The Dunciad: Preface, letters and Notes

A poem by Alexander Pope

The Dunciad. IN FOUR BOOKS.



It is with pleasure I hear that you have procured a correct copy of 'The
Dunciad,' which the many surreptitious ones have rendered so necessary;
and it is yet with more, that I am informed it will be attended with a
commentary; a work so requisite, that I cannot think the author himself
would have omitted it, had he approved of the first appearance of this

Such notes as have occurred to me I herewith send you: you will oblige
me by inserting them amongst those which are, or will be, transmitted to
you by others; since not only the author's friends but even strangers
appear engaged by humanity, to take some care of an orphan of so much
genius and spirit, which its parent seems to have abandoned from the
very beginning, and suffered to step into the world naked, unguarded,
and unattended.

It was upon reading some of the abusive papers lately published, that my
great regard to a person, whose friendship I esteem as one of the chief
honours of my life, and a much greater respect to truth, than to him or
any man living, engaged me in inquiries, of which the enclosed notes are
the fruit.

I perceived that most of these authors had been (doubtless very wisely)
the first aggressors. They had tried till they were weary, what was to
be got by railing at each other; nobody was either concerned or
surprised, if this or that scribbler was proved a dunce. But every one
was curious to read what could be said to prove Mr Pope one, and was
ready to pay something for such a discovery; a stratagem which, would
they fairly own it, might not only reconcile them to me, but screen them
from the resentment of their lawful superiors, whom they daily abuse,
only (as I charitably hope) to get that by them, which they cannot get
from them.

I found this was not all. Ill success in that had transported them to
personal abuse, either of himself, or (what I think he could less
forgive) of his friends. They had called men of virtue and honour bad
men, long before he had either leisure or inclination to call them bad
writers; and some had been such old offenders, that he had quite
forgotten their persons as well as their slanders, till they were
pleased to revive them.

Now what had Mr Pope done before to incense them? He had published those
works which are in the hands of everybody, in which not the least
mention is made of any of them. And what has he done since? He has
laughed, and written 'The Dunciad.' What has that said of them? A very
serious truth, which the public had said before, that they were dull;
and what it had no sooner said, but they themselves were at great pains
to procure, or even purchase, room in the prints to testify under their
hands to the truth of it.

I should still have been silent, if either I had seen any inclination in
my friend to be serious with such accusers, or if they had only meddled
with his writings; since whoever publishes, puts himself on his trial by
his country. But when his moral character was attacked, and in a manner
from which neither truth nor virtue can secure the most innocent; in a
manner which, though it annihilates the credit of the accusation with
the just and impartial, yet aggravates very much the guilt of the
accusers; I mean by authors without names; then I thought, since the
danger was common to all, the concern ought to be so; and that it was an
act of justice to detect the authors, not only on this account, but as
many of them are the same who, for several years past, have made free
with the greatest names in Church and State, exposed to the world the
private misfortunes of families, abused all, even to women, and whose
prostituted papers (for one or other party, in the unhappy divisions of
their country) have insulted the fallen, the friendless, the exiled, and
the dead.

Besides this, which I take to be a public concern, I have already
confessed I had a private one. I am one of that number who have long
loved and esteemed Mr Pope; and had often declared it was not his
capacity or writings (which we ever thought the least valuable part of
his character), but the honest, open, and beneficent man, that we most
esteemed, and loved in him. Now if what these people say were believed,
I must appear to all my friends either a fool, or a knave; either
imposed on myself, or imposing on them; so that I am as much interested
in the confutation of these calumnies as he is himself.

I am no author, and consequently not to be suspected either of jealousy
or resentment against any of the men, of whom scarce one is known to me
by sight; and as for their writings, I have sought them (on this one
occasion) in vain, in the closets and libraries of all my acquaintance.
I had still been in the dark if a gentleman had not procured me (I
suppose from some of themselves, for they are generally much more
dangerous friends than enemies) the passages I send you. I solemnly
protest I have added nothing to the malice or absurdity of them; which
it behoves me to declare, since the vouchers themselves will be so soon
and so irrecoverably lost. You may in some measure prevent it, by
preserving at least their titles, and discovering (as far as you can
depend on the truth of your information) the names of the concealed

