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Innumerable incidents and passages in the ancient authors, are thus brought to our recollection, after having suffered
a change Into something new and strange ; How greatly the effect is heightened by this continual assumption of Epic dignity, is apparent in every page of the poem, where the gravest passages are combined with the most ludicrous ideas, and an effect is produced which it is impossible for human gravity to resist.
In rapidity, vigour, and effect of style, the Dunciad stands unrivalled. In no other work can there be found such a number of ideas, so concisely and clearly expressed; yet with such infinite variety and brilliancy, that they resemble the coruscations of lightning, following each other in succession without a moment's interval.
But in no respect are the inventive powers of the author more fully displayed, than in the endless diversity with which he distributes to every person, who has had the misfortune to incur his displeasure, an appropriate punishment. It has been said of Homer, that all his heroes die a different kind of death; and it may be said, with equal truth, that the objects of the poet's resentment present a similar variety in their fate. They remind us of the mar. tyrdom of the Theban legion by the order of the Emperor Maximian, in the valley of the Penine Alps, where every individual was put to death by a different mode of punishment. In the one case, as in the other, we can perceive neither pity nor remorse. That spark of compassion which was excited in the mind of Ulysses by the fate of his rivals, and which caused him to exclaim
'Ουχ οσίη κταμίνοισιν επ' ανδράσιν ενχιτάασθαι.* appears never once to have touched the unrelenting bosom of Pope.
In the execution and style of his poem, Pope has also freely availed himself of the Mac Flecnoe of Dryden, one of the most vigorous productions of that great poet, upon which he has himself observed, that if any thing of his was good, it was that poem; but
T'insult the dead is cruel and unjust;
Odyss. B. xxii.
which furnishes no idea of the great outline and plan of the Dunciad. It is in fact litt more than a speech of Mac Flecnoe to Shadwell, on his being invested with the insignia which were to render him “ through all the realms of nonsense absolute;" yet there is a certain tone and expression in the poem of Dryden, which Pope has closely imitated, and generally improved. It is however impossible to agree with Dr. Warton in his opinion that Dryden's poem is full of mirth, and Pope's of malignity. In resentment and vituperation they appear to be nearly equal; nor, when we speak of the vehemence of Pope's satire, is it to be understood that it extends further than a literary animosity, founded on the just antipathy which must for ever exist between real and sterling excellence, and vain presumption, affectation, and pretence. The impressions of "contempi, aversion, veration, and anger,” which Dr. Warton complains are left upon the mind, after a perusal of this poem, are directed only against the individuals as bad writers, and as enemies of sound learning and true taste; in which capacity they are intitled to no mercy. Nor can we, with any degree of justice, assent to the opinion of Warton, that “ the Dunciad contains no sentiments that enlarge, ennoble, move, or mend the heart.” On the contrary it may with safety be averred that there is scarcely a line, or a sentiment throughout the poem, which, if justly and impartially considered, and taken in connexion with the context in which it iş placed, and the object to which it relates, does not tend to enforce some great moral duty, to repress some inveterate abuse, to defend the real interests of truth and virtue, to expose some ignorant pretender, or to vindicate the cause of true learning against all its adversaries, whether mitred or cassocked, in palaces or in gaols, in universities or in garrets,
“ Men bearded, bald, cowl’d, uncowld, shod, unshod.” Insomuch, that we may with confidence assert, that the Dunciad had a surprising and powerful effect, in repressing the haughtiness of pedagogues, and the ribaldry of poetasters, and in establishing the empire of correct taste and sound sense. “ All truth is valuable," says Johnson, "and satirical criticism may be considered as useful, when it rectifies error and improves judgment. He that refines the public taste, is a public benefactor.”—From the period of its publication, a perceptible alteration appears in the manners and conduct of literary men towards each other. The ignorance and folly of pretenders to science and learning were ex
posed; they no sooner found that there was one who could detect their pretences and punish their presumption, than they shrunk into their original obscurity. No attempt that deserves any notice was made to answer the Dunciad. There was indeed a general idea of its severity, but it was a severity which the occasion required, and without which it could not have answered the purpose for which it was intended.
