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the mock pastorals, the two friends, in company with Ar-
buthnot, had made an adventure more in the spirit of the
Scriblerus Club. A farce called Three Hours after Mar-
riage was produced and damned in 1 71 7. It was intend-
ed (amongst other things) to satirize Pope's old enemy
Dennis, called "Sir Tremendous," as an embodiment of
pedantic criticism, and Arbuthnot's old antagonist Wood-
ward. A taste for fossils, mummies or antiquities was at
that time regarded as a fair butt for unsparing ridicule ;
but the three great wits managed their assault so clumsily
as to become ridiculous themselves ; and Pope, as we shall
presently see, smarted as usual under failure.

After Swift's retirement to Ireland, and during Pope's
absorption in Homer, the Scriblerus Club languished.
Some fragments, however, of the great design were exe-
cuted by the four chief members, and the dormant project
was revived, after Pope had finished his Homer, on occasion
of the last two visits of Swift to England. He passed six
months in England, from March to August, 1726, and had
brought with him tUe MS. of Gulliver's Travels, the great-
est satire produced by the Scriblerians. He passed a great
part of his time at Twickenham, and in rambling with
Pope or Gay about the country. Those who do not know
how often the encounter of brilliant wits tends to neu-
tralize rather than stimulate their activity, may wish to

w * *

have been present at a dinner which took place at Twick-
enham on July G, 1726, when the party was made up of


Pope, the most finished poet of the day ; Swift, the deep-
est humourist; Bolingbrokc, the most brilliant politician;
Congreve, the wittiest writer of comedy ; and Gay, the au-
thor of the most successful burlesque. The envious may
console themselves by thinking that Pope very likely went
to sleep, that Swift was deaf and overbearing, that Con-
greve and Bolingbroke were painfully witty, and Gay
frightened into silence. When, in 1727, Swift again vis-
ited England, and stayed at Twickenham, the clouds were
The scene is set before us in some of Swift's

verses :

" Pope has the talent well to speak,

But not to reach the ear ;
His loudest voice is low and weak,
The dean too deaf to hear.

" Awhile they on each other look,

Then different studies choose ;
The dean sits plodding o'er a book,
Pope walks and courts the muse."

" Two sick friends," says Swift in a letter written after
his return to Ireland, " never did well together." It is
plain that their infirmities had been mutually trying, and
on the last day of August Swift suddenly withdrew from
Twickenham, in spite of Pope's entreaties. He had heard
of the last illness of Stella, which was finally to crush his
happiness. Unable to endure the company of friends, he
went to London in very bad health, and thence, after a
short stay, to Ireland, leaving behind him a letter which,
says Pope, " affected me so much that it made me like a
girl." It was a gloomy parting, and the last. The stern
Dean retired to die " like a poisoned rat in a hole," after
long years of bitterness, and finally of slow intellectual de-
cay. He always retained perfect confidence in his friend's

116 TOPE. [CHAP.

:itTWiion. Poor Pope, as he says in the verses on his own


" Will grieve a month, and Gay

A week, and Arbuthnot a day ;"

:inl they were the only friends to whom he attributes sin-
< re sorrow.

Meanwhile two volumes of Miscellanies, the joint work
of the four wits, appeared in June, 1727 ; and a third in
March, 1728. A fourth, hastily got up, was published in
1732. They do not appear to have been successful. The
copyright of the three volumes was sold for 225/., of which
Arbuthnot and Gay received each 50/., whilst the remain-
der was shared between Pope and Swift; and Swift seems
to have given his part, according to his custom, to the wid-
ow of a respectable Dublin bookseller. Pope's correspond-
ence with the publisher shows that he was entrusted with
the financial details, and arranged them with the sharpness
of a practised man of business. The whole collection was
made up in great part of old scraps, and savoured of book-
making, though Pope speaks complacently of the joint
volumes, in which he says to Swift, " We look like friends,
M<le by side, serious and merry by turns, conversing inter-
'hangeably, and walking down, hand in hand, to posterity."
< )f the various fragments contributed by Pope, there is
only one which need be mentioned here the treatise on
Bathos in the third volume, in which he was helped by
Arlmthnot. He told Swift privately that he had " entire-
Iv methodized and in a manner written it all," though he


afterwards chose to denounce the very same statement as a


IK- when the treatise brought him into trouble. It is the


most amusing O f his prose writings, consisting essentially of

li.-rtion of absurdities from various authors, with some

apparently invented for the occasion, such as the familiar


"Ye gods, annihilate but space and time,
And make two lovers happy !"

