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MEMOIR OF POPE
BY THE REV. ALEXANDER DYCE.
"L'Art quelquefois frivole, et quelquefois divin,
ALEXANDER POPE was born in Lombard Street, London, on the 21st, or, according to some authorities, on the 22d of May, 1688. His father, who having been placed in youth with a merchant at Lisbon, had become a convert to the Roman Catholic faith, was an eminent linen-draper: the paternal grandfather of the poet was a clergyman of the Church of England, settled in Hampshire. His mother, who had been formerly married to a Mr. Rackett,2 was the daughter of William Turner, Esq. of York.3
An only child of very delicate and sickly frame,
1 In this Memoir, I have attempted little more than to throw together, within certain limits, all the most important particulars which are to be found concerning Pope in the writings of Ayre, Ruff head, Spence, Johnson, Warton, Bowles, Roscoe, and others. To the Life of our author by Mr. Roscoe I am particularly indebted.
2 [This is a mistake. Pope had a half-sister Magdalen, born of a previous marriage of his father, and she became the wife of Mr. Charles Rackett.]
3 In the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, Pope says that his parents
Pope naturally was the object of his parents' fondest affection and most anxious care; for which, in after life, his filial attentions made an ample return. During his early years he was remarkable for the engaging mildness of his temper; and, on account of the melody of his voice, he used to be called by his family the little nightingale. When about three years old, he narrowly escaped being killed by a cow, that was driven past the place where he happened to be at play. "He was then filling a little cart with stones. The cow struck at him; carried off his hat and feather with her horns, and flung him down on the heap of stones he had been playing were of good family, an assertion which has been controverted by some of his biographers:
"Of gentle blood (part shed in honour's cause,
Each parent sprung."
To these lines he appended the following note. "Mr. Pope's father was of a gentleman's family in Oxfordshire, the head of which was the Earl of Downe, whose sole heiress married the Earl of Lindsay. His mother was the daughter of William Turner, Esq. of York. She had three brothers: one of whom was killed; another died in the service of King Charles; the eldest, following his fortunes, and becoming a general officer in Spain, left her what estate remained, after the sequestrations and forfeitures of her family."
"As to my father," Pope tells Lord Hervey, "I could assure you, my Lord, that he was no mechanic, neither a hatter, nor, which might please your lordship yet better, a cobbler, but, in truth, of a very tolerable family; and my mother of an ancient one, as well born and educated as that lady whom your lordship made choice of to be the mother of your own children."-Letter to a Noble Lord.
with. In the fall he cut himself against one of them, in his neck, near the throat." 1
From an aunt he received his first lessons in reading, and very soon became an ardent lover of books; by copying the printed characters of which, he taught himself to write.
At the age of eight, he was placed under the care of the family priest, named Banister, who, according to a custom in the schools of the Jesuits, instructed him in the rudiments of Greek and Latin together. "If it had not been for that," said Pope to Spence, "I should never have got any language: for I never learned any thing at the little schools I was at afterwards, and never should have followed any thing that I could not follow with pleasure.' "3 After some time, he was removed to a celebrated Catholic seminary at Twyford, on the banks of the Itchin, near Winchester; and, while there, the perusal of Ogilby's Homer and of Sandys's Ovid filled him with delight. His stay at Twyford was, however, but short. Having had the boldness to write a lampoon on his master, the con
1 Spence's Anecdotes, ed. Singer, p. 267: see too page 5 of the same work, where it is said the animal "trampled over him."
2 With Mr. Roscoe, I give the name of Pope's first master from Spence's Anecdotes, ed. Singer, pp. 192, 259, 283: it is, however, right to state (which Mr. Roscoe has not done) that Spence in his first mention of him says, “I think his name was Banister." By Ruff head and others he is called Taverner.
8 Spence's Anecdotes, ed. Singer, p. 283.
sequence of which was corporal chastisement, the youthful satirist was sent to another school, kept by a Mr. Deane, first at Mary-le-bone, and afterwards at Hyde Park Corner. He had now an occasional opportunity of attending the theatres;1 and so much was he fascinated by the performances of the stage, that he composed a drama founded on certain events in the Iliad, made up of speeches from Ogilby's translation, strung together with verses of his own. It was played by the upper boys of the school, with the assistance of the master's gardener, who acted Ajax: their costume was taken from the prints in Ogilby.
So great had been his father's success in trade, that having acquired the sum of nearly twenty thousand pounds,2 he had retired from business, first to Kensington, and next to Binfield in Windsor Forest. At the latter place he had purchased about twenty acres of land, and a small house with a row of elms before the windows. His fortune, however, gradually suffered a very considerable diminution; for he was subjected to
1 Ruff head says: "While he was at school near Hyde Park Corner, the attention paid to his conduct was so remiss, that he was suffered to frequent the playhouse in company with the greater boys."-Life of Pope, p. 13.
2 So Pope's biographers state; but perhaps Martha Blount's account of the old gentleman's circumstances is nearer the truth: "He was a merchant that dealt in hollands; and left off business when King William came in: he was then worth ten thousand pounds, but did not leave so much to his son."-Spence's Anecdotes, ed. Singer, p. 357.
8 Some of them were yet standing in 1806: see Bowles's Life of Pope, p. xx.
the restrictions imposed on Roman Catholics; and, deeming it a point of conscience not to lend his money to the new government, he lived upon the principal. Our poet, soon after he had reached his twelfth year, was taken to reside with his parents at Binfield. There he was put under the tuition of another priest; but, at the end of a few months, he formed the resolution of educating himself. He accordingly pursued his own plan of study with the most unremitting perseverance. "My next period," he tells Spence, was in Windsor Forest, where I sat down with an earnest desire of reading; and applied as constantly as I possibly could to it for some years. I was between twelve and thirteen when I first went thither, and continued in this close pursuit of pleasure and languages till nineteen or twenty. Considering how very little I had when I came from school, I think I may be said to have taught myself Latin, as well as French or Greek; and in all three my chief way of getting them was by translation." Again, "I went through all the best critics; almost all the English, French, and Latin poets, of any name; the minor poets, Homer, and some of the greater Greek poets in the original; and Tasso and Ariosto in translations." 2
Among the English poets, Spenser, Waller, and Dryden, were his favourites. None of them, however, excited so much of his admiration as the last mentioned writer, whose genius was akin 1 Spence's Anecdotes, ed. Singer, p. 270.
2 lbid. 279.