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First follow Nature, and your judgment frame By her just standard, which is still the same :
COMMENTARY. Ver. 68. First follow Nature, &c.] The Critic observing the directions before given, and now finding himself qualified for his office, is shewn next, how to exercise it. And as he was to attend to Nature for a call, so he is first and principally to follow Nature when called. And here again in this, as in the foregoing precept, our Poet (from ver. 67 to 88.] shews both the fitness and necessity of it. I. Its fitness, 1. Because Nature is the source of Poetic art; this art being only a representation of Nature, who is its great exemplar and original. 2. Because Nature is the end of Art; the design of poetry being to convey the knowledge of Nature in the most agreeable manner. 3. Because Nature is the test of Art, as she is unerring, constant, and still the same. Hence the poet observes, that as Nature is the source, she conveys life to art: As she is the end, she conveys force to it, for the force of any thing arises from its being directed to its end: and as she is the test, she conveys beauty to it, for every thing acquires beauty by its being reduced to its true standard. Such is the sense of these two important lines,
Life, force, and beauty must to all impart,
At once the source, and end, and test of Art. II. The necessity of the precept is seen from hence. The two constituent qualities of a Composition, as such, are Art and Wit: but neither of these attains perfection, 'till the first be hid, and the other judiciously restrained; this only happens when Nature is exactly followed; for then Art never makes a parade; nor can Wit commit an extravagance. Art, while it adheres to Nature, and has so large a fund in the resources which Nature supplies, disposes every thing with so much ease and simplicity, that we see nothing but those natural images it works with, while itself stands unobserved behind : but when Art leaves Nature, misled either by the bold sallies of Fancy, or the quaint oddnesses of Fashion, she is then obliged at every step to come forward, in a painful or pompous ostentation, in order to cover, to soften, or to regulate the shocking disproportion of unnatural images. In the first case, our Poet compares Art to the Soul within, in forming a beauteous body;
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright, 70
but in the last, we are bid to consider it but as a mere outward garb, fitted only to hide the defects of a mis-shapen one.—As to Wit, it might perhaps be imagined that this needed only Judgment
it : but, as he well observes
Tho' meant each other's aid, like man and wife.” They want therefore some friendly Mediator; and this Mediator is Nature: and in attending to Nature, Judgment will learn where he should comply with the charms of Wit; and Wit how she ought to obey the sage directions of Judgment.
Ver. 80. Some, to whom Heav'n, &c.] Here the Poet (in a sense he was not, at first, aware of) has given an example of the truth of his observation, in the observation itself. The two lines stood originally thus :
“ There are whom Heav'n has blest with store of Wit,
Yet want as much again to manage it." In the first line, wit is used, in the modern sense, for the effort of Fancy; in the second line it is used, in the ancient sense, for the result of Judgment. This trick, play'd the Reader, he endeavoured to keep out of sight, by altering the lines as they now stand,
“ Some, to whom Heav’n in Wit has been profuse,
For wit and judgment often are at strife,
Those Rules of old discover’d, not devis'd,
Ver. 88. Those Rules of old, &c.] Having thus, in his first precept, to follow Nature, settled Criticism on its true foundation ; he proceeds to shew, what assistance may be had from Art. But least this should be thought to draw the Critic from the ground where our Poet had before fixed him, he previously observes [from ver. 87 to 92.] that these Rules of Art, which he is now about to recommend to the Critic's observance, were not invented by abstract speculation ; but discovered in the book of Nature; and that therefore, tho' they may seem to restrain Nature by Laws, yet as they are laws of her own making, the Critic is still properly in the very liberty of Nature. These Rules the ancient Critics borrowed from the Poets, who received them immediately from Nature. “ Just Precepts thus from great Examples giv'n,
These drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n.” so that both are to be well studied.
For the words, to manage it, as the lines were at first, too plainly discovered the change put upon the Reader, in the use of the word, wit. This is now a little covered by the latter expression of-turn it to its use.
