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REV. DR. YOUNG,
RECTOR OF WELWYN,
PERMIT me to break into your retirement, the refidence of virtue and literature, and to trouble you with a few reflections on the merits and real character of an admired Author, and on other collateral subjects of criticism, that will naturally arise in the course of such an enquiry. No love of fingularity, no affectation of paradoxical opinions, gave rife to the following Work. I revere the memory of POPE, I respect and honour his abilities; but I do not think him at the head of his profeffion. In other words, in that species of
poetry wherein POPE
POPE excelled, he is fuperior to all mankind: and I only fay, that this fpecies of poetry is not the most excellent one of the art.
We do not, it should seem, fufficiently attend to the difference there is betwixt a MAN OF WIT, a MAN OF SENSE, and a TRUE POET. Donne and Swift were undoubtedly men of wit, and men of fense: but what traces have they left of PURE POETRY? It is remarkable, that Dryden fays of Donne, "He was the greatest wit, though not the greatest poet, of this nation. Fontenelle and La Motte are entitled to the former character; but what can they urge to gain the latter? Which of thefe characters is the most valuable and useful, is entirely out of the question: all I plead for, is, to have their several provinces kept distinct from each other; and to imprefs on the reader, that a clear head, and acute understanding, are not fufficient, alone, to make a POET; that the most folid obfervations on human life, expreffed with the utmost elegance and brevity, are MORALITY, and not POETRY; that the EPISTLES of Boileau in RHYME, are no more poetical, than the CHARACTERS of La Bruyere
in PROSE; and that it is a creative and glowing IMAGINATION, acer fpiritus ac vis,” and that alone, that can stamp a writer with this exalted and very uncommon character, which fo few poffefs, and of which fo few can properly judge.
For one person who can adequately relish and enjoy a work of imagination, twenty are to be found who can tafte, and judge of, observations on familiar life, and the manners of the age. The Satires of Ariosto are more read than the Orlando Furiofo, or even Dante. Are there fo many cordial admirers of Spenfer and Milton, as of Hudibras, if we ftrike out of the number of these supposed admirers, those who appear fuch out of fashion, and not of feeling? Swift's Rhapfody on Poetry is far more popular than Akenfide's noble Ode to Lord Huntingdon. The EPISTLES on the Characters of Men and Women, and your fprightly Satires, my good friend, are more frequently perufed, and quoted, than L'Allegro and Il Penferofo of Milton. Had you written only these Satires, you would, indeed, have gained the title of a man of wit, and a A 2
man of fenfe; but, I am confident, would not infift on being denominated a POET MERELY on their account,
NON SATIS EST PURIS VERSUM PERSCRIBERE VERBIS.
It is amazing this matter fhould ever have been mistaken, when Horace has taken particular and repeated pains to fettle and adjust the opinion in queftion. He has more than once disclaimed all right and title to the name of POET on the score of his ethic and fatiric pieces.
NEQUE ENIM CONCLUDERE VERSUM
are lines often repeated, but whose meaning is not extended and weighed as it ought to be. Nothing can be more judicious than the method he prescribes, of trying whether any compofition be effentially poetical or not; which is, to drop entirely the measures and numbers, and tranfpofe and invert the order of the
words: and in this unadorned manner to perufe the paffage. If there be really in it a true poetical spirit, all your inverfions and transpofitions will not disguise and extinguish it; but it will retain its luftre, like a diamond unset, and thrown back into the rubbish of the mine. Let us make a little experiment on the following well-known lines: "Yes, you defpife the man that is confined to books, who rails at humankind from his ftudy; though what he learns, he speaks; and may, perhaps, advance Some general maxims, or may be right by chance. The coxcomb bird, fo grave and Jo talkative, that cries whore, knave, and cuckold, from his cage, though he rightly call many a passenger, hold him no philofopher. And yet, fuch is the fate of all extremes, men may be read too much, as well as books. We grow more partial, for the fake of the obferver, to obfervations which we ourselves make; lefs fo to written wisdom, because another's. Maxims are drawn from notions, and thofe from guess." What fhall we fay of this passage? Why, that it is most excellent sense, but just as poetical as the "Qui fit Mæcenas" of the author who recommends this method of trial. Take ten lines of the Iliad, Paradise Loft, or even of the