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A ‘Club’ of dunce retorts

A ‘Club’ of dunce retorts

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POPE 211

what Quarter it came; and even the Gentleman’s own Party acknowledge the


The Author is allow’d to be a perfect Master of an easy and elegant

Versification; In all his Works we find the most happy Turns, and natural

Similies, wonderfully short and thick sown; nor is he less distinguish’d by an

uncommon Contempt of all Men less wealthy than himself. Hence he is at all

Times possessed with the most over-bearing Insolence, as if neither Wit, or

Worth, or common Sense, can belong to the Man without Riches.

This Gentleman, in his Rise, was strongly supported by a noble Genius,

deservedly honour’d with the Name of Maro.1 He rais’d this Author from an

humble Obscurity, obtain’d him the Acquaintance and Friendship of the whole

Body of our Nobility, and transferr’d his powerful Interests with those great Men,

to this rising Bard, who frequently levy’d by that Means, unusual Contributions

on the Publick.

It happen’d, a Translation done by this Hand,2 was not, in all Respects,

conformable to the fine Taste, and exact Judgment of his Friend; and, what was

worse, the tenacious Gentleman would not be convinc’d a more perfect Piece was

possible. Maro, to confute him, employ’d a younger Muse [Tickell] in an

Undertaking of this Kind, which he supervis’d himself. When a Specimen of this

was produc’d, the World allow’d it much more correct than our Author, closer

translated, and yet retaining all the Beauties and Graces he could boast.3

Thus confuted by the Judgment of Mankind, he thought fit to yield, not

without Reluctancy; but there was Friendship to preserve, and Profit in View; he

therefore continued his Assiduity to his generous Benefactor, making Speeches

in his Praise, and Poems to his Fame, as a certain Dissertation upon Medals can

testify; where the most glowing Love, and uncommon Esteem, are expressed in

Honour to Maro.1

But no sooner was his Body lifeless, and that Genius fled, which was the

Boast and Glory of the British Nation, but the Author whose Works are now in

Question, reviving his Resentments, at the Expence of all Gratitude and Decency,

libelled the Memory of his departed Friend, traduc’d him in a sharp Invective;

and, what was still more heinous, he made the Scandal publick.2

The Point of the Satire was not only wrong applied, but most unnaturally and

unjust; it reproach’d a Person for the Exercise of his own private Judgment, and

abus’d him for not being severe, or illnatur’d, to the Party he could not approve.

And what shew’d the ungenerous Disposition of the Author more than all, he

work’d up the Satire with the most inhuman unmanly Reflections on Persons

distress’d by involuntary Evils, charging it on them as criminal, that they were



[Pope’s Iliad]

3 [See Nos 27–32]



poor and unbefriended; a Fate that has often befel the bravest and the worthiest

Men; a Fate which Dryden, Butler, and Cowley, could not escape; which even

the great HOMER suffer’d, to whose immortal Work he owes so much Wealth

himself, and which had possibly been his own Lot, had not better Stars decreed him

Maro, the Friend whom he thus abus’d.

After this, he undertook a Translation [Odyssey], the Sequel of that Work

which occasion’d this Contention; and having secur’d the Success by a numerous

Subscription, he employ’d some Underlings to perform what, according to his

Proposal, should come from his own Hands.

And now we must explain the Occasion of the DUNCIAD. An eminent

Bibliopole [Lintot], well known for his thriving Genius, was desirous to publish a

correct Edition of a fam’d British Poet [Shakespeare], and applied to this

Gentleman as the ablest Hand, in his Opinion, that could do him Justice. Our

Author, being thus applied to, nam’d a Sum, which he thought a reasonable

Premium; and, on that Consideration, undertook the Work. The Bookseller

immediately propos’d it by Subscription, and rais’d some Thousands of Pounds

for the same; I believe the Gentleman did not share in the Profits of this

extravagant Subscription, yet this is no Excuse for publishing the Author with so

many Errors, and is no Satisfaction to the Subscribers for that vast Price they

paid for a bad Edition.

As the World resented the Imposition, and were angry with the Man who had

given the Sanction of his Name to such an Abuse, a different Hand [Theobald]

thought he had sufficient Right to restore the Original Text, which, without

invading any Property the Editors could claim, he perform’d to the Satisfaction of

the Publick, and obtain’d a kind Reception, tho’ unassisted by any Subscription.

Our ingenious Author, on this Occasion, thought fit to exert his uncommon Illnature; and having collected all the Rubbish of twenty Years,1 the best Part

whereof was none of his own, he inserted the famous Satire I have mentioned,

with some Lines expung’d, and others added, to express his Indignation at the

Man who had supplied his Defects without his Reward, and faithfully perform’d

what himself undertook, and ought to have discharged.

