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His primary and principal purpose was to be a poet, with which his father accidentally concurred, by propofing fubjects, and obliging him to correct his performance, by many revifals, after which, when he was fatisfied, he would fay, "Thefe are good rhymes."
In perufing the English poets he foon distinguished the versification of Dryden, which he confidered as the model to be studied, and was impreffed with fuch veneration for his inftructor, that he perfuaded a friend to conduct him to a coffee-house which Dryden frequented, and pleased himself with having feen him.
"Who does not wish that Dryden could have known the value of the homage that was paid him, and foreseen the greatness of his young admirer ?"
The earliest of his productions is the Ode on Solitude, written when he was twelve, in which there is nothing remarkable.
His time was now wholly spent in reading and writing. He foon learned to read Homer in the original, as he himself records in one of his imitations of Horace.
Bred up at home, full early 1 begun
To read in Greek the wrath of Peleus' fon.
As he read the claffics, he amused himself with translating them; and at fourteen made a version of the first book of the Thebaid of Statius, which, with fome revifion, he afterwards published. He tranflated likewife the Epifile of Sappho to Phaon, and Dryope and Pomona, from Ovid, which he afterwards printed.
He was alfo tempted, by "Dryden's Fables," to try his skill in reviving and imitating Chaucer's January and May, and the Prologue of the Wife of Bath, which he put into modern English.
He fometimes imitated the English poets, and profeffed to have written about this time, the poem upon Silence, in imitation of Rochester's "Nothing." He had now formed his versification, affifted by the rich melody of Dryden ; and the fmoothness of his numbers furpaffed his original.
When he was fifteen, having made a confiderable progrefs in the learned languages, he went to London to learn the French and Italian, which, by diligent application, he foon acquired.
He then returned to Binfield, and delighted himself with his own poetry. He wrote a comedy, a tragedy, Alcander an epic poem in four books, with panegyrics on all the princes of Europe; and, as he confeffes, "thought himself the greatest genius that ever was.”
The fubject of the comedy is not known, but the tragedy was founded on the legend of St. Genevieve. Molt of his puerile productions were afterwards deftroyed. The epic poem was burnt by the perfuafion of Atterbury. Some of its extravagancies are produced in the Art of Sinking in poetry, figned Anonymous.
About this time, it is related, that he translated Tully on Old Age; and that, befides his books of poetry and criticism, he read "Temple's Effays," and "Locke on Human Understanding."
Books were not the only means through which he acquired information. He early procured the acquaintance of men of talents and literature, and improved himself by conversation.
At fixteen, he acquired the friendship of Sir William Trumball, a ftatefman of fixty, who had been in the higheft offices at home and abroad.
From that age, the life of Pope, as an author, may be properly computed. He now wrote his Paftorals, which were for fome time handed about aitong poets, and critics, and at last priated in l'onfon's "Mifcellany," 1709, in the fame volume with the " Paftorals" of Philips.
He had by this time become acquainted with Garth, Steele, Gay, Addison, Congreve, Granville, Halifax, Somers, Walth, Wycherly, Cromwell, and other wits. He loft the friendship of Wycherly, by correcting his bad poetry, and of Cromwell, by correcting his bad taste.
Their correfpondence afforded the public its first knowledge of Pope's epiftolary powers; for his letters were given by Cromwell to Mrs. Thomas, and the, many years afterwards, fold them to Curl, who inferted them in a volume of his mifcellanies.
Walsh was one of his first encouragers. He received an advice from him, which feems to have regulated his ftudies. Walth advised him to corre&iness, hitherto neglected by the English poets, and therefore an untrodden path to fame.
