The Dunciad, by Alexander Pope

Testimonies of Authors


Our Poet and His Works.

M. Scriblerus Lectori S.

Before we present thee with our exercitations on this most delectable poem (drawn from the many volumes of our Adversaria on modern authors) we shall here, according to the laudable usage of editors, collect the various judgments of the learned concerning our Poet: various indeed, not only of different authors, but of the same author at different seasons. Nor shall we gather only the testimonies of such eminent wits as would of course descend to posterity, and consequently be read without our collection; but we shall likewise, with incredible labour, seek out for divers others, which, but for this our diligence, could never, at the distance of a few months, appear to the eye of the most curious. Hereby thou may’st not only receive the delectation of variety, but also arrive at a more certain judgment, by a grave and circumspect comparison of the witnesses with each other, or of each with himself. Hence also, thou wilt be enabled to draw reflections, not only of a critical, but a moral nature, by being let into many particulars of the person as well as genius, and of the fortune as well as merit, of our author: in which, if I relate some things of little concern peradventure to thee, and some of as little even to him, I entreat thee to consider how minutely all true critics and commentators are wont to insist upon such, and how material they seem to themselves, if to none other. Forgive me, gentle reader, if (following learned example) I ever and anon become tedious: allow me to take the same pains to find whether my author were good or bad, well or ill-natured, modest or arrogant; as another, whether his author was fair or brown, short or tall, or whether he wore a coat or a cassock.

We purposed to begin with his life, parentage, and education: but as to these, even his cotemporaries do exceedingly differ. One saith,1 he was educated at home; another,2 that he was bred at St Omer’s by Jesuits; a third,3 not at St Omer’s, but at Oxford; a fourth,4 that he had no University education at all. Those who allow him to be bred at home differ as much concerning his tutor: one saith,5 he was kept by his father on purpose; a second,6 that he was an itinerant priest; a third,7 that he was a parson; one8 calleth him a secular clergyman of the Church of Rome; another,9 a monk. As little do they agree about his father, whom one10 supposeth, like the father of Hesiod, a tradesman or merchant; another,11 a husbandman; another,12 a hatter, &c. Nor has an author been wanting to give our Poet such a father as Apuleius hath to Plato, Jamblichus to Pythagoras, and divers to Homer, namely, a demon: For thus Mr Gildon13: ‘Certain it is, that his original is not from Adam, but the Devil; and that he wanteth nothing but horns and tail to be the exact resemblance of his infernal Father.’ Finding, therefore, such contrariety of opinions, and (whatever be ours of this sort of generation) not being fond to enter into controversy, we shall defer writing the life of our Poet, till authors can determine among themselves what parents or education he had, or whether he had any education or parents at all.

Proceed we to what is more certain, his Works, though not less uncertain the judgments concerning them; beginning with his Essay on Criticism, of which hear first the most ancient of critics —

Mr John Dennis.

‘His precepts are false or trivial, or both; his thoughts are crude and abortive, his expressions absurd, his numbers harsh and unmusical, his rhymes trivial and common:— instead of majesty, we have something that is very mean; instead of gravity, something that is very boyish; and instead of perspicuity and lucid order, we have but too often obscurity and confusion.’ And in another place: ‘What rare numbers are here! Would not one swear that this youngster had espoused some antiquated Muse, who had sued out a divorce from some superannuated sinner, upon account of impotence, and who, being poxed by her former spouse, has got the gout in her decrepid age, which makes her hobble so damnably.’14

No less peremptory is the censure of our hypercritical historian,

Mr Oldmixon.

‘I dare not say anything of the Essay on Criticism in verse; but if any more curious reader has discovered in it something new which is not in Dryden’s prefaces, dedications, and his Essay on Dramatic Poetry, not to mention the French critics, I should be very glad to have the benefit of the discovery.’15

He is followed (as in fame, so in judgment) by the modest and simple-minded

Mr Leonard Welsted,

who, out of great respect to our poet not naming him, doth yet glance at his essay, together with the Duke of Buckingham’s, and the criticisms of Dryden, and of Horace, which he more openly taxeth: ‘As to the numerous treatises, essays, arts, &c., both in verse and prose, that have been written by the moderns on this ground-work, they do but hackney the same thoughts over again, making them still more trite. Most of their pieces are nothing but a pert, insipid heap of common-place. Horace has even, in his Art of Poetry, thrown out several things which plainly shew he thought an Art of Poetry was of no use, even while he was writing one.’16

To all which great authorities, we can only oppose that of

Mr Addison.

