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Pope was from his birth of a conftitution tender and delicate; but is faid to have fhewn remarkable gentlenefs 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 pleafing, 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 firft 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 method very rarely practifed, taught him the Greek and Latin rudiments together. He was now firft 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 Iliad, that English poetry owed much of its prefent beauty to his tranflations. Sandys very rarely attempted original compofition.
From the care of Taverner, under whom his proficiency was confiderabie, he was removed to a school at Twyford near Winchester, and again to another school about Hyde-park Corner; from which he used fometimes to stroll to the playhouse, and was so de
*This weakness was fo great, that he conftantly wore stays, as I have been affured by a waterman at Twickenham, who, in lifting him into his boat, had often felt them. His method of taking the air on the water, was to have a fedan chair 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 himfelf as having loft part of what Taverner had taught him, and on his mafter at Twyford he had already exercifed his poetry in a lampoon. Yet under thofe mafters he tranflated more than a fourth part of the Metamorphofes. If he kept the same 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 used to say that he could not remember the time when he began to make verfes. In the style of fiction it might have been faid of him as of Pindar, 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 blast of popish profperity, quitted his trade, and retired to Binfield in Wind for Foreft, with about twenty thou fand pounds; for which, being confcientiously 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 OfB 2 fices.
fices. How Mr. Deane could fpend, with a boy who had tranflated fo much of Ovid, fome months over a finall part of Tully's Offices, it is now vain to enquire.
Of a youth fo fuccefsfully employed, and fo confpicuously improved, a minute account must be naturally defired; but curiofity must be contented with confused, imperfect, and fometimes improbable intelligence. Pope, finding little advantage from external help, refolved thenceforward to direct himself, and at twelve formed a plan of study which he completed with little other incitement than the defire of excellence.
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 performances by many revifals; after which the old gentleman, when he was fatisfied, would fay, these are good rbymes.
In his perufal of the English poets he foon diftinguished 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-house which Dryden frequented, and pleafed himself 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?
The earliest of Pope's productions is his Ode on Solitude, written before he was twelve, in which there is nothing more than other forward boys have attained, and which is not equal to Cowley's performances at the fame age,
His time was now spent wholly in reading and writing. As he read the Clafficks, he amufed himself with tranflating them; and at fourteen made a version of the first book of the Thebais, which, with fome revision, he afterwards published. He must have been at this time, if he had no help, a confiderable proficient in the Latin tongue.
By Dryden's Fables, which had then been not long published, and were much in the hands of poetical readers, he was tempted to try his own skill in giving Chaucer a more fafhionable appearance, and put January and May, and the Prologue of the Wife of Bath, into modern English, He tranflated likewife the Epistle of Sappho to Phaon from Ovid, to complete the verfion, which was before imperfect; and wrote fome other small pieces, which he afterwards printed.
He fometimes imitated the English poets, and profeffed to have written at fourteen his poem upon Silence, after Rochefter's Nothing. He had now formed his verfification, and in the fin.oothness of his numbers furpaffed his original: but this is a fmall part of his praife; he discovers fuch acquaintance both with human life and public affairs, as is not eafily conceived to have been attainable by a boy of fourteen in Windfor Foreft.
Next year he was defirous of opening to himself new fources of knowledge, by making himself acquainted with modern languages; and removed for a
time to London, that he might ftudy French and Italian, which, as he defired nothing more than to read them, were by diligent application foon difpatched. Of Italian learning he does not appear to have ever made much ufe in his fubfequent ftudies.
He then returned to Binfield, and delighted himfelf with his own poetry. He tried all ftyles, and many fubjects. He wrote a comedy, a tragedy, an epick poem, with panegyricks on all the princes of Europe; and, as he confeffes, thought himself the greatest genius that ever was. Self-confidence is the first requifite to great undertakings; he, indeed, who forms his opinion of himself in folitude, without knowing the powers of other men, is very liable to errour; but it was the felicity of Pope to rate himself at his real value.
Moft of his puerile productions were, by his maturer judgement, aftewards deftroyed; Alcander, the epick poem, was burnt by the perfuafion of Atterbury, The tragedy was founded on the legend of St. Genevieve, Of the comedy there is no account.
Concerning his ftudies it is related, that he tranflated Tully on old Age; and that, befides his books of poetry and criticifm, he read Temple's Effays and Locke on human Understanding. His reading, though his favourite authors are not known, appears to have been fufficiently extenfive and multifarious; for his early pieces fhew, with fufficient evidence, his knowledge of books.
He that is pleafed with himself eafily imagines that he fhall please others. Sir William Trumbal, who had been ambaffador at Conftantinople, and fecretary of state, when he retired from business,