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choice and secret, or familiar and universal-or in that free, elastic, and sounding versification which has so large a compass of rhythmical melody. He gave to the heroic couplet the utmost variety of cadence, stateliness, and harmony of which that measure is susceptible; and his great Ode is still our finest specimen of lyric poetry. These native honours gained and tardily acknowledged, the venerable poet, when approaching the close of his chequered life, bequeathed to Congreve the care of his posthumous fame. He trusted that his friend would be kind to his remains, and defend him from "the insulting foe," shading those laurels which would descend to himself. The sacred bequest was not neglected; but Dryden's laurels were destined to descend, not to the successful dramatist, but to one who should follow closely and reverently in his own footsteps, copying his subjects, his manner, and versification; and adding to them original powers of wit, fancy, and tenderness, and a brilliancy, condensation, and correctness, which even his master did not reach, and which still remain unsurpassed.
ALEXANDER POPE was born in London in the memorable year of the Revolution, 1688. The belief in judicial astrology was then not utterly exploded, and the professors of this pretended science living in Westminster-their ancient stronghold-used to exhibit a book of horoscopes of extraordinary men, among which was that of Pope. The planetary influences shown in the poet's horoscope proved, they said, that all the great events of his life, known or unknown to the world, were to happen in years of commotion and trouble. His birth was in the year of that revolution which drove the Stuarts into unregretted exile; his publication of Homer commenced in the year of the Jacobite insurrection of 1715; and he died in the year 1744, when an invasion from France was attempted; being the beginning of that struggle which terminated with the victory at Culloden. The old practising astrologers up to a late period boasted that. Pope regularly consulted their predecessors. This tradition, however, may be discarded as an invention of the craft; for probably no distinguished author, having "the vision and the faculty divine," was ever so free as Pope from all superstitious weakness or overpowering romance of sentiment."
DATE OF POPE'S BIRTH.
There are few circumstances connected with the history or character of Pope that have not been made the subject of eager discussion; and we find the diversity of statement take its rise at the fountain-head. The date of his birth and the pedigree of his parents have been controverted. The former cannot be determined by an appeal to that record
-where to be born and die
Of rich and poor makes all the history."
The parish register at that time took no cognizance of the baptism of the children of Roman Catholic parents. But Pope himself sanctioned the statement in Jacob's Poetical Register (1723) that he was born in London in the year 1688. Another contemporary account, published by Curll, professes to be more specific, adding that the poet was born in Cheapside on the 8th of June, 1688, "so that one week produced both Pope and the Pretender." Ayre, in his Memoirs, published the year after the poet's death, adopts this date, but silently drops Cheapside. A short and worthless Life of Pope, by W. H. Dilworth, 1759, follows Ayre. The next authority purporting to be original, and one which possesses strong claims to attention, is a Life of Pope published by Mr. Owen Ruffhead in 1769. Owen Ruffhead was a plodding and prosaic lawyer, editor of the Statutes at Large; but he obtained information and manuscripts concerning Pope from Bishop Warburton, the poet's friend, commentator, and literary executor. Ruffhead states that Pope was born in Lombard-street on the 21st of May; Spence in his Anecdotes gives the same date and place; while Dr. Johnson -probably from mere inattention-mentions the 22nd of May, and Warton follows Johnson. The question is still further perplexed by a passage in one of Pope's letters to his friend Gay-a passage worth quoting for the fine lines it contains:
"Mr. Congreve's death touches me nearly. It was twenty years and more that I have known him: every year carries away something dear with it, till we outlive all tendernesses, and become wretched individuals again as we begun. Adieu! This is my birthday, and this is my reflection upon it:
"With added days if life give nothing new,
Some joy still lost, as each vain year runs o'er,
No date is given to this letter, but Congreve died on the 19th of January, 1728-9; and as Pope and Gay were in familiar and constant intercourse, it has been inferred that Pope's birthday was near the time of Congreve's death, in the latter end of January or beginning of February. This discrepancy, however, is removed by a simple explanation. In preparing his letters for the press, Pope was in the habit of altering and revising them, and sometimes of making one printed epistle out of two or more written ones. The lines we have quoted formed part of another poem; and there is little doubt that the latter portion of the above extract was detached from some other letter, or had been added for the sake of the poetry and the sentiment. The combined testimony of Ruffhead and Spence is conclusive. The 21st of May, 1688, was Pope's birthday, and Lombard-street, the ancient Exchange of the City, where the merchants, and money-lenders, and sedate citizens, congregated so early as the days of our Edwards and Henries, and where Falstaff dined with Master Smooth, the silkman, possesses the distinction of being his birthplace. With Chaucer, Spenser, Bacon, Milton, Pope, and Gray as her sons, the City of London, always rich and famous for merchandise and English spirit, may well claim the honour of being rich also in great poetical and immortal memories.1
In Lombard-street the poet's father carried on the busi
1 Spence states that the house in which Pope was born was afterwards (in 1739) occupied by one Mr. Morgan, an apothecary. It would seem to have been continued as an apothecary's or druggist's shop. The following particulars are obligingly communicated by Samuel Sharpe, Esq., author of "The History of Egypt," &c. "The house which, by the tradition of its inmates, claims the honour of being Pope's birthplace, is at the bottom of Plough Court, and faces you as you enter the passage from Lombard-street. It belonged to the well-known William Allen, and he succeeded a Mr. Bevan. The present owners say that Mr. Bevan used to relate that in his childhood the house was often visited by persons who came there out of curiosity to see the birthplace of the great poet. Mr. Bevan's memory, were he living, would reach back above a hundred years."
