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To tell 'em would a hundred tongues require,
Or one vain wit's, that might a hundred tire.
But you who seek to give and merit fame,
And justly bear a critic's noble name,
Be sure yourself and your own reach to know,
How far your genius, taste, and learning, go;
Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet,
And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.
Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit, And wisely curb'd proud man's pretending wit. As on the land while here the ocean gains, In other parts it leaves wide sandy plains ; Thus in the soul while memory prevails, The solid pow'r of understanding fails ; Where beams of warm imagination play, The memory's soft figures melt away. One science only will one genius fit; So vast is art, so narrow human wit : Not only bounded to peculiar arts, But oft in those confin'd to single parts. Like kings we lose the conquests gain'd before, By vain ambition still to make them more: Each might his several province well command, Would all but stoop to what they understand.
First follow Nature, and your judgment frame By her just standard, which is still the same: Unerring Nature, still divinely bright, One clear, unchang'd, and universal light, Life, force, and beauty, must to all impart, At once the source, and end, and test of art. Art from that fund each just supply provides, Works without show, and without pomp presides : In some fair body thus the informing soul With spirits feeds, with vigour fills, the whole; Each motion guides, and every nerve sustains, Itself unseen, but in the effects remains. Some, to whom Heav'n in wit has been profuse, Want as much more to turn it to its use ; For wit and judgment often are at strife, Though meant each other's aid, like man and wife.
'Tis more to guide than spur the Muses' steed,
Restrain his fury than provoke his speed:
The winged courser, like a generous horse,
Shows most true mettle when you check his course.
Those rules of old, discover'd not devis'd,
Are nature still, but nature methodiz'd:
Nature, like liberty, is but restrain'd
By the same laws which first herself ordain'd.
Hear how learn'd Greece her useful rules endites,
When to repress and when indulge our flights :
High on Parnassus' top her sons she show'd,
And pointed out those arduous paths they trod;
Held froni afar, aloft, the immortal prize,
And urg'd the rest by equal steps to rise.
Just precepts thus from great examples giv'n,
She drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n.
The generous critic fann'd the poet's fire,
And taught the world with reason to admire.
Then Criticism the Muse's handmaid prov'd,
To dress her charms, and make her more belov'd:
But following wits from that intention stray'd;
Who could not win the mistress woo'd the maid;
Against the poets their own arms they turn'd,
Sure to hate most the men from whom they learn'd.
So modern 'pothecaries taught the art
By doctors' bills to play the doctor's part,
Bold in the practice of mistaken rules,
Prescribe, apply, and call their masters fools.
Some on the leaves of ancient authors prey;
Nor time, nor moths e'er spoil'd so much as they :
Some drily plain, without invention's aid,
Write dull receipts how poems may be made;
These leave the sense their learning to display,
And those explain the meaning quite away,
You then whose judgment the right course would
Know well each ancient's proper character;
His fable, subject, scope in every page;
Religion, country, genius of his age :
Without all these at once before your eyes,
Cavil you may, but never criticise.
Be Homer's works your study and delight,
Read them by day, and meditate by night;
Thence form your judgment, thence your maxims
And trace the Muses upward to their spring.
Still with itself compar'd, his text peruse;
And let your comment be the Mantuan Muse.
When first young Maro in his boundless mind
A work to' outlast immortal Rome design'd,
Perhaps he seem'd above the critic's law,
And but from Nature's fountains scorn'd to draw :
But when to examine every part he came,
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same.
Convinc'd, amaz'd, he checks the bold design,
And rules as strict his labour'd work confine
As if the Stagirite o'erlook'd each line.
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem;
To copy Nature is to copy them.
Some beauties yet no precepts can declare, For there's a happiness as well as care. Music resembles poetry; in each Are nameless graces which no methods teach, And which a master-hand alone can reach. If, where the rules not far enough extend, (Since rules were made but to promote their end) Some lucky licence answer to the full The' intent propos'd, that licence is a rule. Thus Pegasus a nearer way to take, May boldly deviate from the common track. From vulgar bounds with brave disorder part, And snatch a grace beyond the reach of art, Which, without passing through the judgment, gains The heart, and all its end at once attains. In prospects thus some objects please our eyes, Which out of nature's common order rise, The shapeless rock, or hanging precipice. Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend, And rise to faults true critics dare not mend;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes, Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ;
Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find
Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind;
Nor lose, for that malignant dull delight,
The generous pleasure to be charm'd with wit.
But in such lays as neither ebb nor flow,
Correctly cold, and regularly low,
That shunning faults one quiet tenor keep,
We cannot blame indeed-but we may sleep.
In wit, as nature, what affects our hearts
Is not the exactness of peculiar parts;
'Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call,
But the joint force and full result of all.
Thus when we view some well-proportion'd dome,
(The world's just wonder, and ev'n thine, O Rome!)
No single parts unequally surprise,
All comes united to the admiring eyes;
No monstrous height, or breadth, or length, appear;
The whole at once is bold and regular.
Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.
In every work regard the writer's end,
Since none can compass more than they intend;
And if the means be just, the conduct true,
Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is lue.
As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit,
To avoid great errors must the less commit;
Neglect the rules each verbal critic lays,
For not to know some trifles is a praise.
Most critics, fond of some subservient art,
Still make the whole depend upon a part:
They talk of principles, but notions prize,
And all to one lov'd folly sacrifice.
Once on a time La Mancha's Knight, they say,
A certain bard encountering on the way,
Discours'd in terms as just, with looks as sage,
As e'er could Dennis of the Grecian stage,
Concluding all were desperate sots and fools
Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules.
Our author, happy in a judge so nice,
Produc'd his play, and begg'd the knight's advice;
Made him observe the subject and the plot,
The manners, passions, unities; what not?
All which exact to rule were brought about,
Were but a combat in the lists left out.
• What! leave the combat out!' exclaims the knight.
'Yes, or we must renounce the Stagirite.'-
Not so, by Heav'n! (he answers in a rage) * Knights, squires, and steeds, must enter on the
stage.'So vast a throng the stage can ne'er contain.' ' Then build a new, or act it on a plain.'
Thus critics of less judgment than caprice,
Curious, not knowing, not exact, but nice,
Form short ideas, and offend in arts
(As most in manners) by a love to parts.
Some to conceit alone their taste confine,
And glittering thoughts struck out at every line;
Pleas'd with a work where nothing's just or fit,
One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit.
Poets, like painters, thus unskill'd to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover every part,
And hide with ornaments their want of art.
True wit is nature to advantage dress'd,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd;
Something whose truth convinc'd at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.
As shades more sweetly recommend the light,
So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit:
For works may have more wit than does 'em good,
As bodies perish through excess of blood.
Others for language all their care express, And value books, as women men, for dress: Their praise is still--the style is excellent; The sense they humbly take upon content.