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the Dunciad! • A most notorious instance (quoth he) of the depravity of genius and taste, the approbation this Essay meets with. I can safely affirm, that I never attacked any of these writings, unless they had success infinitely beyond their merit. This, though an empty, has been a popular scribbler. The epidemic madness of the times has given him reputation.t -If, after the cruel treatment so many extraordinary men (Spenser, Lord Bacon, Ben Jonson, Milton, Butler, Otway, and others) have received from this country, for these last hundred years, I should shift the scene, and shew all that per changed at once to riot and profuseness; and more squandered away upon one object, than would have satisfied the greater part of those extraordinary men; the reader to whom this one creature should be unknown, would fancy him a prodigy of art and nature, would believe that all the great qualities of these persons were centered in him alone. But if I should venture to assure him, that the people of England had made such a choice --the reader would either believe me a malicious enemy, and slanderer, or that the reign of the last (Queen Anne's) ministry was designed by fate to encourage fools.'t
But it happens that this our poet never had any place, pension, or gratuity, in any shape, from the said glorious queen, or any of her ministers. All he owed, in the whole course of his life, to any court, was a subscription for his Homer, of 2001. from King George I. and 1001. from the prince and princess.
However, lest we imagine our author's success was constant and universal, they acquaint us of certain works in a less degree of repute, wherevf, although owned by others, yet do they assure us he is the writer. Of this sort Mr. Dennisý ascribes to him two farces, whose names he does not tell, but assures us that there is not one jest in them; and an imitation of Horace, whose title he does not mention, but assures us it is much more'execrable than all his works.|| The Daily
* Dennis, Pref. to his Reflect on the Essay on Criticism.
Ib. p. 8.
Journal, May 11, 1728, assures us, 'He is below Tom Durfey in the drama, because (as that writer thinks) the Marriage-Hater Matched, and the Boarding School, are better than the What-d'ye-call-it;' which is not Mr. P.'s, but Mr. Gay's. Mr. Gildon assures us, in his New Rehearsal, p. 48, ' That he was writing a play of the Lady Jane Grey;' but it afterward proved to be Mr. Rowe's. We are assured by another, 'He wrote a pamphlet called Dr. Andrew Tripe ;'* which proved to be one Dr. Wagstaff's. Mr. Theobald assures us, in Mist of the 27th of April, ' That the treatise of the Profound is very dull, and that Mr. Pope is the author ofit.' The writer of Gulliveriana is of another opinion; and says, ' The whole, or greatest part of the merit of this treatise must and can only be ascribed to Gulliver.t [Here, gentle reader! can not I but smile at the strange blindness and positiveness of men ; knowing the said treatise to appertain to none other but to me, Martinus Scriblerus.)
We are assured, in Mist of June 8, That his own plays and farces would better have adorned the Dunciad, than those of Mr. Theobald; for he had neither genius for tragedy nor comedy.' Which whether true or not, it is not easy to judge: in as much as he had attempted neither. Unless we will take it for granted, with Mr. Cibber, that his being once very angry at hearing a friend's play abused, was an infallible proof the play was his own; the said Mr. Cibber thinking it impossible for a man to be much concerned for any but himself ; ' Now let any man judge (saith he) by his concern, who was the true mother of the child.':
But from all that hath been said, the discerning reader will collect, that it little availed our author to have any candour, since, when he declared he did not write for others, it was not credited; as little to have any modesty, since, when he declined writing in any way himself, the presumption of others was imputed to him. If he singly enterprized one great work, he was taxed of boldness and madness to a prodigy :if
* Character of Mr. Pope, p. 6. + Gulliv. p. 336.
Cibber's Letter to Mr. P. p. 19.
be took assistants in another, it was complained of, and represented as a great injury to the public.* The luftiest heroics, the lowest ballads, treatises against the state or church, satires on lords and ladies, raillery on wits and authors, squabbles with booksellers, or even full and true accounts of monsters, poisons, and murders; of any hereof was there nothing so good, nothing so bad, which hath not at one or other season been to him ascribed. If it bore no author's name, then lay he concealed; if it did, he fathered it upon that author to be yet better concealed : if it resembled any of his styles, then was it evident; if it did not, then disguised he it on set purpose. Yea, even direct oppositions in religion, principles, and politics, have equally been supposed in him inherent. Surely a most rare and singular character: of which let the reader make what he can.
