Introduction to The Dunciad
Grub Street’s unflattering representation in literature, especially in
Pope’s The Dunciad, was built upon the street’s various unfavourable
aspects. Rumbold succinctly describes Grub Street as “a
powerful image of shabbiness of way of life, morals and literary
standards” (4). The street owes part of its reputation to its
physical location in London. Rogers addresses the influence
of neighbouring areas on the infamous street:
Street acquired its notoriety for a combination of reasons. These
included the fact that it lay at the heart of a
long in ill repute on account of its poverty and unhealthy character.
In addition, there were specific places in
its immediate vicinity, such as
Moorfields and Bedlam, with which Grub Street could easily be
connected: a circumstance which played straight into the hands of those
allegorisers, Pope and Swift. (20)
The reputation of Bedlam precedes itself, but taking a closer look at
Moorfields, we see that it is also a notorious area of
London. Named for a moor on which it was built, the land was
originally a swamp drained in 1527 and “laid out in pleasant walks in
the reign of James I” (Thornbury). Considering this
description, one might be reminded of other pleasant walks in London,
such as The Mall or St. James’s Park. Though it might have
been a location of recreation in the past, at the time of The Dunciad,
Moorfields had a different reputation. Moorfields did not
have the advantage of being in a more affluent part of town like The
Mall located in Westminster; it was surrounded by Cripplesgate,
Bishopsgate, Cheapside and other lower class areas of London.
In addition to having underprivileged neighbours, Moorfields was built
on contaminated land from the beginning. As Rogers states,
“the proximity of so much by way of 'noise- some waters' inevitably had
its effect.s Cripplegate parish became notorious for the ague in winter
and fever or the black death in the summer” (23).
The area itself soon became defined by what surrounded it.
Thornbury quotes a first-hand account of Moorfields:
When I remember Moorfields first," says "Aleph" (i.e., Mr. William
Harvey), "it was a large open quadrangular space, shut in by the
Pavement to the west, the hospital and its outbuildings to the south,
and lines of shops without fronts, occupied chiefly by dealers in old
furniture, to the east and north. Most of these shops were covered in
by screens of canvas or rough boards, so as to form an apology for a
piazza; and, if you were bold enough, in wet weather you might take
refuge under them, but it was at the imminent risk of your purse or
Since the areas around the space were undesirable, Moorfields’s
possible uses are limited. If we are to think of this open
space as an attempt to recreate the pastoral in the city, Moorfields is
not a perverted pastoral like St. James’s Park as much as a failed
pastoral. The surrounding areas overtake the open space,
forcing the space to take on a different role.
Moorfields on the Horwood 1792-1799 map.
Rogers, Pat. Hacks and Dunces: Pope, Swift, and Grub Street.
New York: Methuen, 1972.
Rumbold, Valerie. The Dunciad in Four Books. Longman, 1999.
Thornbury, Walter. “Moorfields and Finsbury.” Old and New
London: Volume 2. (1878) pp. 196-208.
accessed: 05 March 2009.