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Unhappy wit, like most mistaken things, Atones not for that envy which it brings: In youth alone its empty praise we boast, But soon the short-lived vanity is lost; Like some fair flower the early spring supplies, That gaily blooms, but e'en in blooming dies. What is this wit, which must our cares employ? The owner's wife that other men enjoy; Then most our trouble still when most admired, And still the more we give, the more required; Whose fame with pains we guard, but lose with Sure some to vex, but never all to please; [ease, "Tis what the vicious fear, the virtuous shun; By fools 'tis hated, and by knaves undone !
If Wit so much from Ignorance undergo, Ah, let not Learning too commence its foe! Of old those met rewards who could excel, And such were praised who but endeavour'd well: Though triumphs were to generals only due, Crowns were reserved to grace the soldiers too. Now they who reach Parnassus' lofty crown Employ their pains to spurn some others down; And while self-love each jealous writer rules, Contending wits become the sport of fools; But still the worst with most regret commend, For each ill author is as bad a friend.
To what base ends, and by what abject ways,
Are mortals urged through sacred lust of praise!
Ah! ne'er so dire a thirst of glory boast,
Nor in the critic let the man be lost.
Good nature and good sense must ever join;
To err, is human; to forgive, divine.
But if in noble minds some dregs remain, Not yet purged off, of spleen and sour disdain,
Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes,
Nor fear a dearth in these flagitious times.
No pardon vile obscenity should find,
Though wit and art conspire to move your mind;
But dulness with obscenity must prove
As shameful sure as impotence in love.
In the fat age of pleasure, wealth, and ease,
Sprung the rank weed, and thrived with large in-
When love was all an easy monarch's care;
Seldom at council, never in a war;
Jilts ruled the state, and statesmen farces writ;
Nay, wits had pensions, and young lords had wit;
The fair sat panting at a courtier's play,
And not a mask went unimproved away;
The modest fan was lifted up no more,
And virgin's smiled at what they blush'd before.
The following license of a foreign reign
Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain ;
Then unbelieving priests reform'd the nation,
And taught more pleasant methods of salvation;
Where Heaven's free subjects might their rights
Lest God himself should seem too absolute:
Pulpits their sacred satire learn'd to spare,
And vice admired to find a flatterer there!
Encouraged thus, Wit's Titans braved the skies,
And the press groan'd with licensed blasphemies.
These monsters, critics! with your darts engage,
Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage!
Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice,
Will needs mistake an author into vice:
All seems infected that the' infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.
Rules for the conduct and manners in a critic.-Candour.Modesty.-Good-breeding. Sincerity and freedom of advice. When one's counsel is to be restrained.--Character of an incorrigible poet. And of an impertinent critic.— Character of a good critic.-The history of criticism, and characters of the best critics: Aristotle.-Horace.-Dionysius. Petronius.—Quintilian.-Longinus. Of the decay of criticism, and its revival.-Erasmus.-Vida.-Boileau.-Lord Roscommon, &c.-Conclusion.
LEARN then what morals critics ought to show ;
For 'tis but half a judge's task to know.
"Tis not enough, taste, judgment, learning, join;
In all you speak let truth and candour shine;
That not alone what to your sense is due
All may allow, but seek your friendship too.
Be silent always when you doubt your sense,
And speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence;
Some positive persisting fops we know,
Who if once wrong will needs be always so;
But you with pleasure own your errors past,
And make each day a critique on the last.
'Tis not enough your counsel still be true; Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do: Men must be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown proposed as things forgot. Without good breeding truth is disapproved; That only makes superior sense beloved.
Be niggards of advice on no pretence, For the worst avarice is that of sense. With mean complacence ne'er betray your trust, Nor be so civil as to prove unjust.
Fear not the anger of the wise to raise;
Those best can bear reproof who merit praise.
'Twere well might critics still this freedom take,
But Appius reddens at each word you speak,
And stares tremendous, with a threatening eye,
Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry.
Fear most to tax an honourable fool,
Whose right it is, uncensured, to be dull:
Such, without wit, are poets when they please,
As without learning they can take degrees.
Leave dangerous truths to unsuccessful satires,
And flattery to fulsome dedicators; [more
Whom when they praise, the world believes no
Than when they promise to give scribbling o'er.
"Tis best sometimes your censure to restrain,
And charitably let the dull be vain;
Your silence there is better than your spite,
For who can rail so long as they can write?
Still humming on, their drowsy course they keep,
And lash'd so long, like tops, are lash'd asleep.
False steps but help them to renew the race,
As, after stumbling, jades will mend their pace.
What crowds of these, impenitently bold,
In sounds and jingling syllables grown old,
Still run on poets, in a raging vein,
E'en to the dregs and squeezings of the brain, Strain out the last dull droppings of their sense, And rhyme with all the rage of impotence!
Such shameless bards we have; and yet 'tis true There are as mad abandon'd critics too. The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, With loads of learned lumber in his head, With his own tongue still edifies his ears, And always listening to himself appears.
All books he reads, and all he reads assails,
From Dryden's Fables down to Durfey's Tales.
With him most authors steal their works, or buy;
Garth did not write his own Dispensary.
Name a new play, and he's the poet's friend:
Nay, show'd his faults-but when would poets
No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd,
Nor is Paul's church more safe than Paul's church-
Nay, fly to altars; there they'll talk you dead;
For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks,
It still looks home, and short excursions makes;
But rattling nonsense in full vollies breaks,
And never shock'd, and never turn'd aside,
Bursts out, resistless, with a thundering tide.
But where's the man who counsel can bestow,
Still pleased to teach, and yet not proud to know?
Unbiass'd or by favour or by spite,
Not dully prepossess'd nor blindly right;
Though learn'd, well-bred, and though well-bred,
Modestly bold, and humanly severe; [sincere ;
Who to a friend his faults can freely show,
And gladly praise the merit of a foe?
Bless'd with a taste exact, yet unconfined,
A knowledge both of books and humankind;
Generous converse; a soul exempt from pride;
And love to praise, with reason on his side?
Such once were critics; such the happy few Athens and Rome in better ages knew. The mighty Stagirite first left the shore,
Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore;
He steer'd securely, and discover'd far,
Led by the light of the Mæonian star.