He had now declared himself a poet, and thinking himself entitled to poetical converfation, began at feventeen to frequent Will's Coffee-house, where the wits of that time used to assemble. Soon after the Paflorals, appeared the Eay on Criticim, which procured him, as it deferved,
very high chara&er. It was praised by Addifon, attacked by Dennis, and commented by Ware burton, who has difcovered in it fuch order and connection as was not perceived by Addison, nor, as, is said, intended by the author. It has been tranflated into French by Hamilton, by Robotham, and by Refuel. It has also been tranflated into Latin verfe by feveral writers; particularly by Smart, and Dr. Kirkpatrick, the author of a poem called "The Sea-Piece," which, though it is little known, has many very fine paffages.
About the fame time, he wrote the Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, which he undertook at the defire of Steele.
In the "Spectator” was published the Meffiah, which he first fubmitted to the perufal of Steele, and corrected in compliance with his criticism.
The Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunat: Lady, was probably written about the time when his Fay on Criticifm was published. Who the lady was, has not been ascertained. According to Ruffhead, she was a woman of high rank and large fortune, the ward of an uncle; he was in love with a young gentleman of an inferior condition. The uncle difapproved of her attachment, and propofed another perfon as a match. Finding fhe was determined to abide by her own choice, he fent her abroad. Deprived of every opportunity of conversing or corresponding with her lover, the became desperate, and procured a sword, which the directed to her heart.
In the "Gentleman's Magazine," vol. li. p. 314, it is afferted, that the lady's name was Within bury that he was in love with Pope, and would have married him; that her guardian, though fhe was deformed in her perfon, looked upon such a match as beneath her, and fent her to a convent, where the put an end to her life. How far this account is true, cannot be known. "Pope certainly, from the Elegy, and the concluding lines of the Eloifa, appears to have been very deeply Tected by her fate. Dr. Johnson has cenfured her condu&t with unreasonable feverity. Hafty and culpable fhe was undoubtedly; but it ought to be confidered, that no perfon ever has, or can le happy against violent inclinations, with conftancy to a forced partner for life. To thofe on whom love has made a deep impreffion, nothing but its object can give happiness or peace of mind; confiderations, indeed, that weigh little with the family pride of parents, It is evident that an indulgence of paffion may be attended with happiness, but that the disappointment of it cannot,
In 1712, he produced The Dying Chriflian to bis Soul, in imitation of the verfes of Adrian, and the fragment of Sapple, by the advice of Steele. It ftrongly refembles an ode of Flatman, of whom he was probably a reader, as he certainly was of Crafhaw, Carew, Quarles, and Herbert.
He contributed to the Spectator, Nos 404, 408, and 409, and fome other papers.
la 1712, he published The Rape of the Lock, in its prefent form. It was occafioned by a frolic of gallantry, in which Lord Petre cut off a lock of Mrs. Arabella Fermor's hair. This trifling caufe produced a ferious quarrel between the two families. Mr. Caryll, Secretary to King James's Queen, and author of the comedy of “Sir Solomon Single," and of several translations in “Dryden's Mifcellanies," folicited Pope to endeavour à reconciliation, by a ludicrous poem. The firft sketch was written in less than a fortnight, and published in 1711, in two cantos, without his name. received fo well, that he enlarged it by the addition of the machinery of the Sylphs, and extended it into five cantos. At its first appearance, Addifon declared it was "merum fal," a delicious little thing, and gave him no encouragement to retouch it. This was imputed to jealoufy in Addison, But contains no proof that he was actuated by any bad paffion. Pope fortunately did not follow Addifon's advice; his attempt was juftified by fuccefs.
When the Guardian was begun, he contributed the paper concerning the little club, under the name of Dick Diflich, a letter Ligned Gnatho, a description of the Gardens of Alcinous, and a very fevere ironical criticism on " Philips's Paftorals," in which he pretends to praise Philips, but with great art takes the fuperiority to himself.
About this time, he published The Temple of Fame, written two years before; which, as Steele obferves, has a thousand beautics.
In 1713, he published Windsor Foreft, of which part was written at fixteen, and the latter was added afterwards It is dedicated to Lanfdowne, who was then high in reputation and influence among the Tories.
