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But as the slightest sketch, if justly trac'd,
Is by ill-colouring but the more disgracid,
So by false learning is good sense defac'd : 25.
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.
Al 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, 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-learn’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 an 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,
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, 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;
60 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: 65 Each might his 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,
70 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 76
With spirits feeds, with vigour fills, the whole ;
Each motion guides, and ev'ry nerve sustains,
Itself unseen, but in th' effects remains.
Some to whom Heav'n in wit has been profuse
Want as much more to turn it to its use;
For wit and judgment often are at strife,
Tho' meant each other's aid, like man and wife.
'Tis more to guide than spur the Muses' steed,
Restrain his fury than provoke his speed:
The winged courser, like a gen'rous horse,
Shows most true mettle when you check his course,
Those Rules of old, discover'd, not devis’d,
Are Nature still, but Nature methodiz'd :
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 Parnasus' 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 givin, She drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n; The gen'rous critic fann'd the poets fire, 100 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; 105
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 doctors' bills to play the doctor's part,
Bold in the practice of mistaken rules,
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 learning 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 form your judgment, thence your maxins And trace the Muses upward to their spring. [bring,
Still with itself compar'd his text peruse ;
And let your comment be the Mantuan Muse.
When first young Maro in his boundless mind 130
A work t’ outlast immortal Rome design'd,
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 came,
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same. 135
Convinc'd, amaz'd, he checks the bold design,
And rules as strict his labour'd work confine
As if the Stagirite o'erlook'd each line.
Learn hence from ancient rules a just esteem;
To copy Nature is to copy them.
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. 145
If, where the rules not far enough extend,
(Since rules were made but to promote their end,)
Such lucky license answer to the full
Th' intent propos’d, that license is a rule.
Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
May boldly deviate from the common track.
Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to faults true critics dare not mend;