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or err'd in any particular point: and can it then be wonder'd at, if the Poets in general feem refolv'd not to own themselves in any error? For as long as one fide despises a well-meant endeavour, the other will not be fatisfy'd with a moderate approbation.
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both fides is illplac'd; 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: a man may be the former merely thro' the misfortune of an ill judgment, but he cannot be the latter 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 distinguish'd by a man himself, from a strong inclination: and if it be never fo great, he cannot at fift difcover it any other way, than by 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: And if he happens to write ill (which is 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 au
thors might endeavour to please us, and in that endeavour, deserve something at our hands. We have no caufe to quarrel with them but for their obftinacy in perfisting, and this too may admit of alleviating circumstances. Their particular friends may be either ignorant, or infincere; and the rest of the world too well-bred to fhock them with a truth, which generally their Bookfellers are the first 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 service to them. For (what is the hardest cafe 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 imagin'd 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 circumstances: for from the moment he A 4
prints, he must expect to hear no more truth, than if he were a Prince, or a Beauty. If he has not very good sense, his living thus in a course of flattery may put him in no small danger of becoming a Coxcomb: If he has, he will confequently have fo much diffidence, as not to reap any great fatisfaction from his praife; fince if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguish'd from flattery, and if in his abfence, it is hard to be certain of it. Were he fure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as fure of being envy'd by the worst and most ignorant; for it is with a fine Genius as with a fine fashion, all thofe are difpleas'd at it who are not able to follow it: And 'tis to be fear'd that efteem will feldom do any man fo much good, as ill-will does him harm. Then there is a third class of people who make the largest part of mankind, thofe of ordinary or indifferent capacities; and these (to a man) will hate, or fufpect him: a hundred honest Gentlemen will dread him as a Wit, and a hundred innocent women as a fatirift. In a word, whatever be his fate in Poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are indeed fome advantages accruing from a Genius to Poetry, and they are all I can think of: the agreeable power of felf-amufement when a man
is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted
I believe, if any one, early in his life should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any confideration. The life of a Wit is a warfare upon earth; and the present spirit of the learned world is fuch, that to attempt to serve it (any way) one must have the conftancy of a martyr, and a refolution to fuffer for its fake. I could with people would believe what I am pretty certain they will not, that I have been lefs concern'd about Fame than I durft declare till this occafion, when methinks I fhould find more credit than I could heretofore: fince my writings have had their fate already, and 'tis too late to think of prepoffeffing the reader in their favour. I would plead it as fome merit in me, that the world has never been prepared for thefe Trifles by Prefaces, byaft by recommendations, dazled with the names of great Pa(trons, wheedled with fine reafons and pretences, or troubled with excufes. I confefs it was want of confideration that made me an author; I writ because it amufed me; I corrected because it was
as pleafant to me to correct as to write; and I publifh'd because I was told I might please fuch as it was a credit to please. To what degree I have done this, I am really ignorant; I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleas'd with them at last. But I have reason to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deferves to do fo: for they have always fallen fhort not only of what I read of others, but even of my own Ideas of Poetry.
If any one fhould imagine I am not in earnest, I defire him to reflect, that the Ancients (to say the least of them) had as much Genius as we; and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more complete pieces. They conftantly apply'd themfelves not only to that art, but to that fingle branch of an art, to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the business of their lives to correct and finith their works for pofterity. If we can pretend to have used the fame industry, let us expect the fame immortality: Tho' if we took the fame care, we thould ftill lie under a farther misfortune: they writ in languages that became univerfal and ever