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author's wit is remarkably more bare and barren, whenever it would fall foul on Cibber, than upon any other person whatever.'
The descriptions are singular, the comparisons very quaint, the narration various, yet of one cotour; the purity and chastity of diction is so pre served, that, in the places most suspicious, not the words but only the images have been censured, and yet are those images no other than have been sanctified by ancievt and classical authority (though, as was the manner of those good times, not so curiously wrapped up), yea, and commented upon by the most grave doctors, and approved critics.
As it beareth the name of epic, it is thereby subject to such severe indispensable rules as are laid on all neoterics, a strict imitation of the ancients : insomuch that any deviation, accompanied with whatever poetic beauties, hath always been censured by the sound critic. How exact that limitation bath been in this piece, appeareth not only by its general structure, but by particular allusions infinite, many whereof have escaped both the commentator and poet himself; yea, divers by his exceeding diligence are so altered and interwoven with the rest, that several have already been, and more will be, by the ignorant abused, as altogetherand originally his own..
In a word, the whole poem proveth itself to be the work of our author, when his faculties were in full vigour and perfection; at that exact time when years bave ripened the judgement, without diminishing the imagination: which, by good critics, is held to be punctually at forty. For at that season it was that Virgil finished his Georgics; and sir Richard Blackmore, at the like age, composing his Arthurs, declared the same to be the very acme and pitch of life for epic poesy: though since he hath altered it to sixty, the year in wbich he published his Alfred. True it is, that the talents for criticism,
• See bis Essays.
namely, smartness, quick censure, vivacity of remark, certainty of asseveration, indeed all but acer. bity, seem rather the gifts of youth, than of riper age : but it is far otherwise in poetry; witness the works of Mr. Rymer and Mr. Dennis, who, beginning with criticism, became afterwards such poets as po age hath paralleled. With good reason, there.
fore, did our author choose to write his essay on 1 that subject at twenty, and reserve for his maturer
years this great and wonderful work of the Dunciad.
Of the Hero of the Poem.
F the nature of Dunciad in general, whence de
rived, and on what authority founded, as well as of the art and conduct of this our poem in particular, the learned and laborious Scriblerus hath, according to his manner, and with tolerable share of judgement, dissertated. But when he cometh to speak of the person of the hero fitted for such poem, in truth he miserably halts and hallucinates : for, misled by one Monsieur Bossu, a Gallic critic, he prateth of I cannot tell what phantom of a hero, only raised up to support the fable. A putid conceit! as if Homer and Virgil, like modern undertakers, who first build their house and then seek out for a tenant, had contrived the story of a war and a wandering, before they once thought either of Achilles or Æneas. We shall, therefore, set our good brother and the world also right in this parti. cular, by assuring them, that, in the greater epic, the prime intention of the muse is to exalt heroic virtue, in order to propagate the love of it among the child ren of men; and consequently that the poet's first thought must needs be turned upon a real subject meet for laud and celebration; not one whom he is to make, but one whom he may find, truly illustrious. This is the primum mobile of his poetic world, whence every thing is to receive life and motion. For, this subject being found, he is immediately ordained, or rather acknowledged, a hero, and put upon such action as befitteth the dignity of his character,
But the muse ceaseth not here her eagle flight. Por sometimes, satiated with the contemplation of these guns of glory, she turneth downward on her wing, and darts with Jove's lightning on the goose and serpent kind. For we may apply to the muse in her various moods, what an ancient master of wis. dom affirmeth of the gods in general: Si Dii non irascuntur impiis et injustis, nee pios utique justosque diligunt. In rebus enim diversis, aut in utramque partem moveri necesse est, aut in nere. tram. Itaque qui bonos diligit, et malos odit ; et qui malos non odit, nec bonos diligit. Quia et diligere bonos ex odio malorum venit; et malos odisse er bonorum caritate descendit. Which in our ver. nacular idiom may be thus interpreted: If the gods be not provoked at evil men, neither are they de lighted with the good and just. For contrary objects must either excite contrary affections, or no affections at all. So that he who loveth good men, must at the same time hate the bad ; and he who hateth not bad men, cannot love the good; because to love good men proceedeth from an aversion to evil, and to hate evil men from a tenderness to the good.' from this delicacy of the muse arose the little'epic (more lively and cholerie than her elder sister, whose bulk and complexion incline her to the phlegmatic); and for this, some notorious vehicle of vice and folly was sought out, to make thereof an example. An early instance of which (nor could it escape the accurate Scriblerus) the father of epic poem himself affordeth us. From him the practice descended to the Greek dramatic poets, his offspring: who, in the composition of their tetralogy, or set of four pieces, were wont to make the last a satiric tra. gedy. Happily, one of these ancient Dunciads (as we may well term it) is come down unto us, amongst the tragedies of the poet Euripides. And what doth the reader suppose may be the subject thereof? Why in truth, and it is worthy observation, the un. equal contest of any old, duļi, debauched buffoon, Cyclops, with the heaven-directed favourite of Mi. nerva; who, after having quietly borne all the mosster's obscene and impious ribaldry, eodeth the farce in punishing him with the mark of an indelible brand in his forehead. May we not then be ex. cused, if, for the future, we consider the epics of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, together with this our poem, as a complete tetralogy; in which the last worthily holdeth the place or station of the satiric, piece ?
Proceed we, therefore, in our subject. It hath been long, and, alas for pity! still remaineth a question, whether the hero of the greater epic should be an honest man; or as the French critics express it, un honnete homme : but it never admitted of a doubt, but that the hero of the little should be just the contrary. Hence, to the advantage of our Dunciad, we may observe, how much juster the moral of that poem must needs be, where so important a question is previously decided.
but then it is not every knave, nor (let me add) every fool, that is a fit subject for a Dunciad. There inust still exist some analogy, if not resemblance of qualities, between the heroes of the two poems; and this, in order to admit what neoteric critics call the parody, one of the liveliest graces of the little epic. Thus it being agreed that the con. stituent qualities of the greater epic hero, are wisdom, bravery, and love, from whence springeth heroic virtue; it followeth, that those of the lesser epic hero should be vanity, assurance, and debauchery, from which assemblage resulteth heroic duluess, the never-dying subject of this our poem.
This being settled, come we now to particulars. It is the character of true wisdom to seek its chief support and confidence within itself; and to place that support in the resources which proceed from a
* Si un heros poëtique doit être un honnête homme. Bossu, du Poème Epique, liv. v. ch.5.