Alexander Pope Additional Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

The two most important elements in Alexander Pope’s life were his being born a Catholic and his contracting, during his twelfth year, a severe tubercular infection from which he never fully recovered. Because of his Catholicism, Pope was compelled to live outside London and was not allowed to enroll in a formal university program. Because of his illness, Pope attained a height of only four and a half feet, suffered from migraine headaches, was obliged to wear several pairs of hose and an elaborate harness to compensate for the slightness of his legs and the curvature of his spine, and was subject to frequent and caustic ridicule by critics, such as John Dennis, who directed their rancor at his physical deformities as much as at his poetic efforts. Pope’s physical ailments and the acrimony with which political and literary pundits attacked both his person and his work should never be forgotten in evaluating, say, the optimistic faith of An Essay on Man or the acidulous satire of The Dunciad. The affirmations of the former poem were not written out of ignorance of human suffering, and the vituperations of the latter poem cannot be understood apart from the contumely that Pope suffered at the hands of his adversaries—Lady Mary Wortley Montague, Lord Hervey, John Dennis, Joseph Addison, and Lewis Theobald, to name a few. Pope’s reference in Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot to “this long disease, my life,” is no literary confabulation but an...

(The entire section is 591 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201572-Pope.jpg Alexander Pope Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Alexander Pope was born in the City of London, England, on May 21, 1688, the year of the Glorious Revolution. He was the only child of Catholic parents. The Pope family lived on Lombard Street until Alexander was five years old. A portrait of him painted when he was about ten shows his face to be round, pretty, and of a fresh complexion. Later, an illness disfigured him. In the same year that he was born, an act of Parliament prohibited Catholics from living within ten miles of the City of London. This act became a major factor in determining the course of Pope’s life.

Pope received his first education when he was about eight years old from a priest named John Banister. Later, he attended Twyford School near Winchester, a school for Catholic boys. At the age of twelve, Pope’s father decided to move the family from London in order to conform to the act restricting Catholics. Whitefield House and seventeen acres of land in Windsor Forest near Binfield became the new home. This move brought Pope’s formal education to an end, and thereafter he educated himself. About 1704, at the age of sixteen and now suffering from the dreaded Pott’s disease, a form of spinal tuberculosis, he thought he was about to die. His farewell to the Abbe Southcote caused him to secure the services of Dr. John Radcliffe, an eminent physician of the day, who successfully treated Pope. His advice to Pope, to exercise and ride each day, worked.

During these years of growing up at Binfield, the young poet was not only extending his reading and perfecting his poetry, he was also developing his literary acquaintances. He got to know many literary wits at Will’s Coffee House, including William Trumbell, William Walsh, Samuel Garth, William Wycherley, William Congreve, and the actor Thomas Betterton. Pope became especially friendly with Wycherley and Walsh. He helped Wycherley prepare his verse for publication, and from Walsh he received the famous advice to make correctness his study and aim. Walsh was referring, of course, to literary decorum.

The period of 1709 to 1717 was the experimentation period for Pope. During these eight years, he tried his hand at half a dozen different kinds of poetry, ranging from pastoral and georgic, such as Windsor Forest (1713), to didactic, such as An Essay on Criticism (1711), to elegiac, as in “Verses to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady,” to heroic, as in Eloisa to Abelard (1717), to mock epic, such as The Rape of the Lock (1712; expanded, 1714), to actual epic, as in The Iliad of Homer (1715-1720), a translation of Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611).

These years were also a time of great expansion in his personal and social life. They mark a period during which Pope spent more time in London than at any other stage in...

(The entire section is 1179 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Like other significant writers of his time, Alexander Pope’s life revolved around the London literary scene and his wide circle of friends. Among his most important works are An Essay on Criticism, The Rape of the Lock, and The Dunciad. Through his early fancy to his more mature universal satire, Pope created for his time a true reflection of society. He is firmly established as one of the truly outstanding poets of English literature.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alexander Pope, who became known as the “prose and reason” poet, was the son of a prosperous linen merchant and his second wife. The fact that Pope’s parents were Roman Catholics had a bearing on his education and economic and social status. Schools and universities were closed to him, he could not buy or inherit land, he paid double taxes, and he could not legally live within ten miles of London. He was educated at irregular times by private tutors, usually priests, but for the most part he “dipped into a great number of English, French, Italian, Latin and Greek poets.” This was no meager education in itself, for poets of the early 1700’s copied many forms and ideas from the classical writers of ancient Rome; not for...

(The entire section is 746 words.)