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Lend, lend your wings ! I mount ! I fy!
Oh death! where is thy sting ?
AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
Written in the Year 1709.
PART I. Introduction. That it is as great a fault to judge ill, as
to write ill, and a more dangerous one to the public, ver. 1. That a true taste is as rare to be found as a true genius, ver. 9 to 18. That most men are born with some taste, but spoiled by false education, ver. 19 to 25. The multitude of critics, and causes of them, ver. 26 to 45. That we are to study our own taste, and know the limits of it, ver. 46 to 67. Nature the best guide of judgment, ver. 68 to 87. Improved by art and rules, which are but methodized nature, ver. 88. Rules derived from the practice of ancient poets, ver. 88 to 110. That therefore the ancients are neces. sary to be studied by a critic, particularly Homer and Virgil, ver. 120 to 138. Of licenses, and the use of them by the ancients, ver. 140 to 180. Reverence due to the ancients, and praise of them, ver. 181, &c.
'Tis hard to
greater want of skill
'Tis with our judgments as our watches; nono
Both must alike from Heaven derive their light,
Yet, if we look more closely, we shall find
right. But as the slightest sketch, if justly traced, Is by ill-colouring but the more disgraced, So by false learning is good sense defaced : Some are bewilder'd in the maze of schools, And some made coxcombs nature meant but fools: In search of wit these lose their common sense, And then turn critics in their own defence : Each burns alike, who can, or cannot write, 30 Or with a rival's or an eunuch's spite. All fools have still an itching to deride, And fain would be upon the laughing side. If Mævius scribble in Apollo's spite, There are who judge still worse than he can write.
Some have at first for wits, then poets pass'd;
But you, who seek to give and merit fame,
Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, 50
Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit,
First follow nature, and your judgment frame By her just standard, which is still the same : Unerring nature, still divinely bright,
70 One clear, unchanged, and universal light, Lise, force, and beauty, must to all impart, At once the source, and end, and test of art i Art from that fund each just supply provides ; Works without show, and without pomp presides : In some fair body thus the informing soul With spirits feeds, with vigour fills the whole, Each motion guides, and every nerve sustains ; Itself unseen, but in the effects remains. Some, to whom Heaven in wit has been profuse, 80 Want as much more, to turn it to its use; For wit and judgment often are at strife, Though meant each other's aid, like man and wife "Tis more to guide, than spur the muse's steed; Restrain his fury, than provoke his speed : The winged courser, like a generous horse, Shows most true mettle when you check his course.
Those rules of old discover'd, not devised, Are nature still, but nature methodized : Nature, like liberty, is but restrain'd
90 By the same laws which first herself ordain'd.
Hear how learn'd Greece her useful rules indites, When to repress, and when indulge our flights : High on Parnassus' top her sons she show'd, And pointed out those arduous paths they trod; Held from afar, aloft, the immortal prize, And urged the rest by equal steps to rise. Just precepts thus from great examples given, She drew from them what they derived from Hea
ven. The generous critic fann'd the poet's fire, 100 And taught the world with reason to admire. Then criticism the muse's handmaid proved, To dress her charms, and make her more beloved : But following wits from that intention stray’d; Who could not win the mistress, woo'd the maid ; Against the poets their own arms they turn'd, Sure to hate most the men from whom they learn'd. So modern 'pothecaries, taught the art By doctor's bills to play the doctor's part, Bold in the practice of mistaken rules,
110 Prescribe, apply, and call their masters fools. Some on the leaves of ancient authors prey, Nor time nor moths e'er spoil'd so much as they : Some drily plain, without invention's aid, Write dull receipts how poems may be made. These leave the sense, their learning to display, And those explain the meaning quite away. You then, whose judgment the right course would
steer, Know well each ancient's proper character : His fable, subject, scope in every page :
120 Religion, country, genius of his age : Without all these at once before your eyes, Cavil you may, but never criticise.
Be Homer's works your study and delight,
When first young Maro, in his boundless mind 136
140 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 ende) Some lucky license answer to the full The intent proposed, that license is a rule. Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
150 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 judgment, 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 mcnd. 160