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LEXANDER POPE was born in London, May 22, 1688 2,
of parents whose rank or station was never ascertained: we are informed that they were of 'gentle blood 3'; that his father was of a family of which the Earl of Downe was the head*, and that his mother was the daughter of William Turner, Esquire, of York, who had likewise three sons, one of whom had the honour of being killed, and the other of dying, in the service of Charles the First; the third was made a general officer in Spain 3,
The Life of Pope was the last written of the Lives. On Sept. 18, 1780, Johnson recorded:-'I have Swift and Pope yet to write, Swift is just begun.' John. Misc. i. 94. On April 13, 1781, he recorded:-'Sometime in March I finished the Lives of the Poets. Ib. i. 96. See also ib. ii. 193. Mr. Nichols,' he wrote, 'is entreated to save the proof sheets of Pope, because they are promised to a lady who desires to have them.' John. Letters, ii. 197. The lady was Miss Burney. They are in the possession of Mr. R. B. Adam of Buffalo, who has allowed me to examine them.
On April 14, 1781, Horace Walpole wrote:-'Dr. Johnson's Life of Pope is a most trumpery performance, and stuffed with all his crabbed phrases and vulgarisms, and much trash as anecdotes.' Letters, viii. 26.
'Johnson's Life of Pope is a very important piece of criticism. Since Sam. Johnson we have been knocked about by critics of more brilliancy than authority, and I feel the want of an authority.' W. CORY, Letters, &c., p. 547.
Spence records, on Pope's authority, that he was born in Lombard Street on May 21, 1688. Spence's Anec. pp. 203, 259. According to
Curll he was born on June 8. Pope, in reproducing this statement, does not correct it. Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vi. 440.
3 Of gentle blood (part shed in honour's cause
While yet in Britain honour had applause)
Each parent sprung.'
Prol. Sat. 1. 388.
Pope states this in a note on these lines. See also T. Birch's Heads of Illustrious Persons, 1747, ii. 55. One of his relations, 'a great genealogist, who was always talking of her family, never mentioned this descent.' WARTON, Essay on Pope, ii. 326. Mr. Courthope thinks it fabulous. Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), v. 4.
5 Johnson here also follows Pope's note. In the notice of the death of his mother in Gent. Mag. 1733, P. 326, probably written by him, it is stated that two of the sons 'died in the King's service in the Civil War!'
'The Turners were small landowners in Yorkshire. William Turner married Thomasine Newton, a member of a good family at Thorpe, in Yorkshire.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), v. 5. One of their daughters married Samuel Cooper, the painter. Ante, BUTLER, 5.
from whom the sister inherited what sequestrations and forfeitures had left in the family.
This, and this only, is told by Pope; who is more willing, as 2 I have heard observed, to shew what his father was not, than what he was. It is allowed that he grew rich by trade; but whether in a shop or on the Exchange was never discovered, till Mr. Tyers told, on the authority of Mrs. Racket, that he was a linen-draper in the Strand'. Both parents were papists 2.
Pope was from his birth of a constitution tender and delicate; 3 but is said to have shewn remarkable gentleness and sweetness of disposition3. 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 so pleasing that he was called in fondness the 'little Nightingale ".'
Being not sent early to school he was taught to read by an 4 aunt, and when he was seven or eight years old became a lover
In the first edition the sentence ends at 'discovered.' Pope, in his will, described Mrs. Magdalen Racket as 'my sister-in-law." Warton's Pope's Works, ed. 1822, ix. 417. She was his father's daughter by his first wife. In the register of St. Benet Fink is the following:-'1679. 12 Aug. Buried Magdalen, the wife of Allixander Pope.' He was then living in Broad Street. N. & Q. 2 S. iii. 461, iv. 381, 406. The poet was born in Lombard Street. Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), v. 6.
For Thomas Tyers see Boswell's Johnson, iii. 308; John. Misc. ii. 335.
2 Mrs. Pope described her husband as an honest merchant, who dealt in Hollands wholesale.' Spence's Anec. p. 8. According to a note in Warton, iv. 51, Pope's grandfather " was a clergyman in Hampshire. He placed his son with a merchant at Lisbon, where he became a convert to Popery.' This clergyman was 'not improbably Alexander Pope, Rector of Thruxton, in Hampshire, who died in 1645.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), v. 5.