‘The Art of Criticism (saith he), which was published some months since, is a master-piece in its kind. The observations follow one another, like those in Horace’s Art of Poetry, without that methodical regularity which would have been requisite in a prose writer. They are some of them uncommon, but such as the reader must assent to, when he sees them explained with that ease and perspicuity in which they are delivered. As for those which are the most known and the most received, they are placed in so beautiful a light, and illustrated with such apt allusions, that they have in them all the graces of novelty, and make the reader, who was before acquainted with them, still more convinced of their truth and solidity. And here give me leave to mention what Monsieur Boileau has so well enlarged upon in the preface to his works — that wit and fine writing doth not consist so much in advancing things that are new, as in giving things that are known an agreeable turn. It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others; we have little else left us but to represent the common sense of mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights. If a reader examines Horace’s Art of Poetry, he will find but few precepts in it which he may not meet with in Aristotle, and which were not commonly known by all the poets of the Augustan age. His way of expressing and applying them, not his invention of them, is what we are chiefly to admire.’

‘Longinus, in his Reflections, has given us the same kind of sublime which he observes in the several passages that occasioned them: I cannot but take notice that our English author has, after the same manner, exemplified several of the precepts in the very precepts themselves.’ He then produces some instances of a particular beauty in the numbers, and concludes with saying, ‘that there are three poems in our tongue of the same nature, and each a master-piece in its kind — the Essay on Translated Verse, the Essay on the Art of Poetry, and the Essay on Criticism.’17

Of Windsor Forest, positive is the judgment of the affirmative

Mr John Dennis,

‘That it is a wretched rhapsody, impudently writ in emulation of the Cooper’s Hill of Sir John Denham.18 The author of it is obscure, is ambiguous, is affected, is temerarious, is barbarous.’19

But the author of the Dispensary,

Dr Garth,

in the preface to his poem of Claremont, differs from this opinion: ‘Those who have seen these two excellent poems of Cooper’s Hill and Windsor Forest — the one written by Sir John Denham, the other by Mr Pope — will shew a great deal of candour if they approve of this.’

Of the Epistle of ELOISA, we are told by the obscure writer of a poem called Sawney, ‘That because Prior’s Henry and Emma charmed the finest tastes, our author writ his Eloise in opposition to it, but forgot innocence and virtue: if you take away her tender thoughts and her fierce desires, all the rest is of no value.’ In which, methinks, his judgment resembleth that of a French tailor on a villa and gardens by the Thames: ‘All this is very fine, but take away the river and it is good for nothing.’

But very contrary hereunto was the opinion of

Mr Prior

himself, saying in his Alma —

‘O Abelard! ill-fated youth,

Thy tale will justify this truth.

But well I weet thy cruel wrong

Adorns a nobler poet’s song:

Dan Pope, for thy misfortune grieved,

With kind concern and skill has weaved

A silken web; and ne’er shall fade

Its colours: gently has he laid

The mantle o’er thy sad distress,

And Venus shall the texture bless,’20 &c.

Come we now to his translation of the ILIAD, celebrated by numerous pens, yet shall it suffice to mention the indefatigable

Sir Richard Blackmore, Kt.,

who (though otherwise a severe censurer of our author) yet styleth this a ‘laudable translation.’21 That ready writer,

Mr Oldmixon,

in his forementioned essay, frequently commends the same. And the painful

Mr Lewis Theobald

thus extols it: ‘The spirit of Homer breathes all through this translation. — I am in doubt whether I should most admire the justness to the original, or the force and beauty of the language, or the sounding variety of the numbers: but when I find all these meet, it puts me in mind of what the poet says of one of his heroes, that he alone raised and flung with ease a weighty stone, that two common men could not lift from the ground; just so, one single person has performed in this translation what I once despaired to have seen done by the force of several masterly hands.’22 Indeed, the same gentleman appears to have changed his sentiment in his Essay on the Art of Sinking in Reputation (printed in Mist’s Journal, March 30, 1728,) where he says thus:— ‘In order to sink in reputation, let him take into his head to descend into Homer (let the world wonder, as it will, how the devil he got there), and pretend to do him into English, so his version denote his neglect of the manner how.’ Strange variation! We are told in

Mist’s Journal, June 8,

‘That this translation of the Iliad was not in all respects conformable to the fine taste of his friend, Mr Addison; insomuch that he employed a younger Muse in an undertaking of this kind, which he supervised himself.’ Whether Mr Addison did find it conformable to his taste or not, best appears from his own testimony the year following its publication, in these words:

Mr Addison, Freeholder, No. 40.

