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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, upon 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 likely 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 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 discredite:], 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 scason, 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 he bas not very good sense, (and indeed there are twenty men of wit for one man of sense) his living thus in a course of flattery may put him in no small danger of becoming a coxcomb: if he has, he will consequently have so much diffidence as not to reap any great satisfaction from his praise ; since, if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery, and if in his absence, it is hard to be certain of it. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as sure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority ; for it is with a fine genjas, as with a pne fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it: and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so much good, as ill-will does him harm. Then there is a third class of people who make the largest part of mankind, those of ordinary or indifferent capacities; and these (to a man) will hate, or suspect him: a hundred honest gentlemen will dread him as a wit, and a hundred innocent women as a satirist, 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 poetry, and they are all I can think of: the agreeable power of self, amusement when a man is idle or alone ; the privilege of being admitted into the best company; and the freedom of saying as many careless things as other people, without being so severely remarked upon.
I believe, if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration. The life of a wit is a warfare upon earth ; and the present spirit of the learned world is such, that to attempt to serve it (any way) one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its sake. I could wish people would believe, what I am pretty certain they will not, that I have been much less concerned about fame than I durst declare till this occasion, when methinks I should find more credit than I could heretofore, since my writings have had their fate already, and it is too late to think of prepossessing the reader in their favour. I would plead it as some merit in me, that the world has never been prepared for these trifles by prefaces, biassed by recommendations, dazzled with the names of great patrons, wheedled with fine reasons and pretences, or troubled with excuses. I confess it was want of consideration that made me an author : I writ because it apused me; I corrected bem
çause 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 cre lit to please. To what degree I have done this, I am really ignorant; I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleased with them at last. But I have reason to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deserves to do so; for they have always fallen short not only of what I read of others, but even of n y own ideas of poetry.
If any one should imagine I am not in carnest, I desire him to reflect, that the ancients (to say the least of them) had as mucha genius as we; and that to take more pains, and employ more time, Cannot fail to produce more complete pieces. They constantly applied themselves not only to that art, but to that single branch of an art, to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the business of their lives to coniect and finish their works for posterity. If we can pretend to have used the same industry, let us expect the same immortality: though, if we took the same care, we should still lie under a further nisfortune : they w.it in languages that became universal and everlasting, 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 aside 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 sense and learning has been obtained by those who have been most indebted to them, For, to say truth, whatever is very good sense, must have been common sense in all times; and what we call learning, is but the knowledge of the sense of our pre decessors. Therefore they who say our thoughts are not our own, because they resemble the ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our fathers : and inderd it is very unreasonable, that people should expect us to be scholars, and yet be angry to find us so.
I fairly confess, that I have served myself all I could by reading ; that I made use of the judgment of authors dead and living ; that I omitted no mưans in my power to be informed of my errours, both by my friends and enemies. But the true reason these pieces are not more correct, is owing to the considera tion how short a time they and I have to live: one may be ashamed to consume half one's days in bringing sense and rhyme together; and what critic can be so unreasonable, as not to leave a man time enough for any more serious employment, or more agreeable am isement ?
The only plea I shall use for the favour of the public, is, that I have as great a respect for it, az most authors have for themselves; and that I have sacrificed much of my own self-love for its sake, in preventing not only many mean things from seeing the light, but many which I thought tolerable, I would not be like those authors, who forgive themselves soine particular lines for the sake of a whole poem, and, vice versa , a whole poem for the sake of soine particular lines. I believe, no one qualification is so likely to make a good 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 bope to be pardoned ; but for what I have burned, I deserve to be praised. On this account the world is under some obligation to me, and owes me the justice in return, to look upon no verses as mine that are not inserted in this collection. And perhaps nothing could make it worth my while to own what are really so, but to avoid the imputation of so many dull and im moral things, as, partly by malice, and partly by ignorance, have been ascribed to me. I must further acquit myself of the presumption of having lent my name to recommend any miscellanies, or works of other men; a thing I never thought becoming a person who has badly credit enough to answer for his own.
In this office of collecting my pieces, I am altogether uncertain, whether to look upon myself as i man building a monument, or burying the dead.
