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PREFA C E.
Am inclined to think that both the writers of
books, and the readers of them, are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations. The firft feem to fancy that the world must approve whatever they produce, and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate. Methinks, as on the one hand, no fingle man is born with a right of controuling the opinions of all the reft; fo on the other, the world has no title to demand, that the whole care and time of any particular perfon fhould be facrificed to its entertainment. Therefore I cannot but believe that writers and readers are under equal obligations, for as much fame, or pleasure, as each affords the other.
Every one acknowledges, it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly past upon Poems. A Critic fuppofes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expreffion, or erred in any particular point: and can it then be wondered at, if the Poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error? For as long
as one fide will make no allowances, the other will be brought to no acknowledgments".
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both fides is illplaced; Poetry and Criticism being by no means the univerfal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their clofets, and of idle men who read there.
Yet fure upon the whole, a bad Author deferves better ufage than a bad Critic: for a Writer's endeavour, for the most part, is to please his Readers, and he fails merely through the misfortune of an ill judgment; but fuch a Critic's is to put them out of humour; a design he could never go upon without both that and an ill temper.
I think a good deal may be said to extenuate the fault of bad Poets. What we call a Genius, is hard to be diftinguished by a man himself, from a ftrong inclination: and if his genius be ever fo great, he cannot at first discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propenfity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. The only method he has, is to make the experiment by writing, and appealing to the judgment of others now if he happens to write ill (which is
a In the former editions it was thus-For as long as one fide defpifes a well meant endeavour, the other will not be fatisfied with a moderate approbation. But the Author altered it, as these words were rather a confequence from the conclufion he would draw, than the conclufion itself, which he has now inferted.
certainly no fin in itself) he is immediately made an object of ridicule. I wish we had the humanity to reflect that even the worst authors might, in their endeavour to pleafe us, deferve fcmething at our hands. We have no cause to quarrel with them but for their obftinacy in perfifting to write; and this too may admit of alleviating circumftances. Their particular friends may be either ignorant, or infincere ; and the reft of the world in general is too well bred to fhock them with a truth, which generally their Bookfellers are the firft that inform them of This happens not till they have spent too much of their time, to apply to any profeffion which might better fit their talents; and till fuch talents as they have are fo far difcredited as to be but of small fervice to them. For (what is the hardest case imaginable) the reputation of a man generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world; and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that season when we have least judgment to direct us.
On the other hand, a good Poet no fooner communicates his works with the fame defire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with the fear of being ridiculous. If he is made to hope he may please the world, he falls under very unlucky circumftances: for, from the moment he prints, he must VOL. I.