Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

from it what his expences required; and his life was long enough to consume a great part of it, before his fon came to the inheritance.

To Binfield Pope was called by his father when he was about twelve years old ; and there he had for a few months the assistance of one Deane, another priest, of whom he learned only to construe a little of Tully's Offices. How Mr. Deane could spend, with a boy who had translated so much of Ovid, some months over a small part of Tully's Offices, it is now vain to enquire.

Of a youth so successfully employed, and so conspicuously improved, a minute account must be naturally desired; but curiosity must be contented with confused, imperfect, and sometimes improbable intelligence. Pope, finding little advantage from external help, resolved thenceforward to direct himself, and at twelve formed a plan of study which he completed with little other incitement than the desire of excellence.

His primary and principal purpose was to be a poet, with which his father accidentally

concurred, by proposing subjects, and obliging him to correct his performances by many revisals ; after which the old gentleman, when he was satisfied, would say, these are good rhymes.

In his perufal of the English poets he soon distinguished the versification of Dryden, which he confidered as the model to be studied, and was impressed with such veneration for his instructer, that he perfuaded some friends to take him to the coffee-house which Dryden frequented, and pleased himself with having seen him.

[ocr errors]

Dryden died May 1, 1701, fome days before Pope was twelve; so early must he therefore have felt the power of harmony, and the zeal of genius. Who does not wish that Dryden could have known the value of the homage that was paid him, and foreseen the greatness of his young admirer ?

The earliest of Pope's productions is his Ode on Solitude, written before he was twelve, in which there is nothing more than other forward boys have attained, and which is not equal to Cowley's perforinances at the

fame age.

His time was now spent wholly in reading and writing. As he read the Classicks, he amused himself with translating them; and at fourteen made a version of the first book of the Thebais, which, with some revision, he afterwards published. He must have been at this time, if he had no help, a considerable proficient in the Latin tongue.

By Dryden's Fables, which had then been not long published, and were much in the hands of poetical readers, he was tempted to try his own skill in giving Chaucer a more fashionable appearance, and

put January and May, and the Prologue of the Wife of Bath, into modern English. He translated likewise the Epistle of Sappho to Pbaon from Ovid, to complete the version, which was before imperfect; and wrote some other small pieces, which he afterwards printed.

He sometimes imitated the English poets, and professed to have written at fourteen his poem upon Silence, after Rochester's Nothing. He had now formed his versification, and in the smoothness of his numbers surpassed his original : but this is a small part of his

praise;

1

praise; he discovers such acquaintance both with human life and publick affairs, as is not easily conceived to have been attainable by a boy of fourteen in Windsor Foreft.

[ocr errors][merged small]

Next year

he was desirous of opening to himself new sources of knowledge, by making himself acquainted with modern languages; and removed for a time to London, that he might study French and Italian, which, as he desired nothing more than to read them, were by diligent application soon dispatched. Of Italian learning he does not appear to have ever made much use in his subsequent studies.

He then returned to Binfield, and delighted himself with his own poetry. He tried all styles, and many subjects. He wrote a comedy, a tragedy, an epick poem, with panegyricks on all the Princes of Europe ; and, as he confesles, thought himself the greatest genius that ever was. Self-confidence is the first requifite to great undertakings; he, indeed, who forms his opinion of himself in folitude, without knowing the powers of other men, liable to errour; but it was the fe

is very

licity of Pope to rate himself at his real value,

Most of his puerile productions were, by his maturer judgement, afterwards destroyed; Alcander, the epick poem, was burnt by the persuasion of Atterbury. The tragedy was founded on the legend of St. Genevieve. Of the comedy there is no account.

Concerning his studies it is related, that he translated Tully on old Age; and that, besides his books of poetry and criticism, he read Temple's Esays and Locke on human Understanding. His reading, though his favourite authors are not known, appears to have been fufficiently extensive and multifarious ; for his early pieces shew, with fufficient evidence, his knowledge of books.

[ocr errors]

He that is pleased with himself, easily imagines that he shall please others. Sir William Trumbal, who had been ambassador at Constantinople, and secretary of state, when he retired from business, fixed his residence in the neighbourhood of Binfield. Pope, not yet sixteen, was introduced to the statesman

of

« ZurückWeiter »