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Occafioned by the first correct
EDITION OF THE DUNCIAD.
T is with pleasure I hear, that you have procured a correct copy of the DUNCIAD, which the many furreptitious ones have rendered fo necessary; and it is yet with more, that I am informed it will be attended with a COMMENTARY: A work fo requifite, that I cannot think the Author himself would have omitted it, had he approved of the first appearance of this Poem.
Such Notes as have occurred to me I herewith fend you: You will oblige me by inserting them amongst thofe which are, or will be, tranfmitted to you by others; fince not only the Author's friends, but even ftrangers, appear engaged by humanity, to take fome care of an Orphan of fo much genius and spirit, which its parent feems to have abandoned from the very beginning, and fuffered to step into the world naked, unguarded, and unattended.
It was upon reading some of the abufive papers lately published, that my great regard to a Person, whofe Friendship I esteem as one of the chief honours of my life, and a much greater refpect to Truth, than to him or any man living, engaged me in inquiries, of which the inclosed Notes are the fruit.
I perceived, that most of these Authors had been (doubtless very wifely) the first aggreffors. They had tried, till they were weary, what was to be got by railing at each other: Nobody was either concerned or furprized, if this or that fcribbler was proved a dunce. But every one was curious to read what could be faid to prove Mr. POPE one, and was ready to pay fomething for such a discovery: A ftratagem, which would they fairly own, it might not only reconcile them to me, but screen them from the refentment of their lawful Superiors, whom they daily abuse, only (as I charitably hope) to get that by them, which they cannnot get from them.
I found this was not all: Ill fuccefs in that had tranfported 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 fome had been fuch old offenders, that he had quite forgotten their perfons as well as their flanders, 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 every body, in which not the least mention is
made of any of them. And what has he done fince? He has laughed, and written the DUNCIAD. What has that faid of them? A very serious truth, which the Public had faid before, that they were dull: And what it had no fooner 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 fhould ftill have been filent, if either I had feen any inclination in my friend to be ferious with fuch accufers, or if they had only meddled with his Writings; fince 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 fecure the most innocent; in a manner, which, though it annihilates the credit of the accufation with the just and impartial, yet aggravates very much the guilt of the accufers; I mean by Authors without names; then I thought, fince the danger was common to all, the concern ought to be fo; and that it was an act of justice to detect the Authors, not only on this account, but as many of them are the fame 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 divifions of their Country) have infulted the Fallen, the Friendless, the Exiled, and the Dead.
Befides this, which I take to be a public concern, I have already confeffed I had a private one.
I am one
of that number who have long loved and efteemed 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 moft efteemed, and loved in him. Now, if what these people fay were believed, I must appear to all my friends either a fool, or a knave; either impofed on myself, or impofing on them; fo that I am as much interested in the confutation of thefe calumnies, as he is himself.
I am no Author, and consequently not to be suspected either of jealoufy or refentment against any of the Men, of whom fcarce one is known to me by fight; and as for their Writings, I have fought them (on this one occafion) in vain, in the clofets and libraries of all my acquaintance. I had ftill been in the dark, if a Gentleman had not procured me (I fuppofe from fome of themselves, for they are generally much more dangerous friends than enemies) the paffages I fend you. I folemnly proteft I have added nothing to the malice or abfurdity of them; which it behoves me to declare, fince the vouchers themfelves will be fo foon and fo irrecoverably loft. You may in fome measure prevent it, by preferving at least their Titles a, and discovering (as far as you can depend on the truth of your information) the Names of the concealed authors.
The first objection I have heard made to the Poem is, that the perfons are too obfcure for fatire. The per
a Which we have done in a Lift printed in the Ap
fons themselves, rather than allow the objection, would forgive the fatire; and if one could be tempted to afford it a serious anfwer, were not all affaffinates, popular infurrections, the infolence of the rabble without doors, and of domestics within, moft wrongfully chaftifed, if the Meannefs of offenders indemnified them from punishment? On the contrary, Obfcurity renders them more dangerous, as lefs thought of: Law can pronounce judgment only on open facts: Morality alone can pafs cenfure on intentions of Mischief; fo that for fecret calumny, or the arrow flying in the dark, there is no public punishment left, but what a good Writer inflicts.
The next objection is, that these fort of authors are poor. That might be pleaded as an excufe at the Old Bailey, for leffer crimes than Defamation (for it is the cafe of almost all who are tried there), but fure it can be none here: for who will pretend that the robbing another of his Reputation fupplies the want of it in himself? I question not but such authors are poor, and heartily with the objection were removed by any hos neft livelihood. But Poverty is here the accident, not the fubject: He who defcribes Malice and Vilainy to be pale and meagre, expreffes not the leaft anger against Paleness or Leannefs, but against Malice and Villainy. The Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet is poor; but is he therefore justified in vending poifon ? Not but Poverty itself becomes a just subject of fatire, when it is the confequence of vice, prodigality, or neglect of one's lawful calling; for then it increases