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is like introducing a crucifix into one of Teniers's burlesque conversation-pieces. Some of his most splendid and striking lines are indeed here to be found; but I must beg leave to insist, that they want propriety and decorum, and must wish they had adorned some separate work against irreligion, which would have been worthy the pen of our bitter and immortal satirist.
But neither was this the only alteration the Dunciad was destined to undergo. For in the year 1743, our Author, enraged with Cibber (whom he had usually treated with contempt ever since the affair of Three Hours after Marriage) for publishing a ridiculous pamphlet against him, dethroned Tibbald, and made the laureate the hero of his poem. Cibber, with a great stock of levity, vanity, and affectation, had sense, and wit, and humour : and the author of the Careless Husband was by no means a proper king of the dunces. “ His treatise on the stage (says Mr. Walpole) is inimitable: where an author writes on his own profession, feels it profoundly, and is sensible his readers do not, he is not only excusable, but meritorious, for illuminating the subject by new metaphors, or bolder figures than ordinary. He is the coxcomb that sneers, not he that instructs by appropriate diction.” The consequence of this alteration was, that many lines, which exactly suited the heavy character of Tibbald, lost all their grace and propriety when applied to Cibber ; such as
Sinking from thought to thought, a vast profound! Such also is the description of his gothic library, for Cibber troubled not himself with Caxton, Wynkyn, and De Lyra. Tibbald, who was an antiquarian, had collected those curious. old writers: and to slumber in the Goddess's lap, was adapted to his stupidity, not to the vivacity of his successor. .
On the whole, the chief fault of the Dunciad, is the violence and vehemence of its satire, and the excessive height to which it is carried; and which therefore I may compare to that marvellous column of boiling water, near Mount Hecla in Iceland, thrown upwards, above ninety feet, by the force of a subterraneous fire. What are the impressions left upon the mind after a perusal of this poem? Contempt, aversion, vexation, and anger. No sentiments that enlarge, ennoble, move, or mend the heart! Insomuch that I know a person, whose name would be an ornament to these papers, if I were 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 thạt 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 indignation : one is full of mirth, and the other of malignity. A vein of pleasantry is uniformly preserved through the whole of Mac Flecnoe, and the piece begins and ends in the same key. It is natural and obvious to borrow a metaphor from music, when we are speaking of a poem whose versification is particularly and exquisitely sweet and harmonious. The numbers of the Dunciad, by being much laboured, and encumbered with epithets, have something in them of stiffness and harshness. Since the total decay of learning and genius was foretold in the Dunciad, 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 almost every art, either useful or elegant, been carried !
Warton. These observations by Dr. Warton are in general very just and sensible, tinctured in one or two places with his favourite mode of illustration; the chief fault of the Dunciad being, it is said, the excessive height to which it is carried, and which he compares to that “ marvellous column of boiling water on Mount Hecla, which is carried by subterraneous fires upwards of ninety feet high !" To the account of the plan of the Dunciad as it originally was conceived, with a more appropriate Personage than Theobald for its King, nothing can be added. The fourth book, subjoined by the advice of Warburton, though it is not certainly of the same texture or piece with the others, yet I by no means think so meanly of, as Dr. Warton. The objects of satire are more general and just. The one is confined to persons, and those of the most insignificant sort; the other is directed chiefly to things, such as faults of education, false knowledge, and false taste. In polished and pointed satire, in richness of versification and imagery, and in the happy introduction of characters, speeches, figures, and every sort of poetical ornament adapted to the subject, this book yields, in my opinion, to none of Pope's writings of the same kind.
