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Shall we, or fhall we not, account him fo, Who dy'd, perhaps, an hundred years ago? End all difpute; and fix the year precise When British Bards begin t' immortalize ? "Who lasts a' century can have no flaw, 55 "I hold that Wit a Claffic, good in law." Suppose he wants a year, will you compound? And shall we deem him' Ancient, right and found, Or damn to all Eternity at once, At ninety nine, a Modern and a Dunce?
We fhall not quarrel for a year or two; "By' courtesy of England, he may do." Then, by the rule that made the " Horse-tail bare,
pluck out year by year, as hair by hair, And melt" down Ancients like a heap of fnow: 65 While you, to measure merits, look in * Stowe, And eftimating Authors by the Beftow a Garland only on a ' Bier.
Shakespear (whom you and ev'ry Play-house
Style the Divine, the Matchlefs, what you will) 70
undefervedly. The truth is, he was not enough acquainted with the manners of the preceding Age, to judge competently of them. Befides, nothing is more inconftant than his characters of his own Country Poets, nor lefs reasonable than moft of his critical notions; for he had many occafional ends to ferve, and few principles to go upon. This may be faid as to the character of his critical works in general, though written with great elegance and vivacity.
Ut critici dicunt, leviter curare videtur
Quo promiffa cadant, et fomnia Pythagorea.
Naevius in manibus non eft; at mentibus haeret Penerecens: adeo fanctum eft vetus omne poema Ambigitur quoties, uter utro fit prior; aufert
Pacuvius docti famam fenis, Accius alti :
VER. 69, &c. Shakespear-For gain, net glory, &c.] SHAKESPEAR know perfectly well what belonged to a true compofition, as appears from the Tempel, and the Merry Wives of Windfor. But he generally complied with the ignorance, and the ill tafte of his Audience. However, in his moft irregular plays, his wit and his fublimity make amends for his tranfgreffion of the rules of art; and fupport him in it. But, happily for the improvement of the Drama, he had a Competitor in JOHNSON, who, with a greater temptation to comply with the bad tafte of the age, had not the fame force of genius to fupport him in it. Johnson therefore borrowed all he could from art; and, like an experienced General, when he could not depend on his natural ftrength, kept ftill behind his lines. The confequence was, that Shakespear having once tried to reform the tafte [See the first scene of the Players in Hamlet] and on failing, had complied with it, became the favourite Poet of the people; while Johnfon, who, for the reafon given above, could not be fo complaifant, was all his life long in a state of war with them. This, and not (as is commonly fuppofed) the ignerance of the one, and the fuperier knowledge of the other, was the true caufe of that difference which we find between these two Capital Writers, in the art and conftruction of their pieces. Infomuch, that here, we fee, a want of fufficient
For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight, grew Immortal in his own despight. Ben, old and poor, as little feem'd to heed
* The Life to come, in ev'ry Poet's Creed.
But still I love the Language of his Heart.
"Yet furely, furely, these were famous men! "What boy but hears the fayings of old Ben? 80 "In all * debates where Critics bear a part,
Not one but nods, and talks of Johnson's Art,
natural genius accidentally contributing to the refinement of the English stage.
Ibid. and ev'ry Playhoufe bil A ridicule on those who talk of Shakespear, because he is in fashion; who, if they dared to do juftice to their tafte or confcience, would own they liked Durfey better.
VER. 74. The Life to come, in ev'ry Poet's Creed.]
"Quo promiffa cadant, et fomnia Pythagorea'
The beauty of this arifes from a circumftance in Ennius's ftory. But as this could not be imitated, our Poet endeavoured to equal it; and has fucceeded.
VER. 77. Pindaric Art,] Which has much more merit than his Epic, but very unlike the Character, as well as Numbers, of Pindar.
VER. 81. In all debates, &c.] The Poet has here put the bald cant of women and boys into extreme fine verse. This is in ftrict imitation of his Original, where the fame impertinent and gratuitous criticism is admirably ridiculed.
Dicitur Afranî toga conveniffe Menandro;
Plautus ad examplar Siculi properare Epicharmi
Vincere Caecilius gravitate, Terentius arte:
Spectat Roma potens;
f habet hos numeratque
poetas Ad noftrum tempus, Livî fcriptoris ab aevo. Interdum vulgus rectum videt: eft ubi
Si veteres ita miratur laudatque poetas,
Ut nihil anteferat, nihil illis comparet; errat:
Si quaedam nimis' antique, fi pleraque * dure
VER. 85 Wcherly] The chief fupport of this Writer's reputation, is his famous comedy of the Plan Dealer; which is taken from Moliere's Mifanthrope. But it has fo happened that while Moliere's Mifanthrope is but a Plain Dealer, Wycherly's Plain Dealer is a downright Mifanthrope. Whether this was owing to the different genius of the nations, or to the different judgments of the Poets, is left for the Critics to determine
Ibid. Shadwell hafty, Wycherly was flow.] Nothing was lefs true than this particular: But the whole paragraph has a mixture of Irony, and must not altogether be taken for Horace's own judgment, only the common Chat of the pretenders to Criticifm; in fome things right, in others, wrong; as he tells us in his answer,
Interdum vulgus rectum videt: eft ubi peccat," P.
"Of Shakespear's Nature, and of Cowley's Wit; "How Beaumont's Judgment check'd what "Fletcher writ;
"How Shadwell hafty, Wycherly was flow; 85
And Sydney's verse halts ill on * Roman feet:
VER. 91. Gammer Gurton] A piece of very low Humour, one of the first printed Plays in English, and therefore much valued by fome Antiquaries. P.
Ibid. To Gammer Gurten-And yet deny, &c.] i. e. If they give the Bays to one play because it is old, and deny it to another because it is new; why then, I fay, the Public acts a very foolish part.
VER. 97. Spenfer himself affects the Obfolete,] This is certainly true; he extended, beyond all reafon, that precept of Horace,
"Obfcurata diu populo bonus eruet, atque "Proferet in lucem fpeciofa vocabula rerum," etc. VER. 98. And Sydney's verfe halts ill on Roman feet:] Sir