When the tragedy of " Cato" made its appearance, he introduced it by a folemn and fublime prologue; and when Dennis published his "Rea.arks," undertook, not indeed to vindicate, but to
revenge Addison by A Narrative of the Madness of John Dennis. Addison expreffed no approbation of the ridicule of Pope against Dennis, and perhaps did not think he deserved much by his officiousness. Two other pamphlets, published about this time against Edmund Curll, a bookfeller, who lived by the publication and fale of productions on which respectable men of the profession would have no intereft, are afcribed to Pope, and printed in "Pope and Swift's Mifcellanies." Curll was concerned in many libellous pieces, both against individuals and the state; but it cannot be denied that English literature owes him confiderable obligations.
About this time, he wrote the Epifle from Eloifa to Abelard; in confequence, as Savage told Dr. Johnson, of his perufal of Prior's " Nutbrown Maid," which it not only excells, but every compofition of the fame kind.
He had a strong inclination to unite the Art of Painting with that of Poetry, and put himself under the tuition of Jervas, to whom, about this time, he addressed an encomiaftic Epifle, with "Dryden's tranflation of Frefnoy."
A picture of Betterton, copied by Pope from Kneller, was in the poffeffion of the late Earl of Mansfield, and is faid to be still at Caenwood.
After Betterton's death, he published, under his name, a version into modern English, of Chaucer's prologues, and one of his tales, which were believed by Fenton to have been the performance of Pope himself.
In 1713, when he was in his twenty-fifth year, he circulated propofals for publishing his tranflation of the Iliad, with notes, by fubfcription, in 6 vols. 4to, for fix guineas.
The proposals were very favourably received; and the leading men, political and literary, of bothy parties, were busy to recommend his undertaking, and to promote his intereft; but the Tories, in general, encouraged the fubfcription much more than the Whigs.
To him the hands of jarring faction join,
His contract with Lintot the bookfeller was very advantageous. It was agreed that he should receive 2001. for the copy-right of each volume, and that Lintot fhould fupply the copies to be delivered to fubfcribers, or presented to friends, at his own expence.
The fubfcribers were five hundred and feventy-five. The copies for which fubfcriptions were given, were fix hundred and fifty-four; but only fix hundred and fixty were printed. For those copies Pope had nothing to pay; he therefore received, including the two hundred pounds volume, five thousand three hundred and twenty pounds four fhillings, without deduction.
At first he found himself embarraffed with difficulties, which retarded his progrefs; but practice increafed his facility of verfification, and in a short time he reprefents himself as difpatching reguFarly fifty lines a-day.
It is not very likely, as Dr. Johnfon obferves, that he overflowed with Greek; but Latin transTations were always at hand, and from them he could obtain his author's fenfe with fufficient certainty. He had the poetical tranflation of Eobanus Heffus, the French Homers of La Valterie, and Dacier, and the English of Chapman, Hobbes, and Ogilby. With Chapman he had very frequent confultations; and perhaps never tranflated any paffage till he had read his verfion, which, indeed, he has been fometimes fufpected of using instead of the original.
Broome, in the preface to his "Poems," declares himself the commentator, " in part upon the Iliad;" and it appears from Fenton's letter, preferved in the Mufeum, that Broome was at first engaged in confulting, Euftathius, of whole work there was then no Latin verfion; but that after a time, he defifted. Another Cambridge man was then employed, who foon grew weary of the work; and a third, that was recommended by Thirlby, is now difcovered to have been Jortin, a man fince well known to the learned world, who complained that Pope having accepted and approved his performance, never teftified any curiofity to fee him. Broome then offered his service a second time, and was probably accepted, as they had afterwards a closer correspondence.