In order however to derive either pleasure or instruction from the Dunciad, it is requisite it should be read in the same spirit, in some degree, with which it was written.* Its object is to ridicule vice and folly, and to throw contempt on ignorant pretension, affected learning, and false taste. This is accomplished by a continual, severe, and well supported irony, in which every thing is described as exactly the reverse of what (in just and correct estimation) it ought to be; and it is for want of sufficient attention to this, that so many captious objections have been made against the poem, both in parts and in the whole; as may sufficiently appear in the remarks of some of the former editors of Pope. Thus, in the first book, when Bayes addresses his prayer to the Goddess,
“ Me, emptiness and dulness could inspire,
And were my elasticity and fire, &c.”—Line 185. Dr. Warton remarks, that “this first speech of the Hero is full of an impropriety that one could hardly believe our author could fall into; it being contrary to all decorum, character, and probability, that Bayes should address the Goddess Dulness, without disguising or mistaking her as a despicable being; and should even call himself fool and blockhead; it is in truth outrageously unnatural and absurd.” But if Warton had paid sufficient attention to the nature of the poem, he would have perceived that Bayes was endeavouring to recommend himself to the Goddess of Dulness; that emptiness and stupidity were therefore his best qualifications; that to be a fool and a blockhead could alone entitle him to her favour; and that to have set up any pretence to real wit, and sound sense, on such an occasion, would indeed have been outrageously
* A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ;
Essay on Crit. v. 234.
unnatural and absurd. Again, as regards the general scope and intention of the poem, the same critic has fallen into a still greater error, in supposing that the passage at the close, which describes the entire overthrow and destruction of literature and science, and the re-establishment of chaos, anarchy, and night, is to be considered as the deliberate opinion of the poet, as to the character and state of the age in which he lived. “Since the total decay of learning and genius was foretold in the Dunciad,” says Warton, “ how many very excellent pieces of criticism, poetry, history, philosophy, and divinity, have appeared in this country, and to what a degree of perfection has every art, either useful or elegant, been carried !" It is however abundantly evident, that the conclusion of the Dunciad, like the rest of the poem, is wholly ironical, and purports nothing more than that the methods adopted by the Goddess of Dulness, and so eagerly prosecuted by the pedants and dunces who are devoted to her cause, must undoubtedly have their natural result--the establishment of her empire. But this is all perfectly hypothetical and imaginary, and is intended only to furnish the strongest possible inference, that if ignorance and bad taste should be allowed to prevail, such would be the unavoidable result; and thereby to excite all the friends of real wisdom, science, and virtue, to exert themselves to prevent it. Can we indeed for a moment suppose that the poet, at the close of his labours, would seriously have admitted that his opponents had been too powerful for him ? that the opinion of the public had been decidedly expressed in favour of the Blackmores and the Budgells, the Cibbers and the Dennises, the Concanens, the Gildons, the Tibbalds, and the Wards ? and that the real friends of science and of taste, who formed the literary circle by which Pope was surrounded, at a period of the highest cultivation which this country has known, were compelled to retire from the contest and to hide themselves in oblivion and disgrace? A due consideration of the nature of the work would have shewn not only the utter impropriety of such an idea, but that the termination of the poem was intended to demonstrate, that if his adversaries were allowed to succeed in their efforts, there would then indeed be an end to every thing that was truly great and valuable, wise and good, upon earth; that truth, and art, and philosophy, and religion, and morality would be extinguished ;
"Nor human spark be left, nor glimpse divine."
This intention of the poet, although sufficiently evident from the poem itself, is further manifested in the notes, in one of which (on Book iïi. ver. 333,) it is said, “ It may perhaps seem incredible, that so great a revolution in learning as is here prophesied, should be brought about by such weak instruments as have been hitherto described in our poem. But do not thou, gentle reader, rest too secure in thy contempt of these instruments. Remember what the Dutch stories somewhere relate, that a great part of their provinces was once overflowed, by a small opening made in one of their dykes by a single water-rat.”
Of the causes which led to the production of the Dunciad, and of the provocation which Pope had received, before he finally devoted himself to the task, as well as of the reception it met with, and the consequences resulting from its publication, an account will be found in the Life of the Author prefixed to the present edition. With regard to the poem itself, it is here given as finally corrected and completed, in four books, together with the notes and observations, as either written or approved by the author, and which may be considered as embodied with, and forming a constituent part of the work. Those persons who are more deeply interested in the subject, and are desirous of being acquainted with the alterations that have taken place as to the Hero of the poem, and other particulars of this nature, must resort to the early editions which appeared in rapid succession after its first publication, and are not of rare occurrence. To reprint the poem in two different forms, as Dr. Warton has done, by no means answers the purpose.
To the illustrations and remarks of Warburton, subsequent editors have added but little that merits preservation. Their object appears to have been rather to blame than to elucidate, and rather to diminish than enhance the pleasure of perusal. Hence the pages of Pope are occupied with observations intended, as we have seen, to demonstrate that the effect of the poem “is injured or destroyed by the substitution of Cibber as the hero instead of Theobald,” and that “the fourth book is an unhappy addition, of such a very different cast and colour, as to render it one of the most motley compositions that is any where to be found in the works of so exact a writer as Pope.” To these have been added other remarks, tending to doubt, or deny, the moral justice of the castigation administered by the author to his adversaries,