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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Alexander Pope

The most brilliant poet of the *Augustan age. He began life, the son of a linen merchant, with a double disadvantage: as a *Roman Catholic he was excluded from the major schools and from university, so that much of his education was at home; and a curvature of the spine meant that he had a height of only 4ft 6in (1.37m). But his wit and his charm (to those he was not savaging in print) soon made him a prominent figure in society.

An Essay on Criticism (1711) revealed his brilliant way with a memorable phrase, introducing to the language such often quoted lines as 'A little learning is a dangerous thing' or 'Fools rush in where angels fear to tread'. The *Rape of the Lock appeared in the following year and in 1713 he published Windsor Forest, praising the reign of Queen *Anne just as *Virgil had celebrated that of the emperor *Augustus. With his translations of the Iliad (1715–20) and the Odyssey (1725–6), both published by subscription, he earned enough to live the rest of his life in considerable style.

Pope moved to *Twickenham in 1717. Pioneering a fashion for riverside villas, he enlarged an existing house for himself and his mother and added a famous grotto (a tunnel under a nearby road, leading to his garden). He was now considered something of an authority on *landscape gardening, and was a welcome guest in many stately homes, such as Stowe, where the grounds were being developed. But his success and his sharp pen brought him as many enemies as friends; the former were vigorously attacked in the *Dunciad (1728, final version 1743).

Nearly all Pope's poetry is in heroic couplets (pairs of rhyming lines, each of ten syllables), and his mastery of this form allowed him a wide range of surprises, contrasts, touches of bathos and other comic or satirical effects. The Moral Essays (1731–5) and the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (1735) were the most brilliant of his later works, the Essay on Man (1733-4) being as polished but less original.

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