Richard Brodie

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A paraphrase of an excerpt from Alexander Pope's Dunciad Variorum, which was a scathing attack on the scholiast pedantry of Pope's day. The complete work consists of four books totalling nearly 2000 lines with numerous references to obscure period characters. The following 200 lines from Book 4 contain only one such reference, namely a noble in the House of Lords by the name of Chesterfield who opposed the Act of 1737 requiring all plays to be licensed.

Dunciad Variorum
 

Yet, yet a moment, one dim ray of light
Indulge, dread Chaos, and eternal Night!
Of darkness visible so much be lent,
As half to show, half veil, the deep intent.
Ye pow'rs! whose mysteries restor'd I sing,
To whom time bears me on his rapid wing,
Suspend a while your force inertly strong,
Then take at once the poet and the song.
Now flam'd the Dog Star's unpropitious ray,
Smote ev'ry brain, and wither'd every bay;
Sick was the sun, the owl forsook his bow'r.
The moon-struck prophet felt the madding hour:
Then rose the seed of Chaos, and of Night,
To blot out order, and extinguish light,
Of dull and venal a new world to mould,
And bring Saturnian days of lead and gold.
Beneath her footstool, Science groans in chains,
And Wit dreads exile, penalties, and pains.
There foam'd rebellious Logic, gagg'd and bound,
There, stripp'd, fair Rhet'ric languish'd on the ground;
His blunted arms by Sophistry are borne,
And shameless Billingsgate her robes adorn.
Morality, by her false guardians drawn,
Chicane in furs, and Casuistry in lawn,
Gasps, as they straighten at each end the cord,
And dies, when Dulness gives her page the word.
Mad Mathesis alone was unconfin'd,
Too mad for mere material chains to bind,
Now to pure space lifts her ecstatic stare,
Now running round the circle finds it square.
But held in tenfold bonds the Muses lie,
Watch'd both by Envy's and by Flatt'ry's eye:
There to her heart sad Tragedy addres'd
The dagger wont to pierce the tyrant's breast;
But sober History restrain'd her rage,
And promised vengeance on a barb'rous age.
There sunk Thalia, nerveless, cold, and dead,
Had not her sister Satire held her head:
Nor couldst thou, Chesterfield! a tear refuse,
Thou weptst, and with thee wept each gentle Muse.
The young, the old, who feel her inward sway,
One instinct seizes, and transports away.
None need a guide, by sure attraction led,
And strong impulsive gravity of head:
None want a place, for all their centre found
Hung to the Goddess, and coher'd around.
Not closer, orb in orb, conglob'd are seen
The buzzing bees about their dusky Queen.
The gath'ring number, as it moves along,
Involves a vast involuntary throng,
Who gently drawn, and struggling less and less,
Roll in her Vortex, and her pow'r confess.
Not those alone who passive own her laws,
But who, weak rebels, more advance her cause.
Whate'er of dunce in college or in town
Sneers at another, in toupee or gown;
Whate'er of mongrel no one class admits,
A wit with dunces, and a dunce with wits.
There march'd the bard and blockhead, side by side,
Who rhym'd for hire, and patroniz'd for pride.
When Dulness, smiling--"Thus revive the Wits!
But murder first, and mince them all to bits;
Let standard authors, thus, like trophies born,
Appear more glorious as more hack'd and torn,
And you, my Critics! in the chequer'd shade,
Admire new light through holes yourselves have made.
Leave not a foot of verse, a foot of stone,
A page, a grave, that they can call their own;
But spread, my sons, your glory thin or thick,
On passive paper, or on solid brick.
So by each bard an Alderman shall sit,
A heavy lord shall hang at ev'ry wit,
And while on Fame's triumphal Car they ride,
Some Slave of mine be pinion'd to their side."
Now crowds on crowds around the Goddess press,
Each eager to present their first address.
Dunce scorning dunce beholds the next advance,
But fop shows fop superior complaisance,
Then thus. "Since man from beast by words is known,
Words are man's province, words we teach alone.
When reason doubtful, like the Samian letter,
Points him two ways, the narrower is the better.
Plac'd at the door of learning, youth to guide,
We never suffer it to stand too wide.
To ask, to guess, to know, as they commence,
As fancy opens the quick springs of sense,
We ply the memory, we load the brain,
Bind rebel Wit, and double chain on chain,
Confine the thought, to exercise the breath;
And keep them in the pale of words till death.