and ending with the ingenious receipt to make an epic
poem. Most of the passages ridiculed and, it must be
said, very deservedly were selected from some of the va-
rious writers to whom, for one reason or another, he owed
a grudge. Ambrose Philips and Dennis, his old enemies,
and Theobald, who had criticised his edition of Shak-
speare, supply several illustrations. Blackmore had spoken
very strongly of the immorality of the wits in some prose
essays ; Swift's Tale of a Tub, and a parody of the first
psalm, anonymously circulated, but known to be Pope's,
had been severely condemned ; and Pope took a cutting
revenge by plentiful citations from Blackmore's most ludi-
crous bombast ; and even Broome, his colleague in Homer,


came in for a passing stroke, for Broome and Pope were
now at enmity. Finally, Pope fired a general volley into
the whole crowd of bad authors by grouping them under
the head of various animals tortoises, parrots, frogs, and so
forth and adding under each head the initials of the per-
sons described. He had the audacity to declare that the ini-
tials were selected at random. If so, a marvellous coincidence
made nearly every pair of letters correspond to the name and
surname of some contemporary poetaster. The classification
was rather vague, but seems to have given special offence.
Meanwhile Pope w r as planning a more elaborate cam-
paign against his adversaries. He now appeared for the
first time as a formal satirist, and the Dunciad, in which
he came forward as the champion of Wit, taken in its
broad sense, against its natural antithesis, Dulness, is in
some respects his masterpiece. It is addressed to Swift,
who probably assisted at some of its early stages. O thou,
exclaims the poet

118 POPE. [CHAP.

"0 thou, whatever title please thine ear,
Dean, Drapier, Bickerstaff, or Gulliver !
"VYlK'thcr thou choose Cervantes' serious air,
Or laugh and shake in Rabelais's easy-chair "

And we feel that Swift is present in spirit throughout
the composition. "The great fault of the Dunciad" says
"\Varton, an intelligent and certainly not an over- severe

O /

critic, " is the excessive vehemence of the satire. It has
been compared," he adds, "to the geysers propelling a vast
column of boiling water by the force of subterranean fire ;"
and he speaks of some one who, after reading a book of
the Dunciad, always soothes himself by a canto of the
Faery Queen. Certainly a greater contrast could not easily
be suggested ; and yet I think that the remark requires at
least modification. The Dunciadj indeed, is, beyond all
question, full of coarse abuse. The second book, in par-
ticular, illustrates that strange delight in the physically dis-
gusting which Johnson notices as characteristic of Pope
and his master, Swift. In the letter prefixed to the Dun-
dad, Pope tries to justify his abuse of his enemies by the
example of Boileau, whom he appears to have considered
as his great prototype. But Boileau would have been re-
volted by the brutal images which Pope does not hesitate
t<> introduce; and it is a curious phenomenon that the
poet who is pre-eminently the representative of polished
society should openly take such pleasure in unmixed filth.
Polish is sometimes very thin. It has been suggested that
Swift, who was with Pope during the composition, may
have been directly responsible for some of these brutalities.
At any rate, as I have said, Pope has here been working in
the Swift spirit, and this gives, I think, the key-note of his

Tin- gryscr comparison is so far misleading that Pope


is not in liis most spiteful mood. There is not that infu-
sion of personal venom which appears so strongly in the
character of Sporus and similar passages. In reading them
we feel that the poet is writhing under some bitter morti-
fication, and trying with concentrated malice to sting his


adversary in the tendercst places. We hear a tortured vic-
tim screaming out the shrillest taunts at his tormentor.
The abuse in the Dunciad is by comparison broad and
even jovial. The tone at which Pope is aiming is that
suggested by the "laughing and shaking in Rabelais' s easy-
chair." It is meant to be a boisterous guffaw from capa-
cious lunsjs, an enormous explosion of superlative contempt
for the mob of stupid thick-skinned scribblers. They are
to be overwhelmed with gigantic cachinnations, ducked in
the dirtiest of drains, rolled over and over with rough horse-
play, pelted with the least savoury of rotten eggs, not skil-
fully anatomized or pierced with dexterously directed nee-
dles. Pope has really stood by too long, watching their
tiresome antics and receiving their taunts, and he must,
once for all, speak out and give them a lesson.

