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Cease, fond nature, cease thy strife,
Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
The world recedes; it disappears !
With sounds seraphic ring:
o death! where is thy sting?
ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
Written in the Year 1709.
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. 10 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 judgement, 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 necessary to be studied by a critic, particularly Homer and Virgil, ver. 120 to 138. Of licences, and the use of them by the ancients, ver. 140 to 180. Reverence due to the ancients, and praise of them, ver. 181, &c.
'T's hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill;
A fool might once himself alone expose,
'Tis with our judgements as our watches; none
Yet, if we look more closely, we shall find Most have the seeds of judgement in their mind: Nature affords at least a glimmering light; The lines, though touch'd but faintly, are drawn
right. But as the slightest sketch, if justly trac'd, Is by ill-colouring but the more disgrac'd, So by false learning is good sense defacd: 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, Or with a rival's or an euruch'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, past; Turn'd critics next, and prov'd plain fools at last. Some neither can for wits nor critics pass, As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass. Those half-learn'd witlings, numerous in our isle, As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile; Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call, Their generation's so equivocal: To tell them would a hundred tongues require, Or one vain wit's, that might a hundred tire.
But you, who seek to give and merit fame, And justly bear a critic's noble name, Be sure yourself and your own reach to know, How far your genius, taste, and learning, go; Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.
Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit, And wisely curb'd proud man's pretending wit: As on the land while here the ocean gains, In other parts it leaves wide sandy plains; Thus in the soul while memory prevails, The solid power of understanding fails; Where beams of warm imagination play, The memory's soft figures melt away. One science only will one genius fit; So vast is art, so narrow human wit: Not only bounded to peculiar arts, But oft in those confin'd to single parts. Like kings, we lose the conquests gain'd before, By vain ambition still to inake them more: Each might his several province well command, Would all but stoop to what they understand.
First follow nature, and your judgement frame By her just standard, which is still the same: Unerring nature, still divinely bright, One clear, unchang’d, and universal light, Life, force, and beauty, must to all impart, At once the source, and end, and test of art. Art from that fund each just supply provides; Works without show, and without pomp presides: In some fair body thus th' informing soul With spirits feeds, with vigour fills the whole, Each motion guides, and every nerve sustains; Itself unseen, but in th' effects remains. Some, to whom Heaven in wit has been profuse, Want as much more, to turn it to its use; For wit and judgement 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,
Those rules of old discover'd, not devis'd,