Alexander Pope –

– The Reclusive Freemason of Twickenham, Middlesex

Alexander Pope attributed to Charles Jervas oil on canvas, circa 1713-1715 © National Portrait Gallery, London

This article is reproduced unabridged and has been presented by W Bro Leonardo Monno of North Harrow Lodge, No. 6557 for the interest of fellow Middlesex Masons.

The Media Team welcome similar contributions from members of the Province to expand knowledge of the County of Middlesex and famous Freemasons who took up in residence in a different age.

Alexander Pope is generally credited, alongside Shakespeare, with gifting the world a literary legacy that has still to be eclipsed.

And, thanks to the mystery line in the bestselling book The Da Vinci Code: The Lost Chapters, his reputation has reached even the readers of the detective novel genre.

In London Lies A Knight A Pope Interred
His Labour’s Fruit a Holy Wrath Incurred.
You Seek The Orb That Ought Be On His Tomb.
It Speaks Of Rosy Flesh And Seeded Womb.

According to belief, the funeral of the highly important early scientist and Knight, Sir Isaac Newton, was attended by monarchs and nobles and officiated over by his friend and fellow Freemason Alexander Pope who gave a passionate eulogy.

WHO WAS ALEXANDER POPE ? –

Alexander Pope was an eminent English poet, scholar, and satirist of the 18th century, who settled and died in Middlesex.

Born in Lombard Street, City of London, on 21 May 1688, his father, Alexander Snr., was a successful merchant in the Strand and his mother, Edith Turner, came from York. Both parents were Catholics.

The Test Acts of 1678 were a set of English laws that, under the threat of imprisonment made it illegal for Catholics to teach, attend university, vote, or hold public office.

The impact this had on Alexander’s instruction was that he had to be taught to read and write at home by his aunt.

When he was ten, Pope was sent to Twyford School and, following that, he attended two Roman Catholic schools in London.

They were illegal institutions, but their existence was tolerated in some parts of the Capital.

In 1700, the strong anti-Catholic sentiment and a statute that barred Catholics from domiciling within 10 miles (16 km) of London or Westminster, obliged the Popes to move near Binfield, Berkshire.

From then on, Pope largely educated himself by reading classical and English authors’ and learned several languages by studying works in French, Italian, Latin, and Greek.

HEALTH AND LITERARY CAREER –

Pope developed health issues from the age of twelve.

Having moved to Binfield, he suffered with a type of tuberculosis that affected his spine, distorted his body, and thwarted his growth.

Pope was left with a significant hunchback and was just 1.37 meter (4 ft 6 in) tall when he died.

Other health concerns he experienced included respiratory difficulties, high fevers, swollen eyes, and abdominal pain.

Pope once said that “his life was one long disease”.

As a Catholic, Pope was already marginalized in society, and his poor health and deformities restricted his existence even further.

He became known as “the reclusive of Twickenham” and never married; yet he managed to surround himself with female friends to whom he would send amusing letters.

His first significant work, Pastorals, was released in 1709 and immediately turned into a bestseller.

Two years later, he wrote An Essay on Criticism and began to interact with a group of writers and Freemasons, that included Jonathan Swift, Thomas Parnell, and John Arbuthnot.

Together they constituted the satirical Scriblerus Club, which aimed at mocking illiteracy through the fictional scholar character of Martinus Scriblerus.

In 1714, Pope wrote Rape of the Lock, a parody on a high-society feud in which he tells of a world where trivial matters take precedence over all else.

Pope had been fascinated with Homer since childhood and in 1715, he embarked on a translation of the Iliad.

The work was published in several volumes and took him six years to finish.

His translation of the Odyssey was published in 1726.

Pope is also remembered as the first full-time professional English writer, having supported himself on subscription fees for his popular translations of Homer and his version of the works of William Shakespeare.

He was such a prolific writer and his literary work is so extensive and diverse as to make it impractical to mention and comment here.

BELIEFS AND FREEMASONRY –

“That Alexander Pope was a Freemason, it appears to be established to a great probability“, wrote Brother W.J.Williams, in his discursive essay published in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Transactions N. 2076, vol. XXXVIII, of 1925.

Pope’s Universal Prayer is, after all, often quoted in Masonic instruction.

He composed it in 1738 with the desire of inspiring man to believe in God, direct him to help his fellow men, and lead a moral life; three very Masonic principles !

Another of his pieces with Masonic and philosophical undertones is An Essay on Man that was published between 1732 and 1734.

It presents Pope’s perspective of the Universe which, no matter how flawed, complex, incomprehensible, or disturbing it may be, it still functions rationally and according to natural laws for it is the work of God and therefore perfect.