The first objection I have heard made to the poem is, that the persons
are too obscure for satire. The persons themselves, rather than allow
the objection, would forgive the satire; and if one could be tempted to
afford it a serious answer, were not all assassinates, popular
insurrections, the insolence of the rabble without doors, and of
domestics within, most wrongfully chastised, if the meanness of
offenders indemnified them from punishment? On the contrary, obscurity
renders them more dangerous, as less thought of: law can pronounce
judgment only on open facts; morality alone can pass censure on
intentions of mischief; so that for secret calumny, or the arrow flying
in the dark, there is no public punishment left, but what a good writer

The next objection is, that these sort of authors are poor. That might
be pleaded as an excuse at the Old Bailey for lesser crimes than
defamation (for 'tis the case of almost all who are tried there), but
sure it can be none: for who will pretend that the robbing another of
his reputation supplies the want of it in himself? I question not but
such authors are poor, and heartily wish the objection were removed by
any honest livelihood. But poverty is here the accident, not the
subject: he who describes malice and villany to be pale and meagre,
expresses not the least anger against paleness or leanness, but against
malice and villany. The apothecary in Romeo and Juliet is poor; but is
he therefore justified in vending poison? Not but poverty itself becomes
a just subject of satire, when it is the consequence of vice,
prodigality, or neglect of one's lawful calling; for then it increases
the public burden, fills the streets and highways with robbers, and the
garrets with clippers, coiners, and weekly journalists.

But admitting that two or three of these offend less in their morals
than in their writings, must poverty make nonsense sacred? If so, the
fame of bad authors would be much better consulted than that of all the
good ones in the world; and not one of a hundred had ever been called by
his right name.

They mistake the whole matter: it is not charity to encourage them in
the way they follow, but to get them out of it; for men are not bunglers
because they are poor, but they are poor because they are bunglers.

Is it not pleasant enough to hear our authors crying out on the one
hand, as if their persons and characters were too sacred for satire; and
the public objecting on the other, that they are too mean even for
ridicule? But whether bread or fame be their end, it must be allowed,
our author, by and in this poem, has mercifully given them a little of

There are two or three who, by their rank and fortune, have no benefit
from the former objections, supposing them good; and these I was sorry
to see in such company. But if, without any provocation, two or three
gentlemen will fall upon one, in an affair wherein his interest and
reputation are equally embarked, they cannot, certainly, after they have
been content to print themselves his enemies, complain of being put into
the number of them.

Others, I am told, pretend to have been once his friends. Surely they
are their enemies who say so, since nothing can be more odious than to
treat a friend as they have done. But of this I cannot persuade myself,
when I consider the constant and eternal aversion of all bad writers to
a good one.

Such as claim a merit from being his admirers, I would gladly ask, if it
lays him under a personal obligation? At that rate, he would be the most
obliged humble servant in the world. I dare swear for these in
particular, he never desired them to be his admirers, nor promised in
return to be theirs: that had truly been a sign he was of their
acquaintance; but would not the malicious world have suspected such an
approbation of some motive worse than ignorance in the author of the
Essay on Criticism? Be it as it will, the reasons of their admiration
and of his contempt are equally subsisting, for his works and theirs are
the very same that they were.

One, therefore, of their assertions I believe may be true--'That he has
a contempt for their writings.' And there is another, which would
probably be sooner allowed by himself than by any good judge beside--
'That his own have found too much success with the public.' But as it
cannot consist with his modesty to claim this as justice, it lies not on
him, but entirely on the public, to defend its own judgment.

There remains what in my opinion might seem a better plea for these
people than any they have made use of. If obscurity or poverty were to
exempt a man from satire, much more should folly or dulness, which are
still more involuntary; nay, as much so as personal deformity. But even
this will not help them: deformity becomes an object of ridicule when a
man sets up for being handsome; and so must dulness when he sets up for
a wit. They are not ridiculed because ridicule in itself is, or ought to
be, a pleasure, but because it is just to undeceive and vindicate the
honest and unpretending part of mankind from imposition, because
particular interest ought to yield to general, and a great number who
are not naturally fools ought never to be made so, in complaisance to a
few who are. Accordingly we find that in all ages, all vain pretenders,
were they ever so poor or ever so dull, have been constantly the topics
of the most candid satirists, from the Codrus of Juvenal to the Damon of

