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Alexander Pope
by [?]

Alexander Lexander Pope, the most brilliant of all wits who have at any period applied themselves to the poetic treatment of human manners, to the selecting from the play of human character what is picturesque, or the arresting what is fugitive, was born in the city of London on the 21st day of May, in the memorable year 1688; about six months, therefore, before the landing of the Prince of Orange, and the opening of that great revolution which gave the final ratification to all previous revolutions of that tempestuous century. By the “city” of London the reader is to understand us as speaking with technical accuracy of that district, which lies within the ancient walls and the jurisdiction of the lord mayor. The parents of Pope, there is good reason to think, were of “gentle blood,” which is the expression of the poet himself when describing them in verse. His mother was so undoubtedly; and her illustrious son, in speaking of her to Lord Harvey, at a time when any exaggeration was open to an easy refutation, and writing in a spirit most likely to provoke it, does not scruple to say, with a tone of dignified haughtiness not unbecoming the situation of a filial champion on behalf of an insulted mother, that by birth and descent she was not below that young lady, (one of the two beautiful Miss Lepels,) whom his lordship had selected from all the choir of court beauties as the future mother of his children. Of Pope’s extraction and immediate lineage for a space of two generations we know enough. Beyond that we know little. Of this little a part is dubious; and what we are disposed to receive as not dubious, rests chiefly on his own authority. In the prologue to his Satires, having occasion to notice the lampooners of the times, who had represented his father as “a mechanic, a hatter, a farmer, nay a bankrupt,” he feels himself called upon to state the truth about his parents; and naturally much more so at a time when the low scurrilities of these obscure libellers had been adopted, accredited, and diffused by persons so distinguished in all points of personal accomplishment and rank as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lord Harvey: “hard as thy heart” was one of the lines in their joint pasquinade, ” hard as thy heart, and as thy birth obscure.” Accordingly he makes the following formal statement: “Mr. Pope’s father was of a gentleman’s family in Oxfordshire, the head of which was the Earl of Downe. His mother was the daughter of William Turner, Esq., of York. She had three brothers, one of whom was killed; another died in the service of King Charles [meaning Charles I.]; the eldest, following his fortunes, and becoming a general officer in Spain, left her what estate remained after the sequestrations and forfeitures of her family.” The sequestrations here spoken of were those inflicted by the commissioners for the parliament; and usually they levied a fifth, or even two fifths, according to the apparent delinquency of the parties. But in such cases two great differences arose in the treatment of the royalists; first, that the report was colored according to the interest which a man possessed, or other private means for biassing the commissioners; secondly, that often, when money could not be raised on mortgage to meet the sequestration, it became necessary to sell a family estate suddenly, and. therefore in those times at great loss; so that a nominal fifth might be depressed by favor to a tenth, or raised by the necessity of selling to a half. And hence might arise the small dowry of Mrs. Pope, notwithstanding the family estate in Yorkshire had centred in her person. But, by the way, we see from the fact of the eldest brother having sought service in Spain, that Mrs. Pope was a Papist; not, like her husband, by conversion, but by hereditary faith. This account, as publicly thrown out in the way of challenge by Pope, was, however, sneered at by a certain Mr. Pottinger of those days, who, together with his absurd name, has been safely transmitted to posterity in connection with this single feat of having contradicted Alexander Pope. We read in a diary published by the Microcosm,” Met a large hat, with a man under it. “And so, here, we cannot so properly say that Mr. Pottinger brings down the contradiction to our times, as that the contradiction brings down Mr. Pottinger.” Cousin Pope, “said Pottinger,” had made himself out a fine pedigree, but he wondered where he got it. “And he then goes on to plead in abatement of Pope’s pretensions,” that an old maiden aunt, equally related,” (that is, standing in the same relation to himself and to the poet,) “a great genealogist, who was always talking of her family, never mentioned this circumstance.” And again we are told, from another quarter, that the Earl of Guildford, after express investigation of this matter, “was sure that,” amongst the descendants of the Earls of Downe, “there was none of the name of Pope.” How it was that Lord Guildford came to have any connection with the affair, is not stated by the biographers of Pope; but we have ascertained that, by marriage with a female descendant from the Earls of Downe, he had come into possession of their English estates.