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of his letters to an aunt; and having learned very early to read, took great delight in it, and taught himself to write by copying after printed books, the characters of which he would imitate to great perfection. He began to compose verses farther back than he could well remember; and, at eight years of age, when he was put under one Taverner, a priest, who taught him the rudiments of the Latin and Greek tongues at the same time, he met with Ogilby's Homer, which gave him great delight; and this was increased by Sandy's Ovid. The raptures which these authors, even in the disguise of such translations, then yielded him were so strong, that he spoke of them with pleasure ever after.
From Mr. Taverner's tuition he was sent to a private school at Twiford, near Winchester, where he continued about a year, and was then removed to another near Hyde-Park Corner; but was so unfortunate as to lose under his two last masters what he had acquired under the first.
While he remained at this school, being permitted to go to the play-house with some of his school-fellows of a more advanced age, he was so charmed with dramatic representations, that he formed the translation of the Iliad into a play, from several of the speeches in Ogilby's translation, connected with verses of his own; and the several parts were performed by the
upper boys of the school, except that of Ajax by the master's gardener. At the age of twelve, our young poet went with his father to reside at his house at Binfield, in Windsor Forest, where he was, for a few months, under the tuition of another priest, with aslittle success as before; so that he resolved now to become his own master, by reading those classic writers which gave him most entertainment; and by this method, at fifteen, he gained a ready habit in the learned languages, to which he soon after added the French and Italian. Upon his retreat to the forest, he became first acquainted with the writings of Waller, Spenser, and Dryden; in the last of which he immediately found what he wanted, and the poems of that excellent writer were never out of his hands; they became his model, and from them alone he learned the whole magic of his versification.
The first of our author's compositions now extant in print is an "Ode on Solitude," written before he was twelve years old; which, considered as the production of so early an age, is a perfect master-piece; nor need he have been ashamed of it, had it been written in the meridian of his genius: while it breathes the most delicate spirit of poetry, it at the same time demonstrates his love of solitude, and the rational pleasures which attend the retreats of a contented country life.
Two years after this he translated the first book of "Statius's Thebais," and wrote a copy of verses on Silence, in imitation of the Earl of Rochester's poem on Nothing. Thus we find him no sooner capable of holding the pen thin he employed it in writing verses:
"He lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came."
Though we have had frequent opportunity to observe that poets have given early displays of genius, yet we cannot recollect that, amongst the inspired tribe, one can be found who, at the age of twelve, could produce so animated an ode, or, at the age of fourteen, translate from the Latin. It has been reported, indeed, concerning Mr. Dryden, that when he was at Westminster school, the master, who had assigned a poetical task to some of the boys, of writing a paraphrase on our Saviour's miracle of turning water into wine, was perfectly astonished when young Dryden presented him with the following line, which he asserted was the best comment that could be written upon it:
The conscious water saw its God, and blush'd.
This was the only instance of an early appearance of genius in this great man, for he was turned of thirty before he acquired any reputation; an age in which Mr. Pope's was in its full distinction.
The year following that in which Mr. Pope wrote his poem on "Silence," he began an epic poem, entitled "Alcander," which he afterwards very judiciously committed to the flames, as he did likewise a comedy and a tragedy, the latter taken from a story in the legend of St. Genevieve, both of these being the product of those early days: but his pastorals, which were written when he was only sixteen years of age, were esteemed by Sir William Trumbull, Mr. Granville, Mr. Wycherley, Mr. Walsh, and others of his friends, too valuable to be condemned to the same fate.
During this period of his life he was indefatigably diligent, and insatiably curious. Wanting health for violent, and money for expensive pleasures, and having excited in himself very strong desires of intellectual eminence, he spent much of his time over his books; but he read only to store his mind with facts and images, seizing all that his authors presented with undistinguishing voracity, and with an appetite for knowledge too eager to be nice. In a mind like his, however, all the faculties were at once involuntarily improving. Judgment is forced upon us by experience. He that reads many books must compare one opinion or one style with another; and, when he compares, must necessarily distinguish, reject, and prefer. But the account given by himself of his studies
was, that from fourteen to twenty he read only for amusement, from twenty to twenty-seven for improvement and instruction; that in the first part of this time he desired only to know, and in the second he endeavoured to judge.
The three great writers of pastoral dialogue, which Mr. Pope in some measure seems to imitate, are Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser. Mr. Pope is of opinion that Theocritus excels all others in nature and sim
That Virgil, who copies Theocritus, refines on his original; and in all points in which judgment has the principal part, is much superior to his master.
That among the moderns, their success has been greatest who have most endeavoured to make these ancients their pattern. The most considerable genius appears in the famous Tasso, and our Spenser. Tasso, in his Aminta, has far excelled all the pastoral writers, as in his Gierusalemme he has outdone the epic poets of his own country. But as this piece seems to have been the original of a new sort of poem, the pastoral comedy, in Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the ancients. Spenser's Calendar, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the most complete work of this kind which any nation has produced ever since the time of Virgil; but this he said before Mr. Pope's Pastorals appeared.