Alexander Pope was born in Lombard Street, London, the son of a prosperous merchant and Roman Catholic.
He was largely educated at home. His parents moved to Binfield in Windsor Forest in 1700 (12), probably in response to laws which, among other restrictions, prevented Catholics from living within 10 miles of London. Here he contracted the first of a series of illnesses, which, together with his physical deformity (he had a hunched back and was only four feet six inches tall), left him a semi-invalid for the rest of his life.
The precocious poet
By 1700 (12) he was already writing imitations of
Cowley, Chaucer and
Spenser, and translating
Ovid and Homer. His Pastorals appeared in Tonson’s Miscellany (1707, 19), and in 1711 (23) his
Essay on Criticism was published, quickly establishing his literary reputation.
The Scriblerus Club
He jointly founded the
Scriblerus Club in 1713 (25) with the intention of composing joint satires on false learning and pedantry.
A short version of
The Rape of the Lock, a mock heroic poem on the theft of a lock of hair from a society beauty by a society beau, was published in 1712 (24), followed by
Windsor Forest in 1713 (25), and the full version of The Rape in 1714 (26). A collected edition of his poetry, including the previously unpublished
Eloisa to Abelard and Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, appeared in 1717 (29), and established his reputation as the foremost poet of his day.
His translations of Homer
His translation of the
Iliad appeared between 1715 (27) and 1720 (32), and, on the back of its financial success, he was able to rent a villa on the Thames at Twickenham, then a small country town. He wrote :
....thanks to Homer I live and thrive
Indebted to no Prince alive.
Johnson writes of him 'Of Pope's domestic character frugality was a part
eminently remarkable...This general care must be universally approved; but it
sometimes appeared in petty artifices of parsimony, such as the practice of
writing his compositions on the back of letters, as may be seen in the remaining
copy of the Iliad, by which perhaps in five years five shillings were
Pope the gardener
Here he pursued his interest in gardening, kept his own boatman to row him into London, and his own coach to visit his friends,
Lord Bathurst at Cirencester,
Lord Cobham at Stowe,
Ralph Allen near Bath and
Lord Peterborough at Southampton, all of whom were also enthusiastic gardeners.
He tidies Shakespeare and replies to his critics with The Dunciad
He next turned his attention to Shakespeare, treating him in much the same way as he had treated Homer, by removing his ‘imperfections’. There had been criticism of his Homer, notably from the scholar
Richard Bentley, who had told Pope that though his
Iliad was a fine poem, he should not call it Homer. Similar criticism surfaced about his Shakespeare. Pope responded that he was merely defending high literary standards, and that his critics were pedants devoid of taste, a defence extensively detailed in
The Dunciad (1728, 40), which he revised, expanded and re-targeted in 1742 (54).
In 1730 (42) he was contemplating writing a series of verse epistles, of which the first four were to cover the
nature of man and the rest, moderation. The epistle,
Of Taste (now known as Moral Essay, Epistle IV), was published in 1731 (43), and three more epistles followed in the next five years.
Of Taste was attacked by critics who thought he was targeting the Duke of
Chandos, and he replied with Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot, a defence of satire conceived along the lines of the first satire of the second book of Horace. His argument is further expounded in his
Imitations of Horace (1733, 45 to 1738, 50) to which he was tempted by the success of the
Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot.
He died in 1744 (56)
Alexander Pope Biography : Links
Ode on Solitude
The Dying Christian to his
Elizabethan poets Christopher Marlowe
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Percy Bysshe Shelley
George Gordon, Lord Byron