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Pope was from his birth of a constitution tender and delicate; but is said to have shewn reinarkable 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 Hampfhire under Taverner, a Komish 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 Ogylby's Homer, and Sandys's Ovid: Ogylby'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 present 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 used sometimes to stroll to the playhouse, and was so de
* This weakness was so great, that he constantly wore stays, as I have been assured by a waterman at Twickenham, who, in lifting him into his boat, had often felt them. His method of taking the air on the water, was to have a sedan chair in the boat, in which he fat with the claffes down.
lighted lighted with theatrical exhibitions, that he formed å kind of play from Ogylby's Iliad, with some verses of his own intermixed, which he persuaded his schoolfellows 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 inafters he translated more than a fourth part of the Metamorphoses. If he kept the same proportion in his other exercises, it cannot be thougłıt that his loss was great.
He tells of himself, in his poems, that he lifp'd in numbers; and used to say that he could not remember the time when he began to make verses. In the style of fiction it might have been said of him as of Pindar, that, when he lay in his cradle, the bees (warmed about his mouth.
About the time of the Revolution, his father, who was undoubtedly disappointed by the sudden blast of popish prosperity, quitted his trade, and rerired to Binfield in Windsor Forest, with about twenty thoufand pounds; for which, being confcientiously determined not to entrust it to the government, he found no better use than that of locking it up in a chest, and taking from it what his expences 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
l months the affiftance of one Deane, another priest, of whom he learned only to construe a little of Tully's OfB2
fices. How Mr. Deane could spend, with a boy who had translated so much of Ovid, fome 'months over a small part of Tully's Offices, it is now vain to enquire.
Of a youth so successfully employed, and fo 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 thenceforward 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 propofing subjects, and obliging him to correct his performances by many revisals; after which the old genteman, when he was satisfied, would say, these are good rbymes.
In his perusal of the English poets he foon distinguished the versification of Dryden, which he considered as the model to be studied, and was impressed with such veneration for his instructer, that he persuaded fome friends to take him to the coffee-house which Dryden frequented, and pleased himself with having seen him.
Dryden died May 1, 1701, fome days before Pope was twelve; so early must he therefore have felt the power of harmony, and the zeal of genius. Who does not wish that Dryden could have known the value of the homage that was paid him, and foreseen the greatness of his
The earliest of Pope's productions is his Ode on Solitude, written before he was twelve, in which there is nothing more than other forward boys have attained, and which is not equal to Cowley's performances at the same age.
, His time was now spent wholly in reading and writing. As he read the Classicks, he amused himself with tranflating them; and at fourteen made a version of the first book of the Thebais, which, with some revision, he afterwards published. He must have been at this time, if he had no help, a considerable proficient in the Latin tongue.
By Dryden's Fables, which had then been not long published, and were much in the hands of poetical readers, he was tempted to try his own skill in giving Chaucer a more fashionable appearance, and put January and May, and the Prologue of the Wife of Bath, into modern English,
He translated likewise the Epistle of Sappho to Pþaon from Ovid, to complete the version, which was before imperfect; and wrote some other small pieces, which he afterwards printed.
He sometimes imitated the English poets, and profeffed to have written at fourteen his poem upon Silence, after Rochester's Nothing. He had now formed his versification, and in the firoothness of his numbers surpassed his original: but this is a small part of his praise; he discovers such acquaintance both with human life and public affairs, as is not easily conceived to have been attainable by a boy of fourteen in Windsor Foreft.
Next year he was desirous of opening to himself new sources of knowledge, by making himself acquainted with modern languages; and removed for a
time to London, that he might study French and Italian, which, as he desired nothing more than ta read them, were by diligent application soon dispatched. Of Italian learning he does not appear to have ever made much use in his subsequent studies.
He then returned to Binfield, and delighted himself with his own poetry. He tried all styles, and many subjects. He wrote a comedy, a tragedy, an epick poem, with panegyricks on all the princes of Europę; and, as he confesses, thought himself the greatest genius that ever was. Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings; he, indeed, who forms his opinion of himself in solitude, without knowing the powers of other men, is very liable to errour; but it was the felicity of Pope to rąte hîmself at his real value.
Most of his puerile productions were, by his maturer judgement, aftewards destroyed; Alcander, the epick poem, was burnt by the persuasion of Atterbury, The tragedy was founded on the legend of St. Genevieve, Of the comedy there is no account.
Concerning his studies it is related, that he translated Tully on old Age ; and that, besides his books of poetry and criticism, he read Temple's Elays and Locke on human Understanding. His reading, though his favourite authors are not known, appears to have been fufficiently extensive and multifarious ; for his early pieces shew, with sufficient evidence, his knowledge of books,
He that is pleased with himself easily imagines that he shall please others. Sir William Trumbal, who liad been ambassador at Constantinople, and secretary of state, when he retired from business,