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Those half-learn’d witlings, num'rous in our isle, 40 as half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile; unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call, their generation's so equivocal; to tell them would a hundred tongues require, or one vain wit's, that might an hundred tire. 45
But you who seek to give and merit fame, and justly bear a Critic's noble name, he sure yourself and your own reach to know, how far your genius, taste, and learning, go; Jaunch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, 50 and mark that point where sense and dulness meet.
Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit, and wisely curb'd proud man's pretending wit, as on the land while here the ocean gains in other parts it leaves wide sandy plains; 55 thus in the soul while memory prevails, the solid pow'r of understanding fails; where beams of warm imagination play, the memory's soft figures melt away. One science only will one genius fit;
60 so vast is art, so narrow human wit: not only bounded to peculiar arts, but oft' in those confin’d to single parts. Like kings we lose the conquests gain'd before, by vain ambition still to make them more: 63 each might bis sev'ral province well command, would all but stoop to what they understand.
First follow nature, and your judgment frame by her just standard, which is still the same : unerring nature! still divinely bright, one clear, unchang’d, and universal light, life, force, and beauty, must to all impart, at once the source, and end, and test, of art.
Art from that fund each just supply provides, works without show, and without pomp presides : in some fair body thus th' informing soul with spirits feeds, with vigour fills, the whole; each motion guides, and ev'ry nerve sustains, itself unseen, but in th' effects remains. Some to whom Heav'n in wit has been profuse 80 want as much more to turn it to its use; for wit and judgment often are at strife, tho' meant each other's aid, like man and wife. 'Tis more to guide than spur the Muses' steed, restrain his fury than provoke his speed:
85 the winged courser, like a gen'rous horse, shows most true mettle when you check his course.
Those rules of old, discover'd not devis'd, are nature still but nature methodiz'd, nature, like liberty, is but restrain'd
90 by the same laws which first herself ordain'd.
Hear how learn'd Greece her useful rules indites, when to repress and when indulge our Aights : high on Parnassus' top her sons she show'd, and pointed out those arduous paths they trod; 95 held from afar, aloft, th’immortal prize, and urg'd the rest by equal steps to rise. Just precepts thus from great examples giv'n, she drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n ; the gen'rous critic fann'd the poet's fire, 100 and taught the world with reason to admire, then Criticism the muse's handmaid prov'd to dress her charms, and make her more belov’d; but following wits from that intention stray'd; who could not win the mistress woo'd the maid; against the poets their own arms they turn’d, 106 sure to hate most the men from whom they learn’d, No. 79.
So modern 'pothecaries, taught the art by doctor's bills to play the doctor's part, bold in the practice of mistaken rules,
110 prescribe, apply, and call their masters fools. Some on the leaves of ancient authors prey; nor time nor moths e'er spoil'd so much as they : some dryly plain, without invention's aid, write dull receipts how poems may be made; 115 these leave the sense their learning to display, and those explain the meaning quite away.
You then whose judgment the right course would know well each ancient's proper character ; [steer, his fable, subjects, scope in ev'ry page;
120 Religion, country, genius of his age: without all these at once before your eyes cavil you may, but never criticise. Be Homer's works your study and delight, read them by day, and meditate by night; 125 thence from your judgment, thence your maxims and trace the muses upward to their spring; [bring, still with itself compar'd his text peruse; and let your comment be the Mantuan muse.
When first young Maro in his boundless mind a work toutlast immortal Rome design'd, 131 perhaps he seem'd above the critic's law, and but from nature's fountains scorn'd to draw; but when t examine ev'ry part he cane, nature and Homer were, he found, the same. 135 Convinc'd, amaz'd he checks the bold design, and rules as strict his labour'd work confine as if the Stagirite o'erlook'd each line. Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem; to copy nature is to copy them.
140 Soine beauties yet no precepts can declare,
for there's a happiness as well as care. Music resembles poetry; in each are nameless graces which no inethods teach, and which a master-hand alone can reach. 145 If, where the rules not far enough extend, (since rules were made but to promote their end) some lucky license answer to the full th' intent propos'd, that license is a rule. Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
150 may boldly deviate from the common track. Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend, and rise to faults true critics dare not mend; from vulgar bounds with brave disorder part, and snatch a grace beyond the reach of art, 155 which, without passing thro' the judgment, gains the heart, and all it's end at once attains. In prospects thus some objects please our eyes, which out of Nature's common order rise, the shapeless rock, or hanging precipice. 160 But tho’ the Ancients thus their rules invade, (as kings dispepse with laws themselves have made) moderns, beware! or if you must offend against the precept, ne'er transgress it's end; let it be seldom, and compelld by need ; 165 and have, at least, their precedent to plead; the critic else proceeds without remorse, seizes your fame, and puts his laws in force.
I know there are to whose presumptuous thoughts those freer beauties ev'n in them seem faults. 170 Some figures monstrous and mis-shap'd appear consider'd singly or bebeld too near, which but proportion's to their light or place, due distance reconciles to form and grace. A prudent chief not always must display
his pow'rs in equal ranks and fair array, but with th' occasion and the place comply, conceal his force, nay seem sometimes to fly. Those oft' are stratagems which errors seem, nor is it Homer nods, but we that dream, 180
Still green with bays each ancient altar stands above the reach of sacrilegious hands, secure from flames, from envy's fiercer rage, destructive war, and all-involving age. See from each clime the learn'd their incense bring! hear in all tongues consenting Pæans ring! 186 in praise so just let ev'ry voice be join'd, and fill the gen'ral chorus of mankind. Hail, Bards triumphant! born in happier days, immortal heirs of universal praise !
190 whose honours with increase of ages grow, as streams roll down, enlarging as they flow; nations unborn your mighty name shall sound, and worlds applaud that must not yet be found ! O may some spark of your celestial fire
195 the last, the meanest, of your soos inspire, (that on weak wings, from far, pursues your flights, glows while he reads, but trembles as he writes) to teach vain wits a science little known, t'admire superior sense, and doubt their own! 200
Of all the causes which conspire to blind man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind, what the weak head with strongest bias rules, is pride, the never-failing vice of fools. Whatever nature has in worth deny'd
205 she gives in large recruits of needful pride: for as in bodies thus in souls we find what wants in blood and spirits swelld with wind : pride, where wit fails steps in to our defence,