Alexander Pope

(1688 - 1744)

Short Biography


Alexander Pope was born in Lombard Street, London, the son of a prosperous merchant, who was also a Roman Catholic.


He was largely educated at home. His parents moved to Binfield in Windsor Forest in 1700 (12), probably in response to laws which, among other restrictions, prevented Catholics from living within 10 miles of London. Here he contracted the first of a series of illnesses, which, together with his physical deformity (he had a hunched back and was only four feet six inches tall), left him a semi-invalid for the rest of his life.

The precocious poet

By 1700 (12) he was already writing imitations of Cowley, Chaucer and Spenser, and translating Ovid and Homer. His Pastorals appeared in Tonson’s Miscellany (1707, 19), and in 1711 (23) his Essay on Criticism was published, quickly establishing his literary reputation.

The Scriblerus Club

He jointly founded the Scriblerus Club in 1713 (25) with the intention of composing joint satires on false learning and pedantry.

Mature poetry

A short version of The Rape of the Lock, a mock heroic poem on the theft of a lock of hair from a society beauty by a society beau, was published in 1712 (24), followed by Windsor Forest in 1713 (25), and the full version of The Rape in 1714 (26). A collected edition of his poetry, including the previously unpublished Eloisa to Abelard and Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, appeared in 1717 (29), and established his reputation as the foremost poet of his day.

His translations of Homer

His translation of the Iliad appeared between 1715 (27) and 1720 (32), and, on the back of its financial success, he was able to rent a villa on the Thames at Twickenham, then a small country town. He wrote :

....thanks to Homer I live and thrive

Indebted to no Prince alive.

Fiscal control

Johnson writes of him 'Of Pope's domestic character frugality was a part eminently remarkable...This general care must be universally approved; but it sometimes appeared in petty artifices of parsimony, such as the practice of writing his compositions on the back of letters, as may be seen in the remaining copy of the Iliad, by which perhaps in five years five shillings were saved.'

Pope the gardener

At Twickenham, he pursued his interest in gardening, kept his own boatman to row him into London, and his own coach to visit his friends, Lord Bathurst at Cirencester, Lord Cobham at Stowe, Ralph Allen near Bath and Lord Peterborough at Southampton, all of whom were also enthusiastic gardeners.

He tidies Shakespeare and replies to his critics with The Dunciad

He next turned his attention to Shakespeare, treating him in much the same way as he had treated Homer, by removing his ‘imperfections’. There had been criticism of his Homer, notably from the scholar Richard Bentley, who had told Pope that though his Iliad was a fine poem, he should not call it Homer. Similar criticism surfaced about his Shakespeare. Pope responded that he was merely defending high literary standards, and that his critics were pedants devoid of taste, a defence extensively detailed in The Dunciad (1728, 40), which he revised, expanded and re-targeted in 1742 (54).

The Epistles

In 1730 (42) he was contemplating writing a series of verse epistles, of which the first four were to cover the nature of man and the rest, moderation. The epistle, Of Taste (now known as Moral Essay, Epistle IV), was published in 1731 (43), and three more epistles followed in the next five years. Of Taste was attacked by critics who thought he was targeting the Duke of Chandos, and he replied with Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot, a defence of satire conceived along the lines of the first satire of the second book of Horace. His argument is further expounded in his Imitations of Horace (1733, 45 to 1738, 50) to which he was tempted by the success of the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot.


He died in 1744 (56)