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Pope was from his birth of a conftitution tender and delicate; but is faid to have fhewn remarkable gentleness and fweetnefs of difpofition. The weaknefs 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 fo pleafing, that he was called in fondnefs "the "little Nightingale.”
Being not fent early to school, he was taught to read by an aunt; and when he was feven or eight years old, became a lover of books. He first learned to write by imitating printed books; a fpecies 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, a Romish priest, who, by a method very rarely practifed, taught him the Greek and Latin rudiments together. He was now first regularly initiated in poetry by the perufal of "Ogilby's Homer," and "Sandys's Ovid." Ogilby's affiftance he never repaid with any praife; but of Sandys he declared, in his notes to the "Iliad,” that English poetry owed much of its beauty to his tranflations. Sandys very rarely attempted original compofition.
From the care of Taverner, under whom his proficiency was confiderable, he was removed to a school
* This weakness was fo great that he conftantly wore stays, as I have been affured 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 fedan chair in the boat, in which he fat with the glaffes down. H.
at Twyford near Winchester, and again to another school about Hyde-park Corner; from which he used fometimes to ftroll to the playhouse; and was fo delighted with theatrical exhibitions, that he formed a kind of play from "Ogilby's Iliad," with fome verses of his own intermixed, which he perfuaded his fchool-fellows to act, with the addition of his master's gardener, who perfonated Ajax.
At the two last schools he used to represent himself as having loft part of what Taverner had taught him; and on his master at Twyford he had already exercifed his poetry in a lampoon. Yet under thofe mafters he tranflated more than a fourth part of the "Metamorphofes." If he kept the fame proportion in his other exercises, it cannot be thought that his lofs 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 ftyle of fiction it might have been faid of him as of Pindar, that, when he lay in his cradle," the "bees fwarmed about his mouth."
About the time of the Revolution, his father, who was undoubtedly difappointed by the fudden blaft of Popish profperity, quitted his trade, and retired to Binfield in Windfor Foreft, with about twenty thousand pounds; for which, being confcientiously determined not to entrust it to the govern ment, he found no better ufe than that of locking it up in a cheft, and taking from it what his expences required; and his life was long enough to confume a great part of it, before his fon 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 affiftance of one Deane, another prieft, of whom he learned only to conftrue a little of "Tully's Offices." How Mr. Deane could spend, with a boy who had tranflated fo much of "Ovid," fome months over a finall part of " Tully's Offices," it is now vain to enquire.
Of a youth fo fuccefsfully employed, and fo confpicuously improved, a minute account must be naturally defired; but curiofity must be contented with confused, imperfect, and fometimes improbable intelligence. Pope, finding little advantage from external help, refolved thenceforward to direct himself, and at twelve formed a plan of ftudy which he completed with little other incitement than the defire
His primary and principal purpofe was to be a poet, with which his father accidentally concurred, by propofing fubjects, and obliging him to correct his performances by many revifals; after which the old gentleman, when he was fatisfied, would say, thefe are good rhymes."
In his perufal of the English poets he foon diftinguished the verfification of Dryden, which he confidered as the model to be ftudied, and was impreffed with fuch veneration for his inftructor, that he perfuaded fome friends to take him to the coffee-house which Dryden frequented, and pleased himself with having feen him.
Dryden died May 1, 1701, fome days before Pope was twelve; fo early muft 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 greatnefs of his young admirer?
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 fame age.
His time was now wholly fpent in reading and writing. As he read the Clafficks, he amused himfelf with tranflating them; and at fourteen made a verfion of the first book of the "Thebais," which, with fome revifion, he afterwards published. He muft have been at this time, if he had no help, a confiderable proficient in the Latin tongue.
By Dryden's Fables, which had then been not long publifhed, and were much in the hands of poetical readers, he was tempted to try his own fkill in giving Chaucer a more fashionable appearance, and January and May," and the "Prologue of the Wife of Bath," into modern English. He tranflated likewife the Epiftle of "Sappho to "Phaon" from Ovid, to complete the verfion which was before imperfect; and wrote fome other fmali pieces, which he afterwards printed.
He fometimes imitated the English poets, and profeffed to have written at fourteen his poem upon "Silence," after Rochefter's "Nothing." He had now formed his verfification, and the smoothness of his numbers furpaffed his original: but this is a fmall part of his praife; he difcovers fuch acquaintance both with human and public affairs, as is not
eafily conceived to have been attainable by a boy of fourteen in Windfor Forest.
Next year he was defirous of opening to himself new fources of knowledge, by making himself ac: quainted with modern languages; and removed for a time to London, that he might study French and Italian, which, as he defired nothing more than to read them, were by diligent application foon difpatched. Of Italian learning he does not appear to have ever made much ufe in his fubfequent ftudies.
He then returned to Binfield, and delighted himfelf with his own poetry. He tried all ftyles, and many fubjects. He wrote a comedy, a tragedy, an epick poem, with panegyricks on all the princes of Europe; and, as he confeffes, "thought himself "the greateft genius that ever was." Self-confidence is the first requifite to great undertakings, He, indeed, who forms his opinion of himself in folitude, without knowing the powers of other men, is very liable to errour: but it was the felicity of Pope to rate himself at his real value.
Most of his puerile productions were, by his maturer judgement, afterwards deftroyed; " Alcander," the epick poem, was burnt by the perfuafion of Atterbury. The tragedy was founded on the legend of St. Genevieve. Of the comedy there is no account,
Concerning his ftudies it is related, that he tranflated"Tully on Old Age;" and that, befides his books of poetry and criticism, he read "Temple's Effays" and "Locke on Human Understanding." His reading, though his favourite authors are not known, appears to have been fufficiently extenfive