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Fondly we think we honour merit then,
When we but praise ourselves in other men. 455
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, Beaus;

COMMENTARY.

a writer of their own side with commendation. They fancy they are paying tribute to merit, when they are only sacrificing to selflove. But this is not the worst. He further shews, that this party-spirit has often very ill effects on Science itself; while, in support of Faction, it labours to depress some rising genius, that was, perhaps, raised by nature, to enlighten his age and country. By which he would insinuate, that all the baser and viler passions seek refuge, and find support in party-madness.

NOTES. Oratore, lib. iii.) quum plurimum in faciendo inter doctum et rudem, quàm non multum differant in judicando."

Horace and Milton declare against general approbation, and wish for "fit audience though few.” And Tully relates, in his Brutus, the story of Antimachus, who, when his numerous auditors all gradually left him, except Plato, said, I still continue reading my work; Plato, enim mihi unus instar est omnium. The noble confidence and strength of mind in Milton, is not in any circumstance more visible and more admirable, than his writing a poem in a style and manner that he was sure would not be relished or regarded by his corrupt contemporaries.

He was different in this respect from Bernardo Tasso, the father of his beloved Torquato, who, to satisfy the vulgar taste and current opinions of his country, new-modelled his epic poem Amadigi, to make it more wild and romantic, and less suited to the rules of Aristotle.

Warton. Ver. 459. shapes of Parsons, Critics,] The Parson alluded to was Jeremy Collier; the Critic was the Duke of Buckingham; the first of whom very powerfully attacked the profligacy, and the latter the irregularity and bombast of some of Dryden's plays. These attacks were much more than merry jests.

Warton.

But sense surviv'd when merry jests were past; 460
For rising merit will buoy up at last.
Might he return, and bless once more our eyes,
New Blackmores and new Milbourns must arise :
Nay, should great Homer lift his awful head,
Zoilus again would start up from the dead. 465
Envy will merit, as its shade, pursue;
But like a shadow, proves the Substance true:
For envy'd Wit, like Sol eclips'd, makes known
Th' opposing body's grossness, not its own.

NOTES.

Ver. 463. Milbourn] The Rev. Mr. Luke Milbourn. Dennis served Mr. Pope in the same office. But these men are of all times, and rise up on all occasions. Sir Walter Raleigh had Alexander Ross; Chillingworth had Cheynel ; Milton a first Edwards; and Locke a second ; neither of them related to the third Edwards of Lincoln's Inn. They were Divines of parts and learning: this a Critic without one or the other. Yet (as Mr. Pope says of Luke Milbourn) the fairest of all critics ; for having written against the Editor's remarks on Shakespear, he did him justice in printing, at the same time, some of his own.

Warburton. But all impartial critics allow the remarks to have been decisive and judicious ; and his Canons of Criticism remain unrefuted and unanswerable.

Warton. Ver. 465. Zoilus again] In the fifth book of Vitruvius is an account of Zoilus's coming to the court of Ptolemy at Alexandria, and presenting to him his virulent and brutal censures of Homer, and begging to be rewarded for his work ; instead of which, it is said, the king ordered him to be crucified, or, as some said, stoned alive. His person is minutely described in the 11th book of Ælian's various History.

Warton. Ver. 468. For endy'd Wit, &c.] This similitude implies a fact too often verified; and of which we need not seek abroad for examples. It is this, that frequently those very authors, who have at first done all they coald to obscure and depress a rising genius,

have

When first that sun too pow'rful beams displays, It draws up vapours which obscure its rays; 471 But ev’n those clouds at last adorn its way, Reflect new glories, and augment the day.

Be thou the first true merit to befriend; His praise is lost, who stays till all commend. 475

COMMENTARY. Ver. 474. Be thou the first, &c.] The poet having now gone through the last cause of wrong Judgment, and the root of all the resi, PartialITY; and ended his remarks upon it with a detection of the two rankest kinds, those which arise out of Party-RAGE and Envy; takes the occasion, which this affords him, of closing his second division in the most graceful manner, [from ver. 473 to 560.] by concluding from the premises, and calling upon the TRUE critic to be careful of his charge, which is the protection and support of Wit. For, the defence of it from malevolent censure is its true protection ; and the illustration of its beauties, is its true support.

He first shews, the Critic ought to do this service without loss of time : and on these motives.

