AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
1 'TIS hard to say, if greater Want of Skill
2 Appear in Writing or in Judging ill;
3 But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' Offence,
4 To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense.
5 Some few in that, but Numbers err in this,
6 Ten Censure wrong for one who Writes amiss;
7 A Fool might once himself alone expose,
8 Now One in Verse makes many more in Prose.
9 'Tis with our Judgments as our Watches, none
10 Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
11 In Poets as true Genius is but rare,
12 True Taste as seldom is the Critick's Share;
13 Both must alike from Heav'n derive their Light,
14 These born to Judge, as well as those to Write.
† Qui scribit artificiose, ab aliis commode scripta facile intelligere poterit. Cic. ad. Herenn. lib. 4.Let such teach others who themselves excell,
16 And censure freely who have written well.
17 Authors are partial to their Wit, 'tis true,
18 But are not Criticks to their Judgment too?
19 Yet if we look more closely, we shall find
* Omnes tacito quodam sensu, sine ulla arte, aut ratione, quae sint in artibu ac rationibus recta ac prava dijudicant. Cic. de Orat. lib. 3.Most have the Seeds of Judgment in their Mind;
21 Nature affords at least a glimm'ring Light;
22 The Lines, tho' touch'd but faintly, are drawn right.
23 But as the slightest Sketch, if justly trac'd,
24 Is by ill Colouring but the more disgrac'd,
25 So by false Learning is good Sense defac'd.
26 Some are bewilder'd in the Maze of Schools,
27 And some made Coxcombs Nature meant but Fools.[Page 3]
28 In search of Wit these lose their common Sense,
29 And then turn Criticks in their own Defence:
30 Those hate as Rivals all that write; and others
31 But envy Wits, as Eunuchs envy Lovers.
32 All Fools have still an Itching to deride,
33 And fain wou'd be upon the Laughing Side:
34 If Maevius Scribble in Apollo's spight,
35 There are, who judge still worse than he can write.
36 Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past,
37 Turn'd Criticks next, and prov'd plain Fools at last.
38 Some neither can for Wits nor Criticks pass,
39 As heavy Mules are neither Horse nor Ass.
40 Those half-learn'd Witlings, num'rous in our Isle,
41 As half-form'd Infects on the Banks of Nile;
42 Unfinish'd Things, one knows not what to call,
43 Their Generation's so equivocal:
44 To tell 'em, wou'd a hundred Tongues require,
45 Or one vain Wit's, that might a hundred tire.
46 But you who seek to give and merit Fame,
47 And justly bear a Critick's noble Name,
48 Be sure your self and your own Reach to know,
49 How far your Genius, Taste, and Learning go;[Page 4]
50 Launch not beyond your Depth, but be discreet,
51 And mark that Point where Sense and Dulness meet.
52 Nature to all things fix'd the Limits fit,
53 And wisely curb'd proud Man's pretending Wit.
54 As on the Land while here the Ocean gains,
55 In other Parts it leaves wide sandy Plains;
56 Thus in the Soul while Memory prevails,
57 The solid Pow'r of Understanding fails;
58 Where Beams of warm Imagination play,
59 The Memory's soft Figures melt away.
60 One Science only will one Genius fit;
61 So vast is Art, so narrow Human Wit:
62 Not only bounded to peculiar Arts,
63 But oft in those, confin'd to single Parts.
64 Like Kings we lose the Conquests gain'd before,
65 By vain Ambition still t'extend them more.
66 Each might his sev'ral Province well command,
67 Wou'd all but stoop to what they understand.
68 First follow NATURE, and your Judgment frame
69 By her just Standard, which is still the same:
70 Unerring Nature, still divinely bright,
71 One clear, unchang'd, and Universal Light,[Page 5]
72 Life, Force, and Beauty, must to all impart,
73 At once the Source, and End, and Test of Art.
74 That Art is best which most resembles Her;
75 Which still presides, yet never does Appear:
76 In some fair Body thus the sprightly Soul
77 With Spirits feeds, with Vigour fills the whole,
78 Each Motion guides, and ev'ry Nerve sustains;
79 It self unseen, but in th' Effects, remains.
80 There are whom Heav'n has blest with store of Wit,
81 Yet want as much again to manage it;
82 For Wit and Judgment ever are at strife,
83 Tho' meant each other's Aid, like Man and Wife.
84 'Tis more to guide than spur the Muse's Steed;
