Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

MAY 30th

On this day in history in 1744, died Alexander Pope.

Pope was a writer, poet and satirist. His Essay on Criticism, laid the foundations for the study of literature. 

Alexander Pope was born on 21st May 1688 at London, the son of a linen merchant. He suffered from the double disadvantage of being a Catholic, in an age of legal discrimination, and having a curvature of the spine which restricted his height to four feet six inches, when fully grown. As a Catholic, he was excluded from the major schools and the universities, but was trained at home by Catholic priests, and attended Catholic schools at Twyford and London, but he was mainly self-educated. His lack of formal education proved to be an advantage as he was able to indulge in the form of studies which pleased him most, and he taught himself to read Latin and wrote verse in imitation of the Classic poets. At the age of 12, he wrote Ode on Solitude, a verse in English, a paraphrase of the Roman poet Ovid.

In 1711, Pope published An Essay on Criticism, a discourse including such epigrams as ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing’, ‘To err is human, to forgive, divine’, and ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’. These memorable phrases, traceable to the Roman poets Horace and Quintilian, have since become part of the proverbial tradition of the English language. In 1712, he published The Rape of the Lock, a poem in heroic couplets, written in the style of Homer, concerning the apparently fatuous subject of a young gentleman, who surreptitiously steals a lock of hair from a young lady of a rival family. Pope treated the subject matter as comparable to the great clash between the Greeks and Trojans, of Homer's Iliad. In 1713, he published Winsor Forest, a verse in the pastoral vein, celebrating the reign of Queen Anne, as Virgil had commemorated the rule of the emperor Augustus.

By 1717, Pope had amassed sufficient wealth to live in considerable style. He established a villa on the Thames at Twickenham, then a small country town, where he became an authority on landscape gardening, adding a grotto to the villa in the shape of a tunnel beneath a nearby road, leading to the garden.

Pope continued to write until his death in 1744. One of his memorable lines, in praise of Isaac Newton, ran:

Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be' and all was light.

Sir John Collings Squire later added the couplet:

‘It did not last: the Devil, shouting “Ho.
Let Einstein be” restored the status quo.’

Pope died on 30th May 1744 and was buried in Twickenham parish church. [St Mary’s Church, Church Street, Twickenham, Middlesex TW1 3NJ]. On his tombstone is inscribed the epithet ‘Qui nil molitur inepte’ (who wrote nothing inept).

Writing manuscripts was much more difficult for 18th century writers like Alexander Pope than it is for writers today. It likely took days to complete a manuscript by hand with pen and ink compared to the minutes it takes to print one these days. Reviews of Instant Ink and speedy laser printers are perfect tools for 21st century writers.

Recommended reading.

Pope, Alexander. The Major Works. Oxford World's Classics.
Baines, Paul. The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope. Paperback.
Mack, Maynard. Alexander Pope: A Life.

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