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for granted, by the judgment commonly past upori Poems. A Critic fupposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have faild in an expression, or err'd in any particular point: and can it then be wonder'd at, if the Poets in general feem resolv'd not to own themselves in any error? For as long as one side defpises a well-meant endeavour, the other will not be satisfy'd with a moderate approbation.
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill-plac'd; Poetry and Criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their clofets, and of idle men who read there. Yet sure upon the whole, a bad Author deserves better usage than a bad Critic; a man may be the former merely thro' the misfortune of an ill judgment, but he cannot be the latter without both that and an ill temper.
I think a good deal may be said to extenuate the fault of bad Poets. What we call a Genius, is hard to be distinguish'd by a man himself
, from a strong inclination : and if it be never so great, he can not at first discover it any other way, than by that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. The only method he has, is to make the experiment by writing, and appealing to the judgment of others: And if he happens to write ill (which is certainly no sin in itself) he is immediately made an object of ridiculé. I wish we had the humanity to reflect
that even the worst authors might endeavour to please us, and in that endeavour, deserve fomething at our hands. We have no cause to quarrel with them but for their obstinacy in persisting, and this too may admit of alleviating circumstances. Their particular friends may be either igno rant, or insincere; and the rest of the world too well bred to shock them with a truth, which generally their Booksellers are the first that inform them of. This happens not till they have spent too much of their time, to apply to any profession which might better fit their talents; and till fuch talents as they have are so far discredited, as to be but of small service to them. For (what is the hardest case imaginable) the reputation of a man generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world, and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that season when we have least judgment to direct us.
On the other hand, a good Poet no sooner communicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagin'd he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with the fear of being ridiculous. If he is made to hope he may please the world, he falls under very unlucky circumstances; for from the moment he prints, he must expect to hear no more truth, than if he were a Prince, or a Beauty. If he has not very good sense, his living thus in a course of flattery may put him in no small danger
of becoming a Coxcomb: If he has, he will confequently have so much diffidence, as not to reap any great fatisfaction from his praise; since if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguish'd from flattery, and if in his absence, it is hard to be certain of it. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as fure of being envy'd by the worst and most ignorant; for it is with a fine Genius as with a fine fashion, all those are difpleas'd at it who are not able to follow it: And ”tis to be fear'd that esteem will feldom do any man so much good, as ill-will does him harm. Then there is a third class of people who make the largest part of mankind, those of ordinary or indifferent capacities; and these (to a man) will hate, or suspect him: a hundred honest gentlemen will dread him as a wit, and a hundred innocent women as a fatyrist. In a word, whatever be his fate in Poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are indeed some advantages accruing from a Genius to Poetry, and they are all I can think of: the agreeable power of self-amusement when a man is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted into the best company; and the freedom of saying as many careless things as other people, without being fo feverely remark'd upon.
I believe, if any one, early in his life fliould contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce. be of their number on any consideration. The life of a Wit is a warfare upon earth; and
the present spirit of the world is such, that to attempt to serve it (any way) one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its fake. I confefs it was want of consideration that made me an author; I writ because it amused me; I corrected because it was as pleafant to me to correct as to write ; and I publish'd because I was told I might please such as it was a credit to please. To what degree I have done this, I am really ignorant; I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleas'd with them at last. But I have reason to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deserves to do fo: for they have always fallen short not only of what I read of others, but even of my own Ideas of Poetry
If any, one should imagine I am not in earnest, I desire him to reflect, that the Ancients (to fay the least of them) had as much Genius as we; and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more complete pieces. They constantly apply'd themselves not only to that art, but to that single branch of an art, to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the business of their lives to correct and finish their works for posterity. If we can pretend to have used the same industry, let us expect the fame immortality: Tho' if we took the same care, we should still lie under a farther misfortune: they
writ in languages that became universal and everlasting, while ours are extremely limited both in extent, and in duration. A mighty foundation for our pride! when the utmost we can hope, is but to be read in one Island, and to be thrown afide at the end of one Age.
All that is left us is to recommend our productions by the imitation of the Ancients : and it will be found true, that in every age, the highest character for fenfe and learning has been obtain’d by thofe who have been most indebted to them. For to say truth, whatever is very good fenfe must have been common sense in all times; and what we call Learning, is but the knowledge of the sense of our predecefsors
. Therefore they who say our thoughts are not our own because they resemble the Ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our Fathers: And indeed it is very unreafonable, that people should expect us to be Scholars, and yet be angry to find
I fairly confess that I have ferv'd my self all I could by reading ; that I made use of the judgment of authors dead and living ; that I 0mitted no means in my power to be inform’d of my errors, both by my friends and enemies; and that I expect not to be excus’d in any negligence on account of youth, want of leisure, or any other idle allegations : But the true reason these pieces are not more correct, is owing to the consideration how short a time they, and I, have to live: One