85 Restrain his Fury, than provoke his Speed;
86 The winged Courser, like a gen'rous Horse,
87 Shows most true Mettle when you check his Course.
88 Those RULES of old discover'd, not devis'd,
89 Are Nature still, but Nature Methodiz'd:
90 Nature, like Monarchy, is but restrain'd
91 By the same Laws which first herself ordain'd.
92 First learned Greece just Precepts did indite,
93 When to repress, and when indulge our Flight.[Page 6]
94 High on Parnassus' Top her Sons she show'd,
95 And pointed out those arduous Paths they trod,
96 Held from afar, aloft, th' Immortal Prize,
97 And urg'd the rest by equal Steps to rise.
98 From great Examples useful Rules were giv'n;
99 She drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n.
100 The gen'rous Critick fann'd the Poet's Fire,
101 And taught the World, with Reason to Admire.
102 Then Criticism the Muses Handmaid prov'd,
103 To dress her Charms, and make her more belov'd:
104 But following Wits from that Intention stray'd;
105 Who cou'd not win the Mistress, woo'd the Maid,
106 Set up themselves, and drove a sep'rate Trade;
107 Against the Poets their own Arms they turn'd,
108 Sure to hate most the Men from whom they learn'd.
109 So modern Pothecaries, taught the Art
110 By Doctor's Bills to play the Doctor's Part,
111 Bold in the Practice of mistaken Rules,
112 Prescribe, apply, and call their Masters Fools.
113 Some on the Leaves of ancient Authors prey,
114 Nor Time nor Moths e'er spoil'd so much as they.[Page 7]
115 Some dryly plain, without Invention's Aid,
116 Write dull Receits how Poems may be made.
117 These lost the Sense, their Learning to display,
118 And those explain'd the Meaning quite away.
119 You then whose Judgment the right Course wou'd steer,
120 Know well each ANCIENT's proper Character;
121 His Fable, Subject, Scope in ev'ry Page;
122 Religion, Country, Genius of his Age:
123 Without all these at once before your Eyes,
124 Cavil you may, but never Criticize.
125 Be HOMER's Works your Study, and Delight,
126 Read them by Day, and meditate by Night;
127 Thence form your Judgment, thence your Notions bring,
128 And trace the Muses upward to their Spring.
129 Still with It self compar'd, his Text peruse;
130 And let your Comment be the Mantuan Muse.
* Virgil Eclog. 6.Cum canerem Reges & Praelia, Cynthius aurem Vellit —When first young Maro sung of Kings and Wars,
132 Ere warning Phoebus touch'd his trembling Ears,
133 Perhaps he seem'd above the Critick's Law,
134 And but from Nature's Fountains scorn'd to draw:[Page 8]
135 But when t'examine ev'ry Part he came,
136 Nature and Homer were, he found, the same:
137 Convinc'd, amaz'd, he checkt the bold Design,
138 And did his Work to Rules as strict confine,
139 As if the Stagyrite o'erlook'd each Line.
140 Learn hence for Ancient Rules a just Esteem;
141 To copy Nature is to copy Them.
142 Some Beauties yet, no Precepts can declare,
143 For there's a Happiness as well as Care.
144 Musick resembles Poetry, in each
145 Are nameless Graces which no Methods teach,
146 And which a Master-Hand alone can reach.
† Neque tam sancta sunt ista Praecepta, sed hoc quicquid est, Utilitas excogi tavit; Non negabo autem sic utile esse plerunque; verum si eadem illa nobis aliud suadebit utilitas, hanc, relictis magistrorum autoritatibus, sequemur. Quintil. l. 2. cap. 13.If, where the Rules not far enough extend,
148 (Since Rules were made but to promote their End)
149 Some Lucky LICENCE answers to the full
150 Th' Intent propos'd, that Licence is a Rule.
151 Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
152 May boldly deviate from the common Track.
153 Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
154 And rise to Faults true Criticks dare not mend;[Page 9]
155 From vulgar Bounds with brave Disorder part,
156 And snatch a Grace beyond the Reach of Art,
157 Which, without passing thro' the Judgment, gains
158 The Heart, and all its End at once attains.
159 In Prospects, thus, some Objects please our Eyes,
160 Which out of Nature's common Order rise,
161 The shapeless Rock, or hanging Precipice.
162 But Care in Poetry must still be had,
163 It asks Discretion ev'n in running Mad:
164 And tho' the Ancients thus their Rules invade,
165 (As Kings dispense with Laws Themselves have made)
