Alexander Pope was born on May 21st, 1688 into a Catholic family in London.
His education was affected by the then recent Test Acts, which upheld the status of the Church of England and banned Catholics from teaching. In effect this meant his formal education was over by the age of 12, but Pope was to immerse himself in classical literature and languages and too, in effect, educate himself.
From this age too he also suffered from numerous health problems including Pott’s disease, a type of tuberculosis, which resulted in a stunted, deformed body. He grew only to a height of 4’ 6”, with a severe hunchback and complicated further by respiratory difficulties, high fevers, inflamed eyes and abdominal pain, all of which served to further isolate him, initially, from society.
However, his talent was evident to all. Best known for his satirical verse, his translations of Homer and the use of the heroic couplet, he is the second most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare.
With the publication of Pastorals in 1709, followed by An Essay on Criticism in 1711 and his most famous work, The Rape of the Lock, in 1712, Pope became not only famous but wealthy.
His translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey further enhanced both reputation and purse. His engagement to produce an opulent new edition of Shakespeare met with a mixed reception. Pope attempted to "regularise" Shakespeare's metre and rewrote some of his verse and cut to mere footnotes 1,500 lines that Pope considered to be beneath the Bard’s standard.
Alexander Pope died on May 30th, 1744 at his villa at Twickenham (where he created his famous grotto and gardens) and was buried in the nave of the nearby Church of England Church - St Mary the Virgin.
Over the years and centuries since his death, Pope’s work has been in and out of favour, but with this distance he is now truly recognised as one of England’s greatest poets.
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