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I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is illplaced ; Poetry and Criticism being by no means the univerfal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.
Yet fure upon the whole, a bad Author deserves better ufage than a bad Critic : for a Writer's endeavour, for the most part, is to please his Readers, and he fails merely through the misfortune of an ill judgment; but such a Critic's is to put them out of humor; a design he could never go upon without both th it and an ill temper.
I think a good deal may be said to extenuate the fault of bad poets. What we call a Genius, is hard, to be distinguished by a man himself, from a strong inclination : and if his genius be ever so great, he cannot at first discover it any other way, than by, giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. The only method he has, is to make the experiment by writing, and appealing to the judgment of others : now if he happens to write ill (which is certainly no sin in itself) he is immediately made an object of ridicule. I wish we had the humanity to reflect that even the worst authors might, in their endeavour to please us, deserve something at our hands. We have no cause to quarrel with them but for their obftinacy in persisting to write; and this too may admit of alleviating circumstances
. Their particular friends may be either ignorant, or insincere ; and the rest of the world in general is too well bred to shock them with a truth, which generally their Booksellers are the first that inform them of. This happens not till they have spent too much of their time, to apply to any profeflion which might better fit their talcntz; and till such talents as they have are so far discredited as to be but of small service to thein. For (what is the hardest case imaginable)
the reputation of a man generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world, and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that season when we have leaft judgment to direct us.
On the other hand, a good Poet no sooner communicates his works with the fame defire of infor mation, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with the fear of being ridiculous. If he is made to hope he may please the world, he falls under very un. lucky circumstances : for, from the moment he prints, he must expect to hear no more truth, than if he were a Prince, or a Beauty. If he has not very good sense (and indeed there are twenty mer. of wit, for one man of sense) his living thus in a course of flattery may put him in no small danger of becoming a Coxcomb: if he has, he will confequently have so much diffidence as not to reap any great satisfaction from his praise; since, if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery, and if in his absence, it is hard to be certain of it. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as sure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majo rity; for it is with a fine Genius as with a fine fafhion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it: and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so much good, as ill-will does him harm. Then there is a third class of people who make the largest part of mankind, those of ordinary or indifferent capacities; and these (to a man) will hate, or fufpect hiin: a hundred honcit Gentle men will dread him as a Wit, and a hundred innocent Women as a Satirist. In a word, whatever be his fate in Poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are: indeed some advantages accruing from a Genius to
Poetry, and they are all I can think of: the agreeable power of- felf-amusement when a man is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted into the best company; and the freedom of saying as many careless things as other people, without being so severely remarked upon.
I believe, if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration. The life of a Wit is a warfare upon earth; and the present fpirit of the learned world is fuch, that to attempt to serve it (any way) one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its sake. I could wish people would believe what I am pretty certain they will not, that I have been much less concerned about Fame than I durft declare till this occasion, when methinks I should find more credit than I could heretofore: since my writings have had their fate already, and it is too late to think of prepossessing the reader in their favour. I would plead it as some merit in me, that the world has never been prepared for these Trifles by Prefaces, byaffed by recommendations, dazled with the names of great patrons, wheedled with fine reasons and pretences, or troubled with excufes. I confess it was want of confideration that made me an author; I writ because it amused me; I corrected because it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write; and I published because I was told I might please such as it was a credit to please. To what degree I have done this I am really ignorant; I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleased with them at last. But I have reason to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deserves to do fo: for they have always fallen short not only of what I read of others, but even of my own Ideas of Poetry.
If any one should imagine I am not in earnest, I desire him to reflect, that the Ancients (to say the least of them) had as much Genius as we : and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more compleat pieces. They constantly apply'd themselves not only to that art, but to that single branch of an art, to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the business of their lives to correct and finish their works for posterity. If we can pretend to liave used the same industry, let us expect the same immortality: Tho' if we took the same care, we should still lie under a farther misfortune: they writ in languages that became universal and everlasting, while ours are extremely limited both in extent and in duration. A mighty foundation for our pride! when the utmost we can hope, is but to be read in one Island, and to be thrown afide at the end of one Age.
All that is left us is to recommend our productions by the imitation of the Ancients : and it will be found true, that, in every age, the highest character for sense ånd learning has been obtained by those who have been most indebted to them. For, to say truth, whatever is very good sense, must have been common sense in all times; and what we call Learning, is but the knowledge of the sense of our predeceffors. Therefore they who say our thoughts are not our own, because they resemble the Ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our Fathers : And indeed it is very unreasonable, that people should expect us to be Scho. lars, and
be I fairly confess that I have served myself all I could by reading; that I made use of the judgment of authors dead and living; that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errors, both by my friends and enemies : But the true reason these pieces are not more correct, is owing to the confideration
angry to find
how short a time they, and I, have to live : Orie may be ashamed to consume half one's days in bringing sense and rhyme together; and what Critic can be to unreasonable, as not to leave a man time enough for any more serious employment, or more agreeable amusement ?
7 he only plea I shall ufe for the favour of the public, is, that I have as great a respect for it, as most authors have for themselves; and that I have facrificed much of my own self-love for its fake, in preventing not only many mean things from seeing the light, but many which I thought tolerable: I would not be like those Authors, who forgive themselves some particular lines for the sake of a whole Poem, and vice versa a whole Poem for the fake of some particular lines. I believe no one qualification is fo likely to make a good writer, as the power of rejecting his own thoughts; and it must be this (if any thing) that can give me a chance to be one. For what I have published, I can only hope to be pardoned; but for what I have burned, I deserve to be praised. On this account the world is under fome obligation to me, and owes me the justice in return, to look upon no'verses as mine that are not inserted in this collection. And perhaps nothing could make it worth my while to own what are really so, but to avoid the imputation of so many dull and immoral things, as partly by malice, and partly by ignorance, have been ascribed to me. I must farther acquit myself of the prefumption of having lent my name to recommend any Miscellanies, or Works of other men; a thing I never thought' becoming a person who has hardly credit enough to answer for his own.
In this office of collecting my pieces, I am altogether uncertain, whether to look upon myself as a man building a monument, or burying the dead.