Alexander Pope's The Dunciad: Book One
The City and the Town
In a contemporary context, the terms "city" and "town" define
population size and only hint at the social differences between their
populations. If you are from the city, calling something
“small town” still has a pejorative
ring. In 18th Century London, the terms held complex social
definitions within the city itself. The Town referred to the
fashionable and polite
parts of London, whereas the City referred to the rougher parts of
London associated with low classes and impolite
society (Rumbold 122). Klein recounts the history of these two terms,
stemming from the original place divisions of Court, Country and City:
The idea of a polite
London in the early eighteenth century depended on a reconciliation of
gentility and urbanness, which is precisely what the tripartite scheme
of Court, Country, and City had militated against. ...However, as early
as the 1620s, a new category, the Town, arose to supplement the
categories of Court, Country and City. The Town appeared in
response to the growing presence of gentlemen in London as a way of
imagining the urban activities of the gentlemen and formulating that
side of urban life related to genteel leisure and its social and
cultural possibilities. (29-30)
Pope focuses on the two categories of Town and City in The Dunciad.
The differences between them illustrated in Pope’s
poem where he associates Dulness and the dunces
with the City and comments on their forays interactions with Town
first mentions the Town when he scoffs at Bays's success in the theatre:
But chief in Bays’s monster-breeding breast;
Bays, form’d by nature Stage and Town to bless,
And act, and be, a Coxcomb with success. (108-110)
As we comprehend after reading the note, Pope did not feel that Cibber
was fit to be part of the Town. Pope preferred to associate
hack writers with the City. In Scriblerus’s note to line
233, Pope mentions “Edward Ward, a very voluminous Poet… [who] kept a
public house in the City, (but in a genteel way)…” Pope’s
snide comment about Ward’s public house being genteel further
emphasises that it is part of the City and thus beneath good society.
The use of City and Town continues the convention of painting
urban London as inferior to the genteel court, country and now
Town. The City holds all that is
corrupt and sinful, while the Town becomes an island of civility
surrounded by the muck of London. Of course,
we (and probably Pope) understand that this dichotomy is not this
it serves Pope well in his quest to mock the dunces. Pope
mixes Town and City spaces (and the people who populate them) when he
addresses Bays’s appeal to those of
This brazen Brightness, to the ‘Squire so dear,
This polish’d Hardness, that reflects the Peer;
This arch Absurd, that wit and fools delights;
This Mess, toss’d up of Hockley-hole and White’s;
Where Dukes and Butchers join to wreathe my crown,
At once the Bear and Fiddle of the town. (219-224)
Hockley-in-the-Hole was a site noted for enjoyments such as bear and
bull-baiting and swordfights, pastimes associated with a courser
clientele. The site was located on the fringe of North London
near Clerkenwell far from the posh West side (Thornbury).
Conversely, White’s was an exclusive gambling club on St.
James’s Street at the West end of London frequented by upper
classes (Sheppard). The note to line
219 suggests, “this promiscuous mingling of ‘Dukes and Butchers’ (line
223) is presented as a breach of social order” (Rumbold 128). Though Bays
manages to break social boundaries and appeal to everyone, I believe
that Pope juxtaposes these places to show the equalising power of
vice. Both the low and high classes are drawn to dens of
In the 18th century poems that we have looked at, the authors set up
strong dichotomies, most often comparing high and low class places, or
urban and rural spaces. This rigid system could be set up to
emphasise the differences between classes and locations, but I think
the authors merely set them up to break them down. In the
end, they show virtue and vice pervading London regardless of location
Image of the high and low class establishments mentioned in The
Dunciad on the Horwood Map. Navy labels
spaces. Burgandy labels indicate City spaces.
Image of approximate location of Hockley-in-the-Hole
Works CitedKlein, Lawrence E. "The Polite Town: Shifting Possibilities of Urbanness, 1660-1715." The Streets of London. Eds. Tim Hitchcock and Heather Shore. London: Rivers Oram, 2003. 27-39.
Rumbold, Valerie, Ed. Alexander Pope: The Dunciad in Four Books. Pearson, 1999.
Sheppard, F. H. W. "St. James's Street, West Side, Past Buildings." Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1 (1960). British History Online. Web. pp. 459-471. <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=40622> Date accessed: 12 March 2009.
Thornbury, Walter. "Hockley-in-the-Hole." Old and New London:
Volume 2 (1878). British History Online. Web. pp. 306-309.
Date accessed: 12 March 2009.