Alexander Pope

It's the birthday of Alexander Pope, a gardener poet who helped inspire the English landscape garden.
Born to a Catholic family, Pope was an only child. He was exceptionally bright, self-taught in numerous languages and the classics.
When Pope was twelve, he contracted Potts disease (a form of tuberculosis); the illness impacted his spine - he was a hunchback- and he was only four and a half feet tall.
He had a passion for gardens and garden design. Little details from Pope's garden plans show his regard for ancient Rome as he had incorporated both a vineyard and a kitchen garden.
A road separated Pope's Palladian villa and garden. Pope cleverly used a tunnel to go under the way to create private access to the garden from his home. The tunnel became his grotto, a masterpiece of mirrors, candles, shells, minerals, and fossils.
He described the thrill of finishing the grotto in a letter to his friend Edward Blount in 1725:

"I have put the last hand to my works... happily finishing the subterraneous Way and Grotto: I then found a spring of the clearest water, which falls in a perpetual Rill, that echoes thru' the Cavern day and night. ...When you shut the Doors of this Grotto, it becomes on the instant, from a luminous Room, a Camera Obscura, on the walls of which all the objects of the River, Hills, Woods, and Boats, are forming a moving Picture... And when you have a mind to light it up, it affords you a very different Scene: it is finished with Shells interspersed with Pieces of Looking-glass in angular Forms... at which when a Lamp hung in the Middle, a thousand pointed Rays glitter and are reflected over the place."

Pope's villa and grotto became a tourist destination. After he died, new owners of his property were so annoyed by the attention that they destroyed both the garden and the villa. Today, plans are underway to restore the grotto to its former glory.

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Alexander Pope by Michael Dahl
Alexander Pope by Michael Dahl

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