Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

dustry, so is the other of plodding) was to be exempli. fied in some one great and remarkable action : 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 Dulness, their daughter, in the removal of her imperial seat from the city to the polite world, as the action of the Æneid is the restora. tion of the empire of Troy, by the removal of the race from thence to Latium, But as Homer singeth only the wrath of Achilles, yet 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 fixed upon to support this action. This phantom in the poet's mind must have a name :t 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, of Dulness, extended through her subordinate instruments, in all her various operations.

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, 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 ac

* Bossu, chap. vii. viii.
# Ibid. chap, viii. Vide Aristot. Poet. cap. ix.

knowledged how justly they are drawn: the manners are so depicted, and the sentiment 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;'* but adds, our author's wit is remarkably more bare and barren, whenever it would fall foul 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 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 limitation hath been in this piece, ap. peareth 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 imagi. nation: which, by good critics, is held to be punctually at forty. For at that season it was that Virgil finished his Georgics; and Sir Richard Blackmore, at the like

* Cibber's Letter to Mr. P. p. 9. 12. 41,

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, 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 afterward such poets as no age hath paralleled. With good reason, therefore, did our author choose to write his essay on that subject at twenty, and reserve for his maturer years this great and wonderful work of the Dunciad.

RICARDUS ARISTARCHUS

OF THE HERO OF THE POEM. Op 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 hero, 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 either of Achilles or Æneas. We shall therefore set our good brother and the world also right in this particular, by assuring them that, in thegreater 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

* See his Essays.

illustrious. This is the primum mobile of his poetic world, whence every thing is to receive life and motion. For, this subject being found, he is immediately ordained, or rather acknowledged, a hero, and put upon such action as befitteth the dignity of his character.

But the muse ceaseth not 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 may 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 inalos 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 hateth 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 de. Įicacy 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 vehicle of vice and folly were soughtout, to make thereof an example. An early instance of which (nor could it escape the accuracy of Scriblerus) the father of epic poem himself affordeth us. 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 come down unto us, amongst the tragedies of the poet Euri And what doth the reader 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 the future, we consider the epics of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, together with this our poem, 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 great epic should be an honest man; or, as the French critics express it, un honnête homime :* but it never admitted of a doubt, but that the hero of the little epic should be just the contrary. 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 settled, 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-complaisance ? nay, are they not, in the opinion ** Si un heros poëtique doit être un honnête homme.-Bossu, du Poëme Epique, liv. v. ch. 5.

« AnteriorContinuar »