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Once on a time, La Mancha's knight', they say,
A certain bard encountering on the way,
Discoursed in terms as just, with looks as sage,
As e'er could Dennis?, of the Grecian stage;
Concluding all were desperate sots and fools
Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules.
Our author, happy in a judge so nice,
Produced his play, and begged the knight's advice;
Made him observe the subject, and the plot,
75 The manners, passions, unities; what not? All which, exact to rule, were brought about, Were but a combat in the lists left out.
What, leave the combat out?” exclaims the knight.—
“ Yes, or we must renounce the Stagyrite.”—
“Not so, by heaven! (he answers in a rage)
Knights, squires, and steeds must enter on the stage.”-
“ So vast a throng the stage can ne'er contain.”.
“ Then build a new, or act it on a plain.”
Thus, critics of less judgment than caprice,
Curious, not knowing, not exact, but nice,
Form short ideas; and offend in arts
(As most in manners) by a love to parts.
Some to conceit alone their taste confine,
And glittering thoughts struck out at every line;
Pleased with a work where nothing's just or fit;
One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit.
Poets, like painters, thus unskilled to trace
The naked nature, and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover every part,
And hide with ornaments their want of art.
True wit is nature to advantage dressed,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed ;
Something, whose truth convinced at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.
100 As shades more sweetly recommend the light, So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit : For works may have more wit than does them good, As bodies perish through excess of blood. Others for language all their care express,
105 And value books, as women men, for dress; 1 Don Quixote.
Their praise is still, - the style is excellent :
The sense, they humbly take upon content.
Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
False eloquence, like the prismatic glass,
Its gaudy colours spreads on every place ;
The face of nature we no more survey,
All glares alike, without distinction gay :
But true expression, like the unchanging sun,
Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon ;
It gilds all objects, but it alters none.
Expression is the dress of thought, and still
Appears more decent, as more suitable :
A vile conceit in pompous words expressed,
Is like a clown in regal purple dressed :
For different styles with different subjects sort,
As several garbs, with country, town, and court.
Some by old words to fame have made pretence,
Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense ;
Such laboured nothings, in so strange a style,
Amaze the unlearned, and make the learned smile.
Unlucky, as Fungosa in the play',
These sparks with awkward vanity display
What the fine gentleman wore yesterday;
And but so mimic ancient wits at best,
As apes our grandsires in their doublets dressed.
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold ;
Alike funtastic, if too new or old :
Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.
But most by numbers judge a poet's song ;
And smooth or rough, with them, is right or wrong:
In the bright muse though thousand charms conspire,
Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire;
Who haunt Parnassus 2 but to please the ear,
Not mend their minds; as some to church repair,
Not for the doctrine, but the music there.
These, equal syllables alone require,
Though oft the ear the open vowels tire;
With éxpletives their feeble aid do join,
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line :
While they ring round the same unvaried chimes,
With sure returns of still expected rhymes.
Where'er find “the cooling western breeze,”
In the next line it “whispers through the trees:"
If crystal streams “with pleasing murmurs creep,'
The reader's threatened (not in vain) with “sleep."
Then at the last, and only couplet fraught
With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, 155
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, and know
What's roundly smooth, or languishingly slow;
And praise the easy vigour of a line
160 Where Denham's strength, and Waller's? sweetness join. True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learned to dance. 'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence, The sound must seem an echo to the sense.
165 Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; But when loud surges lash the sounding shore, The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar. When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw, 170 The line too labours, and the words move slow : Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain, Flies o'er the unbending corn, and skims along the main. Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise, And bid alternate passions fall and rise ! While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove3 Now burns with glory, and then melts with love ; Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow, Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow: Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found, And the world's victor stood subdued by sound! The power of music all our hearts allow, And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now.4
Avoid extremes, and shun the fault of such Who still are pleased too little or too much :
every trifle scorn to take offence,
That always shows great pride, or little sense :
Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best,
Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest.
Yet let not each gay turn thy rapture move;
For fools admire, but men of sense approve :
As things seem large which we through mists descry,
Dulness is ever apt to magnify.
Some, foreign writers, some, our own despise;
The ancients only, or the moderns, prize :
Thus wit, like faith, by each man is applied
To one small sect, and all are wrong beside.
Meanly they seek the blessing to confine,
And force that sun but on a part to shine,
Which not alone the southern wit sublimes,
But ripens spirits in cold northern climes ;
Which, from the first, has shone on ages past,
Enlights the present, and shall warm the last ;
Though each may feel increases and decays,
And see now clearer and now darker days.
Regard not then if wit be old or new,
But blame the false, and value still the true.
Some ne'er advance a judgment of their own,
But catch the spreading notion of the town;
They reason and conclude by precedent,
And own stale nonsense which they ne'er invent.
Some judge of authors' names, not works, and then
Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men.
Of all this servile herd, the worst is he
That in proud dulness join with quality;
A constant critic at the great man's board,
To fetch and carry nonsense for my lord.
What woeful stuff this madrigal would be,
In some starved hackneyed sonneteer, or me!
But let a lord once own the happy lines,
How the wit brightens ! how the style refines !
Before his sacred name flies every fault,
And each exalted stanza teems with thought !
The vulgar thus through imitation err;
As oft the learned by being singular ;
So much they scorn the crowd, that if the throng
By chance go right, they purposely go wrong:
Some praise at morning what they blame at night,
But always think the last opinion right.
While their weak heads, like towns unfortified,
'Twixt sense and nonsense daily change their side.
Ask them the cause ; they're wiser still, they say ;
And still to-morrow's wiser than to-day.
We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow;
Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so.
Once school divines this zealous isle o’erspread;
Who knew most sentences was deepest read:
Faith, Gospel, all seemed made to be disputed,
And none had sense enough to be confuted ;
Scotists and Thomistsnow in peace remain
Amidst their kindred cobwebs in Duck-lane.2
If faith itself has different dresses worn,
What wonder modes in wit should take their turn !
Oft, leaving what is natural and fit,
The current folly proves the ready wit;
And authors think their reputation safe
Which lives as long as fools are pleased to laugh.
Some, valuing those of their own side or mind,
Still make themselves the measure of mankind :
Fondly we think we honour merit then,
When we but praise ourselves in other men.
Parties in wit attend on those of state,
And public faction doubles private hate.
Pride, malice, folly, against Dryden rose,
In various shapes of parsons, critics, beaux :
But sense survived when merry jests were past,
For rising merit will buoy up at last.
Might he return, and bless once more our eyes,
New Blackmores 3 and new Milbourns 4 must arise :
Nay, should great Homer lift his awful head,
Zoïlus5 again would start up from the dead.
Envy will merit, as its shade, pursue ;
But, like a shadow, proves the substance true :