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ALEXANDER POPE lived at a period distinguished in our English annals for men of genius. Among his contemporaries were Newton, Locke, Halley, Atterbury, Swift, Addison, Gay, Garth, Parnell, Young, Wycherley, Congreve, &c. with many of whom he was on terms of intimacy. Though lacking nobility of birth, prepossessing appearance, and fortune, he so strengthened and polished his natural talents, that, in the literary world, he became one of the greatest men of his age, and has been aptly styled the worthy successor of the "immortal Dryden."
He was an only child, born May 21st, 1688, in Lombard Street, where his father carried on the business of a linendraper. His mother's maiden name was Turner; she was a widow when his father married her, her first husband being a Mr. Racket.
Pope was brought up in the Roman Catholic religion, which both his parents professed. From an old aunt he received his first lessons in the alphabet, and by copying from printed books, acquired a peculiar style of writing. At eight b
years of age he was placed under the tuition of the family priest, from whose excellent instruction he derived much profit. A school at Twyford, Berks, was the next scene of his education, and here he gave the first evidence of his character as a satirist, by writing a lampoon on his master. This offence was visited by a flogging,-a punishment too severe to please his fond father, who at once removed him. He was afterwards placed in a private school, kept by a Catholic convert, named Deane, then established in Marylebone parish, London, and subsequently at Hyde Park Corner. There Pope made his first attempt in literature by writing a play from Homer's Iliad, which his schoolfellows performed. His education not progressing satisfactorily, he was removed by his father for though at this time he had made himself extensively acquainted with the English Poets, yet he had neglected the more necessary branches of learning. He then went to Binfield, Berks; (to which place his father had retired, to enjoy the somewhat considerable fortune he had amassed in business; and where he had purchased a small property consisting of a house and four acres of land, situated on the Royal Chace, about nine miles from Windsor :) the scenery surrounding this rural retreat made a deep and -lasting impression on his youthful mind, the evidences of which may be more especially traced in his "Pastorals" and "Windsor Forest."
After leaving Mr. Deane's school Pope was not again placed under the control of any master, but, at his own desire-though only twelve years of age-was left to complete his education by his
own unaided exertions, the result of which did not prove quite successful. He still directed his attention to the English poets, especially Spenser, Waller, and Dryden, the latter of whom he selected for his model. His admiration of Dryden's works was only equalled by his desire to see the living author. This curiosity was gratified. The boy was taken to look at the great poet as he sat in Will's Coffee House. Pope himself has written :"I saw Mr. Dryden when I was about twelve years of age. I remember his face well, for I looked upon him even then with veneration, and observed him very particularly."
When fifteen years old he went to London, intending to perfect himself in modern languages, especially in French and Italian; but after making a short stay in the metropolis, he got weary of his labour, and returned to Binfield, to resume his English studies.
His sedentary habits were not suited to his constitution; and health and spirits failing him, he gave himself up at this early period of his life to die. In the anticipation of death, he wrote farewells to some of his friends, among them to the Abbé Southcote, who on his behalf consulted Dr. Radcliffe,* the eminent physician of the day. He recommended less study, and more exercise, especially exercise on horseback. With this advice Southcote hastened to Binfield, roused the poet from his lethargy, and prevailed upon him to follow Dr. Radcliffe's advice, which proved successful.
* To him Oxford is indebted for the Radcliffe Library and the Radcliffe Infirmary.