166 Moderns, beware! Or if you must offend
167 Against the Precept, ne'er transgress its End;
168 Let it be seldom; and compell'd by Need;
169 And have, at least, Their Precedent to plead.
170 The Critick else proceeds without Remorse,
171 Seizes your Fame, and puts his Laws in force.
172 I know there are, to whose presumptuous Thoughts
173 Those Freer Beauties, ev'n in Them, seem Faults.
174 Some Figures monstrous and mis-shap'd appear,
175 Consider'd singly, or beheld too near,[Page 10]
176 Which, but proportion'd to their Light, or Place
177 Due Distance reconciles to Form and Grace.
178 A prudent Chief not always must display
179 His Pow'rs in equal Ranks, and fair Array,
180 But with th' Occasion and the Place comply,
181 Conceal his Force, nay seem sometimes to Fly.
182 Those oft are Stratagems which Errors seem,
183 Nor is it Homer Nods, but We that Dream.
184 Still green with Bays each ancient Altar stands,
185 Above the reach of Sacrilegious Hands;
186 Secure from Flames, from Envy's fiercer Rage,
187 Destructive War, and all-devouring Age.
188 See, from each Clime the Learn'd their Incense bring;
189 Hear, in all Tongues consenting Paeans ring!
190 In Praise so just, let ev'ry Voice be join'd,
191 And fill the Gen'ral Chorus of Mankind!
192 Hail Bards Triumphant! born in happier Days;
193 Immortal Heirs of Universal Praise!
194 Whose Honours with Increase of Ages grow,
195 As Streams roll down, enlarging as they flow!
196 Nations unborn your mighty Names shall sound,
197 And Worlds applaud that must not yet be found![Page 11]
198 Oh may some Spark of your Coelestial Fire
199 The last, the meanest of your Sons inspire,
200 (That on weak Wings, from far, pursues your Flights;
201 Glows while he reads, but trembles as he writes)
202 To teach vain Wits a Science little known,
203 T'admire Superior Sense, and doubt their own!
204 OF all the Causes which conspire to blind
205 Man's erring Judgment, and misguide the Mind,
206 What the weak Head with strongest Byass rules,
207 Is Pride, the never-failing Vice of Fools.
208 Whatever Nature has in Worth deny'd,
209 She gives in large Recruits of needful Pride;
210 For as in Bodies, thus in Souls, we find
211 What wants in Blood and Spirits, swell'd with Wind:
212 Pride, where Wit fails, steps in to our Defence,
213 And fills up all the mighty Void of Sense!
214 If once right Reason drives that Cloud away,
215 Truth breaks upon us with resistless Day;
216 Trust not your self; but your Defects to know,
217 Make use of ev'ry Friend — and ev'ry Foe.
218 A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
219 Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
220 There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
221 And drinking largely sobers us again.
222 Fir'd with the Charms fair Science does impart,
223 In fearless Youth we tempt the Heights of Art,
224 While from the bounded Level of our Mind,
225 Short Views we take, nor see the Lengths behind;
226 But more advanc'd, behold with strange Surprize
227 New, distant Scenes of endless Science rise!
228 So pleas'd at first the towring Alps we try,
229 Mount o'er the Vales, and seem to tread the Sky,
230 Th' Eternal Snows appear already past,
231 And the first Clouds and Mountains seem the last:
232 But those attain'd, we tremble to survey
233 The growing Labours of the lengthen'd Way,
234 Th' increasing Prospect tires our wandring Eyes,
235 Hills peep o'er Hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
† Diligenter legendum est, ac poene ad scribendi sollicitudinem: Nec per partes modo scrutanda sunt omnia, sed perlectus liber utique ex Integro resumendus. Quin tilian.A perfect Judge will read each Work of Wit
237 With the same Spirit that its Author writ,[Page 13]
238 Survey the Whole, nor seek slight Faults to find;
239 Where Nature moves, and Rapture warms the Mind;
240 Nor lose, for that malignant dull Delight,
241 The gen'rous Pleasure to be charm'd with Wit.
242 But in such Lays as neither ebb, nor flow,
243 Correctly cold, and regularly low,
244 That shunning Faults, one quiet Tenour keep;
245 We cannot blame indeed — but we may sleep.
246 In Wit, as Nature, what affects our Hearts
247 Is not th' Exactness of peculiar Parts;
248 'Tis not a Lip, or Eye, we Beauty call,
249 But the joint Force and full Result of all.
250 Thus when we view some well proportion'd Dome,
251 (The World's just Wonder, and ev'n thine, O Rome!)
252 No single Parts unequally surprize;
253 All comes united to th' admiring Eyes;
254 No monstrous Height, or Breadth, or Length appear;
255 The Whole at once is Bold, and Regular.
256 Whoever thinks a faultless Piece to see,
257 Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.
258 In ev'ry Work regard the Writer's End,
259 Since none can compass more than they Intend;[Page 14]
260 And if the Means be just, the Conduct true,
261 Applause, in spite of trivial Faults, is due.
262 As Men of Breeding, oft the Men of Wit
263 T' avoid great Errors, must the less commit,
264 Neglect the Rules each Verbal Critick lays,
265 For not to know some Trifles, is a Praise.
266 Most Criticks fond of some subservient Art,
267 Still make the Whole depend upon a Part,
268 They talk of Principles, but Parts they prize,
269 And All to one lov'd Folly Sacrifice.
270 Once on a time, La Mancha's Knight, they say,
271 A certain Bard encountring on the Way,
272 Discours'd in Terms as just, with Looks as Sage,
273 As e'er cou'd D—s, of the Laws o'th' Stage;
274 Concluding all were desp'rate Sots and Fools,
275 That durst depart from Aristotle's Rules.
276 Our Author, happy in a Judge so nice,
277 Produc'd his Play, and beg'd the Knight's Advice;
278 Made him observe the Subject and the Plot,
279 The Manners, Passions, Unities, what not?
280 All which, exact to Rule were brought about,
281 Were but a Combate in the Lists left out.[Page 15]
282 What! Leave the Combate out? Exclaims the Knight;
283 Yes, or we must renounce the Stagyrite.
284 Not so by Heav'n (he answers in a Rage)
285 Knights, Squires, and Steeds, must enter on the Stage.
286 The Stage can ne'er so vast a Throng contain.
287 Then build a New, or act it in a Plain.
288 Thus Criticks, of less Judgment than Caprice,
289 Curious, not Knowing; not exact, but nice;
290 Form short Ideas; and offend in Arts
291 (As most in Manners) by a Love to Parts.
