Friday, May 09, 2008

Clubs of Quidnuncs

At the Guardian, John Mullan on the joys of Alexander Pope's Dunciad:
In the 1740s, near the end of his life, Pope went back to The Dunciad, changing the "hero" from Tibbald to a new foe, the poet laureate Colly Cibber, and adding a long and brilliant fourth book. The early versions of The Dunciad were ebullient poems, in which the denizens of Grub Street disported themselves. The new Book IV presented "the Goddess coming in her Majesty to destroy Order and Science" and was an all-embracing anatomy of a culture fallen into banality and ignorance. From opera-going to the art collecting of virtuosi to new fashions in philosophy, all the rages of the day are shown as mad. Pope manages to imply that fashionably atheistical philosophy is somehow related to the vogue for French cookery among the wealthy. The Dunciad is, among other things, the first English satire on celebrity chefs and the greedy foodies who adore them. The chef is a modern "priest", performing strange transformations of animal flesh.
The board with specious miracles he loads,
Turns Hares to Larks, and Pigeons into Toads.
The wealthy have spawned the poem's "young Aeneas", an aristocratic youth whom we follow on his pleasure-seeking Grand Tour. "Europe he saw, and Europe saw him too." Heroic only in his hedonism, he samples not the cultural glories of the Renaissance, but the fleshly pleasures of the warm south.
The Stews and palace equally explor'd,
Intrigu'd with glory, and with spirit whor'd;
Try'd all hors-d'oeuvres, all liqueurs defin'd,
Judicious drank, and greatly - daring din'd[.]

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