Alexander Pope

On this date in 1688, Alexander Pope was born in England, and educated in Catholic schools. Pope contracted tuberculosis, with the complication of Pott's disease, or TB of the spine, giving him a hunchback and an adult height of 4 feet, 6 inches. Despite health problems, Pope was a published poet by his teens. Pope became his generation's most respected and popular poet, able to support himself with his writings. A Deist and poet of the Enlightenment, his most famous couplet is: "Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; / The proper study of mankind is man" (Essay on Man, 1733, ii. l.1). His Essay on Man, a grouping of epistles, also contains the lines: "For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight; / He can't be wrong whose life is in the right" (iii. l.303). Pope also wrote: "Slave to no sect, who takes no private road, / But looks through Nature up to Nature's God" (l.331). Pope's "Universal Prayer" (see excerpt below) was likewise deistic. Pope contributed many immortal phrases, such as "damn with faint praise" (Satires and Epistles, Prologue to Dr. Arbuthnot), "a little learning is a dangerous thing," and "To err is human / to forgive divine" (An Essay on Criticism). D. 1744.

 

What conscience dictates to be done,
Or warns me not to do,
This teach me more than Hell to shun,
That more than Heaven pursue.
"

—Alexander Pope, "Universal Prayer," 1738

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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