292 Some to Conceit alone their Taste confine,
293 And glitt'ring Thoughts struck out at ev'ry Line;
294 Pleas'd with a Work where nothing's just or fit;
295 One glaring Chaos and wild Heap of Wit.
296 Poets like Painters, thus, unskill'd to trace
297 The naked Nature and the living Grace,
298 With Gold and Jewels cover ev'ry Part,
299 And hide with Ornaments their Want of Art.
† Naturam intueamur, hanc sequamur; Id facillimè accipiunt animi quod ag noscunt. Quintil. lib. 8. c. 3.True Wit is Nature to Advantage drest,
301 What oft was Thought, but ne'er so well Exprest;[Page 16]
302 Something, whose Truth convinc'd at Sight we find,
303 That gives us back the Image of our Mind.
304 As Shades more sweetly recommend the Light,
305 So modest Plainness sets off sprightly Wit:
306 For Works may have more Wit than does 'em good,
307 As Bodies perish through Excess of Blood.
308 Others for Language all their Care express,
309 And value Books, as Women Men, for Dress:
310 Their Praise is still — The Style is excellent:
311 The Sense, they humbly take upon Content.
312 Words are like Leaves; and where they most abound,
313 Much Fruit of Sense beneath is rarely found.
314 False Eloquence, like the Prismatic Glass,
315 Its gawdy Colours spreads on ev'ry place;
316 The Face of Nature we no more survey;
317 All glares alike, without Distinction gay:
318 But true Expression, like th'unchanging Sun,
319 Clears, and improves whate'er it shines upon,
320 It gilds all Objects, but it alters none.
321 Expression is the Dress of Thought, and still
322 Appears more decent as more suitable;[Page 17]
323 A vile Conceit in pompous Words exprest,
324 Is like a Clown in regal Purple drest:
325 For diff'rent Styles with diff'rent Subjects sort,
326 As several Garbs with Country, Town, and Court.
* Abolita & abrogata retinere, insolentiae cujusdam est, & frivolae in parvis jactantiae. Quint. lib. 1. c. 6.Opus est ut Verba a vetustate repetita neque crebra sint, neque manifesta, quia nil est odiosius affectatione, nec utique ab ultimis repetita temporibus. Oratio, cujus summa virtus est perspicuitas, quam sit vitiosa si egeat interprete? Ergo ut novorum optima erunt maximè vetera, ita veterum maximè nova. Idem.Some by Old Words to Fame have made Pretence;
328 Ancients in Phrase, meer Moderns in their Sense!
329 Such labour'd Nothings, in so strange a Style,
330 Amaze th' unlearn'd, and make the Learned Smile.
331 Unlucky, as Fungoso in the†
† Ben. Johnson's Every Man in his Humour.Play,
332 These Sparks with aukward Vanity display
333 What the Fine Gentlemen wore Yesterday:
334 And but so mimick ancient Wits at best,
335 As Apes our Grandsires, in their Doublets drest.
336 In Words, as Fashions, the same Rule will hold;
337 Alike Fantastick, if too New, or Old;
338 Be not the first by whom the New are try'd,
339 Nor yet the last to lay the Old aside.
* Quis populi sermo est? quis enim? nisi carmine molli Nunc demum numero fluere, ut per laeve severes Effugit junctura ungues: scit tendere versum, Non se cus ac si cculo rubricam dirigat uno. Persius, Sat. 1.But most by Numbers judge a Poet's Song,
341 And smooth or rough, with such, is right or wrong;
342 In the bright Muse tho' thousand Charms conspire,
343 Her Voice is all these tuneful Fools admire;
344 Who haunt Parnassus but to please their Ear,
345 Not mend their Minds; as some to Church repair,
346 Not for the Doctrine, but the Musick there.
347 These Equal Syllables alone require,
† Fugiemus crebras vocalium concursiones, quae vastam atque hiantem orati mem reddunt. Cic. ad Herenn. lib. 4. Vide etiam Quintil. lib. 9. c. 4.Tho' oft the Ear the open Vowels tire;[ed.]
[ed.] The following lines are performative in nature:
- l. 348: all the vowels in this line are open;
- l. 349: the do in this line is an expletive;
- l. 350: this line has ten words in it;
- ll. 351/2: Chimes/Rhymes, a common rhyme.
