Even Swift, who liked to think he was half author of the Dunciad, had trouble with its allusions and wrote grumblingly to warn Pope that twenty miles from London 'nobody understands hints, initial letters, or town facts and passages.' The delighted poet seized his chance and added to his poem for its 1729 'Variorum' edition those profuse helpful footnotes which make the text more confusing than before. Pope glosses, for instance, the first occurrence of the name of the poem's first hero, called in it 'Tibbald' though we would now write the name of the Shakespearian scholar in question 'Theobald'; and the poet's note mentions that Tibbald's name was in fact always pronounced so, though written as Theobald. Working on the poem rather more than two hundred years after Pope, the distinguished editor of the Twickenham Dunciad, James Sutherland, declined to take the poet at his word, and added a note on the annotation explaining that the name 'really was pronounced' Theobald. Presumably following this lead, an equally distinguished Popian, Maynard Mack, has now in his long-awaited and richly-informative new Life of Pope found a corner in which to extend this editorial scepticism into his own full-blown critical observation: 'Even the name of the hero dunce, Lewis Theobald, though printed out in full, was "translated" (like Bottom wearing the ass's head in A Midsummer Night's Dream) into a foolish tumble of syllables rhyming with "ribald".' Elsewhere in the Life, Professor Mack makes the point that the sheer fictiveness of Timon's villa in the 'Epistle to Burlington' 'will be evident to those who have travelled much among English country houses'. It doesn't seem irrelevant therefore to point out that those who travel much by bus in Holborn are likely to hear the conductors, not all of whom can have read the Dunciad, calling 'Theobald's Road', 'Tibbles Road'.
LRB 17 October 1985 | PDF Download