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Alexander Pope
Despite personal handicaps that would have caused a man of less determination to give up, Pope rose to be the leading literary figure of his day. He was a Roman Catholic in an age when adherence to the "Old Faith" prevented him from receiving a university education, voting, or holding public office, and when the tax burden on Roman Catholics was sufficiently high to drive many once well-to-do families into bankruptcy. In addition, at the age of 12 Pope was stricken with a disease that left him dwarfed, crippled, and in almost constant pain. By sheer power of will, he managed to educate himself and to become admired as a poet and feared as a satirist. Pope earned a large income through his poetry, editorial work, and translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey. He was instrumental in forming the Scriblerus Club, a group of writers (including Jonathan Swift) who met on occasion to satirise the pretensions of learned men. In an age of satire Pope was often subjected to vituperous literary attacks, but he always gave at least as good as he got, cutting down his enemies with sharply homed heroic couplets. Among his best-known works are Essay on Criticism (1711), published when he was only 23; The Rape of the Lock (1714); Essay on Man (1733-34); and Moral Essays (1731-35), all written in heroic couplets.

Contributed by Gifford, Katya
15 March 2002


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