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When first that sun too powerful beams dis
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 Sbakspeare 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
Unhappy wit, like most mistaken things,
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 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.'
Of old, those met rewards who could excel, 510
When love was all an easy monarch's care;
Learn then what morals critics ought to show; For 'tis but half a judge's task, to know. 561
541 And not a mask, &c. Alluding to the custom in that age of ladies going in masks to the play.
544 Foreign reign. The reign of William III.
'Tis not enough, taste, judgment, learning join;
Be silent always, when you doubt your sense;
'Tis not enough your counsel still be true; Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods
do: Men must be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown proposed as things forgot. Without good-breeding truth is disapproved ; 576 That only makes superior sense beloved.
Be niggards of advice on no pretence; For the worst avarice is that of sense : With mean complacence ne'er betray your trust, Nor be so civil as to prove unjust:
581 Fear not the anger of the wise to raise; Those best can bear reproof, who merit praise.
"Twere well might critics still this freedom take; But Appius reddens at each word you speak, 585 And stares, tremendous, with a threatening eye, Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry. Fear most to tax an honorable fool, Whose right it is, uncensured, to be dull : Such, without wit, are poets when they please, 590 As without learning they can take degrees. Leave dangerous truths to unsuccessful satires, And flattery to some fulsome dedicators,