‘When I consider myself as a British freeholder, I am in a particular manner pleased with the labours of those who have improved our language with the translations of old Greek and Latin authors. — We have already most of their historians in our own tongue, and what is more for the honour of our language, it has been taught to express with elegance the greatest of their poets in each nation. The illiterate among our own countrymen may learn to judge from Dryden’s Virgil of the most perfect epic performance. And those parts of Homer which have been published already by Mr Pope, give us reason to think that the Iliad will appear in English with as little disadvantage to that immortal poem.’

As to the rest, there is a slight mistake, for this younger Muse was an elder: nor was the gentleman (who is a friend of our author) employed by Mr Addison to translate it after him, since he saith himself that he did it before.23 Contrariwise that Mr Addison engaged our author in this work appeareth by declaration thereof in the preface to the Iliad, printed some time before his death, and by his own letters of October 26, and November 2, 1713, where he declares it his opinion that no other person was equal to it.

Next comes his Shakspeare on the stage: ‘Let him (quoth one, whom I take to be

Mr Theobald, Mist’s Journal, June 8, 1728,)

publish such an author as he has least studied, and forget to discharge even the dull duty of an editor. In this project let him lend the bookseller his name (for a competent sum of money) to promote the credit of an exorbitant subscription.’ Gentle reader, be pleased to cast thine eye on the proposal below quoted, and on what follows (some months after the former assertion) in the same journalist of June 8. ‘The bookseller proposed the book by subscription, and raised some thousands of pounds for the same: I believe the gentleman did not share in the profits of this extravagant subscription.

‘After the Iliad, he undertook (saith

Mist’s Journal, June 8, 1728,)

the sequel of that work, the Odyssey; and having secured the success by a numerous subscription, he employed some underlings to perform what, according to his proposals, should come from his own hands.’ To which heavy charge we can in truth oppose nothing but the words of

Mr Pope’s Proposal for the Odyssey, (Printed by J. Watts, Jan. 10, 1724.)

‘I take this occasion to declare that the subscription for Shakspeare belongs wholly to Mr Tonson: And that the benefit of this proposal is not solely for my own use, but for that of two of my friends, who have assisted me in this work.’ But these very gentlemen are extolled above our poet himself in another of Mist’s Journals, March 30, 1728, saying, ‘That he would not advise Mr Pope to try the experiment again of getting a great part of a book done by assistants, lest those extraneous parts should unhappily ascend to the sublime, and retard the declension of the whole.’ Behold! these underlings are become good writers!

If any say, that before the said proposals were printed, the subscription was begun without declaration of such assistance, verily those who set it on foot, or (as their term is) secured it, to wit, the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Harcourt, were he living, would testify, and the Right Honourable the Lord Bathurst, now living, doth testify the same is a falsehood.

Sorry I am, that persons professing to be learned, or of whatever rank of authors, should either falsely tax, or be falsely taxed. Yet let us, who are only reporters, be impartial in our citations, and proceed.

Mist’s Journal, June 8, 1728.

‘Mr Addison raised this author from obscurity, obtained him the acquaintance and friendship of the whole body of our nobility, and transferred his powerful interests with those great men to this rising bard, who frequently levied by that means unusual contributions on the public.’ Which surely cannot be, if, as the author of The Dunciad Dissected reporteth, ‘Mr Wycherley had before introduced him into a familiar acquaintance with the greatest peers and brightest wits then living.’

‘No sooner (saith the same journalist) was his body lifeless, but this author, reviving his resentment, libelled the memory of his departed friend; and, what was still more heinous, made the scandal public.’ Grievous the accusation! unknown the accuser! the person accused no witness in his own cause; the person, in whose regard accused, dead! But if there be living any one nobleman whose friendship, yea, any one gentleman whose subscription Mr Addison procured to our author, let him stand forth that truth may appear! Amicus Plato, amicus Socrates, sed magis amica veritas. In verity, the whole story of the libel is a lie. Witness those persons of integrity, who, several years before Mr Addison’s decease, did see and approve of the said verses, in nowise a libel but a friendly rebuke sent privately in our author’s own hand to Mr Addison himself, and never made public, till after their own journals and Curll had printed the same. One name alone, which I am here authorised to declare, will sufficiently evince this truth, that of the Eight Honourable the Earl of Burlington.

