World of the Dunciad


William Hogarth Southwark Fair
     The Mighty Mother, and her son who brings
The Smithfield muses to the ear of kings,
I sing. Say you, her instruments the great!
Called to this work by Dulness, Jove, and Fate;
You by whose care, in vain decried and cursed,
Still Dunce the second reigns like Dunce the first;
Say how the Goddess bade Britannia sleep,
And poured her spirit o’er the land and deep.
     In eldest time, e’er mortals writ or read,
E’er Pallas issued from the Thunderer’s head,
Dulness o’er all possessed her ancient right,
Daughter of Chaos and eternal Night:
Fate in their dotage this fair idiot gave,
Gross as her sire, and as her mother grave,
Laborious, heavy, busy, bold, and blind,
She ruled, in native anarchy, the mind.
     Still her old empire to restore she tries,
For, born a goddess, Dulness never dies.
O thou! whatever title please thine ear,
Dean, Drapier, Bickerstaff, or Gulliver!
Whether thou choose Cervantes’ serious air,
Or laugh and shake in Rabelais’ easy chair,
Or praise the court, or magnify mankind,
Or thy grieved country’s copper chains unbind;
From thy Boeotia though her power retires,
Mourn not, my SWIFT, at ought our realm acquires,
Here pleased behold her mighty wings out-spread
To hatch a new Saturnian age of lead.


I. Invocation to Swift

     Pope begins his poem not with a traditional invocation to the muses but to his fellow satirist Jonathan Swift.  Dean, Drapier, Bickerstaff, and Gulliver are all pseudonyms that Swift used in various works.  
     The Mighty Mother is the Goddess Dullness who gives birth to her fatherless son, Colley Cibber.  The action of the first book details the workings of Dullness and the eventual crowning of Cibber as King of the Dunces.   
     In this Pope's last version of the poem the butt of his criticism has shifted from the previous target, the poet Theobald (pronounced Tibbald), to Cibber.  Colley Cibber was a renowned poet, playwright and Shakespearean actor whose renditions of Shakespeare plays continued to be enacted well into the 19th century.  But as a popularizer of theater he was often the subject of Pope, Swift and their fellow Scribblerian's insults.  
     The scene of the action in the 1748 version has also shifted from Rag Fair to Smithfield.  Smithfield was the site of Bartholomew fair and so a fitting place for the hack poets and playwrights of Pope's scorn.  
    Pope is recalling King George I and II when speaking of Dunce the Second and Dunce the First and expressing his own discontent with George II inability to establish a less exclusively Whig administration.