The Venal and the Vain: The Attack on Gentlemanly Editing
EVER SINCE Johnson, many critics have taken Pope's hostility to textual criticism as a simple result of his own discomfiture in the field.1 As we have seen, however, Pope's distrust of minute criticism predated his own edition and was evident even in its preface. His satirical attacks on it need to be seen not merely as the result of hurt pride,2 but in the context of the Scriblerian distrust of 'the new "professional" scholars' upon which Brean Hammondhas remarked.3 The principal textual-critical responses to Pope's editorial work were prompted by a desire to contest the view that the disinterested gentleman of letters was the best custodian of Shakespeare's text. This disagreement with the presuppositions of Pope's work had important consequences for the project of using critical editing to help polish and refine the English language. It also prompted in part the Dunciad's new and more complex representation of minute criticism. In Pope's later satire on excessively minute criticism both the interested specialist and the leisured dilettante are taken as potential corruptors of the text. Moreover, excessively minute scholarship is taken, both in the Dunciadand in a number of other works of the 1730s, not only as low and interested, but as complicit with, and akin to, arbitrary government. The result is a shift of emphasis in Pope's view of textual criticism which has an important influence on the self-representation and editorial practice of Pope's successors.
Lewis Theobald, for one, was unimpressed by Pope's claim to have edited with 'a religious abhorrence of all innovation', not merely because he____________________