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If the more directly commercial context of literature, unintentionally perhaps, but inexorably, favored the most ephemeral literary forms over poetry, traditionally and actually the most perennial, it had equally disastrous results, as the Augustans saw it, on those responsible for the maintenance of the literary tradition. The "Grubean race," as Swift called them, were the result of the same specialization as had led to the rise of the bookseller: and like them they responded to the dictates of economic individualism. People of every class were now flocking to London as never before, in an attempt to find fame and fortune in the profession; but, as many economists, from Petty to Adam Smith, pointed out, all the established professions were vastly overstocked—even teaching. Once in London, the possibility of living by one's pen beckoned, and it had the unique advantage that no special training was required. So Grub-Street pullulated with hackney authors: its miseries were real enough, but they were the result, not so much of the malice or parsimony of the booksellers as of the economic law that a labor surplus brings down wages; the social historian, indeed, may see the legend of Grub-Street primarily as an early and revealingly hostile social definition of a new professional class. Certainly there is evidence that the writers themselves were feeling the need to establish a less unflattering public identity, for the expression "author by profession" began to gain currency in the fifties, when it was used by Ralph, Murphy and others. It is interesting, incidentally, to note that there was an analogous and almost contemporary movement in France, by


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which the term "homme de lettres" came to apply only to writers and not to the literati, the men of taste in general; and in 1764 Jean-Jacques Garnier wrote his monograph on L'Homme de Lettres.

The emergence of the new social group is an important part of the subject of the Dunciad: fitly, for the epic traditionally deals with the birth of a new nation. And if at first its two successive heroes seem incongruous, and we feel like objecting that after all Theobald was not foolish and Cibber was not dull, the context of the new literary professionalism may help us to discover a real kinship between them: both were unauthorized professional intruders into the republic of letters—Theobald, not only an attorney by trade but, like Bentley before him, a pedantic scholar who wouldn't stay where he belonged, and who had the impudence to know better than a man of wit, and even to receive 652 pounds 10 shillings for his edition of Shakespeare; and Cibber, a vagabond player, now presuming from his success on the stage and from the growing social recognition given to the actor's trade that he was entitled to write a book telling the world about his life and opinions.

The dates of the Dunciad, from 1728 to 1743, mark an important transitional era in the history of the profession of writing. Under Queen Anne enlightened political patronage had bestowed wealth and power on the greatest writers of the time, on Prior and Addison and Swift; while the most successful of the booksellers, Jacob Tonson, by maintaining close ties with the literary and political leaders of the time, and by publishing only what was consistent with the educated tastes of his circle, had achieved a unique combination of the tradition of literary patronage and the new power of the bookseller. With the advent of the Hanoverians, Tonson's retirement in 1719, and the dissolution of the Kit-Cat Club soon after, there came a decisive change. Bernard Lintot's list[5] had none of the discrimination that is evident in the elder Tonson's; while the outstanding feature of the thirties in respect to patronage was Sir Robert Walpole's massive purchase of journalistic support without any regard to literary merit. William Arnall, for example, is said to have received more for his polemical writings in four years than did Pope for his Homer; he is, of course, remembered in the Dunciad, which belongs to this last era of patronage, that which took a flagrantly political form, and which was succeeded by the era which saw the final triumph of the booksellers and the professional authors.


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It was not easy for Pope to define his position in the new situation which the development of bookselling was creating. He could hardly identify himself with the emergent class of professional writers, and yet the same new social and economic conditions as had produced them were fast making literary patronage obsolete. In any case his religion, his politics, his temperament, and above all, perhaps, the pattern of the new individualism, would have made it very difficult for him to adapt himself to the accommodating role that would be expected of him by a patron, if one had been available. In the event, however, he managed, somewhat like Tonson, to make the best of both worlds. Adopting intact from the old literary order Boileau's role of the poet as the legislator of Parnassus, he removed himself far enough above the common throng to be able to voice "la haine d'un sot livre" with the full sacerdotal commitment. At the same time, however, he was able to assert his independence from patronage through the new resources which the booksellers had made available. Boileau, of course, had loftily refused payment for his works from his bookseller, as did Blackmore, and as Gray and Cowper were to do; but Pope set out to beat venal booksellers and hacks alike at their own game. By an extraordinary example of the interpenetration of opposites, which Professor Sherburn's edition of the letters now enables us to trace in fuller detail, Pope turned his aristocratic friends, not into patrons, but into publishers—he set Lady Burlington, the Earls of Orrery, Islay and Granville, and the Viscount Simon Harcourt to soliciting subscriptions, dispatching and storing books, keeping accounts and collecting money, and he also made the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Burlington and Lord Bathurst proprietors of the copyright of The Dunciad. Not content with this, Pope set himself up as a kind of unofficial literary agent, for Swift and others; he inspired the starting of a newspaper, the Grub-Street Journal, to voice his point of view in opposition to that of the booksellers and their Dunces; and he secured support and influence within the trade by setting up one of his protégés, Robert Dodsley, as a bookseller; thus, incidentally, providing the true apostolic succession in Augustan letters for, of course, it was Dr. Johnson who remarked ironically, "Doddy is my patron."

Pope's phenomenal success was in one sense prophetic: it showed that potentially the new individualist and capitalist order could, under favorable conditions, make possible a much greater freedom for the writer than ever before, and this without any pandering to the taste of the masses. But Pope's personal and unrepeated triumph did not blind him to the likelihood that the main pressure of events was in a quite


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opposite direction, and so he declared war on the Dunces. The nineteenth-century critics were inclined to write off the war as motivated by personal spite, and this may be in part because the implications of what Goldsmith called "that fatal revolution whereby . . . booksellers, instead of the great, become the patrons and paymasters of men of genius"—were not yet so clear. Now that we have so much more reason than Dr. Johnson to insist on the distinction between a book as a "subject of commerce" and a book as an "increase of human knowledge," and so much more opportunity to observe what happens when the publishing system turns literature into a marketable commodity, we can better admit the truth of Pope's attribution of the rising flood of bad writing "not so much to malice or servility as to dulness; and not so much to dulness, as to necessity." Pope had the economic necessities of underpaid hacks in mind, but there is another kind of historical necessity, perhaps, behind the Dunces: Dr. George Cheyne, author of The English Malady, diagnosed an even more universal syndrome when he wrote to Richardson that "all booksellers I fear are Curlls by profession": publishers are sinners, we may say, not by choice but by necessity.

Today, Pope's own gallant stance in the face of these intricate necessities must be allowed to excuse his malice and to authorize his pride; we know, now, that he was right to warn us against underestimating the power of the Dunces: "Do not gentle reader rest too secure in thy contempt of the Instruments for such a revolution in learning." The instruments and the revolution have now assumed giant proportions; if there was ever any hyperbole in the famous lines about the coming triumph of Dulness time has rendered it almost imperceptible:

She comes! she comes! the sable throne behold
Of Night primeval, and of Chaos old . . .
Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos! is restored,
Light dies before thy uncreating word.
If the writer's laws the writer's patrons give, and if today the well-patronized publishers of Time, Confidential and the comic books laugh all the way to the bank, can we in the academy, who have inherited the tradition which Pope defended, find any other comfort than the reflection which Lord Chesterfield made, with the professional authors of the time in mind, as he addressed his peers: "Thank God! We, my Lords, have a dependence of another kind"?