If time shall make it the former, may these Poems (as long as they last) remain as a testimony that their author never made his talents subservient to the mean and unworthy cnds of party or selfinterest; the gratification of public prejudices or private passionis ; the Battery of the undeserving, or the insult of the unfortunate. If I have written well, let it be considered, that it is what no man can do without good sense, a quality that not only renders one capable of being a good writer, but a good man. And if I have made any acquisition 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 solemn funeral of my remains, I desire it to be known, that I die in charity, and in my senses; without any murmurs against the justice of this age, or any mad sppeals to posterity. I declare I shall think the world in the right, and quietly submit to every truth Which time shall discover to the prejudice of these writings; not so much as wishing so irrational i thing, as that every body should be deceived merely for my credit. However, I desire it may be then considered, that there are very few things in this collection which were not written under the age of five-and-twenty ; 90 that my youth may be made (as it never fails to be in executions) a case of compassion : that I was never so concerned 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 used no artifice to raise or continue a reputation, depreciated no dead author I was obliged to, bribed no living one with unjust praise, insulted no adversary with ill language; or, when I could not attack a rival's works, encouraged reports against his morals. To conclude, if this volume perish, let it serve as a warning to the critics, not to take too much pains for the future to destroy such things as will die of themselves; and a memento mori to some of my vain contemporaries the poets, to teach them, that, when real merit is wanting, it avails nothing to have been encouraged by the great, commended by the eminent, and favoured by the public in general.
Nov. 10, 1716.
VARIATIONS IN THE AUTHOR'S MANUSCRIPT PREFACE. After page, 138 1. 44. it followed thus: For my part, I confess had I seen things in this view, at first, the public had never been troubled either with my writings, or with this apology for them. I am sensible how difficult it is to speak of one's self with decency: but when a man must speak of himself, the best way is to speak truth of himself, or, he may depend upon it, others will do it for him. I'll therefore make this preface a general confession of all my thoughts of niy own poetry, resolving with the same freedom to expose myself, as it is in the power of any other to expose them. In the first place, I thank God and nature, that I was born with a love to poetry; for nothing more conduces to fill up all the intervals of our time, or, if rightly used, to znaku the whole course of life entertaining: Cantantes licet usque (minus via lædet). It is a vast happiness to possess the pleasures of the head, the only pleasures in which a man is sufficient to himself, and the only part of him which, to his satisfaction, he can employ all day long. The Muses are amicæ omnium horarum; and, like our gay acquaintance, the best company, in the world as long as one expects no real service from them. I confess there was a time when I was in love with myself, and my first productions were the children of self-love upon innocence. I had made an Epic Poem, and Panegyrics on all the princes in Europe, and thought myself the greatest genius that ever was. I cannot but regret those delightful visions of my childhood, which, like the fine colours we see when our eyes are shut, are vanished for ever. Many trials, and sad experience, have so undeceived me by degrees, that I am utterly at a loss at what rate to value myself. As for fame, I shall be glad of any I can get, and not repine at any I miss; and as for vanity, I have enough to kecp me from hanging myself, or even from wishing those hanged who would take it away. It was this that made me write. The sense of my faults made me correct; besides, that it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write.
At p. 139. 1. 25. In the first place, I own, that I have used my best endeavours to the finishing these pieces: that I made what advantage I could of the judgment of authors dead and living ; and that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errours by my friends and my enemies: and that I expect no favour on account of my youth, business, want of health, or any such idle excuses. But the true reason they are not yet more correct, is owning to the consideration how short a time they, and I, have to live. A man that can expect but sixty years, may be ashamed to employ thirty in measuring syllables, and bringing sense and rhyme together. We spend our youth in pursuit of riches or fame, in hopes to enjoy them when we are odd; and when we are old, we find it too late to enjoy any thing. I therefore hope the wits will pardon me, if I reserve some of my time to save my soul; and that some wise men will be of my opinion, even if I should think a part of it better spent in the enjoyments of life, than in pleasing the critics.
The Pastorals were written at the age of sixteen, and then passed through the hands of Mr. Walsh,
Mr. Wycherley, G. Granville, afterwards lord Lansdowne, sir William Trumbull, Dr. Garth, lord Halifax, lord Somers, Mr. Maynwaring, and others. All these gave our author the greatest encouragement, and particularly Mr. Walsh, whom Mr. Dryden, in his Postscript to Virgil, calls the best critic of his age. “ The author (says he) seems to have a particular genius for this kind of poetry, and a judgment which much exceeds his years. He has taken very freely from the ancients ; but what he has mixed of his own with theirs, is no way inferior to what he has taken from them. It is not flattery at all to say, that Virgil had written nothing so good at his age. His Prefacc is very judicious and learned.” Letter to Mr. Wycherley, April, 1705. The lord Lansdowne about the same time, mentioning the youth of our Poet, says (in a printed Letter of the Character of Mr. Wycherley), “ that if he goes on as he has begun in his Pastoral way, as Virgil first tried his strength, we may hope to see English poetry vie with the Roman,” &c. Notwithstanding the early time of their production, the author esteemed these as the most correct in the versification and musical in the numbers, of all his works. The reason for his labouring them into so much softness, was, doubtless, that this sort of poetry derives almost its whole beauty from a natural ease of thought, and smoothness of verse; whereas, that of most other kinds consists in the strength and fulness of both. In a letter of his to Mr. Walsh about this time, we find an enumeration of several niceties in versification, whicb perhaps have never been strictly observed in any English poem, except in these Pastorals. They were not printed till 1709.
