Friday, November 30, 2007


Pope was born in the City of London to Alexander (senior, a linen merchant) and Edith (born Turner) Pope, who were both Roman Catholics. Pope's education was affected by the laws in force at the time upholding the status of the established Church of England, which banned Catholics from teaching on pain of perpetual imprisonment. Pope was taught to read by his aunt and then sent to two surreptitious Catholic schools, at Twyford and at Hyde Park Corner. Catholic schools, while illegal, were tolerated in some areas.

From early childhood he suffered numerous health problems, including Pott's disease (a form of tuberculosis affecting the spine) which deformed his body and stunted his growth, no doubt helping to end his life at the relatively young age of 56. He never grew beyond 1.37 metres (4 feet 6 inches) tall. Although he never married, he had many women friends and wrote them witty letters.

In 1700, his family was forced to move to a small estate in Binfield, Berkshire due to strong anti-Catholic sentiment and a statute preventing Catholics from living within 10 miles of either London or Westminster. Pope would later describe the countryside around the house in his poem Windsor Forest.

With his formal education now at an end, Pope embarked on an extensive campaign of reading. As he later remembered: "In a few years I had dipped into a great number of the English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek poets. This I did without any design but that of pleasing myself, and got the languages by hunting after the stories...rather than read the books to get the languages." His very favourite author was Homer, whom he had first read aged eight in the English translation of John Ogilby. Pope was already writing verse: he claimed he wrote one poem, Ode to Solitude, at the age of twelve.

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 two decades older than the poet and had made many acquaintances in the London literary world. He introduced the young Pope to the aging 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, Martha and Teresa, who would remain lifelong friends.

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