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TESTIMONIES OF AUTHORS
OUR POET AND HIS WORKS.
M. SCRIBLERUS Lectori S.
BEFORE we present thee with our exercitations on this most delectable poem (drawn from the many volumes of our adversaria on modern authors), we shall here, according to the laudable usage of editors, collect the various judgments of the learned concerning our poet; various, indeed, not only of different authors, but of the same author at different seasons. Nor shall we gather only the testimonies of such eminent wits as would of course descend to posterity, and consequently be read without our collection; but we shall likewise, with incredible labour, seek out for divers others, which, but for this our diligence, could never, at the distance of a few months, appear to the eye of the most curious. Hereby thou mayst not only receive the delectation of variety, but also arrive at a more certain judgment, by a grave and circumspect comparison of the witnesses with each other, or of each with himself. Hence, also, thou wilt be enabled to draw reflections, not only of a critical, but a moral nature, by being let into many particulars of the person as well as genius, and of the fortune as well as merit, of our author: in which, if I relate some things of little concern, peradventure, to thee, and some of as little even to him, I intreat thee to consider how minutely all true critics and commentators are wont to insist upon such, and how material they seem to themselves, if to none other. Forgive me, gentle reader, if (following learned examplc) I, ever and anon, become tedious; allow me to take the same pains to find whether any author were good or bad, well or ill-natured, modest or arrogant, as another whether his author was fair or brown, short or tall, or whether he wore a coat or a cassock.
We purposed to begin with his life, parentage, and education; but as to these even bis contemporaries do exceedingly differ. One saith he was educated at home; another†, that he was bred at St. Omer's by Jesuits; a third, not at St. Omer's, but at Oxford; a fourth ||, that he had no university education at all. Those who allow him to be bred at home differ as much concerning his tutor: one saith § he was kept by his father on purpose; a second, that he was an itinerant priest; a third **, that he was a parson: : oneff calleth him a secular clergyman of As little the Church of Rome; another If, a monk. do they agree about his father, whom one || supposeth, like the father of Hesiod, a tradesman or merchant; another §§, a husbandman; another ¶¶, a hatter. &c. Nor has an author been wanting to give our poet such a father as Apuleius hath to Plato, Jamblicus to Pythagoras, and divers to Homer, namely, a dæmon: for thus Mr. Gildon ***, “ Certain it is, that his original is not from Adam, but the devil; and that he wanteth nothing but horns and tail to be the exact resemblance of his infernal father." Finding, therefore, such contrariety of opinions, and (whatever be ours of this sort of generation) not being fond to enter into controversy, we shall defer writing the Life of our poet till authors can determine among themselves what parents or education he had, or whether he had any education or parents at all.
* Giles Jacob's Lives of the Poets,
vol. ii. in his life.
Character of the Times, p. 45. Female Dunciad, p. ult.
4th of Genesis, printed 1729.
¶¶ Roome, Paraphrase on the
*** Character of r. P. and his writings, in a letter to a friend, printed for S. Poppin, 1716, p. 10. Curl, in his Key to the Dunciad, (first edit. said to be printed for A. Dodd) in the tenth page, declare 1 Gildon to be author of that libel; though, in the subsequent editions of his Key, he left out this assertion, and afformed (in the Curliad, p. 4 and 8) that it was written by Dennis only.
Proceed we to what is more certain, his Works, though not less uncertain the judgments concerning them; beginning with his Essay on Criticism, of which hear first the most ancient of critics,
MR. JOHN DENNIS.
"His precepts are false or trivial, or both; his thoughts are crude and abortive; his expressions absurd, his numbers harsh and unmusical, his rhymes trivial and common.-Instead of majesty, we have something that is very mean; instead of gravity, something that is very boyish; and instead of perspicuity and lucid order, we have but too often obscurity and confusion." And in another place: "What rare numbers are here! would not one swear that this youngster had espoused some antiquated muse, who had sued out a divorce from some superannuated sinner, upon account of impotence, and who being p-xed by her former spouse, has got the gout in her decrepit age, which makes her hobble so damnably *?”
No less peremptory is the censure of our hypercritical historian,
"I dare not say any thing of the Essay on Criticism in verse; but if any more curious reader has discovered in it something new, which is not in Dryden's Prefaces, Dedications, and his Essay on Dramatic Poetry, not to mention the French critics, I should be very glad to have the benefit of the discovery t."
He is followed (as in fame, so in judgment) by the modest and simple-minded
MR. LEONARD WELSTED,
who, out of great respect to our poet, not naming him, doth yet glance at his Essay, tegether with the
Reflections critical and satirical on a Rhapsody, called An Essay on Criticism, printed for Bernard Lintot, octavo.
+ Essay on Criticism in prose, octavo, 1728, by the author of the Critical History of England.
Duke of Buckingham's, and the criticisms of Dryden, and of Horace, which he more openly taxeth*: "As to the numerous treatises, essays, arts, &c. both in verse and prose, that have been written by the moderns on this groundwork, they do but hackney the same thoughts over again, making them still more trite. Most of their pieces are nothing but a pert insipid heap of common-place. Horace has, even in his Art of Poetry, thrown out several things which plainly shew he thought an Art of Poetry was of no use, even while he was writing one."
To all which great authorities we can only oppose that of
"The Art of Criticism," saith he, which was published some months since, is a masterpiece in its kind. The observations follow one another like those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical regularity which would have been requisite in a prose writer. They are some of them uncommon, but such as the reader must assent to, when he sees them explained with that ease and perspicuity in which they are delivered. As for those which are the most known, and the most received, they are placed in so beautiful a light, and illustrated with such apt allusions, that they have in them all the graces of novelty, and make the reader, who was before acquainted with them, still more convinced of their truth and solidity. And here give me leave to mention what Mons. Boileau has so well enlarged upon in the Preface to his Works; that wit and fine writing doth not consist so much in advancing things that are new, as in giving things that are known an agree-` able turn. It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others; we have little else left us but to represent the common sense of man* Preface to his Poems, p. 18, 53. + Spectator, No. 253.
kind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights. If a reader examines Horace's Art of Poetry, he will find but few precepts in it which he may not meet with in Aristotle, and which were not commonly known by all the poets of the Augustan age. His way of expressing and applying them, not his invention of them, is what we are chiefly to admire.
Longinus, in his Reflexions, has given us the same kind of sublime, which he observes in the several passages that occasioned them: I cannot but take notice that our English author has, after the same manner, exemplified several of the precepts in the very precepts themselves." He then produces some instances of a particular beauty in the numbers, and concludes with saying, that "There are three poems in our tongue of the same nature, and each a masterpiece in its kind; the Essay on Translated Verse, the Essay on the Art of Poetry, and the Essay on Criticism."
Of Windsor-Forest, positive is the judgment of the affirmative
MR. JOHN DENNIS.
"That it is a wretched rhapsody, impudently writ in emulation of the Cooper's Hill of Sir John Denham: the author of it is obscure, is ambiguous, is affected, is temerarious, is barbarous."
But the author of the Dispensary,
in the Preface to his poem of Claremont, differs from this opinion: "Those who have seen these two excellent poems of Cooper's Hill and Windsor Forest, the one written by Sir John Denham, the other by Mr. Pope, will shew a great deal of candour if they approve of this."
Of the Epistle of Eloisa, we are told by the ob scure writer of a poem called Sawney, "That be
*Letter to B. B. at the end of the Remarks on Pope's Homer, 1717. + Printed 1728, p. 12.