Next is he taxed with a crime (in the opinion of some authors, I doubt, more heinous than any in morality) to wit, plagiarism, from the inventive and quaint-conceited

James Moore Smith, Gent.

‘Upon reading the third volume of Pope’s Miscellanies, I found five lines which I thought excellent; and happening to praise them, a gentleman produced a modern comedy (the Rival Modes) published last year, where were the same verses to a tittle. These gentlemen are undoubtedly the first plagiaries that pretend to make a reputation by stealing from a man’s works in his own life-time, and out of a public print.’24 Let us join to this what is written by the author of the Rival Modes, the said Mr James Moore Smith, in a letter to our author himself, who had informed him, a month before that play was acted, Jan. 27, 1726–7, that ‘these verses, which he had before given him leave to insert in it, would be known for his, some copies being got abroad. He desires, nevertheless, that since the lines had been read in his comedy to several, Mr P. would not deprive it of them,’ &c. Surely if we add the testimonies of the Lord Bolingbroke, of the lady to whom the said verses were originally addressed, of Hugh Bethel, Esq., and others, who knew them as our author’s, long before the said gentleman composed his play, it is hoped the ingenuous that affect not error will rectify their opinion by the suffrage of so honourable personages.

And yet followeth another charge, insinuating no less than his enmity both to Church and State, which could come from no other informer than the said

Mr James Moore Smith.

‘The Memoirs of a Parish Clerk was a very dull and unjust abuse of a person who wrote in defence of our religion and constitution, and who has been dead many years.’25 This seemeth also most untrue, it being known to divers that these memoirs were written at the seat of the Lord Harcourt in Oxfordshire, before that excellent person (Bishop Burnet’s) death, and many years before the appearance of that history of which they are pretended to be an abuse. Most true it is that Mr Moore had such a design, and was himself the man who pressed Dr Arbuthnot and Mr Pope to assist him therein; and that he borrowed those memoirs of our author, when that history came forth, with intent to turn them to such abuse. But being able to obtain from our author but one single hint, and either changing his mind, or having more mind than ability, he contented himself to keep the said memoirs, and read them as his own to all his acquaintance. A noble person there is, into whose company Mr Pope once chanced to introduce him, who well remembereth the conversation of Mr Moore to have turned upon the ‘contempt he had for the work of that reverend prelate, and how full he was of a design he declared himself to have of exposing it.’ This noble person is the Earl of Peterborough.

Here in truth should we crave pardon of all the foresaid right honourable and worthy personages, for having mentioned them in the same page with such weekly riff-raff railers and rhymers, but that we had their ever-honoured commands for the same; and that they are introduced not as witnesses in the controversy, but as witnesses that cannot be controverted; not to dispute, but to decide.

Certain it is, that dividing our writers into two classes, of such who were acquaintance, and of such who were strangers to our author; the former are those who speak well, and the other those who speak evil of him. Of the first class, the most noble

John Duke of Buckingham

sums up his character in these lines:

‘And yet so wondrous, so sublime a thing,

As the great Iliad, scarce could make me sing,

Unless I justly could at once commend

A good companion, and as firm a friend;

One moral, or a mere well-natured deed,

Can all desert in sciences exceed.’26

So also is he deciphered by the honourable

Simon Harcourt.

‘Say, wondrous youth, what column wilt thou choose,

What laurell’d arch, for thy triumphant Muse?

Though each great ancient court thee to his shrine,

Though every laurel through the dome be thine.

Go to the good and just, an awful train!

Thy soul’s delight.’27

Recorded in like manner for his virtuous disposition and gentle bearing, by the ingenious

Mr Walter Hart,

in this apostrophe:

‘Oh! ever worthy, ever crown’d with praise!

Bless’d in thy life, and bless’d in all thy lays.

Add, that the Sisters every thought refine,

And even thy life be faultless as thy line.

Yet Envy still with fiercer rage pursues,

Obscures the virtue, and defames the Muse.

