Of the three images published by the “bullies” of Alexander pope, this final image is perhaps the subtlest in its criticism. It portrays one of the Grub Street writers – the “low-end” writing order that Tories Pope and Swift were members of – in a “stereotype” Grub street writing environment; chaotic, with the presence of harlots – or of similarly disreputable women – with the discarding of honor and virtue as represented by the sword forgotten on the ground, and with the distraction – and ultimate hack-quality production – of the Grub street writer himself. Although there is no explicit mention of the Grub Street writes in the fourth book of the Dunciad – our prescribed reading for this question – it must be made clear for the sake of context that, despite being a Grub Street writer himself, Pope himself satirizes Grub Street. That fact alone provides a new angle on the Dunciad and the motivations of Pope: he sought to satirize his contemporary English society – but he was also able to recognize his, and his works’, roles in society.
Based off my interpretation that the woman on the far left in this image is a harlot, I believe that Pope’s invocation of the “harlot” figure in his Fourth Book of the Dunciad was intentional. In the fourth book of The Dunciad, Pope opens with a vivid stanza – a metaphoric reflection on Pope’s cynical view on English society – portraying the gagging and binding of Logic and the stripping of “fair rhetoric.” I believe that this is a jab at either the Grub Street writes or what the Grub Street writers represented to the “elites” of English society: the degradation of their valiant and proper language. Much like Swift attacks the elitism behind “proper” English through the horse-people’s ridiculous dialect, Pope not only acknowledges his order’s impropriety – he also turns it into a double-entendre assault against the originators of the highly elitist “degraded English” perspective on Grub Street. He does this by invoking the harlot figure as a savior:
When, lo! a harlot form soft sliding by,
With mincing step, small voice, and languid eye:
Foreign her air, her robe’s discordant pride
In patchwork fluttering, and her head aside:
The harlot enters the chaos that is this perceived denigration of the English language. Her voice is “small” to symbolize that she does not conform to the boisterous righteousness of proper English, her robes are “foreign “and “patchwork” to pronounce her position as a commoner, and her occupation as a harlot is degraded enough.
It is curious, then, that Swift seems to have “stolen” this savior harlot from his critics. Note that the harlot in the above image is holding a scripture of her own. I believe that, from the perspective of Pope’s critics, this was meant to represent that Grub Street was so disgusting that even harlots could write there. Pope “steals” this idea by portraying the “soft” and “foreign” harlot as being the only figure capable of halting the chaos and calling out the agents behind them;
She tripped and laughed, too pretty much to stand;
Cast on the prostrate Nine a scornful look,
Then thus in quaint recitative spoke
The “Nine” referred to above were the “Logic” and “Rhetoric” and other such capitalized concepts mentioned by Swift; highly powerful concepts, with a lot of order and pre-established rules surrounding them – and yet Swift seems to almost agree with his critics that not only do base commoners have voices such as the harlot in the critics image and the harlot in Swift’s poem – he takes it a step further by suggesting that voice is the only voice able to actually silence the rabid and needless chaos that surrounds the elitist exaltation of the English language.