From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble
Pope, Alexander (1688-1744), the son of a Roman Catholic linen draper of London. His health was ruined and his growth stunted by a severe illness at the age of 12 (probably Pott's disease, a tubercular affection of the spine). He lived with his parents at Binfield in Windsor Forest and was largely self-educated. He showed his precocious metrical skill in his 'Pastorals' written, according to himself, when he was 16, and published in *Tonson's miscellany (vol. vi) in 1709. (For Pope's quarrel with Ambrose Philips on this subject see under PHILIPs , A.). He became intimate with *Wycherley, who introduced him to London life. His *Essay on Criticism (1711) made him known to Addison's circle, and his *'Messiah' was published in the Spectator in 1712. *The Rape of the Lock appeared in Lintot's Miscellanies in the same year and was republished, enlarged, in 1714. His Ode for Music on St Cecilia's Day (1713), one of his rare attempts at lyric, shows that his gifts did not lie in this direction. In 1713 he also published *Windsor Forest, which appealed to the Tories by its references to the Peace of Utrecht, and won him the friendship of *Swift. He drifted away from Addison's 'little senate' and became a member of the *Scriblerus Club, an association that included Swift, *Gay, *Arbuthnot, and others. He issued in 1715 the first volume of his translation in heroic couplets of Homer's *Iliad. This work, completed in 1720, is more *Augustan than Homeric in spirit and diction, but has nevertheless been much admired. *Coleridge thought it an 'astonishing product of matchless talent and ingenuity'. It was supplemented in 1725-6 by a translation of the *Odyssey, in which he was assited by William Broome and Elijah Fenton. The two translations brought him financial independence. He moved in 1718 with his mother to Twickenham, where he spent the rest of his life, devoting much time to his garden and grotto; he was keenly interested in *landscape gardening and committed to the principle 'Consult the Genius of the Place in all'.
In 1717 had appeared a collection of his works containing two poems dealing, alone among his works, with the passion of love. They are 'Verses to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady', an elegy on a fictitious lady who had killed herself through hopeless love, and *'Eloisa to Abelard', in which Eloisa describes her inner conflicts after the loss of her lover. About this time he became strongly attached to Martha *Blount, with whom his friendship continued throughout his life, and to Lady Mary Wortley *Montagu, whom in later years he assailed with bitterness. Lady Mary left for Turkey in July 1716 and Pope sent her 'Eloisa to Abelard' with a letter suggesting that he was passionately grieved by her absence.
Pope assisted Gray in writing the comedy Three Hours after Marriage (1717) but made no other attempt at drama. IN 1723, four years after Addison's death, appeared (in a miscellany called Cytherea) Pope's portrait of *Atticus, a satire on Addison written in 1715. An extended version appeared as 'A Fragment of a Satire' in a 1727 volume of Miscellanies (by Pope, Swift, Arbuthot, and Gay)., and took its final form in An Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (1735). In the same Miscellanies volume Pope published his prose treatise *Peri Bathous, or The Art of Sinking in Poetry, ridiculing among others Ambrose Philips, *Theobald, and John *Dennis. In 1725 Pope published an edition of Shakespeare, the errors in which were pointed out in a pamphlet by Theobald, Shakespeare Restored (1726). This led to Pope's selection of Theobald as hero of his *Dunciad, a satire on Dullness in three books, on which he had been at work for some time: the first volume appeared anonymously in 1728. Swift, who spent some months with Pope in Twickenham in 1726, provided much encouragement for this work, of which a further enlarged edition was published in 1729. An additional book, The New Dunciad, was published in 1742, prompted this time, it appears, by *Warburton. The complete Dunciad in four books, in which Colley Cibber replaces Theobald as hero, appeared in 1743. Influenced in part by the philosophy of his friend *Bolingbroke, Pope published a series of moral and philosophical poems, *Essay on Man (1733-34), consisting of four Epistles; and *Moral Essays (1731-5), four in number: Of the Knowledge and Characters of Men, Of the Characters of Women, and two on the subject Of the Use of Riches. A fifth epistle was added, addressed to Addison, occasioned by his dielogue on medals. This was originally written in Addison's lifetime, c. 1716. In 1733 Pope published the first of his miscellaneous satires, Imitations of Horace, entitled 'Satire I', a paraphrase of the first satire of the second book of Horace, in the form of a dialogue between the poet and William Fortescue, the lawyer. In it Pope defends himself against the charge of Malignity, and professes to be inspired only by love of virtue. He inserts, however, a gross attack on his former friend Lady Mary Wortley Montagu as 'Sappho'. He followed this up with his Imitations of Horace's Satires 2.2 and 1.2 ('Sober Advice from Horace'), in 1734, and of Epistles 1.6; 2.2; 2.1; and 1.1, in 1737. Horace's Epistle 1.7 and the latter part of Satire 2.6 'imitated in the manner of Dr Swift', appeared in 1738. The year 1735 saw the appearance of the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot, the prologue to the above Satires, one of Pope's most brilliant pieces of irony and invective, mingled with autobiography. It contains the famous portraits of Addison (ll. 193-214) and Lord *Hervey, and lashes his minor critics, Dennis, Cibber, *Curll, Theobald, etc. In 1738 appeared One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty Eight, two satirical dialogues. These satires, and the 'Satires (2 and 4) of Dr Donne Versified' (1735), with the New Dunciad, closed his literary career.
