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DR. WARBURTON, endeavouring to demonstrate, what Addison could not discover, nor what Pope himself, according to the testimony of his intimate friend, Richardson, ever thought of or intended, that this Essay was written with a methodical and systematical regularity, has accompanied the whole with a long and laboured commentary, in which he has tortured many passages to support this groundless opinion. Warburton had certainly wit, genius, and much miscellaneous learning; but was perpetually dazzled and misled, by the eager desire of seeing everything in a new light unobserved before, into perverse interpretations and forced comments. It is painful to see such abilities wasted on such unsubstantial objects. Accordingly his notes on Shakspeare have been totally demolished by Edwards and Malone; and Gibbon has torn up by the roots his fanciful and visionary interpretation of the sixth book of Virgil. And but few readers, I believe, will be found that will cordially subscribe to an opinion lately delivered,” that his notes on Pope's Works are the very best ever given on any classic whatever. For, to instance no other, surely the attempt to reconcile the doctrines of the Essay on Man to the doctrines of revelation, is the rashest adventure in which ever critic yet engaged. This is, in truth, to divine, rather than to explain an author's meaning.—WARTON.
If this Commentary were only a perverse and forced interpretation, as Warton insinuates, it is scarcely likely that Pope would have approved of it so highly, as not only to speak of it in the warmest terms of admiration, but to allow it to accompany his own edition of the poem. To assert that Pope was not the best judge of his own meaning, is an insult not only to his understanding, but to common sense; and to discard the commentary of Warburton, as Warton has done in his edition, in order to replace it by a series of notes, intended to impress the reader with his own opinions, is a kind of infringement on those rights, which had already been decided on by the only person who was entitled to judge on the subject. For these reasons I have
thought it advisable, in this edition, to restore the commentary of Warburton entire, which has only been partially done by Mr. Bowles; conceiving that it is as injurious, if not more so, to the commentator, whose object it is to demonstrate the order and consistency of the poem, to deprive him of a portion of his remarks, as it is to deprive him of them altogether.—RoscoB.
Warburton's commentary proceeded upon two assumptions, which are not complimentary to Pope. The first was that a poem which had contracted no obscurity from age, and which consisted of a series of simple precepts, was written in a manner so confused that it would not be intelligible to ordinary readers, unless the whole was retold in cumbrous prose. The second assumption was that Pope was so deficient in power of expression that his ideas were constantly at variance with his words. One of the sarcastic canons of criticism which Edwards deduced from Warburton's Shakspeare was that an editor “may interpret his author so as to make him mean directly contrary to what he says,” and certain it is that if Warburton's explanations are correct, Pope's language was often sadly inaccurate. Roscoe, in effect, adopts the last solution, for he urges that Pope, who was the best judge of his own meaning, acknowledged his meaning to be that which Warburton ascribed to him. There is another, and more probable alternative. Though Pope undeniably knew his own meaning best, his vanity may have been gratified by the subtle views which were imputed to him, and he may have had the weakness, in consequence, to adopt interpretations which never crossed his mind when he composed his poem. Since, however, he desired that his works should be read by the light of Warburton's paraphrase, an editor is not warranted in overruling the decision of the author, and on this account the commentary and notes of Warburton are printed in their integrity, though in themselves they are tedious, verbose, and barren.
THE COMMENTARY AND NOTES OF
ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
An Essay..] The poem is in one book, but divided into three principal parts or members. The first, to ver, 201, gives rules for the study of the art of criticism : the second, from thence to ver. 560, exposes the causes of wrong judgment: and the third, from thence to the end, marks out the morals of the critic.
In order to a right conception of this poem, it will be necessary to observe, that though it be entitled simply An Essay on Criticism, yet several of the precepts relate equally to the good writing as well as to the true judging of a poem. This is so far from violating the unity of the subject, that it preserves and completes it: or from disordering the regularity of the form, that it adds beauty to it, as will appear by the following considerations: 1. It was impossible to give a full and exact idea of the art of poetical criticism, without considering at the same time the art of poetry; so far as poetry is an art. These therefore being closely connected in nature, the author has, with much judgment, interwoven the precepts of each reciprocally through his whole poem. 2. As the rules of the ancient critics were taken from poets who copied nature, this is another reason why every poet should be a critic : therefore as the subject is poetical criticism, it is frequently addressed to the critical poet. And 3dly, the art of criticism is as properly, and much more usefully exercised in writing than in judging.
But readers have been misled by the modesty of the title, which only promises an art of criticism, to expect little, where they will find a great deal, —a treatise, and that no incomplete one, of the art both of criticism and poetry. This, and the not attending to the considerations offered above, was what, perhaps misled a very candid writer, after having given the Essay on Criticism all the praises on the side of genius and poetry which his true taste could not refuse it, to say, that “the observations follow one another like those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical regularity which would have been requisite in a prose writer.” Spect. No. 235. I do not see how method can hurt any one grace of poetry: or what prerogative there is in verse to dispense with regularity. The remark is false in every part of it. Mr. Pope's Essay on Criticism, the reader will soon see, is a regular piece, and a very learned critic has lately shown that Horace had the same attention to method in his Art of Poetry. See Mr. Hurd's Comment on the Epistle to the Pisos."
Ver. 1. 'Tis hard to say, s.c.] The poem opens, from ver, 1 to 9, with showing the use and seasonableness of the subject. Its use, from the greater mischief in wrong criticism than in ill poetry—this only tiring, that misleading the reader. Its seasonableness, from the growing number of bad critics, which now vastly exceeds that of bad poets.
