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To failings mild, but zealous for desert;
Averse NOTES. the Athalia, for instance, is preferable to Lear, the notion is groundless and absurd. Though the Henriade should be allowed to be free from any very gross abfurdities, yet who will dare to rank it with the Paradise Lost? Some of their most perfect tragedies abound in faults as contrary to the nature of that fpecies of poetry, and as destructive to its end, as the fools or grave-diggers of Shakespeare. That the French may boast some excellent critics, particularly Bossu, Boileau, Fenelon, and Brumoy, cannot be denied; but that these are sufficient to form a taite upon, without having recourse to the genuine fountains of all polite literature, I mean the Grecian writers, no one but a fuperficial reader can allow.
Ver.741. Careless of censure,] These concluding lines bear a great resemblance to Boileau's conclusion of his Art of Poetry, but are perhaps fuperior.
" Censeur un peu facheux, mais souvent necessaire ;
Plus enclin à blâmer, que fcavant à bien faire." Our author has not, in this piece, followed the examples of the ancients, in addresling their didactic poems to fome particular person; as Hefiod to Perfes; Lucretius to Memmius; Virgil to Mecænas; Horace to the lisos; Ovid, his Fafti, to Germanicus; Oppian to Caracalla. In later times, Fracaftorius addrest P. Bembo; Vida the Dauphin of France. But
Averse alike to flatter, or offend;
NOTES. neither Boileau in his Art, nor Roscommon nor Buckingham in their Essays, nor Akenfide nor Armstrong, have followed this practice.
I conclude these remarks with a remarkable fact. In no polished nation, after criticism has been much ftudied, and the rules of writing established, has any very extraordinary work appeared. This has visibly been the case in Greece, in Rome, and in France; after Aristotle, Horace, and Boileau, had written their Arts of Poetry. In our own country the rules of the drama, for instance, were never more completely understood than at present; yet what uninteresting, though faultless, tragedies, have we lately seen? So much better is our judgement than our execution. How to account for the fact here mentioned, adequately and justly, would be attended with all those difficulties that await discussions relative to the productions of the human mind; and to the delicate and secret causes that influence them. Whether or no, the natural powers be not confined and debilitated by that timidity and caution which is occafioned by a rigid regard to the dictates of art; or whether that philosophical, that geometrical, and systematical spirit so much in vogue, which has spread itself from the sciences even into polite literature, by consulting only reason, has not diminished and destroyed sentiment; and made our poets write from and to the head, rather than the heart; or whether, lastly, when just models, from which the rules have necessarily been drawn, have once appeared, succeeding writers, by vainly and ambitiously striving to surpass those just models, and to shine and surprise, do not become stiff, and forced and affected, in their thoughts and diction.
I am happy to find these opinions confirmed by the learned and judicious Heyne, in his Opuscula, p. 116.
« Et initio quidem ipfa ingenii humani doctrinæque humanæ natura haud facile alium rerum cursum admittit, quam ut doctrinæ auctus ingenii damna fequantur ; infringitur ipfa rerum copia ingenii vis ac vigor; subtilitas grammatica, historica ac philofophica, in rebus exquirendis ac diluendis, magnos et audaces animi sensus incidit; luxuriantius ingenium a fimplicitate ad cultum et ornatum, hinc ad fucum et lasciviam prolabitur. Eft idem animorum et ingeniorum, qui vitæ et reipublicæ, ab austeritate ad elegantiam, ab hac ad luxum et delicias, progreffus ; quo gradu uti femel rerum vices conftitere, ad interitum eas vergere neceffe eft.”
It is not improper to observe what great improvements the Art of Criticism has received fince this Essay was written. For without recurring to pieces of earlier date, and nearer the time in which it was written; the essays in the Spectator and Guardian; Shaftesbury's Advice to an Author; Spence on the Odyssey; Fenton on Waller; Blackwell's Enquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer: even of late years, we have had the Treatises of Harris; Hurd's Remarks on Horace; Observations on the Fairy Queen ; Webb on Poetry and Music; Brown's Differtation on the fame; the Differtations of Beattie; the Elements of Criticism, of Kaims; the Lectures of Blair; the Editions of Milton, by Newton and Warton; and of Shakespeare and Spenser, by Malone, Steevens, and Upton ; the History of English Poetry; the critical papers of the Rambler, Adventurer, World, and Connoisseur; and The Lives of the Poets, by Johnson; the Biographia Britannica; and the Poetics of Aristotle, translated, and accompanied with judicious notes, by Twining and Pye; and the translation, with notes, of Horace's Art of Poetry, by Hurd and Colman; and the Epiftles of Hayley.