349 While Expletives their feeble Aid do join;
350 And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line;
351 While they ring round the same unvary'd Chimes,
352 With sure Returns of still-expected Rhymes.
353 Where-e'er you find the cooling Western Breeze,
354 In the next Line, it whispers thro' the Trees;
355 If Chrystal Streams with pleasing Murmurs creep,
356 The Reader's threaten'd (not in vain) with Sleep.
357 Then, at the last, and only Couplet fraught
358 With some unmeaning Thing they call a Thought,[Page 19]
359 A needless Alexandrine ends the Song,
360 That like a wounded Snake, drags its slow Length along.
361 Leave such to tune their own dull Rhimes, and know
362 What's roundly smooth, or languishingly slow;
363 And praise the Easie Vigor of a Line,
364 Where Denham's Strength, and Waller's Sweetness join.
365 'Tis not enough no Harshness gives Offence,
366 The Sound must seem an Eccho to the Sense.
367 Soft is the Strain when Zephyr gently blows,
368 And the smooth Stream in smoother Numbers flows;
369 But when loud Surges lash the sounding Shore,
370 The hoarse, rough Verse shou'd like the Torrent roar.
371 When Ajax strives, some Rock's vast Weight to throw,
372 The Line too labours, and the Words move slow;
373 Not so, when swift Camilla scours the Plain,
374 Flies o'er th' unbending Corn, and skims along the Main.
375 Hear how†
† Alexander's Feast, or the Power of Musick; An Ode by Mr. Dryden.Timotheus' various Lays surprize,
376 And bid Alternate Passions fall and rise![Page 20]
377 While, at each Change, the Son of Lybian Jove
378 Now burns with Glory, and then melts with Love;
379 Now his fierce Eyes with sparkling Fury glow,
380 Now Sighs steal out, and Tears begin to flow:
381 Persians and Greeks like Turns of Nature found,
382 And the World's Victor stood subdu'd by Sound!
383 The Pow'r of Musick all our Hearts allow;
384 And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now.
385 Avoid Extreams; and shun the Fault of such,
386 Who still are pleas'd too little, or too much.
387 At ev'ry Trifle scorn to take Offence,
388 That always shows Great Pride, or Little Sense;
389 Those Heads, as Stomachs, are not sure the best,
390 Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest.
391 Yet let not each gay Turn thy Rapture move,
392 For Fools Admire, but Men of Sense Approve;
393 As things seem large which we thro' Mists descry,
394 Dulness is ever apt to Magnify.
395 Some the French Writers, some our own despise;
396 The Ancients only, or the Moderns prize.
397 (Thus Wit, like Faith, by each Man is apply'd
398 To one small Sect, and All are damn'd beside.)[Page 21]
399 Meanly they seek the Blessing to confine,
400 And force that Sun but on a Part to Shine,
401 Which not alone the Southern Wit sublimes,
402 But ripens Spirits in cold Northern Climes;
403 Which from the first has shone on Ages past,
404 Enlights the present, and shall warm the last.
405 (Tho' each may feel Increases and Decays,
406 And see now clearer and now darker Days)
407 Regard not then if Wit be Old or New,
408 But blame the False, and value still the True.
409 Some ne'er advance a Judgment of their own,
410 But catch the spreading Notion of the Town;
411 They reason and conclude by Precedent,
412 And own stale Nonsense which they ne'er invent.
413 Some judge of Author's Names, not Works, and then
414 Nor praise nor damn the Writings, but the Men.
415 Of all this Servile Herd the worst is He
416 That in proud Dulness joins with Quality,
417 A constant Critick at the Great-man's Board,
418 To fetch and carry Nonsense for my Lord.
419 What woful stuff this Madrigal wou'd be,
420 In some starv'd Hackny Soneteer, or me?[Page 22]
421 But let a Lord once own the happy Lines,
422 How the Wit brightens! How the Style refines!
423 Before his sacred Name flies ev'ry Fault,
424 And each exalted Stanza teems with Thought!
425 The Vulgar thus through Imitation err;
426 As oft the Learn'd by being Singular;
427 So much they scorn the Crowd, that if the Throng
428 By Chance go right, they purposely go wrong:
429 So Schismatics the plain Believers quit,
430 And are but damn'd for having too much Wit.
431 Some praise at Morning what they blame at Night;
432 But always think the last Opinion right.
433 A Muse by these is like a Mistress us'd,
434 This hour she's idoliz'd, the next abus'd;
435 While their weak Heads, like Towns unfortify'd,
436 'Twixt Sense and Nonsense daily change their Side.
