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THIS highly-distinguished poet was born in Lon don, in the year 1688, where his father was a tradesman, and acquired considerable property, with which he retired to a purchase he had made at Binfield, in Windsor Forest.
Our poet, being from his infancy of a sickly habit, was educated mostly at home; and his father being a rigid catholic, and attached to the cause of James II. very naturally imparted to his son those principles of religion and politics which he retained throughout life. His son began early to read, and he had scarcely perused some of the English poets before he courted the muse, and exhibited such specimens of versification and fancy as are rarely found at his tender age. His Pastorals were shown in manuscript to Sir William Turnbull, in the year 1704; and Wycherley, Walsh, and others, were proud to encourage so promising a genius. He soon after began his Windsor Forest, which, it is said, he used to compose under a beech tree, on which Lady Gower carved these words:
'Here Pope sang.'
During her life the letters were cut new every three or four years, but they have since been suffered to decay.
As his poems became circulated, his acquaintance was courted by the most distinguished characters of his day; nor can we be surprised at their admiration of a youth who produced the alterations from Chaucer's Wife of Bath, and the Translation of Sappho to Phaon, at the age of fourteen; the Pastorals, at sixteen; and the Essay on Criticism, at nineteen. It may be observed, too, that he had no sooner become an author, than he began to feel his Superiority; and in his ambition to be crowned sovereign of the poetical world, he soon involved himself in contests with his less fortunate brethren, some of whom he attacked without much justice, and all without any great provocation. It was one of the most remarkable circumstances in his history, that he inspired dread almost as soon as he had attracted admiration.
When about the age of twenty-three he came to London, and entered, not unsparingly, into its gaieties and gallantries, although his weakly person and constitution were not very well adapted to irregular pleasures. The unfortunate lady, whose memory he has consecrated in an elegy, is supposed to have been one who first inspired him with the passion of love; and he afterwards coquetted with Lady Mary Wortley Montague, and formed a connexion, some. what between the platonic and the amorous, with Miss Martha Blount, whose name occurs frequently in the following pages.
In the year 1711, he produced the Rape of the Lock, which at once placed him, in point of invention, at the head of all living poets, and which yet remains without a rival. In 1713 he issued proposals for his translation of the Iliad, and the first four books came out in 1715. The success of this work was such as to enable him to leave the house at Binfield altogether, and reside at a house at Twickenham; where the formation of his celebrated garden and grotto became the amusement and pride of many years of his life. Here he obtained the friend
ship and intimacy of Lord Burlington, Lord Peterborough, and the other distinguished characters, whose letters make up his published correspond.
His life, indeed, passed in such prosperity as few men of genius have attained by their own efforts. He associated, with the utmost freedom, with all the distinguished characters of his day, with men and women of rank and literary reputation. Yet to none of them was he indebted for that kind of pa tronage which is usually thought most desirable. His wealth, which was very considerable, was the fair reward of his talents, bestowed by the public; and, without disregarding the maxims of economy, he lived upon an equality with most of those whom he visited. He certainly, however, might have lived with more comfort, if he had not formed the connexion already alluded to, with Martha Blount, who by some means secured his affection or his sympa. thy, and tyrannized over him by all the tricks of a selfish and capricious mind.
About the year 1743 his constitution, which was always infirm, began to give way to disease; and although he lingered through several months, death had made very rapid progress in the month of May 1744. On the sixth of that month, he was all day delirious, which he mentioned four days after, as a sufficient humiliation of the vanity of man. He died in the evening of the thirtieth, so placidly, that the attendants did not discern his last minute. He was buried at Twickenham, near his father and mo. ther, where a monument has been erected to him by his commentator, Dr. Warburton.
As few men enjoyed a more envied superiority during their lives, it may be said, with equal truth, that few have been more generally honoured by posterity. In every collection of poetry, Pope stands pre-eminent. No author is oftener read, and none oftener quoted: and he owes this preference to what some critics have objected to him, namely, that he
preferred sense and reason to imagination. But does not the unrivalled popularity of his works show, at the same time, that the preference he gave is that of truth and nature, since it is an acknowledged fact, that men read the higher efforts of the sublime muse as tasks, but recur to the writings of Pope as to a never-ending pleasure? But, whatever may be in this, the author of the Rape of the Lock, and of the Eloisa, cannot be denied such powers of inven tion and of pathos as rarely are to be met with. These two poems have produced many imitations, but unquestionably no rival whose pretensions can be allowed.
As the refiner of versification, and the poet of reason, sense, and satire, Pope stands at the head of a school the most numerous of any. Among his imitators, indeed, we find almost all the names of any considerable merit since his days; and if inven tion has been too much neglected, it may on the other hand be said, that versification has been so much improved, that slovenly rhymes, want of harmony, and rugged lines are no longer tolerated, and no longer excusable. Pope has the honour, therefore, of advancing English poetry one important step towards perfection, by refining its language, and smoothing the way towards those efforts of the sublime and the pathetic, which before his time were obscured by uncouth measures, or mixed with pedanticquaint
His private character is not so consistent with the sense and morals which pervade his works, as could be wished. Yet while he aimed at the grosser gaieties of life, he had many good qualities. He was a most affectionate son, and a steady friend; and it is probable, that the connexion with the lady who contributed most to the vexation of his latter days, by gaining an improper ascendancy over him, was the result of sympathy for her weakness, or a consciousness that the undisguised freedom of their connexion had endangered her reputation.
A DISCOURSE ON PASTORAL.
WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1704.
Rura mihi, et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes,
The Pastorals were written at the age of sixteen, and then passed through the hands of Mr. Walsh, Mr. Wycherley, G. Granville, afterwards lord Lansdowne, sir William Trumbull, Dr. Garth, lord Halifax, lord Somers, Mr. Maynwaring, and others. All these gave our author the greatest encouragement, and particularly Mr. Walsh, whom Mr. Dryden, in his Postscript to Virgil, calls the best critic of his age. The author (says he) seems to have a particular genius for this kind of poetry, and a judgement which much exceeds his years. He has taken very freely from the an cients; but what he has mixed of his own with theirs, is no way inferior to what he has taken from them. It is not flattery at all to say, that Virgil had written nothing so good at his age. His Preface is very judicious and learned.' Letter to Mr. Wycherley, April, 1705. The lord Lansdowne about the same time, mentioning the B