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OF THE POEM.
1ms poem, as it celebratetli 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 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 surety not unpleasant, witness what is reported of it by the learned Archbishop Eustathius, in Odyssey X. And accordingly Aristotle, in his Poetic, chap. iv. doth further set forth, that as the Iliad and Odyssey gave an 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. Margitcs was the name of this personage, whom antiquity rccordcth to have been Dunce.the first; and surely, from what we hear of him, not unworthy 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 himself, 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 mannner, 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 pomp, and dignity heroic, than a Margites, a Godrus, or a Fleckuo. . 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 skulking under the wings of publishers, a set of men who never 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 there 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 a neglect of their
• Vide Bossu, Du Poeme Epique, chap. viii.
proper talents, through self-conceit of greater abilities. This truth he wrappeth in an allegory *, (at 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 f. He proceedeth to shew the qualities they bestow on these authors, and the effects they produce J; then the materials, or stock, with which they furnish them||; and (abore all) that self-opinion § 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 merchandise. The great power of these goddesses acting in alliance (whereof as the one is the mother of industry, so is the other of plodding) was to be exemplified in some one great and remarkable action *J: and none could be more so than that which our poet hath chosen, viz. the restoration of the reign of Chaos and Night, by the ministry of D-ulness their daughter, in the removal of her imperial seat from the city to the polite world; as the action of the ;Eneid is the restoration of the empire of Troy, by the removal of the race from thence to Latiuru. But as Homer singing only the wrath of Achilles, vet includes in his poem the whole history of the Trojan war; in like manner our author hath drawn into this single action the whole history of Dulness and her children.
A person must next be fix'd upon to support this action. This phantom, in the poet's mind, must have a name'*. He finds it to be ;and he becomes of course the hero of the poem.
The fable being thus, according to the best example, one and entire, as contained in the proposition, the machinery is a continued chain of allegories, setting forth the whole power, ministry, and empire »f Dulness, extended through her subordinate instruments, in all her various operations.
• Bossu, chap. vii. t Book I. ver. 32, &c.
t Ver. 45, 54. II Ver. 57, 77.
\ Ver. 80. % Bossu, chap, vii, viii.
M Bossu, ch»p. viii. Vide Aristot, Poetic, cap, ix.
This is branched into episodes, each of which hath its moral apart, though all conducive to the main end. The crowd assembled in the second Book demonstrates the design to be more extensive than to bad poets only, and that we may expect other episodes of the patrons, encouragers, or paymasters, of such authors, as occasion shall bring them forth. And the third Book, if well considered, seemetli to embrace the whole world. Each of the games relateth to some or other vile class of writers. The first concerneth the plagiary, to whom he giveth the name of Moore; the second, the libellous novelist, whom he stylrth Eliza; the third, the flattering dedicator; the fourth, tie bawling critic, or noisy poet; the fifth, the dark and dirty parly-writer; and so of the rest; assigning to each some proper name or other, such as he could find.
As for the characters, the public hath already acknowledged how justly they are drawn. The manners are so depicted, and the sentiments so peculiar to those to whom applied, that surely to transfer them to any other or wiser personages would be exceeding difficult: and certain it is, thai every person concerned, being consulted apart, hath readily owned the resemblance of every portrait, his own excepted. So Mr. Cihbcr talis them " a parcel of poor wretches, so many silly flies*;" but adds, " our author's wit is remarkably more bare and barren whenever it would fall foui on Cihber than upon any other person whatever."
The descriptions are singular, the comparisons very quaint, the narration various, yet of one colour. The purity and chastity of diction is so preserved, 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 ancient and classical authority, (though, as was the manner • Cibber's Letter to Mr. r. p. 9,12, 41.
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 subjected 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 imitation _hath been in this piece, appeareth not only by its general structure, but by particular allusions iutinite, 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 altogether and originally his own.
In a word, the whole poem proveth itself to be the work of our author, when his faculties were in fall vigour and perfection; at that exact time when years have ripened the judgment 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 Georgice; 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 which lie published his Alfred*. True it is, that the talents for criticism, namely, smartness, quick censure, vivacity of remark, certainty of asseveration, indeed all but acerbity, 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 no age hath paralleled. With nood reason, therefore, did our author choose to write his Essay on that subject at twenty, and reserve for his maturer year this great and wonderful work of The Dunciad. P.
•See his Essay;.