The Reproach our Author made use of in this Case, was, that his opponent

Rival had no Genius; a rare Objection, I confess, when his own exalted Self, with

all his great Abilities, never discharg’d the Labour which gain’d his Opponent such


And it being impracticable to expose any Errors in that Work, he was

extravagantly witty on some earlier Productions of his Antagonist; a poor Shift in


[See ‘To Mr Addison, Occasioned by his Dialogue on Medals’, written 1713, published


2 [The ‘Atticus’ portrait (Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, ll. 193–214) was published in 1722

without Pope’s knowledge].

POPE 213

Truth, and very little to the Purpose! the Question to the Publick was, Who had

done most Justice to Shakespear? or, in other Words, Who understood him best?

and such ungenerous Reprisals did more Mischief than Service to our Author’s


At this Time likewise, many Bickerings and Skirmishes happen’d; a barbarous

unnatural Civil War being commenced between our Author, and the minor

Poets, some complain’d of Characters abus’d, and others of Collections

plunder’d; which latter was unprecedented Cruelty; for the Gentleman might

have scorn’d to rob those Persons he had libell’d for their Poverty, nor was it any

Honour to defraud those of their Works whom he had decry’d as Dunces.

At length he published the DUNCIAD to abuse all his Friends, and scourge all

his Enemies. The sublime Poet Maurus,2 and his Arthurs, were introduced to adorn

the Work, and save the Expence of Invention. Poor Namby Pamby [Philips]

likewise was aspersed, because he had written much better Pastorals than

himself: And his Persian Tales were censur’d in the next Place, because they

were translated for thirty Pence a Piece:—a Crime indeed, that deserves a

Reproach; for it is not the Virtue of all Men to deal in Five Guinea


But the Hero of his Farce, was the Man who had incurr’d his eternal

Vengeance, by doing Justice to poor Shakespeare: Over him, and all the

Brethren of the Quill, he triumph’d in heroick Rage; tho’ I cannot but think he

might have spar’d C[i]bb[e]r, for having shewn less Mercy to Shakespeare than

he himself.

He took an uncommon Delight in burlesquing the Dramatick Pieces of his

Enemy [Cibber], and was unmerciful in his Usage to abundance of Poets and

Poems; but his own Plays and Farces would have adorned the Dunciad much

more gracefully, for he had neither Genius for Tragedy or Comedy; and when he

had laid aside his inimitable Jingle of Rhimes, he wanted Spirit, Taste, and Sense,

as much as any Man whatever.

The Model of his Poem seems copied from Mack-Fleckno, and the Dispensary,

but is as different from Dryden, if compared with that pointed Satyr, as it is

below the admir’d and elegant Reflections, which are the Beauties of Garth. The

smooth Numbers of the Dunciad are all that recommend it, nor has it any other


It is, thro’ the Whole, a Merciless Satire on Poverty, the Hunger, the Necessity

and Distress of particular Men; the Miseries which should move a just and tender

Compassion, are there turn’d into Ridicule. Supperless Bards, Books unpawn’d,

unpaid Taylors, &c. are the choice Flowers of our Poet. You have not one Moral

to guide the Pursuits of Virtue, nor one Instruction of useful Science. He



[I.e., the ‘Last Volume’, Miscellanies (1727)]



reproaches his Enemies as poor and dull; and to prove them poor, he asserts they

are dull; and to prove them dull, he asserts they are poor. Such Stuff as this, and

no other, is the Tenor of his Argument; and the most of his Reflections are

shocking and dishonourable to human Nature.

Nor has he preserved common Decency in his Poem; O[rdu]re and U[rin]e,

and such like Figures, are plentifully interspers’d with equal Variety and


Whereas in every Poem there ought to be a Moral, a Lesson of Instruction that

runs thro’ all the Scenes, and animates the whole Story. Dryden and Garth are as

fruitful of just Reflection as of fine Images; nor have they any poetical Grace, but

what adorns and illustrates a moral Sentiment.

And, in every Satyr, no Action should be censur’d, burlesqu’d, or ridicul’d, but

what is in the Nature of Things essentially wrong. Juvenal, Persius, and the

noblest Wits of the Latin Poets, always stigmatiz’d Avarice and Ostentation; and

thought the Contempt of Poverty, or Cruelty shewn to Misery, the most crying

Evils of their Times.

‘Tis the Glory of a refin’d Understanding, and inseparable from it, to inspire

generous Virtues, and benevolent Qualities. An honest Mind will love and esteem

a Man of Worth, tho’ he be poor or deform’d: The want of Fortune in one Man,

or the decripid Person of another, are no Reflections upon their Genius, or

Understandings, yet the Author of the Dunciad has libelled a Person for his rueful

Length of Face.1 In short, such Reproaches are so mean, it does them too much

Honour to expose them.

