The Dunciad

Blind with vile Types, with nightly sweats of brain
Worn pale, my labours long advanced thy reign.
---- 1736 Marginalia, page 96

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Progress of Dulness - One

Well, it took me longer than I expected, but I have finally posted Book I of the 1728 Dunciad, complete with notes, at my Geocities site on a new Dunciad page.

I’m still working on an introduction – at this stage, it will be brief because my main aim is to post my MA Essay (slightly revised) and posting the second and third books of the 1728 poem has to precede posting the essay. But an introduction is necessary, as are the notes, since the Dunciad is a topical poem nearly three hundred years old.

The Dunciad, especially in its full form, satirizes literary scholarship in general and textual criticism in particular. That lends an inescapable irony to any editing of the poem. (I know I’ve written that thought before and I’ll say it again in my introduction.)

I made one editorial decision that deserves particular comment. When Pope published The Dunciad anonymously in 1728, he did not spell out most of the names of the dunces – they were signified by initials. To a large extent, this was simply a device to provoke curiosity and controversy. I have decided to fill in the names, as Pope himself did in the 1729 Dunciad Variorum, for two reasons. First, the original reason for leaving the names blank no longer applies and in any case, Pope filled in the names in subsequent versions of the poem. Second, and perhaps more important, the actual names make the poem more readable. My notes to the poem show the form in which the initials were presented in the original.


Pope’s working title for the Dunciad was “The Progress of Dulness.” That title provided my address for this blog, “” as well as the title of these posts that report on the progress of my Dunciad project.

In the Dunciad, Dulness is personified as a goddess who presides over bad poetry, misguided scholarship, and the general decline of civilization. I’ll have more to say about that as I go along.

Monday, May 21, 2007

So, what is this Dunciad and where can I find it?

Last week I announced that I was returning to a project I have been engaged in for almost half a century – my paper on Alexander Pope’s Dunciad. I have not yet figured out exactly how to publish my paper on the web, but for a start I have made a separate blog – The Dunciad.

A blog is not the ideal medium for this kind of publication – primarily because, to quote Wikipedia, a blog is a website where entries are written in chronological order and displayed in reverse chronological order. But a blog provides an easy way for readers to give feedback, so for now that’s what I will use.

Alexander Pope was born May 21, 1688. His family was Roman Catholic, and the anti-Catholic regulations of the time had an effect on his education and upbringing. He suffered from poor health as a child and a childhood disease left his growth stunted and deformed his spine. By his own account he began writing poetry by the age of thirteen. His first published work was the Pastorals in 1709, when he was 21. Two years later came An Essay on Criticism, and then The Rape of the Lock as well as several less well known poems. In this period Pope became acquainted with Jonathan Swift, John Gay, and others who formed the Scriblerus Club, with (according to the Columbia Encyclopedia) the purpose of “satiriz[ing] all false taste in learning.”
In 1713 Pope began a thirteen year period in which he translated the Iliad and part of the Odyssey (the rest of the translation of the Odyssey was done by two associates.) In 1725 Pope published an edition of Shakespeare. Pope’s Shakespeare was ridiculed by Lewis Theobald in a book that came out in 1726 called Shakespeare restored, or, A specimen of the many errors, as well committed, as unamended, by Mr. Pope : in his late edition of this poet. Designed not only to correct the said edition, but to restore the true reading of Shakespeare in all the editions ever yet. publish’d.

It appears that Theobald’s attack on Pope n 1726 was one reason that Pope revived an old Scriblerus project, a mock epic to be called The Progress of Dulness. Before the work first appeared in 1728, Pope had changed the title to The Dunciad and decided to publish it anonymously at first.

Many manuscripts of Pope’s poetry have survived, but there is no surviving manuscript of The Dunciad. We do have, however, what scholar Maynard Mack has called “collations” of manuscripts against the published text that a friend made for Pope in copies of two editions of The Dunciad. My Master’s Essay is about these "collations." At the time I wrote it my essay no complete transcription of the “collations” had been published.

In order to understand my essay, the reader should have at hand a copy of the text of The Dunciad as 1728. Since this is not readily at hand, one of the things I am going to do is publish this text on the web, along with my essay.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A beginning


This paper is a Masters Essay that I submitted at Columbia University in 1983. I began the research when I first entered the Master’s program at Columbia in 1958. I abandoned the project when I left graduate school to enter the business world. When I decided in the early 1980's to leave business and teach high school mathematics, the quickest way to reach the highest salary level was to revive and complete my MA in English Literature. Fortunately, my topic was still available, and I was able to complete the Essay and earn the degree.

At the heart of my paper are my own transcriptions of marginalia made for Pope by Jonathan Richardson in two editions of The Dunciad. At the time, these marginalia had not been published in full by anyone. The original purpose of the paper was to present the marginalia in an organized fashion. As I proceeded with the task, I concluded that it was possible to establish, passage by passage, an earliest text. The final form of the paper was a presentation of an early text, with an indication of where the readings can be found.
Although my advisor had praise for my paper and suggested I seek to publish, I did not do so for a number of reasons. Chief, of course, was that I was not pursuing an academic career in English literature. Then, in 1984, came the publication of Maynard Mack’s The Last and Greatest Art, which included Mack’s own transcriptions of the marginalia which are the subject of my paper. In 1991, in Pope’s DUNCIAD of 1728, David L. Vander Meulen published a facsimile of one of the two volumes on which my paper is based. Meanwhile my own career as a high school teacher was occupying my attention.

When I decided to publish myself, on the web, I had to decide whether to take subsequent scholarship into account. I first concluded that the best course was to present the paper in its original form. The text here was generated by scanning the original paper, and then reformatting to take advantage of the possibilities offered by word processing. I have taken the opportunity to correct some typographical errors that exist in the copy of the paper on file at Columbia. The principal error is that an entire page was omitted in the Textual Commentary section. I have also converted the endnotes to citations in MLA style.

After much debate internal, I have decided to engage with both Mack and Vandermeulen in footnotes to my original paper.

2 August 2005

I spent two days Duncing (that is, reassembling my own Broglio papers, and it has paid off!
In checking two of my cruxes against Mack’s transcription, I have found for one that I disagree with his reading and for the other that he left it out altogether. Those two facts alone have convinced me that I really need to grapple with Mack’s transcriptions, and by extension with Vander Meulen’s comments on the marginalia.

Also, the effort of preparing the text of my paper for publication has caused me to rethink the organization of the paper. In the earlier versions of the paper, I attempted to deal, passage by passage, with Pope’s successive revisions, according to the record as preserved in the marginalia, and the various published texts as given in TE V. I had to pare down the scope of the paper to make a manageable Master’s Essay. The first thing to go was any attempt to talk systematically about the successive published texts. In the final version of the paper, I presented what I concluded was the earliest surviving text (passage by passage) along with all of the pre-publication changes preserved in the marginalia. The simple act of reading this text in the course of copy-editing has persuaded me that my presentation is nowhere near clear enough.

Following a lead in Vander Meulen (reference) I have concluded that I should try revising the presentation and present the ur-First Broglio and the ur-Second Broglio, or alternatively, the final First Broglio and the final Second Broglio.

The whole thing strikes me as a really duncical enterprise, but there it is.

About Me

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New York, United States
I'm a retired math teacher with a keen interest in English Literature. I have been active at my local Episcopal church for more than 50 years. My current project is to complete a history of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Manhattanville, which will have its 200th anniversary in 2023. I'm also working on a family history for my first and second cousins and I hope to publish on the web a version of my Masters Essay on The Dunciad.