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For a person of only twenty years old to have produced such an Essay, so replete with a knowledge of life and manners, such accurate observations on men and books, such variety of literature, such strong good sense, and refined taste and judgment, has been the subject of frequent and of just admiration. It may fairly entitle him to the character of being one of the first of critics, though surely not of poets, as Dr. Johnson asserts.
Dr. Warburton, endeavouring to demonstrate, what Addison could not discover, nor what Pope himself, according to the testimony of his intimate friend, Richardson, ever thought of or intended, that this Essay was written with a methodical and systematical regularity, has accompanied the whole with a long and laboured commentary, in which he has tortured many passages to support this groundless opinion. Warburton had certainly wit, genius, and much miscellaneous learning ; but was perpetually dazzled and misled, by the eager desire of seeing every thing in a new light unobserved before, into perverse interpretations and forced comments. His passion being (as Longinus expresses it) του ξένας νοήσεις αιεί κινείν. It is painful to see such abilities wasted on such unsubstantial objects—accordingly his notes on Shakspeare have been totally demolished by Edwards and Malone ; and Gibbon has torn up by the roots his fanciful and visionary interpretation of the sixth book of Virgil : and but few readers, I believe, will be found that will cordially subscribe to an opinion lately delivered, that his notes on Pope's Works are the very best ever given on any classic whatever. For, to instance no other, surely the attempt to reconcile the doctrines of the Essay on Man, to the doctrines of Revelation, is the rashest adventure in which ever critic yet engaged ; this is, in truth, to divine, rather than to explain an author's meaning.
For these reasons, it is not thought proper to accompany this Essay with a perpetual commentary—a poem, as hath been well observed, that consists of precepts, is so far arbitrary and immethodical, that many of the paragraphs may change places with no apparent inconvenience ; for of two or more positions, depending on some remote principle, there is seldom any cogent reason, why one should precede the other.—Warton.
Of the general excellence of the Essay on Criticism all its commentators are agreed. Johnson says, that “if Pope had written nothing else, it would have placed him among the first critics and the first poets ; as it exhibits every mode of excellence that can embellish or dignify didactic composition-selection of matter, novelty of arrangement, justness of precepts, splendour of illustration, and propriety of digression.”—But with regard to its order and arrangement, as well as in some other respects, very different opinions have been entertained. Dr. Warburton, dissatisfied with the critique of Addison in the Spectator (No. 235), where it is said that the observations in the Essay follow one another without that methodical regularity that would have been requisite in a prose writer, has asserted that it is a regular piece, written on an uniform and consistent plan ; which
he has endeavoured to prove by a commentary, published by him in the life-time of Pope, and highly commended by him. This idea Dr. Warton has strenuously controverted; contending that Pope never intended to write this Essay with a systematical regularity, and that Warburton had tortured many passages, in order to give it a meaning which it otherwise had not. To these observations it might perhaps be sufficient to reply, that although the Essay on Criticism is not professedly written on a regular plan, yet it cannot be denied that a certain degree of order and succession prevails, which leads the reader through the most important topics connected with the subject; thereby uniting the charm of variety with the regularity of art. That Warburton has with great labour and ingenuity traced the thread that connects the whole, is in no degree injurious to the work ; but, on the contrary, serves to explain the author's meaning, and exemplify his precepts, on many occasions, where the nature of poetry, which abhors nothing so much as the appearance of formality and restraint, would not permit him to do it himself. “ As the end of method is perspicuity," says Johnson, “ that series is sufficiently regular that avoids obscurity ; and where there is no obscurity, it will not be difficult to discover method.” The commentary of Warburton may therefore be considered as calculated to render the precepts of the poem applicable to general use. To which it may be added, that if this Commentary were only a perverse and forced interpretation, as Warton insinuates, it is scarcely likely that Pope would have approved of it so highly, as not only to speak of it in the warmest terms of admiration ; but to allow it to accompany his own edition of the poem. To assert that Pope was not the best judge of his own meaning, is an insult not only to his understanding, but to common sense ; and to discard the commentary of Warburton, as Warton has done in his edition, in order to replace it by a series of notes, intended to impress the reader with his own opinions, is a kind of infringement on those rights, which had already been decided on by the only person who was entitled to judge on the subject. For these reasons I have thought it advisable, in this edition, to restore the commentary of Warburton entire, which has only been partially done by Mr. Bowles ; conceiving that it is as injurious, if not more so, to the commentator, whose object it is to demonstrate the order and consistency of the poem, to deprive him of a portion of his remarks, as it is to deprive him of them altogether. At the same time it must be allowed, that the notes of Dr. Warton on this Essay are, in general, excellent, and add greatly to its value.
