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The Poisoning of Curll Was Pope’s First Horatian Imitation

Article by jane

And being on Thursday last fortunately Nab’d within the Limits of Dean’s Yard by the Kings Schollars, there he met with a College Salutation: For he was first presented with the Ceremony of the Blanket, in which, when the Skeleton had been well shook, he was carry’d in Triumph to the School; and after receiving a Grammatical Correction for his fals Concords; he was Reconducted to Dean’s Yard, and on Replica Cartier Santos his Knees, asking Pardon of the aforesaid Mr. BARBER for his Offense; he was kick’d out of the Yard, and left to the Hazza’s of the Rabble.

It is an odd kind of punishment, with the boys apparently taking charge of something normally inflicted on them, in a gesture that looks at first glace festive and counter-hierarchical in some ways, rather like the practical joke element of having Horace and his victim Crispinus played by boys. Its underlying gravamen, on the other hand, is to reassert the line between literature and commerce, between the institutions of culture and the predators of Grub Street. At any rate, Pope evidently read Samuel Wesley’s celebratory (and illustrated) poem on the event, Neck or Nothing: A Consolatory Letter from Mr. D-nt-n to Mr. C-rll, for he wrote approvingly to Teresa Blount: ‘Mr Ed. Curll has been exercised in a Blanket and whipped at Westminster Schoole by the Boys, whereof the common Prints have given some account’. Curll had incurred a punitive regimen beyond even Pope’s imagining: he was purged like Crispinus, whipped by educational satire, and imprisoned by the only Augustus that the age could produce.

The poisoning of Curll was Pope’s first Horatian imitation, and in one sense the legitimation of it through Jonson’s example was internalised and hidden, not made explicit even to a coterie of Tag Heuer Replica Watches intimates such as Caryll and Swift: the poet was indeed an unacknowledged legislator. Perhaps it appeared, in early Hanoverian London, that only do-it-yourself retribution was available, on a different kind of stage from Jonson’s; Pope’s own Poetomachia (including a stage controversy in 1717, in which Curll would involve himself) was only just beginning. Wesley’s poem had suggested, in mockery, that Pope should write an epic on Curll’s punishment, a suggestion partly actualised over the rest of Pope’s career. While Pope’s satires were often close to the kind of sedition that put Jonson in jail, he always escaped; Curll, despite loyal flag-waving, would endure several more prosecutions under the headings of seditious libel, blasphemy and obscenity. Latterly, he would lose a series of cases over copyright infringement. In time, Pope was able to co-opt actual court decisions, including those relating to his own literary property, to the poetic justice of his satiric project. Curll would indeed end up not only in gaol but in the pillory in 1728, an event felicitously gifted to Pope for prominent inclusion in his personal pillory, The Dunciad.

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