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LEXANDER POPE was born in London, 22, 1688, of parents whose rank or station was never ascertained: we are informed that they were of gentle blood; that his father was of a family of which the Earl of Downe was the head, and that his mother was the daughter of William Turner, Efquire, of York, who had likewife three fons, one of whom had the honour of being killed, and the other of dying, in the fervice of Charles the First; the third was made a general officer in Spain, from whom the fifter inherited what fequeftrations and forfeitures had left in the family.
This, and this only, is told by Pope; who is more
Pope was from his birth of a constitution tender and delicate; but is faid to have fhewn remarkable gentleness and sweetness of difpofition. The weakness of his body continued through his life; but the mildness of his mind perhaps ended with his childhood. His voice, when he was young, was fo pleasing, that he was called in fondnefs the little Nightingale.
Being not fent early to fchool, he was taught to read by an aunt; and when he was feven or eight years old, became a lover of books. He first learned to write by imitating printed books; a fpecies of penmanship in which he retained great excellence through his whole life, though his ordinary hand was not elegant.
When he was about eight, he was placed in Hampfhire under Taverner, a Romish prieft, who, by a incthod very rarely practifed, taught him the Greek and Latin rudiments together. He was now first regularly initiated in poetry by the perufal of Ogylby's Homer, and Sandys's Ovid: Ogylby's affiftance he never repaid with any praife; but of Sandys he declared, in his notes to the liad, that English poetry owed much of its prefent beauty to his tranflations. Sandy's very rarely attempted original compofition.
From the care of Taverner, under whom his proficiency was confiderable, he was removed to a fchool at Twyford near Winchefter, and again to another fchool about Hyde-park Corner; from which he used fometimes to ftroll to the play houfe, and was fo de
This weakness was fo great, that he conftantly wore ftays, as I have been affured by a watern.an at Twickenham, who, in lifung him into his boat, had often felt them. His method of taking the air on the water, was to have a fedan chau in the boat, in which he fat with the glaffes down.
lighted with theatrical exhibitions, that he formed a kind of play from Ogylby's Iliad, with fome verfes of his own intermixed, which he perfuaded his fchoolfellows to act, with the addition of his master's gardener, who perfonated Ajax.
At the two laft fchools he used to reprefent himself as having loft part of what Taverner had taught him, and on his master at Twyford he had already exercised his poetry in a lampoon. Yet under thofe mafters he tranflated more than a fourth part of the Metamorphofes. If he kept the fame proportion in his other exercises, it cannot be thought that his lofs was great.
He tells of himself, in his poems, that he lifp'd in numbers; and ufed to fay that he could not remember the time when he began to make verfes. In the ftyle of fiction it might have been faid of him as of Pin dar, that, when he lay in his cradle, the bees fwarmed about his mouth.
About the time of the Revolution, his father, who was undoubtedly difappointed by the fudden blaft of popish profperity, quitted his trade, and retired to Binfield in Windfor Foreft, with about twenty thou fand pounds; for which, being confcientioufly determined not to entrust it to the government, he found no better use than that of locking it up in a cheft, and taking from it what his expences required; and his life was long enough to confume a great part of it, before his fon came to the inheritance.
To Binfield Pope was called by his father when he was about twelve years old; and there he had for a few months the affiftance of one Deane, another prieft, of whom he learned only to conftrue a little of Tully's Of B 2 fices.
fices. How Mr. Deane could fpend, with a boy who had tranflated fo much of Ovid, fome months over a fmall part of Tully's Offices, it is now vain to enquire.
Of a youth fo fuccefsfully employed, and fo confpicuoufly improved, a minute account must be naturally defired; but curiofity must be contented with confufed, imperfect, and fometimes improbable intelligence. Pope, finding little advantage from external help, refolved thenceforward to direct himself, and at twelve formed a plan of ftudy which he completed with little other incitement than the defire of excellence.
His primary and principal purpofe was to be a poct, with which his father accidentally concurred, by propofing fubjects, and obliging him to correct his performances by many revifals; after which the old gentleman, when he was fatisfied, would fay, these are good rhymes.
In his perufal of the English poets he foon diftinguifhed the verfification of Dryden, which he confidered as the model to be ftudied, and was impreffed with fuch veneration for his inftructer, that he perfuaded fome friends to take him to the coffee-houfe which Dryden frequented, and pleafed himfelf with having feen him.
Dryden died May 1, 1701, fome days before Pope was twelve; fo early muft he therefore have felt the power of harmony, and the zeal of genius. Who does not wish that Dryden could have known the value of the homage that was paid him, and forefeen the greatnefs of his young admirer?