Whate'er the talents, or howe'er design'd,
We hang one jingling padlock on the mind:
A Poet the first day, he dips the quill;
And what the last? A very Poet still.
Pity! the charm works only in our wall,
Lost, lost too soon in yonder house or hall."
"Oh," cried the Goddess, "for some pedant Reign!
Some gentle James, to bless the land again;
To stick the Doctor's chair into the throne,
Give law to words, or war with words alone,
Senates and courts with Greek and Latin rule,
And turn the council to a grammar school!
For sure, if Dulness sees a grateful day,
'Tis in the shade of arbitrary sway."
Prompt at the call, around the Goddess roll
Broad hats, and hoods, and caps, a sable shoal:
Thick and more thick the black blockade extends,
A hundred head of Aristotle's friends.
Thy mighty scholiast, whose unwearied pains
Made Horace dull, and humbl'd Milton's strains.
"Turn what they will to verse, their toil is vain,
Critics like me shall make it prose again.
In ancient sense if any needs will deal,
Be sure I give them fragments, not a meal."
The critic eye, that microscope of wit,
Sees hairs and pores, examines bit by bit:
For thee we dim the eyes, and stuff the head
With all such reading as was never read:
So spins the silkworm small its slender store,
And labours till it clouds itself all o'er.
Never by tumbler through the hoops was shown
Such skill in passing all, and touching none.
He may indeed (if sober all this time)
Plague with dispute, or persecute with rhyme.
"Full in the midst of Euclid dip at once,
And petrify a Genius to a Dunce:
With the same cement ever sure to bind,
We bring to one dead level ev'ry mind."
O! would the sons of men once think their eyes
And reason given them but to study flies!
See Nature in some partial narrow shape,
And let the Author of the Whole escape:
Learn but to trifle; or, who most observe,
To wonder at their Maker, not to serve.
"Be that my task" (replies a gloomy clerk,
Sworn foe to Myst'ry, yet divinely dark;
Whose pious hope aspires to see the day
When Moral Evidence shall quite decay,
And damns implicit faith, and holy lies,
Prompt to impose, and fond to dogmatize:)
"Let others creep by timid steps, and slow,
On plain experience lay foundations low,
By common sense to common knowledge bred,
And last, to Nature's Cause through Nature led.
All-seeing in thy mists, we want no guide,
Mother of Arrogance, and Source of Pride!
We nobly take the high Priori Road,
And reason downward, till we doubt of God:
Make Nature still encroach upon his plan;
And shove him off as far as e'er we can:
Thrust some Mechanic Cause into his place;
Or bind in matter, or diffuse in space.
Or, at one bound o'erleaping all his laws,
Make God man's image, man the final Cause,
Of naught so certain as our reason still,
Of naught so doubtful as of soul and will."
Next bidding all draw near on bended knees,
The Queen confers her Titles and Degrees.
Then, blessing all, "Go, Children of my care!
To practice now from theory repair.
All my commands are easy, short, and full:
My sons! be proud, be selfish, and be dull.
Guard my prerogative, assert my throne:
This nod confirms each privilege your own.
Tyrant supreme! shall three Estates command,
And make one mighty dunciad of the land!"
O Muse! relate (for you can tell alone,
Wits have short memories, and Dunces none),
Relate, who first, who last resign'd to rest;
Whose heads she partly, whose completely blest;
What charms could faction, what ambition lull,
The venal quiet, and entrance the dull;
Till drown'd was sense, and shame, and right, and wrong--
O sing, and hush the nations with thy song!
In vain, in vain--the all-composing hour
Resistless falls: The Muse obeys the Pow'r.
She comes! she comes! the sable throne behold
Of Night primeval, and of Chaos old!
Before her, Fancy's gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rainbows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea's strain,
The sick'ning stars fade off th' ethereal plain;
As Argus' eyes by Hermes' wand oppress'd,
Clos'd one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after Art goes out, and all is Night.
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of Casuistry heap'd o'er her head!
Philosophy, that lean'd on Heav'n before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public Flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human Spark is left, nor Glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restor'd;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal Darkness buries All.

