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No. 253. THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20.
Indignor quicquam reprehendi, non quia crasse
HOR. 1 Ep. ii, 76.
THERE is nothing which more denotes a great mind, than the abhorrence of envy and detraction. This passion reigns, more among bad poets, than among any other set of men.
As there are none more ambitious of fame, than those who are conversant in poetry, it is very natural for such as have not succeeded in it, to depreciate the works of those who have. For since they cannot raise themselves to the reputation of their fellow-writers, they must endeavour to sink it to their own pitch, if they would still keep themselves upon a level with them.
The greatest wits that ever were produced in one age, lived together in so good an understanding, and celebrated one another with so much generosity, that each of them receives an additional lustre from his contemporaries, and is more famous for having lived with men of so extraordinary a genius, than if he had himself been the sole wonder of the age. I need not tell my reader, that I here point at the reign of Augustus, and I believe he will
be of my opinion, that neither Virgil nor Horace would have gained so great a reputation in the world, had they not been the friends and admirers of each other. Indeed all the great writers of that age, for whom singly we have so great an esteem, stand up together as vouchers for one another's reputation. But at the same time that Virgil was celebrated by Gallus, Propertius, Horace, Varius, Tucca, and Ovid, we know that Bavius and Mævius were his declared foes and calumniators.
In our own country a man seldom sets up for a poet, without attacking the reputation of all his brothers in the art. The ignorance of the moderns, the scribblers of the age, the decay of poetry, are the topics of detraction, with which he makes his entrance into the world: but how much more noble is the fame that is built on candour and ingenuity, according to those beautiful lines of Sir John Denham, in his poem on Fletcher's works!
But whither am I stray'd! I need not raise
Must have their brothers, sons, and kindred slain. I am sorry to find that an author, who is very justly esteemed among the best judges, has admitted some strokes of this nature into a very fine poem, I mean · The Art of Criticism,' which was published some months since, and is a master-piece in its kind.' 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 author. They are some of them uncommon, but such as the reader must assent to, when he sees them explained with that elegance and perspicuity in which they are delivered. As for those which are the most known, and the most received, they are placed in so beautiful a light, and illustrated with such apt allusions, that they have in them all the graces of novelty, and make the reader, who was before acquainted with them, still more convinced of their truth and solidity. And here give me leave to mention what Monsieur Boileau has so very well enlarged upon in the preface to his works, that wit and fine writing doth not consist so much in advancing things that are new, as in giving things that are known an agreeable turn. It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or in any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others. We have little else left us, but to represent the common sense of mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights. If a reader examines Horace's Art of Poetry, he will find but very few precepts in it, which he may not meet with in Aristotle, and which were not commonly known by all the poets of the Augustan age. His way of expressing and applying them, not his invention of them, is what we are chiefly to admire.
Some strokes of this nature. If, by strokes of this nature, he meant strokes of personal detraction, it is certain that we now perceive no such strokes in the Art of Criticism. But, I suppose, that some general reflections in that poem were understood, at the time of its publication, to be particular and personal; or, the candour and gentleness of Mr. Addison's
temper, might take offence at general satire, when expressed with a cer• tain force.-H.
And yet some of Addison's commentators, and Hurd among them, lovo to find out personal allusions in many of his own writings; and Steele expressly tells us, that he has more than once taken upon himself the blame which would have fallen upon Addison, if all the papers in the Tatler, &c., had been assigned to their real author. V. vol. i. p. 274.--G.
1 "I have a further request, which I must press with earnestness. My bookseller is reprinting the “Essay on Criticism,' to which you have done too much honor in your Spectator of No. 253. The period in that paper where you say, 'I have admitted some strokes of ill-nature into that essay,' is the only one I would wish omitted of all you have written; but I would not desire it should be so, unless I had the merit of removing your objection. I beg you but to point out those strokes to me, and you may be assured they shall be treated without mercy.”_Pope to Ad. dison, Let xvi., Oct. 10, 1714. V. also Roscoe's Life of Pope, ch. ii.--G,
For this reason I think there is nothing in the world so tiresome as the works of those critics, who write in a positive dogmatic way, without either language, genius, or imagination. If the reader would see how the best of the Latin critics writ, he may find their manner very beautifully described in the characters of Horace, Petronius, Quintilian, and Longinus, as they are drawn in the essay of which I am now speaking.
Since I have mentioned Longinus, who in his reflections has given us the same kind of sublime, which he observes in the several passages that occasioned them; I cannot but take notice, that our English author has after the same manner exemplified several of his precepts in the very precepts themselves. I shall produce two or three instances of this kind. Speaking of the insipid smoothness which some readers are so much in love with, he has the following verses.
These equal syllables alone require,
The gaping of the vowels in the second line, the expletive do in the third, and the ten monosyllables in the fourth, give such a beauty to this passage, as would have been very much admired in an ancient poet. The reader may observe the following lines in the same view.
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,