THIS INTELLECTUAL SCENE: THE TRADITION OF POPE
A Train of Phantoms in wild Order rose,
And, join'd, this Intellectual Scene compose.
( The Temple of Fame)
Yet the panorama of despair
Cannot be the specialty
Of this ecstatic air.
( Wallace Stevens, Botanist on Alp (No. 1))
THE prophecy of the Epilogue to the Satires comes in the Dunciad to its almost necessary conclusion, the blotting out of all intelligence and order in a return to original darkness and chaos. In the closing lines of Book IV, political and financial corruption take their place in a panorama of the decay of public and private morality, learning, and religion. Pope sees the decline as the triumph of 'dullness', or as we might say of mindlessness. Although the vision of imminent disorder and death fulfils the promise at the beginning of Book I,
Say how the Goddess bade Britannia sleep,
And pour'd her Spirit o'er the land and deep . . .
many readers have doubted whether the intervening books could be seriously regarded as a poetic whole of any sort. But since in 1743 Pope presented the revised earlier versions as a single work, it is our business to read the poem he finally composed, without confusing it with its incredibly complex history. As always in literary criticism, the unity we find depends in part on the unity we look for, on the poem we are reading and trying to grasp. The Dunciad in which we are interested here is the one to which the Fourth Book is a conclusion, the poem that Pope tried to revise into coherence, as his numerous changes show. The couplet quoted above,