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When he was yet a child, his father, who had been a merchant in London, and retired to Binfield with about twenty thousand pounds, would frequently order him to make English verses. It seems he was difficult to be pleased, and would make the lad correct them again and again. When at last he approved them, he took great pleasure in perusing them, and would
say, “ These are good RHYMES.” These early praises of a tender and respected * parent, co-operating with the natural inclination of the son, might possibly be the causes that fixed our young bard in a resolution of becoming eminent in this art. He was taught to read very early by an aunt; and of his own indefatigable industry, learned to write, by copying printed books, which he executed with great neatness and accuracy. When he was eight years old, he was put under the direction of one Taverner, a priest, who taught him the rudiments of the Latin and Greek tongues together. About this time he accidentally met with Ogilby's translation of Homer, which, notwithstanding the deadness and insipidity of the versification, arrested his atten. tion by the force of the story. The Ovid of Sandys fell next in his way; and it is said, that the raptures these translations gave him were so strong, that he spoke of them with pleasure to the period of his life. About ten, being now at school at Hyde-Park-Corner, whither he went from a Popish seminary to Twiford, near Win. chester, he was carried sometimes to the play. house; and being struck, we may imagine, with theatrical representations, he turned the chief events into a kind of play, made up of a number of speeches from Ogilby's translation, connected with verses of his own. He persuaded the upper boys to act this piece, which, from its curiosity, one would have been glad to have beheld. The master's gardener represented the character of Ajax; and the actors were dressed after the pictures of his favourite Ogilby; far the best part of that book, as they were designed and engraved by artists of note. At twelve, he retired with his father into Windsor-Forest; and it was there he first perused the writings of Waller, of
* Most of these circumstances were communicated by Pope himself to Mr. Spence.
Spenser, and of Dryden. Spenser is said to have made a poet of Cowley : that Ogilby should give our author his first poetic pleasures, is a remarkable circumstance. On the first sight of Dryden, he abandoned the rest, having now found an author whose cast was exactly congenial with his own. His works, therefore, he studied with equal pleasure and attention : be placed them before his eyes as a model; of which more will be said in the course of these papers.
He copied not only his harmonious versification, but the very turns of his periods. It was hence he was enabled to give to rhyme all the harmony of which it is capable.
About this time, when he was † fifteen years old, he began to write his ALCANDER, an epic poem, of which he himself speaks with so much amiable frankness and ingenuity, in a passage restored to the excellent preface before his works. “I confess there was a time when I was in love with myself, and my first productions were the children of self-love
* I was informed by an intimate friend of Pope, that when he was yet a mere boy, Dryden gave him a shilling, by way of encouragement, for a translation he had made of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovid.
* Nec placet ante annos vates puer: ornnia justo
Vidæ Poet. l. i.
innocence. I had made an epic poem, and panegyrics on all the princes of Europe, and I thought myself the greatest genius that ever was. I cannot but regret these delightful visions of my childhood, which, like the fine colours we see when our eyes are shut, are vanished for ever.” Atterbury had perused this early piece, and, we may gather from one of his letters, advised him to burn it; though he adds, “ I would have interceded for the first page, and put it, with your leave, among my curiosities." I have been credibly informed, that some of the anonymous verses, quoted as examples of the Art of Sinking in Poetry, in the incomparable satire so called, were such as our poet remembered from his own ALCANDER. So sensible of its own errors and imperfections is a mind truly great.
Quintilian, whose knowledge of human nature was consummate, has observed, that noG
thing quite correct and faultless, is to be expected in very early years, from a truly elevated genius; that a generous extravagance and exuberance are its proper marks; and that a premature exactness is a certain evidence of future flatness and sterility. His words are incomparable, and worthy consideration.* " Audeat hæc ætas plura, et INVENIAT, et inventis gaudeat, sint licet illa non satis interim sicca et severa. Facile remedium est ubertatis, sterilia nullo labore vincuntur. Illa mihi in pueris natura nimium spei dabit, in quâ INGENIUM judicio præ, sumitur. Materiam esse primum volo vel abundantiorem, atque ultra quam oportet fusam. Multum inde decoquent anni, multum ratio limabit, aliquid velut usu ipso deteretur, sit modo unde excidi possit et quod exculpi: erit autem, si non ab initio tenuem laminam duxerimus, et quam cælatura altior rumpat-Quare mihi ne maturitas quidem ipsa festinét, nec musta in lacu statim austera sint; sic et annos ferent, et vetustate proficient.” This is very strong and masculine sense, expressed and enlivened by a train
* Lib. ii. Instit. Cap. 4. ad init.