Elwin and Courthope’s Pope, III, 279.
THE HEROINE OF “THE DUNCIAD”
Mr. Pope’s devious efforts to make the gratification of his personal animosities seem due to public-spirited indignation have been generally exposed. Beside the overwhelming desire to spite Theobald for his presumption in publishing “Shakespeare Restored” the aggrieved poet was actuated by numerous petty grudges against the inhabitants of Grub Street, all of which he masked behind a pretence of righteous zeal. According to the official explanation “The Dunciad” was composed with the most laudable motive of damaging those writers of “abusive falsehoods and scurrilities” who “had aspersed almost all the great characters of the age; and this with impunity, their own persons and names being utterly secret and obscure.” He intended to seize the “opportunity of doing some good, by detecting and dragging into light these common enemies of mankind; since to invalidate this universal slander, it sufficed to show what contemptible men were the authors of it. He was not without hopes, that by manifesting the dulness of those who had only malice to recommend them, either the booksellers would not find their account in employing them, or the men themselves, when discovered, would want courage to proceed in so unlawful an occupation. This it was that gave birth to the ‘Dunciad,’ and he thought it a happiness, that by the late flood of slander on himself, he had acquired such a peculiar right over their names as was necessary to this design." But gentlemanly reproof and delicate satire would be wasted on “libellers and common nuisances.” They must be met upon their own ground and overwhelmed with filth. “Thus the politest men are obliged sometimes to swear when they have to do with porters and oyster-wenches.” Moreover, those unexceptionable models, Homer, Virgil, and Dryden had all admitted certain nasty expressions, and in comparison with them “our author ... tosses about his dung with an air of majesty." In the episode devoted to the “authoress of those most scandalous books called the Court of Carimania, and the new Utopia,” remarks the annotator of “The Dunciad, Variorum,” “is exposed, in the most contemptuous manner, the profligate licentiousness of those shameless scribblers (for the most part of that sex, which ought least to be capable of such malice or impudence) who in libellous Memoirs and Novels, reveal the faults and misfortunes of both sexes, to the ruin of public fame, or disturbance of private happiness. Our good poet (by the whole cast of his work being obliged not to take off the irony) where he could not show his indignation, hath shewn his contempt, as much as possible; having here drawn as vile a picture as could be represented in the colours of Epic poesy." On these grounds Pope justified the coarseness of his allusions to Mrs. Thomas (Corinna) and Eliza Haywood. But a statement of high moral purpose from the author of “The Dunciad” was almost inevitably the stalking-horse of an unworthy action. Mr. Pope’s reasons, real and professed, for giving Mrs. Haywood a particularly obnoxious place in his epic of dullness afford a curious illustration of his unmatched capacity ostensibly to chastise the vices of the age, while in fact hitting an opponent below the belt.