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Though wit and art conspire to move your mind;
AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
Rules for the conduct and manners in a critic. Candour.
Modesty. Good breeding. Sincerity and freedom of advice. When one's counsel is to be restrained. Character of an incorrigible poet. And of an impertinent critic. Character of a good critic. The history of criticism, and characters of the best critics; Aristotle, Horace. Diony sius. Petronius. Quintilian. Longinus. Of the decay of Criticism, and its revival. Erasmus. Vida. Boileau. Lord Roscommon, &c. Conclusion.
LEARN then what morals critics ought to show,
Be silent always when you doubt your sense,
with pleasure own your errors past, And make each day a critique on the last.
'Tis not enough your counsel still be true; Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do; Men 'must be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown propos'd as things forgot. Without good-breeding truth is disapprov'd; That only makes superior sense belov'd.
Be niggards of advice on no pretence, For the worst avarice is that of sense. With mean complacence ne'er betray your trust, Nor be so civil as to prove unjust. Fear not the anger of the wise to raise ; Those best can bear reproof who merit praise.
'Twere well might critics still this freedom take, But Appius reddens at each word you speak, And stares tremendous, with a threatening eye, Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry. Fear most to tax an honourable fool, Whose right it is, uncensur'd, to be dull: Such, without wit, are poets when they please, As without learning they can take degrees. Leave dangerous truths to unsuccessful satires, And flattery to fulsome dedicators ; Whom,when they praise, the world believes no more Than when they promise to give scribbling o'er. 'Tis best sometimes your censure to restrain, And charitably let the dull be vain ; Your silence there is better than your spite, For who can rail so long as they can write? Still humming on their drowsy course they keep, And lash'd so long, like tops, are lash'd asleep.
1 John Dennis: he wrote a play called Appius and Virginia
False steps but help them to renew the race,
Such shameless bards we have; and yet 'tis true,
mend? No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd, Nor is Paul's church more safe than Paul's church
yard: Nay, fly to altars ; there they'll talk you dead; For fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks, It still looks home, and short excursions makes; But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks, And never shock’d, and never turn'd aside, Bursts out, resistless, with a thundering tide.
But where's the man who counsel can bestow, Still pleas’d to teach, and yet not proud to know? Unbiass'd or by favour or by spite; Not dully prepossess'd nor blindly right; Though learn'd, well bred, and though well bred,
sincere; Modestly bold, and humanly severe; Who to a friend his faults can freely show, And gladly praise the merit of a foe; Bless'd with a taste exact, yet unconfind, A knowledge both of books and human kind; Generous converse; a soul exempt from pride; And love to praise, with reason on his side?
Such once were critics ; such the happy few Athens and Rome in better
ages The mighty Stagyrite first left the shore, Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore ; He steer'd securely, and discover'd far, Led by the light of the Mæonian star. Poets, a race long unconfin'd and free, Still fond and proud of savage liberty, Receiv'd his laws, and stood convinc'd 'twas fit Who conquer'd nature should preside o'er wit.
Horace still charms with graceful negligence, And without method talks us into sense; Will, like a friend, familiarly convey The truest notions in the easiest way. He who, supreme in judgment as in wit, Might boldly censure as he boldly writ, Yet judg'd with coolness, though he sung with fire; His precepts teach but what his works inspire.