Imágenes de página

suade myself, when I consider the constant and eternal aversion of all bad writers to a good one. Such -as claim merit from being his admirers; I would gladly ask, if it lays him under a personal obligation. At that rate he would be the most obliged humble servant in the world. I. dare swear for these in particular, he never desired them to be his admirers, nor promised in return to be tlieirs: that had truly been a sign he was of their acquaintánce; but would not the malicious world have sus. pected such an approbation of some motive worse than ignorance in the author of the Essay on Criti. cism. Be it as it will, the reasons of their admira. tion and of his contempt are equally subsisting, for his works and theirs are the very same that they were. 1. One, therefore, of their assertions I believe may be true, * That he has a contempt for their writings. And there is another which would probably be sooner allowed by himself than by any good judge beside, "That his own have found too much success with the public.' But as it cannot consist with his mo: desty to claim this as a justice, it lies not on him, but entirely on the public, to defend its own judgement.

There remains what, in my opinion, might seem a better plea for these people, than any they have made use of. If obseurity or poverty were to exempt a man from satire, much more should folly or dulness, which are still more involuntary; nay, as much so as personal deformity. But even this will not help them: deformity becomes an object of ridi. cule when a man sets up for being hapdsome; and so must dulness, when he sets up for a wit. They are not ridiculed because ridicule in itself is, or ought to be, a pleasure; but because it is just to undeceive and vindicate the honest and unpretending part of mankind from imposition, because particular interest ought to yield to general, and a great number who are not naturally fools, ought neser to

be made so, in complaisance to a few who are. "Accordingly we find, that, in all ages, all vain preteuders, were they ever so poor, or ever so dull, have been constantly the topics of the most candid satirists, from the Codrus of Juvenal to the Damon of Boileau.

Having mentioned Boileau, the greatest poet and most judicious critic of his age and country, admirable for his talents, and yet perhaps more admirable for his judgement in the proper application of them; I cannot help remarking the resemblance betwixt him and our author, in qualities, fame, and fortune, in the distinctions shown them' by their superiors, in the general'esteem of their equals, and in their extended reputation amongst foreigners; in the latter of which ours las met with a better fate, as he has had for his translators persons of the most eminent rank and abilities in their respective nations But the resemblance holds in nothing more than in their being equally abused by the ignorant pretenders to poetry of their times; ? of which note the least memory will remain but in their own writings, and in the notes made upon them. What Boileau has done in almost all his poems, our author has only in this: I dare answer for him he will do it no more ; and

* Essay on Criticism in French verse, by General Hamilton; the same, in verse also, by Monsieur Roboton, counsellor and privy secretary to king George I. after by the abbé Reynel in verse, with notes. Rape of the Lock, in French, by the princess of Con. ti, Paris, 1728; and in Italian verse, by the abbé Conti, a noble Venetian; and by themarquis Rangoni, envoy extraordinary from Modena to king George II. Others of his works by Salvini of Florence, &c. His Essays and Dissertations on Homer, several times translated into French. Essay ou Man by the abbé Reynel, in verse; by Monsieur Silhoute, in prose, 1737, and since by others in French, Italian, and

on this principle, of attacking few but who had slandered him, he could not have done it at all; had he been confined from censuring obscure and worthless persons, for scarce any other were his enemies. How. ever, as the parity is so remarkable, I hope it will continue to the last; and if ever he should give us an edition of this poem himself, I may see some of them treated as gently,.on their repentance or better merit, as Perrault and Quinault were at last by Boileau.

In one point'I must be allowed to think the character of our English poet the more amiable. He has not been a follower of fortune or success; ho has lived with the 'great without flattery; been a friend to men in power without pensions, from whom, as he asked, so he received, no favour, but what was done him in his friends. ' As his satires were the more just for being delayed, so were his panegyries; bestowed only on such persons as he had familiarly known, only for such virtues as he had long observed in them, and only at such times as others cease to praise, if not begin to calumniate them, I mean when out of power or out of fashion*. A satire, therefore, on writers so notorious for the contrary practice, became no man so well as him, self; as none, it is plain, was so little in their friend, ships, or so much in that of those whom they had most abused, namely the greatest and best of all parties. Let me add a further reason, that, though engaged in their friendships, he never espoused their animosities; and can almost siugly challenge this honour, not to have written a line of any man,

* As Mr. Wycherley, at the time the town de. claimed against his book of poems; Mr. Walsh, after his death ;, sir William Trumball, when he had resigned the office of secretary of state; lord Bolingbroke, at his leaving England, after the queen's death; lord Oxford, in his last decline of life ; Mr. Secretary, Craggs, at the end of the South-sea year, and after his death : others only in epitaphs.

which through guilt, through shame, or through fear, through variety of fortune, or change of in terests, he was ever unwilling to own. - I shall conclude with remarking, what a pleasure it must be to every reader of humanity, to see all along, that our author, in his very laughter, is not indulging his own ill-nature, but only punishing that of others. As to his poem, those alone are capable of doing it justice, who, to use the words of a great writer, know how hard it is (with regard both ta his subject and his manner) vetustis dure novitatem, obsoletis nitorem, obscuris lucem, fastiditis gratiam.

I am your most humble servant, St. James's,

WILLIAM CLELAND". Dec. 22d, 1728

* This gentleman was of Scotland, and bred at the university of Utrecht with the earl of Mar. He served in Spain under earl Rivers. After the peace, he was made one of the commissioners of customs in Scotland, and then of taxes in England; in which, having shown himself for twenty years diligent, punctual, and incorruptible (though without any other assistance of fortune), he was suddenly displaced by the minister, in the sixty-eighth year of his age, and died two months after, in 1741. He was a person of universal learning, and an enlarged conversation; no man had a warmer heart for his friend, or a sincerer attachment to the constitution of his country

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

I CANNOT but think it the most reasonable thing

in the world, to distinguish good writers, by discouraging the bad. Nor is it an ill-natured thing, in relation even to the very persons upon whom the reflections are made. It is true, it inay deprive them a little the sooner of a short profit and a transitory reputation; but then it may have a good effect, and oblige them (before it be too late) to decline that for which they are so very unfit, and to have re. course to something in which they may be more successful.

Character of Mr. P. 1716. The persons whom Boileau has attacked in his writings have been for the most part authors, and most of those authors, poets : and the censures he hath passed upon them have been confirmed by all Europe.

Gildon, Preface to his New Rehearsal. It is the common cry of the poetasters of the town, and their fautors, that it is an ill.naturated

« AnteriorContinuar »