Parnell contributed the Life of Homer, which Pope found fo harsh, that he took great pains in correcting it; and by his own diligence, with fuch help as kindness or money could procure him, in fomewhat more than five years, he completed the English Iliad, with notes, which is allowed to be the best version of poetry that ever was written; and its publication muft, therefore, be conas one of the great events in the annals of learning. Halifax expected the dedication of his
terion; but he paffed over peers and statesmen to infcribe it to Congreve. While the translation was in its progrefs, Mr. Craggs, Secretary of State, nobly offered to procure him a pension, which he thought proper to decline.
Proud of the frank reward his talents find,
The original manuscript of the Iliad, written upon envelopes of letters, and accidental fragments of paper, being obtained by Bolingbroke as a curiosity, descended from him to Mallet, and is now, by the folicitation of the late Dr. Maty, repofited in the Museum.
The first volume of the Iliad was published in 1715, and a verfion of the first book by Tickell, was published the same year, which Pope fufpected was really written by Addifon, with an intention to injure his character and interest.
In an advertisement prefixed by Tickell, he profeffes to have no "other view in publishing this fmall specimen of Homer's Iliad, than to befpeak, if poffible, the favour of the public to a tranflation of the Odyfey, wherein he had already made fome progrefs."
Whether that was, or was not his motive, there is no evidence that Addison caused it to be published from envy and malice, as has been afferted, to injure Pope. Addifon's oppofition to Pope, at that time, could do him no particular injury; for his fubfcription was full, and his con- ! tract with his bookfeller completed; and if he had been actuated by jealousy, it is not probable he would have spoken fo highly of Pope's Iliad in the " Freeholder" of May 7, 1716.
Pope, vose disposition is acknowledged to have been irritable, was hurt beyond measure at this translation; and it is probable that the character of Atticus was written in the heat of his refentment on this occafion, as he expreffed the very fame fentiments to Mr. Craggs, in his letter of July 15, 1715. But it does not appear, as Ruffhead afferts, that there was any open breach between Addison and Pope upon this occasion, and Pope exprefsly tells Craggs there was none.
Addison, therefore, unless better proof can be given, must be acquitted of this odious charge, which feems to have been founded on some misapprehenfion in Pope; who, however excufeable he may be thought in writing the character of Atticus in the first tranfports of poetical indignation, wannot be justified in suppressing it till after the death of Addison, and then permitting its publication; and at length, at the distance of eighteen years, tranfmitting it to pofterity ingrafted in his Epifle to Dr. Arbuthnot.
The inferior tribe of writers endeavoured to depreciate the Iliad. Dennis attacked it with his ufual bitterness and scurrility; and among others, Ducket and Burnet, who was afterwards a judge of no mean reputation, cenfured it in a piece called " Homerides;"
In 1715, he prevailed on his father, it is faid, to fell the eftate at Binfield, and purchased the leafe of the house at Twickenham, so much celebrated for his refidence in it. How his father could have faleable property in land, being a Papist, does not appear.
Here he planted the vines, and the quincunx, which he has celebrated in his poems; and being under the neceffity of making a fubterraneous paffage to a garden on the other fide of the road, he dignified it with the title of a grotto; the decoration of which was the favourite amufement of his declining years.
In 1717, he collected his former works into one quarto volume, to which he prefixed a preface, written with great fpritelinefs and elegance.
In this year his father died fuddenly, in his 75th year, having paffed twenty-nine years in retirement. He is not known but by the character which his fon has given him in the Epifle to Dr. Arbuthnot.
In 1720, he was infected with the general contagion; but on the first fall of the South Sea Stock, was cured. He fold out just in time to fave himself from lofs.
The next year, he published the select poems of his friend Parnell, with an elegant poetical dedication to the Earl of Oxford.
In 1721, he gave to the world his edition of Shakspeare, in 6 vols. 4to.; for which Tonfon demanded a fubfeription of fix guineas, and was successful in difpofing of most of the copies. This undertaking, to which he was induced by a reward of two hundred and feventeen pounds twelve
shillings, is not reckoned to have contributed much to his reputation. Dr. Johnson observes, he did many things wrong, and left many things undone,
Theobald, first in his "Shakspeare Restored," and then in a formal edition, detected his deficiencies with all the infolence of victory; from which time he became an enemy to editors, commentators, and verbal critics.
