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Be Homer's works your study and delight,
Read them by day, ard meditate by night:
Thence form your judgment, thence your maxima
And trace the muses upward to their spring.
Still with itself compared, his text peruse;
And let your comment be the Mantuan Muse.
When first young Maro, in his boundless mind 134
A work t'outlast immortal Rome design'd,
Perhaps he seem'd above the critic's law,
And but from nature's fountains scorn'd to draw:
But when to examine every part he came,
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same.
Convinced, amazed, he checks the bold design,
And rules as strict his labour'd work confine,
As if the Stagyrite o'erlooked each line.
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem,
To copy nature, is to copy them.
Some beauties yet no precepts can declare,
For there's a happiness as well as care.
Music resembles poetry; in each
Are nameless graces which no methods teach,
And which a master-hand alone can reach.
If, where the rules not far enough extend
(Since rules were made but to promote their end,)
Some lucky license answer to the full
The intent proposed, that license is a rule.
Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
May boldly deviate from the common track;
From vulgar bounds with brave disorder part,
And snatch a grace beyond the reach of art,
Which, without passing through the judgnient, gains
The heart, and all its ends at once attains.
In prospects thus, some objects please our eyes,
Which out of nature's common order rise,
The shapeless rock, or hanging precipice.
Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to faults true critics dare not mend.
But though the ancients thus their rules invade
As kings dispense with laws themselves have made,
Moderns, beware! or, if you must offend
Against the precept, ne'er transgress its end:
Let it be seldom, and compell’d by need;
And have, at least, their precedent to plead.
The critic else proceeds without remorse,
Seizes your fame, and puts his laws in force.
I know there are, to whose presumptuous thoughts
Those freer beauties, e'en in them, seem faults. 170
Some figures monstrous and mis-shaped appear,
Consider'd singly, or beheld too near,
Which, but proportion'd to their light or place,
Due distance reconciles to form and grace.
A prudent chief not always must display
His powers in equal ranks, and fair
array, But with the occasion, and the place comply, Conceal his force, nay seem sometimes to fly. Those oft are stratagems which errors seem, Nor is it Homer nods, but we that dream, 130
Still green with bays each ancient altar stands, Above the reach of sacrilegious hands; Secure from flames, from envy's fiercer rage, Destructive war, and all-involving age. See from each clime the learn'd their incense bring' Hear, in all tongues consenting Pæans ring ! In praise so just let every voice be join'd, And fill the general chorus of mankind. Hail! bards triumphant! born in happier days; Immortal heirs of universal praise!
1993 Whose honours with increase of ages grow, As streams roll down, enlarging as they flow; Nations unborn your mighty names shall sound, And worlds applaud that must not yet be found ! O may some spark of your celestial fire, The last, the meanest of your sons inspire, (That, on weak wings, from far pursues your flights Glows while he reads, but trembles as he writes,)
to teach vain wits a science little known,
To admire superior sense, and doubt their own
PART II. Causes hindering a true judgment. 1. Pride, ver. 201.
2. Imperfect learning, ver. 215. 3. Judging by parts, and not by the whole, ver. 233 to 288. Critics in wit, language, versification, only, 288, 305, 339, &c. 4. Being too hard to please, or too apt to admire, ver.384. 5. Partiality—too much love to a sect-to the ancients or moderns, ver. 394. 6. Prejudice or prevention, ver. 408. 7. Singularity, ver. 424. 8. Inconstancy ver 430. 9. Party spirit, ver. 452, &c. 10. Envy, ver. 466 Against envy, and in praise of good-nature, ver. 508, &c. When severity is chiefly to be used by the critics, ver. 526, &c.
Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride; the never-failing vice of fools.
Whatever nature has in worth denied,
She gives in large recruits of needful pride!
For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find
What wants in blood and spirits, swell’d with wind
Pride, where wit fails, steps in to our defence,
And fills up all the mighty void of sense. 211
If once right reason drives that cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless day.,
Trust not yourself; but, your defects to know
Make use of every friend—and every foe.
A little learning is a dangerous thing !
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring ;
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the height of arts, 220
While from the bounded level of our mind,
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind ;
But more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise !
So, pleased at first, the towering Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky !
The eternal snows appear already passid,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last :
But, those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen'd way:
234 The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes, Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise !
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ:
Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find
Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind
Nor lose, for that malignant dull delight,
The generous pleasure to be charm’d with wit.
But, in such lays as neither ebb nor flow,
Correctly cold, and regularly low,
That, shunning faults, one quiet tenor keep;
We cannot blame indeed-but we may sleep.
In wit, as nature, what affects our hearts
Is not the exactness of peculiar parts;
'Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call,
But the joint force and full result of all.
Thus when we view some well-proportion'd dome,
(The world's just wonder, and e'en thine, oh Rome!
No single parts unequally surprise ;
All comes united to the admiring eyes :
250 No monstrous height, or breadth, or length appear: The whole at once is bold, and regular.
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 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