Alexander Pope: Life Career and Work

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       Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 - 30 May 1744) was an 18th century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. Famous for his use of the heroic couplet, he is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson.


Pope was born to Alexander Pope (1646-1717), a linen merchant of Plough Court, Lombard Street, London, and his wife Edith (née Turner) (1643-1733), who were both Catholics.
Alexander Pope


      It was in 1819 that a controversy arose over the question. Was Pope a poet? To have asked that in 1719 would have indicated that the questioner was ignorant; to have asked it a half century later might have raised a doubt as to his sanity, for by that time Pope was acclaimed as a master by the great majority of poets in England and America. We judge now, looking at him in perspective and comparing him with Chaucer or Burns, that he was not a great poet but simply the kind of poet that the age demanded. He belongs to eighteenth-century London exclusively, and herein he differs from the master poets who are at home in all places and expressive of all time.


      Pope is an interesting but not a lovable figure. Against the petty details of his life we should place, as a background, these amazing achievements: that this poor cripple, weak of body and spiteful of mind, was the supreme literary figure of his age; that he demonstrated how an English poet could Iive by his pen, instead of depending on patrons; that he won greater fame and fortune than Shakespeare or Milton received from their contemporaries; that he dominated the fashion of English poetry during his lifetime, and for many years a after his death.


      Such are the important facts of Pope's career. For the rest: he was born in London in the year of the Revolution (1688). Soon after that date his father, having gained a modest fortune in the linen business returned to Binfield, on the fringe of Windsor Forest.


      There Pope passed his boyhood, studying a little under private tutors, forming a pleasurable acquaintance with Latin and Greek poets. From fourteen to twenty, he tells us, he read for amusement; but from twenty to twenty-seven he read for "improvement and instruction. The most significant traits of these early years were his determination to be a poet and his talent for imitating any writer who pleased him. Dryden was his first master, from whom he inherited the couplet, then he imitated the French critic Boileau and the Roman poet Horace. By the time he was twenty four the publication of his Essay on Criticism and The Rape of the Lock had made him the foremost poet of England. By his translation of Homer he made a fortune, with which he bought a villa at Twickenham. There he lived in the pale sunshine of literary success, and there he quarreled with every writer who failed to appreciate his verses, his jealousy overflowing at last in The Dunciad (Iliad of Dunces), a witty but venomous lampoon, in which he took revenge on all who had angered him.


      Next to his desire for glory and revenge, Pope loved to be considered a man of high character, a teacher of moral philosophy. His ethical teaching appears in his Moral Epistles, his desire for a good reputation is written large in his Letters, which he secretly printed, and then alleged that they had been made public against his wish. These Letters might impress us as the utterances of a man of noble ideals, magnanimous with nis friends, patient with his enemies, until we reflect that they were published by the author for the purpose of giving precisely that impression.


      Another side of Pope's nature is revealed in this: that to some of his friends, to Swift and Bolingbroke for example, he owed gratitude, and that to his parents he was ever a dutiful son. He came perhaps as near as he could to a real rather than an artificial sentiment when he wrote of his old mother: Meletthetender office long engage, To rock the cradle of reposing age


LIFE :-

      Pope was born to Alexander Pope (1646-1717), a linen merchant of Plough Court, Lombard Street, London, and his wife Edith (née Turner) (1643-1733), who were both Catholics. Edith's sister Christiana was the wife of the famous miniature painter Samuel Cooper. Pope's education was affected by the recently enacted Test Acts, which upheld the status of theestablished Church of England and banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting, or holding public office on pain of perpetual imprisonment. Pope was taught to read by his aunt, and went to Twyford School in about 1698/99.


      He then went to two Catholic schools in London. Such schools, while illegal, were tolerated in some areas. In 1700, his family moved to a small estate at Popeswood in Binfield, Berkshire, close to the royal Windsor Forest. This was due to strong anti-Catholic sentiment and a statute preventing Catholics from living within 10 miles (16 km) of either London or Westminster.


      Pope would later describe the countryside around the house in his poem Windsor Forest. Pope's formal education ended at this time, and from then on he mostly educated himself by readirng the works of classical writers such as the satirists Horace and Juvenal, the epic poets Homer and Virgil, as well as English authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Dryden. He also studied many languages and read works by English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek poets. After five years of study, Pope came into contact with figures from the London literary society such as William Wycherley, William Congreve, Samuel Garth, William Trumbull, and William Walsh.


