1742 portrait of Alexander Pope by Jean-Baptiste van Loo.

Alexander Pope (May 21, 1688 - May 30, 1744) was an English writer best known for his satirical poems. He also edited the complete works of Shakespeare and became rich as a result of his translation of Homer's Illiad.


Pope was born in London on May 21, 1688. His father, also called Alexander Pope, and his mother, known as Edith Turner before her marriage, were both Catholics. Pope's early life was affected by laws which banned Catholics in England from teaching, attending university or holding public office. Pope was taught to read by his aunt and attended two Catholic schools in London. Although Catholic schools were illegal in England they were tolerated in some parts of London.

At the age of twelve Pope contracted Pott's disease, a form of tuberculosis that affects the bones. As a result, he was left short, he never grew taller than four feet six inches, and severely hunchbacked. Pope would continue to suffer from other problems related to tuberculosis for the rest of his life.

In 1700 a law was introduced which banned Catholics from living within ten miles of London. Pope moved with his family to the Berkshire countryside. Pope received no more formal education after that point but continued to teach himself. He read the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare and other books in English, Latin, Greek, French and Italian.

Pope's first collection of poetry, The Pastorals, was published in 1709 and made him instantly famous. He befriended other well known writers of the time, including Jonathan Swift. Pope and Swift were among the founding members of the Scribelurs Club, a loose organization of satirical writers.

The Rape of the Lock, a comical mock-heroic poem and the work for which Pope is probably best known today, was first published in 1712 and revised in 1714.

In 1713 Pope began translating Homer's Illiad. It was published in six volumes between 1715 and 1720. Pope managed to persuade his publisher to pay him ₤210 for each volume, a very large amount of money at that time. Consequently, Pope's translation made him rich. In 1719 he moved to a lavish villa in Twickenham, ten miles southwest of central London.


Title page of a 1752 edition of Alexander Pope's translation of Homer's Odyssey.

The success of his translation of the Illiad led Pope to begin a translation of Homer's Odyssey. However, he found the work very difficult and hired two people to help him. Pope tried to keep the assistance he got in the translation secret. The discovery of the secret damaged Pope's reputation for a time.

In 1725 publication began of a six volume collection of the complete works of William Shakespeare edited by Alexander Pope. Pope believed that Shakespeare's plays had been corrupted by actors. He placed 1,560 lines in footnotes, claiming they were so bad that Shakespeare could not have written them. Other lines were removed altogether. In 1726 Lewis Theobald, a lawyer, poet and Shakespeare scholar, wrote a pamphlet called Shakespeare Restored in response to Pope's edition. Theobald listed Pope's errors and suggested revisions. Pope probably knew Theobald personally and considered his pamphlet a betrayal of friendship.

Pope responded to Theobald's criticism with the poem The Dunciad, originally published anonymously in Dublin. It attacks Theobald and other writers Pope considered to be dunces. The Dunciad provoked hostile responses from the writers that Pope attacked and their supporters, including threats of physical violence. According to Pope's sister, after The Dunciad was published Pope never left the house without a Great Dane dog and two loaded pistols.

Pope's next major work An Essay on Man was also published anonymously, in a successful attempt to elicit positive criticism from his harshest critics and enemies.

Pope wrote little after 1738 but continued to expand The Dunciad. The entire poem was revised in 1743, with the poet laureate Colley Cibber replacing Lewis Theobald as the main character, the king of the dunces.

On 29 May 1744, Pope called for a priest and received the Last Rites of the Catholic Church. He died the following day, surrounded by friends, at his villa in Twickenham.


Dunciad Cibber illustration 1760

Pages from a 1760 edition of The Dunciad.

  • Ode to Solitude (1700)
  • Pastorals (1709)
  • An Essay on Criticism (1711)
  • The Rape of the Lock (1712, revised and expanded in 1714)
  • Windsor Forest (1713)
  • Translation of Homer's Illiad (1715 to 1720)
  • Eloise to Abelard (1717)
  • Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady (1717)
  • 'The Works of Shakespeare in Six Volumes (1725 to 1726)
  • Translation of Homer's Odyssey (1725 to 1726)
  • Peri Barthous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry (1727)
  • Thoughts on Various Subjects (published in Jonathan Swift's Miscellanies, 1727)
  • The Dunciad (1728)
  • Moral Essays (1731 to 1735)
  • Essay on Man (1734)
  • The Prologue to the Satires (1735)
  • New Dunciad (1743)

External links