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BEFORE we present thee with our exercitations on this most delectable poem (drawn from the many volumes of our Adversaria on modern authors.) we shall here, according to the laudable usage of editors, collect the various judgments of the learned concerning our poet: various indeed, not only of different authors, but of the same author at different seasons. Nor shall we gather only the testimonies of such eminent Wits, as would of course descend to posterity, and consequently be read without our collection; but we shall likewise with incredible labour seek out for divers others, which, but for this our diligence, could neyer at the distance of a few months appear to the eye of the most curious. Hereby thou mayest not only receive the delectation of variety, but also arrive at a more certain judgment, by a grave and circumspect comparison of the witnesses with each other, or of each with himself. Hence also thou wilt be enabled to draw reflections, not only of a critical, but
a moral nature, by being let into many particulars of the person as well as genius, and of the fortune as well as merit of our author: in which if I relate some things of little concern peradventure to thee, and some of as little even to him, I entreat thee to consider how minutely all true critics and commentators are wont to insist upon such, and how material they seem to themselves, if to none other. Forgive me, gentle reader, if (following learned example) I ever and anon become tedious: allow me to take the same pains to find whether my author were good or bad, well or illnatured, modest or arrogant; as another, whether his author was fair or brown, short or tall, or whether he wore a coat or a cassock.
We purposed to begin with his life, parentage, and education; but as to these, even his cotemporaries do exceedingly differ. One saith,* he was educated at home; another, that he was bred at St. Omer's by Jesuits; a third, not at St. Omer's, but at Oxford ; a fourth, that he had no university education at all. Those who allow him to be bred at home, differ as much concerning his tutor. One saith,|| he was kept by his father on purpose; a second, T that he was an itinerant priest ; a third, ** that he was a parson; one foot calleth
* Giles Jacob's Lives of the Poets, vol. ii. in his Life. + Dennis's Reflections on the Essay on Criticism, p. 4. # Dunciad dissected, p. 4. § Guardian, No. 40. ll Jacob's Lives, &c. vol. ii. | Dunciad dissected, p. 4. ** Farmer P. and his son. ** Dunciad dissected.
him a secular clergyman of the church of Rome; another, * a monk. As little do they agree about his father, whom onef supposeth, like the father of Hesiod, a tradesman, or merchant; another, I a husbandman; another, $ a hatter, &c. Nor has an author been wanting to give our poet such a father as Apuleius hath to Plato, Jamblichus to Pythagoras, and divers to Homer, namely a Demon. For thus Mr. Gildon :// “ Certain it is, that his original is not from Adam, but the Devil ; and that he wanted nothing but horns and tail to be the exact resemblance of his infernal father." Finding therefore such contrariety of opinions, and (whatever be ours, of this sort of generation) not being fond to enter into controversy, we shall defer writing the Life of our Poet, till authors can determine among themselves what parents or education he had, or whether he had any education or parents at all. · Proceed we to what is more certain, his works, though not less uncertain the judgments concern
* Characters of the times, p. 45.
Il Character of Mr. P. and his Writings, in a Letter to a Friend, printed for S. Popping, 1716, p. 10. Curl, in his Key to the Dunciad (first edit. said to be printed for A. Dodd), in the 10th page, declared Gildon to be author of that libel; though in the subsequent editions of his Key he left out this assertion, and affirmed (in the Curliad, p. 4 and 8.) that it was written by Dennis only.
ing them; beginning with his Essay on Criticism, of which hear first the most ancient of critics,
Mr. John DENNIS. “ His precepts are false or trivial, or both; his thoughts are crude and abortive, his expressions absurd, his numbers harsh and unmusical, his rhymes trivial and common :-instead of majesty, we have something that is very mean; instead of gravity, something that is very boyish; and instead of perspicuity and lucid order, we have but too often obscurity and confusion.” And in another place: “What rare numbers are here! Would not one swear that this youngster had espoused some antiquated muse, who had sued out a divorce from some superannuated sinner, upon account of impotence, and who being poxed by her former spouse, has got the gout in her decrepid age, which makes her hobble so damnably."*
No less peremptory is the censure of our hypercritical Historian,
MR. OLDMIXON. “ I dare not say any thing of the Essay on Criticism in verse; but if any more curious reader has discovered in it something new which is not in Dryden's prefaces, dedications, and his Essay on Dramatic Poetry, not to mention the French critics,
* Reflections, critical and satirical, on a Rhapsody, called an Essay on Criticism. Printed for Bernard Lintot, octavo. P.
I should be very glad to have the benefit of the discovery."*
He is followed (as in fame, so in judgment) by the modest and simple-minded
MR. LEONARD WELSTED; Who, out of great respect to our poet not naming him, doth yet glance at his Essay, together with the Duke of Buckingham's, and the Criticisms of Dryden, and of Horace, which he more openly taxeth : “ As to the numerous treatises, essays, arts, &c. both in verse and prose, that have been written by the moderns on this ground-work, they do but hackney the same thoughts over again, making them still more trite. Most of their pieces are nothing but a pert, insipid heap of commonplace. Horace has even in his Art of Poetry thrown out several things which plainly shew he thought an Art of Poetry was of no use, even while he was writing one."
To all which great authorities, we can only oppose that of
MR. ADDISON. "I The Art of Criticism (saith he) which was published some months since, is a master-piece in its kind. The observations follow one another, like
* Essay on Criticism in prose, octavo, 1728, by the author of The Critical History of England.
P. † Preface to his Poems, p. 18, 53. P.
Spectator, No. 253, P.