Pope is considered one of the greatest English poets of the eighteenth
to a Roman Catholic family in 1688, Pope was educated mostly at
home, in part due to laws in force at the time upholding the status
of the established Church of England. 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 in 1744. He never grew beyond 4ft 6in.
he had been writing poetry since the age of 12, his first major
contribution to the literary world is considered to be An Essay
on Criticism, which was published in 1711 when he was 23. This
was followed by The Rape of the Lock (1712, revised 1714), his
most popular poem; Eloisa to Abelard and Elegy to the Memory of
an Unfortunate Lady (1717); and several shorter works, of which
perhaps the best are the epistles to Martha Blount. From 1715
to 1720, he worked on a translation of Homer's Iliad.
by the very favourable reception of this translation, Pope translated
the Odyssey (1725–1726) with William Broome and Elijah Fenton.
The commercial success of his translations made Pope the first
English poet who could live off the sales of his work alone, "indebted
to no prince or peer alive", as he put it. In this period
Pope also brought out an edition of Shakespeare, which silently
"regularised" his metre and rewrote his verse in several
Theobald and other scholars attacked Pope's edition, incurring
Pope's wrath and inspiring the first version of his satire The
Dunciad (1728), the first of the moral and satiric poems of his
last period. His other major poems of this period were Moral Essays
(1731–1735), Imitations of Horace (1733–1738), the
Epistle to Arbuthnot (1735), the Essay on Man (1734), and an expanded
edition of the Dunciad (1742), in which Colley Cibber took Theobald's
place as the 'hero'.
directly addressed the major religious, political and intellectual
problems of his time. He developed the heroic couplet beyond the
achievement of any previous poet, and major poets after him used
it less than those before, as he had decreased its usefulness
also wrote the famous epitaph for Sir Isaac Newton:
and nature's laws lay hid in night;
God said 'Let Newton be' and all was light."
which Sir John Collings Squire later added the couplet
did not last: the devil, shouting 'Ho.
Let Einstein be' restored the status quo."
had a friend and ally in Jonathan Swift. In about 1713, he formed
the Scriblerus Club with Swift and other friends including John
works were once considered part of the mental furniture of the
well-educated person. One edition of the Oxford Dictionary of
Quotations includes no less than 212 quotations from Pope. Some,
familiar even to those who may not know their source, are "A
little learning is a dang'rous thing" (from the Essay on
Criticism); "To err is human, to forgive, divine" (ibid.);
"For fools rush in where angels fear to tread" (ibid);
and "The proper study of mankind is man" (Essay on Man).
reputation declined precipitously in the 19th century, but has
recovered substantially since then. Some poems, such as The Rape
of the Lock, the moral essays, the imitations of Horace, and several
epistles, are regarded as highly now as they have ever been, though
others, such as the Essay on Man, have not endured very well,
and the merits of two of the most important works, the Dunciad
and the translation of the Iliad, are still disputed.
19th century considered his diction artificial, his versification
too regular, and his satires insufficiently humane. The third
charge has been disputed by various 20th century critics including
William Empson, and the first does not apply at all to his best
work. That Pope was constrained by the demands of "acceptable"
diction and prosody is undeniable, but Pope's example shows that
great poetry could be written with these constraints.