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Character of Mr. P. 1716.
The persons whom Boileau has attacked in his writings have been for the most part authors, and most of those authors, poets : and the censures he has passed upon them have been confirmed by all Europe.
Gildon, Preface to his New Rehearsal.. It is the common cry of the poetasters of the town, and their fautors, that it is an ill-natured thing to expose the pretenders to wit and poetry. The judges and magistrates may with full as good reason be reproached with ill-nature for putting the laws in execution against a thief or impostor.– The same will hold in the republic of letters, if the critics and judges will let every ignorant pretender to scribbling pass on the world.
Theobald, Letter to Mist, June 22, 1728. Attacks may be levelled, either against failures in genius, or against the pretensions of writing without one.
Concanen, Dedication to the Author of the Dunciad. A satire upon dulness is a thing that has been used and allowed in all ages.
Out of thy own mouth will I judge thee, wicked scribbler !
TESTIMONIES OF AUTHORS
CONCERNING 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 mayest 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 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 minutely all true critics and commentators are wont to insist upon such, and how material they seem so 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 propose to begin with his life, parentage, and ed. ucation: but as to these, even his contemporaries do ex.. ceedingly differ. One saith, he was educated at home; another, that he was bred at St. Omer's by Jesuits; a third,3 not at St. Omer's but at Oxford ! a fourth, 4 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, 7 that he was a parson; one 8 calleth him a secular clergyman of the church of Rome; another, a monk. As little do they agree about his father, whom one 10 supposeth, like the father of Hesiod a tradesman or merchant; anothor 11 a husbandman; another, 12 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:-13
“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
1 Giles Jacob's “ Lives of the Poets,” vol. ii. in bis Life.
4 “Guardian," No. 40. 5 Jacob's “Lives," &c., vol. ii.
6 “Dunciad Dissected," p. 4." 7 Farmer P. and his son.
8 “Dunciad Dissected. 9“Characters of the Times,” p. 45. 10 “Female Dunciad," p. ult. 11 “ Dunciad Dissected." 12 Roome, “Paraphrase on the fourth of Genesis," printed 1729.
13 “ 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 Dun. ciad” (first edition, said to be printed for A. Dodd), in the 10th page, declared Gildon to be the author of that libel; though in the subse. quent 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
education he had, or whether he had any education of 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 ryhmes trivial and common;in stead of majesty, we have something that is very mean; and instead of gravity, something ihat is very boyish; 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 à 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 hypercritical historian
*Mr. Oldmixon. “I dare not say any thing on the Essay of 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.” ?
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: “As to the numerous treatises, essays, arts, &c., both in verse and prose, that have been written by 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 writing one.”
To all which great authorities, we can only oppose that of Mr. Addison. - The Essay on Criticism,” saith he, “ which was published 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 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 havo 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 wit and fine writing doth not consist so much in advancing 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 chietly to admire.
1 Reflections critical and satirical on Rhapsody, called “ An Essay on Criticism,” printed for Bernard Lintot, 8 vo.
2 “Essay on Criticism in prose," octavo, 1728, by the author of the " Critical History of England."
“Longinus, in his Reflections, has given us the same kind of sublime, which he observes in the several passages that ocasioned 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,3
1 “Spectator,” No. 253. 2 Letter to B. B. at the end of the Remarks, on Pope's “ Homer," 1717.
3 Printed 1728, p. 12.
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 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 Eloïsa, we are told by the obscure wri. ter 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 : 1
“O Abelard ! ill-fated youth,
Thy tale will justify this truth:
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 mention the indefatigable
Sir Richard Blackmore, Knt. who (though otherwise a severe censurer of our author) yet styleth this a laudable translation.” 2 That ready writer,
Mr. Oldmixon, in his forementioned Essay, frequently commends the same. And the painful
Mr. Lewis Theobald thus extols it, 3 “ The spirit of Homer breathes all through this translation. I am in doubt, whether I should most ad. mire the justness to the original, or the force and beauty of the language, or the sounding variety of the numbers: but when I find all these meet, it puts me in mind of what the poet says of one of his heroes, “That he alone raised and fung with ease a weighty stone, that two common men could not lift from the ground ; just so, one single person
I “Alma," Cant. 2. 2 In his “Essays," vol. i., printed for E. Curli 3^ Censor," vol ii, n. 33.