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A ‘Club’ of dunce retorts
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
3 [See Nos 27–32]
212 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
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].
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 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)]
214 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
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]
216 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
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.
—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
Heu! miserande Puer! si qua fata aspera rumpas,
218 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
Tu MARCELLUS eris.
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
Jonathan Swift, extract from a letter to Pope, 16 July 1728, Corresp.,
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
THE DUNCIAD VARIORUM
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
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