Alexander Pope

Birth and Early Life

Alexander Pope, an 18th century English poet and satirist, was born on 21 May 1688 in a Roman Catholic family to Alexander Pope Senior, a linen merchant of Plough Court, and Edith.

Pope’s education was vastly affected by a series of English penal laws. These laws pressed various civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and nonconformists. These acts strengthened the status of the orthodox church of England. It banned Catholics from engaging in any educational, governmental or other activities.

Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope

Early Life of Alexander Pope

Pope was taught to read by his aunt, Christiana, the wife of the famous miniature painter Samuel Cooper. He went to Twyford School in 1698. He then went on to study in two Roman Catholics schools.

In 1700, a 12-year-old Pope moved with his family to an estate at Popeswood in Binfield, Berkshire. The strong anti-Catholic sentiment and a statute prevented Papists from living in or near London or Westminster.

His formal education was completed by this time. He read the works of famous classical writers such as Horace, Juvenal, Homer and Virgil. Pope even read the English authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Dryden. He, as a linguist, read works by many English, French, Latin, Italian and Greek poets.

As a child, Pope suffered numerous health problems. He got Pott’s disease which deformed his body and stunted his growth. It left him a hunchback. This disease further caused respiratory difficulties, high fevers, inflamed eyes and abdominal pain.

One of his friends was John Caryll, the future dedicatee of ‘The Rape of the Lock’. He  introduced Pope to the playwright William Wycherley and the poet William Walsh. They helped Pope revise his first major work, The Pastorals.

Career

Around 1705, five years later, Pope came in contact with many famous writers and poets from the London literary society such as William Wycherley, William Congreve, Samuel Garth and many more. In 1709, Pope published his work, The Pastorals, in Tonson’s Poetical Miscellanies.

Again, in May 1711 he published An Essay on Criticism, which, too, was well received. The poem answered the question of whether poetry should be natural or written according to the rules inherited from the classical past.

Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope
Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope

He made friends with Jonathan Swift, Thomas Parnell and John Arbuthnot, the Tory writer. Together they formed the satirical ‘Scriblerus Club’. The club was to satirised ignorance and pedantry with the aid of the fictional scholar Martinus Scriblerus.

The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope
The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

In 1712, Pope published another of his famous poems, a mock-epic, The Rape of the Lock. It mocks the beau-monde of the 18th century England.

In March 1713, Pope published Windsor Forest. He described the countryside around his house in Binfield, Berkshire which was close to the Royal Windsor Forest. It, too, published to great acclaim.

He became friends with Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, the Whig writers. His friendship with Joseph Addison led to the contribution of Pope in his play, Cato. He even made significant contributions in the writing of The Guardian and The Spectator. He started translating the Iliad the publication for which began in 1715 and ended in 1720.

Mawson Arms, Chiswick, Pope's Home
Mawson Arms, Chiswick, Pope’s Home

Between 1716 and 1719 Pope lived in his parent’s house in Mawson Row, Chiswick. It is now the Mawson Arms, commemorating him with a blue plaque. In 1719 he moved to a villa at Twickenham. It was there where he created his now famous grotto and gardens.

Pope published another one of his famous poems, An Essay on Man, written in heroic couplets between 1732 and 1734. He intended to make it into a larger work, however, he did not live to complete it.

Later Life

Between 1733 and 1738, he wrote The Imitations of Horace. The model of Horace to satirized life under George II. As an introduction to the “Imitations”, he added an original poem, An Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot and reflected his own literary career. It included the famous portraits of Lord Hervey, Sporus, and Addison, Atticus.

After 1738, Pope started to write less. In the later years, he revised and expanded his masterpiece The Dunciad.
His health began to deteriorate gradually.

On 29 May 1744, Pope had called for a priest for the Last Rites of the Roman Catholic Church. The next day, on 30 May 1744, the morning of his death, when his physician told him that his health was up, Pope replied, “Here am I, dying of a hundred good symptoms”. He died at 11 in the night. He lies in the nave of St Mary’s Church, Twickenham.

 

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