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AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
The force, acuteness, and knowlege displayed in this poem exhibit one of the most extraordinary instances of early powers in the annals of poetry; for the writer was but twenty years old. The division of the poem is clear: though in one continued effusion of keen thought and animated poetry, it is technically divided into three parts: the first, to verse 201, expatiates on the study of the critical art; the second, to verse 560, develops the besetting sins of erroneous judgment; and the third states, what may be termed, the morality of criticism.
The theory of criticism in letters and the fine arts is probably as old as the first inventions of genius : Aristotle, Longinus, and Horace, are familiar to all scholars. They have fallen into occasional disrepute, as attempting to teach what is unteachable, the attainment of excellence by rule; but the truer estimate of those great investigators of the laws of genius would be, that they labor to exalt our conception of the nobler works of mind, by discovering the founts from which they flow, by refining our feelings of delight in their enjoyment, by drawing the distinction between extravagance and originality, and by fixing our intire sense on the simplicity, the grandeur, and the beauty, of the matchless whole. Treatises thus devised, less to smoothe the path, than lead the eye, to perfection, have been frequent in the literature of England: sir Philip Sydney's 'Defence of Poesie,' Ben Jonson's Discoveries,' Cowley's “ Preface and Notes,' Temple's · Essays,' Dryden's ' Essay and Prefaces on Dramatic Poetry,' and the · Essays' of Roscommon and Buckingham, were among the most prominent. Pope had learned the art from a still superior teacher: he was a critic from his birth; but no man availed himself more diligently of all that was solid in the labors of others; and his · Essay' may be regarded as a condensation of the chief rules of English taste, expressed with the precision of system, and decorated with the graces of fancy.
Ver. 203, &c. Causes hindering a true judgment. 1. Pride,
ver. 208. 2. Imperfect learning, ver. 215. 3. Judging by
Ver. 560, &c. Rules for the conduct of manners in a critic.
1. Candor, 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, &c. 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.