Dunciad Minor – Book III


Their supper ended, round the board they sit
While ease and laughter feed the flame of wit.
And now the covers drawn, each glass returned,
Clear in that windless dusk the candles burned,
The crystal glittered and the silver shone
The wine went round, the flow of talk swept on;
Till, the first stars emerging, grave and dim,
Far off the Muses raised their evening hymn,
Intent, in heavenly silence, rapt, profound,
All heard that solemn, pure, rejoicing sound
Sweetness and light in all the earth proclaim
And light and order in the starry frame.

How long they might have sat I cannot tell,
For suddenly the Herald broke the spell
With: ‘Charming! Charming! Thank you, gentlemen!
But now I must take up my tale again.

What proof, you ask, attests the hero’s claim
Beside his bearing of the family name?
This, too, the Mighty Mother took in hand
And, on my setting forth, she gave command:
“Ere Arthur to his Kingdom may return
He from the dead his pedigree must learn:
But since, dear lad, he’s sure to garble it,
Some proxy more endowed with mother-wit
Must take his place. That proxy, sir, is you!
Attend, while I explain what is to do:

Before you journey to Elysium
To Arthur’s land of exile must you come.
At the world’s end, on mud that never dries
For the sun rarely shines, that city lies,
Sunday’s necropolis laid out in squares
And sacred to the Whig whose name it bears,
My quondam Lamb whose name was writ on silt,
And there a three-fold mortuary is built
Where books and bones and canvas rest in peace.
These three museums seek! In one of these
Old Masters, many genuine, are hung;
In one a dead gorilla shows its tongue,
And there the idol the Yahoos adore,
The Sacred Racehorse stuffed with manager-straw
Stands in his case and winks a glassy eye—
These two in pious dread you must pass by;
The third grim catacomb or cenotaph,
Holds all the dead dull critics bound in calf.
The powder of oblivion drifting down
Covers the ignorant sneer, the pompous frown.
This is your goal. Now mark me well: you must
First dig a trench in that millennial dust,
And thrice curse Pope, and thrice in holy fear,
Summon the ghostly Dunces to appear.
Straight they will come in myriads at your call;
Then three drops from your fountain pen let fall
Into the trench; the black, pedantic ink
Let Dennis first, then Namby-Pamby drink,
Then Theobald—and bid each his offspring tell,
And keep the tally as they rise from Hell.
Last, write it down and find ere you depart
Arthur; and see he learns it all by heart.
When all is done, towards Heaven make your way
And ask a parley of the sons of day.”

I have that paper here: you may peruse
The list at leisure, sir; I would not choose
To give you the whole grisly catalogue,
Each puddle of the vast Serbonian bog.
As if a Hogarth’s pencil had designed
This long Rake’s Progress of the human mind,
All my endeavour is by steps to trace
Him still descending from the Dunciad race;
For without raking the whole noisome midden he
Can still be proved a hero of their kidney.

Well to begin, and add worse things to bad:
For fifty years after your Dunciad
This noble, passionate, lucid verse we saw
Impose its beauty and declare its law;
The fools were silenced and the rogues sat mum;
The venal, vicious oracles were dumb;
For fifty years that blaze of grace and light
Though dwindling, kept the creatures out of sight.
Yet, as the sun receded, underground
The old malicious gossip went the round;
Still the lie festered and the rumour spread
Where in the dark they gnawed and squeaked and bred,
Till with a rush at last they left their holes
Pushing in front the Reverend Billy Bowles.
Like fatuous Warton, even in your time
Moaning: “Pope not Pathetick, not Sublime!”
Officious Billy, called to trim the bays,
Coated them with the mildew of his praise:
“Pope not a poet of the Highest Order,
All tinsel, tinkle, artifice and solder!”
From there how short the step, how deep the fall
To the next age’s: “Pope no poet at all!”

