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Occafioned by the first correct
EDITION of the DUNCIA D.
Tis with pleasure I hear, that you have procured a correct copy of the DUNCIAD, which the many furreptitious ones have rendered so neceffary; 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 inferting them amongst those 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 seems to have abandoned from the very beginning, and fuffered to ftep into the world naked, unguarded, and unattended.
It was upon reading some of the abufive papers lately published, that my great regard to a perfon, whose friendfhip I efteem as one of the chief honours of my life, and a much greater respect to Truth, than to him or any man living,
living, engaged me in enquiries, of which the enclosed Notes are the fruit.
I perceived, that most of these authors had been (doubtless very wifely) the firft 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 fuch a discovery: a ftratagem, which would they fairly own, it might not only reconcile them to me, but fcreen them from the refentment of their lawful fuperiors, whom they daily abuse, only (as I charitably hope) to get that by them, which they cannot get from them.
I found this was not all: ill fuccefs in that had tranfporred them to perfonal abufe, either of himself, or (what I think he could lefs forgive) of his friends. They had called men of virtue and honour bad men, long before he had either leifure or inclination to call them bad writers and fome had been fuch old offenders, that he had quite forgotten their persons as well as their flanders, 'till they were pleased to revive them.
Now what had Mr. POPE done before, to incenfe them He had published thofe works which are in the hands of every body, in which not the leaft 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 faid, but they themfelves 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 seen any inclination in my friend to be ferious with fuch accufers, or if they had only meddled with his writings; fince whoever publishes, puts himfelf 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 juftice to detect the authors, not only on this account, but as many of them are the fame who for feveral years paft have made free with the greatest names in church and ftate, exposed to the world the private misfortunes of families, abused all, even to women, and whofe proftituted papers (for one or other party, in the unhappy divifions of their country) have infulted the fallen, the friendlefs, 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 leaft valuable part of his character) but the honeft, open, and beneficent man, that we most efteemed, and loved in him. Now, if what these people fay were believed, I muft appear to all my friends either a fool, or a knave; either impofed on myfelf, or impofing on them; fo that I am as much interefted in the confutation of thefe calumnies, as he is himself.
I am no author, and confequently not to be suspected either of jealoufy or refentment against any of the men, of whom scarce one is known to me by fight; and as for their writings, I have fought them (on this one occafion) in vain, in the closets 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 protest 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, and difcovering (as far as you can depend on the truth of your information) the names of the concealed authors.
The firft objection I have heard made to the Poem is, that the perfons are too obfcure for fatire. The persons themselves, rather than allow the objection, would forgive the fatire; and if one could be tempted to afford it a ferious answer, were not all affaffinates, popular infurrections, the infolence of the rabble without doors, and of domeftics within, moft wrongfully chaftifed, if the meanness 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 mifchief; 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 'tis 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 honeft livelihood. But poverty is here the accident, not the fubject: he who defcribes malice and villany to be pale and meagre, expreffes not the leaft anger againft paleness or leanness, but againft malice and villany. The apothecary in Romeo and Juliet is poor; but is he therefore juftified in vending poifon? Not but poverty itself becomes a juft fubject of fatire, when it is the confequence of vice, prodigality, or neglect of one's lawful calling; for then it increases the public burthen, fills the streets and high
Which we have done in a lift printed in the Appendix.