About this time, he published proposals for a tranflation of the Odyssey, in 5 vols. 4to. for five guineas, and was affifted by Fenton, and Broome; who, as Ruffhead relates, had already begun the work. He tranflated only twelve books himself, his affociates the reft. The account of the feveral Thares, fubjoined at the conclufion, is now known not to be true. The first, fourth, nineteenth, and twentieth books were translated by Fenton; the second, fixth, eighth, eleventh, twelfth, fixteenth, eighteenth, and twenty-third books, by Broome; but he revised their verfions. Broome wrote the notes, for which he was not over liberally rewarded. The agreement with Lintot was the fame as for the Iliad, except that he was to receive but one hundred pounds for each volume.
The fubfcribers were five hundred and feventy-four, and the copies eight hundred and nine. teen; fo that his profit, when he had paid Fenton 300l. and Broome 600 1. was ftill very confiderable.
Spence wrote a criticism on the English Odyssey, which was esteemed impartial, judicious, and candid. Pope was pleased with it, and fought the acquaintance of the writer, who lived with him from that time in great familiarity, compiled memorials of his conversation, and obtained, by his influence, very valuable preferments in the church.
In 1723, he appeared before the Lords at the trial of Bishop Atterbury, to give an account of his domeftic life, and private employment, that it might appear how little time he had left for plots. He had but few words to utter, and in thofe few he made feveral blunders.
His letters to Atterbury, both before and after his misfortune, are full of efteem, gratitude, and tenderness. He often vifited him in the Tower. At their last interview, Atterbury prefented hint with a Bible. Whatever might be Atterbury's political principles and views, he certainly poffeffed a highly cultivated understanding, an elegant taste, and a feeling heart.
In 1726, Voltaire having visited England, was introduced to Pope, and wrote him a letter of 'confolation, on his being overturned in paffing a river, in the night, in Bolingbroke's coach, with the windows closed, from which the poftillion fnatched him, when he was in danger of being drowned, by breaking the glass; the fragments of which cut two of his fingers, in such a manner that he loft their use.
In 1727, Swift visited England, and joined with Pope in publishing three volumes of MiscelLanies. Pope contributed the Memoirs of a Parish Clerk, Stradling verfus Styles, Virgilius Reßlauratus, the Baffet Table, and the Art of Sinking in Poetry, defigned as a part of the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus, a fatire projected in conjunction with Arbuthnot and Swift, On the Abuses of Human Learning, in the manner of Cervantes.
The year following, he published the Dunciad, one of his greatest and most elaborate performances; the hiftory of which is very minutely related by himself, in a dedication which he wrote to Lord Middlefex, in the name of Savage.
Pope appears by this narrative to have been the aggreffor; for nobody can believe that the letters in the Art of Sinking in Poetry were placed at random. If his intention had been to expofe to riditule and contempt, calumniators either of himself or of others, he ought to have confined himself to fuch libellers. If his defign was to difcourage bad writers from giving their productions to the world, he should have fatirized perfons of that defcription only. Theobald, Enfden, Blackmore, Philips, De Foe, Bentley, Hill, Welfted, and Cibber, were not fuch writers as deferved to be ridi culed; they were not generally flanderous, and had not calumniated him in particular. There is much reason to believe that he composed the Dunciad, partly to be revenged on those who had abused him, and partly to difplay his own fuperiority. He degraded himself by bestowing on fcribbling calumniators, even the notice of refentment; to display fuperiority was totally unneceffary, where there could be no competition.
In the fubfequent editions, he thought fit to omit the name of Hill, who expoftulated with him in à manner fuperior to all mean folicitation, and obliged him to sneak and fhuffle, fometimes to deny, and fometimes to apologife. He alfo omitted the name of Burnet, and substituted cordial f; lenskip