Now open war replaced uneasy truce:
At first they flatter only to traduce;
But soon, these poor pretences thrown away,
The naked ulcers of their hate display.
Then in Pope’s cause four mighty champions rose:
The shields of Byron, Campbell interpose,
And sturdy Hazlitt springs to his defence;
Behind them Savage Landor looms immense.
Campbell floored Bowles, and Byron’s cut-and-thrust
Slew Southey; hosts of critics bit the dust.
The day seemed won—Alas, day turned to night!
It rained and soon there was no dust to bite:
The climate of the mind at last had changed;
Something in human nature seemed deranged;
Vast fogs of feeling sundered Man from men;
Romantic swamps oozed thickly from the pen;
And now the woolly-witted flocks protest
That Pope lacked vegetable interest!
And not alone mere critic foes he had,
But mighty poets in their misery mad:
Wordsworth, the most erected spirit that fell,
Coleridge that wrote the metaphysic of hell,
Though great and gifted joined the general rant,
The cant of Nature and the cant of Kant,
Decried the clear dry light of classic art
Which lacked ‘essential passions of the heart’.
“Poet of Reason!” they abused him then—
Poet! and Reason! echoed from the fen.
“Mere metrical good sense!” another cried.
“Mere polish and no sense at all!” replied
De Quincey—“Yet so brilliant, strong and neat—
Yet careless—Pope is always counterfeit!—
Yet a great poet with the gift of tongues—
And yet a locomotive with weak lungs!”

So most from their own incoherence burst,
And friends and foes changed sides and praised and cursed.
Next Landor laid the doddering Wordsworth low
And all heard Thackeray’s jubilant trumpet blow.
New champions rose: though none would treat or yield,
At least there seemed the chance of a drawn field.
Then Arnold uttered on the dismal shore
His melancholy long withdrawing roar:
“Say, do you ask me whether Dryden could
Write verse?—I answer: It is prose and good!
Did Pope, you ask, could anyone suppose,
Write poetry? I answer: He wrote prose!
Now, do you ask me whether pigs can fly?
No?—Well, no matter! I shall still reply—”
But Tennyson broke in with: “Pope, God bless us!
No human feeling and too many s’s!”
Henceforth hemmed in by moonshine, mist and damp,
The cause of Pope was a beleaguered camp.
And so it has continued to this day,
Though still the better critics turn his way
(For still they come, though a diminished band,
And still the watch is kept, the gates are manned
And through the night the crystal ramparts shine)

But not through such as these runs Arthur’s line.
The road we take now goes from bad to worse:
Our task not now bad critics to rehearse,
Nor tell their numskulls round the charnel-walls—
Now Criticism herself declines and falls!

This maid whom Dryden taught to rule serene
And gave the voice and bearing of a queen,
Whom Johnson taught discriminating praise,
Since Arnold died has come on evil days.
First, falling in with Comus and his train,
Aestheticism slightly turned her brain;
Crude Realism beat her black and blue,
Made her talk cant and spoiled her manners too;
By-ends, the Educator, took her up,
Dosed her with Culture’s pale, enfeebling cup;
Dull Social Theory made her gross and blind;
Psychology, afraid to speak her mind;
And worst of all, the old word-eating crew,
Bentleys and Theobalds whom the Dunciad knew
Usurped her function, shared her plundered fame,
While Bibliography annexed her name.