437 Ask them the Cause; They're wiser still, they say;
438 And still To Morrow's wiser than To Day.
439 We think our Fathers Fools, so wise we grow;
440 Our wiser Sons, no doubt, will think us so.
441 Once School-Divines this zealous Isle o'erspread;
442 Who knew most Sentences was deepest read;[Page 23]
443 Faith, Gospel, All, seem'd made to be disputed,
444 And none had Sense enough to be Confuted:
445 Scotists and Thomists, now, in Peace remain,
446 Amidst their kindred Cobwebs in Duck-Lane.
447 If Faith it self has diff'rent Dresses worn,
448 What wonder Modes in Wit shou'd take their Turn?
449 Oft, leaving what is Natural and fit,
450 The currant Folly proves our ready Wit,
451 And Authors think their Reputation safe,
452 Which lives as long as Fools are pleas'd to Laugh.
453 Some valuing those of their own Side, or Mind,
454 Still make themselves the measure of Mankind;
455 Fondly we think we honour Merit then,
456 When we but praise Our selves in Other Men.
457 Parties in Wit attend on those of State,
458 And publick Faction doubles private Hate.
459 Pride, Malice, Folly, against Dryden rose,
460 In various Shapes of Parsons, Criticks, Beaus;
461 But Sense surviv'd, when merry Jests were past;
462 For rising Merit will buoy up at last.
463 Might he return, and bless once more our Eyes,
464 New S—s and new M—ns must arise:[Page 24]
465 Nay shou'd great Homer lift his awful Head,
466 Zoilus again would start up from the Dead.
467 Envy will Merit, as its Shade, pursue;
468 But like a Shadow, proves the Substance too.
469 For envy'd Wit, like Sol eclips'd, makes known
470 Th' opposing Body's Grossness, not its own.
471 When first that Sun too powerful Beams displays,
472 It draws up Vapours which obscure its Rays;
473 But ev'n those Clouds at last adorn its Way,
474 Reflect new Glories, and augment the Day.
475 Be thou the first true Merit to befriend,
476 His Praise is lost, who stays till All commend.
477 Short is the Date, alas, of Modern Rhymes,
478 And 'tis but just to let 'em live betimes.
479 No longer now that Golden Age appears,
480 When Patriarch-Wits surviv'd a thousand Years;
481 Now Length of Fame (our second Life) is lost,
482 And bare Threescore is all ev'n That can boast:
483 Our Sons their Father's failing Language see,
484 And such as Chancer is, shall Dryden be.
485 So when the faithful Pencil has design'd
486 Some fair Idea of the Master's Mind,[Page 25]
487 Where a new World leaps out at his command,
488 And ready Nature waits upon his Hand;
489 When the ripe Colours soften and unite,
490 And sweetly melt into just Shade and Light,
491 When mellowing Time does full Perfection give,
492 And each Bold Figure just begins to Live;
493 The treach'rous Colours in few Years decay,
494 And all the bright Creation fades away!
495 Unhappy Wit, like most mistaken Things,
496 Attones not for that Envy which it brings.
497 In Youth alone its empty Praise we boast,
498 But soon the short-liv'd Vanity is lost!
499 Like some fair Flow'r that in the Spring does rise,
500 And gaily blooms, but ev'n in blooming dies.
501 What is this Wit which does our Cares employ?
502 The Owner's Wife, that other Men enjoy;
503 'Tis most our Trouble when 'tis most admir'd;
504 The more we give, the more is still requir'd:
505 The Fame with Pains we gain, but lose with ease;
506 Sure some to vex, but never all to please;
507 'Tis what the Vicious fear, the Virtuous shun;
508 By Fools 'tis hated, and by Knaves undone!
509 Too much does Wit from Ign'rance undergo,
510 Ah let not Learning too commence its Foe!
511 Of old, those met Rewards who cou'd excell,
512 And such were Prais'd as but endeavour'd well:
513 Tho' Triumphs were to Gen'rals only due,
514 Crowns were reserv'd to grace the Soldiers too.
515 Now, they who reach Parnassus' lofty Crown,
516 Employ their Pains to spurn some others down;
517 And while Self-Love each jealous Writer rules,
518 Contending Wits become the Sport of Fools.
519 But still the Worst with most Regret commend,
520 For each Ill Author is as bad a Friend.
521 To what base Ends, and by what abject Ways,
522 Are Mortals urg'd by Sacred Lust of Praise?
523 Ah ne'er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,
524 Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!
525 Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
526 To Err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.
527 But if in Noble Minds some Dregs remain,
528 Not yet purg'd off, of Spleen and sow'r Disdain,
529 Discharge that Rage on more provoking Crimes,
530 Nor fear a Dearth in these Flagitious Times.[Page 27]
531 No Pardon vile Obscenity should find,
532 Tho' Wit and Art conspire to move your Mind;
533 But Dulness with Obscenity must prove
534 As Shameful sure as Impotence in Love.
535 In the fat Age of Pleasure, Wealth, and Ease,
536 Sprung the rank Weed, and thriv'd with large Increase;
537 When Love was all an easie Monarch's Care;
538 Seldom at Council, never in a War:
539 Jilts rul'd the State, and Statesmen Farces writ;
540 Nay Wits had Pensions, and young Lords had Wit:
541 The Fair sate panting at a Courtier's Play,
542 And not a Mask went un-improv'd away:
543 The modest Fan was lifted up no more,
544 And Virgins smil'd at what they blush'd before —
545 The following Licence of a Foreign Reign
546 Did all the Dregs of bold Socinus drain;
547 Then first the Belgian Morals were extoll'd;
548 We their Religion had, and they our Gold:
549 Then Unbelieving Priests reform'd the Nation,
550 And taught more Pleasant Methods of Salvation;
551 Where Heav'ns free Subjects might their Rights dispute,
552 Lest God himself shou'd seem too Absolute.[Page 28]
553 Pulpits their Sacred Satire learn'd to spare,
554 And Vice admir'd to find a Flatt'rer there!
555 Encourag'd thus, Wit's Titans brav'd the Skies
556 And the Press groan'd with Licenc'd Blasphemies —
557 These Monsters, Criticks! with your Darts engage,
558 Here point your Thunder, and exhaust your Rage
559 Yet shun their Fault, who, Scandalously nice,
560 Will needs mistake an Author into Vice;
561 All seems Infected that th' Infected spy,
562 As all looks yellow to the Jaundic'd Eye.
563 Learn then what Morals Criticks ought to show,
564 For 'tis but half a Judge's Task, to Know.
565 'Tis not enough, Wit, Art, and Learning join;
