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Stant inimota genis: nihil est in imagine vivi.
Metam. 1. vi. 304.
The truth is, to write well, it is necessary to be in good humour, neither is wit less eclipsed with the unquietness of mind, than beauty with the indisposition of body. So that it is almost as hard a thing to be a poet in despite of fortune, as it is in despite of nature. For my own part, neither my obligations to the muses, nor expectations from them, are so great, that I should suffer myself on no considerations to be divorced, or that I should say like Horace
Quisquis erit vitæ, scribam, color.*
I shall rather use his words in another place,
Nunc arma defunctumque bello
Carm. 1. 3. Ode 26.
and this resolution of mine does the more befit me, because my desire has been for some years
*I will continue to write, whatever may be the colour of my life.
I was lately a follower of the muses; and fought under their banners, not without glory. Now I hang up my weapons and my harp, which are no longer useful to the war.
Cowley has applied to the muses, the expressions which Horace applies otherwise.
past, (though the execution has been accidentally diverted) and does still vehemently continue, to retire myself to some of our American plantations, not to seek for gold, or enrich myself with the traffic of those parts, which is the end of most that travel thither; but to forsake this world for ever, with all the vanities and vexations of it, and to bury myself there in some obscure retreat, but not without the consolation of letters and philosophy;
Oblitusque meorum, obliviscendus et illis.
Hor. 1 Ep. ii. 9.
My friends forgetting, and by them forgot.
as my former author speaks too, who has inticed me here, I do not know how, into the pedantry of this heap of Latin sentences. And I think Dr. Donne's sun-dial in a grave, is not more useless and ridiculous, than poetry would be in that retirement. As this, therefore, is in a true sense a kind of death to the muses, and a real literal quitting of this world: so methinks I may make a just claim to the undoubted privilege of deceased poets, which is, to be read with more favour than the living:
Tanti est ut placeam tibi, Perire.
Mart. 1. 8. ep. 69.
A WORD TO MODERN CRITICS.
WE are fallen into an age of illiterate, censorious, and detracting people, who thus qualified set up for critics. In the first place I must take leave to tell them, that they wholly mistake the nature of criticism, who think that its business is principally to find fault. Criticism, as it was first invented by Aristotle, was meant a standard of judging well; the chiefest part of which is to observe those excellencies which should delight a reasonable reader. If the design, the conduct, the thoughts, and the expressions of a poem be generally such as proceed from a true genius of poetry, the critic ought to pass a judgment in favour of the author. It is malicious and unmanly to snarl at the little lapses of a pen, from which Virgil himself stands not exempted. Horace acknowledges that Homer
nods sometimes; he is not equally awake in every line; but he leaves it as a standing measure for our judgments
Ubi plura nitent in carmine, paucis
and Longinus, who was undoubtedly, after Aristotle, the greatest critic among the Greeks, in his twenty-seventh book on the Sublime, has judiciously preferred the sublime genius that sometimes errs, to the middling or indifferent one, which makes few faults, but seldom rises to any excellence. He compares the first to a man of large possessions, who has not leisure to consider of every slight expence, will not debase himself to the management of every trifle: particular sums are not laid out or spared to the greatest advantage in his economy, but are sometimes suffered to run to waste, while he is only careful of the main.
On the other side he likens the mediocrity of wit to one of a mean fortune, who manages his store with extreme frugality, or rather parsimony; but who with fear of running into profuseness, never arrives to the magnificence of living. This kind of genius writes indeed correctly a wary man he is in grammar; very nice as to solecism and barbarism; judges to a
hair of little decencies; knows better than any man what is not to be written, and never hazards himself so far as to fall; but plods on deliberately; and as a grave man ought, is sure to put his staff before him. In short, he sets his heart upon it, and with wonderful care makes his business sure: that is, in plain English, neither to be blamed nor praised.
I could, says Longinus, find out some blemishes in Homer; and am perhaps as naturally inclined to be disgusted at a fault as another man; but after all, to speak impartially, his failings are such as are only marks of human frailty; they are little mistakes, or rather negligencies which have escaped his pen in the fervour of writing. The sublimity of his spirit carries it with me against his carelessness; though Apollonius his Argonautics, and Theocritus his Idyllia, are more free from errors; there is not any man of so false a judgment, who would chuse rather to have been Apollonius or Theocritus, than Homer.