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High on Parnassus' top her sons she show'd,
And urg'd the rest by equal steps to rise.
lation of their excellence. From the raptures which these ideas inspire, the poet is brought back, by the follies of modern Criticism, now before his eyes, to reflect on its base degeneracy. And as the restoring the Art to its original purity and splendour is the great purpose of this poem, he first takes notice of those, who seem not to understand that Nature is exhaustless; that new models of good writing may be produced in every age; and consequently, that new rules may be formed from these models, in the same manner as the old Critics formed theirs, which was, from the writings of the ancient Poets: but men wanting art and ability to form these new rules, were content to receive and file up for use, the old ones of Aristotle, Quintilian, Longinus, Horace, &c. with the same vanity and boldness that apothecaries practise, with their doctors' bills and then rashly applying them to new Originals (cases which they did not hit) it was no more in their power than in their inclination to imitate the candid practice of the Ancients, when
"The gen'rous Critic fann'd the Poet's fire,
And taught the world with Reason to admire ;"
For, as Ignorance, when joined with Humility, produces stupid admiration, on which account it is commonly observed to be the mother of Devotion and blind homage: so when joined with Vanity (as it always is in bad Critics) it gives birth to every iniquity of impudent abuse and slander. See an example (for want of a better) in a late ridiculous and now forgotten thing, called the Life
Ver. 98. Just precepts] "Nec enim artibus editis factum est ut argumenta inveniremus, sed dicta sunt omnia antequam præciperentur; mox ea scriptores observata et collecta ediderunt." Quintil.
The gen'rous Critic fann'd the Poet's fire,
And taught the world with reason to admire.
Life of Socrates; where the Head of the author (as a man of wit observed) has just made a shift to do the office of a camera obscura, and represent things in an inverted order; himself above, and Spratt, Rollin, Voltaire, and every other writer of reputation, below.
Ver. 103. To dress her charms,] What a dreadful picture has Swift drawn of the evil demon of criticism.
"Momus fearing the worst, and calling to mind an ancient prophecy, which bore no very good face to his children the moderns, bent his flight to the region of a malignant deity, called Criticism. She dwelt on the top of a snowy mountain in Nova Zembla; there Momus found her extended in her den, upon the spoils of numberless volumes, half devoured. At her right hand sat Ignorance, her father and husband, blind with age; at her left, Pride, her mother, dressing her up in the scraps of paper herself had torn. There, was Opinion, her sister, light of foot, hoodwinked, and headstrong, yet giddy, and perpetually turning. About her played her children, Noise and Impudence, Dulness and Vanity, Positiveness, Pedantry, and Ill-manners. The goddess, herself, had claws like a cat; her head, and ears, and voice, resembled those of an ass; her teeth fallen out before; her eyes turned inward, as if she looked only upon herself; her diet was the overflowing of her own gall: her spleen was so large, as to stand prominent like a dug of the first rate, nor wanted excrescences in form of teats, at which a crew of ugly monsters were greedily sucking; and what is wonderful to conceive, the bulk of spleen encreased faster than the sucking could diminish it.”—Tale of a Tub, p. 200.
So modern 'Pothecaries, taught the art
Ver. 112. Some on the leaves] The first are the apes of those learned Italian critics who, at the restoration of letters, having found the classic writers miserably deformed by the hands of monkish librarians, very commendably employed their pains and talents in restoring them to their native purity. The second, the plagiaries from those French critics, who had made some admirable commentaries on the ancient critics. But that acumen and taste, which separately constitute the distinct value of those two species of Italian and French criticism, make no part of these paltry mimics at home, described by our poet in the following lines,
"These leave their sense, their learning to display,
which species is the least hurtful, the poet has enabled us to determine in the lines with which he opens his poem.
"But of the two, less dangerous is the offence,
To tire our patience, than mislead our sense."
He has too frequently expressed an idle contempt of the Heinsiuses, Burmans, Gronoviuses, Reiskius's, Marklands, and Gesners; and other searchers into various readings, who have done so much towards settling the texts of ancient authors. Warton.
Ver. 115. Write dull] Perhaps he glanced at Bossu's famous Treatise on Epic Poetry, which may have been too much praised. D'Aubignac, under the patronage of Richlieu, wrote a treatise on the drama; and Mambrun on the epopée; but the tragedy of the
You then whose judgment the right course would
Know well each ANCIENT's proper character;
Ver. 118. You then whose judgment, &c.] He comes next to the ancient Poets, the other and more intimate commentators of Nature. And shews [from ver. 117 to 141.] that the study of these must indispensably follow that of the ancient Critics, as they furnish us with what the Critics, who only give us general rules, cannot supply: while the study of a great original Poet, in
"His Fable, Subject, scope in ev'ry page:
Religion, Country, genius of his Age;"
will help us to those particular rules which only can conduct us safely through every considerable work we undertake to examine; and without which, we may cavil indeed, as the poet truly observes, but can never criticise. We might as well suppose that Vitruvius's book alone would make a perfect judge of architecture, without the knowledge of some great master-piece of science, such as the Rotunda at Rome, or the Temple of Minerva at Athens; as that Aristotle's should make a perfect Judge of Wit, without the study of Homer and Virgil. These therefore he principally
one, and the Constantine, an epic poem, of the other, were despicable performances, which induced the great Condé to say, "Je sçais bon gré, à l'Abbé D'Aubignac d'avoir suivi les règles d'Aristote, mais je ne pardonne pas aux règles d'Aristote d'avoir fait faire une si mauvaise tragedie à l'Abbé D'Aubignac. Warton.
Ver. 119. Know well each ANCIENT's proper character;] When Perault impotently attempted to ridicule the first stanza of the first Olympic of Pindar, he was ignorant that the poet, in beginning with the praises of water, alluded to the philosophy of Thales, who taught, that water was the principle of all things; and which philosophy, Empedocles the Sicilian, a contemporary of Pindar, and a subject of Hiero, to whom Pindar wrote, had adopted in his
Without all these at once before your eyes,
cipally recommends to complete the Critic in his art. But as the latter of these Poets has, by superficial judges, been considered rather as a copier of Homer, than an original from nature, our Author obviates that common error, and shews it to have arisen (as often error does) from a truth, viz. that Homer and Nature were the same; that the ambitious young Poet, though he scorned to stoop at any thing short of Nature, when he came to understand this great truth, had the prudence to contemplate Nature in the place where she was seen to most advantage, collected in all her charms in the clear mirror of Homer. Hence it would follow, that though Virgil studied Nature, yet the vulgar reader would believe him to be a copier of Homer; and though he copied Homer, yet the judicious reader would see him to be an imitator of Nature: the finest praise which any one, who came after Homer, could receive.
beautiful poem. Homer and the Greek tragedians have been likewise censured, the former for protracting the Iliad after the death of Hector; and the latter, for continuing the Ajax and Phœnissæ, after the deaths of their respective heroes. But the censurers did not consider the importance of burial among the ancients; and that the action of the Iliad would have been imperfect, without a description of the funeral rites of Hector and Patroclus; as the two tragedies, without those of Polynices and Eteocles; for the ancients esteemed a deprivation of sepulture to be a more severe calamity than death itself. It is observable, that this circumstance did not occur to Pope, when he endeavoured to justify this conduct of Homer, by only saying, that as the anger of Achilles does not die with Hector, but persecutes his very remains, the poet still keeps up to his subject, by describing the many effects of his anger, till it is fully satisfied; and that for this reason, the two last books of the Iliad may be thought not to be excrescences, but essential to the poem. Warton.
Ver. 123. Cavil you may, but never criticise.] The author, after