1728
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Dunciad. An Heroic Poem.

The Dunciad. An Heroic Poem. In Three Books. Written by Mr. Pope.

Alexander Pope


Alexander Pope's opening lines on "the Cave of Poverty" allude to Lewis Theobald's poem by that title (1715); Pope had been offended by Theobald's strictures on his edition of Shakespeare and retaliates by equating scholarship with Dulness. Undeterred by Pope's slanders, Theobald pursued the laureateship upon the death of Eusden in 1730, winning the support of Sir Robert Walpole and Prince Frederick.

While specific allusions to Spenser are not many in the Dunciad, the use of allegory and the theme of the Blatant Beast are pervasive: "from the opening vision of the Cave of Poverty and Poetry and the Chaos where the whimsical fancies or 'maggots' 'learn to crawl upon poetic feet' to the final vision of Dulness's cosmic yawn, the allegorical places often suggest Spenserian rather than Virgilian archetypes" Alastair Fowler, A History of English Literature (1987) 154. That Pope had Spenser in mind is apparent from the motto from the Faerie Queene used in the MS but later suppressed. Pope told Spence, "It was that stanza in Spenser that I at first designed for my motto to the Dunciad" ["As gentle Shepheard in sweet even-tide ... A cloud of combrous gnattes do him molest, | All striving to infixe their feeble stings" (FQ 1.1.23)]; January 1744, in Anecdotes, Observations, and Characters, ed Singer (1820) 296.

Joseph Spence adds, "I remember this was writ down in this first manuscript copy for the Dunciad. It hits the little impertinent poets that were brushed away by that poem very well, but fails in other points (as 'with his clownish hands,' in particular), and therefore, I suppose, was omitted by him." The Huntington MS of the Observations adds, "This was recollected then, on my reading over all the Fairy Queen in his study: but I had seen it writ down many years before, in his original MSS copy of the Dunciad" Anecdotes, ed. Osborn (1966) 1:183.

Alexander Pope to Jonathan Swift: "As the obtaining the love of valuable men is the happiest end I know of this life, so the next felicity is to get rid of fools and scoundrels; which I cannot but own to you was one part of my design in falling upon these authors, whose incapacity is not greater than their insincerity, and of whom I have always found (if I may quote myself) 'That each bad author is as bad a friend.' This Poem will rid me of those insects, 'Cedite Romani Scriptores, cedite Graii, | Nescio quid majus nascitur Iliade.' [Ye Greek and Roman Authors yield the prize, | See something greater than an Iliad rise.] I mean than my Iliad; and I call it 'Nescio quid' which is a degree of modesty but however if it silence these fellows, it must be something greater than any Iliad in christendom" 23 March 1728; Works of Swift, ed. Nichols (1801) 14:76.

Lewis Theobald: "I should be very willing to plead Guilty to his Indictment, and think as meanly of myself as he can possibly do, were his Quarrel altogether upon a fair and unbyass'd Motive. But he is angry at the Man; and, as Juvenal says, — 'facit Indignatio Versum.' In my Attempts to restore Shakespeare, I had laid open some Defects of his Edition. I endeavour'd in my Book to treat him with all the Deference and Tenderness, that the Circumstance would bear; and no Body, I think, has impeach'd me of the least Failure in this Point. But to set any Thing right, after Mr. Pope had adjusted the Whole, was a Presumption not to be forgiven! 'Hinc illae Lacrymae'" Mist's Weekly Journal (27 April 1728).

Jonathan Swift to Alexander Pope: "The notes I could wish to be very large, in what relates to the persons concerned; for I have long observed that twenty miles from London nobody understands hints, initial letters, or town facts and passages; and in a few years not even those who live in London. I would have the names of those scribblers printed indexically at the beginning or end of the poem, with an account of their works, for the reader to refer to. I would have all the parodies (as they are called) referred to the author they imitate — When I began this long paper, I thought I should have filled it with setting down the several passages I had marked in the edition I had, but I find it unnecessary, so many of them falling under the same rule. After twenty times reading the whole, I never in my opinion saw so much good satire, or more good sense, in so many lines" 16 July 1728; Works of Swift, ed. Nichols (1801) 14:82-83.

