« AnteriorContinuar »
BY DR. JOHNSON.
ALEXANDER POPE was born in London', May 22, 1688, of parents whose rank or station was never ascertained : we are informed, that they were of “gentle blood;" that his father was of a family of which the earl of Downe was the head; and that his mother was the daughter of William Turner, esquire, of York, who had likewise three sons, one of whom had the houour of being killed, and the other of dying, in the service of Charles the First; the third was made a general officer in Spain, from whom the sister inherited what sequestrations and forfeitures had left in the family.
This, and this only, is told by Pope: who is more willing, as I have heard observed, to show what his father was not, than what he was. It is allowed, that be grew rich by trade; but whether in a shop or on the Exchange was never discovered till Mr. Tyers told, on the authority of Mrs. Racket, that he was a linendraper in the Strand. Both parents were papists.
Pope was from his birth of a constitution tender and delicate; but is said to have shown remarkable gentleness and sweetness of disposition. The weakness of his body continued through his life; but the mildness of his mind perhaps ended with his childhood. His voice, when he was young, was so pleasing, that he was called in fondness “the little Nightingale."
Being not sent early to school, he was taught to read by an aunt; and when he was seven or eight years old, became a lover of books.
He first learned to write by imitating printed books ; a species of penmanship in which he retained great excellence through his whole life, though his ordinary hand was not elegant.
When he was about eight he was placed in Hampshire, under Taverner,
* In Lombard-street, according to Dr. Warton. C. * This weakness was so great, that he constantly wore stays, as I have been assured by a waterman at Twickenbam, who, in lifting him into his boat, bad often felt them. His method of taking the ar on the water was to have a sedan chair in the boat, in which he sat with the glasses down. H.
In the style
a Romish priest, who, by a method very rarely practised, taught him the Greek and Latin rudiments together. He was now first regularly initiated in poetry by the perusal of Ogilby's Homer, and Sandys's Ovid. Ogilby's assistance he never repaid with any praise : but of Sandys, he declared, in his notes to the Iliad, that English poetry owed much of its beauty to his translations. Sandys very rarely attempted original composition.
From the care of Taverner, under whom his proficiency was considerable, he was removed to a school at Twyford, near Winchester, and again to another school about Hyde-park Corner; from which he ised sometimes to stroll to the playhouse; and was so delighted with theatrical exhibitions, that he formed a kind of play from Ogilby's Iliad, with some verses of his own intermixed, which he persuaded his school-fellows to act, with the addition of his master's gardener, who personated Ajax.
At the two last schools he used to represent himself as having lost part of what Taverner had taught him; and on his master at Twyford he had already exercised his poetry in a lampoon. Yet under those masters he translated more than a fourth part of the Metamorphoses. If he kept the same proportion in his other exercises, it cannot be thought that his loss was great.
He tells of himself, in his poems, that "he lisp'd in numbers ;” and used to say, that lie could not remember the time when he began to make verses. of fiction it might have been said of him as of Pindar, that, when he lay in his cradle, “ the bees swarmed about his mouth."
About the time of the Revolution, his father, who was undoubtedly disappointed by the suoden blast of Popish prosperity, quitted his trade, and retired to Binfield in Windsor Forest, with about twenty thousand pounds : for which, being conscientiously determined not to intrust it to the government, he found no better use than that of locking it up in a chest, and taking from it what his expenses required; and his life was long enough to consume a great part of it, before his son came to the inheritance.
• To Binfield Pope was called by his father when he was about twelve years old; and there he had for a few months the assistance of one Deane, another priest, of whom he learned only to construe a little of Tully's Offices. How Mr. Deane could spend, with a boy who had translated so niuch of Ovid, some months over a small part of Tully's Offices, it is now vain to inquire.
Of a youth so successfully employed, and so conspicuously improved, a minute account must be naturally desired; but curiosity must be contented with confused, imperfect, and sometimes improbable intelligence. Pope, finding little advantage from external help, resolved thence forward to direct himself, and at twelve formed a plan of study, which he completed with little other incitement than the desire of excellence.
His primary and principal purpose was to be a poet, with which his father accidentally concurred, by proposing subjects, and obliging him to correct his performances by many revisals; after which the old gentleman, when he was satisfied,
“these are good rhymes.” In his perusal of the English poets he soon distinguished the versification of Dryden, which he considered as the model to be studied, and was impressed with