Now Arnold’s nightmare children walk the land;
Culture and Anarchy go hand in hand:
See scholarship turn a mechanic art
And critics put the horse behind the cart!
Now in the temple see the hucksters thrive!
When Arnold, Pater, Ruskin were alive
The scholar-critics such as then we had
Were either grandly right or greatly bad
Mighty in judgment, giants when it failed,
Round the whole world of letters Raleigh sailed,
A Leslie Stephen, Saintsbury or Ker
Treated it like the conquerors they were.
But since they died their bodies above ground
Lie festering many a rood, and swarming round,
The modern critics of the maggot breed
Writhe in their carcasses and seethe and feed.
Laborious, timid, tedious at once
Each purblind scholar and each well-trained dunce,
From the Old World and from the New they come
To rake the rubbish-heaps of Christendom.
Is there a minor poet by others missed
Dull sermoneer or maudlin novelist,
Some corpse to build a reputation on?
A thesis swallows them and they are gone.
Round greater tombs they mine and countermine:
One shrieks: “Stand off, his first ten years are mine!”
“And mine the floreat!” Number Two replies;
“Well, then,” screams Three, “I’ve got him till he dies!”
With muck-rake zeal they ferret from the dead
All that each genius farted, belched or said;
Flip-flap and fly-leaves, dates and deeds and wills—
They publish everything from midwives’ bills
To epitaphs: Whole books grow out of what
His aunts remembered or his dad forgot.
Columbia, Bates College, Illinois
Receive their quota of the crawly boys;
And some from stranger places still have come,
Kalamazoo, Miami, Muskingum
And Drake and Duke, Sweet Briar and Sacred Word,
And seats of learning even more absurd.
There they pupate, and, doctors all, they lurch
Uttering their parrot-cry: Research, Research!
The scabs scratched off by genius, sought with care
Stuck back again earn Doctor Budge a chair;
And now, Professor Budge, his claim made good,
He works like dry-rot through the Sacred Wood;
Or like dead mackerel, in a night of ink
Emits a pale gleam and a mighty stink.
This madness, by the goddess Dullness fanned,
Blows the infection on from land to land:
Toronto takes the frenzy and McGill,
Mexico City sickens and falls still;
Across the ocean next the morbus flies
And pedantry grows rank as learning dies,
See schools at Oxford stricken don by don
And rabid fluxions seize the whole Sorbonne,
St Andrews feed her sons on mould and fust
And proud Bologna scrabble in the dust,
Uppsala, Padua, Athens and The Hague
Proliferate learnèd bumf and boost the plague,
Sources and pointless analogues stuff the trough
For gruntlings from Coimbra to Krakow,
While Heidelberg and Göttingen go down
Seared by “the strong contagion of the gown”;
Just doom indeed, for from their halls, ’tis said
At first the strange root-rot infection spread
Which turned the Liberal Arts to factories
For grinding poems down to Ph.Ds.
Nor are those scholiasts able to prevail
Who against Notes and Queries hoist their sail.
Dispensing first with facts, with caution next,
They vow a pure devotion to the text;
Prove taste unarmed by scholarship lays waste
More ground than learning innocent of taste.
The Brave New Criticism ends its days
Explaining every context fifty ways.
Leavis, a critic on the Cambridge hearth,
Leads his young Mohocks on the scalping path;
But what began as a high-souled crusade
Ends in the senseless blood-bath of a raid;
Their Scrutinies on every Muse they turn
And factious in their fury rape and burn;
Their New Directions take all roads at once
To end in the blind alleys of the dunce.
Betrayed by one-eyed logic, undeterred
They glory in defence of the absurd
And Milton’s hurled to his “bottpit”
While Andrew Marvell is preferred for wit.
Through all the world from Chile to Cathay
The Re-search Empire still extends its sway.
Some genuine scholars—this, I grant, is true—
Still labour in the Old World and the New,
Refuse to dabble in that common sewer,
The pseudo-science now called Literature
Where harpies foul the feast, and dog eats dog,
And Footnote Fanny steers us through the fog.
On the far fringe, where this Pedantic Main
Slopes off into a vast erosion plain,
The Great South Land of the Antipodes,
The Yahoos have their universities,
And build with sticks and bones and flints obscene
Small models of the mighty Lit.-Machine;
And on this fringe’s fringe there fusts unknown
Arthur, Pretender to the Sable Throne;
And thus, from Philips down the line descends
From less to least and in a Phillips ends!

And now his due from the immortals here
He claims—as once Ithuriel with his spear
Gave Satan his full stature when he found
Him small and toad-like squatting on the ground,
Muttering some foulness in the ear of Eve,
Batrachian Arthur! Grant him this reprieve!
Touch him with satire; see him grow immense
In dullness, godlike in malevolence!
Left where he squats, in vain he croaks and froths.
If he expires, and unavenged—ye Goths,
While here they keep Augustan Holiday—’

‘Now softly, friend! Compose yourself!’ said Gay.
‘No man may threaten or cajole the dead.
Over the gate these words you must have read:
“Here green with bays each ancient altar stands,
Above the reach of sacrilegious hands.”
Your case is stated, you may be at ease;
Now wait for judgment, sir, and hold your peace!’

The four immortals now to judgment came:
Two favoured, two opposed the hero’s claim.
Said Gay: ‘Why, let him have it; I declare,
One fool the more, ’tis neither here nor there!’
‘Not so!’ said Swift. ‘So nugatory an ass
If mentioned has some weight, some power; whereas
Even the school-men to this truth confessed:
De minimis—dear Gay, you know the rest.’

