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The' eternal snows appear already past,
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see, Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. In every work regard the writer's end, Since none can compass more than they intend; And if the means be just, the conduct true, Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due. As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit, To' avoid great errors must the less commit; Neglect the rules each verbal critic lays, For not to know some trifles is a praise, Most critics, fond of some subservient art, Still make the whole depend upon a part: They talk of principles, but notions prize, And all to one lov'd folly sacrifice.
Once on a time La Mancha's Knight, they say, A certain bard encountering on the way, Discours'd in terms as just, with looks as sage, As e'er could Dennis of the Grecian stage, Concluding all were desperate sots and fools Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules. Our author, happy in a judge so nice, Produc'd his play, and begg'd the knight's advice; Made him observe the subject and the plot, The manners, passions, unities ; what not? All which exact to rule were brought about, Were but a combat in the lists left out. “ What! leave the combat out?" exclaims the knight. “ Yes, or we must renounce the Stagirite."“ Not so, by Heav'n! (he answers in a rage) Knights, squires, and steeds, must enter on the stage." “ So vast a throng the stage can ne'er contain.”“ Then build a new, or act it on a plain.”
Thus critics of less judgment than caprice,
Some to conceit alone their taste confine,
Others for language all their care express, And value books, as women men, for dress :
Their praise is still-the style is excellent; The sense they humbly take upon content. Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. False eloquence, like the prismatic glass, Its gaudy colours spreads on every place; The face of nature we no more survey, All glares alike without distinction gay; But true expression, like the' unchanging sun, Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon ; It gilds all objects, but it alters none. Expression is the dress of thought, and still Appears more decent as more suitable. A vile conceit in pompous words express'd Is like a clown in regal purple dress'd : For different styles with different subjects sort, As several garbs with country, town, and court. Some by old words to fame have made pretence, Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense ; Such labour'd nothings, in so strange a style, Amaze the unlearn'd, and make the learned smile. Unlucky as Fungoso in the play, These sparks with aukward vanity display What the fine gentleman wore yesterday ; And but so mimic ancient wits at best, As apes our grandsires in their doublets drest. In words as fashions the same rule will hold, Alike fantastic if too new or old: Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.
But most by numbers judge a poet's song, And smooth or rough with them is right or wrong: In the bright Muse though thousand charms conspire, Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire; Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear; Not mend their minds, as some to church repair Not for the doctrine but the music there. These equal syllables alone require, Though oft the ear the open vowels tire,
While expletives their feeble aid do join,
Avoid extremes, and shun the fault of such Wbo still are pleas's too little or too much. At every trifle scorn to take offence; That always shows great pride or little sense : Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest. Yet let not each gay turn thy rapture move; For fools admire, but men of sense approve : As things seem large which we thro' mists descry, Dulness is ever apt to magnify.
Some foreign writers, some our own despise ; The ancients only, or the moderns prize. Thus wit, like faith, by each man is applied To one small sect, and all are damn'd beside. Meanly they seek the blessing to confine, And force that sun but on a part to shine, Which not alone the southern wit sublimes, But ripens spirits in cold northern climes; Which from the first has shone on ages past, Enlights the present, and shall warm the last ; Though each may feel increases and decays, And see now clearer and now darker days. Regard not then if wit be old or new, But blame the false, and value still the true.
Some ne'er advance a judgment of their own, But catch the spreading notion of the town ; They reason and conclude by precedent, And own stale no use which they ne'er invent. Some judge of authors' names, not works, and then Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men. Of all this servile herd, the worst is he That in proud dulness joins with quality ; A constant critic at the great man's board, To fetch and carry nonsense for my lord. What woeful stuff this madrigal would be In some starv'd hackney sonnetteer or me! But let a lord once own the bappy lines, How the wit brightens ! how the style refines ! Before his sacred name flies every fault, And each exalted stanza teems with thought I