A soul like thine, in pain, in grief, resign’d,

Views with just scorn the malice of mankind.’28

The witty and moral satirist,

Dr Edward Young,

wishing some check to the corruption and evil manners of the times, calleth out upon our poet to undertake a task so worthy of his virtue:

‘Why slumbers Pope, who leads the Muses’ train,

Nor hears that Virtue, which he loves, complain?’29

Mr Mallet,

in his epistle on Verbal Criticism:

‘Whose life, severely scann’d, transcends his lays;

For wit supreme is but his second praise.’

Mr Hammond,

that delicate and correct imitator of Tibullus, in his Love Elegies, Elegy xiv.:

‘Now, fired by Pope and Virtue, leave the age,

In low pursuit of self-undoing wrong,

And trace the author through his moral page,

Whose blameless life still answers to his song.’

Mr Thomson,

in his elegant and philosophical poem of the Seasons:

‘Although not sweeter his own Homer sings,

Yet is his life the more endearing song.’

To the same tune also singeth that learned clerk of Suffolk,

Mr William Broome.

‘Thus, nobly rising in fair Virtue’s cause,

From thy own life transcribe the unerring laws.’30

And to close all, hear the reverend Dean of St Patrick’s:

‘A soul with every virtue fraught,

By patriots, priests, and poets taught.

Whose filial piety excels

Whatever Grecian story tells.

A genius for each business fit,

Whose meanest talent is his wit,’ &c.

Let us now recreate thee by turning to the other side, and showing his character drawn by those with whom he never conversed, and whose countenances he could not know, though turned against him: first again, commencing with the high-voiced and never-enough quoted

Mr John Dennis,

who, in his ‘Reflections on the Essay on Criticism,’ thus describeth him, ‘A little affected hypocrite, who has nothing in his mouth but candour, truth, friendship, good-nature, humanity, and magnanimity. He is so great a lover of falsehood, that, whenever he has a mind to calumniate his cotemporaries, he brands them with some defect which is just contrary to some good quality for which all their friends and their acquaintance commend them. He seems to have a particular pique to people of quality, and authors of that rank. He must derive his religion from St Omer’s.’ But in the character of Mr P. and his writings (printed by S. Popping, 1716), he saith, ‘Though he is a professor of the worst religion, yet he laughs at it;’ but that ‘nevertheless he is a virulent Papist; and yet a pillar for the Church of England.’

Of both which opinions

Mr Lewis Theobald

seems also to be; declaring, in Mist’s Journal of June 22, 1718 — ‘That, if he is not shrewdly abused, he made it his practice to cackle to both parties in their own sentiments.’ But, as to his pique against people of quality, the same journalist doth not agree, but saith (May 8, 1728)— ‘He had, by some means or other, the acquaintance and friendship of the whole body of our nobility.’

However contradictory this may appear, Mr Dennis and Gildon, in the character last cited, make it all plain, by assuring us, ‘That he is a creature that reconciles all contradictions; he is a beast, and a man; a Whig, and a Tory; a writer (at one and the same time) of Guardians and Examiners;31 an assertor of liberty, and of the dispensing power of kings; a Jesuitical professor of truth, a base and a foul pretender to candour.’ So that, upon the whole account, we must conclude him either to have been a great hypocrite, or a very honest man; a terrible imposer upon both parties, or very moderate to either.

Be it as to the judicious reader shall seem good. Sure it is, he is little favoured of certain authors, whose wrath is perilous: for one declares he ought to have a price set on his head, and to be hunted down as a wild beast.32 Another protests that he does not know what may happen; advises him to insure his person; says he has bitter enemies, and expressly declares it will be well if he escapes with his life.33 One desires he would cut his own throat, or hang himself.34

But Pasquin seemed rather inclined it should be done by the Government, representing him engaged in grievous designs with a lord of Parliament, then under prosecution.35 Mr Dennis himself hath written to a minister, that he is one of the most dangerous persons in this kingdom;36 and assureth the public, that he is an open and mortal enemy to his country; a monster, that will, one day, shew as daring a soul as a mad Indian, who runs a-muck to kill the first Christian he meets.37 Another gives information of treason discovered in his poem.38 Mr Curll boldly supplies an imperfect verse with kings and princesses.39 And one Matthew Concanen, yet more impudent, publishes at length the two most sacred names in this nation, as members of the Dunciad.40

This is prodigious! yet it is almost as strange, that in the midst of these invectives his greatest enemies have (I know not how) borne testimony to some merit in him.

