« EelmineJätka »
for granted, by the judgment commonly past upon Poems. A Critic fuppofes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have fail'd in an expreffion, or err'd in any particular point and can it then be wonder❜d at, if the Poets in general feem refolv'd not to own themselves in any error? For as long as one fide defpifes a well-meant endeavour, the other will not be fatisfy'd with a moderate approbation.
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both fides is ill-plac'd; Poetry and Criticifm being by no means the univerfal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their clofets, and of idle men who read there. Yet fure upon the whole, a bad Author deferves better ufage than a bad Critic; a man may be the former merely thro' the misfortune of an ill judgment, but he cannot be the latter without both that and an ill temper.
I think a good deal may be faid to extenuate the fault of bad Poets. What we call a Genius, is hard to be distinguish'd by a man himself, from a strong inclination: and if it be never fo great, he can not at first discover it any other way, than by that prevalent propenfity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. The only method he has, is to make the experiment by writing, and appealing to the judgment of others: And if he happens to write ill (which is certainly no fin in itfelf) he is immediately made an object of ridicule. I wish we had the humanity to reflect
that even the worst authors might endeavour to please us, and in that endeavour, deferve fomething at our hands. We have no cause to quarrel with them but for their obftinacy in perfisting, and this too may admit of alleviating circumftances. Their particular friends may be either ignorant, or infincere; and the reft of the world too well bred to fhock them with a truth, which generally their Bookfellers are the first that inform them of. This happens not till they have spent too much of their time, to apply to any profeffion which might better fit their talents; and till fuch talents as they have are fo far difcredited, as to be but of small service to them. For (what is the hardeft cafe imaginable) the reputation of a man generally depends upon the firft fteps he makes in the world, and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that feafon when we have least judgment to direct us.
On the other hand, a good Poet no fooner communicates his works with the fame defire of information, but it is imagin'd he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with the fear of being ridiculous. If he is made to hope he may please the world, he falls under very unlucky circumstances; for from the moment he prints, he must expect to hear no more truth, than if he were a Prince, or a Beauty. If he has not very good fenfe, his living thus in a course of flattery may put him in no fmall danger
of becoming a Coxcomb: If he has, he will confequently have fo much diffidence, as not to reap any great fatisfaction from his praife; fince if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguish'd from flattery, and if in his abfence, it is hard to be certain of it. Were he fure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as fure of being envy'd by the worst and most ignorant; for it is with a fine Genius as with a fine fashion, all thofe are difpleas'd at it who are not able to follow it: And 'tis to be fear'd that esteem will feldom do any man fo much good, as ill-will does him harm. Then there is a third clafs of people who make the largest part of mankind, thofe of ordinary or indifferent capacities; and thefe (to a man) will hate, or fufpect him: a hundred honeft gentlemen will dread him as a wit, and a hundred innocent women as a fatyrift. In a word, whatever be his fate in Poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are indeed fome advantages accruing from a Genius to Poetry, and they are all I can think of: the agreeable power of felf-amufement when a man is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted into the best company; and the freedom of faying as many carelefs things as other people, without being fo feverely remark'd upon.
I believe, if any one, early in his life should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would fcarce be of their number on any confideration. The life of a Wit is a warfare upon earth; and
the prefent fpirit of the world is fuch, that to attempt to serve it (any way) one must have the conftancy of a martyr, and a refolution to fuffer for its fake. I confefs it was want of confideration that made me an author; I writ because it amused me; I corrected because it was as pleafant to me to correct as to write; and I publifh'd because I was told I might please fuch as it was a credit to please. To what degree I have done this, I am really ignorant; I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleas'd with them at laft. But I have reafon to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deferves to do fo: for they have always fallen fhort not only of what I read of others, but even of my own Ideas of Poetry.
If any one should imagine I am not in earnest, I defire him to reflect, that the Ancients (to fay the leaft of them) had as much Genius as we; and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more complete pieces. They constantly apply'd themfelves not only to that art, but to that single branch of an art, to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the businefs of their lives to correct and finish their works for pofterity. If we can pretend to have used the fame industry, let us expect the fame immortality: Tho' if we took the fame care, we should still lie under a farther misfortune: they
writ in languages that became universal and everlafting, while ours are extremely limited both in extent, and in duration. A mighty foundation for our pride! when the utmost we can hope, is but to be read in one Ifland, and to be thrown afide at the end of one Age.
All that is left us is to recommend our productions by the imitation of the Ancients: and it will be found true, that in every age, the highest character for sense and learning has been obtain❜d by thofe who have been moft indebted to them. For to fay truth, whatever is very good fenfe muft have been common sense in all times; and what we call Learning, is but the knowledge of the sense of our predeceffors. Therefore they who fay our thoughts are not our own because they resemble the Ancients, may as well fay our faces are not our own, because they are like our Fathers: And indeed it is very unreasonable, that people should expect us to be Scholars, and yet be angry to find
I fairly confefs that I have ferv'd my self all I could by reading; that I made ufe of the judgment of authors dead and living; that I omitted no means in my power to be inform'd of my errors, both by my friends and enemies; and that I expect not to be excus'd in any negligence on account of youth, want of leifure, or any other idle allegations: But the true reafon these pieces are not more correct, is owing to the confideration how short a time they, and I, have to live: One