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It is in this collection by Savage I find the writer's admi rable satire on the class of literary prostitutes. It is entitled “ An Author to be Let, by Iscariot Hackney.” It has been ably commended by Johnson in his “Life of Savage," and on his recommendation Thomas Davies inserted it in his “ Collection of Fugitive Pieces ;" but such is the careless cu riosity of modern re-publishers, that often, in preserving a decayed body, they are apt to drop a limb: this was the case with Davies, for he has dropped the preface, far more ex quisite than the work itself. A morsel of such poignant relish betrays the hand of the master who snatched the pen for a moment.
This preface defends Pope from the two great objections justly raised at the time against the Dunciad: one is, the grossness and filthiness of its imagery; and the other, its reproachful allusions to the poverty of the authors.
The indelicacies of the Dunciad are thus wittily apologised for :
“ They are suitable to the subject; a subject composed, for the most part, of authors whose writings are the refuse of this “Epistle," on such authors as Atterbury, Arbuthnot, Swift, the Duke of Buckingham, &c. The Popeian concludes :
"After all, your poem, to comfort you, is more innocent than the Dunciad; for in the one there's no man abused but is very well pleased to be abused in such company; whereas in the other there's no man so much as named, but is extremely affronted to be ranked with such people as style each other the dullest of men.”
The publication of the Dunciad, however, drove the Thcobaldians out of the field. Guerillas, such as the “One Epistle,” sometimes appeared, but their heroes struck and skulked away. A Theobaldian, in an epigram, compared the Dunciad of Pope to the offspring of the celebrated Pope Joan. The neatness of his wit is hardly blunted by a pun. He who talks of Pope's “stealing a sound," seems to have practised that invisible art himself, for the verse is musical as Pope's.
TO THE AUTHOR OF THE DUNCIAD.
The child of guilt, and destined to disgrace.
And calls in vain, the unballow'd father-Pope !"
vit, and who in life are the very excrement of Nature. Mr. Pope has, too, used dung; but he disposes that dung in such I manner that it becomes rich manure, from which he raises
variety of fine flowers. He deals in rags; but like an irtist, who commits them to a paper-mill
, and brings them but useful sheets. The chemist extracts a fine cordial from he most nauseous of all dung; and Mr. Pope has drawn a weet poetical spirit from the most offensive and unpoetical bjects of the creation—unpoetical, though eternal writers of poetry.”
The reflections on the poverty of its heroes are thus ingeniously defended :-"Poverty, not proceeding from folly, but which may be owing to virtue, sets a man in an amiable light; but when our wants are of our own seeking, and prove the motive of every ill action (for the poverty of bad authors has always a bad heart for its companion), is it not a vice, and properly the subject of satire ?” The preface then proceeds to show how “all these said writers might have been good mechanics.” He illustrates his principles with a most ungracious account of several of his contemporaries. I shall give a specimen of what I consider as the polished sarcasm and caustic humour of Pope, on some favourite subjects.
* Mr. Thomas Cooke.- His enemies confess him not without merit. To do the man justice, he might have made a tolerable figure as a Tailor. 'Twere too presumptuous to affirm he could have been a master in any profession; but, dull as I allow him, he would not have been despicable for a third or a fourth hand journeyman. Then had his wants have been avoided; for, he would at least have learnt to cut his coat according to his cloth.
“ Why would not Mr. Theobald continue an attorney? Is nor Word-catching more serviceable in splitting a cause, than explaining a fine poet ?
4. When Mrs. Haywood ceased to be a strolling-actress, why might not the lady (though once a theatrical queen) have subsisted by turning washerwoman? Has not the fall of greatness been a frequent distress in all ages ? She might have caught a beautiful bubble, as it arose from the suds of her tub, blown it in air, seen it glitter, and then break! Even in this low condition, she had played with a bubble; and what more is the vanity of human greatness ?
“Had it not been an honester and more decent livelihood for Mr. Norton (Daniel De Foe's son of love by a lady who
vended oysters) to have dealt in a fish-market, than to be dealing out the dialects of Billingsgate in the Flying-post ?
“Had it not been more laudable for Mr. Roome, the son of an undertaker, to have borne a link and a mourning-staff, in the long procession of a funeral—or even been more decent in him to have sung psalms, according to education, in an Anabaptist meeting, than to have been altering the Jovial Crew, or Merry Beggars, into a wicked imitation of the Beggar's Opera?”
This satire seems too exquisite for the touch of Savage, and is quite in the spirit of the author of the Dunciad. There is, in Ruffhead's “ Life of Pope," a work to which Warburton contributed all his care, a passage which could only have been written by Warburton. The strength and coarseness of the imagery could never have been produced by the dull and feeble intellect of Ruffhead: it is the opinion, therefore, of Warburton himself, on the Dunciad. “The good purpose intended by this satire was, to the herd in general, of less efficacy than our author hoped; for scribblers have not the common sense of other vermin, who usually abstain from mischief, when they see any of their kind gibbeted or nailed up, as terrible examples.” — Warburton employed the same strong image in one of his threats.