He was partly occupied during his later years with the publication of his earlier correspondence, which he edited and amended in such a manner as to misrepresent the literary history of the time. He also employed discreditable artifices to make it appear that it was published against his wish. Thus he procured the publication by Curll of his 'Literary Correspondence' in 1735, and then endeavored to disavow him.
With the growth of *Romanticism Pope's poetry was incresingly seen as artificial; Coleridge commented that Pope's thoughts were 'translated into the language of poetry'. *Hazlitt called him 'the poet not of nature but of art', and W. L. Bowles compared his work to 'a game of cards'; *Byron, however, was highly laudatory: 'Pope's pure strain / Sourght the rapt soul to charm, nor sought in vain.' Matthew *Arnold's famous comment, 'Dryden and Pope are not classics of our poetry, they are classics of our prose' (Essays in Criticism, 1880), summed up much 19th-cent. opinion, and it was not until *Leavis and *Empson that a serious attempt was made to rediscover Pope's richness, variety, and complexity.
Minor works that deserve mention are:
Verse: the Epistles 'To a Young Lady (Miss Blount) with the Works of Voiture (1712), to the same 'On her Leaving the town after the Coronation' (1717); 'To Mr Jervas with Dryden's Translation of Fresony's Art of Painting' (1716) and 'To Robert, Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer' (1721); 'Vertumnus and Pomona' , 'Sappho to Phaon', and 'The Fable of Dryope', translations from *Ovid (1712); *'January and May', 'The Wife of Bath, her Prologue', and The Temple of Fame, from *Chaucer (1709, 1714, 1715).
Prose: The Narrative of Dr Robert Norris (1713), a satirical attack on Dennis; A Full and True Account of a Horrid and Barbarous Revenge by Poison, on . . . Mr Edmund Curll (1716), an attack on Curll (to whom he had secretly administered an emetic).
The standard edn. of Pope's poetry is the Twickenham Edition, under the general editorship of J. Butt 811 vols. plus Index, 1940-69); see also G. Sherburn, The Early Career of Alexander Pope (1949); P.
*Quennell, Alexander Pope: The Education of a Genius (1968), M. Mack, The Garden and the City (1969) and Alexander Pope: A Life (1985); Morris R. Brownell, Alexander Pope and the Arts of Georgian England (1978).
The Rape of the Lock, a poem by *Pope, in two cantos, published in Linto's Miscellany 172 as "The Rape of the Locke"; subsequently enlarged to five cantos and thus published 1714.
When Lord Petre forcibly cut off a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor's hair, the incident gave rise to a quarrel between the families. With the idea of allaying this, Pope treated the subject in a playful *mock-heroic poem, on the model of *Boileau's Le Lutrin. He presents Belinda at her toilet, a game of ombre, the snipping of the lock while Belinda sips her coffee, the wrath of Belinda and her demand that the lock be restored, the final wafting of the lock, as a new star, to adorn the skies. The poem was published in its original form with Miss Fermor's permission. Pope then expanded the sketch by introducing the machinery of sylphs and gnomes, adapted from a light erotic French work, Le Comte de Gabalis, a series of five discourses by the Abbé de Montfaucon de Villars, which appeared in English in 1680; in his dedication he credits both Gabalis and the *Rosicrucians. (See also PARACELSUS). One of Pope's most brilliant performances, it has also been one of his most popular: Dr.*Johnson called it 'the most attractive of all ludicrous compositions', in which 'New things are made familiar and familiar things are made new'.
Essay on Man, a philosophical poem in heroic couplets by *Pope, published 1733-34, part of a larger poem projected but not completed.
It consists of four epistles addressed to *Bolingbroke, and perhaps to some extent inspired by his fragmentary philosophical writings. Its objective is to vindicate the ways of God to man; to prove that the scheme of the universe is the best of all possible schemes, in spirte of appearances of evil, and that our failure to see the perfection of the whole is due to our limited vision. 'Partial Ill' is 'universal Good', and 'self-love and social' are directed to the same end; 'All are but parts of one stupenduous whole / Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.' The epistles deal with man's relations to the universe, to himself as an individual, to society, and to happiness. D. *Stewart thought the Essay 'the noblest specimen of philosophical poetry our language affords' (Active and Moral Powers, 1828), but Dr *Johnson commented, 'Never were penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment so happily disguised.' Pope's attempts to prove that 'Whatever is, is right' anticipate the efforts of Pangloss in *Voltaire's Candide.