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THE father of this elegant poet was a respectable merchant of the city of London, who retired from business at the revolution, with a fortune of twenty thousand pounds honourably acquired, but which he greatly diminished, by refusing to lay it out for improvement upon government security. He encouraged his son's propensity to poetry, by setting him, when a child, to make verses. It seems he was hard to please, and would oblige the lad to correct them over and over: and when, at last, they were such as he approved, he would say “these are good rhymes."
Among the favourite books of young Pope, were May's Lucan, and Sandys' Ovid: he also read other old writers of the minor class; and his works evince many direct imitations of them. At last the poems of Dryden fell in his way, and then he renounced all the other poets, having found an author whose taste was congenial with his own. At the age of twelve he was introduced to the veteran bard, at Will's coffee house, and Dryden gave him a shilling for translating the story of Pyramus and Thisbe.
While at school he formed a kind of play from Ogilby's Homer connected by verses of his own. This piece, which must bave been a curiosity, was performed by his schoolfellows, the master's gardener representing Ajax.
His pastorals, written at the age of sixteen, procured him the friendship of Walsh, who, in Dryden's estimation was the best critick of his time, and yet his own works are deservedly sunk into contempt. At the age of eighteen, Mr. Pope enrolled among his friends and correspondents, the greatest writers of the day; and Wycherly had so high an opinion of his genius, that he submitted his poems to his judgment for correction. Pope executed the task with strict impartiality, and made so many emendations, that Wycherly was offended, and, like the Archbishop of Gre- . nada, broke off all connection with his youthful critick, as a person envious of his reputation, or void of taste.
The Essay on Criticism, which was written when our author was no more than twenty years, of age, is a wonderful composition, and excited · universal admiration and astonishment. The applause which this poem procured him was, however, exceeded by that which followed the publication of the “ Rape of the Lock.” Of these performances, the author of Pope's life in the Biographia Britannica, observes that,'" the Essay excelled in the didactic way, for which he was peculiarly formed ; a clear head and strong sense were his characteristical qualities ; his chief force lay in the understanding, rather than in the imagina
tion. But it is the creative power of the last that constitutes the proper characteristick of poetry, and therefore it is in the Rape of the Lock, that Pope principally, appears as a poet ; since in this perfor.nance he has displayed more imagination than in all., his, other, works put together. The poem took its birth from an incidental quarrel that happened between two noble families, that of Lord Petre and Mrs. Fermer, both of our author's acquaintance, and of the same religion.
His lordship, in a party of pleasure, carried it so far as to cut off a favourite lock of the lady's hair. This though done in the way of gallantry, was seriously resented, as being indeed a real ine jury. Hence there presently grew mutual animosities, which being seen, with concern, by a com: mon friend to all ; that friend requested Pope to try the power of his muse on the occasion, intimating that a proper piece of ridicule was the likeliest means to extinguish the rising flame. Pope readily complied with the friendly proposal; and the juncture requiring dispatch, his first de sign was compleated in less than a fortnight, which being sent to the lady, had more than the proposed effect. Pleased to the highest degree with the delicacy of the compliment paid to her, she first communicated copies of it to her acquaintance, and then prevailed with our author to print it : as he did, though not without the caution of concealing his name to so hasty a sketch. But the universal applause which the sketch met with,
put put him upon enriching it with the machinery of the Sylphs, and in that new dress, two cantos, extended to five, came out the following year, 1712, ushered by a letter to Mrs. Fermor.” When Pope formed the scheme of enriching this poem from the Roscicrusian systein, he mentioned it to Addison, who told him that his work was already“ a delicious little thing," and discouraged him from making any additions to it. This circumstance has been very unjustly charged against Addison, by some writers, as an instance of his jealousy. But he has been well defended by Johnson, who observes that “as Addi: 211 could not guess the conduct of the new design, or the possibilities of pleasure comprised in a fice , tion of which there had been no examples, he might very reasonably and kindly persuade the author to acquiesce in his own prosperity, and forbear an attempt which he considered as an unnecessary hazard. Addison's counsel was happily rejected. Pope foresaw the future efflorescence of imagery, then budding in his mind, and resolved to spare no art or industry of cultivation. The soft luxuriance of his fancy was already shooting, and all the gay varieties of dic. tion were ready at his hand to colour and embellish it.” • In 1713, he issued proposals for his translation of the Iliad, the subsribers to which were five hundred and seventy-five, and the copies subcribed for were six hundred and fifty-four. He
therefore, according to Dr. Johnson, gained by that work, “ five thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds four shillings.” But, as Mr. MaJone says, he probably gained more ; for the Princess of Wales, the Earl of Oxford, and many other of his great friends, who appear in the list only as subscribers for single copies, made him very liberal presents.
But though this publication procured him wealth and patrons it lost him a friend; for from this time a coldness began between him and Addison, of which much has been said by Pope's biographers and panegyrists, with the intention of depreciating Addison's character. Nothing, however, has been proved but this, that Tickell, the friend of the latter, published a version of the first book of the Iliad, which Addison pro. nounced to be better than Pope's. This was a heinous offence to the little bard, who was by no means wanting in conceit; impartial posterity, however, have judged with Addison, that Pope's translation, though a beautiful poem, is not Homer. Addison was a liberal friend to Pope, even in this instance, and not only promoted the subscription to the Iliad with great zeal, but gave our author his advice in the progress of his undertaking. After his death, Pope satirized his character, in an epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, printed in 1733, an instance of implacable and deep rooted resentment which nothing can excuse. Pope being now become a man of independ.