Having mentioned Boileau, the greatest poet and most judicious critic of
his age and country, admirable for his talents, and yet perhaps more
admirable for his judgment in the proper application of them, I cannot
help remarking the resemblance betwixt him and our author, in qualities,
fame, and fortune, in the distinctions shown them by their superiors, in
the general esteem of their equals, and in their extended reputation
amongst foreigners; in the latter of which ours has met with the better
fate, as he has had for his translators persons of the most eminent rank
and abilities in their respective nations. But the resemblance holds in
nothing more than in their being equally abused by the ignorant
pretenders to poetry of their times, of which not the least memory will
remain but in their own writings, and in the notes made upon them. What
Boileau has done in almost all his poems, our author has only in this: I
dare answer for him he will do it in no more; and on this principle, of
attacking few but who had slandered him, he could not have done it at
all, had he been confined from censuring obscure and worthless persons,
for scarce any other were his enemies. However, as the parity is so
remarkable, I hope it will continue to the last; and if ever he shall
give us an edition of this poem himself, I may see some of them treated
as gently, on their repentance or better merit, as Perrault and Quinault
were at last by Boileau.

In one point I must be allowed to think the character of our English
poet the more amiable. He has not been a follower of fortune or success;
he has lived with the great without flattery--been a friend to men in
power, without pensions, from whom, as he asked, so he received no
favour but what was done him in his friends. As his satires were the
more just for being delayed, so were his panegyrics; bestowed only on
such persons as he had familiarly known, only for such virtues as he had
long observed in them, and only at such times as others cease to praise,
if not begin to calumniate them--I mean, when out of power or out of
fashion. A satire, therefore, on writers so notorious for the contrary
practice, became no man so well as himself; as none, it is plain, was so
little in their friendships, or so much in that of those whom they had
most abused--namely, the greatest and best of all parties. Let me add a
further reason, that, though engaged in their friendships, he never
espoused their animosities; and can almost singly challenge this honour,
not to have written a line of any man, which, through guilt, through
shame, or through fear, through variety of fortune, or change of
interests, he was ever unwilling to own.

I shall conclude with remarking, what a pleasure it must be to every
reader of humanity to see all along, that our author in his very
laughter is not indulging his own ill-nature, but only punishing that of
others. As to his poem, those alone are capable of doing it justice,
who, to use the words of a great writer, know how hard it is (with
regard both to his subject and his manner) vetustis dare novitatem,
obsoletis nitorem, obscuris lucem, fastiditis gratiam.--I am

Your most humble servant,

ST JAMES'S, Dec. 22, 1728.




I cannot but think it the most reasonable thing in the world to
distinguish good writers, by discouraging the bad. Nor is it an
ill-natured thing, in relation even to the very persons upon whom the
reflections are made. It is true, it may deprive them, a little the
sooner, of a short profit and a transitory reputation; but then it may
have a good effect, and oblige them (before it be too late) to decline
that for which they are so very unfit, and to have recourse to something
in which they may be more successful.


The persons whom Boileau has attacked in his writings have been for the
most part authors, and most of those authors, poets: and the censures he
hath passed upon them have been confirmed by all Europe.


It is the common cry of the poetasters of the town, and their fautors,
that it is an ill-natured thing to expose the pretenders to wit and
poetry. The judges and magistrates may, with full as good reason, be
reproached with ill-nature for putting the laws in execution against a
thief or impostor. The same will hold in the republic of letters, if the
critics and judges will let every ignorant pretender to scribbling pass
on the world.


Attacks may be levelled either against failures in genius, or against
the pretensions of writing without one.


A satire upon dulness is a thing that has been used and allowed in all

Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, wicked scribbler.




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,[134] he
was educated at home; another,[135] that he was bred at St Omer's by
Jesuits; a third,[136] not at St Omer's, but at Oxford; a fourth,[137]
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,[138] he was
kept by his father on purpose; a second,[139] that he was an itinerant
priest; a third,[140] that he was a parson; one[141] calleth him a
secular clergyman of the Church of Rome; another,[142] a monk. As little
do they agree about his father, whom one[143] supposeth, like the father
of Hesiod, a tradesman or merchant; another,[144] a husbandman;
another,[145] 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 Gildon[146]: '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--


'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.'[147]

No less peremptory is the censure of our hypercritical historian,


'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.'[148]

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


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

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


'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

Of WINDSOR FOREST, positive is the judgment of the affirmative


'That it is a wretched rhapsody, impudently writ in emulation of the
Cooper's Hill of Sir John Denham.[151] The author of it is obscure, is
ambiguous, is affected, is temerarious, is barbarous.'[152]

But the author of the Dispensary,


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


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,'[153] &c.

