Page images

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 priest, of whom he learned only to construe a little of Tully's Offices. How Mr. Deane could fpend, with a boy who had tranflated fo much of Ovid, fome months over a small 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 curiosity 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 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 B 4


concurred, by propofing subjects, and obliging him to correct his performances by many revifals; after which the old gentleman, when he was fatisfied, would fay, thefe are good rhymes.

In his perufal of the English poets he foon diftinguished the verfification of Dryden, which he confidered as the model to be studied, 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 pleased himself with having feen him.

Dryden died May 1, 1701, fome days before Pope was twelve; fo early must 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 foreseen the greatness 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.

[ocr errors]

His time was now spent wholly in reading and writing. As he read the Clafficks, he amused himself with tranflating them; and at fourteen made a version of the first book of the Thebais, which, with some revifion, 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 fashionable appearance, and put January and May, and the Prologue of the Wife of Bath, into modern English. He tranflated likewise the Epiftle 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 Rochester's Nothing. He had now formed his verfification, and in the smoothness of his numbers furpaffed his original but this is a fmall part of his

praise ;

praise; he discovers fuch acquaintance both with human life and publick affairs, as is not easily 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 study French and Italian, which, as he defired nothing more than to read them, were by diligent application foon dispatched. Of Italian learning he does not appear to have ever made much ufe in his fubfequent ftudies.

He then returned to Binfield, and delighted himself with his own poetry. He tried all styles, 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 fe

licity of Pope to rate himself at his real value.

Most of his puerile productions were, by his maturer judgement, afterwards deftroyed; Alcander, the epick poem, was burnt by the persuasion 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 criticism, 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 pleased with himself, easily imagines that he shall please others. Sir William Trumbal, who had been ambaffador at Conftantinople, and fecretary of state, when he retired from bufinefs, fixed his refidence in the neighbourhood of Binfield. Pope, not yet fixteen, was introduced to the statesman


« PreviousContinue »