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No longer now that golden age appears,
these the unlearned are not attentive, because they look upon them as the least important parts of language; and hence they come to be omitted or misapplied in conversation, and afterward in writing. Besides, the spirit of commerce, manufacture, and naval enterprise, so honourable to modern Europe, and to Great Britain in particular, and the free circulation of arts, sciences, and opinions, owing, in part, to the use of printing, and to our improvements in navigation, must render the modern tongues, and especially the English, more variable than the Greek or Latin."
Ver. 482. failing language) “In England (says an ingenious Italian) the Translation of the Bible is the standard of their language; in Italy the standard is, the Decamerone of Boccacio. Those tales have been so highly applauded, and so universally read, that they seem to have overwhelmed his other works, which are seldom spoken of. It is only within a few years that the Teseide of Boccacio was known, or talked of, even among professed critics, though this epic poem was frequently quoted by Tasso in his Discorsi del Poema Eroico. Voltaire calls the languages of modern Europe, Enfans bossus et boiteaux d'un grand homme de belle taille, meaning Latin.”
Ver. 484. So when the faithful pencil, &c.] This similitude from painting, in which our author discovers (as he always does on that subject) real science, has still a more peculiar beauty, as at the same time that it confesses the just superiority of ancient writings, it insinuates one advantage the modern have above them, which is this; that in these latter, our more intimate acquaintance with the occasion of writing, and with the manners described, lets us into those living and striking graces which may be well compared to that perfection of imitation given only by the pencil.
Where a new world leaps out at his command,
Unhappy Wit, like most mistaken things,
While the ravages of time, amongst the monuments of former ages, have left us but the gross substance of ancient wit; so much only of the form and fashion of bodies as may be expressed in brass or marblé. W.:
The same may be said of this passage, as of that which relates to verse 468, above mentioned.
Ver. 494. Unhappy Wit] “Ceux qui manient le plomb et le mercure (says Voltaire with his usual pleasantry), sont sujets a des coliques dangereuses, et a des tremblemens de nerfs très facheux. Ceux qui se servent de plumes et d'encre, sont attaqués d'une vermine, qu'il faut continuellement sécouer.” Ver. 507. by knaves undone !] By which the poet would
If Wit so much from Ign'raňce undergo, Ah let not learning too commence its foe! Of old, those met rewards who could excel, 510 And such were prais'd who but endeavour'd well : Though triumphs were to gen’rals only due, Crowns were resery'd to grace the soldiers too. . Now, they who reach Parnassus' lofty crown, Employ their pains to spurn some others down; And while self-love each jealous writer rules, 516 Contending wits become the sport of fools : But still the worst with most regret commend, For each ill Author is as bad a Friend.
insinuate, a common but shameful truth, That men in power, if they got into it by illiberal arts, generally left Wit and Science to starve. W.
Ver. 508. If Wit so much from Ign'rance undergo,] The inconveniences that attend wit are well enumerated in this excellent passage. “Poets, who imagine they are known and admired, are frequently mortified, and humbled. Boileau going one day to receive his pension, and the treasurer reading these words in his order; "the pension we have granted to Boileau, on account of the satisfaction his works have given us," asked him of what kind were his works ; “Of masonry (replied the poet), I am a builder.” Racine always reckoned the praises of the ignorant among the chief sources of chagrin; and used to relate, that an old magistrate, who had never been at a play, was carried, one day, to his Andromaque. This magistrate was very attentive to the tragedy, to which was added the Plaideurs; and going out of the theatre, he said to the author, “I am extremely pleased, Sir, with your Andromaque: I am only amazed that it ends so gaily;" j'avois d'abord eu quelque envie de pleurer, mais la vue des petits chiens m'a fait rire.
Ver. 519. each ill Author] This might be expected. But how mortifying, that geniuses of a higher rank should malign and harass each other. What shall we say of the disgraceful dissensions betwixt Sophocles and Euripides ; Plato and Aristotle;
To what base ends, and by what abject ways,
fit critin bi kurre
NOTES. Bossuet and Fenelon; Boileau and Quinault; Racine and Moliere; Tasso and the La Crusca Academicians ; Corneille, Scudery, and Cardinal Richlieu; Bayle and Le Clerc; Voltaire and Crebillon; Bentley and Boyle; Clarke and Atterbury; Locke and Stillingfleet; and
others ! Mr. Harte related to me, that being with Mr. Pope when he received the news of Swift's death, Harte said to him, he thought it a fortunate circumstance for their friendship, that they had lived so distant from each other; Pope resented the reflection, but yet, said Harte, I am convinced it was true.
Ver. 526. But if in noble minds some dregs remain, &c.] So far as to what ought to be the true critic's principal study and employment. But if the sour critical humour abounds, and must therefore needs have vent, he directs to its proper object; and shews [from ver. 525 to 556] how it may be innocently and usefully pointed. This is very observable; our author had made spleen and disdain the characteristics of the false critic, and yet here supposes them inherent in the true. But it is done with judgment, and a knowledge of Nature. For as bitterness and astringency in unripe fruits of the best kind are the foundation and capacity of that high spirit, race, and flavour, which we find in them when perfectly concocted by the warmth and influence of the sun, and which, without those qualities, would gain no more by that influence than only a mellow insipidity; so spleen and disdain in the true critic, when improved by long study and experience, ripen into an exactness of judgment and an elegance of taste : although, in the false critic, lying remote from the influence of good letters, they remain in all their first offensive harshness and acerbity. The poet therefore shews how, after the exaltation of these qualities into their state of perfection, the
Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes,
530 Tho' wit and art conspire to move your
mind; But Dulness with Obscenity must prove As shameful sure as Impotence in love. In the fat age of pleasure, wealth, and ease, Sprung the rank weed, and thriv'd with large increase :
535 When love was all an easy Monarch's care; Seldom at council, never in a war : Jilts rul'd the state, and statesmen farces writ: Nay wits had pensions, and young Lords had wit: The Fair sat panting at a Courtier's play, : 540 And not a Mask went unimprov'd away : The modest fan was lifted up no more, And Virgins smild at what they blush'd before. The following licence of a foreign reign Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain; 545
very dregs (which, though precipitated, may possibly, on some occasions, rise and ferment even in a noble mind) may be usefully employed; that is to say, in branding obscenity and impiety. W.
I have preserved this remark, to justify the censure I have presumed to pass on Warburton's manner of criticising.
Ver. 545. -- bold Socinus] “This author (says Dr. Jortin) seems to have had two particular antipathies ; one to grammatical and verbal criticism, the other to false doctrine and heresy. To the first we may ascribe his treating Bentley, Burman, Kuster, and Wasse, with a contempt which recoiled upon himself. To the secoud, we will impute his pious zeal against those divines of King William's time, whom he supposed to be infected with the Infidel, or the Socinian, or the Latitudinarian spirit, and not so orthodox as himself, and his friends Swift, Bolingbroke, &c.