Admitting Mistakes

Pope wrote and translated poetry, and was best known for his satirical attacks on personal, political, and literary enemies and his translations of classics. His most famous works include “Pastorals” (1709), “Essay on Criticism” (1711), “The Rape of the Lock”(1712-1714), “Windsor Forest” (1713), “The Wife of Bath” (1714), “The Dunciad” (1728), “Essay on Man” (1733-34), “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” (1735), and a series of satiric poems (1733-38) based on the works of Horace.

His humorous, biting style became the dominant style for poetry in the 18th century. His translation of Homer’s “The Iliad” (1715-1720) and “Odyssey” (1725-26) made his fortune. He also edited an edition of Shakespeare, much to the fury of some critics. In Pope’s translations he tried to stay true to the spirit of the original, as he interpreted the author’s meaning, at the occasional expense of literal accuracy. Pope was the first English poet to become famous, during his lifetime, on the European continent, especially in France and Italy.

His father was a wholesale linen merchant who retired the year Pope was born, 1688. When Pope was 12 the family moved from London to Windsor Forest. He attended some Catholic schools but was mainly self-educated, teaching himself to read English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek. As a Roman Catholic he was barred from English universities. Suffering from tuberculosis, asthma, curvature of the spine, and frequent headaches, Pope never grew beyond four feet, six inches tall, yet he was an attractive man.

He enjoyed traveling but, in general, his physical problems directed his activity in a scholarly direction. His friends tended to be fellow Catholic Tories; the rivalry with the Protestant Whigs being so great that Joseph Addison sponsored a competing edition of Pope’s translation of “The Iliad”. His satiric attacks on fellow literary men, and vice-versa, was a continuing theme of Pope’s life. His father died in 1717; in 1719 he and his mother rented a villa on the Thames at Twickenham, where he lived until his death in 1744.

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