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cern, I have already confessed I had a private one. I am one of that number, who have long loved and esteemed Mr. POPE; and had often declared it was not his capacity or writings (which we ever thought the least valuable part of his character) but the honest, open, and beneficent man, that we most esteemed, and loved in him. Now, if what these people say were believed, I must appear to all my friends either a fool or a knave; either imposed on myself, or imposing on them ; so that I am as much interested in the confutation of these calumnies, as he is himself.
I am no author, and consequently not to be suspected either of jealousy or resentment against any of the men, of whom scarce one is known to me by sight; and as for their writings, I have sought them (on this one occasion) in vain, in the closets and libraries of all my acquaintance. I had still been in the dark, if a gentleman had not procured me (I suppose from some of themselves, for they are generally much more dangerous friends than enemies) the passages I send you. I solemnly protest I have added nothing to the malice or abSurdity of them; which it behoves me to declare, since the vouchers themselves will be so soon and so irrecoverably lost. You may in some measure prevent it, by preserving at least their titles,* and discovering (as far as you can depend on the truth of your information) the names of the concealed authors.
* See a List of them printed in the Appendix. P.
The first objection I have heard made to the poem is, that the persons are too obscure for satire. The persons themselves, rather than allow the objection, would forgive the satire; and if one could be tempted to afford it a serious answer, were not all assassinates, popular insurrections, the insolence of the rabble without doors, and of domestics within, most wrongfully chastised, if the meanness of offenders indemnified them from punishment? On the contrary, Obscurity renders them more dangerous, as less thought of: Law can pronounce judgment only on open facts; Morality alone can pass censure on intentions of mischief; so that for secret calumny, or the arrow flying in the dark, there is no public punishment left, but what a good writer inflicts.
The next objection is, that these sort of authors are poor. That might be pleaded as an excuse at the Old Bailey, for lesser crimes than defamation, (for 'tis the case of almost all who are tried there,) but sure it can be none here. For who will pretend that the robbing another of his reputation, supplies the want of it in himself ? I question not but such authors are poor, and heartily wish the objection were removed by any honest livelihood. But poverty is here the accident, not the subject. He who describes malice and villainy to be pale and meagre, expresses not the least anger against paleness or meanness, but against malice and villainy. The Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet is poor; but is he therefore justified in vending poison ? Not but poverty itself becomes a just subject of satire, when it is the consequence of vice, prodigality, or neglect of one's lawful calling; for then it increases the public burden, fills the streets and highways with robbers, and the garrets with clippers, coiners, and weekly journalists.
But admitting that two or three of these offend less in their morals, than in their writings ; must poverty make nonsense sacred ? If so, the fame of bad authors would be much better consulted than that of all the good ones in the world; and not one of an hundred had ever been called by his right name.
They mistake the whole matter. It is not charity to encourage them in the way they follow, but to get them out of it; for men are not bunglers because they are poor, but they are poor because they are bunglers.
Is it not pleasant enough, to hear our authors crying out on the one hand, as if their persons and characters were too sacred for sátire'; and the public objecting on the other, that they are too mean even for ridicule ? But whether bread or fame be their end, it must be allowed, our author, by and in this poem, has mercifully given them a little of both.
There are two or three, who by their rank and fortune have no benefit from the former objections, supposing them good, and these I was sorry to see in such company. But if, without any provocation, two or three gentlemen will fall upon one, in
an affair wherein his interest and reputation are equally, embarked; they cannot certainly, after they have been content to print themselves his enemies, complain of being put into the number of them.
Others, I am told, pretend to have been once his friends. Surely they are their enemies who say so, since nothing can be more odious than to treat a friend as they have done. But of this I cannot persuade myself, when I consider the constant and eternal aversion of all bad writers to a good one.
Such as claim a merit from being his admirers, I would gladly ask, if it lays him under a personal obligation? At that rate he would be the most obliged humble servant in the world. I dare swear for these in particular, he never desired them to be his admirers, nor promised in return to be theirs. That had truly been a sign he was of their acquaintance; but would not the malicious world have suspected such an approbation of some motive worse than ignorance, in the author of the Essay on Criticism? Be it as it will, the reasons of their admiration and of his contempt are equally subsisting, for his works and theirs are the very same that they were.
One, therefore, of their assertions I believe may be true, “ That he has a contempt for their writings.” And there is another, which would probably be sooner allowed by himself than by any good judge beside, “ That his own have found
too much success with the public.” But as it cannot consist with his modesty to claim this as a justice, it lies not on him, but entirely on the public, to defend its own judgment.
There remains what in my opinion might seem a better plea for these people, than any they have made use of. If obscurity or poverty were to exempt a man from satire, much more should folly or dulness, which are still more involuntary; nay, as much so as personal deformity. But even this will not help them. Deformity becomes an object of ridicule when a man sets up for being handsome; and so must dulness when he sets up for a wit. They are not ridiculed, because ridicule in itself is, or ought to be, a pleasure; but because it is just to undeceive and vindicate the honest and unpretending part of mankind from imposition, because particular interest ought to yield to general, and a great number who are not naturally fools, ought never to be made so, in complaisance to a few who are. Accordingly we find that in all ages, all vain pretenders, were they ever so poor, or ever so dull, have been constantly the topics of the most candid satirists, from the Codrus of JUVENAL to the Damon of BOILEAU.
Having mentioned BOILEAU, the greatest poet and most judicious critic of his age and country, admirable for his talents, and yet perhaps more admirable for his judgment in the proper application of them; I cannot help remarking the re