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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 genias, 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 entreat thee to consider how minately all true critics and commen. tators are wont to insist upon such, and how material they seem to themselves, if to none other. Forgive me, gentle reader, if (following learned example) I ever and anon become tedious: allow me to take the same pains to find whether my 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 proposed to begin with his life, parentage, and education : but as to these, even his contemporaries do exceedingly differ. One saith,' he was educated at bome; another,t that he was bred at St. Omer's by Jesuists; a third, f not at St. Omers, 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, s that he was an iti. nerant priest; a third, ** that he was a parson; onett calleth him a secular clergyman of the church of Rome; another,#1 a monk. As little do they agree about his father, whom onegs supposeth, like the father of Hesioa, a tradesman or merchant; another,||| a husbandman; another, 19 a hatter, &c.
Nor has an author been wanting to give our poet such a father as Apuleius hath to Plato, Jamblichus to Pythagoras, and divers to Homer, viz. a demon : for thus Mr. Gildon :***
* Giles Jacob's Lives of the Poets, vol. ii. in his Life.
# Dunciad dissected, p. 4.
*** Character of Mr. P. and his Writings, in a Letter to a Friend, printed for S. Popping, 1716, p. 10. Curll, in his Key to the Dunciad (first edition, said to be printed for A. Dodd), in the • 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.
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, some. thing that is very boyish; and instead of perspicuity and lucid order, we have put too often obscurity and confusion. And in another place What rare Qumbers 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 poxed by the former spouse, has got the gout in her decrepid age, which makes her hobble so damnably."*
No less peremptory is the censure of our hypercri. tical historian
Mr. Oldmixon. • 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, 10th page, declared Gildon to be the author of that libel; though in the subsequent editions of his Key he left out this assertion, and affirmed (in the Curliad, p. 4 and 8) that it was written by Dennis only,
• Reflections critical and satirical on a Rhapsody, called, AR Essay on Criticism, printed for Bernard Lintot, 8vo.
not to mention the French critics, I should be very glad to have the benefit of the discovery.'*
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, together with the Duke of Buckingham's, and the criticisms of Dryden and of Horace, which he more openly taxeth :t. As to the numerous treatises, essays, arts, &c. both in verse and prose, that have been written by the moderns on this ground-work, 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 writ. ing one.'
To all which great authorities, we can only oppose that of
Mr. Addison. * The Essay on Criticism,' saith he, 'which was pub lished some months since, is a master-piece in its kind. The observations follow one another like those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methcdical 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 Monsieur Boileau has so well enlarged upon in the preface to his works : that
* Essay on Criticism in prose, octavo, 1728, by the author of the Critical History of England.
+ Preface to his Poems, p. 18. 53.
wit and fine writing doth not consist so much in ad. vancing things that are new, as in giving things that are known an agreeable 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 mankind 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 Reflections, has given us the same kind of sublime, which he observes in the several passages that occasioned them: I cannot but take no. tice 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 Windeor 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,
Dr. Garth, 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
* Spectator, No. 253. + Letter to B. B. at the end of the Remarks on Pope's Homer, 1717. † Printed 1728, p. 12.
one written by Sir John Denham, the other by Mr. Pope, will shew a great deal of candour if they ap
prove of this.'
Of the Epistle of Eloïsa, we are told by the obscure writer of a poem called Sawney, “That because Prior's Henry and Emma charmed the finest tastes, our author writ his Eloïsa in opposition to it; but forgot innocence and virtue: If you take away her tender thoughts, and her fierce desires, all the rest is of no value.' In which, methinks, his judgment resembleth that of a French tailor on a villa and garden by the Thames: 'All this is very fine; but take away the river, and it is good for nothing.' But very contrary hereunto was the opinion of
Mr. Prior himself, saying in his Alma:
• Abelard ! ill-fated youth,
And Venus shall the texture bless,' &c. Come we now to his translation of the Iliad, celebrated by, numerous pens, yet shall it suffice to men. tion the indefatigable
Sir Richard Blackmore, Knt. who (though otherwise a severe censurer of our author) yet styleth this a' laudable translationi't
That ready writer,
Mr. Oldmixon, in his forementioned Essay, frequently commends the same. And the painful
Mr. Lewis Theobald thus extols it I The spirit of Homer.breathes all through this translation.-I am in doubt, whether I * Alna, cant. 2. # In his Essays, vol. i. printed for E. Curli.
I Censor, voli. n. 33,