The Apparatus of Pope’s "Dunciad Variorum"
(This is a Node Your Homework enterprise. Approach with caution)
In 1728, Alexander Pope finished the first version of the heaviest artillery he would deploy in the War of the Dunces. The Dunciad, its author barely concealed behind its bulk, fired three books’ worth of grapeshot across a range of Pope’s detractors, and almost every target in the field had a couplet with his name on it. Revisions and substitutions resurrected many of the dead and added to the casualties list in three more editions and one more book published over fifteen years, but less than one year went by before Pope set about providing a user’s manual for his great weapon’s complex array of classical allusion, contemporary criticism, and personal history. The 1729 Dunciad Variorum attached an extensive apparatus to the body of the poem in the form of prefatory advertisements, letters, and authorial testimonies, as well as detailed notation on the poem itself, multiple appendices, and pages of errata. A complicated poem thus became an overwhelming work the interpretation of which did not necessarily ease for all the additional instruction.
Certainly, one cannot fairly separate the apparatus from the poem, which with some variation it attended in every incarnation after 1728, but the sheer volume of the apparatus so seems to impede ready access to the essence of the poem that some critics have taken the approach of simply disregarding it or minimizing their critical examination, determining that the poem can stand autonomously, as it did when originally published. Others read the apparatus as Pope’s defense of his own work, its justification based upon the cited examples of scathing personal attacks that violated the acceptable practice of contemporary criticism, or as the valuable inclusion of the poem’s general historical and social context. Though ample textual evidence exists in support of each of these readings, none can account for the presence of every single note, and almost any attempt to posit a completely cohesive project of the apparatus can be challenged and ultimately pulled down by an exclusive look at any number of individual examples. Its internal inconsistency, however, is its essential quality, crucial to understanding its function in relation to the project of the proper poem. Its stubborn defiance of adhering to any one voice or order and its abundance of information—factual, fictional, reliable or dubious—establishes the apparatus’ overall status as the poetic antithesis even as it purports to work on the poem’s behalf. This equivocal position permits The Dunciad Variorum to catch its readers in an immensely sophisticated scheme that reveals them as Men of Taste or Dunces, for Pope or against him.
The efficacy of this elaborate scheme does not depend on whether or not Pope intended, before its publication, to follow up the 1728 Dunciad with an annotated version, but falls into philosophical accord with the circumstances that may have occasioned it. Even in its own time, the poem challenged the reader’s ability to identify correctly all the figures included in its pages while simultaneously keeping alliances, quarrels, and political affiliations in order. As Valerie Rumbold notes in her introduction to The Dunciad in Four Books, "even Swift warned Pope that within a few years or a few miles from London many of the names would be opaque to readers" (6), and Shef Rogers, in "Pope, publishing, and popular interpretations of the 'Dunciad Variorum'" writes that Pope’s good friend was not alone in this assessment: the poet was "asked for keys to the text by Swift, by a well informed patron, the Earl of Oxford, and by the King himself" (280). Rogers continues to say that "as friends and foes alike misinterpreted his poem, Pope must have realized that he would have to find a way to clarify his satire" (280). The Variorum, according to this scenario, resulted from this necessity, rendering the apparatus a sort of buttress supporting the poem’s structural weaknesses (Williams, 77).
The apparatus does add details and descriptions of those of Pope’s targets too obscure for common awareness as well as those who figured somewhat larger in the public eye, such as Lewis Theobald (Tibbald) and in 1743, Colley Cibber (Bays), but reading the entire apparatus as serving the singular function of this sort of explication disregards the disproportionateness of the response. The original fifty-one pages of verse ballooned by 54% in 1729 by the addition of the footnotes, and six pages of prefatory material became nearly ninety in supplementary text. This beyond heavy annotation on one level parodies the historicist textual analysis of such critics as Theobald and Richard Bentley—Modern combatants in the war against Pope’s Ancients—and carries on the satiric project from the other side of the verse: long, intimidating sections of prose notation in small print compete with the poem for primacy by virtue of their extraordinary demands on the reader’s attention and frequent reduction of what should be the primary text to nothing more than two or three disconnected lines floating above a dense morass of commentary spilling over from the previous page. The notes to line 104 of Book I run on for a full page and a half, leaving lines 105 and 106, which together compose only half a thought, precariously adrift. Pope completes the sentence a page later, but not before interrupting it again with the more than a half-page of notation attached to line 106 that constitutes a none-too-brief biography of Theobald and the list of charges against him. The "importance" of that note on Theobald in this case far outstrips the poetic virtue of the line that introduces him. Annotation and poem momentarily trade roles, as the couplet becomes the footnote and the poem practically vanishes from both page and mind.