Our Author, therefore, is justly the Contempt of Mankind: With all the Eclat

of a great Genius, he has not one just Pretension to it: He thinks of nothing so

much as his own Possessions, and despises nothing so much as Poverty. In this

View he compares himself, and his Enemies; his own Subscriptions on one Side,

and their Necessities on the other.

I might pursue him farther with a great deal of Justice, but, I hope, I have done

him sufficient Service. And am, Sir,

Your humble Servant,



May 29. 1728.


[The Dunciad (B), ii. 142]


The Dunciad a misuse of Pope’s genius

27 June 1728

Anonymous, extracts from An Essay on the Dunciad: An Heroick

Poem (1728), pp. 8–11, 17–23, 26–7. This is another piece in

response to the first appearance of The Dunciad. It was published on

27 June, and Pope later attributed it to Theobald.

Since Mr. POPE has obtained such an universal Name over all England, and the

neighbouring States, so that even Foreigners, as it is very rightly observ’d, have

translated him into their own Language; is it consistent with Reason, that he

should debase himself so much, as to vent his Scandal upon those very Men,

who, for the most part, are his Admirers, and so run the risk of losing that vast

Reputation, which he has so firmly rooted into the Hearts of all the World?

I must own, the Author, whoever he is, has aim’d at something of an Imitation of

Mr. POPE’S way of Writing, which is only peculiar to himself: I can’t say quite

throughout, but here and there you may trace some Glimmerings of his Fancy,

and some Structure of his Verse….

The Author…has endeavoured to imitate Mr. POPE’S Way of writing, as you

may observe in this Verse, where

Keen, hollow Winds howl though the bleak Recess.

[1728, i. 19]

This I must own is a very good Imitation, and represents the Image; but yet one

may easily discern the Bristol-Stone from the Diamond….

The Author describing the Race betwixt C[ur]ll and L[into]tt, has these Lines.

Full in the middle way there stood a Lake

Which C[ur]ll’s Corrinna chanc’d that morn to make;

Here fortun’d C[ur]ll to slide.—

[1728, ii. 53–7]


Which I think is a very good Imitation of Virgil, where speaking of the Race

betwixt Nisus and Eurylus, and the rest, he says as follows:

—levi cum sanguine Nisus,

Labitur infelix; cœsis ut forte juvencis,

Fusus humum, viridesque super madefacerat herbas.

[Aeneid, v. 328–30]

The only Difference between the Roman Racer and the English, was that the one

slipp’d down in Bull’s Blood, the other in a Sir-Reverence: but however, C[ur]ll

had the Proverb on his Side, sh[itte]n Luck’s good Luck, for he stunk along, you

see afterwards, and won the Race. But I must needs own that such a Fall would

vex a Gentleman, you know, and set him to Prayers immediately; but, poor Man,

he had not much Time to make a long Prayer; I think it isn’t above three or four

Lines: and I fancy there’s very few who would ever have thought of any Prayers

in such a nasty Condition as he was, except himself; for you must know he’s a

very religious, chaste, good Man; and very likely, if he had not said that Prayer,

he’d have never won the Race.

To move, to raise, to ravish every Heart

With Shakespear’s Nature, or with Johnson’s Art,

Let others aim— [1728, ii. 203–5]

These last Lines are another very good Imitation of Mr. POPE’S excellent

Prologue to the Tragedy of Cato.

The DIVING, I fancy, is a Game which no body could ever think of, but the

Author of the DUNCIAD; however, it is work’d up admirably well, and comes

very near the Spirit of Mr. POPE: especially in those Lines where he describes E

[usde]n rising up again, which are as follow:

Sudden a Burst of Thunder shook the Flood:

Lo! E[usde]n rose, tremendous all in Mud!

Shaking the Horrors of his sable Brows,

And each ferocious Feature grim with Ooze.

Greater he looks, and more than Mortal stares,

That thus the Wonders of the Deep declares.

[1728, ii. 287–92]

Then comes the gentler Exercise to lull all the Senses asleep by a magick Art,

which, as the Author very well observes, the Cambridge Sophs are best at; not to

mention the three pert Templars, that came not at all inferior to the former in

their Talents and Taste.

POPE 217

—And in one lazy Tone

Thro’ the long, heavy, painful Page, drawl on.

And then again:

At every Line they stretch, they yawn, they doze.

[1728, ii. 341–2, 344]

This very well imitates the slow Drowsiness in which they proceed: It is

impossible for any one, who has a poetical Ear, to read these Lines, without

perceiving the Heaviness that lags in the Verse, to imitate the Action which it


The Simile of the Pines is very just, and adapted well to the Subject. There’s

another too, which I forgot to mention in its place, which is that of the Dabchick

waddling thro’ the Copse; ’tis in the Race between C[ur]ll and L[into]tt.

As when a Dab-chick waddles thro’ the Copse,

On Legs and Wings, and flies, and wades, and hops.

