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Short is the date, alas, of modern rhymes,
And 'tis but just to let them live betimes.
No longer now that golden age appears,
When Patriarch-wits surviv'd a thousand years:

COMMENTARY.

He firft fhews the Critic ought to do this fervice without delay: And on these motives. 1. Out of regard to himself: For there is fome merit in giving the world notice of an excellence; but none at all in pointing out to that which has been long the admiration of men. 2. Out of regard to the Poem: For the fhort duration of modern works requires they fhould begin to enjoy their existence early. He compares the life of modern Wit, and ancient which furvives in an univerfal language, to the difference between the Patriarchal age and our own: And obferves, that while the ancient writings live for ever, as it were in brass and marble, the modern are but like Paintings, which, of how masterly a hand foever, have no fooner gained their requifite perfection by the ripening of their foftened and incorporated colouring, which they do in a very few years, but they begin presently to fade and dye away. 3. Laftly our author fhews that the Critic ought to do this fervice out of regard to the Poet: when he confiders the flender dowry the Mufe brings along with her. In youth 'tis only a fhort lived vanity; and in maturer years an accefs of care and labour, in proportion to the weight of Reputation to be fuftained, and the increase of Envy to be opposed: And concludes his reasoning therefore on this head, with that pathetic and infinuating address to the Critic, from 508 to 524.

Ab! let not learning, c.

Now length of Fame (our fecond life) is loft, 480
And bare threefcore is all ev'n that can boaft;
Our fons their fathers failing language fee,
And fuch as Chaucer is, fhall Dryden be.
So when the faithful pencil has defign'd
Some bright Idea of the master's mind,
Where a new world leaps out at his command,
And ready Nature waits upon his hand;
When the ripe colours foften and unite,
And fweetly melt into just shade and light,
When mellowing years their full perfection give,
And each bold figure juft begins to live;

49I

NOTES.

484 So when the faithful pencil, & This fimilitude in which the poet discovers (as he always does on this jubject) real fcience in the thing spoken of, has ftill a more peculiar beauty, as at the fame time that it confeffes the juft fuperiority of ancient writings, it infinuates one advantage the modern have above them; which is this, that in thefe, our intimate acquaintance with the occafion of writing,

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485

and the manners deferibed, let us into all thofe living and ftriking graces which may be well compared to that perfection of imitation which only colouring can give: While the ravage of Time amongst the monuments of former ages, hath left us but the grofs fubftance of ancient wit, fo much of the form and matter of body only as may be expressed in brass or marble.

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The treach'rous colours the fair art betray,
And all the bright creation fades away!

Unhappy Wit, like most mistaken things,
Attones not for that envy which it brings.
In youth alone its empty praife we boast,
But foon the short-liv'd vanity is loft:
Like fome fair flow'r the early spring supplies,
That gayly blooms, but ev'n in blooming dies.
What is this Wit, which muft our cares employ? 500
The owner's wife, that other men enjoy;
'Then most our trouble ftill when most admir'd,
And still the more we give, the more requir'd;
Whose fame with pains we guard, but lose with ease,
Sure fome to vex, but never all to please; 595
'Tis what the vicious fear, the virtuous fhun,
By fools 'tis hated, and by knaves undone !

If Wit fo much from Ign'rance undergo,
Ah let not Learning too commence its foe!
Of old, thofe met rewards who could excel, 510
And fuch were prais'd who but endeavour'd well:
Tho' triumphs were to gen'rals only due,
Crowns were referv'd to grace the foldiers too.
Now, they who reach Parnaffus' lofty crown,
Employ their pains to fpurn fome others down; 515

E

495

And while felf-love each jealous writer rules,
Contending wits become the sport of fools:
But ftill the worst with moft regret commend,
For each ìll Author is as bad a Friend.

To what bafe ends, and by what abject ways, 520
Are mortals urg'd thro' facred luft of praife!
Ah ne'er fo dire a thirft of glory boast,
Nor in the Critic let the Man be loft,
Good-nature and good-fenfe muft ever join;
To err is human, to forgive, divine.

But if in noble minds fome dregs remain.
Not yet purg'd off, of spleen and four difdain;

525

COMMENTARY.

VER. 526. But if in noble minds fome dregs remain, c.] So far, as to what ought to be the true Critic's principal concern and employment. But if the four critical humour muft needs have a vent, he points to its right object; and fhews how it may be usefully and innocently diverted. This is very obfervable; for our author makes pride and Spleen the characteristics of the falfe Critic, and yet here fuppofes them inherent in the true. But it is done with judgment, and a knowledge of nature. For spleen and difdain, in the critical mind, are the fame as bitterness and acerbity in unripe fruits; the foundation and capacity of that high fpirit, race, and flavour which we find in the belt of them, when perfectly concocted by the heat and influence of the Sun; and which, without thofe qualities, would often gain no more by that influence than only a mellow infipidity. In like manner, natural acerbity in the

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Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes,
Nor fear a dearth in thefe flagitious times.
No pardon vile Obfcenity fhould find,
Tho' wit and art confpire to move your mind;
But Dulnefs with obfcenity muft prove

539

As fhameful fure as Impotence in love.
In the fat age of pleasure, wealth, and ease,
Sprung the rank weed, and thriv'd with large in-

creafe';

535

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When love was all an eafy Monarch's care;
Seldom at council, never in a war:

3.

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COMMENTARY.

true Critic, improved by long ftudy and experience, ripens into an exactnefs of Judgment and an elegance of Tafe: But, lying remote from the influence of good letters, continues, in the falfe Critic, in all its firft offenfive harshness and aftringency. The Poet therefore fhews how, after the exaltation of thefe qualities into the ftate of perfect Criticism, the very Dregs, which poffibly may remain even in a noble mind, may be ufefully employed, namely in branding OBSCENITY and IMPIETY. Of thele he explains the rife and progrefs, in a beautiful picture of the different genius's of the reigns of Charles II. and William III. the former of which gave courie to the most profligate luxury; the latter to a licencious impiety. Thefe are the criminals the poet affigns over to the cauftic hand of the Critic, but concludes however with this neceffary admonition, to take care not to be mifled into unjust cen

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