This reversal is the realization of that part of the satire, but its function is quickly apprehended and ultimately breaks down in terms of pure service to the poem, causing genuine difficulties in terms of readership—a problem not restricted to modern readers or editions of the work. The 1735 Works, for example, made the footnotes of the Variorum into endnotes, and Warburton insisted on the same strategy for a small octavo version in 1753 (from which some of the notes of 1729 were deleted), claiming that "the small characters of the notes…deformed and hurt the beauty of the Edn. It appears to be much more elegant to have nothing but verses in the page or nothing but prose" (Nichol, 69). The adjustment acknowledges that a simultaneous reading or presentation of poem and annotation at some level detracts from the quality of the former, and by extension suggests that the former can be appreciated and understood without immediate resort to the latter, as it was in its original form. One could argue that these later publications presumed their readers were already adequately familiar with the text, allowing the separation of poem and annotation, but Rumbold actually goes so far as to recommend that new readers "read the verse for the first time without pausing over the detail of the original or editorial annotation" (7) and return to the apparatus only after having developed a sufficient understanding of what common sense dictates must be the primary text. In short, these editors, separated by more than two centuries, both recommend an unencumbered encounter with the poem, for aesthetic reasons at the least and at the most, for the benefit of basic comprehension. The annotation may indeed shore up some of the 1728 poem’s edificial weaknesses, but if improperly negotiated it may also and far more seriously undermine its foundation.
At a fundamental level, then, the apparatus seems unnecessary and to some extent even detrimental to one’s comprehension of the poem, but it has a project of its own to negotiate—a project in service to the same themes as the poem, but not entirely subject to it. That relationship necessitates and justifies the role reversal described above, for as an obstacle course and proving ground designed to separate the men of taste from the pedants, the apparatus must behave in a contrary manner to the poem and give its reader a first-hand opportunity to wallow at or rise above the level of Duncery. The fashion in which Pope went about the apparatus' composition and application indeed indicates a project that was always intended to go above and beyond the call of parodying demonstration and clarification, goals Pope certainly could have accomplished with less material and at far less risk to the integrity of the poem. Aubrey Williams records the following letter, sent by Pope to Swift on June 28th, 1728, a month after The Dunciad’s initial publication:
The Dunciad is going to be printed in all pomp…It will be attended with Proeme, Prolegomena, Testimonia Scriptorum, Index Authorum, and Notes Variorum. As to the latter, I desire you to read over the text, and make a few in any way you like best, whether dry raillery, upon the style and way of commenting of trivial critics; or humorous, upon the authors in the poem; or historical, of persons, places, times; or explanatory; or collecting the parallel passages of the ancients (60).
Shef Rogers situates this letter as Pope’s response to Swift’s request for clarification, and it suggests the two defining features of the apparatus’ design: it will be compositionally heteroglossic and, at the level of individual notes, functionally heterogeneous—multiple and diverse voices serving multiple and diverse purposes. The effect of this approach, taken by Pope to the extreme that the size of the apparatus constitutes, is to render the "keys to the text" a veritable chaos of information, not a few select keys but hundreds of them, many of different make and cut and deployed in no easily discernable order. The reader who seeks to unlock the poem with these keys must try them all and decide which, if any, fit. It is no accident that the first words of the Variorum annotation are "It may be well disputed whether this be a right Reading" (349). The observation applies to every note.
The task is of epic proportions, especially given the presence of so many smiths adding their wares. Swift, as Rumbold writes, would not be the only additional contributor to the prose portion of the work: "although the prefatory A Letter to the Publisher suggests that notes were contributed by 'strangers' as well as
the Author’s friends', it seems likely that most of the extra material came from Pope’s own circle; but exactly what and how much remains to a large extent unclear" (2). Various authors contribute notes of varying purpose and integrity, restricted by little more than personal fancy. Contributions are misattributed, unattributed, and only sometimes, though it is difficult to always know when, correctly attributed. Pope’s friends have voices in the apparatus, but so do his enemies. Obviously his own voice echoes throughout the notes, along with those of the revered ancients whose works the poem constantly alludes to and which are cited by the notes only in the original languages, and of course there are the many moderns who never knew Pope personally or were not even his contemporaries. Martinus Scriblerus, the fictitious compiler of the Variorum and closest thing the reader has to an editorial guide through its labyrinthine complexities, is perhaps the most visible, but when he appears he only adds to the cacophony. Controlled and credited by the committee of wits that first designed him as an object of satire himself, the singular figure brings with him his own multiple voices. As Williams writes, "Scriblerus, in many different moods…is righteously indignant, tenderhearted, literal-minded, alternately acute and obtuse, and frequently much pleased with himself" (81). His contributions are the primary means through which the parodying action of the apparatus takes place, but the "comic and pathetic unawareness so typical of Scriblerus is qualified by the keenness of some of his textual insights" (Williams, 82). Thus the schizophrenic fictional guide to the apparatus, if he ever does speak plainly, does not necessarily know what he is saying. If, for example, one takes Scriblerus’ passionate exclamation against "all such conjectural emendation" in the note to Book II, line 179, at face value, one will inevitably encounter a hypocritical moment in Book III, line 28, when he suggests that "length of ears" should read “length of years." Moreover, the note is attributed partly to Scriblerus and partly to Theobald without any indication of who wrote what part, reinforcing Scriblerus' uncomfortable alliance with the annotative portion’s literally leading dunce—Theobald gets credit for the very first note, though Scriblerus comes in a close second, adding to the wholly unnecessary commentary on the spelling of "Dunciad." Of course, as John Butt asserts in an inserted editorial remark, the note is most likely entirely Pope’s own work. Ultimately, it makes no difference. Without a consistently reliable authority figure, all voices speak at equal volume.
This is in sharp contrast to the poem, which with its single narrative voice maintains a consistent perspective and commentary on its subject. The narrator does not participate in the nefarious activities he describes. Only once does a personal pronoun in reference to the narrator occur, in the first line, and immediately Scriblerus (in one of his more insightful moments) offers a comment that convincingly indemnifies the narrator from an interpretation that makes him the "first who brings the Smithfield Muses to the Ear of Kings" (349). By citing the opening lines of the Aeneid Scriblerus clears Pope of the charge, and the person of the narrator does not again step forth into open view. He stands at a permanent remove from the action and with the reader sees all but touches nothing, witnessing the stunning foulness of the games of Book II but escaping from them unsullied. The narrator is no Dunce, and his hand is perpetually on the reader’s arm, keeping him safely on the right side of the cordon sanitaire created by narrative distance. This is not to suggest that the narrator, and by extension the poet, does not enjoy seeing his enemies so utterly befouled; certainly the poem devotes substantial space and detail to their degradation, and it cannot be argued that Pope created the mess of metaphors in which he places them, but it is them he drags through the excrement, and not "us." When the Queen creates the figure of a poet, she places him "before their eyes" (II.31, italics added), not "our eyes," and when she orders all her sons to "learn…the wond’rous pow’r of Noise" (II.213) the narrator reports that the results "are heard in one loud din" (II.226). This, presumably, is how the narrator hears them, but all the readers hear is the narrator. When the poem does record Dunces' voices and sections of dialogue, the aegis of the narrator marks them as Other, and their words serve only to degrade them further by demonstrating their interest in winning an excremental sport. When the Goddess has them participate in Book II’s final sport—the reading of their works—not one word of what they read is recorded. The narrator’s is the single voice of judgment, and he deems the specifics irrelevant, beneath consideration. In 1728 the reader had no choice but to take his word for it.
1729 changed that. Whereas the poem on its own allowed Pope "to legitimate his claim to the vocation of master-poet by disengaging himself from the carnivalesque scene so as to stand above it, taking up a singular position of transcendence" (Stallybrass and White, 123-4) the apparatus provided the means by which the reader could wallow in that scene, travel without chaperone through a reconstructed version of a chaotic and hostile public sphere. The speeches and styles of the Dunces left unrecorded by the narrator at the close of Book II are the stuff of the Author’s Testimonies, various notes and sections of the appendices. The reader can encounter Dennis, Curll, Cibber, Oldmixon, Theobald and others, or the versions of them as portrayed by Pope and members of his circle, and experience their sort of criticism, on literature in general or Pope specifically—criticism based on what those on Pope’s side of the lines considered too much emphasis on technicalities and matters of no great significance, or personal attacks on the life and person of the poet. The entry from Dennis' Character of Mr. P., for instance, in which he states that "the deformity of this author Pope is visible, present, lasting, unalterable and…is the mark of God and Nature upon him, to give us warning that we should hold no society with him, as a creature not of our original, nor of our species" (II.134) is precisely of that class of writing that the Man of Taste should religiously avoid reading, or having read, immediately condemn; and if the reader had not descended to the level of annotation he might never have encountered it.
While Pope’s inclusion of the note, attached only by the thinnest strands of thought to the line of verse that occasioned it, can be interpreted as resulting from his desire to justify his versified counterattack, the Scriblerus comment comes dangerously close to showing Pope guilty of a similar crime. "Far be it from us to call him Dennis a toothless lion or old serpent," he writes on Pope’s behalf. The context suggests that "us" included himself as well as "his author," and no amount of rhetorical chicanery can acquit Pope of his role as puppet-master in this squabbling moment of tit-for-tat; however, further commentary provides something of a defense and reminder to the reader that such artless name-calling is not appropriate even in Pope's support: "The good Scriblerus here, as on all occasions, eminently shows his Humanity." This comment rebukes the Scriblerus character who as a critic is uncharitable by nature, then continues to remark upon Pope’s stoic forbearance when under scurrilous personal attack. This too may appear contradictory and damaging to the author’s integrity if the commentary is understood solely as a buttressing extension to the poem, for the poem’s use of real names and recognizable figures seems nothing if not personal—until Swift’s warning comes to mind. The names would mean nothing in a short space of distance or time, or more to the point, nothing except to those to whom they meant something, and those in the latter category would not require an explicating apparatus to assist their reading.
Setting them aside for the moment, it becomes clear that for the largest portion of readers over time, the poem was not personal at all. Pope emphasizes this fact in Appendix I: "For whoever will consider the Unity of the whole design, will be sensible, that the Poem was not made for these authors, but these Authors for the Poem" (433). Pope designed the poem to render these authors obscure, mere puppets and shadows in service to the greater project of lamenting the progress of modernity. The poem emphatically depersonalizes Pope’s enemies, the caricatures he draws deleting their specific identifying characteristics in favor of calling attention to their social position and function. The easy substitution of one name for another in subsequent versions of the poem attests to how little the individual mattered. It is the apparatus that makes the Dunciad Variorum personal, the apparatus that paradoxically immortalizes figures destined for oblivion and goes against the ideology of the poem by fleshing out its empty names with dates, quotations, testimonies, and arguments, most of which provide only the meanest sort of insight.
The first note to Book II, line 46 (there are two separate entries), for example, makes the laborious effort of presenting Curll’s identification of the poem’s "phantom, More" as James Moore Smythe, an author and playwright already accused of plagiarizing one of Pope’s other pieces in the Testimonies of Authors. The again unnamed contributor of this first note offers as part of his history of Smythe a diverting anecdote regarding a thief and a handkerchief, a four line epigram of uncertain origin, probably Pope's; an untranslated Latin phrase from the Aeneid upon which further criticism of Smythe depends, and an evidentiary textual citation in a year-old edition of the Daily Journal—only to conclude that "notwithstanding what is here collected of the Person imagin’d by Curl to be meant in this place, we cannot be of that opinion…since the name itself is not spell'd Moore but More, and since the learned Scriblerus has so well prov’d the contrary" (374). Naturally, Scriblerus' testimony in the second note does nothing to encourage the notion that the phantom is anyone but Smythe. These notes repeat the Testimonies, compound the case with additional names and information, and at the last—either on the entirely unconvincing basis of a spelling discrepancy or through a mixture of Greek and Latin allusions—ironically attempt to undo the damage they have done, or rather redone. The poem contains the essential information and clearly establishes the phantom’s function; assuming that Smythe was the intended target of the line (a fairly safe assumption), the long diatribe only duplicates the insult that anyone familiar with Smythe would have immediately appreciated, thus adding nothing of value, or provides a preponderance of information that anyone unfamiliar with Smythe could hardly benefit from knowing—again, adding nothing of value. This sort of note is far from unique in the apparatus. There are similar notes in reference to Settle, Ward, and a host of others too obscure to mention even here.
Data at this level, according to Pope’s philosophy, would appeal only to gossipmongers and Quidnuncs, railed in the early part of Book I (l. 34) and longtime targets of The Spectator, to which Pope contributed during its run from 1711 to 1714. The disdain with which he regarded the popular taste for news, so apparent in The Dunciad, had deep roots; Pope and Addison took to task those who trafficked in the sort of information the Variorum includes seventeen years before it appeared:
'You must have observed, the Men who frequent Coffee-houses, and delight in News, are pleased with every thing that is a Matter of Fact, so it be what they have not heard before…they read the Advertisements with the same Curiosity as the Articles of Publick News; and are as pleased to hear of a Pye-bald Horse that is stray’d out of field near Islington, as a whole Troop that has been engaged in and Foreign Adventure. In short, they have a Relish for every thing that is News, let the matter be what it will; or to speak more properly, they are Men of Voracious Appetite, but no Taste’ (The Spectator No. 452; Friday, August 8, 1712).
The Advertisement to the Dunciad Variorum echoes the sentiment, in reference to the commentary attending the poem: "The reader cannot but derive one pleasure from the very Obscurity of the persons it treats of, that it partakes of the nature of a Secret, which most people love to be let into, tho’ the Men or the Things be ever so inconsiderable or trivial" (317). These words, amongst the first of the Variorum and in the context of Pope’s earlier vitriol, categorize the information contained by the apparatus as a subject of contempt and those who might take pleasure in trolling through it—which given its mass certainly requires a voracious appetite—as having "no Taste."
For Pope and his circle, the question of Taste was the casus belli in the War of the Dunces. The critics under attack in the Variorum, primarily Bentley and Theobald, drew fire for their historicist methodology, but as Rumbold notes "the issues were widely conceived as issues of taste, not fact, since the taste of a classically trained gentleman could, it was assumed, be trusted to discern the essential qualities of the literature in which he had been immersed from boyhood" (7-8). The situating of Pope’s poem amidst the ample commentary asks if the reader can be trusted to do the same—if he has the necessary training and background to qualify as a Man of Taste, or if he is a "person of inferior rank who…could be assumed to have been corrupted by over-emphasis on technicalities which he would lack the instinctive discernment to ignore as irrelevant" (Rumbold, 8). Whether or not the details of the commentary are accurate or consistent, or if it faithfully represents the figures it contains, is beside the point. Pope’s ideal reader would not trouble himself with pacing back and forth over every line of thought in an ultimately vain effort to determine precisely who said what to whom, when, why, and what was meant. The letter to the publisher credited to William Cleland (again probably penned by Pope himself) suggests a further degree of antipathy toward the commentary, an understated warning regarding its true value. "I am informed the poem will be attended with a Commentary," "Cleland" writes. "A work so necessary, that I cannot think the Author himself would have omitted it, had he approv’d the first appearance of this Poem" (318). Rumbold labels as a fiction the popular conception that Pope had not consented to the poem’s initial publication, in which case the above line gains an unmistakable ironic timbre. Pope did approve the version without commentary, and by implication did not consider that commentary quite so necessary—at least, not necessary to the poem. Its squabbles, shouting matches, emendations, and justifications, while artful satirical additions, finally do little more than lower the whole work’s signal-to-noise ratio. The essential meaning resides in the poem. The apparatus, to a large extent, is just so much static.
This is not to suggest that the reader—any reader—can simply discount the commentary as entirely useless, a totalistic hoax. The apparatus, identified right away by the opening Advertisement as "unevenly written," (317) tests the powers of discernment; though collectively composing a chaotic whole, not every note falls into the categories of satirical send-up or news-mongering irrelevancy. As mentioned previously, even some of Scriblerus’s comments provide genuinely worthwhile textual insights. The word "some" in Williams’ observation neatly encapsulates the Scriblerus problem specifically and the difficulty of reading the apparatus generally: there are a few diamonds in the rough, the occasional rose growing out of the mud, for both the well-versed and uninitiated reader. Returning to Pope’s letter to Swift of June 28th, 1728, it becomes evident that this too was long a part of his plan for the apparatus, whenever he originally conceived it. He requests "dry raillery, upon the style and way of commenting of trivial critics; or humorous, upon the authors in the poem" but also "historical, of persons, places, times; or explanatory; or collecting the parallel passages of the ancients." Harold Weber, in "The 'Garbage Heap' of Memory: At Play in Pope’s Archives of Dulness," notes that Pope "here delineates five different classes of notes, and while the first and second clearly possess a satirical purpose, numbers three, four, and five fulfill an historical and explanatory function" (15). The significance of this observation can best be brought out by a slight amendment: only the first and second clearly possess a satirical purpose. Numbers three, four, and five, while given seemingly low priority at the bottom of Pope’s list (the apparatus incontestably gives pride of place to raillery and humor upon the many obscure authors), together compose a subgroup designed to function outside the parody, and this subgroup is only the most obviously distinguishable from the larger block of lengthy satirical notes that in turn have multiple functions themselves, the full appreciation of which depends upon the foreknowledge and sensibilities of the reader. There are thus five classes of notes from an indeterminate number of anonymous contributors in a number of critical camps. The apparatus deploys all these in combination, changing without warning from one note to the next.
It is for this reason that the apparatus cannot be discarded once the parody has been apprehended. Some notes across all five classes can contribute by various means to a better understanding of the poem. The note to line 120 of Book I, for example, provides a straightforward explanation of the contents and arrangement of Tibbald’s library: "This library is divided into two parts; the one (his polite learning) consists of those books which seem'd to be the models of his poetry, and are preferr’d for one of these three reasons…" (360). The note, unattributed, requires little in the way of interpretation and adds no new information; it clarifies, but does not further the satire, adhering to the strictest sense of Swift's request according to Rogers. Weber claims that "in both the 1728 and 1729 versions of the poem the library emerges as one of the most powerful symbols of Dulness' triumph," so important to the poetic project that rather than strike it out entirely for the 1743 publication, Pope revised the contents of Tibbald’s library to make it more suitable to the poem’s new hero, dramatist Colley Cibber (3). As a new note indicates, Pope was well aware that the transplant did not completely take, but let it stand regardless. That new note, attached to Book I, line 147 in The Dunciad in Four Books, is in addition to, not substituted for, the original, which Pope transferred verbatim from the Variorum, and it attempts to maintain the integrity of the device by explaining away the acknowledged discrepancy: "Some have objected, that books of this sort suit not so well the library of our Bays, which they imagine consist of Novels, Plays, and obscene books; but they are to consider, that he furnished these shelves only for ornament…" The matter is obviously one of importance to the author, for the note repeats the explanation of the original, and the construction of the notes does not admit of any objection to them based on taste. Free of the satire of the surrounding commentaries, the discerning reader will identify these notes as having genuine value in terms of understanding the poem. Notes of this quality, and again these two are not unique, are the keys to the poem Swift sought. Without special demarcation in the body of the poem and unrevealed as worth regarding until encountered, however, the reader looking for answers and clarification has no choice but to trudge through the entire mass.
Happily there are other rewards than the occasional enlightening note. As the correct use of the apparatus depends on the ability of the reader to discern right from wrong, taste from pedantry, so does the appreciation of its tremendous humor. No doubt those who were on Pope’s side or in his circle approached the apparatus differently than those on the other side of the lines or caught tentatively in a literary No Man’s Land. The initiated ran little or no risk of contamination by exposure to the commentaries. Scriblerians could pick over the notes, perhaps largely of their own composition, and smirk at the handiwork without much regard to what portion if any of it reflected the actual target, or had been drummed up to portray a more perfect and hence more depersonalized Dunce. Those occupying the next closest orbit to that nucleus might also have read the apparatus with the anti-modern eye of the classically educated discerning gentleman, recognizing where and to what extent it misquoted, misrepresented, and misused the real Moores and Theobalds, but realizing all the while the value of exaggerating their flaws for the comical purposes of demonstration. Perhaps they even believed, as Williams seems to, that such historical distortions in the end minimized the harm done to the maligned authors’ reputations by setting in stone little more than their names (64). In either case they could approach the poem and apparatus as separate projects with common goals: the illustration and satire of duncery, and through that illustration, the demonstration of taste.
The modern reader, over two and a half centuries removed from the 18th century, must travel a difficult road through time to engage The Dunciad, and like Swift’s unfortunate country folk only a few miles outside of London, are most susceptible to the Variorum’s deceptive mixture of voices, fact and fiction. To engage with the apparatus on the level of historical record, to follow a misguided archaeological impulse to disinter the bodies of every obscure author whose name Pope etched into his monumental poem only leaves the reader mired in the dirt, clawing away at a chaos of misinformation and satire that ultimately reveals nothing more than the reader’s own folly. In the depths of the apparatus, the single narrative voice of right and reason cannot always be heard above the noise of the carnivalesque reproduction of coffeehouses and crowded city streets. The discerning reader, however—Pope’s reader—knows how to listen.
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Rumbold, Valerie. Introduction. The Dunciad in Four Books. By Alexander Pope. New
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Weber, Harold. "The ‘Garbage Heap’ of Memory: At Play in Pope’s Archives of Dulness." Eighteenth-Century Studies 33.1 (Fall 1999): 1-19.