Alexander Pope 1688–1744
After a retired childhood in Windsor Forest, under the double disability of retarded growth from chronic ill-health and of Catholic parentage in an age of civil penalties, Pope showed precocious talent in his Pastorals (1709) and Essay on Criticism (1711); The Rape of the Lock (1714, enlarged version) placed him at the forefront of contemporary poetry, while he became associated with the wits and satirists of the Scriblerus Club (Gay, Swift, Arbuthnot). His translation of Homer’s Iliad (1715–20) established his financial security, permitting his long residence at Twickenham (then well outside London), where by the river he built up his famous garden and grotto, which show his interest in the visual arts. Despite his friendships with literary men, and with Martha Blount and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (see p. 256), his growing fame and his collaboration in the Scriblerian ridicule of bad writing increasingly involved him in literary warfare: Theobald criticised his edition of Shakespeare and was enthroned in The Dunciad (1728; revised in four books with C. Cibber as hero, 1743). Partly under the influence of the former politician Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, Pope produced An Essay on Man (1733–4); the four Moral Essays (1731–5) are epistles to friends on appropriate topics. Also in the 1730s, he cultivated Imitations of Horace, in which he fruitfully exploits the parallels between his situation and the Roman satirist’s, to criticise the decay of morality and literature, opposing the life of retired contemplation and friendship to the money-grubbing and corruption of business and public life: the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot stands as the prologue to these satires.
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