" Out with it, Dunciad ! let the secret pass,
That secret to each fool that he's an ass !"

That is his account of his feelings in the prologue to the
Satires, and he answers the probable remonstrance.

"You think this cruel? Take it for a rule,
No creature smarts so little as a fool."

To reconcile us to such laughter, it should have a more
genial tone than Pope could find in his nature. We ought
to feel, and we certainly do not feel, that after the joke has
been fired off there should be some possibility of reconcili-
ation, or, at least, we should find some recognition of the
I 6*

1 20 POPE. [CHAP.

fart that the victims arc not to be hated simply because
they were not such clever fellows as Pope. There is some-
thing rnu-1 in Pope's laughter, as in Swift's. The missiles
arc not mere filth, but are weighted with hard materials
that bruise and mangle. He professes that his enemies
were the first aggressors, a plea which can be only true in
part; and he defends himself, feebly enough, against the
obvious charge that he has ridiculed men for being; ob-

o o

scure, poor, and stupid faults not to be amended by satire,
nor rightfully provocative of enmity. In fact, Pope knows
in his better moments that a man is not necessarily wicked
because he sleeps on a bulk, or writes verses in a garret ;
but he also knows that to mention those facts will <nve his


enemies pain, and he cannot refrain from the use of so
handy a weapon.

Such faults make one half ashamed of confessing to
reading the Dunciad with pleasure ; and yet it is frequent-
ly written with such force and freedom that we half par-
don the cruel little persecutor, and admire the vigour
with which he throws down the gauntlet to the natural
enemies of genius. The Dunciad is modelled upon the
Mac Flecknoe, in which Dryden celebrates the appoint-
ment of Elkanah Shadwell to succeed Flecknoe as mon-
arch of the realms of Dulness, and describes the coro-
nation ceremonies. Pope imitates many passages, and
adopts the general design. Though he does not equal
the vigour of some of Dryden's lines, and w r ages war in
a more ungenerous spirit, the Dunciad has a wider scope
than its original, and shows Pope's command of his weap-
ons in occasional felicitous phrases, in the vigour of the ver-
sification, and in the general sense of form and clear pre-

i it at ion of the scene imagined. For a successor to the


empire of Dulness he chose (in the original form of


the poem) the unlucky Theobald, a writer to whom the
merit is attributed of having first illustrated Shakspeare
by a study of the contemporary literature. In doing
this he had fallen foul of Pope, who could claim no such
merit for his own editorial work, and Pope, therefore, re-
garded him as a grovelling antiquarian. As such, he was
a fit pretender enough to the throne once occupied by
Settle. The Dunciad begins by a spirited description of
the goddess brooding in her cell upon the eve of a Lord
Mayor's day, when the proud scene was o'er,

" But lived in Settle's numbers one day more."

The predestined hero is meanwhile musing in his Goth-
ic library, and addresses a solemn invocation to Dulness,

* '

who accepts his sacrifice a pile of his own works trans-
ports him to her temple, and declares him to be the legit-
imate successor to the former rulers of her kingdom. The
second book describes the games held in honour of the
new ruler. Some of them are, as a frank critic observes,
" beastly ;" but a brief report of the least objectionable
may serve as a specimen of the whole performance.
Dulness, with her court descends

" To where Fleet Ditch with disemboguing streams
Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames,
The king of dykes than whom no sluice of mud
With deeper sable blots the silver flood.
Here strip, my children, here at once leap in ;
Here prove who best can dash through thick and thin,
And who the most in love of dirt excel."

And, certainly by tre poet's account, they all love it as
well as their betters. The competitors in this contest
are drawn from the unfortunates immersed in what War-
burton calls "the common sink of all such writers (as

122 POPE. [CHAP.

llalph) a political newspaper." They were all hateful,
partly because they were on the side of AValpole, and
tlu'ivfoiv, liy Pope's logic, unprincipled hirelings, and
more, because in that cause, as others, they had assault-
ed Pope and his friend. There is Oldmixon, a hack writ-
er employed in compilations, who accused Atterbury of
falsifying Clarendon, and was accused of himself falsify-
in^ historical documents in the interests of "Whio-rnsm ;

O O '

and Smedley, an Irish clergyman, a special enemy of
Swift's, who had just printed a collection of assaults
upon the miscellanies called Gulliveriana ; and Concanen,
another Irishman, an ally of Theobald's, and (it may be
noted) of Warburton's, who attacked the Bathos, and re-
ceived of course, for the worst services an appointment
in Jamaica ; and Arnall, one of Walpole's most favoured
journalists, who was said to have received for himself or
others near 11,000^. in four years. Each dives in a way
supposed to be characteristic, Oldmixon with the pathetic


" And am I now threescore ?

