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Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope Alexander Pope[2†]

Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744) was an English poet, translator, and satirist of the Enlightenment era. He is considered one of the most prominent English poets of the early 18th century[1†][2†]. An exponent of Augustan literature, Pope is best known for his satirical and discursive poetry, including “The Rape of the Lock”, “The Dunciad”, and “An Essay on Criticism”, and for his translations of Homer[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Alexander Pope was born on May 21, 1688, in London, England, to Alexander and Edith Pope[3†][2†]. His father, Alexander Pope (1646–1717), was a successful linen merchant in the Strand, London, and his mother, Edith (née Turner, 1643–1733), was the daughter of William Turner, Esquire, of York[3†][2†]. Both parents were Catholics[3†][2†][4†].

Pope’s education was affected by the recently enacted Test Acts, a series of English penal laws that upheld the status of the established Church of England, banning Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting, and holding public office on penalty of perpetual imprisonment[3†][2†]. As a result, Pope had little formal schooling[3†][2†]. He was taught to read by his aunt and attended Twyford School circa 1698[3†][2†]. He also attended two Roman Catholic schools in London[3†][2†].

In 1700, his family moved out of London and settled in Binfield in Windsor Forest[3†][2†]. This move was due to strong anti-Catholic sentiment and a statute preventing “Papists” from living within 10 miles (16 km) of London or Westminster[3†][2†].

Despite these challenges, Pope was a precocious child. He educated himself through extensive studying and reading, especially poetry[3†]. He taught himself French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, and read widely, discovering Homer at the age of six[3†][5†]. After five years of study, Pope came into contact with figures from London literary society such as William Congreve, Samuel Garth, and William Trumbull[3†][2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Alexander Pope’s career was marked by his remarkable translations of Homer’s works and his satirical and discursive poetry[1†][2†]. His translations of Homer’s Iliad (1720) and Odyssey (1726) were his greatest achievements as a translator[1†][4†][6†]. These translations were published in six volumes from 1715 to 1720 for the Iliad, and the Odyssey followed from 1725 to 1726[1†][6†]. The success of these translations made him financially secure[1†][4†].

Pope is best known for his poems An Essay on Criticism (1711), The Rape of the Lock (1712–14), The Dunciad (1728), and An Essay on Man (1733–34)[1†][2†]. He is one of the most epigrammatic of all English authors[1†][2†]. His satirical and discursive poetry, including The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism, and his translations of Homer, are considered his most notable works[1†][2†].

In addition to his translations and poetry, Pope was involved in many literary battles, prompting him to write poems such as the scathing mock-epic The Dunciad (1728) and An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1735)[1†][4†]. His collected poetry has proven a rich resource for cultural critics interested in all aspects of early eighteenth-century values and culture[1†][7†].

Pope’s influence extended beyond his own era, and his works continue to be studied and appreciated for their stylistic artistry and insight into 18th-century society[1†][7†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Alexander Pope’s literary career was marked by a series of notable works, each of which had a significant impact on the literary landscape of his time[2†][8†][9†].

Each of these works not only showcases Pope’s skill as a poet and satirist but also provides a window into the literary and social world of the early 18th century[2†][8†][9†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Alexander Pope’s work is a testament to the literary prowess of the Enlightenment era. His poetry, characterized by its public and topical voice, presents a challenge to post-Romantic sensibilities[11†]. His mastery of the heroic couplet and his role as one of the primary tastemakers of the Augustan age have solidified his position as a central figure in English literature[11†][8†].

Pope’s works, including his translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, are not strictly literal but are adaptations of Homer’s genius to the conventions and expectations of Augustan sensibility[11†][12†]. Despite the instances of periphrasis that belie the vigor of the original, they are regarded as the most readable and eloquent versions of Homer to come out of the eighteenth century[11†][12†].

His satirical works, such as The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad, are characterized by their sharp wit and insightful commentary. They provide a window into the literary and social world of the early 18th century, reflecting the personal and professional rivalries of the time[11†][12†][11†].

Pope’s An Essay on Criticism marks a contentious point where the history of literary criticism and the politics of 1688 meet. Critics are divided about whether the poem dictates the laws of criticism and monarchical sovereignty or promotes the formation of rational-critical debate in a public sphere[11†][13†].

Despite the controversies that surrounded his name, Pope emerged, in the estimation of the eighteenth century, as the greatest English poet since John Milton[11†][12†]. However, his reputation fluctuated over time, reaching its lowest ebb during the Romantic and Victorian periods[11†][12†].

