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Of old, those met rewards who could excel,
But if in noble minds some dregs remain
Ver. 526. But if in noble minds some dregs remain, &c.] So far as to what ought to be the true Critic's principal study and employment. But if the sour critical humour abounds, and must therefore needs have vent, he directs to its proper object; and shows [from ver. 525 to 556] how it may be innocently and usefully pointed. This is very observable; our author had made spleen and disdain the characteristic of the false Critic, and yet here supposes
them inherent in the true. But it is done with judgment, and a knowledge of nature. For as bitterness and astringency in unripe fruits of the best kind are the foundation and capacity of that high spirit, race, and flavour which we find in them, when perfectly concocted by the warmth and influence of the sun, and which, without those qualities, would gain no more by that influence than only a mellow insipidity': so spleen and disdain in the true Critic, when improved by long study and experience, ripen into an exactness of judgment and an elegance of taste : although, in the false Critic, lying remote from the influence of good letters, they remain in all their first offensive harshness and acerbity. The Poet therefore shows how, after the exaltation of these qualities into their state of perfection, the very dregs (which, though precipitated, may possibly, on some occasions rise and ferment even in a noble mind) may be usefully employed, that is to say, in branding OBSCENITY and IMPIETY. Of these, he explains the rise and progress, in a beautiful picture of the different geniuses of the
which was added the Plaideurs ; and going out of the theatre, he said to the author, “ I am extremely pleased, Sir, with your Andromaque : I am only amazed that it ends so gaily ; j'avois d'abord eu quelque envie de pleurer, mais la vue des petits chiens m'a fait rire."—Warton.
Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes,
536 Seldom at council, never in a war : Jilts rul'd the state, and statesmen farces writ: Nay, wits had pensions, and young Lords had wit: The fair sate panting at a courtier's play,
540 And not a mask went unimprov'd away: The modest fan was lifted up no more, And virgins smild at what they blush'd before. The following licence of a foreign reign Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain ;
two reigns of Charles II. and William III. The former of which gave course to the most profligate luxury; the latter to a licentious impiety. These are the crimes our author assigns over to the caustic hand of the Critic ; but concludes however (from ver. 555 to 560] with this necessary admonition, to take care not to be misled into unjust censure ; either on the one hand, by a pharisaical niceness, or on the
other by a self-consciousness of guilt. And thus the second division of his Essay ends : the judicious conduct of which is worthy our observation. The subjects of it are the causes of wrong judgment : these he derives upwards from cause to cause, till he brings them to their source, an immoral partiality: for as he had, in the first part,
“ trac'd the Muses upward to their spring," and shown them to be derived from Heaven, and the offspring of virtue ; so hath he here pursued this enemy of the Muses, the bad Critic, to his low original, in the arms of his nursing mother Immorality. This order naturally introduces, and at the same time shows the necessity of, the subject of the third and last division, which is, on the Morals of the Critic.
Ver. 545. Did all the dregs, &c.] The seeds of this religious evil, as well as of the political good from whence it sprung (for good and evil are incessantly springing out of one another) were sown in the preceding fat age of pleasure. The mischiefs done during Cromwell's usurpation, by fanaticism, inflamed by erroneous and absurd notions of the doctrine of grace and satisfaction, made the loyal Latitudinarian divines (as they were called), at the Restoration, go so far into the other extreme of resolving all
Then unbelieving priests reform’d the nation,
550 And Vice admir'd to find a flatt'rer there! Encourag'd thus, Wit's Titans brav’d the skies, And the press groan’d with licens'd blasphemies. These monsters, Critics! with your darts engage, Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage! 555 Yet shun their fault, who scandalously nice, Will needs mistake an author into vice; All seems infected that th' infected spy, As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye.
Ver. 560. Learn then, &c.] We enter now on the third part, the Morals of the Critic; included in CANDOUR, MODESTY, and GOOD-BREEDING, This third and last part is in two divisions. In the first of which [from ver. 559 to 631] our author inculcates these morals by precept: in the second, (from ver. 630 to the end] by example. His first precept (from ver. 561 to 566] recommends Candour, for its use to the Critic, and to the writer criticised.
2. The second [from ver. 565 to 572] recommends Modesty, which manifests itself in these four signs : 1. Silence where it doubts, Be silent always, when you
your sense ; 2. A seeming diffidence where it knows,
And speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence ; 3. A free confession of error where wrong,
But you with pleasure own your errors past; 4. And a constant review and scrutiny even of those opinions which it still thinks right,
And make each day a Critique on the last. 3. The third [from ver. 571 to 584] recommends Good-BREEDING, which will not force truth dogmatically upon men, as ignorant of it, but gently insinuates it to them, as not sufficiently attentive to it. But as men of breeding are apt to fall into two extremes, he prudently cautions against
Christianity into morality, so as to afford an easy introduction to Socinianism: which in that reign (founded on the principles of liberty) men had full opportunity of propagating. -Warburton.
