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Add to this, that in the hiftories of ftatefmen and warriors, we often admire merit which is not their own. They are often directed by thofe, whom they appear to guide. Accident likewife, has a confiderable fhare in the events, which render them celebrated. Nay, their very errors frequently, by ftrange and fortuitous occurrences, prove propitious to their fame.
But when we perufe the lives of the learned, when we admire the fentiments which adorn their pages, when we approve the moral and focial rules, by which they framed their conduct; we then pay the juft tribute of applaufe, where alone it is due.
At the fame time it must be confeffed, that even literary reputation has fometimes been undefervedly acquired, and unjustly withheld. There are not many readers perhaps who judge for themfelves. The far greater part determine upon the authority of others, rather than from their own fentiments. Thus the partial judgment or caprice of fome fashionable and over-ruling critic, often mifleads the herd.
When a falfe judgment is once established, it is not eafily fubverted. They, adhere moft pertinaciously to their opinions, who build them on the authority of others. Men in general are not forward to condemn, what their fathers approved. Thus error gains a kind of prefcriptive title: till fome other admired critic, to whom the throng pay implicit homage, has the
spirit and virtue to oppose mistaken prejudice, and fet the public judgment right.
There have been fome, however, in the learned world, whose merit ftands on fo fair and firm a bafis, as not to need the prop of partiality to fupport it, or to be in danger of being haken or undermined by prejudice or caprice.
Among the few whose fame is thus firmly rooted, Mr. POPE ftands capitally diftinguished. Our bard, however, experienced the common fate of every man who starts from the crowd. Ignorance and envy waged war against his merit. So true is Moliere's obfervation
La vertu dans le monde eft toujours poursuivie,
His towering fame however foon foared above the reach of thofe obfcure DUNCES, who would have ftopped his afpiring growth. But envy would not quit her hold; and when she could no longer detract from the faculties of his mind, maliciously endeavoured to arraign the virtues of his heart.
With what little juftice attempts have been made to depreciate either the one or the other, will be examined in the course of the following fheets; and as an admiration of his genius fhall not pervert the juftice of criticifm, fo neither B 4
fhall a regard for his virtues, be an inducement to conceal his failings.
The life of a ftudious man can confift of little else than a character of himself, and of his writings; and the hiftory of the author and of the man are fo intimately blended, that they ferve to illuftrate each other: fince, to an accurate obferver, the temper and morals of a writer generally breathe through his works.
In this hiftory, therefore, which will contain the most interesting particulars of our poet's life, an account will be interwoven of his writings, as they are published in the octavo edition; with fuch animadverfions as they may occafionally furnish: as likewife with remarks on fuch criticisms as have appeared on particular pieces and from this review of his writings, an attempt will be made to form a general critique, on the nature, force and extent of his genius.
As a critical difquifition of this nature, however, will be more peculiarly calculated for the entertainment of the learned, the reader's attention will be occafionally relieved, and his curiosity gratified, by a detail of several anecdotes, concerning our author and his cotemporaries; of which many have never yet been made public.
Several inftances likewife will be occafionally produced from his unpublished letters, of the
ftrict correspondence between his public and private fentiments. Such a comparison, it is apprehended, will be of fingular benefit; for a reader cannot fail to receive additional delight and profit, when he is convinced of the fincerity of the writer's fentiments: which cannot be better demonftrated, than by fuch an exemplification.
Laftly, his moral character will be particularly exemplified in all its various relations: and this part of the design will be of the most general ufe; for though, to many, the account of the author may be most entertaining, yet the hiftory of the man will be found most inftructive. All may, and ought to, emulate the latter, though very few are bleft with powers to rival the former.
Having thus stated the plan of the ensuing hiftory, it next remains to make the reader acquainted with the circumstances of our author's life.
In the hiftories of celebrated perfons, we frequently meet with fabulous relations of miraculous incidents, which attended them either in the womb, or in the cradle, as prophetic of their future eminence. We do not find, however, that any thing remarkable happened to our poet, either at his birth, or during his early infancy. No bees were feen to hang upon his lips, no doves bound his temples with the laurel of Apollo, or the myrtle of Venus.
He was born in London, on the 21ft day of May, in the year 1688, and was chriftened by the name of Alexander. He defcended from a हैं od family in Oxfordshire, and we are indebted to the base and illiberal afperfions * which malice attempted to throw on his character, for the following short account of his genealogy.
His father, whofe Chriftian name was likewife Alexander, was a confiderable merchant, and a diftant relation to the Earl of Downe, whofe fole heiress married the Earl of Lindsay. Our poet's mother, Editha, was the daughter of William Turner, Efq; of York. She had three brothers, one of whom was killed, another died, in the fervice of King Charles I. And the eldest, becoming a general officer in Spain, left her what eftate remained after the fequeftrations and forfeitures of her family.
Our bard was naturally of a tender and delicate conftitution, but of a temper nevertheless
* In one of Curl's and other pamphlets, Mr POPE'S father was faid to be a mechanic, a hatter, a farmer, nay a bankrupt; but what is ftrange, a nobleman (if fuch a reflection could be thought to come from a nobleman) had dropt an allufion to that pitiful untruth, in a paper, called An Epiftle to a Doctor in Divinity. The following line likewife
"Hard as thy heart, and as thy birth obfcure,"
fell from a like courtly pen, in certain verfes to the imitator of Horace.Our author, by way of refutation of thefe mean falfehoods, was tempted to publifh the account of his genealogy which is given above.