INTRODUCTION: That 'tis as great a fault to judge ill, as to write ill, and
a more dangerous one to the public, ver. 1. That a true Taste is as rare to be found as a true Genius, ver. 9 to 18. That most men are born with some Taste, but spoild by false Education,
ver. 19 to 25. The Multitude of Critics, and causes of them, ver. 26 to 45. That we are to study our own taste, and know the Limits of it, ver. 46 to
67. Nature the best guide of Judgment, ver. 68 to 87. Improved by Art and Rules, which are but methodised Nature, ver. 88. Rules derived from the practice of the Ancient Poets, ver. 88 to 110. That therefore the Ancients are necessary to be studied by a Critic, parti
cularly Homer and Virgil, ver. 120 to 138. Of Licenses, and the use of them by the Ancients, ver. 142 to 180. Reverence due to the Ancients, and praise of them, ver. 181, &c.
PART II. Ver. 203, &c. Causes hindering a true Judgment. 1. Pride, ver. 208. 2. Imperfect
Learning, ver. 215. 3. Judging by parts, and not by the whole, ver. 233 to 288.
Critics in Wit, Language, Versification, only, ver. 288. 305. 339, &c. 4. Being too hard to please, or too apt to admire, ver. 384. 5. Partiality—too much love to a sect,-to the Ancients or Moderns, ver. 324. 6. Prejudice or Prevention, ver. 408. 7. Singularity, ver. 424. 8. Inconstancy, ver. 430. 9. Party Spirit, ver. 452, &c. 10. Envy, ver. 466. Against Envy and in praise of Good-nature, ver. 508, &c. When Severity is chiefly to be used by Critics, ver. 526, &c.
PART III. Ver. 560, &c. Rules for the conduct of Manners in a Critic. 1. Candour, ver. 563.
Modesty, ver. 566. Good-breeding, ver. 572. Sincerity and Freedom of Advice, ver. 578. 2. When one's Counsel is to be restrained, ver, 584. Character of an incorrigible Poet, ver. 600. And of an impertinent Critic, ver. 610. Character of a good Critic, ver. 629. The History of Criticism, and characters of the best Critics, Aristotle, ver. 645. Horace, ver. 653. Dionysius, ver. 665. Petronius, ver. 667. Quintilian, ver. 670. Longinus, ver. 675. Of the decay of Criticism, and its Revival, Erasmus, ver. 693. Vida, ver. 705. Boileau, ver. 714. Lord Roscommon, &c. ver. 725. Conclusion.
ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
WITH THE COMMENTARY OF WILLIAM WARBURTON, D.D.
'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill Appear in writing or in judging ill;
An Essay] The poem is in one book, but divided into three principal parts or numbers. The first, (to ver. 201,) gives rules for the Study of the Art of Criticism : the second [from thence to ver. 560) exposes the Causes of wrong Judgment ; and the third (from thence to the end) marks out the Morals of the Critic.
