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By Dryden's fables, which had then been not long pub. lished, and were much in the hands of poetical readers, he was tempted to try his own skill in giving Chaucer a more fashionable appearance, and put “ January and May," and the “ Prologue of the Wife of Bath," into modern English. He translated likewise the epistle of “ Sappho to Phaon," from Ovid, to complete the version which was before imperfect; and wrote some other small pieces, which he after. ward printed.
From the age of sixteen the life of Pope, as an author, may be properly computed. He now wrote his Pastorals, which were shewn to the poets and critics of that time; as they well deserved, they were read with admiration, and many praises were bestowed upon them and upon the Preface, which is both elegant and learned in a high degree; they were, however, not published till five years afterward.
In 1709 was written the “ Essay on Criticism;" a work which displays such extent of comprehension, such nicety of distinction, such acquaintance with mankind, and such knowledge both of ancient and modern learning, as are not often attained by the maturest age and longest experience, It was published about two years afterward.
In “The Spectator" was published the Messiah, which he first sụbmitted to the perusal of Steele, and corrected in com. pliance with his criticisms.
It is reasonable to infer, from his Letters, that the “ Verses on the Unfortunate Lady" were written about the time when þis Essay was published.
Not long after, he wrote“ The Rape of the Lock," the most airy, the most ingenious, and the most delightful of all his compositions, occasioned by a frolic of gallantry, rather too familiar, in which Lord Petre cut off a lock of Mrs. Arabella Fermor's hair. About this time he pub. lished “ The Temple of Fame," which, as he tells Steele in their correspondence, he had written two years before; that is, when he was only twenty-two years old, an early time of life for so much learning and so much observation as that work exhibits. Of the epistle from “ Eloisa to Abelard,” we do not know the date.
In the next year (1713) he published “Windsor Forest ;" of which part was, as he relates, written at sixteen, about the same time as his Pastorals, and the latter part was added afterward: where the addition begins, we are not told. He soon produced a bolder attempt, by which profit was sought as well as praise. He resolved to try how far the favour of the public extended, by soliciting a subseription to a version of the “ Iliad,” with large notes.
Parnell contributed the life of Homer, which Pope found so harsh, that he took great pains in correcting it ; and by his own diligence, with such help as kindness or money could procure him, in somewhat more than five years he completed his version of the “ Iliad,” with the notes. He began it in 1712, his twenty-fifth year, and concluded it in 1718, his thirtieth year.
Being, by the subscription, enabled to live more by choice, and having persuaded his father to sell their estate at Binfield, he purchased that house at Twickenham, to which his residence afterward procured so much celebration, and removed thither with his father and mother.
Soon after the appearance of the “Iliad," resolving not to let the general kindness cool, he published proposals for a translation of the “ Odyssey," in five volumes, for five guineas. He was willing, however, now to have associates in his labour, being either weary with toiling upon another's thoughts, or having heard, as Ruffhead relates, that Fenton and Broome had already begun the work, and liking better to have them confederates than rivals.
Of the “Odyssey" Pope translated only twelve books; the rest were the work of Broome and Fenton; the notes were written wholly by Broome, who was not over-liberally rewarded. The public was carefully kept ignorant of the several shares ; and an account was subjoined at the conclusion which is now known not to be true.
He soon afterward (1727) joined with Swift, who was then in England, to publish three volumes of Miscellanies, in which among other things he inserted the “ Memoirs of a Parish Clerk,” in ridicule of Burnet's importance in his own History, and a “Debate upon Black and White Horses," written in all the formalities of a legal process, by the assistance, as is said, of Mr. Fortescue, afterward Master of the Rolls.
In these Miscellanies was first published the “ Art of Siuking in Poetry," which, by such a train of consequences as usually passes in literary quarrels, gave in a short time, according to Pope's account, occasion to the “ Dunciad.”
In the following year (1728) he began to put Atterbury's
ad vice in practice ; and shewed his satirical powers by publishing the “Dunciad," one of his greatest and most ela. borate performances, in which he endeavoured to sink into contempt all the writers by whom he had been attacked, and some others whom he thought unable to defend themselves.
After this general war upon dulness, he seems to have indulged himself awhile in tranquillity ; but his subsequent productions prove that he was not idle. He published (1731) a poem on “ Taste," in which he very particularly and severely criticises the house, the furniture, the gardens, and the entertainments of Timon, a man of great wealth and little taste. By Timon he was universally supposed, and by the Earl of Burlington, to whom the poem is addressed, was privately said, to mean the Duke of Chandos.
He published in 1733 the first part of what he persuaded himself to think a system of ethics, under the title of “ An Essay on Man;" which, if his letter to Swift (of Sept. 14, 1725) be rightly explained by the commentator, had been eight years under his consideration, and of which he seems to have desired the success with great solicitude.
Besides the general system of morality, supposed to be contained in the “Essay on Man,” it was his intention to write distinct poems upon the different duties or conditions of life; one of which is the Epistle to Lord Bathurst (1733) “On the Use of Riches," a piece on which he declared great labour to have been bestowed. He afterward (1734) inscribed to Lord Cobham his “Characters of Men," written with close attention to the operations of the mind and madifications of life,
To the “ Characters of Men," he added soon after, in an epistle supposed to have been addressed to Martha Blount, but which the last edition has taken from her, the “Characters of Women.”
He published from time to time (between 1730 and 1740) imitations of different poems of Horace, generally with his name, and once, as was suspected, without it. His last sa tires of the general kind were two dialogues, named, from the year in which they were published, “Seventeen Hun. dred and Thirty-eight.” In these poems many are praised and many reproached.
In May, 1744, his death was approaching ; on the 6th, he was all day delirious, which he mentioned four days afterward as a sufficient humiliation of the vanity of man. In the morning after the priest had given him the last sacraments, he said, “There is nothing that is meritorious but virtue and friendship, and indeed friendship itself is only a part of virtue.”
He died in the evening of the 30th day of May, 1744, 50 placidly, that the attendants did not discern the exact time of his expiration. He was buried at Twickenham, near his father and mother, where a monument has been erected to him by his commentator, the Bishop of Gloucester.
Of his intellectual character, the constituent and fundamental principle was good sense, a prompt and intuitive perception of consonance and propriety. He saw immediately, of his own conceptions, what was to be chosen, and what to be rejected ; and, in the works of others, what was to be shunned, and what was to be copied.