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Teach me, like thee, in various nature wise,
were to be inferred, will not, I fear, be thought substantial; nor can Warton's objection to Johnson's criticism on this Poem be considered so well founded, as his objection to the criticism concerning the Penferofo of Milion. For an ingenious man might take any axiom in Morals, or the plainest acknowledged truth, and deduce many beautiful illustrations from it. On the other hand, Johnson's criticism of a Poem like this, cannot be compared with his futile declamation against the imagery of the Penseroso. For in speaking of the Penseroso, Johnson spoke of what I do not hesitate to say, he did not understand. He had no congenial feelings properly to appreciate the character of such Poetry; but the case is different where he brings his great mind to try, by the test of truth, argu.. ments and doĉtrines which appeal to the understanding. Johnson was not an inadequate judge of Pope's Philosophy, though he was certainly fo of Milton's Poetry. But no composition could poffibly fiand before his contemptuous declamation. I fear, even in some places his own mighty Rambler would tremble; God knows how it might fare with Pope's Pastorals. But it must be, confeffed, unfair as Johnson's criticism is, it is not entirely destitute of truth.
Many of Pope's conclusions in this Esay, after a vast deal of fine verbiage and apparent argument, are such as required very little proof;
“ Tho' Man’s a fool-yet GOD IS WISE !” and many
other axioms equally true. But can we say the whole exhibits only a train of triienefjes ? Materiem fuperabat opus, it is acknowledged ; and poffbly, had it been more recondite, it could not have been made the vehicle of so many acknowledged beauties of expreffion, of imagery, and of poetic illustration. The more it is read, the more it will be relished, and the more will the nice precision of every word, and the general beauty of its structure, be acknowledged. Though the treasures of knowledge within be not, perhaps, either very rich or rare ; yet, to say it contains no striking sentiments, no truths placed in a more advanced as well as a more pleasing light, would be a manifest and palpable injustice. After all, Poetry is not a
Form'd by thy converse, happily to steer
grave to gay, from lively to severe;
385 Pursue the triumph, and partake the gale? When statesmen, heroes, kings, in dust repose, Whose fons shall blush their fathers were thy foes, Shall then this verse to future age pretend Thou wert my guide, philofopher, and friend? 390 That urg'd by thee, I turn’d the tuneful art From sounds to things, from fancy to the heart;:
good vehicle for Philofophy; but as a Philofophical Poem, take it all together, it would not be very easy, with the exception of Lucretius, to find its equal.
VER. 383 Oh! while along] From the Silvæ of Statius, c.v.
V. I 20.
“ immenfæ veluti connexa Carina
WARTON. Ver. 391. I turn'd the tuneful art] Ought the lovers of true genuine poetry to be obliged to his friend, for being inftrumental in making Pope forsake works of imagination for the didactic ! Which of the two species of compofition may be the more ufeful and instructive, is entirely beside the question ; but, in point of poetic genius, the Rape of the Lock, and The Eloisa, as far excel the Essay on Man, and the Moral Epistles, as the Gierufalemme, fo unjustly depreciated by Boileau, does all his Satires and his Art of Poetry ; and as the second and fourth books of Virgil excel the Georgics. To be able to reason well in verse, is not the Arit, nor the most efsential talent of a poet, great as its merit may be,
For Wit's false mirror held
Nature's light; Shew'd erring Pride, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT;
Ver: 394. Shew'd erring Pride, WHATEVER is, is right;] The Poet's address to his friend, which concludeth this Epistle fo nobly, and endeth with a recapitulation of the general argument, affords me the following observation, with which I shall conclude these remarks. There is one great beauty that shines through the whole Essay: The Poet, whether he speaks of Man. as an individual, a member of Society, or the subject of Happiness, never misseth an opportunity, while he is explaining his state under any of these capacities, to illustrate it in the moit artful manner by the inforcement of his grand principle, That every thing tendeth to the good of the Whole ; from whence his fyftem gaineth the reciprocal advantage of having that grand Theorem realized by facts; and his facts justified on a principle of Right or Nature.
Thus I have endeavoured to analyse and explain the exact reafoning of these four Epiftles. Enough, I presume, to convince every one, that it hath a precision, force, and closeness of connection, rarely to be met with, even in the most formal treatises of philosophy. Yet in doing this, it is but too evident I have deftroyed that grace and energy which animates the original. And now let the reader believe, if he be fo disposed, what M. de Crousaz, in his Critique upon this work, insinuates to be his own opinion, as well as that of his friends : “ Some persons,” says he, “ have conjectured, that Mr. Pope did not compose this Essay at once, and in a regular order ; but that after he had written several fragments of poetry, all finished in their kind, (one, for example, on the parallel between Reason and Instinct, another
Man's groundless Pride, another on the Prerogatives of human Nature, another on Religion and Superstition, another on the Original of Society, and several Fragments besides on Self-love and the Passions,) he tacked these together as he could, and divided them into four Epistles ; as, it is said, was the fortune of Homer's Rhapsodies.” I suppose this extravagance will be believed just as soon of one as of the other. But M. Du Resnel, our Poet's Translator, is not behind. hand with the Critic, in his judgment on the work.
“ The only reason,” says he, “ for which this Poem can be properly termed
That REASON, Passion, answer one great aim; 395
VER. 397. That Virtue only, &c.] In the MS. thus :
That just to find a God is all we can,
COMMENTARY. an Esay, is, that the Author has not formed his plan with all the regularity of method which it might have admitted.” And again“ I was, by the unanimous opinion of all those whom I have consulted on this occafion, and, amongst these, of several Englifomen completely skilled in both languages, obliged to follow a different method. The French are not satisfied with sentiments, however beautiful, unless they be methodically disposed: Method being the chara&eristic that distinguishes our performances from those of our neighbours," &c. After having given many examples of the critical skill of this wonderful man of method, in the foregoing notes, it is enough just to have quoted this flourish of self-applause, and fo to leave him to the laughter of the World.