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their several periods, and a just discernment to estimate their state in them, will hardly dispute with me, "that, though "many causes concur to produce a thorough "degeneracy of taste in any country; yet K the principal ever is, This Anxious
** DREAD OF IMITATION IN POLITE AND "CULTIVATED WRITERS."
And, if such be the case, among the other uses of this Essay, it may perhaps serve for a seasonable admonition to the poets of our time, to relinquish their vain hopes of originality, and turn themselves to a stricter imitation of the best models. I fay, a seasonable admonition; for the more polished a nation is, and the more generally these models are understood, the greater danger there is, as was now observed, of running into that worst of literary faults, nffeSation. But, to stimulate their endeavours to this practice, the judgment of the public should first be set right; and their readers prepared to place a just value upon it. In this respect too I would willingly contribute, in some small degree, to the service of letters. For the poet, Vol. III. L whose
whose object is same., will always. adapt himself to the humour of those who confer it. And till the public taste be reduced by sober criticism to a just standard, strength of genius will only enable a writer to pervert it still further, by a too successful compliance with its vicious expectations.
On the Marks of Imitation.
IHave said, in the discourse on Poetical Imitation, "that coincidencies of a *c certain kind, and in a certain degree, can"not fail to convict a writer of Imitation." [z~]—You are curious, my friend, to know what these cmncidencies are, and have thought that an attempt to point them out would furnilh an useful Supplement to what I have written on this subject. But the just execution of this design would require, besides a careful examination of the workings of the human mind, an exact scrutiny of the most original and most imitative writers. And, with all your partiality for me, can you, in earnest, think me capable of fulfilling the first of these conditions; or, if I were, do you imagine that, at this time o' day, I can have the leisure to perform the other? My younger years, indeed, have
[z] P. ii5, 1i6.
L 2 been been spent in turning over those authors which young men are most fond of; and among these I will not. disown that the Poets of ancient and modern fame have had their full share in my affection. But You, who love me so well, would notwisti me to pass more of my life in these flowery regions; which though You may yet wander in without offence, and the rather as you wander in them with so pure a mind and to so moral a purpose, there seems no decent pretence for me to loiter in them any longer.
Yet in saying this I Would not be thought to assume that severe character; which, though sometimes the garb of reason, is oftener, I believe, the mask of dulness, or of something worse. No, I am too sensible to the charms, nay to the uses of your profession, to affect a contempt for it. The great Roman said well, Hacc studia adolescentiam alunt; senectutem obleSiant. We make a full meal of them in our youth. And no philosophy requires so perfect a mortification as that we should wholly abstain from them in our riper years. But should we invert the observation, and take this light food not as
the the refreshment only, but as the proper nourishment of Age; such a name as Cicero's, I am afraid, would be wanting, and not easily found, to justify the practice.
Let us own then, on a greater authority than His, "That every thing is beautiful in '* its season." The Spring hath its buds and blojsoms: But, as the year runs on, You are not displeased, perhaps, to fee them fall off., and would certainly be disappointed not to find them, in due time, succeeded by: those mellow hangings the poet somewhere speaks of. J,. 1
I could alledge still graver reasons. But I would only fay, in one word,. that'your friend has had his share in these amusements. I may recollect with pleasure, but must never live over again, .• * • . .
Pieriosque dies, et amantes carmina somnos.
Yet something, you insist, is to be done; and, if it amount to no more than a specimens opt slight sketch, such as my memory, or the few. notes I have by me, would furnish, the design, you think, is not totally to be relin* quifhed.
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