Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pope, Walter

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1194837Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46 — Pope, Walter1896Agnes Mary Clerke ‎

POPE, WALTER (d. 1714), astronomer, was a native of Fawsley in Northamptonshire. His mother was a daughter of the puritan divine, John Dod [q. v.], and John Wilkins (afterwards bishop of Chester) was his half-brother. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1645, was appointed scholar of Wadham College, Oxford, by the parliamentary visitors in 1648, and graduated thence B.A. on 6 July 1649, M.A. on 10 July 1651. Admitted to a fellowship on 9 July 1651, he held various offices in his college, was nominated a visitor on 16 Oct. 1654, and, as junior proctor of the university, successfully resisted, in 1658, an attempt to abolish the wearing of caps and hoods. Later in the same year he went abroad, and wrote to Robert Boyle from Paris on 10 Sept. 1659, that he spent his time reading Corneille's plays and romances, ‘which we hire like horses’ (Boyle, Works, v. 631, 1744). He succeeded Sir Christopher Wren [q. v.] as professor of astronomy in Gresham College in 1660, was elected dean of Wadham College for 1660–1, and had a degree of M.D. conferred upon him at Oxford on 12 Sept. 1661. He obtained license to travel in 1664, and spent two years in Italy, Barrow and Hooke taking his lectures. Four letters written by him to Wilkins during this tour are in the archives of the Royal Society. Pope had a reputation for wit as well as for learning; he acquired French and Italian abroad, and taught them to Wilkins, and was besides conversant with Spanish. An original member of the Royal Society, he sat on the council in 1667 and 1669. Dr. Wilkins made him registrar of the diocese on his elevation to the see of Chester in 1668, and he held the post till his death.

At Salisbury in 1686 he suffered severely from an inflammation of the eyes, but was eventually cured by Dr. Daubeney Turberville [q. v.], whose epitaph he gratefully wrote. It was probably this infirmity which induced him on 21 Sept. 1687 to resign his professorship and withdraw to Epsom. On 16 Nov. 1693 he lost all his books through a fire in Lombard Street. He was also annoyed by a protracted lawsuit. His later years were passed at Bunhill Fields, London, where he died, at a very advanced age, on 25 June 1714; he was buried in St. Giles's, Cripplegate. Wood, who was very bitter against him, accused him of having led ‘a heathenish and epicurean life;’ but Ward regarded his close intimacy with Dr. Seth Ward [q. v.] as alone sufficient to refute the charge. Pope lived much in Ward's house, had from him a pension of 100l. a year, and in a ‘life’ of the bishop published by him in 1697 says that he ‘made it his business to delight him and divert his melancholy’ (p. 95). The little book was criticised by Thomas Wood, in an appended ‘Letter to the Author,’ for its ‘comical and bantering style, full of dry scraps of Latin, puns, proverbs, senseless digressions.’

Pope's other compositions were designated by Anthony à Wood as ‘frivolous things, rather fit to be buried in oblivion with the author than to be remembered.’ Their titles are as follows:

  1. ‘Memoirs of M. Du Vall,’ London, 1670; reprinted in ‘Harleian Miscellany,’ iii. 308, 1809.
  2. ‘To the Memory of the most Renowned Du Vall, a Pindaric Ode,’ 1671. The person ironically celebrated was Claude Duval [q. v.]
  3. ‘Select Novels from Cervantes and Petrarch,’ 1694.
  4. ‘The Old Man's Wish,’ 1697; 3rd ed. 1710; latinised by Vincent Bourne in 1728. This is the ‘wishing song’ sung by Benjamin Franklin (as he told George Whately) ‘a thousand times when I was young, and now find at fourscore that the three contraries have befallen me.’
  5. ‘Moral and Political Fables,’ 1698; dedicated to Chief-justice Holt.

The first volume of the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ includes (at p. 21) Pope's account of the mines of mercury in Friuli, and his joint observations with Hooke and others (p. 295) of the partial solar eclipse of 22 June 1666, when Boyle's sixty-foot telescope showed traces of the corona in the visibility of the part of the moon off the sun.

[Ward's Lives of the Gresham Professors, i. 111; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. iv. 724, Fasti, ii. 122 (Bliss); Gardiner's Registers of Wadham College, p. 177; Burrows's Register of Visitors to the University of Oxford, p. 562; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Allibone's Crit. Dict. of English Literature; Sherburn's Sphere of Manilius, p. 113; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

A. M. C.