Category Archives: Test Acts

Alexander Pope


Poet, translator and satirist of what is known as the English Augustan period.

Pope was physically handicapped. He had curvature of the spine believed to come from too much time studying. When young he is believed to have suffered from tuberculosis of the spine which hampered his growth and he stood only 4.6″ tall. He suffered a lot of pain but was pleased that he was still able to ride a horse.

He was a Catholic and lived his early years in London until anti-Catholic harassment forced his family to move to Berkshire.

Pope might well have gone to university but was constrained by the Test Acts of 1673 and 1678 which supported the Church of England and banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting or holding public office on penalty of imprisonment.

His works included Pastorals, Messiah (from the Book of Isaiah, later translated into Latin by Samuel Johnson), The Rape of the Lock (a satire on privileged society). He also translated Homer’s Illiad into English and compiled and edited a six-volume publication of William Shakespeare’s works.

He introduced the word Bathos to the language – meaning a sudden change from the solemn to the amusing or ridiculous.

Pope introduced several aphorisms to the language including “To Err is human; to forgive divine”, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, “Wit is the lowest form of humour” and “A little learning is a dangerous thing, [Drink deep or taste not the Perian Spring]” (the Perian Spring was a sacred spring near Mount Olympus).

He was a Freemason, something which may have caused a conflict in his later life when the pope, in 1738, forbade Catholics from being masons.

In terms of the City, Pope was born in Plough Court off Lombard Street.

He was reputed to have lost money in the so called South Sea Bubble. Did he? This will be discussed in a future article.