      At Binfield, he also began to make many important friends. One of them, John Cary II (the future dedicatee of The Rape the Lock), was twenty years older than the poet and had made many acquaintances in the London literary world. introduced the young Pope to the ageing playwright William Wycherley and to William Walsh, a minor poet, who helped Pope revise his first major work, The Pastorals. He also met the Blount sisters, Wycrise his first major work, The Pastorals. He also met Teresa and (his alleged future lover) Martha, both whom would remain lifelong friends. From the age of 12 he suffered numerous health problems, such as Pott's cease (a form of tuberculosis that affects the bone), which deformed his body and stunted his growth, leaving him with a severe hunchback. His tuberculosis infection caused other health problems including respiratory difficulties, high fevers, inflamed eyes, and abdominal pain.


      He grew to a height of only 1.37 m (4 ft 6 in) tall. Pope was already removed from society because he was Catholic; his poor health only alienated him further. Although he never married, he had many female friends to whom he wrote witty letters. Allegedly, his lifelong friend, Martha Blount, was his lover


EARLY CAREER :-

      In May, 1709, Pope's Pastorals was published in the sixth part of Tonson's Poetical Miscellanies. This brought Pope instant fame, and was followed by An Essay on Criticism, published in May 1711, which was equally well received. Around 1711, Pope made friends with Tory writers John Gay, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Parnell and John Arbuthnot, who together formed the satirical Scriblerus Club. The aim of the club was to satirise ignorance and pedantry in the form of the fictional scholar Martinus Scriblerus.


      He also made friends with Whig writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele. In March 1713, Windsor Forest was published to great acclaim. During Pope's friendship with Joseph Addison, he contributed to Addison's play Cato, as well as writing for The Guardian and The Spectator. Around this time he began the work of translating the Iliad, which was a painstaking process - publication began in 1715 and did not end until 1720. In 1714, the political situation worsened with the death of Queen Anne and the disputed succession between the Hanoverians and the Jacobites, leading to the attempted Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. Though Pope as a Catholic might have been expected to have supported the Jacobites becouse of his religious and political affiliations, according to Maynard Mack, "where Pope himself stood on these matters can probably never be confidently known". These events led to an immediate downturn in the fortunes of the Tories, and Pope's friend, Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, fled to France. Pope lived in his parents' house in Mawson Row, Chiswict between 1716 and 1719; the red brick building is now the Mawson Arms, commemorating him with a blue plaque.


      The money made from his translation of Homer allowed Pope to move to a villa at Twickenham in 1719, where he created his now famous grotto and gardens. Pope decorated the grotto with alabaster, marbles, and ores such as mundic and crystals.


      He also used Cornish diamonds, stalactites, spars, snakestones and spongestone. Here and there in the grotto he placed mirrors, expensive embellishments for the time. A camera obscura was installed to delight his visitors, of whom there were many.


      The serendipitous discovery of a spring during the subterranean retreat's excavations enabled it to be filled with the relaxing sound of trickling water, which would quietly echo around the chambers. Pope was said to have remarked that: "Were it to have nymphs as well - it would be complete in everything." Although the house and gardens have long since been demolished, much of this grotto still survives. The grotto now lies beneath Radnor House Independent Co-ed School, and is occasionally opened to the public.


LATER LIFE AND WORKS :-

      The Imitations of Horace followed (1733-1738). These were written in the popular Augustan form of the "imitation" of a classical poet, not so much a translation of his works as an updating with contemporary references.


      Pope used the model of Horace to satirise life under George II, especially what he regarded as the widespread corruption tainting the country under Walpole's influence and the poor quality of the court's artistic taste. Pope also added a wholly original poem, An Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot, as an introduction to the "Imitations". It reviews his own literary career and includes the famous portraits of Lord Hervey ("Sporus") and Addison ("Atticus"). In 1738 he wrote the Universal Prayer. After 1738, Pope wrote little. He toyed with the idea of Composing a patriotic epic in blank verse called Brutus, but only the opening lines survive. His major work in these years was revising and expanding his masterpiece The Dunciad. Book Four appeared in 1742, and a complete revision of the whole poem in the following year. In this version, Pope replaced the "hero", Lewis Theobald, with the poet laureate Colley Cibber as "king of dunces". By now Pope's health, which had never been good, was failing toward the end game.

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