ness of a linen merchant. "He was an honest merchant, and dealt in Hollands wholesale," as his widow informed Mr. Spence. His son claimed for him the honour of being sprung from gentle blood. When that silken baron, Lord Hervey, vice-chamberlain in the Court of George II., and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, disgraced themselves by inditing the verses containing this couplet :
"Whilst none thy crabbed numbers can endure,
Hard as thy heart and as thy birth obscure :"
Pope indignantly repelled the accusation as to his descent.
"I am sorry (he said) to be obliged to such a presumption as to name my family in the same leaf with your lordship's; but my father had the honour in one instance to resemble you, for he was a younger brother. He did not indeed think it a happiness to bury his elder brother, though he had one, who wanted some of those good qualities which yours possessed. How sincerely glad could I be, to pay to that young nobleman's memory the debt I owed to his friendship, whose early death deprived your family of as much wit and honour as he left behind him in any branch of it. But as to my father, I could assure you, my lord, that he was no mechanic (neither a hatter, nor, which might please your lordship yet better, a cobbler), but, in truth, of a very tolerable family; and my mother of an ancient one, as well born and educated as that lady, whom your lordship made choice of to be the mother of your own children; whose merit, beauty, and vivacity (if transmitted to your posterity) will be a better present than even the noble blood they derive only from you. A mother, on whom I was never obliged so far to reflect as to say, she spoiled me; and a father, who never found himself obliged to say of me, that he disapproved my conduct. In a word, my lord, I think it enough, that my parents, such as they were, never cost me a blush; and that their son, such as he is, never cost them a tear."
In accordance with this representation, and written about the same time, an account of the poet's family was communicated to Curll (signed "P. T."), in which the poet's father is described as of "the younger branch of a family in good
2 Letter to a Noble Lord. The elder brother of Lord Hervey alluded to was Carr Lord Hervey, son of the Earl of Bristol by his first marriage. The lady whom Pope's "noble lord" made choice of to be the mother of his children, was Miss or Mrs. (as it was then the custom to style unmarried ladies) Mary Lepell, daughter of Brigadier-General Nicholas Lepell, married to Lord Hervey in 1720.
repute in Ireland, and related to the Lord Downe;" that he was a posthumous son and little provided for, his elder brother (who, it is added, studied and died at Oxford) having inherited what small estate was left, but that the poet's father being put to a merchant in Flanders, acquired a moderate fortune by merchandise. This communication we shall afterwards have occasion to notice in connexion with the publication of Pope's Letters in 1735. There is little doubt that it emanated from the poet himself, and was intended partly to mislead the credulous and inquisitive publisher, and partly to invest Pope's family history with interest and importance. Next year a more authoritative version was given. In a note on his Epistle to Arbuthnot, Pope states that his father was of a gentleman's family in Oxfordshire, the head of which was the Earl of Downe, whose sole heiress married the Earl of Lindsay. Next comes a different statement by Mr. Pottinger, a relation of the family, who informed Dr. Bolton, Dean of Carlisle, that the poet's grandfather was a clergyman of the Church of England in Hampshire, who had two sons, the younger of whom, Alexander, was sent to Lisbon to be placed in a mercantile establishment, and that while there he became a convert to the Roman Catholic Church.3 From these conflicting statements, it is impossible to tell whether the poet's family was of Ireland or of Oxfordshire, and whether his father had in his youth been placed under a merchant in Flanders or in Lisbon. It is probable, however, that the elder Pope had become a convert to the Catholic Church. The poet mentions, in one of his letters to Atterbury, that his father's library consisted wholly of books of controversial divinity ("a collection of all that had been written on both sides in the reign of King James II."), and in the case of a conscientious man, inquiry and study would precede the adoption of a new creed. To the same cause we may, perhaps, ascribe his rigid adherence to the Catholic Church, characteristic of a convert, which made the poet afraid to write verses or send profane letters in Holy Week under the eye of his father. Mr. Pottinger,
Warton's Essay on Pope, v. ii. p. 256 (edit. of 1806). Richard Pottinger, M.P. for Reading, died in 1740. This may have been Pope's kinsman; but his will contains no mention of the Pope family,