One of Pope's Literary Quarrels must be distinguished for its romantic cast.
In the Treatise on the Bathos, the initial letters of the bad writers occasioned many heartburns; and, among others, Aaron Hill suspected he was marked out by the letters A. H. This gave rise to a large correspondence between Hill and Pope. Hill, who was a very amiable man, was infinitely too susceptible of criticism; and Pope, who seems to have had a personal regard for him, injured those nice feelings as little as possible. Hill had published a panegyrical poem on Peter the Great, under the title of “The Northern Star;" and the bookseller had conveyed to him a criticism of Pope's, of which Hill publicly acknowledged he mistook the meaning. When the Treatise of “ The Bathos" appeared, Pope insisted he had again mistaken the initials A. H.-Hill gently attacked Pope in “a paper of very pretty verses," as Pope calls them. When the Dunciad appeared, Hill is said “to have published pieces, in his youth, bordering upon the bombast." This was as light a stroke as could be inflicted ; and which Pope, with great good-humour, tells Hill, might be equally
applied to himself; for he always acknowledged, that when a boy, he had written an Epic poem of that description; would often quote absurd verses from it, for the diversion of his friends; and actually inserted some of the most extravagant ones in the very Treatise on “ The Bathos.” Poor Hill, however, was of the most sickly delicacy, and produced “ The Caveat,” another gentle rebuke, where Pope is represented as “sneakingly to approve, and want the worth to cherish or befriend men of merit.” In the course of this correspondence, Hill seems to have projected the utmost stretch of his innocent malice ; for he told Pope, that he had almost finished “An Essay on Propriety and Impropriety in Design, Thought, and Expression, illustrated by examples in both kinds, from the writings of Mr. Pope;" but he offers, if this intended work should create the least pain to Mr. Pope, he was willing, with all his heart, to have it run thus :—“An Essay on Propriety and Impropriety, &c , illustrated by Examples of the first, from the writmgs of Mr. Pope, and of the rest, from those of the author.” —To the romantic generosity of this extraordinary proposal, Pope replied, “I acknowledge your generous offer, to give examples of imperfections rather out of your own works than mine : I consent, with all my heart, to your confining them to mine, for two reasons: the one, that I fear your sensibility that way is greater than my own: the other is a better; namely, that I intend to correct the faults you find, if they are such as I expect from Mr. Hill's cool judgment."'*
Where, in literary history, can be found the parallel of such an offer of self-immolation ? This was a literary quarrel like that of lovers, where to hurt each other would have given pain to both parties. Such skill and desire to strike, with so much tenderness in inflicting a wound; so much compliment, with so much complaint; have perhaps never met together, as in the romantic hostility of this literary chivalry.
* The six Letters are preserved in Ruffhead's Appendix, No. 1.
A NARRATIVE OF THE EXTRAORDINARY TRANSACTIONS RESPECTING THE
PUBLICATION OF POPE'S LETTERS. Johnson observes, that “one of the passages of Pope's life which seems to deserve some inquiry, was the publication of his letters by CURLL, the rapacious bookseller."* Our great literary biographer has expended more research on this occasion than his usual penury of literary history allowed ; and yet has only told the close of the strange transaction—the previous parts are more curious, and the whole cannot be separated. Joseph Warton has only transcribed Johnson's narrative. It is a piece of literary history of an uncommon complexion ; and it is worth the pains of telling, if Pope, as I consider him to be, was the subtile weaver of a plot, whose texture had been close enough for any political conspiracy. It throws a strong light on the portrait I have touched of him. He conducted all his literary transactions with the arts of a Minister of State; and the genius which he wasted on this literary stratagem, in which he so completely succeeded, might have been perhaps sufficient to have organised rebellion.
It is well known that the origin of Pope's first letters given to the public, arose from the distresses of a cast-off mistress of one of his old friends (H. Cromwell),+ who had
* Curll was a bookseller, from whose shop issued many works of an immoral class, yet he chose for his sign “ The Bible and Dial,” which were displayed over his shop in Fleet-street. The satire of Pope's Dunciad seems fairly to have been earned, as we may judge from the class of books still seen in the libraries of curious collectors, and which are certainly unfitted for more general circulation. For these publications he was fined by the Court of King's Bench, and on one occasion stood in the pillory as a punishment. Yet himself and Lintot were the chief booksellers of the era, until Tonson arose, and by taking a more enlarged view of the trade, laid the foundation of the great publishing houses of modern times.--ED.
+ Cromwell was one of the gay young men who frequented coffee-houses and clubs when Pope, also a young man, did the same, and corresponded freely with him for a few years, when the intimacy almost entirely ceased. The lady was a Mrs. Thomas, who became a sort of literary hack to Curll. and is celebrated in the Dunciad under the name of Corinna, Roscoe. in his edition of Pope, says, “Of Henry Cromwell little is known, further than what is learnt from this correspondence, from which he appears to have been a man of respectable connections, talents, and education, and to have in. termingled pretty freely in the gallantries of fashionable life." He seems to have been somewhat eccentric, and the correspondence of Pope only lastea from 1708 to 1711.-ED.