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to the good.' From this delicacy of the Muse arose the little epic (more lively and choleric than her elder sister, whose bulk and complexion incline her to the phlegmatic); and for this some notorious vehicle of vice and folly was sought out to make thereof an example; an early instance of which (nor could it escape the accurate Scriblerus) the father himself of epic poem affordeth us. From him the practice descended to the Greek dramatic poets, his offspring; who, in the composition of their tetralogy, or set of four pieces, were wont to make the last a satiric tragedy. Happily one of these ancient Dunciads (as we may well term it) is come down unto us, amongst the tragedies of the poet Euripides. And what doth the reader suppose may be the subject thereof? Why, in truth, and it is worthy observation, the unequal contest of an old, dull, debauched buffoon, Cyclops, with the heaven-directed favourite of Minerva: who, after having quietly borne all the monster's obscene and impious ribaldry, endeth the farce in punishing him with the mark of an indelible brand in his forehead. May we not then be excused if, for the future, we consider the epics of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, together with this our poem, as a complete tetralogy, in which the last worthily holdeth the place or station of the satiric piece?
Proceed we therefore in our subject. It hath been long, and alas for pity! still remaineth a question, whether the hero of the greater epic should be an honest man; or, as the French critics express it, un honnête homme': but it never 1 Si un heros poëtique doit être un honnête homme. Bossu, Du Poëme Epique, liv. v. ch. 5.
admitted of any doubt but that the hero of the little epic should be his very opposite. Hence, to the advantage of our Dunciad, we may observe how much juster the moral of that poem must needs be where so important a question is previously decided.
But then it is not every knave, nor (let me add) every fool, that is a fit subject for a Dunciad.There must still exist some analogy, if not resemblance of qualities between the heroes of the two poems; and this, in order to admit what neoteric critics call the parody, one of the liveliest graces of the little epic. Thus it being agreed that the constituent qualities of the greater epic hero are wisdom, bravery, and love, from whence springeth heroic virtue; it followeth that those of the lesser epic hero should be vanity, assurance, and debauchery: from which happy assemblage resulteth heroic dulness, the never-dying subject of this our poem.
This being confessed, come we now to particulars. It is the character of true wisdom to seek its chief support and confidence within itself, and to place that support in the resources which proceed from a conscious rectitude of will.-And are the advantages of vanity, when arising to the heroic standard, at all short of this self-complacence? nay, are they not, in the opinion of the enamoured owner, far beyond it? 'Let the world (will such an one say) impute to me what folly or weakness they please; but till wisdom can give me something that will make me more heartily happy, I am contented to be gazed at '.' This, we see, is vanity, according to the heroic gauge or 2 Ded. to the Life of C. Cibber.
measure: not that low and ignoble species which pretendeth to virtues we have not; but the laudable ambition of being gazed at for glorying in those vices which every body knows we have. 'The world may ask (says he) why I make my follies public? Why not? I have passed my time very pleasantly with them 3. In short, there is no sort of vanity such a hero would scruple, but that which might go near to degrade him from his high station in this our Dunciad; namely, Whether it would not be vanity in him to take shame to himself for not being a wise man 4?
Bravery, the second attribute of the true hero, is courage manifesting itself in every limb; while its correspondent virtue, in the mock hero, is that same courage all collected into the face: and as power, when drawn together, must needs have more force and spirit than when dispersed, we generally find this kind of courage in so high and heroic a degree, that it insults not only men, but gods. Mezentius is, without doubt, the bravest character in all the Æneis: but how? his bravery, we know, was an high courage of blasphemy. And can we say less of this brave man's? who, having told us that he placed 'his summum bonum in those follies which he was not content barely to possess, but would likewise glory in,' adds, ‘If I am misguided, 'tis Nature's fault, and I follow her. Nor can we be mistaken in making this happy quality a species of courage, when we consider those illustrious marks of it which made his
3 Life, p. 2. oct. edit. 4 Life of C. Cibber, p. 2. octavo. 5 Ibid. p. 23.
face more known (as he justly boasteth) than most in the kingdom;' and his language to consist of what we must allow to be the most daring figure of speech, that which is taken from the name of God.
Gentle love, the next ingredient in the true hero's composition, is a mere bird of passage, or (as Shakspeare calls it) Summer-teeming lust,' and evaporates in the heat of youth; doubtless by that refinement it suffers in passing through those certain strainers which our poet somewhere speaketh of; but when it is let alone to work upon the lees, it acquireth strength by old age, and becometh a lasting ornament to the little epic. It is true, indeed, there is one objection to its fitness for such an use; for not only the ignorant may think it common, but it is admitted to be so even by him who best knoweth its value. Don't you think (argueth he) to say only "a man has his whore "," ought to go for little or nothing? Because, defendit numerus, take the first ten thousand men you meet, and, I believe, you would be no loser if you betted ten to one that every single sinner of them, one with another, had been guilty of the same frailty. But here he seemeth not to have done justice to himself: the man is sure enough a hero who hath his lady at fourscore.How doth his modesty herein lessen the merit of
6 Lust, through some certain strainers well refined, Is gentle love, and charms all womankind.
7 Alluding to these lines in the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot: And has not Colley still his lord and whore,
His butchers Henley, his free-masons Moore ?'
a whole well-spent life! not taking to himself the commendation (which Horace accounted the greatest in a theatrical character) of continuing to the very dregs the same he was from the beginning,
Servetur ad imum
Qualis ab incepto processerat.'
But here, in justice both to the poet and the hero, let us further remark, that the calling her his whore, implieth she was his own, and not his neighbour's. Truly, a commendable continence! and such as Scipio himself must have applauded: for how much self-denial was exerted not to covet his neighbour's whore! and what disorders must the coveting her have occasioned in that society, where (according to this political calculator) nine in ten of all ages have their concubines!
We have now, as briefly as we could devise, gone through the three constituent qualities of either hero: but it is not in any, nor in all of these, that heroism properly or essentially resideth. It is a lucky result rather from the collision of these lively qualities against one another.Thus, as from wisdom, bravery, and love, ariseth magnanimity, the object of admiration, which is the aim of the greater epic; so from vanity, impudence, and debauchery, springeth buffoonery, the source of ridicule, that 'laughing ornament,' as the owner well termeth it 3, of the little epic.
He is not ashamed (God forbid he ever should be ashamed!) of this character, who deemeth that not reason but risibility distinguisheth the human species from the brutal. As Nature (saith this