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Nature affords at least a glimm'ring light,
“ Authors are partial to their wit 'tis true ;
But are not critics to their judgment too? To which it may be answered, that the Critic or Connoisseur, who is conversant with the style of different artists or writers, forms in his mind an idea of general excellence, which enables him to give a more impartial, and perhaps a more correct opinion, than a professor in any particular department. Accordingly, experience has shewn, that the most eminent critics in literature, or in art, are not found among professed poets or artists --witness Aristotle, Longinus, the elder and younger Pliny, Quintilian, Fr. Junius, Borghini, Malvasia, Winckelman, De Piles, Du Bos, Lanzi, and numerous writers of our own country. The instances referred to by Warton are mostly practical treatises on art, not on the Principles of taste. If we would promote these studies, we must diffuse the spirit of criticism as widely as possible, and give to the Professors a Public, which alone can properly appreciate and fully remunerate their labours.
Ver. 20. Most have the seeds] “ Omnes tacito quodam sensu sine ulla arte aut ratione, quæ sint in artibus ac rationibus, recta et prava disjudicant."--Cic. de Orat. lib. iii.
P. Ver. 25. So by false learning] “ Plus sine doctrina prudentia, quam sine prudentia valet doctrina."-Quint.
VARIATIONS. Between ver. 25 and 26 were these lines, since omitted by the author :
Many are spoil'd by that pedantic throng,
Some are bewilder'd in the maze of schools,
Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past, Turn'd Critics next, and prov'd plain fools at last.
Ver. 36. Some have at first for Wits, &c.] The poet having enumerated, in this account of the nature of Judgment and its various depravations, the several sorts of bad critics, and ranked them into two general Classes; as the first sort, namely the men spoiled by false learning, are but few in comparison of the other, and likewise come less within his main view (which is poetical Criticism) but keep grovelling at the bottom amongst words and syllables, he thought it enough for his purpose here, just to have mentioned
them, NOTES. Ver. 28. In search of wit these lose their common sense,] This observation is extremely just. Seurch of Wit is not only the occasion, but the efficient cause of the loss of common sense. For Wit consisting in chusing out, and setting together such Ideas from whose assemblage pleasant pictures may be drawn on the Fancy; the Judgment, through an habitual search of Wit, loses, by degrees, its faculty of seeing the true relation of things; in which consists the exercise of common sense.
Warburton. Ver. 32. All fools] The sentiment is just. And if Hobbes's account of laughter be true, that it arises from a silly pride, we see the reason of it. The expression too is fine ; it alludes to the condition of idiots and natural fools, who are observed to be ever on
Some neither can for Wits nor Critics pass,
COMMENTARY. them, proposing to do them right hereafter. But the men spoiled by false taste are innumerable; and these are his proper concern: he therefore (from ver. 35 to 46.] sub-divides them again into the two classes of the volatile and heuvy: he describes, in few words, the quick progression of the one through Criticism, from false wit, to plain folly, where they end; and the fixed station of the other between the confines of both ; who under the name of Witlings, have neither end nor measure. A kind of half-formed creature from the equivocal generation of vivacity and dulness, like those on the banks of Nile, from heat and mud.
Ver. 38. Some neither can for Wits nor Critics pass,] These lines, and those preceding and following them, are excellently satirical ; and are, I think, the first we find in Pope's works, that give an indication of that species of poetry to which his talent was most powerfully bent. The simile of the mule heightens the satire, and is new; as is the application of the insects of the Nile. Pope never shines so brightly as when he is proscribing bad authors.
“ The Nile (says Fenton on Waller) has been as fruitful of English similes as the sun; from both which it would be as severe to restrain a young poet, as forbidding the use of fire and water was esteemed among the Romans.”
Warton. Ver. 43. Their generations so equivocal,] It is sufficient that a principle of philosophy has been generally received, whether it be true or false, to justify a poet's use of it to set off his wit. But to recommend his argument, he should be cautious how he uses any but the true. For falsehood, when it is set too near the truth, will tarnish what it should brighten up. Besides, the analogy between natural and moral truth makes the principle of true philosophy the fittest for this use. Our poet has been pretty careful in observing this rule.
To tell 'em would an hundred tongues require,
you who seek to give and merit fame,
Ver. 46. But you who seck, &c.] Our Author having thus far, by way of INTRODUCTION, explained the nature, use, and abuse of Criticism, in a figurative description of the qualities and characters of Critics, proceeds now to deliver the precepts of the art. The first of which [from ver. 45 to 68.] is, that he who sets up for a Critic should previously examine his own strength, and see how far he is qualified for the exercise of his profession. He puts him in a way to make this discovery, in that admirable direction given
AND MARK THAT POINT WHERE SENSE AND DULNESS MEET. He had shewn above, that Judgment, without Taste or Genius, is equally incapable of making a Critic or a Poet: In whatsoever subject then the Critic's Taste no longer accompanies his Judgment, there he may be assured he is going out of his depth. This our Author finely calls,
that point where sense und dulness meet. And immediately adds the reason of his precept; the Author of Nature having so constituted the mental faculties, that one of them can never greatly excel, but at the expense of another. From this state of coordination in the mental faculties, and the influence and effects they have upon one another, the poet draws this ConseQUENCE, that no one Genius can excel in more than one Art or Science. The consequence shews the necessity of the precept, just as the premises, from which the consequence is drawn, shew the reasonableness of it.
Ver. 51. And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.] Besides the peculiar sense explained above in the Comment, the words have still a more general meaning, and caution us against going
Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit,
on, when our ideas begin to grow obscure; as we are then most apt to do; though that obscurity be an admonition that we should leave off, for it arises, either from our small acquaintance with the subject, or the incomprehensibility of its nature. In which circumstances a genius will always write as badly as a dunce. An observation well worth the attention of all profound writers.
Warburton. Ver. 56. Thus in the Soul] The beauty of imagery in these lines should not make us blind to the want of justness in the thought. To represent strength of memory as incompatible with solidity of understanding, is so obviously contrary to fact, that I presume the author had in his eye only the case of extraordinary memory for names, dates, and things, which offer no ideas to the mind; which has, indeed, been often displayed in great perfection by mere idiots. For, it is difficult to conceive how the faculty of judgment, which consists in the comparison of different ideas, can at all be exercised without the power of storing up ideas in the mind, and calling them forth when required. From the second couplet, apparently meant to be the converse of the first, one would suppose that he consulted the understanding and the imagination as the same faculty, else the counterpart is defective. Further, so far is it from being true that imagination obliterates the figures of memory, that the circumstance which causes a thing to be remembered, is principally its being associated with other ideas by the agency of the imagination. If the poet only meant, that those ideas about which imagination is occupied, are apt to exclude ideas of a different kind, the remark is true, but it should have been differently expressed.