A DISCOURSE ON PASTORAL POETRY'. Tuere are not, I believe, a greater number of any sort of verses than of those which are called Pastorals, gor a smaller than those which are truly so. It therefore seems necessary to give some account of this kind of poem; and it is my design to comprize in this short paper the substance of those numerous dissertations the critics have made on the subject, without omitting any of their rules in my own favour. You will also find some points reconciled, about which they seem to differ; and a few remarks, which, I think, have escaped their observation.
The original of poetry is ascribed to that age which succeeded the creation of the world; and as the keeping of locks seems to have been the first employment of mankind, the most ancient sort of poetry kas probably pastoral". It is natural to imagine, that the leisure of those ancient shepherds admitting
Written at sixteen years of age.
and inviting some diversion, none was so proper to that solitary and sedentary life as singing; and that in their songs they took occasion to celebrate their own felicity. From hence a poem was invented, and afterwards improved to a perfect image of that happy time; which, by giving us an esteem for the virs tues of a former age, might recommend them to the present. And since the life of shepherds was at. tended with more tranquillity than any other rural employment, the poets choose to introduce their persons, from whom it received the name of Pastoral.
A pastoral is an imitation of the action of a shepherd, or one considered under that character. The form of this imitation is dramatic, or narrative, or mixed of both '; the fable simple, the manners not too polite nor too fastic: the thoughts are plain, yet admit a little quickn 89 and passion, but that short and flowing : the expression humble, yet as pure as the language will afford; neat, but not forid; easy, and yet lively. In short, the fable, manners, thoughts, and expressions, are full of the greatest simplicity in nature.
The complete character of this poem consists in simplicity“, brevity, and delicacy; the two first of which render an eclogue natural, and the last delightful.
If we could copy Nature, it may be useful to take this idea along with us, that pastoral is an image of what they call the Golden Age. So that we are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be conceived then to have been, when the best of men followed the employment. To carry this resemblance yet further, it would not be amiss to give these shepherds some skill in astronomy, as far as it may be useful to that sort of life. And an air of piety to the Gods should shine through the poem, which so visibly appears in all the works of antiquity; and it ought to preserve some relish of the old way of writing: the connection should be loose, the narrations and descriptions short', and the periods concise: yet it is not sufficient, that the sentences only be brief; the whole eclogne should be so too; for we cannot suppose poetry in those days to have been the business of men, but their recreation at vacant houts.
But with respect to the present age, nothing more conduces to make these composures natural, than when some knowledge in rural affairs is discovered“. This may be made to appear rather done by chance than on design, and sometimes is best shown by inference; lest by too much study to seem natural, we destroy that easy simplicity from whence arises the delight: for what is inviting in this sort of poetry proceeds notā much from the idea of that business, as the tranquility of a country life.
We must therefore use some illusion to render a pastoral delightful; and this consists in exposing the best side only of a shepherd's life, and in concealing its miseries'. Nor is it enough to introduce shepherds discoursing together in a natural way; but a regard must be had to the subject, that it contain some particular beauty in itself, and that it be different in every ecloguie. Besides, in each of them a designed scene or prospect is to be presented to our view, which should likewise have its variety". This variety is obtained in a great degree by frequent comparisons. drawn from the most agreeable objects of the country; by interrogations to things inanimate; by beautiful digressions, but those short; sometimes by insisting a little on circumstances; and, lastly, by elegant turns on the words, which render the humbers extremely sweet and pleasing. As for the numbers themselves, though they are properly of the heroic measure, they should be the smoothest, the most easy and flowing imaginable.
It is by rules like these that we ought to judge of pastoral. And since the instructions given for any art are to be delivered as that art is in perfection, they must of necessity be derived from those in whom it is acknowledged so to be. It is therefore from the practice of 'Theocritus and Virgil (the only undisputed authors of pastoral) that the critics have drawn the foregoing notions concerning it.
Theocritus excels all others in nature and simplicity. The subjects of his Ídyllia are purely pastoral; but he is not so exact in his persons, having introduced reapers, and fishermen as well as shepherds. He is apt to be too long in his descriptions, of which that of the cup in the first pastoral is a remarkable instance In the manners he seems a little defective, for his swains are sometimes abusive and immodest, and perhaps too much inclining to rusticity; for instance, in his fourth and fifth Idyllia. But it is enough that all others learned their excellence from him, and that his dialect alone has a secret charm in it, which no other could ever attain.
3 Heinsius in Theocr.
Rapin, de Carm. Past. p. 2.
Fontenelle's Disc. of Pastorals. & See the forementioned Preface,
* ΘΕΡΙΣΤΑΙ, Idyl. x, and ΑΛΙΕΙΣ, Idyl. xxi