Libels, On Pope; Curll & Company; Libels on Swift & Pope

From the intro to the Twickenham edition of The Dunciad, on who was responsible for the notes added to the 1729 Dunciad Variorum

When allowance has been made for all such assistance, there still seems good reason to believe that Pope wrote the greater part of the notes himself, compiled the Testimonies of Authors, the List of Books and Papers, the Parallel of the Characters of Mr Dryden and Mr Pope, and the Index of Things (including Authors). For one thing, he was the only person likely to have in his possession the information on which many of the statements were based. For years he had been carefully collecting the various printed attacks upon him. He had even got Tonson to bind them together in six volumes, labelled “Curll and Company,” “Libels on Pope,” etc. The volumes are still in existence*; and it is significant that Pope had underlined and occasionally annotated the more outrageous statements of Dennis, Curll, and the rest, as if he intended to make some reply.

*In the British Museum, C 116 b 1-4, and Victoria and Albert Museum

These volumes of annotated libels being the sort of eccentric document that fascinates me, I went looking for more info. They do still exist, though they are (now) held by the British Library (record here). There are no scans (that I can find) and that record is so minimal that it leaves me with some confusion on volumes – Sutherland above says six but the reference number (C.116.b.1-4) would suggest four. The latter is supported by a helpful note from an F.G. in an 1879 issue of Notes and Queries (scanned here):

Pope himself had a collection of [attacks on him] bound up in four volumes. Two of these volumes, in 8vo., were lettered “ Libels upon Pope. Vols. I. and II. Another volume of 12mo. pamphlets was lettered Curll and Company, and the fourth volume Libels on Swift and Pope.

(The author also includes a footnote – ‘Do these volumes still exist?’ I hope this earlier fellow traveler found his answer eventually.)

Final confirmation of volumes and titles comes from a letter of Pope’s to the Tonson mentioned above (presumably this letter is what Sutherland had in evidence for his statement but he doesn’t cite it). The Tonson concerned here is Jacob Tonson junior, not his more famous uncle Jacob Tonson senior. Both were booksellers and publishers with ongoing relationships with Pope and in 1733/34 Pope sent Tonson Jr. the following (Sherburn’s edition of Pope’s Correspondence, v.3 399 – and a small victory to me in that citation since my wife questioned when I’d ever use this set when I bought it a few weeks back):

Sir, — I desire you’l take these five Setts of the Odyssey, & do what you can with ’em.

I desire also you’l cause the Pacquet I send, to be bound together, as many in a volume as are tyed together. Let the Octavo be made to match in colour & Size this which is already bound, & Letter it LIBELS, ON POPE &c. Vol. 2d

Pray Bind the duodecimos also in another vol. the same colour, Letterd CURL[L] & COMPANY

And Bind the Gulliveriana, & letter it (Same Colour) thus, LIBELS ON SWIFT & POPE

So one problem solved – though an editor’s footnote opens another question – “Since the latest pamphlet included is dated 1733, one assumes that the binding was done currently – especially since Tonson is asked to find a perfect copy of one of the items.” Assuming that the dating of the letter is correct, Pope couldn’t have used the volumes as such in compiling the Variorum notes since he would only have had the several ‘pacquets’ to work with. It’s a small distinction but somehow cuts into the jest of the idea for me.

As to contents, the list of all the bound pamphlets is presumably contained in the Pope’s second appendix to the Dunciad A List of Books, Papers, and Verses, in which our Author was abused, printed before the Publication of the Dunciad: With the true Names of the Authors (with later editions expanding to include an After the Dunciad section). A scan of the Twickenham edition with its helpful notes can be found here (starting pg 207 of the text, 268 of the scan). I have not yet attempted to find any of these sources but I expect the sensible route would be first searching out scholarship on contemporary responses to Pope or The Dunciad and hoping for lengthy quotes there. But none of this helps with my initial hope of finding Pope’s hand annotations to any of the criticism so I have no recourse left but a visit to the BL in the coming year, assuming my curiosity can survive that long.



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