Pope is credited with having been a member of the Goat Lodge, No.16, which met at the similar-sounding Tavern “The Goat at the Foot of the Haymarket” and was established in 1723.

His name appears in the 1730 members list present in the Grand Lodge Minutes, which may be perused in the Quatour Coronatorum Antigrapha, vol. X, page 147.

Although the document does not tell us when the poet was Initiated into the Craft, Maynard Mack’s definitive biography of Pope, shows an illustration – at page 419 of the 1985 Yale Uni Press edition – which proves his name was listed even in 1723.

Pope’s name absence in other membership lists between 1723 and 1730 can perhaps be explained by the not uncommon phenomenon of the wondering Freemason who Brother W.J. Williams calls “the short term Mason”.

For those who do not accept Alexander Pope was a member of the Craft on account of his religion, it is worth mentioning that Catholics were precluded from entering the Order only from 1738, the year when Pope Clement XII issued the bull In Eminenti Apostolatus Specula.

Besides the actor David Garrick, the other Pope’s literary associates and neighbors Jonathan Swift and James Thomson, were also Freemasons, although they chose not to brandish their status.

Swift name crops up with that of Pope in the same Goat Lodge membership list of 1730.

However, some critics argue that Pope was never a member of the Craft for he included Freemasons in the parade of dunces in his sarcastic masterpiece The Dunciad.

It was also argued that his constant physical frailty and general health would have hindered a regular attendance to Lodge meetings and merrymaking social events.

For the record, the Lodge of the Goat at the Foot of the Haymarket did not do too well and closed eighteen months after the death of the poet.

ALEXANDER POPE AND TWICKENHAM, MIDDLESEX –

The Gods and fate have fixed me on the borders of the Thames, in the Districts of Richmond and Twickenham

Today, Twickenham has kept the air of elegance it had in the poet’s days, when it was a popular getaway destination for Londoners because of its closeness to the Metropolis.

It was also home to people of means who could afford patronage and it provided a good opportunities to mingle with the many other literati who lived in the proximity.

Jonathan Swift, the creator of Gulliver’s Travels, and John Gay, the author of The Beggar’s Opera, for example, were both neighbors of Pope.

The painter Godfrey Kneller lived at the Hall, the performer Garrick at Hampton Court Road, and the Whig politician Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill, all places being at a short distance from the poet’s “Cross Deep” Villa.

Pope was thirty years old when he came to Twickenham in the spring of 1719.

Mawson Arms, Mawson Row, Chiswick

Prior to that, he lived with his parents in a house at Mawson Row, Chiswick, Middlesex.

The red-brick building is now the public house, Mawson Arms, which commemorates the bard with a blue plaque.

After earning substantial funds for his translation of The Iliad, Pope leased three old fishermen cottages near a road called Cross Deep from the local landowner Thomas Vernon and moved in with his mother and also his childhood nurse, Mary Beach.

Later, he leased 5 acres of land across the road from the house and created a landscaped garden of great beauty which he allowed even the public to enjoy from 1736.

The villa was demolished in 1808 but the Grotto–a decorated area in the middle of the subterranean tunnel joining the Villa to the main garden – has survived.

It is currently beneath the Radnor House Independent Co-educational School and, after undergoing some restoration, will reopen to the public in 2023.

DEATH –

Pope had never experienced good health in life and when his physician, on the morning of his death, told him that he was better, Pope commented in his usual sarcastic manner: “Here am I, dying of a hundred good symptoms”.

On 29 May 1744, Pope received the last rites and, at about eleven o’clock at night on 30 May, he passed away surrounded by friends.

He was buried in the nave of St Mary’s Church, Twickenham, on 5th June under the stone marked “P” by the altar steps.

In the twentieth century, Alexander Pope’s reputation enjoyed a revival and his works, full of references to historical characters and locations, became a valued and effective tool for interpreting the past.

SOURCES –

– Alexander Pope and Freemasonry, by H.W.Williams, Transaction of the Quatour Coronati Lodge N.276, volume XXXVIII, 1925.
Alexander Pope’s Grotto, The Twickenham Museum
– Alexander Pope, Biographies123blogspot.com/2008/02
– Alexander Pope is Born, Masonrytoday.com
– Alexander Pope Biography, by Peddabodi Ravindra, Academia.edu
A. Pope’s Grotto, by A.Beckles Willson, 1998
– The Fashion Read, Poets of Twickenham, by B.L.Pearce
Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon
The secrets and lights of Alexander Pope’s Twickenham grotto, By Robin Lane Fox July 23 2021

Alexander Pope, 1688-1744 English poet and satirist.

The last of sixty-six oil portraits made of Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

A view of Pope’s villa, Twickenham, on the banks of the Thames

Plaque above Pope’s Grotto

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