1730 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

A Young Gentleman of St. Mary Hall, Oxford, "Specimen of An Essay on the Dunciad" Grub-Street Journal (18 June 1730).



T' exalt the Soul, or make the Heart sincere;
To arm our lives with honesty severe;
To shake the wretch beyond the reach of Law;
Deter the young, and touch the bold with awe;
To raise the fall'n, to hear the sufferer's cries,
And sanctify the virtues of the wise;
Old Satire rose from probity of mind,
The noblest Ethicks to reform mankind.

As Cynthia's orb excells the gems of night:
So Epic Satire shines, distinctly bright.
Here Genius lives, and strength in ev'ry part,
And lights and shades, and fancy fix'd by art.
A second Beauty to its nature lies,
It gives not Things, but Beings to our eyes:
Life, Substance, Spirit animate the whole,
Fiction and Fable are the Sense and Soul.
The common Dulness of mankind, array'd
In pomp, here lives, and breathes, a wond'rous Maid:
The Poet decks her with each unknown Grace,
Clears her dull brain, and brightens her dark face.
See! Father Chaos o'er his First born nods,
And Mother Night, in Majesty of Gods!
See Querno's throne, by hands Pontific rise!
And a Fool's Pandemonium strike our eyes!
Ev'n what on *** the public bounteous pours
Is sublimated here to Golden show'rs.

A Dunciad or a Lutrin is compleat,
And one in action; ludicrously great.
Each wheel rolls round in due degrees of force;
E'en Episodes are needful, or of course:
Of course, when things are virtually begun
E'er the first ends, the Father and the Son:
Or else so needful, and exactly grac'd,
That nothing is ill suited, or ill-plac'd.

True Epic's a vast World, and This a small:
One has its proper beauties, and one all.
Like Cynthia, one in thirty days appears,
Like Saturn one, rolls round in thirty years.
There opens a wide Tract, a length of Floods,
A height of Mountains, and a waste of Woods:
Here but one spot; nor Leaf, nor Green depart
From Rules, e'en Nature seems the Child of Art.
As Unities in Epic works appear:
So must they shine in full distinction here.
E'en the great Iliad moves with slower pow'rs:
That forty days demands, this forty hours.

Each other Satire humbler arts has known
Content with meaner Beauties, tho' its own:
Enough of that, if rugged in its course
The Verse but rolls with vehemence and force;
Or nicely pointed in th' Horatian way
Wounds keen, like Syrens mischievously gay.
Here, All has Wit, yet must that Wit be strong,
Beyond the Turns of Epigram, or Song.
The Thought must rise exactly from the vice,
Sudden, yet finish'd, clear, and yet concise:
One Harmony must first with last unite;
As all true Paintings have their Place and Light:
Transitions must be quick, and yet design'd,
Not made to fill, but just restrain the mind:
And Similies, like meteors of the night,
But give one flash of momentary Light.

As thinking makes the Soul, low things exprest
In high rais'd terms, define a Dunciad best.
Books and the Man demand as much, or more,
Than he who wander'd to the Latian shore:
For here (eternal Grief to Duns's soul,
And B—'s thin Ghost!) the Part contains the Whole:
Since in Mock-Epic none succeeds, but he
Who tastes the whole of Epic Poesy.

The Moral must be clear and understood,
But finer still, if negatively good:
Blaspheming Capaneus obliquely shows
T' adore those Gods Aeneas fears and knows.
A Fool's the Heroe; but the Poet's end
Is, to be candid, modest, and a Friend.

Let Classic Learning sanctify each part,
Not only show your Reading, but your Art.
The charms of Parody, like those of Wit,
If well contrasted, never fail to hit:
One half in light, and one in darkness drest,
(For contraries oppos'd still shine the best.)
When a cold Page half breaks the Writer's heart,
By this it warms, and brightens into Art.
When Rhetorick glitters with too pompous pride,
By this, like Circe, 'tis un-deify'd.
So Berecynthia, while her offspring vye
In homage to the Mother of the sky,
(Deck'd in rich robes, of trees, and plants, and flow'rs,
And crown'd illustrious with an hundred tow'rs,)
O'er all Parnassus casts her eye at once,
And sees an hundred Sons — and each a Dunce.

The Language next: from hence new pleasure springs,
For Styles are dignify'd, as well as Things.
Tho' Sense subsists, distinct from phrase or sound,
Yet Gravity conveys a surer wound.
The chymic secret, which your pains wou'd find,
Breaks out, unsought for, in Cervantes' mind;
And Quixot's Wildness, like that King's of old,
Turns all he touches into Pomp and Gold.
Yet in this Pomp discretion must be had;
Tho' grave, not stiff, tho' whimsical, not mad:
In Works like these if Fustian might appear,
Mock-Epics, Blackmore, wou'd not cost thee dear.
We grant, that Butler ravishes the heart,
As Shakespear soar'd beyond the reach of art;
(For nature form'd those Poets without Rules,
To fill the world with imitating Fools.)
What Burlesque could, was by that Genius done,
Yet faults it has, impossible to shun:
Th' unchanging strain for want of grandeur cloys,
And gives too oft the horse-laugh mirth of Boys;
The short-legg'd verse, and double-gingling Sound,
So quick surprize us, that our heads run round;
Yet in this Work peculiar Life presides,
And Wit, for all the world to glean besides.

Here pause, my Muse, too daring and too young!
Nor rashly aim at Precepts yet unsung.
Can Man the Master of the Dunciad teach?
And these new Bays what Other hopes to reach?
'Twere better judg'd, to study and explain
Each ancient Grace he copies not in vain;
To trace thee, Satire, to thy utmost Spring,
Thy Form, thy Changes, and thy Authors sing.