Dunciad Minor – Book II


‘Through thick and foul, through dark and dusk and dun
The Mighty Mother saw her weeping son;
For Dullness, when her sovereign ease she takes,
Has a celestial thunderbox or jakes
Whose windows serve, like Northern Jove’s, to show
All that miscarries in the world below.
From there laborious, busy, bold and blind
She meddles in the muddles of mankind;
And there, in joy reclining to survey
Confusion grow to Chaos day by day,
Great Arthur in his doldrums she discerned,
And her heart melted and her bowels yearned.
“Behold!” she cries, “the hundred years are past:
My Prince, my Sleeping Ugly wakes at last!
Of all my poppets, pets, poeticules,
My cretins, critics, philosophs and fools,
Ninnies and zanies, dunderheads and dolts,
Of all that fumbles, dodders, drools and moults
By far the last, the least, the lowest, he
Excels my children in fatuity!
Born for the throne—yet, with his brain how can
He help himself?—I must devise a plan.”

Brisk as an ogle darting from a beau
The Goddess dived into the murk below,
And as she plunged, a stratagem she spun
By which she might advance her chosen son.

Now you should know that in this latter age
Men live in their machines as in a cage,
No longer range the woods for roots and nuts
But passive, put in their protesting guts
Whate’er their keepers throw them; and their ease
They spend in picking one another’s fleas.
This they call Culture, and this word obscene
They worship. In this World of the Machine
No more does genius practise or impart
The selfless, self-absorbed delight of Art:
Vapid and vain, the new men, if you please,
“Engage in Cultural Activities.”
Of all the pimps of Culture quite the worst
The Radio panders to their quenchless thirst
For cheap amusement and degraded wit—
Your faces tell me you have heard of it—
No more then! This mechanical device
The Goddess loves, and in her power it lies:
She chooses its chief slaves with special care—
Now when some Dennis croaks upon the air,
The lie, enlarged till half the nation hears,
Creeps like a louse into a million ears.
And this machine the Goddess had in mind
As on she flapped and floundered, flying blind,
And felt the rear of Darkness, like her plot,
Thicken, and curdle from her wings and clot.

At last she recognized New Holland’s coasts,
And sped to where the Minister for Posts,
Whose charge is to police this dire machine
And keep the waves of aether calm and clean,
Slumbered full length in his baroque bureau
While all his civil service snored below.
The Goddess took the flabby shape and name
Of the Nymph Culture—Houses of ill-fame
She keeps, and there by bureaucratic arts
She strives to make the Muses all turn tarts;
No politician can her wiles resist;
Her name is on the Civil Pension’s list—
With all her unction now the Goddess spoke:
“Awake sweet chuck!”—the Minister awoke,
Said: “Oh, it’s you!” and slapped her fair behind,
And fell asleep again. She did not mind:
Such men a Goddess has small cause to fear.
She bent and whispered something in his ear.

This done, she flew to where upon the shore
Sad Arthur gnawed what nails he had to gnaw.
In her own shapeless shape the Queen appears
And on her son the Mighty Mother stares:
She sees that face as long as a bull’s foot,
She marks the sobs of the desponding brute,
His shoes unlaced, his shirt-tails hanging out
And liquid misery dripping from his snout.
“Rise, Owl of Exile! Rise, thou Wandering Star!
Thine hour hath struck! Be known for what you are!
Consider the great seed from which you sprung!”
She greeted him; then, tempering her tongue:
“Attend, O child of very little brain,
And listen carefully while I explain
A plot as simple as the A.B.C.
That brings you home, and strikes a blow for me:
You will receive, within an hour or so,
A sooty Ariel of the radio
Inciting you to arson—and, I hope,
To make a bonfire of the works of Pope.
Think not, my bumble-puppy boy, to vie
With Caliph Omar or Chi-Ho-Am-Ti!
They burned whole worlds of learning, it is true:
One work of genius is enough for you.
Go then, blaspheme, be dense, pedantic, crude;
Be sourly funny, oafish, crass and rude!
The fools Pope blasted could not write, indeed;
But you must prove you cannot even read!
In this be counselled: Seek to know no more!
For though with dullness rarely seen before,
Your royal breed yourself you have found out
‘Tis mine to bring your sovereign state about.
Do as I bid: Your serendipity
May safely sleep and leave the rest to me!”

This said, a tender kiss her love bestows
Where one lost tear runs trickling down his nose;
Then bursting into soft maternal flame
She vanished and flew back the way she came.

As she had prophesied it all came true:
As bold as brass, and twice as brazen too,
Undaunted Arthur moves to his attack
Knowing dead authors never answer back;
From all your works the least superb selects,
And all that shows your genius best rejects;
Chooses “some lines at random”—poor pretence—
Ignores the context and neglects the sense;
Afraid of the attack-in-chief, creeps around
Finds a lame verb, an epithet unsound;
From twenty thousand verses makes a list
Of two false forms and seven commas missed—
So the small tyke that fears your boot or whip
Slinks round behind and gives your heels a nip.
As Easter Island savages, who see
The art and wisdom of antiquity
Mouldering on tablets which they cannot read,
And statues which they sell in idle greed,
Turn on the past uncomprehending eyes
And what they cannot understand, despise;
But have the wit to haggle, cheat and steal
And pass off bogus carvings for the real,
So Arthur reads your verse: His empty bray
Declares it sense and beauty thrown away,
Yet, with the paltry cunning of his kind
Orders the strange vagaries of his mind,
The battered cliché and the tawdry trope,
Salts with your verse—and passes it as Pope.

