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Issue of Bad Writing in Swift and Pope

Issue of Bad Writing in Swift and Pope

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Published by Tathagata Dutta

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Published by: Tathagata Dutta on Apr 02, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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With the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1695 there was a markedgrowth in the publishing business . There was a increase in journalism and newmagazines like ‘The Spectator’ ‘The Tatler’ ‘The Guardian’ came up . There was anew tone in the writing and Addison puts the new fashion in his own admirableway ‘I Shall endeavor to enliven morality with wit , and to temper wit withmorality’It was at this time that a great controversy raged on ancient andmodern writing . Fontenelle , the French philosopher , spoke of how reason andscience ruled in the works of the moderns rather than the superstitions of theancient Greeks and Romans . In England , Sir William Temple , Swift’s patron andrelative , entered the controversy with his essay ‘The Ancient and Modernwriting’(1690) . But Rev. William Wotton and Richard Bentley tore Temple’s argumentthreadbare. Swift saw this as an insult to his patron and defended him . In thefifth section of the ‘A Tale of tub’ Swift ridicules the practices of hiscontemporaries , both writers and critics . He speaks of the authors writing prefaceswhich becomes mere ornamentation as it hardly contain any subject-matter of thetext . Critics , on the other hand , gather their knowledge by reading these prefaces .In the digression concerning critics Swift suggests that the real function of thecritic is to wander through the world of literature and collects all the faults andhidden errors. As a result , the essence of everything bad get infused in their writings.In the section concerning the digression in praise of digressionsSwift speaks of how the modern writer feel that Knowledge lies exhausted andthus take recourse to digression . Their works lack any method , style , grammar and their content lacking originality dwell on topics like a rainy day , a fit of spleen , bad luck at dice , a tailor’s bill , a beggar’s purse . Swift refers to thesehacks of Grub Street as ‘Grubaean sages’ and their works containing the ‘mostfinished and refined Systems of all Science and Arts’ because to force impressiverevelations from trivialities require much industry !‘The Battle of the Books’ published along with the ‘A Tale of tub’(1704) speaks of how a battle was fought between the ‘Antients and the ModernBooks in St. James’s Library’ . Loosely based on Boileau's ‘Le Lutrin’ , the satirecontains an excellent interpolated allegory of the spider and the bee . The beesymbolises the ancients who used to draw inspiration from the nature while the
spider is like the modern hack-writing who can only criticise and build its web(books of criticism) from the taint of its own body digesting the viscera.The growth in journalism also saw the rise of the ‘professional’writer who were employed by publishers like Edmund Curll , Jacob Tonson andJohn Dunton to produce translations , adaptations and political pamphlets . Thesehack-writers who existed on the scanty bounty of such men were venomouslyattacked by the more established writers and especially by the Sribblerian Clubconsisting of Jonathan Swift , John Arbuthnot , John Gay , Thomas Parnell ,Alexander Pope . Swift in ‘On Poetry: A Rhapsody’ proves how hack-poetry asnothing but merely a set of brittle physiological and typographical tricks.Alexander Pope’s animiosity towards the hack-writers of Grub streetis more intensely personal . In ‘The Dunciad’ Pope serves himself as a kind of counterweight to the lurid Grubaean chaos and shows his concern for the integrityof the art for which he lived . Pope derides the mercenary author who perform poetry for pay alone . As Pope puts it – “He (a patron) chinks his purse, and takes his seat of state…And (among the poets) instant, fancy feels th' imputed sense"The dunce booksellers trick and counterfeit their way to wealth , and his dunce poets wheedle and flatter anyone for enough money to keep the bills paid .Dustin H. Griffin points out that Pope did not view dullness withunequivocal disgust . just after the publication of the first Dunciad , Pope wrote ina letter to swift “…every stick you plant , and every stone you lay , is to some purpose; but the business of such lives as theirs [the scribblers] is but to diedaily , to labour , and raise nothing”Pope’s famous ‘Prologue to the Satires’ , better known as the ‘Epistleto Dr. Arbuthnot’ , opens with the evident frustratation of the poet where the poet’shome is invaded by a horde of Juvenalian bad poets who disrupt the hithertostable personal and literary tradition .No place is safe from them – “ no place is sacred , not the Church is free,”Pope complains that all types of person indulge in writing verses without havingany poetic talent and they try to absorb him into their world by pleas , violentrestraints , flattery and even bribes .In the section concerning Midas’s ears , Pope speaks of how Midashad wrongly judged that Pan was a better poet than Apollo . Through this he

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