In order to a right conception of this poem, it will be necessary to observe, that though it be entitled simply An Essay on Criticism, yet several of the precepts relate equally to the good writing as well as the true judging of a poem. This is so far from violating the Unity of the subject, that it preserves and completes it : or from disordering the regularity of the Form, that it adds beauty to it, as will appear by the following considerations : 1. It was impossible to give a full and exact idea of the Art of Poetical Criticism, without considering at the same time the Art of Poetry ; so far as Poetry is an Art. These therefore being closely connected in nature, the anthor has, with much judgment, interwoven the precepts of each reciprocally through his whole poem. 2. As the rules of the ancient critics were taken from Poets who copied nature, this is another reason why every poet should be a critic : therefore as the subject is poetical Criticism, it is frequently addressed to the critical Poet. And 3dly, the Art of Criticism is as properly, and much more usefully exercised in writing, than in judging.
But readers have been misled by the modesty of the Title, which only promises an Art of Criticism, to expect little, where they will find a great deal ; a treatise, and that no incomplete one, of the Art both of Criticism and Poetry. This, and the not attending to the considerations offered above, was what, perhaps, misled a very candid writer, after having given the Essay on Criticism all the praises on the side of genius and poetry which his true taste could not refuse it, to say, that the observations follow one another like those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical regularity which would have been requisite in a prose writer. Spect. No. 235. I do not see how method can hurt any one grace of Poetry ; or what prerogative there is in Verse to dispense with regularity. The remark is false in every part of it. Mr. Pope's Essay on Criticism, the reader will soon see, is a regular piece. And a very learned Critic has lately shown, that Horace had the same attention to method in his Art of Poetry. See Mr. Hurd's Comment on the Epistle to the Pisos.
Ver. 1. 'Tis hard to say. &c.] The Poem opens [from ver. 1 to 9] with showing the use and seasonableness of the subject. Its use, from the greater
But, of the two, less dang’rous is th' offence
'Tis with our judgments, as our watches, none
mischief in wrong criticism than in ill poetry ; this only tiring, that misleading the reader. Its seasonableness, from the growing number of bad critics, which now vastly exceeds that of bad poets.
Ver. 9. 'Tis with our judgments, &c.] The author having shown us the expediency of his subject, the Art of Criticism, inquires next [from ver. 8. to 15) into the proper qualities of a true critic : and observes first, that JUDGMENT, alone, is not sufficient to constitute this character, because judgment, like the artificial measures of Time, goes different, and yet each man relies upon
The reasoning is conclusive ; and the similitude extremely just. For judgment, when it is alone, is generally regulated, or at least much influenced, by custom, fashion, and habit ; and never certain and constant but when founded upon and accompanied by TASTE : which is in the Critic, what in the Poet, we call GENIUS : both are derived from Heaven, and like the Sun, the natural measure of Time, always constant and equable.
Judgment alone, it is allowed, will not make a Poet ; where is the wonder then, that it will not make a critic in poetry ? for on examination we shall find, that Genius and Taste are but one and the same faculty, differently exerting itself under different names, in the two professions of poetry and criticism. The Art of Poetry consists in selecting, out of all those images which present themselves to the fancy, such of them as are truly beautiful ; and the Art of Criticism in discerning, and fully relishing what it finds so selected. The main difference is, that in the Poet, this facuity is eminently joined to a bright imagination, and extensive comprehension, which provide stores for the selection, and can form that selection, by proportioned parts, into a regular whole : in the Critic, it is joined to a solid judgment and accurate discernment, which can penetrate into the causes of an excellence, and display that excellence in all its variety of lights.
Ver. 11. In Poets as true Genius is but rare,] It is indeed so extremely rare, that no country, in the succession of many ages, has produced above three or four persons that deserve the title. The “man of rhymes” may be easily found ; but the genuine poet, of a lively plastic imagination, the true Maker or Creator, is so uncommon a prodigy, that one is almost tempted to subscribe to the opinion of Sir William Temple, where he says, “ That for one man that is born capable of making a great poet, there may be a thousand born capable of making as great generals, or ministers of state, as the most renowned in story.”—Warton.
Ver. 12. True taste as seldom] The first piece of criticism in our