Mr Theobald,

in censuring his Shakspeare, declares, ‘He has so great an esteem for Mr Pope, and so high an opinion of his genius and excellencies, that, notwithstanding he professes a veneration almost rising to idolatry for the writings of this inimitable poet, he would be very both even to do him justice, at the expense of that other gentleman’s character.’41

Mr Charles Gildon,

after having violently attacked him in many pieces, at last came to wish from his heart, ‘That Mr Pope would be prevailed upon to give us Ovid’s Epistles by his hand, for it is certain we see the original of Sappho to Pliaon with much more life and likeness in his version, than in that of Sir Car Scrope. And this,’ he adds, ‘is the more to be wished, because in the English tongue we have scarce anything truly and naturally written upon love.’42 He also, in taxing Sir Richard Blackmore for his heterodox opinions of Homer, challengeth him to answer what Mr Pope hath said in his preface to that poet.

Mr Oldmixon

calls him a great master of our tongue; declares ‘the purity and perfection of the English language to be found in his Homer; and, saying there are more good verses in Dryden’s Virgil than in any other work, excepts this of our author only.’43

The Author of a Letter to Mr Cibber

says, ‘Pope was so good a versifier [once], that, his predecessor, Mr Dryden, and his cotemporary, Mr Prior, excepted, the harmony of his numbers is equal to anybody’s. And that he had all the merit that a man can have that way.’44 And

Mr Thomas Cooke,

after much blemishing our author’s Homer, crieth out —

‘But in his other works what beauties shine,

While sweetest music dwells in every line!

These he admired — on these he stamp’d his praise,

And bade them live to brighten future days.’45

So also one who takes the name of

H. Stanhope,

the maker of certain verses to Duncan Campbell,46 in that poem, which is wholly a satire on Mr Pope, confesseth —

”Tis true, if finest notes alone could show

(Tuned justly high, or regularly low)

That we should fame to these mere vocals give,

Pope more than we can offer should receive:

For when some gliding river is his theme,

His lines run smoother than the smoothest stream,’ &c.

Mist’s Journal, June 8, 1728.

Although he says, ‘The smooth numbers of the Dunciad are all that recommend it, nor has it any other merit,’ yet that same paper hath these words: ‘The author is allowed to be a perfect master of an easy and elegant versification. In all his works we find the most happy turns and natural similes, wonderfully short and thick sown.’

The Essay on the Dunciad also owns (p. 25) it is very full of beautiful images. But the panegyric which crowns all that can be said on this poem is bestowed by our laureate,

Mr Colley Cibber,

who ‘grants it to be a better poem of its kind than ever was writ:’ but adds, ‘it was a victory over a parcel of poor wretches, whom it was almost cowardice to conquer. — A man might as well triumph for having killed so many silly flies that offended him. Could he have let them alone, by this time, poor souls! they had all been buried in oblivion.’47 Here we see our excellent laureate allows the justice of the satire on every man in it but himself, as the great Mr Dennis did before him.

The said

Mr Dennis and Mr Gildon,

in the most furious of all their works (the forecited Character, p. 5), do in concert confess, ‘That some men of good understanding value him for his rhymes.’ And (p. 17), ‘That he has got, like Mr Bayes in the Rehearsal (that is, like Mr Dryden), a notable knack at rhyming, and writing smooth verse.’

Of his Essay on Man, numerous were the praises bestowed by his avowed enemies, in the imagination that the same was not written by him, as it was printed anonymously.

Thus sang of it even

Bezaleel Morris.

‘Auspicious bard! while all admire thy strain,

All but the selfish, ignorant, and vain;

I, whom no bribe to servile flattery drew,

Must pay the tribute to thy merit due:

Thy Muse, sublime, significant, and clear,

Alike informs the soul, and charms the ear,’ &c.


Mr Leonard Welsted

thus wrote48 to the unknown author, on the first publication of the said Essay:— ‘I must own, after the reception which the vilest and most immoral ribaldry hath lately met with, I was surprised to see what I had long despaired — a performance deserving the name of a poet. Such, sir, is your work. It is, indeed, above all commendation, and ought to have been published in an age and country more worthy of it. If my testimony be of weight anywhere, you are sure to have it in the amplest manner,’ &c.

