Martinus Scriblerus first materialized in 1713 as a fictional scholar created by the Tory-affiliated members of the Scriblerus Club, a group of intellectuals who sought to satirize contemporary methods of education and learning they deemed too mechanical (Vander Muelen, Pope's Dunciad, 11). The club consisted of some of the greatest minds of the eighteenth century: Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, and Thomas Parnell. These men collaborated on producing literature that attacked the excessively literal approaches of their time to academic pursuits, ranging from medicine to philosophy (Baines, Alexander Pope, 16-17); they believed that ridiculing these arguments provided the best means for disarming them of their influence. They conceived of Martinus Scriblerus as a pedantic scholar who devoted himself to fact-checking and trivial details rather than to humanistic matters (Baines, 31).
The group disbanded abruptly after the death of Queen Anne in 1714, which marked the Tories' loss of political power. Nevertheless, the men continued to work together to produce texts such as The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus (written mostly by Arbuthnot but published in a volume of Pope's works in 1741) and Pope's Dunciad Variorum (the 1729 follow-up to his Dunciad). Both of these works incorporate Martinus Scriblerus; Memoirs tells the story of his upbringing and education (Haslett, Pope to Burney, 36) whereas Variorum includes his typically fastidious notes, written by Pope himself (Baines, 31).
When Carlyle alludes to Martinus Scriblerus in "Signs of the Times," he makes the connection between the mechanical knowledge of doctors and the completely material (as opposed to spiritual) composition of the wood-and-leather man. According to Carlyle, what he describes as "scientific stoicism" allows for the reduced emphasis on metaphysical concepts, leading to a belief in a soul and morality that lies outside of the self rather than within (Spalding, "Theories," 13). Carlyle evokes the satire of the Scriblerus Club in order to draw their eighteenth-century social criticism into the nineteenth century, proving that these fallacies of thinking require derision and assault rather than acceptance or inaction.
Baines, Paul. The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope. London: Routledge, 2000.
Haslett, Moyra. Pope to Burney, 1714-1779: Scriblerians to Bluestockings. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
"Scriblerus Club." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 29 Mar 2009.
"Scriblerus Club." Wikipedia. 2009. 29 March 2009.
Spalding, J.L. "Theories of Education and Life." The American Catholic Quarterly Review IV (1879): 13.
Vander Muelen, David L. Pope's Dunciad of 1728: A History and Facsimile. Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1991.
Last modified 30 March 2009