566 In all you speak, let Truth and Candor shine:
567 That not alone what to your Judgment's due,
568 All may allow; but seek your Friendship too.
569 Be silent always when you doubt your Sense;
570 And speak, tho' sure, with seeming Diffidence:
571 Some positive, persisting Fops we know,
572 That, if once wrong, will needs be always so;
573 But you, with Pleasure own your Errors past,
574 And make, each Day, a Critick on the last.
575 'Tis not enough your Counsel still be true;
576 Blunt Truths more Mischief than nice Falshoods do;
577 Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
578 And things ne'er known propos'd as Things forgot.
579 Without Good Breeding, Truth is not approv'd;
580 That only makes Superior Sense belov'd.
581 Be Niggards of Advice on no Pretence;
582 For the worst Avarice is that of Sense.
583 With mean Complacence ne'er betray your Trust,
584 Nor be so Civil as to prove Unjust:
585 Fear not the Anger of the Wise to raise;
586 Those best can bear Reproof, who merit Praise.
587 'Twere well, might Criticks still this Freedom take;
588 But Appius reddens at each Word you speak,
589 And stares, Tremendous! with a threatning Eye;
590 Like some fierce Tyrant in Old Tapestry!
591 Fear most to tax an Honourable Fool,
592 Whose Right it is, uncensur'd to be dull;
593 Such without Wit are Poets when they please,
594 As without Learning they can take Degrees.
595 Leave dang'rous Truths to unsuccessful Satyrs,
596 And Flattery to fulsome Dedicators,[Page 30]
597 Whom, when they Praise, the World believes no more,
598 Than when they promise to give Scribling o'er.
599 'Tis best sometimes your Censure to restrain,
600 And charitably let the dull be vain.
601 Your Silence there is better than your Spite,
602 For who can rail so long as they can write?
603 Still humming on, their drowzy Course they keep,
604 And lash'd so long, like Tops, are lash'd asleep.
605 False Steps but help them to renew the Race,
606 As after Stumbling, Jades will mend their Pace.
607 What Crouds of these, impenitently bold,
608 In Sounds and jingling Syllables grown old,
609 Still run on Poets, in a raging Vein,
610 Ev'n to the Dregs and Squeezings of the Brain;
611 Strain out the last, dull droppings of their Sense,
612 And Rhyme with all the Rage of Impotence!
613 Such shameless Bards we have; and yet 'tis true,
614 There are as mad, abandon'd Criticks too.
* Nihil pejus est iis, qui paullum aliquid ultra primas litteras progressi, fal sam sibi scientiae persuasionem induerunt: Nam & cedere praecipiendi peritis indig nantur, & velut jure quodam potestatis, quo ferè hoc hominum genus intumescit, imperiosi, atque interim; aevientes, Stultitiam suam perdocent. Quintil. lib. 1. ch. 1.The Bookful Blockhead, ignorantly read,
616 With Loads of Learned Lumber in his Head,[Page 31]
617 With his own Tongue still edifies his Ears,
618 And always List'ning to Himself appears.
619 All Books he reads, and all he reads assails,
620 From Dryden's Fables down to D—y's Tales.
621 With him, most Authors steal their Works, or buy;
622 Garth did not write his own Dispensary.
623 Name a new Play, and he's the Poet's Friend,
624 Nay show'd his Faults — but when wou'd Poets mend?
625 No Place so Sacred from such Fops is barr'd,
626 Nor is Paul's Church more safe than Paul's Churchyard:
627 Nay, fly to Altars; there they'll talk you dead;
628 For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.
629 Distrustful Sense with modest Caution speaks;
630 It still looks home, and short Excursions makes;
631 But ratling Nonsense in full Vollies breaks;
632 And never shock'd, and never turn'd aside,
633 Bursts out, resistless, with a thund'ring Tyde!
634 But where's the Man, who Counsel can bestow,
635 Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know?
636 Unbiass'd, or by Favour, or by Spite;
637 Not dully prepossest, or blindly right;
638 Tho' Learn'd, well-bred; and tho' well-bred, sincere;
639 Modestly bold, and Humanly severe?[Page 32]
640 Who to a Friend his Faults can freely show,
641 And gladly praise the Merit of a Foe?
642 Blest with a Taste exact, yet unconfin'd;
643 A Knowledge both of Books and Humankind;
644 Gen'rous Converse; a Soul exempt from Pride;
645 And Love to Praise, with Reason on his Side?
646 Such once were Criticks; such the Happy Few,
647 Athens and Rome in better Ages knew.
648 The mighty Stagyrite first left the Shore,
649 Spread all his Sails, and durst the Deeps explore;
650 He steer'd securely, and discover'd far,
651 Led by the Light of the Maeonian Star.
652 Poets, a Race long unconfin'd and free,
653 Still fond and proud of Savage Liberty,
654 Receiv'd his Laws; and stood convinc'd 'twas fit
655 Who conquer'd Nature, shou'd preside o'er Wit.
656 Horace still charms with graceful Negligence,
657 And without Method talks us into Sense,
658 Does like a Friend, familiarly convey
659 The truest Notions in the easiest way.
660 He, who supream in Judgment, as in Wit,
661 Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ,[Page 33]