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Of the Various Coneheads
by Richard Allen Brodie

Grant, grant, O Darkness never ending, O
Disorder feared, one ember's last bright glow;
Thy gloom, that paradoxically gleams,
Expose, and so thy resurrected schemes,
Poor Virtue's flame and glory to entomb,
Not thoroughly, but partially, illume.
Hold briefly off your Art-consuming fire,
Then still the Muse and they that tune her lyre.
Sirius scorched, a shrunken epoch's birth
That with'ring beam promotes down here on earth.
Sol becomes ill, away the night bird flew;
The seer's a lunatic at half past two!
Up sprouts dread Darkness, and Disorder came
Confounding everything, and dous'd Art's flame;
To rob the earth of Poesy, and so
To form that drab and morbid world we know.
Under her sway the hands of Truth are bound;
Under her rule sound Wisdom is not found.
There's Reason fearing banishment or fines;
And Eloquence reciting hackney'd lines,
Counselled by Solecism in disguise,
Furnish'd with fables forged, bedeck'd with lies.
Ethics, quite orphan'd by her wards untrue,
Boor on the bench and Sophist in the pew,
Is chok'd, as round her throat the rope is strung,
And at the nod of Witlessness is hung.
Her suasion, Mathematics only spurning,
Exploring abstract, vain, and empty learning,
Her gaze cast up where empty voids appear,
And proves the cube is a six-sided sphere.
And Bards in tenfold irons prostrate I see,
O'erseen by Covin, Pomp, and Jealousy:
Drama, whose wit the despot foul impugn'd,
Turns the sharp spear and so herself harpoon'd.
Clio sits, calm, indignant, at her desk,
Her pen prepares to scathe a time grotesque.
Fain would the comic Muse's laugh expire
But for Calliope's inverted lyre.
That Licensed Drama Act one Lord decried,
His sadness shared by Nine, all cloudy eyed.
Those who do find her gospel songs reviving
Shall cluster round, foul, odious, conniving:
Drawn in relation as the inverse square,
Unlike the charge that likes an unlike pair.
First from far cautious distance slowly nearing;
Fast, faster then her influence ensphering.
In hordes they're drawn, as an obsequious drone
Revolves around the hive's maternal throne.
Her gang that gathers growing while she goes,
Drags in whom chance and happenstance dispose.
Those numerous hordes her course assur'd regarding,
Her, ruler own, past loyalties discarding.
Not those who follow only, and obey,
But those who fervently unto her pray:
Suave academics, bumpkins in a joint,
Laugh at each other's crowns come to a point!
Those bastards for all company unfit,
Those wits with coneheads, and that conehead wit.
There hand in hand then, dunce and poet strode,
For fame one pays the other for an ode.
Inanity grinned--"Let's resuscitate
The sages whom we'll kill, then slice and grate.
Like fray'd flags borne by heroes on parade,
So seasoned fare's more tasty chopped and flay'd.
Old volumes perforated by us now,
Far under standing, novel light allow.
No monument inscribed on page or marble,
Alack! no tomes, no tombs, for them that warble
The Muses melodies, be theirs alone,
O'ercoated by that splendor all our own.
A Marshall shall attend each laureate's head,
Fat partisans tuck poets into bed.
As in Acclaim's victorious carriage they
Pass by, my servants are not far away."
Throngs upon throngs of coneheads now amass,
All vie to be there first to kiss her Ass!
To osculate one's crawling 'neath her throne;
Impal'd, she cries out: "Damn it! Watch that cone!
As through endowments lexical we style
Man noble, deeper doctrines we'll revile.
When in those yellow woods two ways diverge,
To take that one most travell'd by, we'll urge.
At education's gate we're standing guard,
We'll see that all from paths too broad are barred.
Those curious and keen inquiring souls
Seek on Truth's turf to take expansive strolls;
With doctrines rote their craniums we'll crowd,
And make sure thought insurgent's disallow'd,
Reason's imprisoned faculties benumb'd,
As useless facts into their ears are drumm'd.
No matter what the gift, or how inclin'd,
We shackle dreams, and then all Will we bind.
(Many a bard starts on a bright career
Only to end spent, faded out, I fear.)
Alas, our spell works solely in old towers
That scholars haunt, in other homes it sours.
Give us a king!", Disorder's queen exulting,
"Free us from Wit's calumnious insulting.
Confer upon that crown the PhD;
