chapter  3
26 Pages

Blackmore and the Low Sublime

This chapter will try to establish Blackmore as a central figure, though in main part an unwitting one, in an unfolding conception of mock-epic in the early eighteenth century. His role is composed of several aspects, not all of which have equal relevance to the current context. Blackmore, no doubt to his chagrin, was made a satiric butt in Samuel Garth's celebrated mockheroic, The Dispensary (1699); he himself wrote a mock-heroic poem of no mean standing, The Kit-cats (1708); in the ephemeral and frothy controversy that broke out around him in 1700, the war with the wits, Blackmore found himself pilloried in terms that had been lifted from Dryden's ragging of Thomas Shadwell in an earlier mock-epic poem, Mac Flecknoe\ and Blackmore it is who, for all his being lampooned by Pope in various places, passes down to the later poet one of the central ideas (that of dullness) of another canonical mock-epic, The Dunciad. Yet there is a more substantial and abiding reason for Blackmore's significance for the genesis of the mock-heroic form. This is that he was seen as single-handedly inventing a way that epic poems could go wrong, the particular mode of failure associated with him being taken up as a ubiquitous resource of mock-

heroic. Mock-epics offered to guard against the sort of literary abomination being perpetrated by Blackmore's epics, yet the very process of mocking the epic, of desecrating it for comic purposes, came to consist, in many instances at least, of reproducing the very manner of Blackmore.3