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CAUSES hindering a true judgment. Pride. Imperfect
learning. Judging by parts, and not by the whole. Critics in wit, language, versification only. Being too hard to please, or too apt to admire. Partiality—too much love to a sect—to the ancients or moderns. Prejudice or prevention. Singularity. Inconstancy. Party spirit. Envy. Against envy, and in praise of good-nature. When severity is chiefly to be used by critics.
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 denied
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,
And fills up all the mighty void of sense:
If once right reason drives that cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless day.
Trust not yourself; but your defects to know,
Make use of every friend—and every foe.
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fir'd at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind :
But more advanc'd, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleas’d at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
Th’ eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last:
But those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen'd way;
Th' increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise !
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ;
Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find
Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind;
Nor lose, for that malignant dull delight,
The generous pleasure to be charm’d with wit.
But in such lays as neither ebb nor flow,
Correctly cold, and regularly low,
That shunning faults one quiet tenor keep,
We cannot blame indeed—but we may sleep.
In wit, as nature, what affects our hearts
Is not th' exactness of peculiar parts ;
'Tis not a lip or eye we beauty call, But the joint force and full result of all. Thus when we view some well proportion'd dome, (The world's just wonder, and e'en thine, O Rome!) No single parts unequally surprise, All comes united to th' admiring eyes ; No monstrous height, or breadth, or length, ap
pear; The whole at once is bold and regular.
Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see, Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. In
every work regard the writer's end, Since none can compass more than they intend; And if the means be just, the conduct true, Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due. As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit, To avoid great errors must the less commit; Neglect the rules each verbal critic lays, For not to know some trifles is a praise. Most critics, fond of some subservient art, Still make the whole depend upon a part: They talk of principles, but notions prize, And all to one lov’d folly sacrifice.
Once on a time1 La Mancha's Knight, they say, A certain bard encountering on the way, Discours'd in terms as just, with looks as sage, As e'er could Dennis, of the Grecian stage;
Concluding all were desperate sots and fools
Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules.
Our author, happy in a judge so nice,
Produc'd his play, and begg’d the knight's advice ;
Made him observe the subject and the plot,
The manners, passions, unities; what not ?
All which exact to rule were brought about,
Were but a combat in the lists left out.
“ What! leave the combat out? ” exclaims the
“ Yes, or we must renounce the Stagyrite."
“ Not so, by Heaven! (he answers in a rage)
Knights, squires, and steeds must enter on the
“ So vast a throng the stage can ne'er contain.” “ Then build a new, or act it in a plain.”
Thus critics of less judgment than caprice,
Curious, not knowing, not exact, but nice,
Form short ideas, and offend in arts
(As most in manners), by a love to parts.
Some to conceit alone their taste confine,
And glittering thoughts struck out at every line;
Pleas’d with a work where nothing's just or fit,
One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit.
Poets, like painters, thus unskill'd to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover every part,
And hide with ornaments their want of art.
True wit is nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd;
Something whose truth convinc'd at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.
As shades more sweetly recommend the light,
So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit:
For works may have more wit than does them good,
As bodies perish through excess of blood.
Others for language all their care express,
And value books, as women men, for dress :
Their praise is still—the style is excellent ;
The sense they humbly take upon content.
Words are like leaves; and where they most
abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. False eloquence, like the prismatic glass, Its gaudy colours spreads on every place; The face of nature we no more survey, All glares alike, without distinction gay; But true expression, like th' unchanging sun, Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon; It gilds all objects, but it alters none. Expression is the dress of thought, and still Appears more decent as more suitable. A vile conceit in pompous words express'd Is like a clown in regal purple dress’d: For different styles with different subjects sort, As several garbs with country, town, and court. Some by old words to fame have made pretence, Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense ; Such labour'd nothings, in so strange a style, Amaze th' unlearn'd, and make the learned smile.