1. Out of regard to himself: for

there NOTES. have at length been reduced to borrow from him, imitate his manner, and reflect what they could of his splendor, merely to keep themselves in some little credit. Nor hath the poet been less artful, to insinuate what is sometimes the cause. A youthful genius, like the sun rising towards the meridian, displays too strong and powerful beams for the dirty temper of inferior writers, which occasions their gathering, condensing, and blackening. But as he descends from the meridian (the time when the sun gives its gilding to the surrounding clouds) his rays grow milder, his heat more benign, and then “ Ev'n those clouds at last adorn its

way, Reflect new glories and augment the day.” Warburton. Ver. 474. Be thou the first true merit to befriend;

His praise is lost, who stays till all commend.] When Thomson published his Winter, 1726, it lay a long time neglected, till Mr. Spence made honourable mention of it in his

Essay VOL. III.

I

Short is the date, alas, of modern rhymes,
And 'tis but just to let them live betimes.

COMMENTARY.

there is some merit in giving the world notice of an excellence; but little or none, in pointing, like an Inder, to the beaten road of admiration. 2. Out of regard to the Poeni: for the short duration of modern works requires, that they should begin to live betimes. He compares the life of modern Wit, (which, in a changeable dialect, must soon pass away) and that of the ancient, (which survives in an universal language) to the difference between the Patriarchal

age and our own: and observes, 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 soever, have no sooner gained their requisite perfection by the softening and ripening of their tints, which they do in a very few years, but they begin to fade and die away. 3. Lastly, our Author shews, that the Critic ought in justice, to do this service out of regard to the Poet, when he considers the slender dowry the Muse brings along with her : in youth ’tis only a vain and short-lived pleasure; and in maturer years, an accession of care and labour, in proportion to the weight of reputation to be sustained, and of the increase of envy to be opposed : and therefore, concludes his reasoning on this head, with that pathetic and insinuating address to the Critic, from ver. 508 to 526.

“ Ah! let not learning,” &c.

NOTES.

Essay on the Odyssey ; which becoming a popular book, made the poem universally known. Thomson always acknowledged the use of this recommendation; and from this circumstance an intimacy commenced between the critic and the poet, which lasted till the lamented death of the latter, who was of a most amiable and benevolent temper. I have before me a letter of Mr. Spence to Pitt, earnestly begging him to subscribe to the quarto edition of Thomson's Seasons, and mentioning a design which Thomson had formed of writing a descriptive poem on Blenheim ; a subject that would have shone in his hands. It was some time after publication, before the Odes of Gray were relished and admired. They were even burlesqued by two men of wit and genius, who, however, once owned to me, that they repented of the attempt. The Hecyra

of

No longer now that golden age appears,
When Patriarch-wits surviv'd a thousand years :

NOTES.

of Terence, the Misanthrope of Moliere, the Phædra of Racine, the Way of the World of Congreve, the Silent Woman of Ben Jonson, were ill received on their first exhibitions. Out of an hundred comedies written by Menander, eight only obtained the prize; and only five of Euripides out of the seventy tragedies he wrote. Our author seems to be eminently fortunate, who never, from his early youth, published a piece that did not meet with immediate approbation, except, perhaps, the first Epistle of the Essay on Man.

Warton. Ver. 476. Short is the date,] “ All living languages are liable to change. The Greek and Latin, though composed of more durable materials than ours, were subject to perpetual vicissitude, till they ceased to be spoken. The former is, with reason, believed to have been more stationary than any other; and indeed a very particular attention was paid to the preservation of it; yet between Spenser and Pope, Hooker and Sherlock, Raleigh and Smollett, a difference of dialect is not more perceptible, than between Homer and Apollonius, Xenophon and Plutarch, Aristotle and Antoninus. In the Roman authors, the change of language is still more remarkable. How different, in this respect, is Ennius from Virgil, Lucilius from Horace, Cato from Columella, and even Catullus from Ovid! The Laws of the Twelve Tables, though studied by every Roman of condition, were not perfectly understood, even by antiquarians, in the time of Cicero, when they were not quite four hundred years old. Cicero himself, as well as Lucretius, made several improvements in the Latin tongue; Virgil introduced some new words; and Horace asserts his right to the same privilege; and from his remarks upon it, appears to have considered the immutability of living language as an impossible thing. It were vain then to flatter ourselves with the hope of permanency to any of the modern tongues of Europe; which, being more ungrammatical than the Latin and Greek, are exposed to more dangerous, because less discernible, innovations. Our want of tenses and cases makes a multitude of auxiliary verbs necessary; and to these the unlearned are not attentive, because they look upon them as the least important parts of language; and hence I 2

they

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