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As it was the object of the poet, in his Dunciad, to excite his countrymen to exert themselves in the defence and promotion of true taste and sound learning, so, in the following pieces, it is his intention to rouse them to a due sense of their own rights and dignity as a people, to shew them the dangers by which they were surrounded, to exhibit vice and corruption in the darkest colours, and thereby to stimulate them to the attainment of public integrity, honour, and virtue. This however is not the light in which these Dialogues seem to have been regarded by his later editors, and particularly by Dr. Warton, who conceives that "the satire is carried to excess," and "that the prognostications of ruin to the country were vain and groundless; for that in about twenty years afterwards it carried its triumphs over all its enemies, through all quarters of the world." On this it may be observed, that the prognostications of the poet were founded on the political depravity and corruption which he saw around him, and are in fair construction to be considered only as warnings, or denunciations, to apprize his contemporaries, that if they did not act upon higher motives and better principles, and oppose themselves to the torrent, vice would be finally triumphant, would
"lift her scarlet head,
And see pale virtue carted in her stead."
"From the conclusion of this (the first) Satire," says Mr. Bowles," one might suppose that there was neither honesty, honour, public spirit, nor virtue in the nation." But this is to take in a literal, what the poet meant should be taken only in a hypothetical sense, and to consider a poetical exaggeration as intended for a serious truth. The object of the poet is more decidedly manifested in his second Dialogue, in which he has celebrated numerous instances of public and private virtue, and has declared it to be his intention,
"To rouse the watchmen of the public weal,
In short, he avows his resolution to persevere in his purpose
What effect was, in fact, produced by the remonstrances of the
poet upon the manners and morals of his countrymen, and what share he may have had in attaining that great improvement and better state of things which we are informed took place some years afterwards, it would not be an easy task to ascertain; but that these Dialogues forcibly exhibit
"The strong antipathy of good to bad;"
that they inculcate high and generous sentiments of public virtue and independence, and an abhorrence of political profligacy and of low and degrading pursuits, no one will be found to deny.'
The first part of these Satires was published under the title of One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty-eight, a Dialogue, something like Horace. London: printed for T. Cooper, at the Globe, in Puter-noster Row: (price one shilling). The second part, printed for R. Dodsley, at Tully's Head, in Pall Mall, 1738: (price one shilling). Considerable alterations occur in the subsequent editions.
FR. NOT twice a twelvemonth you appear in print, And when it comes, the Court see nothing in't.
Ver. 1. Not twice a twelvemonth, &c.] These two lines are from Horace; and the only lines that are so in the whole poem; being meant to give a handle to that which follows in the character of an impertinent censurer:
""Tis all from Horace," &c.
By long habit of writing, and almost constantly in one sort of measure, he had now arrived at a happy and elegant familiarity of style,
After Ver 2. in the MS.
You don't, I hope, pretend to quit the trade,
You grow correct that once with rapture writ,
style, without flatness. The satire in these pieces is of the strongest kind; sometimes, direct and declamatory, at others, ironical and oblique. It must be owned to be carried to excess. Our country is represented as totally ruined, and overwhelmed with dissipation, depravity, and corruption. Yet this very country, so emasculated and debased by every species of folly and wickedness, in about twenty years afterwards, carried its triumphs over all its enemies, through all the quarters of the world, and astonished the most distant nations with a display of uncommon efforts, abilities, and virtue. So vain and groundless are the prognostications of poets, as well as politicians. It is to be wished, that a genius could be found to write an One Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-one, as a counter-part to these two Dialogues, which were more diligently laboured, and more frequently corrected than any of our author's compositions. I have often heard Mr. Dodsley say, that he was employed by the author to copy them fairly. Every line was then written twice over; a clean transcript was then delivered to Mr. Pope, and when he afterwards sent it to Mr. Dodsley to be printed, he found every line had been written twice over a second time. Swift tells our author, these Dialogues are equal, if not superior, to any part of his works. They are, in truth, more Horatian, than the professed Imitations of Horace. They at first were intitled, from the year in which they were published, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty-eight. They were afterwards called, fantastically enough, Epilogue to the Satires, as the Epistle to Arbuthnot was intitled Prologue to the Satires. It is remarkable that the first was published the very same morning with Johnson's admirable London; which Pope much approved, and searched diligently for the author, who lived then in obscurity. London had a second edition in a week. Pope has himself given more notes and illustrations on these Dialogues than on any other of his poems. Warton. Ver. 2. see nothing in't.] He used this colloquial (I will not say barbarism, but) abbreviation, to imitate familiar conversation.