Professional Imaginative Writing in England, 1670-1740: Hackney for Bread

By Brean S. Hammond | Go to book overview

6
Canon Fodder

Alexander Pope made an appearance in the previous chapter as an avatar of the polite. Author of the Essay on Criticism and The Rape of the Lock, furnisher of a prologue for Addison Cato, Pope in his early manifestation was hovering on the fringes of the latter's 'little senate'. The story of his break with Addison over Thomas Tickell rival translation of the Iliad is well known.1 When Pope returned to original composition after several years' toiling in the field of Homer translation and Shakespeare editing, he was anything but polite. He had refashioned himself into an honorary aristocrat and could look down from an Olympian height on the workers in the uncontrolled publishing industry scurrying around his feet. Peri Bathous, published in the third ( 1728) volume of Pope and Swift Miscellanies, and the 1728 Dunciad were not the first, but the most overt and powerful indications of a backlash against commercial and popular forms of writing and entertainment that Pope and his allies saw as receiving active encouragement from government circles. There is a politics involved in the anti-polite parodic and satirical forms they adopted to combat writing perceived to be the product of a consumer- driven literary market-place, which will be the subject of the next chapter. At present, we need only note that, whatever else it was, The Dunciad was an attempt to influence public taste in a particular, anti-professional direction. It was an act of canon formation.

In the case of at least one writer, the romantic novelist Eliza Haywood, Pope is credited with spectacular success. The lines that he wrote about her in book 2 of the 1729 version, figuring her as the worthy object of competition in a pissing contest between the popular publishers Curll and Chetwood, are still said by critics and literary historians to have been responsible for forcing Haywood to abandon writing. The lines read:

____________________
1
Maynard Mack, Alexander Pope: A Life ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 272-82.

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