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delight in the creations of a humorous imagination. Certainly, to represent the “Dunciad” as the outcome of mere personal spite is to give an exaggerated idea of the malignity of Pope's disposition, and a wrong impression of his character. He was not a morose, savage, indignant satirist, but airy and graceful in his malice, writing more in fun than in anger, revengeful, perbaps, and excessively sensitive, but restored to good-humor as he thought over his wrongs by the ludicrous conceptions with which he invested his adversaries. We do not feel the bitterness of wounded pride in his writings, but the laughter with which that pride was consoled. He loved his own comic fancies more than he hated his enemies. His fun at the expense of his victims was so far cruel that he was quite regardless of their sufferings, probably enjoyed them ; but it was an impish and sprite-like cruelty, against which we cannot feel any real indignation, because it is substantially harmless, while its ingenious antics never fail to amuse. And, in extenuation of the cruelty, I see no reason to reject Pope's own plea that he never took the aggressive, although Mr. Elwin has attempted at great length to show that this could not be maintained. In the “ Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," which is Pope's most elaborate defence of himself as a satirist, he pretends to greater magnanimity and lofty tranquillity of mind than any merely human being can possess, and which he himself was undoubtedly far from possessing, being really extravagantly sensitive to criticism. Still, undue weight may be given to stories illustrating how keenly Pope felt criticisms when first they were communicated to him, and how long after an offence had been committed he seized an opportunity of repaying it. Granting the truth of these stories, I should still contend that Pope soon recovered his equanimity after the first quick anger was past, and that there was little or no bitterness in his heart when he took his revenge, and that he reconciled this revenge
INCEPTION OF THE
with a moral purpose—the chastisement of men worthy of chastisement. The “Epistle to Arbuthnot,” I believe, really represents his permanent attitude of mind, the stable condition in which his mind rested when it had recovered from any passing derangement of its equilibrium.
It has been said that to thoroughly enjoy the “Dunciad” one would have to give as much time to the study of it as the author gave to its composition. That, of course, is an exaggeration ; still, to appreciate the full force of every hard hit and sly pinch, even with the help of Mr. Courthope's ample commentary, would doubtless require long and laborious study. If you have leisure for it, it might be worth while, because in the process you would get an intimate knowledge of political and literary life in London in Pope's time, and it is always interesting to know how people lived in circumstances different from our own. This is one of the most harmless ways of indulging that love of gossip which is deeply rooted in most human beings.
But without mastering all the details we may enjoy the “Dunciad” simply as a work of humorous imagination, the only drawback being the tendency of the author's imagination to carry him into physically disgusting incidents. Pope's original design seems to have been to describe the progress of Dulness from ancient times to his own generation, ascribing all the disasters that happened to learning, such as the burning of the Library of Alexandria and the irruption of the Goths into the Roman empire, as due to the settled and resolute hostility of this goddess, bent upon restoring the dominion that she held while the intellectual world was still in chaos. In this history he could find opportunities for ridiculing the so-called dunces of his own time by describing them and their works as instruments in the hands of the goddess Dulness for accomplishing her purpose. This was probably the germ, the first thought, of the poem ; so that the third book, from 1. 70 onward, was probably the first part thought of, if not actually the first composed. But the germ grew in Pope's mind ; and now this history of the reign of
l Dulness upon earth appears only as a prophecy made to the hero of the poem.
Book I. describes the abode and the surroundings of Dulness in mock-heroic style, but with real splendor of imagination ; the goddess sits wreathed in clouds in a certain part of the city of London, with her Prime Ministers and all the products of her leaden inspiration round her. Then the hero, Colley Cibber, is described offering prayers and sacrifices to the goddess. She hears him and carries him off to her sacred dome, and anoints and proclaims him King of the Dunces. Book II. describes the games held in honor of his coronation, a burlesque of the heroic custom. Much of this you had better skip; but toward the end there is an account of a reading match among critics that is very amusing. Book III. is chiefly occupied with a vision of the progress of Dulness. After the games the king falls asleep in the lap of the goddess, and visits in his dreams—after the manner of Ulysses in the “Odyssey” and Æneas in the “ Æneid ”—the nether regions, where he meets Settle, a dull poet of the previous generation. Settle talks to him, and takes him to the top of a mountain, whence he shows him the past triumphs of the empire of Dulness, then the present, and lastly the future. Book IV. was added by Pope many years afterward (in 1742), and professes to be the completion of the prophecies in Book III. The goddess sits in state, surrounded by her flatterers and parasites; various public bodies appear by deputation before her and report progress. The clusion is intensely comical; in the middle of a gracious speech from the throne her Majesty yawns, and the whole world follows suit and sinks into slumber :
POPE'S NOTION OF THE DULL
“ More she had spoke, but yawn'd. All nature nods :
What mortal can resist the yawn of gods ?
Apart from the mere personalities of the poem, most of the Dunces satirized are types that reappear in every age. On this ground some critics claim for the poem a universal utility, and praise Pope for having rendered permanent service in the warfare of true literature against counterfeit. This fantastic Pope showed himself perfectly sensible that, in so far as concerned the annihilation of Dunces, his work had been written in vain. Even of the men ridiculed by name, Pope says :
“ You think this cruel ? take it for a rule
Throned in the centre of his thin designs,
And if this was true of the Dunces expressly ridiculed, who is likely in after generations to take their characters to himself ? Mr. Courthope specifies three classes of Dunces in the poem : the authors of personal scurrilities in the journals of the day, who took great liberties with eminent names, in the same coarse vein in which Pope
replied to them; the party journalists, whom Pope, as a member of the Opposition, considered to be in ministerial pay; and pedantic scholars, antiquaries, and naturalists. In the pursuit of ridicule Pope was not particular about truth to nature, and there are two men in particular whose place in the “Dunciad” has generally been considered absurd, Cibber and Bentley, the great classical scholar. Cibber was a popular actor, and he protested that his greatest enemy could not call him dull; he was nothing if not lively. But Pope did not
; mean by dull the opposite of lively. Dulness, he says in his lines about Cibber :
“Dulness with transport eyed the lively dunce,
Remembering she herself was pertness once.” It is not, indeed, easy to say what he did mean by dull, except uninteresting to himself.
himself. The story is told of him that he once fell asleep at his own dinner-table when the Prince of Wales was talking to him about poetry. With such a man the Dull must have been a very wide category.
I am afraid he would have considered the critical study of the “Dunciad” insufferably dull if it had been written by any body but himself. It would seem, indeed, as if in the end he had come to much the same conclusion as Thackeray in his “Book of Snobs.” When Thackeray had carefully studied all the varieties of snob, he could not resist the humorous conclusion that he might after all be a snob himself. And something of the same humor seems to me to have crossed Pope's mind before he had completed his “Dunciad.” It is a dull world, and we are all dunces more or less.
We have left little time for Pope's remaining worksthe “Essay on Man,” the “Moral Essays,” and the “ “Satires ” and “Epistles.” As regards the origin or suggestion of them, they are as much due to the influence of Bolingbroke as the “Dunciad” was to Swift