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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. 395
despise is, the ridiculous vanity of attempting to demonstrate, by argument, that men ought to admire, when experience proves that no one does or can admire; and, on the other hand,
that men are in the wrong to be pleased, when experience proves that it is impossible to avoid it. In a word, of all kind of literary affectation, that which is most disgusting is, the affectation of judging in matters of taste by rule, and not by feeling; and this appears to me the fundamental defect of the work to which I have before alluded : I mean, the Elements of Criticism. Lord Kaimes was no less remarkable for delicacy of taste than acuteness of understanding; and he evidently seems to have thought it much below the dignity of a critic to embrace any opinion, even in a mere matter of taste, which was not supported by some rule. Where the rule was not already established, therefore, he was obliged to have recourse to his invention, which did not always supply him with such as were of the most satisfactory kind; and he seems, through the whole of his elaborate work, to entertain much too high an idea of the importance of those rules ; for he seems to consider them as founded in reason, and as laws by which taste ought to be regulated; whereas they are properly founded in taste, and the most judicious and best established rules are really nothing more than the different principles by which experience shews that the decisions of taste are governed." Essays Philosophical and Literary.
The turn and manner of many passages in our author are much like Dryden's prologues; and particularly the famous prologue and epilogue to All for Love.
Ver. 394. our own despise ;] If any proof was wanting how little the Paradise Lost was read and attended to, at this time, our author's total silence on the subject would be sufficient to shew it. That an Essay on Criticism could be written, without a single mention of Milton, appears truly strange and incredible ; if we did not know that our author seems to have had no idea
Thus Wit, like Faith, by each man is apply'd
Some ne'er advance a judgment of their own,
of any merit superior to that of Dryden! and had no relish for an author, who, “ Omnes exstinxit stellas, exortus uti ætherius sol.”
Lucret. Ver. 395. The Ancients only,] A very sensible Frenchman,
, “ En un mot, touchez comme Euripide, etonnez comme Sophocle, peignez comme Homere, et composez d'apres vous. Ces maitres n'ont point eu de regles; ils n'en ont eté que plus grands; et ils n'ont acquis le droit de commander, que parce qu'ils n'ont jamais obei. Il en est tout autrement en literature qu'en politique; le talent qui a besoin de subir des loix, n'en donnera jamais."
Ver. 402. Which from the first, &c.] Genius is the same in all ages; but its fruits are various; and more or less excellent as they are checked or matured by the influence of government or religion upon them. Hence in some parts of literature the Ancients excel; in others, the Moderns; just as those accidental circumstances occurred. W.
Ver. 403. Enlights] An improper word for enlightens.
Ver. 408. Some ne'er] There is very little poetical expression from this line to ver. 450. It is only mere prose, fringed with rhyme. Good sense in a very prosaic style. Reasoning, not poetry.
They reason and conclude by precedent, 410
The Vulgar thus through Imitation err;
425 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. 431
Ver. 420. let a Lord] “ You ought not to write verses (said George the Second, who had little taste, to Lord Hervey), 'tis beneath
your rank; leave such work to little Mr. Pope ; it is his trade." But this Lord Hervey wrote some that were above the level of those described here by our author.
Ver. 425. by being singular ;] Of which truth there cannot be a stronger example than the learned commentator on our author; “ Who (to use his own excellent words on the character of Bayle) struck into the province of paradox, as an exercise for the restless vigour of his mind."
A Muse by these is like a mistress usd,
Ver. 444. Scotists] So denominated from Johannes Duns Scotus. Erasmus tells us, an eminent Scotist assured him, that it was impossible to understand one single proposition of this famous Duns, unless you had his whole metaphysics by heart. This hero of incomprehensible fame suffered a miserable reverse at Oxford in the time of Henry VIII. That grave antiquary, Mr. Antony Wood (in the Vindication of himself and his writings from the reproaches of the Bishop of Salisbury), sadly laments the deformation, as he calls it, of that University by the King's Commissioners; and even records the blasphemous speeches of one of them, in his own words—“We have set Duns in Boccardo, with all his blind glossers, fast nailed up upon posts in all common houses of easement. Upon which our venerable antiquary thus exclaims: “If so be, the commissioners had such disrespect for that most famous author J. Duns, who was so much admired by our predecessors, and so difficult to be understood, that the Doctors of those times, namely, Dr. William Roper, Dr. John Keynton, Dr. William Mowse, &c. professed, that, in twenty-eight years' study, they could not understand him rightly, what then had they for others of inferior note ?”_What indeed! But they, If so be, that most famous J. Duns was so difficult to be understood (for that this is
If Faith itself has diff'rent dresses worn,
The rhyming clowns that gladded Shakspeare's age,
a most theologic proof of his great worth, is past all doubt), I should conceive our good old Antiquary to be a little mistaken. And that the nailing up his Proteus of the Schools was done by the commissioners in honour of the most famous Duns: There being no other way of catching the sense of so slippery and dodging an author, who had eluded the pursuit of three of their most renowned doctors in full cry after him, for eight-andtwenty years together. And this boccardo in which he was confined, seemed very fit for the purpose; it being observed, that men are never more serious and thoughtful than in that place of retirement. Scribl.
Ver. 444. Thomists] From Thomas Aquinas, a truly great genius, who, in those blind ages, was the same in theology, that our Friar Bacon was in natural philosophy; less happy than our countryman in this, that he soon became surrounded with a number of dark glossers, who never left him till they had extinguished the radiance of that light, which had pierc: through the thickest night of Monkery, the thirteenth cen when the Waldenses were suppressed, and Wickliffe n risen. W.
Ver. 444. Thomists] The Summa summæ, &c. Aquinas, is a treatise well deserving a most att and contains an admirable view of Aristotle's Et
Aquinas did not understand Greek; what!