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False steps but help them to renew the race,
Such shameless bards we have; and yet ’tis true
mend ? No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd, Nor is Paul's church more safe than Paul's church
yard : Nay, fly to altars; there they'll talk you dead; For fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks, It still looks home, and short excursions makes ; But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks, And never shock’d, and never turn'd aside, Bursts out, resistless, with a thundering tide.
But where's the man who counsel can bestow, Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know? Unbiass’d or by favour or by spite; Not dully prepossess'd nor blindly right; Though learn’d, well bred, and though well bred,
sincere; Modestly bold, and humanly severe; Who to a friend his faults can freely show, And gladly praise the merit of a foe; Bless'd with a taste exact, yet unconfin’d, A knowledge both of books and human kind; Generous converse; a soul exempt from pride ; And love to praise, with reason on his side ?
Such once were critics; such the happy few Athens and Rome in better
knew. The mighty Stagyrite first left the shore, Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore; He steer'd securely, and discover'd far, Led by the light of the Mæonian star. Poets, a race long unconfin’d and free, Still fond and proud of savage liberty, Receiv'd his laws, and stood convinc'd 'twas fit Who conquer'd nature should preside o’er wit.
Horace still charms with graceful negligence, And without method talks us into sense; Will, like a friend, familiarly convey The truest notions in the easiest way. He who, supreme in judgment as in wit, Might boldly censure as he boldly writ, Yet judg'd with coolness, though he sung with fire; His precepts teach but
his works inspire.
Our critics take a contrary extreme,
See Dionysius Homer's thoughts refine,
Fancy and art in gay Petronius please,
In grare Quintilian's copious work we find
Thee, bold Longinus ! all the Nine inspire,
Thus long succeeding critics justly reign'd, License repress’d, and useful laws ordain'd: Learning and Rome alike in empire grew, And arts still follow'd where her eagles flew; From the same foes at last both felt their doom, And the same age saw learning fall and Rome. With tyranny then superstition join'd, As that the body, this enslav’d the mind; Much was believ'd, but little understood, And to be dull was construed to be good;
A second deluge learning thus o'errun,
At length Erasmus, that great injurd name, (The glory of the priesthood and the shame!) Stemm'd the wild torrent of a barbarous age, And drove those holy Vandals off the stage.
But see! each Muse in Leo's golden days Starts from her trance, and trims her wither'd bays; Rome's ancient genius, o'er its ruins spread, Shakes off the dust, and rears his reverend head. Then sculpture and her sister arts revive; Stones leap'd to form, and rocks began to live; With sweeter notes each rising temple rung; A Raphael painted, and a Vida sung: Immortal Vida! on whose honour'd brow The poet's bays and critic's ivy grow: Cremona now shall ever boast thy name, As next in place to Mantua, next in fame!
But soon by impious arms from Latium chas'd, Their ancient bounds the banishid Muses pass’d; Thence arts o'er all the northern world advance, But critic learning flourish'd most in France; The rules a nation born to serve obeys, And Boileau still in right of Horace sways. But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despis’d, And kept unconquer'd and unciviliz'd; Fierce for the liberties of wit, and bold, We still defied the Romans, as of old. Yet some there were, among the sounder few Of those who less presum’d and better knew,
THE POEMS OF POPE.
Who durst assert the juster ancient cause,
view, The learn'd reflect on what before they knew; Careless of censure, nor too fond of fame; Sull pleas`d to praise, yet not afraid to blame; Averse alike to flatter or offend; Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend.
1 [The Duke of Buckingham.]
2 Pope's early patron: see Memoir prefixed to these volumes, p. xix.