Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

THE DUNCIAD,

IN FOUR BOOKS.

THE DUNCIAD.

[It may fairly be doubted whether the mystification in which every step connected with the publication of the various editions of the Dunciad was intentionally involved by Pope, has not answered an end beyond that proposed to himself by the poet, and provided a tangle of literary difficulties, which no learned ingenuity will ever suffice entirely to unravel. In the second volume of Notes and Queries for 1854 will be found an animated and sustained controversy on the subject, which even the editorial summing-up leaves to a certain degree in suspensó. It is therefore neeessary in the following Remarks to confine ourselves to such an enumeration of editions as will suffice to indicate the main history of the work.

The earliest known edition of the Duneiad (in three Books), and in all probability the earliest actual edition, was published in May 1728. Įt bore the frontispiece of an Owl. The Edition with the notes Variorum and the Prolegomena of Martinus Scriblerus (accompanied by the Letter to the Publisher, infra, p. 355, signed William Cleland) appeared in 1729. It bore the vignette of an ass laden with a pile of books', with an owl perched on the top of these. It contained nearly all the pieces with which the poem is surrounded in subsequent editions, though these were afterwards varied as to both length and arrangement. The New Dunciad, 'as it was found in the year 1741,' appeared in 1742; and this is the first edition of the Fourth Book. The edition forming the third volume of Dodsley's edition of Pope's Works, in which Colley Cibber was by mere 'proclamation' (see p. lv.) substituted as hero for Theobald, appeared in 1743; and in the same year was published an edition 'according to the complete copy found in the year 1742,' which contained Warburton's Dissertation under the name of Ricardus Aristarchus, on the Hero of the Poem, and an Advertisement by the same hand (for which see p. 360).

It is uncertain what amount of influence should be ascribed to Swift upon the gradual growth of the original idea of the Dunciad., “Without you,' Pope wrote to Swift, Nov. 12th, 1728, “the poem had never been.' It cannot however be doubted that the original idea itself was Pope's own, except in so far as it was founded upon the supposed contents of the Margites ascribed to Homer (see note to p. 361), and upon Dryden's satire of MacFlecknoe. But MacFlecknoe (like Margites as it would seem) is only a Satire upon one dull poet; Pope from the first appears to have had a wider scheme; for in his correspondence with Bolingbroke and Swift the embryo poem is mentioned under the titles of Dulness,' or the ‘Progress of Dulness.' Mr Carruthers points out that the date of the action of the poem is 1720, when Sir George Thorold was Lord Mayor; and that this circumstance and the introduction of several dunces long dead 'seem to point to a period anterior to 1727' as the time when Pope commenced to work out his conception. In 1727, however, when Swift was in England, the main labour of the execution was accomplished; and to Swift, who had watched over its birth and influenced its character, the first complete edition (that of April 1729) was duly dedicated. The prolego

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1 [The works of Welsted, Ward, Dennis, 2 [The Testimonies of Authors,' arguments Theobald, Oldmixon and others, and the Mist's and indices.] Journal being labelled with their authors' names.]

a

for a

mena of Scriblerus and the notes Variorum were the work of several hands, and Swift (see Pope's letter to him of June 28th, 1728) was specially invited to exercise his wit in a favourite direction. The deception practised upon the public in this matter was an innocent fraud. But such will hardly be the judgment which must be passed on the pretence as to the authorship of the letter signed William Cleland.' This Cleland was a real personage, a Major the Army and a friend of the poet's; but it is impossible to doubt the correctness of Mr Carruthers' conjecture, that at the most he re-cast'in a somewhat freer and less author-like style' what the author had himself substantially dictated.

The original hero of the Dunciad was Lewis Theobald. He had earned this eminence by a quarrel originating in Pope's edition of Shakspere, which had made its appearance in 1725. In the following year Theobald had published a pamphlet under the title of Shakspere Restored, or a Specimen of the many Errors committed as well as unamended by Mr Pope in his late edition of this poet. Theobald (whose own edition of Shakspere was not published till 1733) was in the habit of contributing notes on passages of Shakspere to weekly paper called Mist's Journal— 'crucifying Shakspere once a week,' according to a line omitted from the later editions of the Dunciad. He translated several Greek plays, and adapted Shakspere's Richard II. for the stage, besides producing several original pantomimes and palming off his tragedy of the Double Falsehood upon the world as a Shaksperian original. Upon the whole he constituted a very suitable he Dunce-epic; and less injustice was done to him by the selection of his well-worn name for that office, than by Dryden to the worthy Flecknoe.

Theobald accepted his castigation very goodhumouredly; but such was not the spirit in which the other petty writers sacrificed by Pope met their fate. An endless series of retaliations, or attempts at retaliation ensued, in which Dennis was not behind-hand, and which were published in a collective form by Smedley. Pope and his friends retorted by an ironical series of criticisms in the Grubstreet Journal, which lasted from 1730 to 1737 ; and concerning which see Introductory Memoir. Lady M. W. Montagu, who retorted upon the insult offered to her by a lampoon entitled a Pop upon Pope, appears to have remained unanswered.