662 Yet judg'd with Coolness tho' he sung with Fire,
663 His Precepts teach but what his Works inspire.
664 Our Criticks take a contrary Extream,
665 They judge with Fury, but they write with Fle'me:
666 Nor suffers Horace more in wrong Translations
667 By Wits, than Criticks in as wrong Quotations.
* Dionysius of Halicarnassus.Dionysius Homer's Thoughts refine,
669 And call new Beauties forth from ev'ry Line!
670 Fancy and Art in gay Petronius please,
671 The Scholar's Learning, with the Courtier's Ease.
672 In grave Quintilian's copious Work we find
673 The justest Rules, and clearest Method join'd.
674 Thus useful Arms in Magazines we place,
675 All rang'd in Order, and dispos'd with Grace,
676 Nor thus alone the curious Eye to please,
677 But to be found, when Need requires, with Ease.
678 The Muses sure Longinus did inspire,
679 And blest their Critick with a Poet's Fire.
680 An ardent Judge, who zealous in his Trust,
681 With Warmth gives Sentence, yet is always Just;
682 Whose own Example strengthens all his Laws,
683 And Is himself that great Sublime he draws.
684 Thus long succeeding Criticks justly reign'd,
685 Licence repress'd, and useful Laws ordain'd.
686 Learning and Rome alike in Empire grew,
687 And Arts still follow'd where her Eagles flew.
688 From the same Foes, at last, both felt their Doom,
689 And the same Age saw Learning fall, and Rome.
690 With Tyranny, then Superstition join'd,
691 As that the Body, this enslav'd the Mind;
692 Much was Believ'd, but little understood,
693 And to be dull was constru'd to be good;
694 A second Deluge Learning thus o'er-run,
695 And the Monks finish'd what the Goths begun.
696 At length Erasmus, that great, injur'd Name,
697 (The Glory of the Priesthood, and the Shame!)
698 Stemm'd the wild Torrent of a barb'rous Age,
699 And drove those Holy Vandals off the Stage.
700 But see! each Muse, in Leo's Golden Days,
701 Starts from her Trance, and trims her wither'd Bays!
702 Rome's ancient Genius, o'er its Ruins spread,
703 Shakes off the Dust, and rears his rev'rend Head!
704 Then Sculpture and her Sister-Arts revive;
705 Stones leap'd to Form, and Rocks began to live;[Page 35]
706 With sweeter Notes each rising Temple rung;
707 A Raphael painted, and a†
† M. Hieronymus Vida, an excellent Latin Poet, who writ an Art of Poe try in Verse. He flourish'd in the time of Leo the Tenth.Vida sung!
708 Immortal Vida! on whose honour'd Brow
709 The Poet's Bays and Critick's Ivy grow:
710 Cremona now shall ever boast thy Name,
711 As next in Place to Mantua, next in Fame!
712 But soon by Impious Arms from Latium chas'd,
713 Their ancient Bounds the banish'd Muses past;
714 Thence Arts o'er all the NorthernWorld advance;
715 But Critic Learning flourish'd most in France.
716 The Rules, a Nation born to serve, obeys,
717 And Boileau still in Right of Horace sways.
718 But we, brave Britains, Foreign Laws despis'd,
719 And kept unconquer'd, and unciviliz'd,
720 Fierce for the Liberties of Wit, and bold,
721 We still defy'd the Romans, as of old.
722 Yet some there were, among the sounder Few
723 Of those who less presum'd, and better knew,
724 Who durst assert the juster Ancient Cause,
725 And here restor'd Wit's Fundamental Laws.[Page 36]
726 Such was Roscommon — not more learn'd than good,
727 With Manners gen'rous as his Noble Blood;
728 To him the Wit of Greece and Rome was known,
729 And ev'ry Author's Merit, but his own.
730 Such late was Walsh, — the Muses Judge and Friend,
731 Who justly knew to blame or to commend;
732 To Failings mild, but zealous for Desert;
733 The clearest Head, and the sincerest Heart.
734 This humble Praise, lamented Shade! receive,
735 This Praise at least a grateful Muse may give!
736 The Muse, whose early Voice you taught to Sing,
737 Prescrib'd her Heights, and prun'd her tender Wing,
738 (Her Guide now lost) no more attempts to rise,
739 But in low Numbers short Excursions tries.
740 Content, if hence th' Unlearn'd their Wants may view,
741 The Learn'd reflect on what before they knew.
742 Careless of Censure, nor too fond of Fame,
743 Still pleas'd to praise, yet not afraid to blame;
744 Averse alike to Flatter, or Offend,
745 Not free from Faults, nor yet too vain to mend.
About this text
Title (in Source Edition): AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
Author: Alexander Pope
Themes: poetry; literature; writing; critics
Genres: heroic couplet; essay; satire
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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.
- Hooker, Edward Niles.
Pope on Wit: The Essay on Criticism. Clifford, James L., ed. Eighteenth-Century Literature: Modern Essays in Criticism. New York: OUP, 1959. 42-61. Print.
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- THE IMPERTINENT, OR A Visit to the COURT. A SATYR. ()
- Inscription on a GROTTO of Shells at CRUX-EASTON, the Work of Nine young Ladies. ()
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- THE RAPE of the LOCK. CANTO I. ()
- THE UNIVERSAL PRAYER. ()
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