‘Yes,’ said the doctor, ‘I agree with Swift:
Such long confession calls for a short shrift.
And there’s another reason: I oppose
Satire on persons, as our friend here knows.
When ridicule or censure make precise
The face of folly or the name of vice,
The world, which suffers fools as dogs their fleas,
Not general truth but simple scandal sees,
Blind to the love of strong and wholesome light,
Sees only the dark grounds of private spite.
Reflect, good friend, how often have you been
Accused of malice, pettiness and spleen
For this alone? Oblige this saucy Jack:
Straight he’ll impute it to his lame attack,
Your wounded vanity—Best bid goodbye
With Hamlet’s valediction to the spy.’
‘All that you say is true enough,’ replied
The poet, ‘yet I choose the other side.
No pest is harmless and where pests abound
Number, not size, lays waste the Muses’ ground.
The war goes on, for critics never die;
Nor is it foolish to give fools the lie.
Not that my works or me, dear John, they hurt,
But that each sneer at art, all praise of dirt
Unanswered, helps corrupt the general mind;
And Beauty walks in vain once all are blind.
And do not tell me some though low, are good,
Unjustly punished or misunderstood.
Many a dunce I lashed with ridicule
I knew full well was not an utter fool:
Bentley was a sound scholar, I admit;
Cibber and Dennis had some claim to wit;
Theobald at least could keep account and spell,
And sometimes Namby-Pamby would write well.
All this, though true, is quite beside the point:
When Satire cries: “The time is out of joint!”
Then is no time to balance ayes and noes:
It is the side men fight on makes them foes.
Then he’s a traitor who would make all smooth,
Pour oil, excuse and compromise with truth.
Lady Macbeth was a devoted wife,
And Torquemada led a saintly life—
Shall Satire, when the very stones cry out,
For this not let her dauntless trumpets shout?
She must speak out the more, denounce false shame,
Cry Murder! and give Savagery its name!
Nor ask me, John, as once you did in joke,
Why bother to attack where none provoke?
When I see genius scanted, worth put down,
Though I’m not touched, the cause becomes my own.
Silence, of all accomplices, is best
And none are innocent where none protest.
No matter where the barb its victim finds,
The wound is mine, and yours and all mankind’s.

But if in doubt, or friendship, still you say
The sport is cruel, labour thrown away
And think me wanting prudence, sense or heart,
Then I reply that Satire is an Art—
For here we touch great Nature’s paradox,
A mystery my Dunciad unlocks:
As Heroes, creatures of eternal law,
Are born to brave the trials Heaven foresaw,
To slay the monsters and to save the state
And at their births the portents show them great;
As naked beauty, flattered by the brush,
Seems to put even nature to the blush.
And takes the painter’s genius as her due,
Yet time soon shows that the reverse is true:
The mortal substance fades and falls apart,
But in its end and cause, the work of art,
The creamy flank still breathes, the ripe breast glows,
When who the subject was none cares or knows.

So all bad critics, pedants, hacks, inane
And feeble scribblers ought not to complain
That, innocent of harm, they serve my need.
By Nature and by Providence decreed
For satire, let them live and ply their trade,
And own that for this purpose they were made!
So from the dung and dirt in which it grows
Evolves the flawless, breathless, living rose;
So pearls encrust themselves about a worm
And grubs enriched in amber cease to squirm;
So Arthur’s prayer is granted!
But to live

Deathless in verse it is not mine to give.
Once he is dead an author’s work is closed:
No syllable in what he once composed
May he obliterate or change or add;
And thus it stands, sir, with my Dunciad.
Yet still within my power it lies, I own,
To grant him the reversion of the throne:
The great-great-grandsire and the mighty son
Shall share A Philips’ footnote in Book One!
For though not very apposite, ’twill do;
And ‘Thule’ is enough to cover two;
Add editorial comment quantum suff.:
For him ’tis immortality enough!

You have your answer, Herald: bear it hence!
Let the great queen of Smut and Impudence
Transport her royal fledgling to the skies
At once—our pleasure is to see him rise!’

End of Book III

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