Thus we see every one of his works hath been extolled by one or other of his most inveterate enemies; and to the success of them all, they do unanimously give testimony. But it is sufficient, instar omnium, to behold the great critic, Mr Dennis, sorely lamenting it, even from the Essay on Criticism to this day of the Dunciad! ‘A most notorious instance,’ quoth he, ‘of the depravity of genius and taste, the approbation this essay meets with.’49 ‘I can safely affirm, that I never attacked any of these writings, unless they had success infinitely beyond their merit. This, though an empty, has been a popular scribbler. The epidemic madness of the times has given him reputation.’50 ‘If, after the cruel treatment so many extraordinary men (Spencer, Lord Bacon, Ben. Jonson, Milton, Butler, Otway, and others) have received from this country, for these last hundred years, I should shift the scene, and show all that penury changed at once to riot and profuseness, and more squandered away upon one object than would have satisfied the greater part of those extraordinary men, the reader to whom this one creature should be unknown would fancy him a prodigy of art and nature, would believe that all the great qualities of these persons were centred in him alone. But if I should venture to assure him that the people of England had made such a choice, the reader would either believe me a malicious enemy and slanderer, or that the reign of the last (Queen Anne’s) ministry was designed by fate to encourage fools.’51

But it happens that this our poet never had any place, pension, or gratuity, in any shape, from the said glorious queen, or any of her ministers. All he owed, in the whole course of his life, to any court, was a subscription, for his Homer, of £200 from King George I., and £100 from the Prince and Princess.

However, lest we imagine our author’s success was constant and universal, they acquaint us of certain works in a less degree of repute, whereof, although owned by others, yet do they assure us he is the writer. Of this sort Mr Dennis52 ascribes to him two farces, whose names he does not tell, but assures us that there is not one jest in them; and an imitation of Horace, whose title he does not mention, but assures us it is much more execrable than all his works.53 The Daily Journal, May 11, 1728, assures us ‘He is below Tom D’Urfey in the drama, because (as that writer thinks) the Marriage–Hater Matched, and the Boarding School, are better than the What-d’-ye-call-it,’ which is not Mr P.‘s, but Mr Gay’s. Mr Gildon assures us, in his New Rehearsal, p. 48, ‘That he was writing a play of the Lady Jane Grey;’ but it afterwards proved to be Mr Howe’s. We are assured by another, ‘He wrote a pamphlet called Dr Andrew Tripe,’54 which proved to be one Dr Wagstaff’s. Mr Theobald assures us in Mist of the 27th April, ‘That the Treatise of the Pro-found is very dull, and that Mr Pope is the author of it.’ The writer of Gulliveriana is of another opinion, and says, ‘The whole, or greatest part, of the merit of this treatise must and can only be ascribed to Gulliver.’55 (Here, gentle reader! cannot I but smile at the strange blindness and positiveness of men, knowing the said treatise to appertain to none other but to me, Martinus Scriblerus.) We are assured, in Mist of June 8, ‘That his own plays and farces would better have adorned the Dunciad than those of Mr Theobald, for he had neither genius for tragedy nor comedy;’ which, whether true or not, is not easy to judge, inasmuch as he hath attempted neither — unless we will take it for granted, with Mr Cibber, that his being once very angry at hearing a friend’s play abused was an infallible proof the play was his own, the said Mr Cibber thinking it impossible for a man to be much concerned for any but himself: ‘Now let any man judge,’ saith he, ‘by this concern, who was the true mother of the child?’56

But from all that hath been said, the discerning reader will collect, that it little availed our author to have any candour, since, when he declared he did not write for others, it was not credited; as little to have any modesty, since, when he declined writing in any way himself, the presumption of others was imputed to him. If he singly enterprised one great work, he was taxed of boldness and madness to a prodigy;57 if he took assistants in another, it was complained of, and represented as a great injury to the public.58 The loftiest heroics, the lowest ballads, treatises against the State or Church, satires on lords and ladies, raillery on wits and authors, squabbles with booksellers, or even full and true accounts of monsters, poisons, and murders; of any hereof was there nothing so good, nothing so bad, which hath not at one or other season been to him ascribed. If it bore no author’s name, then lay he concealed; if it did, he fathered it upon that author to be yet better concealed: if it resembled any of his styles, then was it evident; if it did not, then disguised he it on set purpose. Yea, even direct oppositions in religion, principles, and politics, have equally been supposed in him inherent. Surely a most rare and singular character! Of which, let the reader make what he can.

