ePub 版

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 feafon when we have leaft 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 per→ haps 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 prints, he must expect to hear no more truth, than if he were a Prince, or a Beauty. If he has not very good fenfe (and indeed there are twenty men of wit, for one man of sense) his living thus in a courfe of flattery may put him in no fmall 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 distinguished 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 moft knowing, he is as fure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine Genius as with a fine fafhion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it and it is to be feared that esteem will feldom do any man fo much good, as ill-will does him harm. Then there is a third clafs of people who make the largest part of mankind, those of ordinary or indifferent capacities; and these (to a man) will hate, or fufpect him: a hundred honeft Gentlemen will dread him as a Wit, and a hundred innocent Women as a Satirift. 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 some advantages accruing from a Genius to

[blocks in formation]

Poetry, and they are all I can think of: the agreeable power of felf-amusement when a man is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted into the best company; and the freedom of faying as many careless things as other people, without being fo feverely remarked upon.

I believe, if any one, early in his life, fhould 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 prefent 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 much less concerned about Fame than I durft declare till this occafion, when methinks I should find more credit than I could heretofore: fince my writings have had their fate already, and it is 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, byaffed by recommendations, dazled with the names of great patrons, wheedled with fine reafons and pretences, or troubled with excufes. I confefs it was want of consideration that made me an author; I writ because it amused me; I corrected because it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write; and I published because I was told I might please such as it was a credit to pleafe. To what degree I have done this I am really ignorant; I had too much fondnefs for my productions to judge of them at firft, and too much judgment to be pleafed with them at laft. But I have reafon 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 should imagine I am not in earnest, I defire him to reflect, that the Ancients (to say the leaft of them) had as much Genius as we and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more compleat pieces. They conftantly apply'd themfelves not only to that art, but to that fingle branch of an art, to which their talent was moft powerfully bent; and it was the business of their lives to correct and finish their works for pofterity. If we can pretend to have used the same induftry, let us expect the fame immortality: Tho' if we took the fame care, we should still lie under farther misfortune: they writ in languages that became universal and everlafting, while ours are extremely limited both in extent and in duration. A mighty foundation for our pride! when the utmost we can hope, is but to be read in one Island, and to be thrown afide at the end of one Age.


All that is left us is to recommend our productions by the imitation of the Ancients: and it will be found true, that, in every age, the highest character for fenfe and learning has been obtained by those who have been moft indebted to them. For, to fay truth, whatever is very good fenfe, muft have been. common fenfe in all times; and what we call Learning, is but the knowledge of the sense of our predeceffors. Therefore they who fay our thoughts are not our own, because they refemble the Ancients, may as well fay our faces are not our own, because they are like our Fathers: And indeed it is very unreasonable, that people should expect us to be Scho lars, and yet be angry to find us fo.

I fairly confefs that I have served myself all I could by reading; that I made ufe of the judgment of authors dead and living; that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errors, both by my friends and enemies: But the true reafon these pieces are not more correct, is owing to the confideration

a 2


how short a time they, and I, have to live: One may be afhamed to confume half one's days in bringing fenfe and rhyme together; and what Critic can be fo unreafonable, as not to leave a man time enough for any more ferious employment, or more agreeable amufement?

The only plea I fhall ufe for the favour of the public, is, that I have as great a refpect for it, as moft authors have for themselves; and that I have facrificed much of my own felf-love for its fake, in preventing not only many mean things from feeing the light, but many which, I thought tolerable. I would not be like thofe Authors, who forgive themselves fome particular lines for the fake of a whole Poem, and vice verfa a whole Poem for the fake of fome particular lines. I believe no one qualification is fo likely to make a gcod writer, as the power of rejecting his own thoughts; and it must be this (if any thing) that can give me a chance to be one. For what I have published, I can only hope to be pardoned; but for what I have burned, I deferve to be praised. On this account the world is under fome obligation to me, and owes me the juftice in return, to look upon no verses as mine that are not inferted in this collection. And perhaps nothing could make it worth my while to own what are really fo, but to avoid the imputation of so many dull and immoral things, as partly by malice, and partly by ignorance, have been afcribed to me. I must farther acquit myself of the prefumption of having lent my name to recommend any Miscellanies, or Works of other men ; a thing I never thought becoming a person who has hardly credit enough to answer for his own.

In this office of collecting my pieces, I am altogether uncertain, whether to look upon myself as a man building a monument, or burying the dead.


If Time fhall make it the former, may these Poems (as long as they laft) remain as a teftimony, that their Author never made his talents fubfervient to the mean and unworthy ends of Party or Selfintereft; the gratification of public prejudices, or private paffions; the flattery of the undeferving, or the infult of the unfortunate. If I have written well, let it be confidered that 'tis what no man can do without good fenfe, a quality that not only renders one capable of being a good writer, but a good man. And if I have made any acquifition in the opinion of any one under the notion of the former, let it be continued to me under no other title than that of the latter.

But if this publication be only a more folemn funeral of my Remains, I defire it may be known that I die in charity, and in my fenfes; without any murmurs against the juftice of this age, or any mad appeals to pofterity. I declare I fhall think the world in the right, and quietly fubmit to every truth which time fhall difcover to the prejudice of these writings; not so much as wishing fo irrational a thing, as that every body should be deceived merely for my credit. However, I defire it may then be confider'd, That there are very few things in this collection which were not written under the age of five and twenty: fo that my youth may be made (as it never fails to be in Executions) a cafe of compaffion. That I was never fo concern'd about my works as to vindicate them in print, believing if any thing was good it would defend itself, and what was bad could never be defended. That I ufed no artifice to raise or continue a reputation, depreciated no dead author I was obliged to, brib'd no living one with unjust praife, infulted no adverfary with ill language; or when I could not attack a Rival's works, encouraged reports against his Morals. To conclude, if this volume perifh, let it ferve as a

[blocks in formation]
« 上一頁繼續 »