Page images
PDF

Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
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
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 Fungoso in the play,
These sparks with awkward vanity display
What the fine gentleman wore yesterday;
And but so mimic ancient wits at best,
As apes our grandsires in their doublets drest.
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;
Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear; 2
Not mend their minds, as some to church repair
Not for the doctrine but the music there.
These equal syllables alone require,
Though 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,'
In the next line, it' whispers through the trees ;'
If crystal streams' with pleasing murmurs creep,'
The reader's threaten'd (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, and know
What's roundly smooth, or languishingly slow,
And praise the easy vigour of a line
Where Denham's strength and Waller's sweetness

join. True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who haye 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 : 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 Lybian 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, 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 pleas's 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,
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 judgment of their own,
But catch the spreading notion of the town;
They reason and conclude by precedent,
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 woful stuff this madrigal would be
In some starv'd hackney 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. A Muse by these is like a mistress us'd, This bour she's idoliz'd, the next abus'd; 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; Who knew most sentences was deepest read: A 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? Oft leaving what is natural and fit, The current folly proves the ready wit; And authors think their reputation safe, Which lives as long as fools are pleas'd to laugh.

Some, valuing those of their own side or mind, Still make themselves the measure of mankind : Fondly we think we honour merit then, When we but praise ourselves in other men.

Parties in wit attend on those of state, And public faction doubles private hate. Pride, malice, folly, against Dryden rose, In various shapes of parsons, critics, beaux : But sense surviv'd when merry jests were past; For rising merit will buoy up at last. Might he return and bless once more our eyes, New Blackmores and new Milbourns must arise :

The following licence of a foreign reign
Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain;
Then unbelieving priests reform'd the nation,
And taught more pleasant methods of salvation;
Where Heav'u's free subjects might their rights

dispute,
Lest God himself should seem too absolute:
Palpits their sacred satire learn'd to spare,
And vice admir'd to find a flatterer there!
Encourag'd thus, wit's Titans brav'd the skies,
And the press groan'd with licens'd blasphemies.
These monsters, critics ! with your darts engage,
Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage !
Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice,
Will needs mistake an author into vice:
All seems infected that the infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye.

PART III. Rules for the conduct and manners in a critic. Candour. Modesty-Good breeding.-Sincerity and freedom of advice.-When one's counsel is to be restrained.-Character of an incorrigible poet.-And of an impertinent critic.-Character of a good critic.-The history of Criticism, and characters of the best critics; Aristotle.-Horace.-- Dionysius. - Petronius. -Quintilian.- Longinus, of the decay of criticism, and its revival.-Erasmus.Vida.--Boileau.-Lord Roscommon, &c. Conclusion.

1 EARN then what morals critics ought to show,

For 'tis but half a judge's task to know.
'Tis not enough taste, judgment, learning, join ;
In all you speak let truth and candour shine;
That not alone what to your sense is due
All may allow, but seek your friendship too.

Be silent always when you doubt your sense,
And speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence;
Some positive persisting fops we know.
Who if once wrong will needs be always so;

« PreviousContinue »