Pope was the greatest master of the classical school of poetry in the Augustan Age. He was born in London in 1688-the year of the Revolution and of Bunyan’s death. His father was a prosperous linen draper. On account of his Catholicism, he was excluded from public schools and universities. The result was that he picked up most of his knowledge in a haphazard way, and he could never become an accurate scholar. The want for sound learning and mental discipline is apparent in his work. Homer’s translation made him rich and enabled him to buy a house at Twickenham in 1719. He was always petted and spoilt by admiring friends, but his spiteful nature on account of his short stature (he was only 4 feet 6 inches high) and curvature in the spine (a chronic disease he suffered from) perpetually turned friends into foes. In his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, he said that his life was a long disease’. Despite his invalidation, he worked steadily with a sincere love for literature till he died. He did not abandon his Catholic religion despite his Deist leanings and the double taxation that his recusancy incurred. He left his property to his lifelong friend Martha Blount.
His works are :
(a) Pastorals (1709): The Pastorals are four in number, written in an artificial style on the model of Virgil. These short poems on spring, summer, autumn, and winter were written by him when he was barely sixteen.
(b) Essay on Criticism (1711): It provides a peep into his own style as well as that of his age in general.
(c) Windsor Forest (1713): The last line of this poem is virtually identical to the first line of his ‘Pastorals’.
(d) The Rape of the Lock (1712-14): It is a mock-heroic poem, an epic in five cantos, and a masterpiece by Pope. It was founded on an incident that occurred in Roman Catholic society. Lord Peter cut a lock of hair from the head of a young pretty girl Arabella Fermor. The practical joke led to a quarrel between the two families and Pope was appealed to by a common friend, John Caryl, to throw oil on troubled waters by turning the whole thing into jest.
The poem is remarkable not just because of its most authentic commentary upon the society of the age of Queen Anne, but also because of its wonderful, highly satisfactory mock-heroic style. Here are some important extracts:
“Know further yet, whoever fair and chaste Rejects mankind, is by some sylph embraced. For spirits, freed from mortal laws, with ease Assume what sexes and what shapes they please.” -From Canto I “For when success a lover’s toil attends, Few ask if fraud or force attained his ends.” -From Canto II “While melting music steals upon the sky, And softened sounds along the waters die; Smooth flow the waves, the zephyrs gently play, Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay.” -From Canto II “O thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate, Too soon dejected, and too soon elate. Sudden, these honors shall be snatched away, And cursed forever this victorious day.” -From Canto III “Coffee (which makes the politician wise And see through all things with his half-shut eye.)” -From Canto III “One died in metaphor and one in song.” -From Canto III
(e) Translation of Homer’s Illiad’: Pope capitalized on his growing reputation by inviting subscriptions for a translation of Homer’s Illiad. The work was published in installments between 1715-20 and made him financially strong.
(f) Translation of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’: It is said that Pope gave an advertisement ‘undertaking’ a translation of ‘Odyssey’. However, it leaked out that Pope had sub-contracted the work to two minor poets, Elijah Fenton and William Broom. Therefore, people nick-named them, Pope, for sometimes, ‘the undertaker’. The work appeared in 1725-26.
(g) The Dunciad (1728): It is a parody of a scholarly work in three books in which Pope attacked his literary enemies including Lewis Theobald, who pointed out some errors in his edition of Shakespeare. In 1742, Pope produced the New Dunciad, a continuation of the earlier poem and in 1743 this was added as Book Four to the new edition of The Dunciad and changed the hero from Theobald to Colley Cibber, the Poet Laureate.
(h) An Essay on Man (1733-34): It is Pope’s most famous work after the Rape of the Lock. Although the work is a collection of facile platitudes, most of its lines are highly quotable and made Pope immensely popular. Here are some extracts.
(i) ‘The proper study of mankind is the man.’
(ii) ‘Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all.’
(iii) ‘The learned is happy Nature to explore, The fool is happy that he knows no more; The rich is happy in the plenty given The poor contents him with the care of heaven.’
(iv) ‘And beads and prayer books are the toys of age.”
(i) An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1735): It contains some of the most polished of the Pope’s satires, but the poem also gives biographical references, besides comments on the contemporaries of the Pope.
(j) Imitations of Horace (1733-37).