Doubtless most commentators would hence take occasion to turn all to their author's advantage, and from the testimony of his very enemies would affirm, that his capacity was boundless, as well as his imagination ; that he was a perfect master of all styles, and all arguments; and that there was in those times no other writer, in any kind, of any degree of excellence, save he himself. But as this is not our own sentiment, we shall determine on nothing ; but leave thee, gentle reader, to steer thy judgment equally between various opinions, and to choose whether thou wilt incline to the testimonies of authors avowed, or of authors concealed; of those who knew him, or of those who knew him pot.
OF THE POEM. This poem, as it celebrateth the most grave and ancient of things, Chaos, Night, and Dulness: so is it of the most grave and ancient kind. Homer (saith Aristotle) was the first who gave the form, and (saith Horace) who adapted the measure to heroic poesy. But, * The London and Mist's Journals, on his undertaking
even before this, may be rationally presumed, from what the ancients have left written, was a piece by Homer, composed of like nature and matter with this of our poet. For of epic sort it appeareth to have been, yet of matter surely not unpleasant, witness what is reported of it by the learned Archbishop Eustathius, in Odyss. X. And accordingly Aristotle, in his Poetics, chap. iv. doth further set forth, that as the Iliad and Odyssey gave example to tragedy, so did this poem to comedy its first idea.
From these authors also it should seem, that the hero, or chief personage of it was no less obscure, and his understanding and sentiments no less quaint and strange (if indeed not more so) than any of the actors of our poem. Margites was the name of this personage, whom antiquity recordeth to have been Dunce the first ; and surely, from what we hear of him, not un. worthy to be the root of so spreading a tree, and so numerous a posterity. The poem, therefore, celebrating him was properly and absolutely a Dunciad; which, though now unhappily lost, yet is its nature sufficiently known by the infallible tokens aforesaid. And thus it doth appear, that the first Dunciad was the first epic poem, written by Homer bimself, and anterior even to the Iliad or Odyssey.
Now, forasmuch as our poet hath translated those two famous works of Homer which are yet left, he did conceive it in some sort his duty to imitate that also which was lost: and was therefore induced to bestow on it the same form which Homer's is reported to have had, namely, that of epic poem ; with a title also framed after the ancient Greek manner, to wit, that of Dunciad.
Wonderful it is, that so few of the moderns have been stimulated to attempt some Dunciad! since in the opinion of the multitude, it might cost less pain and toil than an imitation of the greater epic. But possible it is also, that, on due reflection, the maker might find it easier to paint a Charlemagne, a Brute, or a Godfrey, with just and dignity heroic, than a Margites, a Codrus, or a Fleckno.
We shall next declare the occasion and the cause which moved our poet to this particular work. He lived in those days, when (after Providence had permitted the invention of printing as a scourge for the sins of the learned) paper also became so cheap, and printers so numerous, that a deluge of authors covered the land ; whereby not only the peace of the honest unwriting subject was daily molested, but unmerciful demands were made of his applause, yea, of his money, by such as would neither earn the one nor deserve the other. At the same time, the licence of the press was such, that it grew dangerous to refuse them either: for they would forthwith publish slanders unpunished, the authors being anonymous, and sculking under the wings of publishers, a set of men who neither scrupled to vend either calumny or blasphemy, as long as the town would call for it.
* Now our author, living in those times, did conceive it an endeavour well worthy an honest satirist, to dissuade the dull, and punish the wicked, the only way that was left. In that public-spirited view he laid the plan of this poem, as the greatest service he was capable (without much hurt, or being slain) to render his dear country. First, taking things from their original, he considered the causes creative of such authors, namely, dulness and poverty; the one born with them, the other contracted by neglect of their proper talents, through self-conceit of greater abilities. This truth he wrappeth in an allegoryt (as the construction of epic poesy requireth), and feigns that one of these goddesses had taken up her abode with the other, and that they jointly inspired all such writers and such works. He proceedeth to shew the qualities they bestow on these authors, and the effects they produce : then the materials or stock, with which they furnish them; || and, above all, that self-opinions which causeth it to seem to themselves vastly greater than it is, and is the prime motive of their setting up in this sad and sorry merchandize. The great power of these goddesses acting in alliance (whereof as the one is the mother of in
* Vide Bossu, Du Poëme Epique, chap. viii. Bossu, chap. vii. I Book I. ver. 32, &c. S Ver. 45 to 54. Ver. 57 to 77.
'I Ver 80.