Alexander Pope : biography
Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744) was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. Famous for his use of the heroic couplet, he is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson.Dictionary of Quotations (1999)
A likeness of Pope derived from a portrait by [[William Hoare]]
Pope was born to Alexander Pope (1646–1717), a linen merchant of Plough Court, Lombard Street, London, and his wife Edith (née Turner) (1643–1733), who were both Catholics.Erskine-Hill, DNB Edith’s sister Christiana was the wife of the famous miniature painter Samuel Cooper. Pope’s education was affected by the recently enacted Test Acts, which upheld the status of the established Church of England and banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting, or holding public office on pain of perpetual imprisonment. Pope was taught to read by his aunt, and went to Twyford School in about 1698/99. He then went to two Catholic schools in London.Erskine-Hill, DNB Such schools, while illegal, were tolerated in some areas.’Alexander Pope’, Literature Online biography (2000)
In 1700, his family moved to a small estate at Popeswood in Binfield, Berkshire, close to the royal Windsor Forest. This was due to strong anti-Catholic sentiment and a statute preventing Catholics from living within 10 miles (16 km) of either London or Westminster."An Act to prevent and avoid dangers which may grow by Popish Recusants" (3. Jac. 1, v). For details, see Catholic Encyclopedia, "". Pope would later describe the countryside around the house in his poem Windsor Forest. Pope’s formal education ended at this time, and from then on he mostly educated himself by reading the works of classical writers such as the satirists Horace and Juvenal, the epic poets Homer and Virgil, as well as English authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Dryden.Erskine-Hill, DNB He also studied many languages and read works by English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek poets. After five years of study, Pope came into contact with figures from the London literary society such as William Wycherley, William Congreve, Samuel Garth, William Trumbull, and William Walsh.
At Binfield, he also began to make many important friends. One of them, John Caryll (the future dedicatee of The Rape of the Lock), was twenty years older than the poet and had made many acquaintances in the London literary world. He introduced the young Pope to the ageing playwright William Wycherley and to William Walsh, a minor poet, who helped Pope revise his first major work, The Pastorals. He also met the Blount sisters, Teresa and (his alleged future lover) Martha, both of whom would remain lifelong friends.
From the age of 12, he suffered numerous health problems, such as Pott’s disease (a form of tuberculosis that affects the bone), which deformed his body and stunted his growth, leaving him with a severe hunchback. His tuberculosis infection caused other health problems including respiratory difficulties, high fevers, inflamed eyes, and abdominal pain. He grew to a height of only tall. Pope was already removed from society because he was Catholic; his poor health only alienated him further. Although he never married, he had many female friends to whom he wrote witty letters. Allegedly, his lifelong friend, Martha Blount, was his lover.Gordon (2002)’Mount’, Britannica (2009)The Life of Alexander Pope, by Robert Carruthers, 1857, with a corrupted and badly scanned version available , or as an . For reference to his relationship with Martha Blount and her sister, see pp.64–68 (89th and following pages of the PDF). In particular, discussion of the controversy over whether the relationship was sexual is described in some detail on pp.76–78.
Pope’s house at [[Twickenham, showing the grotto. From a watercolour produced soon after his death.]]