Wer. 9. 'Tis with our judgments, sc.] The author having shown us the expediency of his subject, the art of criticism, inquires next, from ver. 8 to 15, into the proper qualities of a true critic, and observes first, that judgment alone is not sufficient to constitute this character, because judgment, like the artificial measures of time, goes different, and yet each man relies upon his own. The reasoning is conclusive, and the similitude extremely just. For judgment, when it is alone, is generally regulated, or at least much influenced, by custom, fashion, and habit; and never certain and constant but when founded upon and accompanied by taste, which is in the critic, what in the poet we call genius. Both are derived from heaven, and like the sun, the natural measure of time, always constant and equable.
Judgment alone, it is allowed, will not make a poet; where is the wonder then, that it will not make a critic in poetry? For on examination we shall find, that genius and taste are but one and the same faculty, differently exerting itself under different names, in the two professions of poetry and criticism. The art of poetry consists in selecting, out of all thosc images which present themselves to the fancy, such of them as are truly beautiful; and the art of criticism in discerning, and fully relishing what it finds so selected. The main difference is, that in the poet, this faculty is eminently joined to a bright imagination, and extensive comprehension, which provide stores for the selection, and can form that selection, by proportioned parts, into a regular whole: in the critic, it is joined to a solid judgment and accurate discernment, which can penetrate into the causes of an excellence, and display that excellence in all its variety of lights. Longinus had taste in an eminent degree ; therefore, this quality, which all true critics have in common, our author makes his distinguishing character:
Thee, bold Longinus all the Nine inspire,
i. e. with taste, or genius.
* Warburton's remarks on the quotation from Addison's paper in the Spectator, originally ran thus: “Whereas nothing can be more unlike, in this respect, than these two poems— the Essay on Criticism having, as we shall show, all the regularity that method can demand, and the Art of Poetry all the looseness and inconnection that a familiar conversation would indulge. Neither, were it otherwise, would this excellent author's observation excuse our poet, who, writing in the formal way of a discourse, was obliged to observe the method of such compositions, while Horace in an easy epistle needed no apology for want of it. For it is the nature of the composition that makes method proper or unnecessary.” The passage was altered out of compliment to the commentary of his friend Hurd on the Art of Poetry, and Warburton, who had previously contended that method was needless in Horace, now maintained that there was no “prerogative in verse to dispense with regularity.” It was common with him to regulate his critical opinions by his personal partialities or aversions.
Wer. 15. Let such teach others, doc.] But it is not enough that the critic hath these natural endowments of judgment and taste, to entitle him to exercise his art; he should, as our author shows us, from ver. 14 to 19, in order to give a further test of his qualification, have put them successfully into use. And this on two accounts: 1. Because the office of a critic is an exercise of authority. 2. Because he being naturally as partial to his judgment as the poet is to his wit, his partiality would have nothing to correct it, as that of the person judged hath by the very terms. Therefore some test is necessary; and the best and most unexceptionable, is his having written well himself— an approved remedy against critical partiality, and the surest means of so maturing the judgment as to reap with glory what Longinus calls “the last and most perfect fruits of much study and experience.” H yap two Aoyov kpious troAA'ms eatu repas reaevratov etriyevvmua. Wer. 19. Yet, if we look, &c.] But the author having been thus free with the fundamental quality of criticism, judgment, so as to charge it with inconstancy and partiality, and to be often warped by custom and affection, that he may not be misunderstood, he next explains, from ver. 18 to 36, the nature of judgment, and the accidents occasioning those miscarriages before objected to it. He owns, that the seeds of judgment are indeed sown in the minds of most men, but by ill culture, as it springs up, it generally runs wild, either on the one hand, by false learning, which pedants call philology, and by false reasoning, which philosophers call school-learning, or, on the other, by false wit, which is not regulated by sense, and by false politeness, which is solely regulated by the fashion. Both these sorts, who have their judgment thus doubly depraved, the poet observes, are naturally turned to censure and abuse, only with this difference, that the learned dunce always affects to be on the reasoning, and the unlearned fool on the laughing side. And thus, at the same time, our author proves the truth of his introductory observation, that the number of bad critics is vastly superior to that of bad poets. Wer. 36. Some have at first for wits, &c.] The poet having enumerated, in this account of the nature of judgment and its various depravations, the several sorts of bad critics, and ranked them into two general classes, as the first sort, namely, the men spoiled by false learning—are but few in comparison of the other, and likewise come less within his main view (which is poetical criticism) but keep grovelling at the bottom amongst words and syllables, he thought it enough for his purpose here, just to have mentioned them, proposing to do them right hereafter. But the men spoiled by false taste are innumerable, and these are his proper concern. He therefore, from ver. 35 to 46, subdivides them again into the two classes of the volatile and heavy. He describes, in few words, the quick progression of the one through criticism, from false wit to plain folly, where they end; and the fixed station of the other, between the confines of both ; who under the name of withings, have neither end nor measure. A kind of half-formed creature from he equivocal generation of vivacity and dulness, like those on the banks of Nile, from heat and mud. Ver. 46. But you who seek, &c.] Our author having thus far, by way of introduction, explained the nature, use, and abuse of criticism, in a figurative description of the qualities and characters of critics, proceeds now to deliver the precepts of the art. The first of which, from ver, 45 to 68, is, that he who sets up for a critic should previously examine his own strength, and see how far he is qualified for the exercise of his profession. He puts