Alexander Pope

Born:  21 May 1688, London, England.

Age: Augusten Age (1700 – 1745) was dominated by the Pope through his satire and poetry. This era, spanning from the late 17th to the mid-18th century, was marked by its association with the reigns of Queen Anne, King George I, and George II in Britain. It was marked by significant literary achievements across various genres, reflecting the social, political, and cultural changes of the time. The Augustan era is generally known by other names including the Age of Neoclassicism and the Age of Reason.

Pope initially learned to read from his aunt and later attended Twyford School around 1698. He also went to two Roman Catholic schools in London. His formal education ended there, and he continued learning by himself. He delved into the works of classical writers like Horace, Juvenal, Homer, and Virgil, alongside English authors such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dryden. Pope extensively studied various languages, exploring the writings of French, Italian, Latin, and Greek poets. After about five years of self-study, he connected with notable figures in London’s literary circles, including William Congreve, Samuel Garth, and William Trumbull.

From the age of 12 onward, he faced a series of health issues, including Pott disease, a type of tuberculosis impacting the spine. This illness caused deformities in his body and hindered his growth. His height only reached 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 meters). Being a Catholic already distanced him from society, and his deteriorating health further isolated him from others.

The Scriblerus Club was an 18th-century literary group formed by several prominent writers, including Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, and Thomas Parnell. This club was essentially a gathering of satirists and wits who shared a common interest in mocking literary pretensions and social follies of the time. The group was founded in 1714 and lasted until the death of the founders, finally ending in 1745. They collaborated on various satirical works, aiming to ridicule and satirize different aspects of society, politics, and literature. The group’s name, “Scriblerus,” was derived from the Latin word “scriblerus,” meaning a writer of crude or worthless things, reflecting their humorous and satirical intent.

Pope’s Famous Poetical works:

  • Pastorals were among his earliest published poetic works, appearing in print in the sixth part of Jacob Tonson’s Poetical Miscellanies on May 2, 1709. However, Pope had actually composed these Pastorals earlier, in 1704, when he was just sixteen years old.
  • An Essay on Criticism stands as one of the initial significant poems penned by the English writer Alexander Pope (1688–1744), published in 1711. This piece includes well-known quotes like “To err is human; to forgive, divine,” “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Written in heroic couplets, which are pairs of rhyming lines in iambic pentameter, this essay adopts the Horatian mode of satire. It primarily delves into the behavior of writers and critics within the evolving literary landscape of Pope’s contemporary era.
  • The Rape of the Lock stands as a mock-heroic narrative poem initially published anonymously in 1712 as a two-canto piece in Lintot’s Miscellaneous Poems and Translations, it later emerged in a revised edition attributed to Mr. Pope in 1714, extending to five cantos and accompanied by six engravings. The final version, in 1717, included Clarissa’s speech on good humor. This work became widely translated and significantly contributed to the rise of mock-heroic literature across Europe. Pope’s poem satirizes a trivial incident by likening it to the grandiose world of epic gods. The inspiration for the narrative came from a happening recounted to Pope by his friend John Caryll. The incident involved Arabella Fermor and her suitor, Lord Petre, both from aristocratic recusant Catholic families. This event occurred during a period in England when non-Anglican denominations faced legal restrictions and penalties under laws like the Test Act.
  • Windsor-Forest is a narrative poem in heroic couplets, published in 1713. This work celebrates the beauty of Windsor Forest, portraying it through vivid descriptions and imagery while highlighting the magnificence of nature and the landscape. Alexander Pope, showcasing his skill in employing the heroic couplet form to capture the essence of the forest scenery.
  • The Dunciad, a significant mock-heroic narrative poem was published in three distinct versions at different times between 1728 and 1743. This poem glorifies the goddess Dulness and her chosen agents as they propagate decay, feebleness, and lack of refinement in the Kingdom of Great Britain. The first version, known as the “three-book” Dunciad, was released anonymously in 1728. Following this, the Dunciad Variorum, another anonymous edition, was published in 1729. The New Dunciad, introducing a new fourth book as a continuation of the prior three, emerged in 1742. Eventually, The Dunciad in Four Books materialized as a revised version of the original three books.
  • An Essay on Man released between 1733 and 1734, was dedicated to Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke. This poem delves into the natural order set by God for humankind. It argues that since humans cannot comprehend God’s intentions, they shouldn’t lament their place in the grand scheme of existence but rather embrace the notion that “Whatever is, is right.” This theme was famously ridiculed by Voltaire in his work “Candide” (1759). Above any other piece, “An Essay on Man” popularized optimistic philosophy across England and throughout Europe during that time.

Pope’s Translations and Editions:

  • 1715–1720: Translation of the Iliad.
  • 1723–1725: The Works of Shakespeare, in Six Volumes.
  • 1725–1726: Translation of the Odyssey.

Alexander Pope was closely associated with Joseph Addison, a prominent literary figure of the time. Pope contributed to Addison’s plays “Cato”, “The Guardian”, and “The Spectator”, showcasing his literary talent and engaging in the intellectual circles of that era. Pope’s involvement in these endeavors further solidified his position within the literary and cultural milieu of 18th-century England.

Samuel Johnson, a famous literary critic wrote in “The Life of Pope,” “If Pope be not a poet, where is poetry to be found?” many felt the same, believing that none could equal Pope in his mastery of the heroic couplet.