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however, was cast. "My next period," says Pope, "was in Windsor Forest, where I sat down with an earnest desire of reading, and applied as constantly as I could to it for some years. I was between twelve and thirteen when I went thither, and I continued in this close pursuit of pleasure and languages till nineteen or twenty. Considering how very little I had, when I came from school, I think I may be said to have taught myself Latin as well as French and Greek, and
in all these my chief way of getting them was by translation." He afterwards said of himself,
passed through the room, an avenue was formed to admit his free approach, every hand was stretched out to bid him welcome, and the future Sir Joshua Reynolds succeeded, by thrusting his hand under the arm of another person, to catch hold of that of the poet.
"Bred up at home, full early I begun
No critical scholar, however, has given Pope credit for proficiency in the language of Homer, or pronounced his scheme of self-instruction to have been a successful experiment. He forced his way into the chambers of ancient literature, but he never obtained complete possession of the treasures with which they are stored. His case may be held to support the argument in favour of public schools; but at the same time it affords an animating example to the young student who has been denied the inestimable advantages of early training and discipline.
Classic studies were varied by attempts at original composition. Pope's father used to set him when very young to make verses; and, as his mother related to Spence, often sent him back to " new turn" them, saying, " ' These are not good rhymes,' for tbat was my husband's word for verses." The pupil, however, soon shot far ahead of his master. His Ode on Solitude was written, he says, when he was not twelve years old, and a Paraphrase on Thomas a Kempis, recently published, is also marked by the author as "done at twelve years old." The train of sentiment and imagery in these poems exhibits Pope in his most engaging mood—as the retired, pious boy, charming his parents by his poetical talents and affectionate sweetness, and delighting to contemplate in his forest solitude a life of leisure and study. But this was only a part of his nature. Other powers and passions were developing themselves in secret. His proneness to satire was soon manifested, and some verses which he wrote, when only fourteen, on Elkanah Settle, the Citypoet, and the Doeg of Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel, are highly characteristic as well as remarkable for their ability. Some of Pope's translations and imitations of the English poets go back to nearly the same period, and all evince great skill and command of versification. In this branch of his art, Pope unquestionably surpassed Milton, Cowley, or Chatterton, whose early productions, though more strongly imbued with poetical fancy and ambition (poor Chatterton at twelve or thirteen had all the "fine
translunary madness" of the creative poet), are crude and defective in style. Pope as a versifier was never a boy. He was born to refine our numbers and to add the charm of finished elegance to our poetical literature, and he was ready for his mission at an age when most embryo poets are labouring at syntax, or struggling for expression. Nor was it only his taste and fine ear for metrical harmony that were thus early developed. His power of condensing thought and embodying observation in language terse and appropriate, his critical judgment, the satirical bias of his mind, and a tendency, it must be confessed, to dwell on indelicate and disagreeable images, all are visible in these juvenile poems. Waller, Spenser, and Dryden were Pope's favourite poets, and when a boy, he said, he could distinguish the difference between softness and sweetness in their versification. On the same points, Dryden is found to be softer, Waller sweeter; and the same distinction prevails between Ovid and Virgil. The Eclogues of Yirgil he thought the sweetest poems in the world. Some further notices of Pope's boyish studies and predilections are given in Spence:
"The epic poem, which I begun a little after I was twelve, was Alcander, Prince of Rhodes. There was an under-water scene in the first book; it was in the Archipelago. I wrote four books toward it of about a thousand verses each; and had the copy by me till I burnt it by the advice of the Bishop of Rochester, a little before he went abroad. I endeavoured (said he, smiling) in this poem to collect all the beauties of the great epic writers into one piece: there was Milton's style in one part, and Cowley's in another; here the style of Spenser imitated, and there of Statius; here Homer and Virgil, and there Ovid and Claudian." It was an imitative poem, then, as your other exercises were imitations of this or that story? "Just that." Mr. Pope wrote verses imitative of sounds so early as in this epic poem.
"'Shields, helms, and swords all jangle as they hang,
"There were also some couplets in it which I have since inserted in some of my other poems without any alteration. As in the Essay on Criticism: