The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope

By Paul Baines | Go to book overview

Pope proposed a new model of Shakespeare editing; unfortunately for him, there was at least one other writer who more nearly approached the modern model of professional scholar: Lewis Theobald (1688-1744), a lawyer turned writer, who in March 1726 published Shakespeare Restored: Or, A Specimen of the Many Errors, as well Committed, as Unamended, by Mr Pope in his Late Edition of this Poet. Using his greater familiarity with Elizabethan drama, orthography and grammar, and a somewhat more efficient collation of a rather greater number of early printings of Shakespeare, Theobald was able to show that Pope's boasted editorial labour was much more erratic and unreliable than it should have been: he had missed obvious errors, emended where no emendation was necessary, failed to understand the sense of his author, and exhibited a complete lack of historical and contextual knowledge. The book (which was issued in the same format as Pope's edition, as if to be bound up with it), was quite obviously designed to humiliate Pope: with gleeful malice and self-confidence Theobald 'restored' the sense and text of Shakespeare against Pope's supposed blunders. It was the first Shakespeare war, and Pope lost.


(k)

EPIC OF FLEET STREET

Such onslaughts could be set against more moderate criticisms of Pope's work, such as the Essay on the Odyssey (1726-27) by Joseph Spence, in whom, as Johnson put it, 'Pope had the first experience of a critick without malevolence' (Johnson 1905:143), and with whom he soon became friends. But when Shakespeare Restored was published, Pope was particularly fortunate to have an older friend at hand. Swift was in England for the first time for over a decade, and was in unusually positive spirits: he had become a national hero in Ireland for leading the popular campaign to resist the attempts of Walpole's administration to impose cheaply-produced copper coinage on the Irish economy for the benefit of the English industrialist who was to manufacture them. Swift sought interviews with Walpole to ascertain what his prospects were for ecclesiastical promotion to an English benefice; but he was also carrying the manuscript of what was to become the most explosive satire of its time: Gulliver's Travels, eventually delivered to the publisher in an extremely secret and anonymous manner (Pope may literally have had a hand in it). Swift based himself at Pope's Twickenham villa from April to July 1726, and for that time something of the Scriblerus project revived between Pope, Swift, Gay and Arbuthnot. Pope and Swift reviewed some of their early publications and ideas, eventually issuing

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