Enlightenment as its Opposite in Pope’s Dunciad

One could almost forgive Alexander Pope’s Epitaph on Newton in view of the magnificent ending of his Dunciad. Pope wrote the Dunciad at the same time as his friend Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels, and it takes a similarly dim view of the achievements of the Enlightenment. Dr. Johnson had this passage by heart:

In vain, in vain,—the all-composing hour
Resistless falls: the Muse obeys the power.
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 the ethereal plain;
As Argus’ eyes, by Hermes’ wand oppress’d,
Closed 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 heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
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 restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal darkness buries all.

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