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who had before been pleased to read it, by sir Robert Walpole; and, some days after, the whole impression was taken and dispersed by several noblemen and persons of the first distinction * * * * *. On the day the book was first vended, a crowd of authors besieged the shop: entreaties, advices, threats of law and battery, nay, cries of treason were all employed to hinder the coming out of the · Dunciad;' on the other side, the booksellers and hawkers made as great efforts to procure it.
Many ludicrous circumstances attended it. The dunces (for by this name they were called) held weekly clubs, to consult of hostilities against the author : one wrote a letter to a great minister, assuring him that Mr. Pope was the greatest enemy the government had; and another bought his image in clay, to execute him in effigy ; with which sad sort of satisfaction the gentlemen were a little comforted. Some false editions of the book having an owl in their frontispiece; the true one, to distinguish it, fixed in its stead an ass laden with authors: then, another surreptitious one being printed with the same ass; the new edition in octavo returned, for distinction, to the owl again : hence arose a great contest of booksellers against booksellers, and advertisements against advertisements ; some recommending the edition of the owl, and others of the ass; by which names they came to be distinguished, to the great honor of the gentlemen of the · Dunciad.”
Pope evidently exulted in his power of lashing the minor race of authors: but pleasure generally exacts a price; and perhaps not one of all those authors wineed more sensitively under the powerful satire of the Dunciad,' than its writer shrank under the revenge of the meanest of the tribe : he had the additional ill fortune of rousing by his solitary and single attack the wrath of a multitude, too obscure to suffer from humiliation, too numerous to be crushed, and too reckless of character to stop at any means which could irritate and insult their enemy. In the • Dunciad,' Pope had made for himself a bed of thorns; his enemies (and they now were Legion) took sufficient care that its stings should be amply supplied ; epigrams, burlesques on his unhappy deformity, and caricatures, rained thick and heavy on him : his life was imbittered, and his temper probably changed by this incessant assault; for he afterwards evidently indulged in peevish complaints of the world, began to' rail at the tastelessness of mankind, and even declared that, in contempt of the age, he would throw down his pen. The moral will not be without its
use, if it can teach future men of fame, that, as no merit can excuse unprovoked attack, so no eminence can protect from dangerous retaliation.
Yet Pope was still to indulge in his severity of censure, and to suffer for the indulgence. A poem on Taste, published in 1731, and dedicated to the earl of Burlington, held up the gardens and buildings of the duke of Chandos to peculiar ridicule : the name of Timon less concealed the satire than added to the offence. This attempt was a contradiction in all points of view to its author's rules of life. Like all men who love society, he valued that portion of it where rank, fortune, and intercourse with all that is curious, costly, and interesting in human life, naturally gives the highest opportunities for intellectual and personal gratification: as an author, he equally knew the value of being the chosen poet of the circle of the opulent, the high-born, and the fashionable. But by this unlucky effusion of spleen, he at once offended a man of the highest rank, spread alarm through the whole range of leading society; for who could tell at whose palaces and arbors the next shaft might be flown? and awoke an universal outcry of ingratitude, sullenness, and gall against himself: for what is so easy as to denounce errors of which we are incapable, or to be virtuous at the expense of another's philosophy? Pope felt this outcry with sudden and evident pain : he had been charged with receiving a present of a thousand pounds from the duke, and even having taken advantage of his hospitality, to sketch the very satire by which both were thus to be repaid. His first act was to disavow the present of the thousand pounds, which he distinctly declared to be a fiction; his next was to soften the personality of his application to Chandos. Cleland, who had already lent his name to the apologetical preface of the • Dunciad,' now lent it again, but with still less effect, to an explanation. Pope himself then addressed the duke, softening down the luckless pungency, as well as he could, of that, which no skill could divest of its venom : the duke answered him with vexatious dignity : said, 'that to think lightly of his houses or grounds was free to any man; that he desired no converts to his taste; but that, from the intercourse which had subsisted between him and Mr. Pope, there was less room for defence or apology. More violent language might have failed of inflicting a keener punishment. We may regret that the mind of a man of genius should have been so often subjected to personal pain ; but it must be remembered, for the wisdom of those who are to follow his brilliant path, that those sufferings were purchased chiefly by his own imprudence ; that
the power of the pen is, at least, unwisely exerted in forcing individuals before the public; and that he, whose vocation is satire, must prepare for a life of general animosity.
The success of the • Dunciad' with the nation was unparalleled : its polished wit and vigorous language were already familiar to the readers of Pope, but its personality was irresistible : the attacks on it had the natural effect of sustaining the public excitement; every epigram added to its notoriety; libel itself was effectively its panegyrist; and the most bitter threats of personal vengeance only turned the general eye more on the work and its author. In an age when poetry was but little read by the multitude, and books were almost the exclusive luxury of the great, there were no less than seven editions of the • Dunciad' in one year, 1728; and before 1742, upwards of twelve editions had appeared.*
* The folio edition of the Works in 1735 thus enumerates those rapid publications :-The poem was written in 1727 : in the next year an imperfect edition was published in Dublin, and reprinted in London in 12mo.; another in Dublin, and another in London in 8vo.; and three others in 12mo. in the same year : but there was no perfect edition before that of London, 1728-9.' Those imperfect editions are now understood to have been published by Pope's direction, to feel his way to the public. Besides those, the quarto of the · Dunciad' was published in 1729: three 8vo. editions also came out in the same year, and another in 1742, besides various other editions previously.