Award the sceptre some advanced degree;
In ancient tongues administer the realm,
A parliament of pedants at the helm!
For only with despotic regents dumb,
Is conical the shape of things to come."
On her command a motley crowd at once
Assembles: fop and moron, fool and dunce.
Dense and more dense expand the morbid mobs,
Ten thousand idiots, ten million slobs.
Then scholars, vilifying verse sublime,
Reduce to a mere trifle Virgil's rhyme.
"To harmonize, much work the bard devotes.
Our learning turns all to discordant notes.
Who of the oldest masters would partake,
We'll offer not what's real, but what is fake."
The pundit peers through magnifying glasses,
Sees all the details; o'er the whole he passes;
Discovers in Swift's Tales absurdly bent,
Twenty intentions that he never meant.
As from the spider, minute strands emerge
And wrap his victims, thus begins the dirge
By Critics sung, pinheads, by gall anointed;
By her to murder Salience appointed.
If not all stinking drunk, he will malign
With poesy, and with debate entwine.
"In Archimedes we will soak the skull,
And warp the sapient psyche into dull.
All men into one common mold we'll pour,
And guarantee that none too lofty soar."
Oh why? Oh why? three times I ask thee, why?
Would man unto what's noble say: "Good-bye!"?
Why barely view the world with eyes half cover'd,
Nor upward look where Earth's Creator hover'd?
Why always seek to quibble or, at best,
To know, not honor, him by whom they're bless'd?
"Oh Nay! (I am the sayer of the Nays)
I, an antagonist of mystic ways,
An answer render, clear the reason be:
Because no proof - there's none at all - have ye.
It's on the sacred that I'm fond of pissing.
Ah note: as to my creed, I brook no dissing.
Patience that plods on slowly we disdain;
Ah, from that that's methodical refrain.
In untruth feathered there, preened, self-adoring,
Like Icarus we high intend on soaring.
We through that fog impermeable pass
Suckled of Vain and Vile, and sired of Crass.
Began that astral firmament to flare
By order of some Lord, who launch'd it there?
'Twas but a game of heavenly roulette,
That did the starry universe beget.
Or was this world created in six days
By an all knowing One? - a thousand Nays!
Nor was the man an angel partly made
Of sand, and there in Eden's garden's shade
Placed by God's human propagating hand,
Then driven out to sweat and till the land."
Adherents kneeling down she did endow,
Those whom her total power did avow:
"Well trained in Artifice and in Deceits
The season's right now to essay to feats.
My regal orders hear, they simple are;
With egos vain ye shall indeed go far.
So hear thou, that it is hereby attested
That thou with my diplomas art invested.
Triumvirate, the freak, the, fop, the fool,
Proclaim: 'Coneheadedness shall be the rule!'"
Melpomene, thou only can inform
(As all the coneheads, are without a gorm);
Reveal the order that Disorder chose
In which the lumin'd orbs of Sense to close.
What wand could Greed and Party hypnotize?
What voodoo could Inanity disguise?
Till conscience, morals too, go down the drain,
And every land's drenched by her numbing rain.
Oh dreadful, dreadful day of reckoning,
The hands of Artemis are beckoning.
All hail! All hail! Her chariot's descending;
The Muses' lyres are hush'd, their dances ending.
Imagination's varied cloth's fast fading;
That hued, pigmented tapestry is graying.
The satirist's one brief, bright volley flies;
One loud report, too soon the echo dies.
Voice after voice of Wisdom, and of Fact,
Goes silent, muzzl'd by that baleful Act.
As Mercury Io's beau to sleep did wave,
And then his body buried in the grave,
So shakes her sable wand and kills the spark
That guides the path of Science through the dark.
In caves, intimidated Reason cowers;
On top, ten tons of Specious rubble towers;
And Speculation that was once divine
Doth now down to Venality decline;
Embarrassed, Faith conceals her holy flame;
And Ethics dies, replac'd by Guile and Blame.
Nor personal, nor civic pride, burns bright,
Nor shall the torch of men or gods ignite.
Let now Disorder's lampless reign commence!
Extinguish'd be the glow of Common Sense.
In every brain, in every land and clime,
Her lawless void pervades all Space and Time.

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Updated: May 10, 2016


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