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Some praise at morning what they blame at night;
Amidst their kindred cobwebs in Duck-lane. 445 If faith itself has different dresses worn,
What wonder modes in wit should take their turn?
Oft, leaving what is natural and fit,
The current folly proves the ready wit;
444 Scotists. The disciples of Johannes Duns Scotus, the great unintelligible doctor, the Kant of his day. Thomists,' the disciples of Thomas Aquinas, celebrated for his singular subtlety, and his 'Summa Summæ,' containing comments on Aristotle, &c.
445 Kindred cobwebs. Bale narrates, as a miracle of the seventh century, that, at the sixth general council of Constantinople, where the mass was established, and the clergy were forbidden to marry, a vast quantity of cobwebs were seen suddenly to fall on the heads of the people.
445 Duck-lane. A place where old and second-hand books were sold formerly, near Smithfield.-Pope.
Some, valuing those of their own side or mind, Still make themselves the measure of mankind: Fondly we think we honor merit then, When we but praise ourselves in other men. 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, beaux; But sense survived when merry jests were pass'd; For rising merit will buoy up at last.
Might he return, and bless once more our eyes,
458 Against Dryden rose. Dryden unhappily exposed himself too much to the censure of the moralist: living in a loose day, he submitted to the general habit, and increased the degeneracy which his powerful mind was given to reclaim. The parson here carelessly alluded to, was Jeremy Collier, a rough critic, but an honest writer: the critic was the duke of Buckingham, who ridiculed with memorable pleasantry the extravagances of Dryden's plays.
463 Milbourns. Luke Milbourn, a clergyman, and a tolerable critic; but, unluckily for his fame, opposed to Pope in his comments on Shakspeare.
465 Zoilus. A lesson to criticism in both his life and death: a general trafficker in abuse, he wrote against all the highest names of Greek literature, Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Demosthenes, &c.: having thus rendered himself obnoxious to his countrymen, he fled to Egypt, where, according to the narrative of Vitruvius, he was seized by Ptolemy Philadelphus, who, in his abhorrence of critical libel, ordered him to be stoned to death.
When first that sun too powerful beams dis
It draws up vapors which obscure its rays;
Be thou the first true merit to befriend;
482 Our sons their fathers' failing language see. This is one of the fantastic sorrows of poetry: the language of Dryden is still as fresh as it was on the day when it flowed from his powerful pen. What portion of the dialect of Shakspeare have we lost? unless a change in the spelling is to be held equivalent to a change in the language. Yet in this instance the trial was the more severe; as within the two hundred years since, England has made unexampled advances in dominion, commerce, science, and the arts, the chief sources of change in a national language. Still, the wit, the eloquence, the pathos, and even the exquisite poetic cadence, of Shakspeare are as vividly preserved and as keenly felt, as in the palaces of Elizabeth. The cause is permanent, and such will be the consequence. The great changes of all languages occur in their earlier periods. While no great writer has arisen to establish the national style, or while the nation continue illiterate, the usage of the populace moulds the language; but that usage varying from year to year, the language must fluctuate. Where the great writer has arisen at last, and where the nation read, his authority becomes a ground of reference; the usage of the vulgar loses its authority; the educated ranks continually adhere to the standard of the national taste; and the reign of vulgarity and of change are alike at an end.
So when the faithful pencil has design'd
Some bright idea of the master's mind,
When the ripe colors soften and unite,
Unhappy wit, like most mistaken things, Atones not for that envy which it brings. In youth alone its empty praise we boast, But soon the short-lived vanity is lost; Like some fair flower the early spring supplies, That gaily blooms, but ev'n in blooming dies. What is this wit, which must our cares employ? The owner's wife, that other men enjoy ; Then most our trouble still when most admired, And still the more we give the more required; Whose fame with pains we guard, but lose with ease; Sure some to vex, but never all to please: "Tis what the vicious fear, the virtuous shun; By fools 'tis hated, and by knaves undone. If wit so much from ignorance undergo, Ah, let not learning too commence its foe!
508 If wit so much from ignorance undergo. Warton refers to the amusing anecdote of Boileau's presenting the order for his pension to the French treasurer. The order was expressed, in satisfaction for his works' the treasurer, who may be supposed to have been buried from his infancy in the dust of his office, asked what kind of works?'- Masonry,' replied the contemptuous bard; 'I am a builder.'
A still more curious example of this species of ignorance
Of old, those met rewards who could excel,
To what base ends, and by what abject ways, 520
But if in noble minds some dregs remain,
Though wit and art conspire to move your mind;
As shameful sure as impotence in love.
lately occurred even in our own stirring country. An opulent banker in the west of England was requested to receive subscriptions for the testimonial to the memory of Sir Walter Scott: the banker gravely replied, that he had no objection to receive the subscriptions, except his never having heard the name before; and he wished previously to know to what firm it belonged.'