Thomas Hearne: "This Alexander Pope, though he be an English poet, yet he is but an indifferent scholar, mean at Latin, and can hardly read Greek. He is a very ill-natured man and covetous, and excessively proud" 18 July 1729; in Reliquae Hearniae, ed. Bliss (1869) 3:23.

Richard Savage: "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: what could a few poor authors do against so great a majority as the public? There was no stopping a torrent with a finger, so out it came. 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 recommended the 'Edition of the Owl,' and others the 'Edition of the Ass;' by which names they came to be distinguished, to the great honour also of the gentlemen of the Dunciad" "Account of the Dunciad" (1732) in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 3:171-72.

Joseph Warton: "I know a person, whose name would be an ornament to these papers, if I was suffered to insert it, who, after reading a book of the Dunciad, always sooths himself, as he calls it, by turning to a canto in the Fairy Queen. This is not the case in that very delightful and beautiful poem, Mac Flecnoe, from which POPE has borrowed so many hints, and images, and ideas. But Dryden's poem was the offspring of contempt, and Pope's of malignity" Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope (1782) 2:383n.

Percival Stockdale: "It abounds with fertility of imagination; with powerful satire; and with vigour, and magnificence of verse; but the perishable dramatis personae are not worthy of the muse of its authour: they will be less and less known, or remembered; and therefore it will continue to be read, with decreasing pleasure. It must likewise be objected to the Dunciad, that some of its heroes deserved a better station. I have no doubt, however, that they had been very impertinent or insolent to Pope; and, therefore, they deserved punishment. A poet has not more resentment than other people; it only appears that he has, because he can show it more eminently. As to presumptuous blockheads, he is a good citizen who exposes them to their merited contempt. And if he can cure them of their 'cacoethes,' he both serves them, and the community" Lectures on the truly eminent English Poets (1807) 1:513-14.

John Hamilton Reynolds: "Pope is more liked in his satires, than in any other parts of his poetry; because he struck them more from himself. His satires are the offspring of his irritated feelings; — they come directly from his heart, and tell tales of himself. They are Pope melted into verse" The Champion (2 June 1816) 174.

George Taylor: "Dr. Warton asks, what are the sensations of a man after reading Gray's Odes and Elegy, and after he has been reading the Dunciad? as well might he ask what are his sensations after the Elegy in a Churchyard and that on a drowned cat? If such were to he the canons of criticism, we must confine our admiration to those poets 'Qui toujours stir 'un' ton semblent psalmodier'" Quarterly Review 32 (October 1825) 301.

John Wilson: "There is no denying that satire is apt to excite the emotions the Doctor [Joseph Warton] complains of, and few more strongly than the Dunciad. Yet what would it be without them — and what should we be? But other emotions, too, are experienced at some of the games; and some of an exalted kind, by innumerable passages throughout the poem. Were it not so, this would be a saturnine world indeed. Would we had had the name of the wise gentleman, that it might ornament these papers, who so frequently indulged in 'contempt, aversion, vexation, and anger' over Pope, that he might soothe himself, as he called it, with Spenser. We wonder if he occasionally left the bosom of the Faery Queene for that of the Goddess of Dulness" "North's Specimens of the British Critics" Blackwood's Magazine 58 (August 1845) 252.

