Alexander Pope was born an only child to Alexander and Edith Pope in the spring of 1688. The elder Pope, a linen-draper and recent convert to Catholicism, soon moved his family from London to Binfield, Berkshire in the face of repressive, anti-Catholic legislation from Parliament. Described by his biographer, John Spence, as "a child of a particularly sweet temper," and with a voice so melodious as to be nicknamed the "Little Nightingale," the child Pope bears little resemblance to the irascible and outspoken moralist of the later poems. Though barred from attending public school or university because of his religion, Pope was eager to achieve and hence, largely self-educated. He taught himself French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, and read widely, discovering Homer at the precocious age of six.
At twelve, Pope composed his earliest extant work, Ode to Solitude; the same year saw the onset of the debilitating bone deformity that plagued Pope until the end of his life. Originally attributed to the severity of his studies, the illness is now commonly accepted as Pott’s disease, a form of tuberculosis affecting the spine that stunted his growth—Pope’s height never exceeded four and a half feet—and rendered him hunchbacked, asthmatic, frail, and prone to violent headaches. His physical appearance made him an easy target for his many literary enemies in later years, who referred to the poet as a "hump-backed toad." Pope’s Pastorals, which he claimed to have written at sixteen, were published in Jacob Tonson’s Poetical Miscellanies of 1710 and brought him swift recognition. An Essay on Criticism, published anonymously the year after, established the heroic couplet as Pope’s principal measure. It included the famous line "a little learning is a dangerous thing." The poem was said to be a response to an on-going debate on the question of whether poetry should be natural, or written according to predetermined artificial rules inherited from the classical past. It attracted the attention of Jonathan Swift and John Gay, who became Pope’s lifelong friends and collaborators. Together they formed the Scriblerus Club, a congregation of writers endeavouring to satirize ignorance and poor taste through the invented figure of Martinus Scriblerus, who served as a precursor to the dunces in Pope’s late masterpiece, the Dunciad.
1712 saw the first appearance of the The Rape of the Lock, Pope’s best-known work and the one that secured his fame. Its mundane subject—the true account of a squabble between two prominent Catholic families over the theft of a lock of hair—is transformed by Pope into a mock-heroic send-up of classical epic poetry. It originated from a quarrel between two families with whom Pope was acquainted. The cause was not very small − the 7th Lord Petre cut off a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor’s hair, and kept it as a trophy. Although Pope did not admit it, the title of the work was most likely influenced by Alessandro Tassoni’s mock-epic The Rape of the Bucket, from 1622.
Turning from satire to scholarship, Pope in 1713 began work on his six-volume translation of Homer’s Iliad. He arranged for the work to be available by subscription, with a single volume being released each year for six years, a model that garnered Pope enough money to be able to live off his work alone, one of the few English poets in history to have been able to do so.
In 1719, following the death of his father, Pope moved to an estate at Twickenham, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Here he constructed his famous grotto. The celebrated grotto was, in fact, an imaginative method of linking the riverside gardens with the gardens which lay on the other side of the road leading from Twickenham to Teddington. Encouraged by the success of the Iliad, Pope went on to translate the Odyssey— which he brought out under the same subscription model as the Iliad—and to compile a heavily-criticized edition of Shakespeare, in which Pope "corrected" the Bard’s meter and made several alterations to the text, while leaving corruptions in earlier editions intact.
In addition to his translation of the "Odyssey," which he completed with Broome and Fenton in 1726, Pope published "Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady" and the "Epistle of Eloïsa to Abelard" in 1717. Also, in 1725, he published an annotated edition of William Shakespeare.
Other works include: "Essay on Man" (1715),"Epistles" (1732- 34), four "Moral Essays," and other epistles, all of which explore the philosophy and metaphysics. Pope’s uprightness had everything to do with his artistic merit. He wrote satire in the service of virtue – not simply self-defence.