The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope

By Paul Baines | Go to book overview

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TWICKENHAM

With the funds earned from this monumental achievement, Pope set about creating for himself an equally visible monument to inhabit. After considering building himself a house on some of Burlington's land in London, inadvisable because of anti-Catholic legislation, he had settled down river at Twickenham in early 1719, leasing a five-acre estate from Thomas Vernon. This relatively modest estate in a semi-rural setting but with good river and road connections to the capital served Pope's needs well; it was the first house which he was master of, and was to remain his home, and a vital element in his conception of himself, until his death. He remodelled the existing house along newly-fashionable Palladian or neoclassical lines, with a main block on three floors flanked by two-storey wings. Balconies gave good views over the Thames, which ran by at the foot of a sloping lawn. A passage ran under the house, and under the road between London and Hampton Court, to the main garden, which measured about 250 by 100 yards. The whole plot was slightly larger than Pope estimated the gardens of Alcinous to be, in his translation of that section of Homer's Odyssey (PW I:147).

Here Pope had an orchard, a small vineyard, an orangery, green-houses, and a kitchen garden for vegetables; landscaping the rest was a matter of providing serpentine and criss-crossing paths through wooded areas and up mounts to provide viewpoints, seats for reflection, sudden surprises and encounters. Pope was like many of his generation dissatisfied with the rigid symmetrical formalism of seventeenth-century garden design, as practised in extreme form in France. Pope had opposed topiary and artificial gardens in an essay in The Guardian in 1713 and in his own experiments and theories aimed for a subtler control of nature, more green, fluid, curved, locally-sensitive and small-scale. It was, however, conspicuously human: there were seats, obelisks, temples, inscriptions: this was nature methodised, as literature was supposed to be. Pope's efforts at Twickenham were enthusiastically received by visitors and observers: Horace Walpole, son of the Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole whom Pope opposed with such virulence, noted: 'It was a singular effort of art and taste to have impressed so much variety and scenery on a spot of five acres' (Mack 1985:361).

Pope also gradually expanded and decorated the passage under his house into a Grotto: 'he extracted an ornament from an inconvenience, and vanity produced a grotto where necessity enforced a passage' (Johnson 1905:135). In opposition to the neoclassical pieties of the

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