Edmund Gosse: "As early as 1720, it seems, Swift had proposed a general satire to him, and he had sketched a 'Progress of Dulness.' This design had slumbered until in 1726, after Pope had published his Shakespeare, the errors of that edition were roughly pointed out in a pamphlet by Lewis Theobald (1690-1744), a busy minor playwright of the period, who eventually, in 1733, himself published a Shakespeare which was far more scholarly than Pope's. Pope immediately pounced upon Theobald (whose name was pronounced Tibbald) as a fit hero for his satire. He took Swift into his confidence, but Swift, who liked satire to be rather general than personal, warned him to 'take care that the bad poets do not outwit you.'. . . It is not clearly enough recognized that the central figure of this magnificent satire is not any Cibber or Theobald of the moment, but the very deity of Dulness itself incarnate in all the bad writers of the age. We are told about Welsted, Oldmixon, Ward, and the rest, because the animalcules of yesterday are lost beyond recall, and because we study, while they flash across the microscope for a moment, the insects of today. Every hour 'ductile Dulness new maeanders takes,' but to study them elsewhere than in the present were patent absurdity. This redeems The Dunciad from that littleness of purpose which would have soon destroyed a merely personal attack on certain unknown writers. The satire was cruel, was perhaps unworthy of its author's secure and eminent position, but it was exceedingly successful" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 123-24.

David Fairer calls attention to the Spenserian character of Thomas Hearne, 3:177-80: "But who is he, in closet close y-pent, | With visage from his shelves with dust besprent? | Right well mine eyes arede that myster wight, | That wonnes in haulkes and hernes, and H— he hight" "Oxford and the Literary World" in History of the University of Oxford vol. 5 (1986) 781.

A list of "Felonies" Pope committed on Garth's Dispensary was published in the Daily Journal for 27 May 1729.



Where wave the tatter'd ensigns of Rag-fair,
A yawning ruin hangs and nods in air;
Keen, hollow winds howl thro' the bleak recess,
Emblem of Music caus'd by Emptiness.
Here in one bed two shiv'ring Sisters lye,
The Cave of Poverty and Poetry.
This, the Great Mother dearer held than all
The clubs of Quidnunc's, or her own Guild-hall.
Here stood her Opium, here she nurs'd her Owls,
And destin'd here the imperial seat of fools.
Hence springs each weekly Muse, the living boast
Of Curl's chaste press, and Lintot's rubric post,
Hence hymning Tyburn's elegiac lay,
Hence the soft sing-song on Cecilia's day,
Sepulchral Lyes, our holy walls to grace,
And New-year Odes, and all the Grubstreet race.

'Twas here in clouded majesty she shone;
Four guardian Virtues, round, support her throne;
Fierce champion Fortitude, that knows no fears
Of hisses, blows, or want, or loss of ears:
Calm Temperance, whose blessing those partake
Who hunger, and who thirst, for scribbling sake:
Prudence, whose glass presents th' approaching jayl:
Poetic Justice, with her lifted scale;
Where, in nice balance, truth with gold she weighs,
And solid pudding against empty praise.

Here she beholds the Chaos dark and deep,
Where, nameless somethings in their causes sleep,
Till genial Jacob, or a warm Third-day
Call forth each mass, a poem, or a play:
How hints, like spawn, scarce quick in embryo lie,
How new-born nonsense first is taught to cry,
Maggots half form'd, in rhyme exactly meet,
And learn to crawl upon poetic feet.
Here one poor word a hundred clenches makes,
And ductile dulness new meanders takes;
They motley Images her fancy strike,
Figures ill-pair'd, and Similies unlike.
She sees a Mob of Metaphors advance,
Pleas'd with the madness of the mazy dance:
How Tragedy and Comedy embrace;
How Farce and Epic get a jumbled race;
How Time himself stands still at her command,
Realms shirt their place, and Ocean turns to land.
Here gay Description, Aegypt glads with show'rs,
Or give to Zembla fruits, to Barca flow'rs;
Glitt'ring with ice here hoary hills are seen,
There painted vallies of eternal green,
On cold December fragrant chaplets blow,
And heavy harvests nod beneath the snow.

All these and more, the cloud-compelling Queen
Beholds thro' fogs, that magnify the scene:
She, tinsel'd o'er in robes of varying hues,
With self-applause her wild creation views,
Sees momentary monsters rise and fall,
And with her own fools-colours gilds them all.

[I:27-82; Works (1796-97) 5:340-41]