'Tis not enough, taste, judgment, learning, join;
your sense; And speak, tho' sure, with seeming diffidence: Some positive, persisting fops we know, Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so; But you with pleasure own your errors past, 570 And make each day a critique on the last.
'Tis not enough your counsel still be true; Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do; Men must be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown propos'd as things forgot.
575 Without good-breeding truth is disapprov’d; That only makes superior sense belov’d.
Be niggards of advice on no pretence: For the worst avarice is that of sense. With mean complaisance ne'er betray your trust, 580 Nor be so civil as to prove unjust. Fear not the anger of the wise to raise ; Those best can bear reproof, who merit praise.
them. The one is a backwardness in communicating their knowledge, out of a false delicacy, and for fear of being thought pedants : the other, and much more common extreme, is a mean complaisance, which those who are worthy of your advice do not need, to make it acceptable ; for such can best bear reproof in particular points, who best deserve commendation in general.
Ver. 570. your errors past,] “ Et ipsa emendatio habet finem ; sunt enim qui ad omnia scripta, tanquam vitiosa redeunt ; et quasi nihil fas sit rectum esse quod primum est, melius existiment quidquid est aliud ; idque faciunt quoties librum in manus resumpserint ; similes medicis, etiam integra secantibus. Accidit itaque ut cicatricosa sint, et exanguia, et curâ pejora. Sit aliquando quod placeat ; aut certè quod sufficiat ; ut plus poliat lima, non exterat.” Quintil. lib. 10.—Warton. Ver. 580. With mean complaisance ne'er betray your trust,
Nor be so civil as to prove unjust.] Our Poet practised this excellent precept in his conduct towards Wycherley, whose pieces he corrected with equal freedom and judgment. -Warton. Ver. 582. Fear not the anger of the wise to raise ;] The freedom and VOL. II.
'Twere well might Critics still this freedom take, But Appius reddens at each word you speak,
585 And stares, tremendous, with a threat'ning eye, Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry. Fear most to tax an Honourable fool, Whose right it is, uncensur'd, to be dull; Such, without wit, are Poets when they please, 590 As without learning they can take Degrees. Leave dang’rous truths to unsuccessful satires, And flattery to some fulsome Dedicators, Whom, when they praise, the world believes no more, Than when they promise to give scribbling o'er. 595
COMMENTARY, Ver. 584. 'Twere well might Critics, &c.] The Poet having thus recommended in his general rules of conduct for the Judgment, these three critical Virtues to the Heart ; shows next [from ver. 583 to 631] upon what three sorts of Writers these virtues, together with the advice conveyed under them, would be thrown away ; and which is worse, be repaid with obloquy and scorn.
These are the false Critic, the dull Man of Quality, and the bad Poet; each of which species of incorrigible writers he hath very exactly painted. But having drawn the last of them at full length, and being always attentive to the two main branches of his subject, which are, of writing and judging well, he re-assumes the character of the bad Critic, (whom he had touched upon before) to contrast him with the other; and makes the characteristic common to both, to be a never-ceasing repetition of their own impertinence.
The Poet-still runs on in a raging vein, &c. ver. 606, &c.
unreservedness with which Boileau and Racine communicated their works to each other, is hardly to be paralleled ; of which many amiable instances appear in their letters lately published by a son of the latter ; particularly in the following : “ J'ai trouvé que la Trompette et les Sourds étoient trop joués, et qu'il ne falloit point trop appuyer sur votre incommodité, moins encore chercher de l'esprit sur ce sujet." Boileau communicated to his friend the first sketch of his Ode on the Taking Namur. It is entertaining to contemplate a rude draught by such a master; and is no less pleasing to observe the temper with which he receives the objections of Racine. “ J'ai déjà retouché à tout cela ; mais je ne veux point l'achever que je n'aie reçu vos remarques, qui sûrement m'éclaireront encore l'esprit."—Warton.
Ver. 586. And stares, tremendous, &c.] This picture was taken to himself by John Dennis, a furious old critic by profession, who, upon no other provocation, wrote against this Essay and its author, in a manner perfectly lunatic : for, as to the mention made of him in ver. 270, he took it as a compliment, and said it was treacherously meant to cause him to overlook this abuse of his person.-P.