[1728, ii. 47–8]

And all was hush’d, as Folly’s self lay dead.

[1728, ii. 372]

In Imitation of that line in Dryden’s Ind[ian] Emp[eror, III, ii. I]

All things are hush’d, as Nature’s self lay dead.

Ascend this Hill, whose cloudy Point, &c.

[1728, iii. 59]

I suppose the Author, when he wrote this, had his Eye upon that Place in Milton,

where the Angel takes Adam upon an high Mountain, and shews him all the

Country round, and tells him of things that shall come to pass hereafter.

From the strong Fate of Drams if thou get free,

Another Durfey shall sing in thee.

[1728, iii. 131–2]

This is another very good Imitation of that admir’d Passage in the 6th Book of

Virgil, where speaking of young Marcellus, the Poet thus delivers himself in the

Words ofAnchises:

Heu! miserande Puer! si qua fata aspera rumpas,



This POEM, in my Opinion, looks as if it was wrote with a great deal of Malice

and Envy: it seems as if the Author was afraid others should rise above him, and

so he endeavours to blast their Characters… …I can’t possibly reconcile my self

to the Belief of Mr. POPE’S being the Author of this Poem. I wish some abler

Person than my self, would be at the Trouble of examining this Poem somewhat

stricter than I have, and then let him give out his Opinion: for I would not have it

ever be said, that Mr. POPE, who is the Honour of our English Nation, was the

Author of such a notorious Libel.


Swift on The Dunciad’s Obscurity

July 1728

Jonathan Swift, extract from a letter to Pope, 16 July 1728, Corresp.,

ii. 504–5.

Swift was staying at Market Hill, near Armagh, with Sir Arthur


I have often run over the Dunciad in an Irish edition…. The notes I could wish to

be very large, in what relates to the persons concern’d; for I have long observ’d

that twenty miles from London no body understands hints, initial letters, or townfacts and passages; and in a few years not even those who live in London. I

would have the names of those scriblers 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 call’d) referred to the author they imitate

—When I began this long paper, I thought I should have fill’d 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. How it passes in Dublin I know not yet; but I am sure it

will be a great disadvantage to the poem, that the persons and facts will not be

understood, till the explanation comes out, and a very full one. I imagine it is not

to be published till towards winter, when folks begin to gather in town. Again I

insist, you must have your Asterisks fill’d up with some real names of real



10 April 1729

The publication of The Dunciad with a few alterations and the addition of the

footnotes and Scriblerian apparatus, provoked a fresh surge of interest and anger.


Objections to Pope’s obscenity and character


May 1729

Anonymous, extract from Pope Alexander’s Supremacy and

Infallibility examin’d (1729), pp. 11–13. Published 13 May 1729.

Pope attributed this pamphlet to John Dennis and George Duckett,

but E.N.Hooker and D.N.Smith have denied that either were

concerned in its production. The passage given here occurs in ‘A

Letter to a Noble Lord: Occasion’d by the late Publication of the

Dunciad Variorum signed ‘Will. Flogg’ and dated 5 April 1729: its

author calls The Dunciad a ‘mishapen Lump of Malice and Illnature’

and a ‘Master-piece of Scandal’ (p. 14).

You will not, I am sure, expect that I should enter into an Examination of the

Poetical Merit of [The Dunciad]; that would subject me to a Task, for which I am

wholly unfit; I mean, the reading it a second Time. But I am well inform’d, that

the Reception which the first Edition met with from the Town, shewed that the

Performance was thought as mean as the Design. In my cursory View of it, tho’ I

met with some Lines here and there Poetical enough, yet I thought the Generality

of them very Prosaick, the whole Tale loose and unconnected, the Transitions

unnatural, the Parodies on the most admir’d Passages of the Ancients, were not

only too frequent, but likewise too faintly and poorly wrought up, either to strike

or delight the Reader; and besides, the Nastiness of the Games, and of all the

Imagery in the Poem, the very Language often sunk into downright Ribaldry, as

when a Gentlewomans Breasts are stiled her Fore-Buttocks or her Cow-like

Udders [ii. 156]. Upon the whole, I judg’d this Dunciad to be below all Criticism,

both as to its Stile and Versification.

Indeed, the Morality of it, as well as of the Notes of Scriblerus and Variorum,

may deserve a much stricter Scrutiny. Felons in the Condemn’d Hold at Newgate,

who have no Characters to forfeit, and but little Enjoyment of Life to lose, may

venture to attack the Reputations of other Men, without Fear or Shame; but,

unless under those Circumstances, none but a Madman could be tempted to do it.

How shall I astonish your Lordship then, when I assure you, that no desperate

Raver, but a poor Reptile; who, as he is the most helpless, is likewise the most

timid Creature living, has acted this Part. He is become a voluntary Prisoner to

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A ‘Club’ of dunce retorts

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