This malicious and energetic (and little-known) satire on intellectual pretensions is an important rediscovery: a fugitive text published in 1741 in the great Augustan poet’s collected prose works, though written much earlier by Pope, with the help of his crony, physician-wit-bon vivant John Arbuthnot (and possibly with help from their mutual friend Jonathan Swift). It relates the efforts of self-styled philosopher (and egotist) Cornelius Scriblerus to breed and develop a genius: his son Martinus. Thereafter, we’re treated to the latter’s educative adventures, including an early “disposition to the mathematics . . . [evidenced] by his drawing parallel lines on his bread and butter”; the study of anatomy by observation of a corpse brought home for his edification; complex litigation ensuing from Martinus’s love for a beauteous Siamese twin; and the production of such eminent arcana as his “complete digest of the laws of nature.” This effervescent lampoon anticipates both Swift’s mature satires and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.
More than a bit arch, but marvelously entertaining. One wonders how it ever drifted out of the canon.