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AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
(Written in the year 1709. ]
CONTENTS. 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, V. 99---18. That most men are bom with some taste, but spoiled by false education, v. 19,.--25. The mul titude of critics, and causes of them, v. 26,- -45. That we are to study our own taste, and know the limits of it, v. 46,---67. Nature the best guide of judgment, v. 68---87; improved by art and rules, which are but methodized Nature, v. 88. Rules derived from the practice of the ancient poets, v. 88,---110; that therefore the Ancients are necessary to be studied by a critic, particularly Homer and Virgil, v. 118,---138. Of licenses, and the use of them, by the Ancients, v. 141, --180. Reverence due to the Ancients, and praise of them, v. 181, &c. Causes hindering a true judgment. 1, Pride, v, 209. 2,Imperfect learning, v. 215. 3, Judging by parts, and not by the whole, v. 233---288. Critics in wit, language, versification only, v. 289,305, 337, &c. 4, Being too hard to please, or too apt to admire, v. 384. 5, Partiality,--. too much love to a sect;--- to the ancients or moderns, v. 394. 6, Prejudice or prevention, v. 408. 7, Singularity, v.424. 8, Inconstancy, v. 430. 9, Party spirit, v. 452, &c. 10, Envy, v. 466. Against envy, and in praise of good-nature, v. 508. &c. When severity is chiefly to be used by critics, v. 526, &c. Rules for the conduct of manners in a critic. 1, Candour, v. 563. Modesty, v. 566, Good breeding, v. 72. Sincerity and freedom of advice, v. 578. 2, When one's counsel is to be restrained, v. 584. Character of an incorrigible poet, v. 600; and of an impertinent critic, v. 610, &c. Character of a good critic, v. 631. The history of criticism and characters of the best critics, Aristotle, v. 645. Horace, v. 653. Dionysius, v. 665. Petronius, v. 667. Quintilian, v. 669. Longinus, v. 675. Of the decay of criticism, and it's revival. Erasmus, v. 693. Vida, v. 705. Boileau, v. 714. 'Lord Roscommon, &c. v. 725. Conclusion, 'Tis hard to say if greater want of skill appear in writing or in judging ill; but of the two less dang'rous is th' offence to tire our patience than mislead our sense: some few in that, but numbers err in this, 5
ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss ;
'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none go just alike, yet each believes his own.
10 In poets as true genius is but rare, true taste as seldom is the critic's share: both must alike from Heav'n derive their light, these born to judge as well as those to write. Let such teach others who themselves excel, 15 and censure freely who have written well. Authors are partial to their wit, 't is true, but are not critics to their judgment too?
Yet if we look niore closely we shall find most have the seeds of judgment in their mind: 20 nature affords at least a glimm’ring light; the lines tho' 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 defac'd: 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 laugbing 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, 36 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-leari'd witlings, num'rous in our isle, 40 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 an hundred tire. 45
But you who seek to give and merit fame, and justly bear a Critic's noble name, . he sure yourself and your own reach to know, how far your genius, taste, and learning, go; Jaunch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, 50 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 pow'r 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 make them more: each might bis sev'ral province well command, would all but stoop to what they understand.
First follow nature, and your judgment 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.
rt from that fund each just supply provides, orks without show, and without pomp presides : i some fair body thus th' informing soul 76 ith spirits feeds, with vigour fills, the whole; ach motion guides, and ev'ry nerve sustains, self unseen, but in th' effects remains. ome to whom Heav'n in wit has been profuse 80 ant as much more to turn it to its use; or wit and judgment often are at strife, ho' meant each other's aid, like man and wife, ris more to guide than spur the Muses' steed, estrain his fury than provoke his speed : 85 he winged courser, like a gen'rous horse, hows most true mettle when you check his course.
Those rules of old, discover'd not devis'd, ire nature still but nature inethodiz'd, . jature, 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; 95 held from afar, aloft, th’immortal prize, and urg'd the rest by equal steps to rise. Just precepts thus from great examples giv'n, she drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n ; the gen'rous critic fann'd the poet's fire, and taught the world with reason to admire, then Criticism the muse's handmaid prov'd to dress her charms, and make her more belov'd; 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, 106 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 spoild so much as they : some dryly plain, without invention's aid, write dull receipts how poems may be made; 115 these leave the sense their learving to display, and those explain the meaning quite away.
You then whose judgment the right course would know well each ancient's proper character ; [steer, his fable, subjects, scope in ev'ry 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, read them by day, and meditate by night; 125 thence from your judgment, thence your maxims and trace the muses upward to their spring; [bring, still with itself compar'd bis text peruse; and let your comment be the Mantuan muse.
When first young Maro in his boundless mind a work toutlast immortal Rome design'd, 131 perhaps he seem'd above the critic's law, and but from nature's fountains scorn'd to draw; but when t examine ev'ry part he cane, nature and Homer were, he found, the same. 135 Convinc'd, amaz'd he checks the bold design, and rules as strict his labourd work confine as if the Stagirite o’erlook'd each line. Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem; to copy nature is to copy them.
141 Soine beauties yet no precepts can declare,