In conclusion, Alexander Pope’s work has had a profound influence on English literature. His mastery of the heroic couplet, his satirical wit, and his insightful commentary have left an indelible mark on the literary landscape[11†][12†][11†][8†].

Personal Life

Alexander Pope was born in London, England, on May 21, 1688, to Alexander and Edith Pope[3†][2†][14†]. His father, a successful linen merchant, and his mother were both Catholics[3†][2†][14†]. His family moved out of London and settled in Binfield in Windsor Forest around 1700[3†][2†][14†].

Pope had little formal schooling and educated himself through extensive studying and reading, especially poetry[3†][2†]. Although Pope was healthy and plump in his infancy, he became severely ill later in his childhood, which resulted in a slightly disfigured body—he never grew taller than 4 feet 6 inches[3†]. He suffered from curvature of the spine, which required him to wear a stiff canvas brace[3†]. He had constant headaches[3†]. His physical appearance, frequently ridiculed by his enemies, undoubtedly gave an edge to Pope’s satire[3†].

Despite his physical challenges, Pope was warmhearted and generous in his affection for his many friends[3†]. He was precocious as a child and attracted the notice of a noted bookseller who published his Pastorals[3†]. By this time Pope was already at work on his more ambitious Essay on Criticism[3†].

Pope’s education was affected by the recently enacted Test Acts, a series of English penal laws that upheld the status of the established Church of England, banning Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting, and holding public office on penalty of perpetual imprisonment[3†][2†]. Pope was taught to read by his aunt and attended Twyford School circa 1698[3†][2†]. He also attended two Roman Catholic schools in London[3†][2†].

In 1700, his family moved to a small estate at Popeswood, in Binfield, Berkshire, close to the royal Windsor Forest[3†][2†]. This was due to strong anti-Catholic sentiment and a statute preventing “Papists” from living within 10 miles (16 km) of London or Westminster[3†][2†]. Pope would later describe the countryside around the house in his poem Windsor Forest[3†][2†].

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[3†][2†]. He studied many languages, reading works by French, Italian, Latin, and Greek poets[3†][2†]. After five years of study, Pope came into contact with figures from London literary society such as William Congreve, Samuel Garth, and William Trumbull[3†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Alexander Pope’s legacy as a poet and satirist endures to this day[15†]. His works continue to be studied and admired for their sharp wit, literary craftsmanship, and profound insights into human nature[15†]. He was the first English poet to enjoy contemporary fame in France and Italy and throughout the European continent and to see translations of his poems into modern as well as ancient languages[15†][16†].

Pope is often quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, with some of his verses having entered common parlance[15†][2†]. Modern scholars have evaluated Pope as a major literary voice engaged with both high and low cultural scenes, a key figure in the sphere of letters, and an articulate witness to the rise of the commercial printing age and the development of modern English national identity[15†][8†].

His influence on the English language and literature is significant. His translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are still considered among the finest in the English language[15†][2†][1†]. His satirical works, particularly “The Rape of the Lock” and “The Dunciad”, are considered masterpieces of the genre[15†][2†][1†].

In conclusion, Alexander Pope’s contributions to English literature and his influence on the literary world are undeniable. His works have not only shaped the course of English literature but also continue to resonate with readers and scholars today[15†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Alexander Pope: English author [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Alexander Pope [website] - link
  3. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Alexander Pope Biography [website] - link
  4. Britannica - Alexander Pope summary [website] - link
  5. Academy of American Poets - About Alexander Pope [website] - link
  6. University of Delaware - British Literature Wiki - Alexander Pope [website] - link
  7. Encyclopedia.com - Pope, Alexander [website] - link
  8. Poetry Foundation - Alexander Pope [website] - link
  9. The Works of Shakespeare in Six Volumes: Collated and Corrected by Alexander Pope - Alexander Pope [website] - link
    • Wythepedia: The George Wythe Encyclopedia - The Works of Alexander Pope Esq. in Nine Volumes Complete [website] - link
  10. eNotes - Alexander Pope Critical Essays [website] - link
  11. eNotes - Alexander Pope Analysis [website] - link
  12. Project MUSE - Johns Hopkins University Press - Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism and a Poetics for 1688 [website] - link
  13. Poem Analysis - The Satirical Life of Alexander Pope [website] - link
  14. The New American - Alexander Pope: Famous, Fearless, Forgotten [website] - link
  15. Britannica - Alexander Pope - Poetry, Satire, Enlightenment [website] - link
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