Thus, thus his words on wings of lightning borne,
He strewed like tares amid the alien corn!
Now hear the sequel: Through the listening land
Dumb with astonishment the natives stand;
Unlettered lads, with mouths that gape or grin,
They scratch their heads and strive to take it in;
By every hearth some patriarch Yahoo
Cries as the cork pops out of the home-brew,
And from the shelf the Racing News is snatched:
“Well, what d’you know, Mum: bloody Pope’s been scratched!”

But from on high the Mother Goddess smiled,
And, through proud tears she cried: “Well done, my child!”
Then me she summoned to her awful throne
And charged and sent me forth. The rest is known.’

The Herald ceased. ‘An epic ass enough
He seems to be—’, said Pope, but Swift looked gruff,
Arbuthnot frowned, like Gay, and shook his head.
‘I think you should refuse this plea,’ he said.
‘Such madding fools, to see their names in print
Stick at no crime, in folly know no stint,
Nor infamy distinguish from renown
Like him who burned Diana’s temple down;
But few achieve such note in any age;
The most run wild at random, wreck and rage
And, would-be dunceling martyrs, try their luck,
Proud to be shot for having run amuck.
Think of your dunces! Some whose nameless name
You saved have now achieved a kind of fame,
For Dullness too has her Elysium;
“Martyrs of pies and reliques of the bum”,
Such as our sires and we thought best forgot,
Or fit like thorns to crackle neath a pot,
Are now by tasteless scholarship restored
And, shrined in gems, exploited and adored:
Your Arthur seems this dangerous kind of Ass
And simulates more folly than he has.’

‘Indeed, sir,’ answered Gay, ‘I find it hard
To think him hoisted with his own petard:
So much an ass for this had not the wit;
‘Twas for the guineas, surely, that he writ.’

‘Not so!’ cried Swift. ‘There you mistake him, John!
Knave he may be, but not a venal one.
I know them well, the dogs, at least, I knew
Those hired bullies of the midnight crew,
Such as beat Dryden and they said—or tried—
Beat Pope—but dirty Lady Mary lied!
As Borgia’s bravi care not whom they drown
And cut a nameless throat for half-a-crown,
The menial Judas, for the higher pay
Will his own Lord or any lord betray,
Kills without question, asks not whom he stabs
And laughing sells his mother or his drabs.
Such rogues shun fame—and there lies proof enough
Arthur is made of more ambitious stuff.
No, to my mind, there is no doubt at all
‘Tis vanity, not greed hath been his fall.
The lesser critics of the canine kind
Will lift their legs where’er they have a mind
On posts and trees and gates and wheels of carts,
But one, to prove himself a dog of parts,
The common sprinkler of the suburb shuns,
And hoards his drop, and through the town he runs
And all he has bestows with pious care
On Caesar’s statue in the public square;
Proud to be seen and hear his fellows cry:
“He pissed on Julius Caesar—so will I.”
Your Arthur’s of this kidney—best refuse
And let the * * * stew in his own juice.’

‘Who shall dissent when doctors both agree?’
Replied the poet, ‘Yet it seems to me
Something on his behalf may yet be said:
He may yet prove an honest mutton-head.
Speaking of mutton, though, have you observed

That, while we chatted, supper has been served?
And, shades of Dartineuf! Methinks I spy
Before us a celestial ham-pye.
Now, Master Herald, briefly as you can
Tell us the lineage of your Caliban!
Can it be proved? For if you can recite
Each link from Namby-Pamby on, I might—
Mind, I don’t say I shall—I might agree.
Proceed, then, with his royal pedigree!’
‘Yes, but not now!’ cried Swift and Gay distressed.
‘Let us have supper ere we hear the rest!
Immortal substance still must be kept up;
The Messenger may join us while we sup—
God knows, he’s earned at least a glass of wine.’

‘Alas, don’t press me, gentlemen, to dine!’
He said, ‘I must refuse, indeed, I must;
Though sorely tempted—No offence, I trust!’

‘Well here’s a pretty pass!’ cried Pope. ‘We can
Scarce eat this pye before a starving man.
‘Tis a good dunce—I’ve dined with many worse;
He knows his manners and he don’t write verse.
Come, doctor, sure your art must have a rule
To settle the digestion of a fool!

As Adam found his airy angel guest
Could munch a carrot, taste, concoct, digest
—though there the matter stopped; a good thing, too!—
Say what an ass’s mortal paunch can do
With pye ambrosial and immortal hock!
Resolve! Decide! We sup at six o’clock!’
To whom Arbuthnot: ‘He need not abjure
Our sustenance for food alike these pure
Unthinking substances indeed require
As do our rational: but they perspire
The finer essences, which we retain
(For airy substances turn all to gain);

And thus our guest may sup with us today,
Provided only he prolong his stay
Till the immortal part, which is less dense,
From all his alimental recompense
In humid exhalations vanish soon;
Nor suffer indigestion like the moon—
Go read it all in Milton, if you will!
Besides, if Nature fails, I have a pill.’

‘Come, Sir,’ said Swift, ‘be easy! Supper waits.’

So all sat down in peace and filled their plates.

End of Book II

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