Abbildungen der Seite
PDF

of Dulness, extended through her subordinate instruments, in all her various operations,

This is branched into episodes, each of wbich 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, seemeth 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 styleth Eliza; the third, the flattering dedicator; the fourth, the bawling critic, or noisy poet; the fifth, the dark and dirty party-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, that every person concerned, being consulted apart, hath readily owned the resemblance of every portrait, his own excepted. So Mr. Cibber calls them a parcel of poor wretches, so many silly flies *;" Lut adds, " our author's wit is remarkably more bare and barren whenever it would fall foui on Cibber 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. P. 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 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 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 full 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 he published his Alfred *. True it is, that the talents for criticism, nansely, smartness, quick censure, vivacity of remark, certainty of asseveration, indeed all but ackrbity, 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 aye hath paralleled. With good 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 Es

OF THE HERO OF THE POEM. Of the nature of Dunciad in general, whence derived, 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 judgment, 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 heru, 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 of either Achilles or Eneas. We shall therefore set our good brother, and the world also, right in this particular, 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 children 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 this poetic world, whence every thing is to receive life and motion : for this subject being found, he is immediately ordained, or rather acknowledged, an hero, and put upon such action as befitteth the dig. · nity of his character.

But the Muse ceaseth nod here her eagle-flight: for sometimes, satiated with the contemplation of these suns of glory, she turneth downward on her wing, and darts with Jove's lightning on the goose and serpent kind. For we apply to the Muse, in her various moods, what an ancient master of wisdom affirmeth of the gods in general: “Si Dii non irascuntur impiis et injustis, nec pios utique justosque diligunt. In

rebus enim diversis, aut in utramque partem moveri necesse est, aut in neutram. 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 ex bonorum caritate descendit." Which, in our vernacular idiom, may be thus interpreted: “ If the gods be not provoked at evil men, neither are they delighted 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 hateib 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 choleric than her elder sister, whose bulk and complexion incline her to the phlegmatic,) and for this some notorious rehicle 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 himself of epic poem affordeth ns. 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 tragedy. Happily one of these ancient Dunciads (as we may well term it) is coine down unto us, amongst the tragedies of the poet Euripides; and what doth the rcader suppose may be the subject thereof? Why in truth, and it is worthy observation, the unequal contest of an old, dull, debauched buffoon Cyclops, with the heaven-directed favourite of Minerva; who, after having quietly borne all the monster's obscene and impious ribaldry, endeth the farce, in punishing him with the mark of an indelible brand in his forehead. May we not then be excused if, for its tuture, we considder the epics of Ilomer, Virgil, and Milton, together with this our poen), 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 honnête homme * ; but it never admitted of any doubt but that the hero of the little epic should be his very opposite. 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 must 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 constituent 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 happy assemblage resulteth heroic dulness, the never-dying subject of this our poem.

This being settied, 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 conscious rectitude of will.–And are the advantages of vanity, when arising to the heroic standard, at all short of this self-complacence? nay, are they not, in the opinion of the enamoured owner, far beyond it? « Let the world (will such a one say) impute to me what folly or weakness they please; but till wisdom can give me something that will make me more heartily happy, I am contented to be gazed at t." This, we see, is vanity, according to the heroic gage or measure : not that low and ignoble species which

• Si un heros poetique doit etre un honnete homme. Bossu, De Poeme Epique, liv. v. ch.5.

+ Ded. to the Life of C. Cibber.

« ZurückWeiter »