That ‘Tremendous’ Mr Dennis: The Sublime, Common Sense, and Criticism
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Lampooned here as Sir Tremendous, the literary critic and aspiring dramatist John Dennis (1657–1734) tends to be remembered as a prominent, frequent butt of the Scriblerus Club’s many satirical jokes.1 Quick to find offence, and slow to offer forgiveness, short of temper, and even shorter of finances, gruff, yet eloquent, and tending to self-importance and retaliation, Dennis proved an easy target for the Scriblerians. The Scriblerus Club, who mainly met in 1714, were an informal literary group of educated gentlemen and political-cultural satirists. Central members Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, and Thomas Parnell were behind the satirical creation Martinus Scriblerus.2 Pope most actively perpetuated the Scriblerian project, and most actively targeted Dennis, with their fierce bouts played out in print. Pope lampooned Dennis’s plays and his fondness for the word tremendous, while lambasting his literary criticism.3 Dennis responded by colourfully criticising Pope’s poetry and writing as, for instance, ‘whenever he Scribbles, he is emphatically a Monkey, in his awkard servile Imitations’.4 Looking beyond their public name-calling, the printed exchanges between Dennis and the Scriblerians, especially Pope, broach important issues that permeated serious public debate throughout eighteenth-century Britain. My focus will be Dennis’s account of the greatest, sublime poetry, and Pope’s serious response to it.
KeywordsHuman Nature Common Sense Moral Development Virtual Community Everyday Object
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