Doubtless most commentators would hence take occasion to turn all to their author’s advantage; and, from the testimony of his very enemies, would affirm that his capacity was boundless, as well as his imagination; that he was a perfect master of all styles, and all arguments; and that there was in those times no other writer, in any kind, of any degree of excellence, save he himself. But as this is not our own sentiment, we shall determine on nothing, but leave thee, gentle reader, to steer thy judgment equally between various opinions, and to choose whether thou wilt incline to the testimonies of authors avowed, or of authors concealed — of those who knew him, or of those who knew him not.


1 Giles Jacob’s Lives of Poets, vol. ii. in his Life.

2 Dennis’s Reflections on the Essay on Criticism.

3 Dunciad Dissected, p. 4.

4 Guardian, No. 40.

5 Jacob’s Lives, &c. vol. ii.

6 Dunciad Dissected, p. 4.

7 Farmer P—— and his Son.

8 Dunciad Dissected.

9 Characters of the Times, p. 45.

10 Female Dunciad, p. ult.

11 Dunciad Dissected.

12 Roome, Paraphrase on the 4th of Genesis, printed 1729.

13 Character of Mr Pope and his Writings, in a Letter to a Friend, printed for S. Popping, 1716, p. 10. Curll, in his Key to the Dunciad (first edition, said to be printed for A. Dodd), in the 10th page, declared Gildon to be author of that libel; though in the subsequent editions of his Key he left out this assertion, and affirmed (in the Curlliad, p. 4 and 8) that it was written by Dennis only.

14 Reflections, Critical and Satirical, on a Rhapsody called An Essay on Criticism. Printed for Bernard Lintot, 8vo.

15 Essay on Criticism in prose, 8vo, 1728, by the author of the Critical History of England.

16 Preface to his Poems, p.18, 53.

17 Spectator, No. 253.

18 Letter to B. B. at the end of the Remarks on Pope’s Homer, 1717.

19 Printed 1728, p. 12.

20 Alma, canto 2.

21 In his Essays, vol. i., printed for E. Curll.

22 Censor, vol. ii. n. 33.

23 Vide preface to Mr Tickel’s translation of the first book of the Iliad, 4to. Also vide Life.

24 Daily Journal, March 18, 1728.

25 Ibid, April 3, 1728.

26 Verses to Mr Pope on his translation of Homer.

27 Poem prefixed to his works.

28 In his poems, printed for B. Lintot.

29 Universal Passion, Satire i.

30 In his Poems, and at the end of the Odyssey.

31 The names of two weekly papers.

32 Theobald, Letter in Mist’s Journal, June 22, 1728.

33 Smedley, Preface to Gulliveriana, p. 14, 16.

34 Gulliveriana, p. 332.

35 Anno 1723.

36 Anno 1729.

37 Preface to Remarks on the Rape of the Lock, p. 12, and in the last page of that treatise.

38 Pages 6, 7 of the Preface, by Concanen, to a book entitled, A Collection of all the Letters, Essays, Verses, and Advertisements occasioned by Pope and Swift’s Miscellanies. Printed for A. Moore, 8vo, 1712.

39 Key to the Dunciad, third edition, p. 18.

40 A list of persons, &c., at the end of the forementioned Collection of all the Letters, Essays, &c.

41 Introduction to his Shakspeare Restored, in 4to, p. 3.

42 Commentary on the Duke of Buckingham’s Essay, 8vo, 1721, p. 97, 98.

43 In his prose Essay on Criticism.

44 Printed by J. Roberts, 1742, p. 11.

45 Battle of Poets, folio, p. 15.

46 Printed under the title of the Progress of Dulness, duodecimo, 1728.

47 Cibber’s Letter to Mr Pope, p. 9, 12.

48 In a letter under his hand, dated March 12, 1733.

49 Dennis’s Preface to his Reflections on the Essay on Criticism.

50 Preface to his Remarks on Homer.

51 Remarks on Homer, p. 8, 9.

52 Ibid, p. 8.

53 Character of Mr Pope, p. 7.

54 Ibid, p. G.

55 Gulliver, p. 886.

56 Cibber’s Letter to Mr. Pope, p. 19.

57 Burnet Homerides, p. 1 of his Translation of the Iliad.

58 The London and Mist’s Journals, on his undertaking of the Odyssey.

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