But then the alteration, in the preceding line, from-store of wit, to profuse, was an unlucky change. For though he who has store of wii may want more, yet he to whom it was given in profusion could hardly be said to want more. The truth is, the Poet had said a lively thing, and would, at all hazards, preserve the reputation of it, though the very topic he is upon obliged him to detect the imposition, in the very next lines, which
Nature, like Liberty, is but restrain'd
90 By the same Laws which first herself ordain’d.
shew he meant two very different things, by the very same term, in the two preceding,
“ For wit and judgment often are at strife,
Warburton. Ver. 88. Those Rules of old, &c.] Cicero has, best of any one I know, explained what that thing is which reduces the wild and scattered parts of human knowledge into arts" Nihil est quod ad artem redigi possit, nisi ille prius, qui illa tenet, quorum artem instituere vult, habeat illam scientiam, ut ex iis rebus, quarum ars nondum sit, artem efficere possit.—Omnia fere, quæ sunt conclusa nunc artibus, dispersa et dissipata quondam fuerunt, ut in Musicis, &c. Adhibita est igitur ars quædam extrinsecus ex alio genere quodam, quod sibi totum Philosophi assumunt, quæ rem dissolutam divulsamque conglutinaret, et ratione quadam constringeret.”—De Orat. 1. i. c. 41, 2.
Warburton. The precepts of the art of poetry were posterior to practice; the rules of the Epopea were all drawn from the Iliad, and the Odyssey; and of Tragedy, from the Oedipus of Sophocles. A petulant rejection, and an implicit veneration, of the rules of the ancient critics, are equally destructive of true taste.
“ It ought to be the first endeavour of a writer (says the Rambler, No. 156.) to distinguish nature from custom ; or that which is established because it is right, from that which is right only because it is established ; that he may neither violate essential principles by a desire of novelty, nor debar himself from the attainment of any beauties within his view, by a needless fear of breaking rules, which no literary dictator had authority to prescribe.”
This liberal and manly censure of critical bigotry, extends not to those fundamental and indispensable rules, which nature and necessity dictate, and demand to be observed ; such, for instance, as in the higher kinds of poetry, that the action of the epopea,
be one, great, and entire: that the hero be eminently distinguished, move our concern, and deeply interest us; that the episodes arise easily out of the main fable; and the action commence as near the catastrophe as possible ; and, in the drama, that no more events be Hear how learn'd Greece her useful rules indites, When to repress, and when indulge our flights:
Ver. 92. Hear how learn'd Greece, &c.] He speaks of the ancient Critics first, and with great judgment, as the previous knowledge of them is necessary for reading the Poets, with that fruit which the end here proposed, requires. But having, in the foregoing observation, sufficiently explained the nature of ancient Criticism, he enters on the subject (treated of from ver. 91 to 118.] with a sublime description of its end; which was to illustrate the beauties of the best writers, in order to excite others to an emu
crowded together, than can be justly supposed to happen during the time of representation, or to be transacted on one individual spot, and the like. But the absurdity here animadverted on, is the scrupulous nicety of those who bind themselves to obey frivolous and unimportant laws; such as, that an epic poem should consist not of less than twelve books; that it should end fortunately ; that in the first book there should be no simile; that the exordium should be very simple and unadorned ; that in a tragedy, only three personages
appear at once upon the stage; and that every tragedy should consist of five acts; by the rigid observation of which last unnecessary precept, the poet is deprived of using many a moving story, that would furnish matter enough for three perhaps, but not for five acts : with other rules of the like indifferent nature.
It has become a fashionable attempt of late, to censure and decry an obedience to the rules laid down by ancient critics; while one party loudly and frequently exclaim,
Vos exemplaria Græca
Warton. Ver. 92. Hear how learn'd Greece, &c.] In the second part of Shaftesbury's Advice to an Author, is a judicious and elegant account of the rise and progress of arts and sciences in ancient Greece. For a passage that relates to the origin of Criticism, v. Characteristics, vol. 1, 12mo. p. 163.