3 Ruffhead's Life of Pope, p. 10; Spence's Anec. p. 26.
This weakness was so great that he wore stays, as I have been assured
by a waterman at Twickenham, who, in lifting him into his boat, had often felt them. He had a sedan-chair in the boat, in which he sat with the glasses down.' HAWKINS, Johnson's Works, 1787, iv. 2; post, POPE, 257. His voice was so musical that
I remember honest Tom Southerne used always to call him "the little nightingale." ORRERY, Remarks, &c., p. 207. Thomson, speaking of him, calls the nightingale 'his sister of the copses green.' Post, POPE, 255 n. "Some called Pope little nightingale-all sound and no sense.' LADY M. W. MONTAGU, Letters, Preface, p. 41.
Johnson's authorities for Pope's school-days are Birch's Heads, &c., ii. 55, Warburton's Pope's Works, ed. 1757, iv. 205, and Spence's Anec. pp. 192, 206, 259, 276, 283, who do not always agree. Warburton (Preface, p. 7) said that he intended to write Pope's Life. Not much has been lost by his neglect. In the note in which he gives his account of Pope's education he writes:'Though much more would be too trifling to enter into a just volume of his life, it may do no dishonour to one of these cursory notes.'
of books. He first learned to write by imitating printed books; a species 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 Hampshire under Taverner, a Romish priest, who, by a method very rarely practised, taught him the Greek and Latin rudiments together 2. He was now first regularly initiated in poetry by the perusal of Ogylby's Homer, and Sandys's Ovid: Ogylby's assistance he never repaid with any praise3; but of Sandys he declared, in his notes to the Iliad, that English poetry owed much of its present beauty to his translations. Sandys very rarely attempted original composition.
From the care of Taverner, under whom his proficiency was considerable, he was removed to a school at Twyford near Winchester, and again to another school about Hyde-park Corner; from which he used sometimes to stroll to the playhouse, and was so delighted with theatrical exhibitions that he formed a kind of play from Ogylby's Iliad, with some verses of his own intermixed, which he persuaded his schoolfellows to act, with the addition of his master's gardener, who personated Ajax 6.
and Warburton are the authorities for Taverner. For a most improbable tradition that Pope was once at Abingdon School see Macleane's Pembroke College, p. 200.
3 'He spoke of the pleasure Ogilby's Homer then gave him with a sort of rapture, only in reflecting on it. “ I was then about eight years old."' Spence's Anec. p. 276. See also Birch, ii. 55; Warburton, iv. 18. He twice mentions Ogilby in The Dunciad, i. 141, 328. See also ante, DRYDEN, 307; post, POPE, 85.
The English versification owes
much of its improvement to his translations.' The Iliad, xxii. 196 n.
'Sandys's Ovid,' he said, 'I liked extremely. Spence's Anec. p. 276. For the influence Sandys had on his versification see Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), v. 18-20. 'Dryden called Sandys the best versifier of the last age.' Ante, DRYDEN, 223. See also DRYDEN, 107. In his epitaph he is 'poetarum Anglorum sui saeculi facile princeps.' Athenae Oxon. iii. 100. As he was born in 1577 and died in 1644 he had Shakespeare and Milton for inferiors.
5 Dr. Warton, Head Master of Winchester College, says that 'this used frequently to be mentioned by the scholars of the College in their youthful compositions.' Warton's Pope's Works, Preface, p. 2.
For a third school, which Pope was said to have attended in Devonshire Street, see Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vi. 440.
Warburton, iv. 18. Warburton
At the two last schools he used to represent himself as having 7 lost part of what Taverner had taught him, and on his master at Twyford he had already exercised his poetry in a lampoon 2. Yet under those masters he translated more than a fourth part of the Metamorphoses3. If he kept the same proportion in his other exercises it cannot be thought that his loss was great.
He tells of himself in his poems that 'he lisp'd in numbers,' 8 and used to say that he could not remember the time when he began to make verses. In the style of fiction it might have been said of him as of Pindar, that when he lay in his cradle, 'the bees swarmed about his mouth.'
About the time of the Revolution his father, who was un- 9 doubtedly disappointed by the sudden blast of popish prosperity, quitted his trade, and retired to Binfield in Windsor Forest, with about twenty thousand pounds, for which, being conscientiously determined not to entrust it to the government, he found no better use than that of locking it up in a chest, and taking from it what his expences required; and his life was long enough to consume a great part of it, before his son inheritance 6.
adds that 'he contrived to have all the actors dressed after the pictures in his favourite Ogilby?
