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Neglect the rule 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 loved folly sacrifice.
Once on a time, La Mancha's knight, they say,
A certain bard encountering on the way,
Discoursed in terms as just, with looks as sage,
As e'er could Dennis, of the Grecian stage; 270
Concluding all were desperate sots and fools,
Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules.
Our author, happy in a judge so nice,
Produced 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 Stagyrite.'- 280
• Not so, by heaven! (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,
Curious, not knowing, not exact, but nice,
Form short ideas ; and offend in arts
(As most in manners) by a love to parts.
Some to conceit alone their taste confine,
And glittering thoughts struck out at every line ; 290
Pleased with a work where nothing's just or fit;
One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit.
Poets, like painters, thus unskill'd to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover every part,
And hide with ornaments their want of art.
True wit is nature to advantage dress'd,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd
Something, whose truth convinced at sight we find;
That gives us back the image of our mind. 300
As shades more sweetly recommend the light,
So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit;
For works may have more wit than does them good,
As bodies perish through excess of blood.
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. 310
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, 320
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 Fungosa in the play,
These sparks with awkward vanity display
What the fine gentleman wore yesterday ; 330
And but so mimic ancient wits at best,
As apes our grandsires in their doublets dress'd.
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; 340 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, Thougia oft the ear the open vowels tire; While expletives their feeble aid do join, And ten low words oft creep in one dull line: While they ring round the same unvaried chimes, With sure returns of still expected rhymes ; Where'er you find the cooling western breeze, 350 In the next line it whispers through the trees :' If crystal streams with pleasing murmurs creep,' The reader's threatened (not in vain) with ‘sleep;' Then at the last, and only couplet fraught With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, A needless Alexandrine ends the
song, That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length
along. Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, anä
know What’s roundly smooth, or languishingly slow; And praise the easy vigour of a line,
360 Where Denham's strength and Waller's sweetness
join True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. 'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence, The sound must seem an echo to the sense: Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; But when loud surges lash the sounding shore, The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar, When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw The line too labours, and the words move slow : 370
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending corn, and skims along the main
Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise!
While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove
Now burns with glory, and then melts with love:
Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow,
Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow :
Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found, 380
And the world's victor stood subdued by sound!
The power of music all our hearts allow,
And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now.
Avoid extremes; and shun the fault of such
Who still are pleased 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 through 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, 400 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 judginent of their own But catch the spreading notion of the town;
They reason and conclude by precedent, 410
And own stale nonsense 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 starved hackney'd sonnetteer, or me!
But let a lord once own the happy lines,
How the wit brightens ! how the style refines !
Before his sacred name flies every fault,
And each exalted stanza teems with thought !
The vulgar thus through imitation err;
As oft the learn'd by being singular;
So much they scorn the crowd, that if the throng
By chance go right they purposely go wrong:
So schismatics the plain believers quit,
And are but damn’d for having too much wit.
Some praise at morning what they blame at night,
But always think the last opinion right.
431 A muse by these is like a mistress used, This hour she's idolized, the next abused; While their weak heads, like towns unfortified, "Twixt sense and nonsense daily change their side. Ask them the cause; they're wiser still they say; And still to-morrow's wiser than to-day. We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow; Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so. Once school-divines this zealous isle o'erspread; 4 10 Who knew most sentences was deepest read: Faith, Gospel, all, seem'd made to be disputed, And none had sense enough to be confuted: Scotists and Thomists, now in peace remain, Amidst their kindred cobwebs in Duck-lane. If faith itself has different dresses worn, What wonder modes in wit should take their turn?