Ah, why, ye gods, should two and two make four?"

Concanen, "a cold, long-winded native of the deep,"
dives perseveringly, but without causing a ripple in the

stream :

" Not so bold Arnall with a weight of skull
Furious he dives, precipitately dull,"

and ultimately emerges to claim the prize, "with half the
bottom on his head." But Smedley, who has been given
up for lost, comes up,

" Shaking the horrors of his sable brows,"
and relates how he has been sucked in bv the mud-nymphs,

/ 4/ L

and how they have shown him a branch of Styx which


here pours into the Thames, and diffuses its soporific va-
pours over the temple and its purlieus. He is solemnly
welcomed by Milbourn (a reverend antagonist of Drydcn),
who tells him to " receive these robes which once were


" Dulness is sacred in a sound divine."

The games are concluded in the second book ; and in
the third the hero, sleeping in the Temple of Dulness,
meets in a vision the ghost of Settle, who reveals to him
the future of his empire ; tells how Dulness is to over-
spread the world, and revive the triumphs of Goths and
monks ; how the hated Dennis, and Gildon, and others,
are to overwhelm scorners, and set up at court, and pre-
side over arts and sciences, though a fit of temporary san-
ity causes him to give a warning to the deists

" But learn, ye dunces ! not to scorn your God "

and how posterity is to witness the decay of the stage,
under a deluge of silly farce, opera, and sensation dramas ;
how bad architects are to deface the works of Wren and
Inigo Jones; whilst the universities and public schools
are to be given up to games and idleness, and the birch
is to be abolished.

Fragments of the prediction have not been entirely
falsified, though the last couplet intimates a hope :

" Enough ! enough ! the raptured monarch cries,
And through the ivory gate the vision flies."

The D unclad was thus a declaration of war against the


whole tribe of scribblers ; and, like other such declara-
tions, it brought more consequences than Pope foresaw.
It introduced Pope to a very dangerous line of conduct.
Swift had written to Pope in 1725: "Take care that the

124 POPE. [CHAP.

bad poets do not outwit you, as they have served the good
onea in every age, whom they have provoked to transmit
their names to posterity;" and the Dunciad has been
uv IK Tally censured from Swift's point of view. Satire,
it is said, is wasted upon such insignificant persons. To
this Pope might have replied, with some plausibility, that
the interest of satire must always depend upon its inter-
nal qualities, not upon our independent knowledge of its
object. Though Gildon and Arnall are forgotten, the type
" dunce " is eternal. The warfare, however, was demoral-
izing in another sense. Whatever may have been the in-
justice of Pope's attacks upon individuals, the moral stand-
ard of the Grub-street population was far from exalted.
The poor scribbler had too many temptations to sell him-
self, and to evade the occasional severity of the laws of
libel by humiliating contrivances. Moreover, the uncer-
tainty of the law of copyright encouraged the lower class
of booksellers to undertake all kinds of piratical enter-
prises, and to trade in various ways upon the fame of
well-known authors, by attributing trash to them, or pur-
loining and publishing what the authors would have sup-
pressed. Dublin was to London what New York is now,
and successful books were at once reproduced in Ireland.
Thus the lower strata of the literary class frequently prac-
tised with impunity all manner of more or less discredit-
able trickery, and Pope, with his morbid propensity for
mystification, w-as only too apt a pupil in such arts.
Though the tone of his public utterances was always of
the loftiest, he was like a civilized commander who, in
an-yiii'j; on a war with savages, finds it convenient to
adopt the practices which he professes to disapprove.

