Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

greatest part, of the merit of this treatise must and can only be ascribed to Gulliver 56. [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, it is not easy to judge, in as much as he had 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 57.

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 58: if he took assistants in another, it was complained of, and represented

56 Gulliver, p. 336. 57 Cibber's Letter to Mr. Pope, p. 19. 58 Burnet's Homerides, p. 1. of his Translation of the

[ocr errors]

as a great injury to the public 59. 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 had 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, gen-. tle 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. P.

89 The London and Mist's Journals, on his undertaking the Odyssey

129

MARTINUS SCRIBLERUS

OF THE POEM.

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 Odyssey X. And accordingly Aristotle, in his Poetic, chap. iv. doth further set forth, that as the Iliad and Odyssey gave an 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 afore

said. And thus it doth appear that the first Dunciad was the first epic poem written by Hómer himself, and anterior even to the Iliad or Odyssey.

Now, forasmuch as our poet hath 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 toil 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 Fleckno.

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 sculking under the wings of publishers, a set of men who neither scrupled to vend either calumny or blasphemy, as long as the town would call for it.

Now our author, 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 there 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? (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, and the effects they produce+; then the materials, or stock, with which they furnish them'; and above all) that self-opinion 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

merchandise. The great power of these goddesses acting in alliance (whereof as the one is the mother of industry, so is the

sorry

| Vide Bossu, Du Poëme Epique, chap. viii. 2 Bossu, chap. vii.

3 Book I. ver. 32, &c. 4 Ver. 45 to 54. 5 Ver. 57 to 77.

6 Ver. 80.

« PreviousContinue »