1 Warburton, iv. 205. See also Spence's Anec. p. 192.
2 His sister said that he was whipped and ill-used at Twyford for his satire, and taken thence on that account.' Spence's Anec. p. 206.
3 In the scattered lessons I used to set myself I translated above a quarter of the Metamorphoses. Ib. P. 278.
'As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame,
I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came.' Prol. Sat. 1. 127. 'Sponte sua carmen numeros venie
bat ad aptos,
Et quod tentabam dicere versus erat.' OVID, Tristia, iv. 10. 25. 'If now and then I curse, my curses chime,
Nor can I pray unless I pray in rhyme.'
CHURCHILL, Poems, 1766, ii. 325. 5 Warburton, iv. 18; Spence's Anec. p. 276.
came to the
Birch puts the fortune of Pope's father at between 15 and 20,000l. Being incapable as a Roman Catholic of purchasing, or putting his money to interest on real security, and his attachment to the abdicated King and his family restraining him from lending it to the new Government, he kept it in his chest and lived upon the principal, till it was near spent when his son came to the succession.' T. Birch, Heads, &c., 1747, ii. 55. See also Warburton, iv. 208; post, POPE, 71, 121.
He must have bought land before the disabling Act of 11 & 12 Will. III, c. 4 was passed, as he owned a freehold at Binfield. Post, POPE, 117.
Martha Blount (post, POPE, 243) told Spence that he was worth £10,000 at the Revolution. The son, she added, had about £3,000 or £4,000 from his father, as I have heard him say.' Spence's Anec. p. 357.
The Papists paid a double landtax. Pope writes of his father:'For right hereditary taxed and fined,
To Binfield Pope was called by his father when he was about twelve years old; and there he had for a few months the assistance of one Deane, another priest, of whom he learned only to construe a little of Tully's Offices. How Mr. Deane could spend, with a boy who had translated so much of Ovid, some months over a small part of Tully's Offices, it is now vain to enquire.
11 Of a youth so successfully employed, and so conspicuously improved, a minute account must be naturally desired; but curiosity must be contented with confused, imperfect, and sometimes improbable intelligence. Pope, finding little advantage from external help, resolved thenceforward to direct himself, and at twelve formed a plan of study which he completed with little other incitement than the desire of excellence 2.
12 His primary and principal purpose was to be a poet, with which his father accidentally concurred, by proposing subjects, and obliging him to correct his performances by many revisals; after which the old gentleman, when he was satisfied, would say, 'these are good rhymes 3.
He stuck to poverty with peace of
And me the Muses helped to under-
Convict a Papist he, and I a Poet.'
Imit. Hor., Epis. ii. 2. 64. Jeremy Bentham's father, a Protestant Jacobite, from his aversion to the reigning family and doubts of the stability of the funds, hoarded his money. 'When Jeremy was a boy, twenty or thirty guineas fell out of a place' where he kept his toys. Bentham's Works, x. 2. See post, POPE, 131 n.
1 Birch (ii. 55) and Warburton (iv. 205) mention his being under a priest in the Forest, and so does Spence (Anec. p. 193). Deane, according to Spence (ib. p. 259), kept a seminary,' first at Marylebone, and next at Hyde Park Corner. When,' said Pope, 'I came from the last of these little schools, all the acquisition I had made was to be able to construe a little of Tully's Offices. Ib. p. 270.
Deane had been a Roman Catholic Fellow of University College, Oxford,
who, at the Revolution, withdrew himself privately before break of day' from Oxford. WOOD, Fasti Oxon. ii. 348.
2 I did not follow the grammar, but rather hunted in the authors for a syntax of my own; and then began translating any parts that pleased me particularly in the Greek and Latin poets; and by that means formed my taste, which, I think verily, about sixteen was very near as good as it is now. . . . I continued in this close pursuit of pleasure and languages till nineteen or twenty.... These five or six years I still look upon as the happiest part of my life.' Spence's Anec. pp. 193, 259, 270.
3 When Mr. Pope was yet a child his father, though no poet, would set him to make English verses. He was pretty difficult to please, and would often send the boy back to new turn them. When they were to his mind he took great pleasure in them, and would say, These are good rhymes."' Warburton, iv. 19. See also Spence's Anec. p. 8, who adds