The whole publication of the Dunciad was surround-
ed with tricks, intended partly to evade possible conse-


quenccs, and partly to excite public interest, or to cause
amusement at the expense of the bewildered victims.
Part of the plot was concerted with Swift, who, however,
does not appear to have been quite in the secret. The
complete poem was intended to appear with an elaborate
mock commentary by Scriblerus, explaining some of the al-
lusions, and with " proeme, prolegomena, testimonia scrip-
torum, index auctorum, and notrc variorum." In the first
instance, however, it appeared in a mangled form without
this burlesque apparatus or the lines to Swift. Four
editions were issued in this form in 1728, and with a
mock notice from the publisher, expressing a hope that
the author would be provoked to give a more perfect edi-
tion. This, accordingly, appeared in 1729. Pope seems
to have been partly led to this device by a principle which
he avowed to Warburton. When he had anything spe-
cially sharp to say he kept it for a second edition, where
it would, he thought, pass with less offence. But he may
also have been under the impression that all the mystery
of apparently spurious editions would excite public curi-
osity. He adopted other devices for avoiding unpleasant
consequences. It was possible that his victims might ap-
peal to the law. In order to throw dust in their eyes,
two editions appeared in Dublin and London the Dublin
edition professing to be a reprint from a London edition,
whilst the London edition professed in the same way to
be the reprint of a Dublin edition. To oppose another
obstacle to prosecutors, he assigned the Dunciad to three
noblemen Lords Bathurst, Burlington, and Oxford who
transferred their right to Pope's publisher. Pope would
be sheltered behind these responsible persons, and an ag-
grieved person might be slower to attack persons of high
position and property. By yet another device Pope ap-


plied for an injunction in Chancery to suppress a piratical
London edition ; but ensured the failure of his applica-
tion by not supplying the necessary proofs of property.
Tliis trick, repeated, as we shall see, on another occasion,
was intended either to shirk responsibility or to increase
the notoriety of the book. A further mystification was
equally characteristic. To the Dunciad in its enlarged
form is prefixed a letter, really written by Pope himself,
but praising his morality and genius, and justifying his
satire in terms which would have been absurd in Pope's
own mouth. He therefore induced a Major Cleland, a
retired officer of some position, to put his name to the
letter, which it is possible that he may have partly written.
The device was transparent, and only brought ridicule
upon its author. Finally, Pope published an account of
the publication in the name of Savage, known by John-
son's biography, who seems to have been a humble ally
of the great man at once a convenient source of informa-
tion and a tool for carrying on this underground warfare.

/ o o

Pope afterwards incorporated this statement which wai;
meant to prove, by some palpable falsehoods, that the
dunces had not been the aggressors in his own note?,

C7O *

without Savage's name. This labyrinth of unworthy de-
vices was more or less visible to Pope's antagonists. It
might in some degree be excusable as a huge practical
joke, absurdly elaborate for the purpose, but it led Pope
into some slippery ways, where no such excuse is avail-

Pope, says Johnson, contemplated his victory over the
dunces with great exultation. Through his mouth-piece,
Savage, he described the scene on the day of publication ;
how a crowd of authors besieged the shop and threatened
him with violence; how the booksellers and hawkers


struggled with small success for copies ; how the dunces
formed clubs to devise measures of retaliation ; how one
wrote to ministers to denounce Pope as a traitor, and an-
other brought an image in clay to execute him in effigy;

and how successive editions, genuine and spurious, follow-
ed each other, distinguished by an owl or an ass on the

d 4/

frontispiece, and provoking infinite controversy amongst
rival vendors. It is unpleasant to have ugly names hurled
at one bv the first writer of the day ; but the abuse was

. *>'

for the most part too general to be libellous. Nor would
there be any great interest now in exactly distributing the
blame between Pope and his enemies. A word or two
may be said of one of the most conspicuous quarrels.

Aaron Hill was a fussy and ambitious person, full of
literary and other schemes ; devising a plan for extracting
oil from beech-nuts, and writing a Pindaric ode on the


occasion ; felling forests in the Highlands to provide tim-
ber for the navy; and, as might be inferred, spending
instead of making a fortune. He was a stao-e-manao-er,

> ^ G

translated Voltaire's Jlferope, wrote words for Handel's
first composition in England, wrote unsuccessful plays, a
quantity of unreadable poetry, and corresponded with
most of the literary celebrities. Pope put his initials,
A. H., under the head of " Flying Fishes," in the Bathos,
as authors who now and then rise upon their fins and fly,
but soon drop again to the profound. In the Dunciad he
reappeared amongst the divers.

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 24 of 44)