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When first that sun too powerful beams displays,
It draws up vapours which obscure its rays;
But e'en those clouds at last adorn its way,
Reflect new glories, and augment the day.
Be thou the first true merit to befriend;
His praise is lost who stays till all commend.
Short is the date, alas ! of modern rhymes,
And ’tis but just to let them live betimes.
No longer now that golden age appears,
When patriarch wits surviv'd a thousand years :
Now length of fame (our second life) is lost,
And bare threescore is all e'en that can boast:
Our sons their fathers' failing language see,
And such as Chaucer is shall Dryden be.
So when the faithful pencil has design'd
Some bright idea of the master's mind,
Where a new world leaps out at his command,
And ready nature waits upon his hand;
When the ripe colours soften and unite,
And sweetly melt into just shade and light;
When mellowing years their full perfection give,
And each bold figure just begins to live,
The treacherous colours the fair art betray,
And all the bright creation fades away!
Unhappy wit, like most mistaken things, Atones not for that envy which it brings : In youth alone its empty praise we boast, But soon the short-liv’d vanity is lost; Like some fair flower the early spring supplies, That gaily blooms, but e'en in blooming dies.
What is this wit, which must our cares employ?
The owner's wife that other men enjoy ;
Then most our trouble still when most admir'd,
And still the more we give, the more requir’d;
Whose fame with pains we guard, but lose with ease,
Sure some to vex, but never all to please ;
'Tis what the vicious fear, the virtuous shun;
By fools ’tis hated, and by knaves undone !
If wit so much from ignorance undergo,
Ah let not learning too commence its foe!
Of old those met rewards who could excel,
And such were prais’d who but endeavour'd well:
Though triumphs were to generals only due,
Crowns were reserv’d to grace the soldiers too.
Now they who reach Parnassus' lofty crown
Employ their pains to spurn some others down;
And while self-love each jealous writer rules,
Contending wits become the sport of fools ;
But still the worst with most regret commend,
For each ill author is as bad a friend.
To what base ends, and by what abject ways,
Are mortals urg'd through sacred lust of praise !
Ah 'er so dire a thirst of glory boast,
Nor in the critic let the man be lost!
Good nature and good sense must ever join ;
To err is human, to forgive divine.
But if in noble minds some dregs remain, Not yet purg'd off, of spleen and sour disdain, Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes, Nor fear a dearth in these flagitious times. No pardon vile obscenity should find,
Though wit and art conspire to move your mind;
But dulness with obscenity must prove
As shameful sure as impotence in love.
In the fat age of pleasure, wealth, and ease
Sprung the rank weed, and thriv'd with large in-
When love was all an easy monarch's care,
Seldom at council, never in a war;
Jilts ruld the state, and statesmen farces writ;
Nay wits had pensions, and young lords had wit;
The fair sat panting at a courtier's play,
And not a mask went unimprov'd away;
The modest fan was lifted up no more,
And virgins smild at what they blush'd before.
The following license of a foreign reign
Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain;
Then unbelieving priests reform’d the nation,
And taught more pleasant methods of salvation ;
Where Heaven's free subjects might their rights
Lest God himself should seem too absolute:
Pulpits their sacred satire learn’d to spare,
And vice admir'd to find a flatterer there!
Encourag'd thus, wit’s Titans brav'd the skies,
And the press groan'd with licens'd blasphemies.
These monsters, critics ! with your
engage, Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage! Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice, Will needs mistake an author into vice: All seems infected that th' infected spy, As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye.
Rules for the conduct and manners in a critic. Candour.
Modesty. Good breeding. Sincerity and freedom of advice. When one's counsel is to be restrained. Character of an incorrigible poet. And of an impertinent critic. Character of a good critic. The history of criticism, and characters of the best critics; Aristotle, Horace. Diony sius. Petronius. Quintilian. Longinus. Of the decay of Criticism, and its revival. Erasmus. Vida. Boileau. Lord Roscommon, &c. Conclusion.
LEARN then what morals critics ought to show,
For ’tiş but half a judge's task to know.
'Tis not enough taste, judgment, learning join;
In all you speak let truth and candour shine ;
That not alone what to your sense is due
All may allow, but seek your friendship too.
Be silent always when you doubt your sense,
And speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence;
Some positive persisting fops we know,
Who if once wrong will needs be always so;
But you with pleasure own your errors past,
And make each day a critique on the last.
'Tis not enough your counsel still be true; Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown propos'd as things forgot. Without good-breeding truth is disapprov'd ; That only makes superior sense belov’d.
Be niggards of advice on no pretence, For the worst avarice is that of sense. With mean complacence ne'er betray your trust, Nor be so civil as to prove unjust. Fear not the anger of the wise to raise ; Those best can bear reproof who merit praise.
"Twere well might critics still this freedom take, But Appius reddens at each word you speak, And stares tremendous, with a threatening eye, Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry. Fear most to tax an honourable fool, Whose right it is, uncensur'd, to be dull: Such, without wit, are poets when they please, As without learning they can take degrees. Leave dangerous truths to unsuccessful satires, And flattery to fulsome dedicators; Whom, when they praise, the world believes no more Than when they promise to give scribbling o'er. 'Tis best sometimes your censure to restrain, And charitably let the dull be vain; Your silence there is better than your spite, For who can rail so long as they can write ? Still humming on their drowsy course they keep, And lash'd so long, like tops, are lash'd asleep.