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


who (though otherwise a severe censurer of our author) yet styleth this
a 'laudable translation.'[154] That ready writer,


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


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.'[155] 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


'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:


'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.[156] 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


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


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


'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.


'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

'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


'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.'[157] 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


'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.'[158] 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


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.'[159]

So also is he deciphered by the honourable


'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.'[160]

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


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.'[161]

The witty and moral satirist,


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?'[162]


in his epistle on Verbal Criticism:

'Whose life, severely scann'd, transcends his lays;
For wit supreme is but his second praise.'


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.'


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,


'Thus, nobly rising in fair Virtue's cause,
From thy own life transcribe the unerring laws.'[163]

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


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


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;[164] 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.[165] 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.[166]
One desires he would cut his own throat, or hang himself.[167]

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.[168] Mr Dennis himself hath written to a
minister, that he is one of the most dangerous persons in this
kingdom;[169] 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.[170] Another gives information of treason discovered in his
poem.[171] Mr Curll boldly supplies an imperfect verse with kings and
princesses.[172] And one Matthew Concanen, yet more impudent, publishes
at length the two most sacred names in this nation, as members of the

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.


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.'[174]


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.'[175] 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.


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.'[176]


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.'[177] And


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.'[178]

So also one who takes the name of


the maker of certain verses to Duncan Campbell,[179] 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.


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,


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.'[180] 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


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


'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.



thus wrote[181] 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,'

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.'[182] '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.'[183] '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.'[184]

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 Dennis[185] 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.[186] 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,'[187] 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.'[188] (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?'[189]

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;[190]
if he took assistants in another, it was complained of, and represented
as a great injury to the public.[191] 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


* * * * *


This poem, as it celebrateth the most grave and ancient of things,
Chaos, Night, and Dulness; so is it of the most grave and ancient kind.
Homer (saith Aristotle) was the first who gave the form, and (saith
Horace) who adapted the measure, to heroic poesy. But even before this,
may be rationally presumed from what the ancients have left written, was
a piece by Homer, composed of like nature and matter with this of our
poet. For of epic sort it appeareth to have been, yet of matter surely
not unpleasant, witness what is reported of it by the learned Archbishop
Eustathius, in Odyss. x., and accordingly Aristotle, in his Poetic,
chap, iv., does further set forth, that as the Iliad and Odyssey gave
example to tragedy, so did this poem to comedy its first idea.

From these authors also it should seem that the hero or chief personage
of it was no less obscure, and his understanding and sentiments no less
quaint and strange (if indeed not more so), than any of the actors of
our poem. Margites was the name of this personage, whom antiquity
recordeth to have been Dunce the first; and surely, from what we hear of
him, not unworthy to be the root of so spreading a tree and so numerous
a posterity. The poem therefore celebrating him was properly and
absolutely a Dunciad; which, though now unhappily lost, yet is its
nature sufficiently known by the infallible tokens aforesaid. And thus
it doth appear that the first Dunciad was the first epic poem, written
by Homer himself, and anterior even to the Iliad or Odyssey.

Now, forasmuch as our poet had translated those two famous works of
Homer which are yet left, he did conceive it in some sort his duty to
imitate that also which was lost; and was therefore induced to bestow on
it the same form which Homer's is reported to have had, namely, that of
epic poem; with a title also framed after the ancient Greek manner, to
wit, that of Dunciad.

Wonderful it is that so few of the moderns have been stimulated to
attempt some Dunciad! since, in the opinion of the multitude, it might
cost less pain and oil than an imitation of the greater epic. But
possible it is also, that, on due reflection, the maker might find it
easier to paint a Charlemagne, a Brute, or a Godfrey, with just pomp and
dignity heroic, than a Margites, a Codrus, or a Flecknoe.

We shall next declare the occasion and the cause which moved our poet to
this particular work. He lived in those days, when (after Providence had
permitted the invention of printing as a scourge for the sins of the
learned) paper also became so cheap, and printers so numerous, that a
deluge of authors covered the land; whereby not only the peace of the
honest unwriting subject was daily molested, but unmerciful demands were
made of his applause, yea of his money, by such as would neither earn
the one nor deserve the other. At the same time, the licence of the
press was such, that it grew dangerous to refuse them either: for they
would forthwith publish slanders unpunished, the authors being
anonymous, and skulking under the wings of publishers, a set of men who
never scrupled to vend either calumny or blasphemy, as long as the town
would call for it.

