Alexander Pope

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Alexander Pope : biography

21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744

After 1738, Pope wrote little. He toyed with the idea of composing a patriotic epic in blank verse called Brutus, but only the opening lines survive. His major work in these years was revising and expanding his masterpiece The Dunciad. Book Four appeared in 1742, and a complete revision of the whole poem in the following year. In this version, Pope replaced the "hero", Lewis Theobald, with the poet laureate Colley Cibber as "king of dunces". By now Pope’s health, which had never been good, was failing. When told by his physician, on the morning of his death, that he was better, Pope replied: "Here am I, dying of a hundred good symptoms." He died in his villa surrounded by friends on 30 May 1744, about eleven o’clock at night. On the previous day, 29 May 1744, Pope had called for a priest and received the Last Rites of the Roman Catholic Church. He was buried in the nave of the Church of England Church of St Mary the Virgin in Twickenham.

Translations and Editions

Translation of the Iliad

Pope had been fascinated by Homer since childhood. In 1713, he announced his plans to publish a translation of the Iliad. The work would be available by subscription, with one volume appearing every year over the course of six years. Pope secured a revolutionary deal with the publisher Bernard Lintot, which brought him two hundred guineas (£210) a volume, equivalent to about £ as of , a vast sum at the time.

His translation of the Iliad appeared between 1715 and 1720. It was acclaimed by Samuel Johnson as "a performance which no age or nation could hope to equal" (although the classical scholar Richard Bentley wrote: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer.").

Translation of the Odyssey

Frontispiece and titlepage of a 1752 edition of Alexander Pope’s extensively annotated translation of [[Homer’s The Odyssey.]] Encouraged by the success of the Iliad, Pope translated the Odyssey. The translation appeared in 1726, but this time, confronted with the arduousness of the task, he enlisted the help of William Broome and Elijah Fenton. Pope attempted to conceal the extent of the collaboration (he himself translated only twelve books, Broome eight and Fenton four), but the secret leaked out. It did some damage to Pope’s reputation for a time, but not to his profits.

Edition of Shakespeare’s works

In this period, Pope was also employed by the publisher Jacob Tonson to produce an opulent new edition of Shakespeare. When it finally appeared, in 1725, this edition silently "regularised" Shakespeare’s metre and rewrote his verse in a number of places. Pope also demoted about 1560 lines of Shakespearean material to footnotes, arguing that they were so "excessively bad" that Shakespeare could never have written them. (Other lines were excluded from the edition altogether.) In 1726, the lawyer, poet and pantomime deviser Lewis Theobald published a scathing pamphlet called Shakespeare Restored, which catalogued the errors in Pope’s work and suggested a number of revisions to the text.

A second edition of Pope’s Shakespeare appeared in 1728, but aside from making some minor revisions to the preface, it seems that Pope had little to do with it. Most later 18th-century editors of Shakespeare dismissed Pope’s creatively motivated approach to textual criticism. Pope’s preface, however, continued to be highly rated. It was suggested that Shakespeare’s texts were thoroughly contaminated by actors’ interpolations and they would influence editors for most of the 18th century.