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Contents of the First Volume,
P R E F A C E.
Am inclined to think that both the writers of
books, and the readers of them, are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations. The first seem to fancy that the world must approve whatever they produce, and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate. Methinks, as on the one hand, no single man is born with a right of controuling the opinions of all the rest ; fo on the other, the world has no title to demand, that the whole care and time of any particular person should be sacrificed to its entertainment. Therefore I cannot but be. lieve that writers and readers are under equal obligations, for as much fame, or pleasure, as each affords the other.
Every one acknowledges, it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly past upon Poems. A Critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expresfion, or erred in any particular połnt: and can it then be wondered at, if the Poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error? For
as long as one side will make no allowances, the other will be brought to no acknowledgments“.
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill-placed ;, Poetry and Criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there. Yet sure
the whole, a bad Author deserves better usage than a bad Critic: for a Writer's endeavour, for the most part, is to please his Readers, and he fails merely through the misfortune of an ill judgment; but such a Critic's is to put
them out of humour; a design he could never go upon 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 distinguished by a man himself, from a strong inclination: and if his genius be ever so great,
he cannot at first discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propensity 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: now if he happens to write ill (which is certainly no sin in itself) he is immediately made
a In the former editions it was thus - For as long as one side despises a well meant endeavour, the other will not be satisfied with a moderate approbation. — But the Author altered it, as these words were rather a consequence from the conclufion he would draw, than the conclufion itself, which he has now inserted.
an object of ridicule. I wish we had the humanity to reflect that even the worst authors might, in their endeavour to please us, deserve something at our hands. We have no cause to quarrel with them but for their obstinacy in persisting to write ; and this too may admit of alleviating circumstances. Their particular friends may be either ignorant, or insincere ; and the rest of the world in general is too well bred to shock them with a truth, which generally their Booksellers are the first that inform them of. This happens not till they have spent too much of their time, to apply to any profession which might better fit their talents; and till such talents as they have are so far discredited as to be but of small service to them. For (what is the hardest case 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 sooner communicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagined 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 prints, he must expect to hear no more truth, than if he were a Prince, or a Beauty. If