Alexander Pope

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Pope, Alexander,

1688–1744, English poet. Although his literary reputation declined somewhat during the 19th cent., he is now recognized as the greatest poet of the 18th cent. and the greatest verse satirist in English.


Pope was born in London of Roman Catholic parents and moved to Binfield in 1700. During his later childhood he was afflicted by a tubercular condition known as Pott's disease that ruined his health and produced a pronounced spinal curvature. He never grew taller than 4 ft 6 in. (1.4 m). His religion debarred him from a Protestant education and from the age of 12 he was almost entirely self-taught.

Although he is known for his literary quarrels, Pope never lacked close friends. In his early years he won the attention of William WycherleyWycherley, William
, 1640?–1716, English dramatist, b. near Shrewsbury. His first comedy, Love in a Wood (1671), was a huge success and won him the favor of the duchess of Cleveland, mistress of Charles II.
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 and the poet-critic William Walsh, among others. Before he was 17 Pope was admitted to London society and encouraged as a prodigy. The shortest lived of his friendships was with Joseph AddisonAddison, Joseph,
1672–1719, English essayist, poet, and statesman. He was educated at Charterhouse, where he was a classmate of Richard Steele, and at Oxford, where he became a distinguished classical scholar.
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 and his coterie, who eventually insidiously attacked Pope's Tory leanings. His attachment to the Tory party was strengthened by his warm friendship with SwiftSwift, Jonathan,
1667–1745, English author, b. Dublin. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest satirists in the English language. Early Life and Works
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 and his involvement with the Scriblerus ClubScriblerus Club,
English literary group formed about 1713 to satirize "all the false tastes in learning." Among its chief members were Arbuthnot, Gay, Thomas Parnell, Pope, and Swift. Meetings of the club were discontinued after 1714.
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Pope's poetry basically falls into three periods. The first includes the early descriptive poetry; the Pastorals (1709); Windsor Forest (1713); the Essay on Criticism (1711), a poem written in heroic couplets outlining critical tastes and standards; The Rape of the Lock (1714), a mock-heroic poem ridiculing the fashionable world of his day; contributions to the Guardian; and "Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady" and "Eloise to Abelard," the only pieces he ever wrote dealing with love. In about 1717 Pope formed attachments to Martha Blount, a relationship that lasted his entire life, and to Lady Mary Wortley MontaguMontagu, Lady Mary Wortley,
1689–1762, English author, noted primarily for her highly descriptive letters. She was the daughter of the first duke of Kingston. In 1712 she married Edward Wortley Montagu, who became ambassador to Turkey in 1716.
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, with whom he later quarreled bitterly.

Pope's second period includes his magnificent, if somewhat inaccurate, translations of Homer, written in heroic couplets; the completed edition of the Iliad (1720); and the Odyssey (1725–26), written with William Broome and Elijah FentonFenton, Elijah,
1683–1730, English poet. A graduate of Cambridge, he was a schoolmaster for a time and later was a tutor in several noble families. He is chiefly remembered for his share in Pope's translation of the Odyssey (1725).
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. These translations, along with Pope's unsatisfactory edition of Shakespeare (1725), amassed him a large fortune. In 1719 he bought a lease on a house in Twickenham where he and his mother lived for the rest of their lives.

In the last period of his career Pope turned to writing satires and moral poems. These include The Dunciad (1728–43), a scathing satire on dunces and literary hacks in which Pope viciously attacked his enemies, including Lewis TheobaldTheobald, Lewis
, 1688–1744, English author. He is chiefly remembered for his Shakespeare Restored (1726), in which he exposed the inaccuracies of Pope's edition of Shakespeare. Pope retaliated by satirizing him in the 1728 edition of The Dunciad.
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, the critic who had ridiculed Pope's edition of Shakespeare, and the playwright Colley CibberCibber, Colley
, 1671–1757, English dramatist and actor-manager. Joining the company at the Theatre Royal in 1690, Cibber became successful as a comedian, playing the fops of Restoration comedy.
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; Imitations of Horace (1733–38), satirizing social follies and political corruption; An Essay on Man (1734), a poetic summary of current philosophical speculation, his most ambitious work; Moral Essays (1731–35); and the "Epistle to Arbuthnot" (1735), a defense in poetry of his life and his work.


See the Twickenham edition of his poems (7 vol., 1951–61); his prose works ed. by N. Ault (1936, repr. 1968); his letters ed. by G. Sherburn (5 vol., 1956); biographies by G. Sherburn (1934, repr. 1963), N. Ault (1949, repr. 1967), P. Quennell (1968), and M. Maynard (1988); studies by G. Tillotson (1946; 2d ed. 1950; and 1958), F. W. Bateson and N. A. Joukovsky, ed. (1972), J. P. Russo (1972), P. Dixon, ed. (1973), F. M. Keener (1974), D. B. Morris (1984), L. Damrosch, Jr. (1987), and R. A. Brower (1986).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Pope, Alexander


Born May 21, 1688, in London; died May 30, 1744, in Twickenham. English poet.

Pope received his education at home. In 1711 he published the Essay on Criticism, the manifesto of British Enlightenment classicism. He applied classicist principles in the narrative poem “Windsor-Forest” (1713). In the mock-heroic narrative poem The Rape of the Lock (1712; second version, 1714), he humorrously depicted the way of life and mores of worldly society. Working from the standpoint of conventional “good taste,” Pope emended the “coarse” passages in Homer, producing new translations of the Iliad (1715–20) and the Odyssey (1725–26). He also devoted his energy to “clearing the vulgarity” from Shakespeare’s works (1725 edition).

Pope’s satires the Dunciad (1728) and The New Dunciad (1742), which were directed againt his literary opponents, castigated ignorance and stupidity. In the philosophical narrative poems “Moral Essays” (1731–35) and Essay on Man (1732–34; Russian translation, 1757), Pope glorified the harmony of all that exists. The Essay on Man met with great success in 18th-century Russia, despite the censor’s distortions of the text. Among those who translated Pope’s works into Russian are I. I. Dmitriev and V. A. Zhukovskii.


The Works, vols. 1–10. London, 1871–89.
Literary Criticism. Edited by B. Goldgar. Lincoln, Neb. [1965].
In Russian translation:
“Pokhishchenie lokona.” In Khrestomatiiapo zapadno-evropeiskoi literature XVIII v. Moscow, 1938.


Istoriia angliiskoi literatury, vol. 1, fasc. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1945.
Sitwell, E. A. Pope. New York, 1962.
Spacks, P. M. An Argument of Images: The Poetry of A. Pope. Cambridge, Mass., 1971.
A. Pope. Edited by P. Dixon. London, 1972. (References, pp. 311–21).
Griffith, R. H. A. Pope: A Bibliography. Austin, Tex., 1922–27.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.