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I have attempted in the present edition to give as correct a text as possible of the author. For this purpose, when I have suspected a passage or word to be corrupt, I have consulted the work as originally published
by the author himself; and I trust that some errors, common to the subsequent editions, have thus been removed. The quotations in the notes from ancient writers, were, from the first, in many instances incorrect; an imperfection that I have now endeavoured to remove. After all, I cannot flatter myself but that something even in these respects will still remain to be done by future editors; and wherever that is found to be the case, I
must claim the usual indulgence from the reader.
In the way of notes, nothing has been added to those either written by Pope himself, or sanctioned by him. Those on the translation of Homer alone have been omitted: they were supplied to him by other writers, in great measure for the sake of increasing the size of his book to subscribers; and it has therefore not been thought advisable to preserve
BY THE EDITOR.
ALEXANDER, the only child of Alexander Pope, by Editha, daughter of William Turner, Esquire, of York, was born in Lombard Street, London, on the twenty-first of May, 1688. His father, having amassed a fortune of about twenty thousand pounds by his business as a linen-draper, retired to Binfield, in Windsor Forest ; and being a Roman Catholic, and therefore, as it is said, unwilling to trust the government with his money, spent the greater part of it before his death.
At the age of eight, Pope was placed under the care of a priest, in Hampshire, and instructed at once in the rudiments of Greek and Latin : from thence he was removed to a school at Twyford, near Winchester; and afterwards to one in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park Corner.
Being a weak and sickly child, he passed most of his time in reading, and in making verses, a propensity in which he was encouraged by his father. Ogilby's “Homer” and Sandys's “ Ovid” were amongst his favourite books. His chief way of acquiring languages, as he himself said, was by means of translations. Of his earliest attempts at verse, the “Ode on Solitude” only remains. He had the good sense to destroy the rest.
When near London, he went to the playhouses; and in imitation of what he saw there, formed a drama out of the “Iliad,” to be represented by his schoolfellows. At Will's Coffee House he had a sight of Dryden, a yet greater curiosity to him than the actors.
At sixteen he wrote his “ Pastorals,” which were not printed till 1709, when they appeared in a poetical Miscellany. In that year his “ Essay on Criticism” was composed ; and two years after, the “Rape of the Lock,” which was also published
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE OF ALEXANDER POPE.
in a Miscellany, and at first consisted of only three hundred and fifty lines; but being afterwards embellished with the machinery, was extended to more than double the length. The fancy and elegance of this work placed him at the head of all his poetical competitors.
In 1713 he completed “ Windsor Forest,” which had been begun at the age of sixteen ; and, relying on the high reputation he had obtained, put forth proposals for a subscription to an English version of the “Iliad.” His imitations of Chaucer, and translations from the Latin poets, had already prepared him for this task; yet his spirits were so much weighed down at the prospect of it, that he complained of his rest being broken by painful dreams, and wished somebody would hang him. In rather more than five years the formidable work was completed, and met with a success hitherto unexampled in this country, having brought him a profit somewhat exceeding five thousand pounds.
His next engagement was an edition of Shakspeare; but he had no skill in verbal criticism, and failed accordingly. The part in which he acquitted himself best was the Preface.
He now undertook a translation of the “ Odyssey.” For this he called in the assistance of Broome and Fenton ; the former of whom contributed eight, and the latter four books. After finishing it in 1725, and reaping a second harvest of gain from Homer, he resolved thenceforward to desist from the labour of translating. But a habit, begun so early, and continued so long, was not entirely to be laid aside. The “Imitations” he published from time to time of the Epistles and Satires of Horace, and of Donne, are copies not much less faithful to their originals, than his version of the two great epic poems of antiquity. All his other works, derived from his own invention, were now confined to moral or satirical subjects; the “Essay on Man," the “Satires and Epistles,” and the “Dunciad.” The last of these, consisting of three books, was published in 1728. About two years before his death he added a fourth, after having remodeled the whole, and injudiciously substituted the lively Cibber for the laborious Theobald as the hero. In 1740 he amused himself by editing a selection of Latin poems, by Italian writers, in two volumes.
The history of Pope's Works is nearly that of his life. When he had collected the subscriptions and other profits accruing from his Homer, he prevailed on his father to dispose of his estate at Binfield, and purchased a house at Twickenham, to which he removed with his parents. Here, with the exception of occasional visits to London, Oxford, Bath, and the houses of his friends, he continued to reside for the remainder of his days. III health always prevented him from traveling to other countries, for which the desire never left him. Some of his leisure hours at home were diverted by the care of ornamenting his house and gardens, and forming a grotto under the highway that intersected his grounds.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE OF ALEXANDER POPE.
In November, 1717, his father died, at the age of seventy-five. In 1733 he lost his mother, whom, in her declining years, he had nursed with the most assiduous tenderness. After her death, at the age of ninety-three, bis affections centred in Martha Blount, with whom, and her sister Teresa, his acquaintance had commenced in infancy: this friendship continued throughout his life. His attachment to another female, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, terminated more unfortunately ; in rejection and scorn on one side, and in anger and revenge on the other. The part of Pope's character which we contemplate with most pain, is his sensitiveness to injury, either real or imagined; yet it is to this disposition that our language is indebted for the finest models of a keen and polished satire. As he was violent in his animosities, so he was ardent and sincere in his affections. The friends in whose conversation he most delighted were, Gay, Swift, Parnell, Jervas the painter, Arbuthnot, Atterbury, Harley, and St. John. He was early introduced to the notice of the great, and continued to mix in their society, without any compromise of integrity or independence : with many of those yet more eminent for wit or literature, he was united by the closer bond of sympathy and mutual endearment. No English poet has ever risen from so humble a beginning, to so great personal distinction.
He died on the thirtieth of May, 1744, after suffering much from his complaints, yet with so little pain at last, that those about him could not distinguish the time at which he expired. On receiving the last sacraments from the priest, he said, “There is nothing that is meritorious but virtue and friendship, and indeed friendship itself is only a part of virtue.”
He appears to have been at no time free from some species of bodily weakness or malady, of which a head-ache was the constant symptom. In person he was diminutive and deformed: when a child, he had a pleasing and even beautiful countenance : in more advanced life the best feature was the eye, the lustre of which was remarkable. His bust, by Roubilliac, exhibits an extremely eager and sarcastic expression in the lips, strongly indicative of his character.
It may afford subject for reflection, that by a diligent cultivation of one natural talent, seldom much esteemed so long as the possessor of it is living, a puny misshapen and sickly being, unfit for any active employment of life, and rarely quitting the roof of his parents, became a stay to those parents in their old age, the restorer of their fortunes, the pride of their house ; courted by the powerful and wealthy; the dread of his enemies; and one of the chief ornaments of his age and country.