When Atterbury, on reading Pope's character of Atticus, told the author that he had now discovered where the strength of his talents lay, and advised him not to neglect the cultivation of them, he was probably not aware of the impression he had made, nor of the extent to which his recommendation would be carried into effect. Who, indeed, could have conceived, that a subject of so vague and desultory a nature as the defence of a person's character and conduct, moral and literary, against a promiscuous herd of assailants, various in rank, in abilities, and in the motives and degrees of their animosity, could, by any effort of genius, be so arranged, united, and bound together, as to allot to every individual that due share of ignominy, to which, from his labours, he was so justly intitled, and to unite and embody the whole in one great act of retributive justice? In almost every poetical production, there is a specific and acknowledged foundation, on which the author raises his superstructure; and the very proposition of the subject generally suggests the nature of the work. The Fate of Troythe Foundation of Rome--the Conquest of Jerusalem-or the Fall of Man, are no sooner named, than they indicate the course to be pursued; and although the subject proposed is sometimes of so slight and unimportant a nature, as to excite our admiration of those powers, which can produce so great an effect from so slight and trivial a cause, as in the case of the Secchia Rapita, the Lutrin, or The Rape of the Lock, yet it must be owned, that it requires a much greater effort of the imagination to create, as it were, from a chaos of discordant materials, a simple, consistent, and uniform plan, than it does to amplify and extend any given subject, however unpromising and minute it may be. How then can we too highly estimate the astonishing powers of invention displayed by Pope in the following poem? by which we are instantly introduced into a new world, the affairs of which are directed by its own peculiar deity, the Goddess of Dulness; who has her courts, and her altars, her priests, and her votaries, her mysteries, her celebrations, and her games! She has also her particular favorites, heroes, and prime ministers; and as on this earth these important stations are supposed to be filled by persons of the greatest knowledge and ability,-so, in the dominions of dulness, the chief recommendations are indolence, ignorance, and stupidity; which, in the contests to obtain the favour of the goddess, are all displayed to the greatest advantage, so as to diversify the action, and add to the interest of the poem. By these means the dominions of the goddess are extended, and her authority is secured. Science, and taste, and wit, and learning, are extinguished, or put to flight ; till at length, all gives way to her soporific influence, the empire of chaos is restored, and " universal darkness buries all.”
Such is the original and happy idea, that burst upon the mind of Pope, when he determined to write the DUNCIAD; and which, if he had given no other instance of his inventive powers, would have placed him in the very first rank of poets, of either ancient or modern times. Here was, properly speaking, no subject; all was created by the power of fancy. The discordant materials, of which the work is composed, had not yet taken their places, or been embodied into shape; they were at the most an heterogeneous assemblage of dull pedants, actual dunces, and pretended wits, and might have been strung up together in a thousand different forms, “ to shew us which way blows the wind;" but at the command of the poet, they all retired to their proper stations, and formed a constituent part of that mighty mass, which presents itself to our imagination with all the air of reality. There they speak, and act, and doze, as in actual life. “Sedet et sedebit infelix Theseus." Nearly a century has passed away, and they remain without diminution, redemption, or change; and if another deluge of ignorance should overrun the world, they will be found, on its removal, like the inhabitants of Herculaneum or Pompeii, each in his proper place and occupation, unaltered and imperishable, to the latest period of time.
If, however, we were to give implicit credit to the assertions of that arch-critic Martinus Scriblerus, the Dunciad had not only been preceded by a poem of a similar nature, but such poem was of the highest antiquity and authority, anterior even to the Iliad and Odyssey, being no other than the Margites of Homer himself; by which appellation we are to understand “ the personage whom antiquity recordeth to have been DUNCE THE FIRST, and surely not unworthy to have been the root of so spreading a tree, and so numerous a posterity.” We are also informed, that “ forasmuch as our poet hath translated those two famous works of Homer, which
are yet left, he did conceive it in some sort his duty, to imitate that also which was lost; and was therefore induced to bestow on it the same form which Homer's is reported to have had, namely that of an Epic poem; with a title also framed after the Greek manner, to wit, that of DUNCIAD.” This idea of the antiquity of the subject on which the poem is founded, and the celebration of the most ancient of things, chaos, night, and dulness, is admirably calculated to throw an air of ludicrous mystery over the performance; which is supported with infinite gravity, not only through
the poem itself, but by the notes and observations that accompany : it ; forming a whole, that imposes upon the imagination; and
from which, as from all other works of fancy, we derive a pleasure, in proportion as we resign ourselves to the impressions which it is calculated to produce.
Having thus, under the pretext of reviving the poem of Homer, given birth to a creation of his own, there still remained the mighty task, which could alone entitle him to the name of a poet,to give life and effect to what he had so happily conceived, and to communicate to others what yet existed only in the unexpressed ideas of his own mind. For this purpose he adopted a mode precisely the reverse of that which he had before employed. In its plan the Dunciad has no prototype; but in its execution he sought assistance from every quarter, and collected his materials whereever they were to be found. The works of the ancients, and of
the moderns—the result of the author's meditation, and of his , reading—the progress and revolutions of science and literaturethe anecdotes, squabbles, and events of the times, with the whole storehouse of his amply furnished mind, were laid under contribution, and perhaps a greater abundance of miscellaneous knowledge, or on a greater variety of subjects, was never poured out in any one work. It must not however be supposed that the Dunciad is an assemblage of extracts, or Cento, in which the poet has availed himself of the works of others in a crude and inartificial form. They compose, indeed, the substance and materials of the poem; but they are so modified and amalgamated with his own, that they no longer appear the same; and by being converted to an object, or used in a sense, not only different from, but often the reverse of their original intention, give rise to an endless variety of singular allusions, striking parodies, and unexpected strokes of wit, which at once surprise and delight the reader.