(21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744)
“We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow;
Our wiser sons, no doubt will think us so.”
Alexander Pope (Essay on Criticism)
Born on 21 May 1688, Alexandra Pope is generally regarded as the greatest English poet of the early 1700s. His brilliant verse satires ridiculed many kinds of human follies. Pope’s biting wit made him one of the most feared writers of his time in England.
A Roman Catholic, Alexandra Pope knew several languages like French, Italian, Latin and Greek. Pope wrote heroic couplets, consisting of two rhymed lines of 10 syllables each. His verse is polished and concise and shows a keen feeling for sound and rhythm. Pope has become one of the most quotable poets. He wrote many famous lines, including a couplet from An Essay on Criticism that expressed his literacy creed:
True wit is nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d.
Alexander Pope’s career can be divided into three periods. In the first, from 1709 to 1715, he wrote An Essay on Criticism (1711). This witty poem about criticism and writing made him famous at the age of 23. It includes two famous lines “A little learning is dangerous thing’ and ‘To err is human, to forgive is divine’. Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1712, 1714), is the most famous mock epic poem in the English language. In the poem, Pope satirizes the vanities of fashionable people. The Rape of the Lock tells about a pretty young woman whose lock of hair is snipped off by a suitor at a party. Then a Battle of the sexes’ follows, and Pope states the moral:
Oh, if to dance all night, and dress all day
Charm’d the smallpox, or chased old age away.
Who would not scorn what housewife’s cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use?
During the second phase, 1715 to 1726, Pope devoted himself to translating and editing. His translation of the Greek epic poem the Iliad, made him financially independent. With the profits, Pope bought a villa at Twickenham near London in 1719. He spent his remaining years there writing.
During the last period, Pope wrote his most serious satires. They express his belief in the value of common sense, a moral life, friendship, poetry and good taste. An Essay on Man (1733-1734) is a long ironic, philosphical poem. It includes the well known line:
Hope springs eternal in the human breast
Pope’s four Moral Essays (1731-35) are satirical poems in the form of letters. One of these poems lighly exposes the follies that Pope saw in women and another ridicules people who misuse wealth. Imitations of Horace (1733-1738) is patterned after the famous verse epistles (letters) and satires of the Roman poet Horace. Pope created a favorable picture of the poet as a man who is independent, good and a lover of truth. The poem also attacks Pope’s enemies, especially the Author Joseph Addison
Alexander Pope’s last major work was The Dunciad (1728-1743). The poem ridicules dull writers, biased critics, overly scholarly professors and stupid scientists. Pope particularly ridiculed the critic Lewis Theobald and the writer Colley Cibber.
At the age of 12, Alexander had suffered a tubercular spinal infection. As a result of this illness, he grew to an adult height of only about 140 centimeters and developed a hunchback. He was extremely sensitive about his appearance.