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AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
INTRODUCTION. That it is as great a fault to judge ill as
to writa ill, and a more dangerous one to the public. That a true taste is as rare to be found as a true genius. That most men are born with some taste, but spoiled by false edacation. The multitude of critics, and causes of them. That we are to study our own taste, and know the limits of it. Nature the best guide of judgment. Improved by art and rules, which are but methodized Nature. Rules derived from the practice of the ancient poets. That therefore the ancients are necessary to be studied by a critic, particularly Homer and Virgil. Of licenses, and the use of them by the ancients. Reverence due to the ancients, and praise of them.
'Tis hard to say if greater want of skill
'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none Go just alike, yet each believes his own. In poets as true genius is but rare, True taste as seldom is the critic's share; Both must alike from Heaven derive their light, These born to judge, as well as those to write. Let such teach others who themselves excel, And censure freely who have written well; Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true, But are not critics to their judgment too?
Yet if we look more closely, we shall find Most have the seeds of judgment in their mind : Nature affords at least a glimmering light; The lines, though touch'd but faintly, are drawn
right: But as the slightest sketch, if justly trac'd, Is by ill colouring but the more disgrac'd, So by false learning is good sense defac'd : Some are bewilder'd in the maze of schools, And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools: In search of wit these lose their common sense, And then turn critics in their own defence: Each burns alike, who can or cannot write, Or with a rival's or an eunuch's spite. All fools have still an itching to deride, And fain would be upon the laughing side. If Mævius scribble in Apollo's spite, There are who judge still worse than he can write.
Some have at first for wits, then poets past; Turn'd critics next, and prov'd plain fools at last,
Some neither can for wits nor critics pass,
you who seek to give and merit fame,
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 power 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.