Now our author,[192] living in those times, did conceive it an endeavour
well worthy an honest satirist to dissuade the dull and punish the
wicked, the only way that was left. In that public-spirited view he laid
the plan of this poem, as the greatest service he was capable (without
much hurt, or being slain) to render his dear country. First, taking
things from their original, he considereth the causes creative of such
authors--namely, dulness and poverty; the one born with them, the other
contracted by neglect of their proper talents, through self-conceit of
greater abilities. This truth he wrappeth in an allegory[193] (as the
construction of epic poesy requireth), and feigns that one of these
goddesses had taken up her abode with the other, and that they jointly
inspired all such writers and such works. He proceedeth to show the
qualities they bestow on these authors,[194] and the effects they
produce;[195] then the materials, or stock, with which they furnish
them;[196] and (above all) that self-opinion[197] which causeth it to
seem to themselves vastly greater than it is, and is the prime motive of
their setting up in this sad and sorry merchandise. The great power of
these goddesses acting in alliance (whereof as the one is the mother of
industry, so is the other of plodding) was to be exemplified in some one
great and remarkable action:[198] and none could be more so than that
which our poet hath chosen, viz., the restoration of the reign of Chaos
and Night, by the ministry of Dulness their daughter, in the removal of
her imperial seat from the city to the polite world; as the action of
the Æneid is the restoration of the empire of Troy, by the removal of
the race from thence to Latium. But as Homer singing only the wrath of
Achilles, yet includes in his poem the whole history of the Trojan war;
in like manner our author hath drawn into this single action the whole
history of Dulness and her children.

A person must next be fixed upon to support this action. This phantom in
the poet's mind must have a name:[199] He finds it to be ----; and he
becomes, of course, the hero of the poem.

The fable being thus, according to the best example, one and entire, as
contained in the proposition, the machinery is a continued chain of
allegories, setting forth the whole power, ministry, and empire of
Dulness, extended through her subordinate instruments, in all her
various operations.

This is branched into episodes, each of which hath its moral apart,
though all conducive to the main end. The crowd assembled in the second
book demonstrates the design to be more extensive than to bad poets
only, and that we may expect other episodes of the patrons, encouragers,
or paymasters of such authors, as occasion shall bring them forth. And
the third book, if well considered, seemeth to embrace the whole world.
Each of the games relateth to some or other vile class of writers: the
first concerneth the Plagiary, to whom he giveth the name of More; the
second the libellous Novelist, whom he styleth Eliza; the third, the
flattering Dedicator; the fourth, the bawling Critic, or noisy Poet; the
fifth, the dark and dirty Party-writer; and so of the rest; assigning to
each some proper name or other, such as he could find.

As for the characters, the public hath already acknowledged how justly
they are drawn: the manners are so depicted, and the sentiments so
peculiar to those to whom applied, that surely to transfer them to any
other or wiser personages would be exceeding difficult: and certain it
is, that every person concerned, being consulted apart, hath readily
owned the resemblance of every portrait, his own excepted. So Mr Cibber
calls them 'a parcel of poor wretches, so many silly flies;' but adds,
'our author's wit is remarkably more bare and barren whenever it would
fall foul on Cibber, than upon any other person whatever.'[200]

The descriptions are singular, the comparisons very quaint, the
narration various, yet of one colour. The purity and chastity of diction
is so preserved, that in the places most suspicious, not the words but
only the images have been censured, and yet are those images no other
than have been sanctified by ancient and classical authority (though, as
was the manner of those good times, not so curiously wrapped up), yea,
and commented upon by the most grave doctors and approved critics.

As it beareth the name of Epic, it is thereby subjected to such severe
indispensable rules as are laid on all neoterics--a strict imitation of
the ancients; insomuch that any deviation, accompanied with whatever
poetic beauties, hath always been censured by the sound critic. How
exact that imitation hath been in this piece, appeareth not only by its
general structure, but by particular allusions infinite, many whereof
have escaped both the commentator and poet himself; yea, divers by his
exceeding diligence are so altered and interwoven with the rest, that
several have already been, and more will be, by the ignorant abused, as
altogether and originally his own.

In a word, the whole poem proveth itself to be the work of our

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