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INTRODUCTION. That 'tis as great a fault to judge ill, as to write ill, and a more dangerous one to the public, ver. 1.
That a true Taste is as rare to be found, as a true Genius, ver.
9 to 18.
That most men are born with some Taste, but spoil'd by false Education, ver. 19 to 25.
The Multitude of Critics, and causes of them, ver. 26 to 45.
That we are to study our own Taste, and know the Limits of it, ver. 46 to 67.
Nature the best guide of judgment, ver. 68 to 87.
Improved by Art and Rules, which are but methodis'd Nature, ver. 88.
Rules deriv'd from the Practice of the Ancient Poets, ver. 88 to 110.
That therefore the Ancients are necessary to be studied by a Critic, particularly Homer and Virgil, ver. 120 to 138.
Of Licenses, and the use of them by the Ancients, ver. 140 to 180. Reverence due to the Ancients, and praise of them, ver. 181, &c.
PART II. Ver. 203, &c.
Causes hindering a true Judgment. 1. Pride, ver. 208. 2. Imperfect Learning, ver. 215. 3. Judging by parts, and not by the whole, ver. 233 to 288. Critics in Wit, Language, Versification, only, ver. 288, 305, 339, &c. 4. Being too hard to please, or too apt to admire, v. 384. 5. Partiality-too much love to a Sect, to the Ancients or Moderns, ver. 324. 6. Prejudice or Prevention, ver. 408. 7. Singularity, ver. 424. 8. Inconstancy, ver. 430. 9. Party Spirit, ver. 452, &c. 10. Envy, ver. 466. Against Envy and in praise of Good-nature, ver. 508, &c. When Severity is chiefly to be used by Critics, ver. 526, &c.
Rules for the Conduct of Manners in a Critic, 1. Candour, ver. 563. Modesty, ver. 566. Good-breeding, ver. 572. Sincerity and Freedom of Advice, ver. 578. 2. When one's Counsel is to be restrained, ver. 584. Character of an incorrigible Poet, ver. 600. And of an impertinent Critic, ver. 610, &c. Character of a good Critic, ver. 629. The History of Criticism, and characters of the best Critics, Aristotle, ver. 645. Horace, ver. 653. Dionysius, ver. 665. Petronius, ver. 667. Quintilian, ver. 670. Longinus, ver. 675. Of the decay of Criticism, and its Revival, Erasmus, ver. 693. Vida, ver. 705. Boileau, ver. 714. Lord Roscommon, &c. ver. 725. Conclusion.
ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
WITH THE COMMENTARY OF WILLIAM WARBURTON, D. D.
'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill ;
But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' offence
An Essay] The poem is in one book, but divided into three principal parts or numbers. The first [to ver. 201.] gives rules for the Study of the Art of Criticism: the second [from thence to ver. 560.] exposes the Causes of wrong Judgment; and the third [from thence to the end] marks out the Morals of the Critic.
In order to a right conception of this poem, it will be necessary to observe, that though it be intitled simply An Essay on Criticism, yet several of the precepts relate equally to the good writing as well as the true judging of a poem. This is so far from violating the Unity of the subject, that it preserves and completes it: or from disordering the regularity of the Form, that it adds beauty to it, as will appear by the following considerations: 1. It was impossible to give a full and exact idea of the Art of Poetical Criticism, without considering at the same time the Art of Poetry; so far as Poetry is an Art. These therefore being closely connected in nature, the author has, with much judgment, interwoven the precepts of each reciprocally through his whole poem. 2. As the rules of the antient Critics were taken from Poets who copied nature, this is another reason why every Poet should be a Critic: therefore as the subject is poetical Criticism, it is frequently addressed to the critical Poet. And 3dly, the Art of Criticism is as properly, and much more usefully exercised in writing, than in judging.
Some few in that, but numbers err in this,
But readers have been misled by the modesty of the Title, which only promises an Art of Criticism, to expect little, where they will find a great deal; a treatise, and that no incomplete one, of the Art both of Criticism and Poetry. This, and the not attending to the considerations offered above, was what, perhaps, misled a very candid writer, after having given the ESSAY ON CRITICISM all the praises on the side of genius and poetry which his true taste could not refuse it, to say, that the observations follow one another like those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical regularity which would have been requisite in a prose writer. Spect. No. 235. I do not see how method can hurt any one grace of Poetry; or what prerogative there is in Verse to dispense with regularity. The remark is false in every part of it. Mr. Pope's Essay on Criticism, the Reader will soon see, is a regular piece: And a very learned Critic has lately shewn, that Horace had the same attention to method in his Art of Poetry. See Mr. Hurd's Comment on the Epistle to the Pisos.
Ver. 1. 'Tis hard to say, &c.] The Poem opens [from ver. 1 to 9.] with shewing the use and seasonableness of the subject. Its use, from the greater mischief in wrong Criticism than in ill Poetry; this only tiring, that misleading the reader: Its seasonableness, from the growing number of bad Critics, which now vastly exceeds that of bad poets.
Ver. 9. 'Tis with our judgments, &c.] The author having shewn us the expediency of his subject, the Art of Criticism, inquires next [from ver. 8 to 15.] into the proper Qualities of a true Critic : and observes first, that JUDGMENT alone, is not sufficient to constitute this character, because Judgment, like the artificial measures of Time, goes different, and yet each man relies upon his own. The reasoning is conclusive; and the similitude extremely just. For Judgment, when it is alone, is generally regulated, or at least much.