Sunday, April 24, 2022

Oh, the Eighteenth Century

From a review of a new biography of Alexander Pope in the 8 October 2021 TLS:

It still gets called the age of Enlightenment, but people could be defiantly unenlightened in early eighteenth-century England. Take Alexander Pope, the most celebrated poet of his day, not only in Britain but across Europe, admired for his witty heroic couplets and poised versification of fashionable intellectual and cultural matters. Pope was so furious when the publisher Edmund Curll insinuated he'd written a satirical "court eclogue" about a Tory duchess being overlooked for preferment that he met Curll for a drink at a tavern and slipped a noxious emetic into his glass of sack. The drug took predictable effect.

After Curll recovered, Pope published an invented account of Curll's gastric catastrophe, "A Full and True Account of a horrid and Barbarous Revenge by Poison, on the body of Mr. Edmund Curll, Bookseller" (1716). Along with obligatory scenes involving the chamber pot, Pope fabricated a deathbed confession of Curll's dodgy, scandal-mongering publishing practices. Curll retaliated by encouraging a widespread smear campaign against Pope's new translation of the Iliad (1715-1720), which he branded Jacobite and Catholic, and commissioned pamphlets and essays that cruelly mocked Pope's physical disabilities. Undaunted, Pope published a follow-up "Further Account", plus a third pamphlet alleging that Curll had converted to Judaism and been circumcized, "out of an Extraordinary Desire of Lucre". The last pamphlet concludes with Mrs. Curll lamenting that her husband's foreskin is on display in a local coffee house.


G. Verloren said...

Such behavior is timeless. Every era has its share of petty and vicious miscreants, always far outnumbering the number of more enlightened individuals.

Consider 15th century Italy, where you may find some particularly striking contrasts. Take on the one hand a figure like Federico III da Montefeltro - a paragon of humanist values, educated, refined, cultured, and held in high esteem by virtually everyone. Then on the other hand take "The Wolf of Rimini", Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta - the only man in history whom the Catholic church ever "canonized into Hell" for his litany of outlandish abuses and cartoonishly evil and unspeakable acts,

Anonymous said...

Likewise the Catholic church could be canonized into Hell for its litany of outlandish abuses and cartoonishly evil and unspeakable acts. Especially during the Renaissance.

Anonymous said...

or more recently, perhaps.

G. Verloren said...


Definitely no paragons of virtue, the Catholic Church... and yet they were exceeded by Malatesta, who once received a Papal messenger (who happened to be the nephew of the Pope) bearing church documents and demands which he took offense to, so he responded by trussing the messenger up in the courtyard and publicly sodomizing the boy before a cheering crowd of his own soldiers.

The Church, of course, has long preferred such sodomizations to occur in private.