The Fourth Book of the Dunciad was not published till March 1742, when Pope was in the constant society and under the constant influence of Warburton. *The encouragement,' writes Pope to Warburton on Dec. 28, 1742, 'you gave me to add the fourth Book first determined me to do so; and the approbation you seemed to give to it was what singly determined me to print it.' Colley Cibber, against whom Pope had borne a grudge ever since the mishaps which had attended his sole dramatic attempt, and who had recently succeeded to the Jaureateship, was sarcastically alluded to in v. 20. He retorted by publishing a Letter which goaded Pope into sufficient resentment to induce him, in a new edition of the entire poem, to dethrone Theobald and place Cibber in his stead. To help the scheme, Warburton contributed the prefatory dissertation Ricardus Aristarchus of the Hero of the Poem and notes, to the new edition. Cibber replied by another epistle; but the change was made, and Cibber, not Theobald, remains the hero of the Dunciad.

The above is the barest outline of the history of this immortal satire. Elsewhere must be read, by those interested in such matters, the whole narrative of the mystifications which preceded, accompanied, and followed, its publication-of the proclamation of the Ass-Dunciad as the only true edition, of the prefaces and introductions and excerpts and keys (Curll's Key will be found occasionally quoted in the notes) and commentaries, issued by Pope to increase the notoriety of his work. On no occasion was he so thoroughly in his glory, and his glory was a wasp's nest which he had himself agitated into uncontrollable fury.

a

1

a

As the Dunciad stands, it has a unity, notwithstanding the fact that its fourth book was added at a later date. This book represents the fulfilment of the prophecy of its predecessor; fulfilment and prophecy being of course equally imaginary. It cannot be disputed that the whole poem was marred by the author to gratify his spleen against the Laureate. Cibber's Apology for his Life is too well known a book

to make it necessary to point out why he is an inappropriate hero for a Satire on | Dulness. It is indeed full of vanity and egotism ; but at the same time distinguished

by vivacity throughout, and in many passages by really skilful pleading. He is a play-writer not only of uncommon skill, but of genuine though not very deep humour; and the tastes to which he occasionally pandered as manager of Drury Lane were those of the times, which he could hardly be expected to control. He adapted Shakspere so successfully that his ‘improvements' were retained by Garrick, and still in one tragedy at least are universally followed on the stage; and at all events in this respect he sinned no worse than Sheffield, Duke of Buckinghamshire, and a hundred others. (Cibber was born in 1671 and died in 1757; and his career as an author extends over not less than half a century.) But neither Cibber nor Theobald could more than represent extreme specimens of the genus to which in some degree they both belonged; they were merely brought into prominence as

primi inter pares. Not an individual Dunce, but Dunces in general, are the theme ol of the poet. Herein lies the justification of Pope's Satire. It has frequently been

argued that in the Dunciad he employs his satirical powers, intensified to their utmost degree, against objects undeserving of so serious an attack. He goes back, says a brilliant critic?, to the times of the deluge, he indulges in far-fetched historical tirades, he describes at length the reign of Dulness past, present and future, the burning of the Alexandria library by the Caliph Omar, the extinction of letters by the invasion of the barbarians and the superstitions of the Middle Ages, and the gradual spread and continuing encroachments of the reign of Insipidity in his own land—and for what end? To crush a petty insect like Dennis, whose day, like that of all ephemera, would have come to an end soon enough in any case, or a plodding antiquary like Theobald, or a trumpery fribble like Cibber, or many others less noteworthy, and therefore less worthy of public exposure, than even these. The answer to such reproaches seems clear. Where Pope mixed up personal spleen, personal resentment for affronts real or imagined, with the execution of his self-imposed duty of general literary censor, he erred, and his error has avenged itself upon him severely enough. But Dulness was an enemy worthy of his steel. She is the natural foe of the true literary mind, and the true literary mind was typified in Pope more strongly than perhaps in any other English author. His hatred and contempt of Dulness is the most prominent characteristic of his entire career as an author. She is a monster with many heads, or apologies for heads, and many hands, with a pen in each. It was of little avail to cut off a single head, after the fashion of Dryden. Uno avulso non deficit alter. A crusade against the whole tribe was necessary to satisfy Pope's heroic indignation against the irrepressible enemy of all that he honoured in the microcosm which to him was his world—in the world of literature. The storm which Pope's effort created was of course unable to put an end to the tribe; and the Philistines of literature survived in the ashes of their sires. But Pope's Satire cleared the atmosphere; and his victims and their successors have never entirely recovered from its effects.

In the Fourth Book Pope, instigated by the influence of Warburton, carried the war into another field. The Dunces of philosophy and theology were indeed, and are, as fair game for the satirist as poetasters, mad antiquaries, and party-paid historians. Moreover, the 'cant of liberalism' which prevailed in the age of Boling.

I Taine.

« AnteriorContinuar »