery was made for him, that he was daily losing the little he had ever acquired. His was not a temper at any age to bear disappointment well: the inferiority, which he could not disguise at school, might be borne with more equanimity at home; or the studies which he found so unpropitious might be there exchanged with impunity for others more congenial to his taste. At twelve, he left school finally, and returned to Binfield, with the determination of educating himself;--a determination, which consists in despising experience, and trusting to the wisdom of accident; erecting him into a master, who has shown himself unfit to be a pupil; and taking it for granted, that instinct will do the work of design, indolence gather the fruits of labor, and the languid indulgence of every caprice of a fickle and surfeited taste add sudden strength to the mind.
Pope's genius, largely seconded by his good fortune, alone saved him from the ruin natural to this specious resolve to do nothing. An excitable spirit, and the possession of a considerable library of works in general use, now led him through a large extent of the lighter literature: he evidently read every thing that fell in his way, and thus conceived himself to have learned Latin, as well as French and Greek, and all three chiefly by translation :' but not one of the three was ever thus learned : and his estimate of success must have been singularly low; for, to the close of his life, he could do little more than translate Latin ; for his version of Homer he was forced to lean on others; and of French, Voltaire asserted, that he could not speak a syllable of the language. But this meagre qualification, which must have been fatal to any regular profession, was divested of its injury by the simple circumstance of his adopting one, proverbially the most baseless, casual, and imprudent in the world ; Pope determined to be a poet. His biographers, in the nsual spirit of discovering wonders in every incident of ordinary life, narrate this choice as if it were the impulse of a distinct and foreseeing consciousness of fame: but all the events of even the most conspicuous career are not miraculous ; we must still follow the natural mode of accounting for Pope's resolve, and find it in the motives which have led so many others to the trade of poetry; in the growing pleasure of the pursuit, its adaptation to a vague and voluptuous ease of mind, and its relief from the slow toils of scholarship, or the rigid labors of the sciences. Pope, like a multitude of clever boys, had made rhymes at an early age; and his Ode to Solitude,' written when he was about twelve, is praised as a specimen of his performance: yet it obviously might have been produced by any one of the multitude; and, even in the instance of the future poet, might have been forgotten, and wisely forgotten.
Pope's father in some points seems to have resembled his son: he was deformed, fond of relying on the future, and fond of poetry. He encouraged the habits of the young poet by correcting his verses. Mrs. Pope observes, that he was pretty difficult in being pleased, and used often to send him back to new turn them; with,
Those are not good rhymes, for that was my husband's word for verses.'
Spenser, Waller, and Dryden, were the writers whom he alternately studied; but, to combine the rich and picturesque versification of Spenser with the stern and headlong strength of Dryden, must always be a hopeless task: Waller was more flexible; and Pope finally settled on Dryden as the model for his force, and Waller for those lighter arts in which he consulted beauty. At Binfield he gradually ranged the whole circle of authorship: he tried the versatility of his yet unfixed powers, in a comedy, of which even the subject is not recorded; in a tragedy, of which nothing but the subject is known, “St. Geneviève;' and in that boldest effort of poetry, which with the young poet is, of course, always the earliest ambition of the pen-an epic poem. His tragedy and comedy were burnt by himself: his epic, named 'Alcander,' an imitation of the character of Achilles, with the adventures of Ulysses, (s0