The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope

By Paul Baines | Go to book overview

(d)

POPE IN PRINT AND MANUSCRIPT

'Books and the man'

Pope is the pre-eminent case of a poet who speaks through writing: never to occupy any public position which required oratory, Pope preferred to advise and cajole those of his acquaintance who had money and power through the form of 'Epistles' which constructed dialogues for public consumption. Self-dramatizing and self-implicating rather than unmediatedly self-revealing, his work is designed (the word is the exact one) to present a controlled textual self. Pope regulated the passage of his work into the public domain as no poet had done before him and as few could aspire to do after him, ceaselessly devising and revising, adjusting format, page layout, typography and fount, capitalisation, italicisation, even the kind of paper and the blackness of the ink. In this sense he was a creature of the age of print. He also had, however, a strong atavistic sense of manuscript culture, his own calligraphic manuscripts sometimes forming the basis for the circulation of poems amongst a select circle, or a resource to return to for later printed editions. In this sense he was antagonistic to the print age and its venal manipulations of private creativity. His relations with the book trade, satirically presented in The Dunciad and the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot, have formed a lively subject for exploration amongst critics and theorists over the last half-century.

In Grub Street: Studies in a Subculture (1972; later abridged as Hacks and Dunces, 1980), Pat Rogers unpicks the mythology, etymology and topology of the phrase 'Grub Street', loosely used to indicate worthless writing, to establish a kind of geographical and sociological validity to the Scriblerian analysis of Duncehood. By analysing the life stories of several of those writers metaphorically pilloried in The Dunciad [130-49] and by insisting on the historical content of Grub Street and its environs, Rogers locates in the Scriblerian mythology a core of literal truth. The proximity of the actual Grub Street to Bedlam (a sort of prison for the insane), the location of the journalistic centre of Fleet Street close by the Fleet Ditch, an appalling open sewer that ran into the Thames, and the key position of Newgate prison between both these writerly locales, enables Rogers to flesh out Pope's mythology of Dulness with some lively details about the Dunces. The 'Cloacina' episode from Book II of The Dunciad, for example, is not mere mischief but a highlighting of the local connection between journalism and the sewer which was visible to every Londoner. The prevailing metaphors

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