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attempt but to do well; at least, I would not have them worse used than one of their brethren was by Sylla the Dictator :-Quem in concione vidimus, (says Tully,) cum ei libellum malis poeta de populo subjecisset, quod epigramma in eum fecisset tantummodo alternis versibus longiusculis, statim ex iis rebus quas tunc vendebat jubere ei præmium tribui, sub ea conditione ne quid postea scriberet. I could wish with all my heart, replied Crites, that many whom we know were as bountifully thanked upon the same condition,—that they would never trouble us again. For amongst others, I have a mortal apprehension, of two poets, whom this victory, with the help of both her wings, will never be able to escape. 'Tis easy to guess whom you intend, said Lisideius; and without naming them, I ask you, if one of them does not perpetually pay us with clenches upon words, and a certain clownish kind of raillery? if now and then he does not offer at a catachresis or Cleivelandism, wresting and torturing a word into another meaning: in fine, if he be not one of those whom the French would call un mauvais buffon ; one who is so much a well-willer to the satire, that he intends at least to spare no man; and though he cannot strike a blow to hurt any, yet he ought
3 Perhaps the writer first alluded to was Dr. Robert Wild, author of Iter BOREALE, a panegyrick on General Monck, published in April, 1660, and often re-printed ; which may be the famous poem alluded to in p. 39. His works were collected and published in a small volume, in . 1668. The other poet may have been Richard Flecknoe. Both these poets celebrated the Dutch defeat.
to be punished for the malice of the action, as our witches are justly hanged, because they think themselves to be such ; and suffer deservedly for believing they did mischief, because they meant it. You have described him, said Crites, so exactly, that I am afraid to come after you with my other extremity of poetry: he is one of those who, haying had some advantage of education and converse, knows better than the other what a poet should be, but puts it into practice more unluckily than any man. His style and matter are every where alike: he is the most calm, peaceable writer you ever read: he never disquiets your passions with the least concernment, but still leaves you in as even a temper as he found you ; he is a very leveller in poetry : he creeps along with ten little words in every line,+ and helps out his numbers with For to, and Unto, and all the pretty expletives he can find, till he drags them to the end of another line; while the sense is left tired half way behind it: he doubly starves all his verses, first for want of thought, and then of expression. His poetry neither has wit in it, nor seems to have it ; like him in Martial :
L O NG Pauper videri Cinna vult, et est pauper. He affects plainness, to cover his want of imagination : when he writes the serious way, the
“This passage evidently furnished Pope with his well. known couplet in the Essay on CRITICISM ;
“ While expletives their feeble aid do join,
highest flight of his fancy is some miserable antithesis, or seeming contradiction; and in the comick he is still reaching at some thin conceit, the ghost of a jest, and that too flies before him, never to be caught. These swallows which we see before us on the Thames, are the just resemblance of his wit: you may observe how near the water they stoop, how many proffers they make to dip, and yet how seldom they touch it; and when they do, it is but the surface : they skim over it but to catch a gnat, and then mount into the air and leave it.
Well, gentlemen, said Eugenius, you may speak your pleasure of these authors; but though I and some few more about the town may give you a peaceable hearing, yet assure yourselves, there are multitudes who would think you malicious and them injured : especially him whom you first described. He is the very Withers* of the city : they have bought more editions of his works than would serve to lay under all their pies at the lord mayor's Christmas. When his famous poem first came out in the year 1660, I have seen them reading it in the midst of 'Change time; nay so vehement they were at it, that they lost their bargain by the candles' ends :' but what will you say, if he has been received amongst great persons ? I can assure you
* George Wither, à very voluminous poetaster.See Wood's Ath. Oxon. vol. ii. col. 391.
SA sale by the candle is one of the modes of selling goods by publick auction.
he is, this day, the envy of one who is lord in the art of quibbling ; and who does not take it well, that any man should intrude so far into his province. All I would wish, replied Crites, is, that they who love his writings, may still admire him, and his fellow poet : Qui Bavium non odit, &c. is curse sufficient. And farther, added Lisideius, I believe there is no man who writes well, but would think he had hard measure, if their admirers should praise anything of his : Nam quos contemnimus, eorum quoque laudes contemnimus. There are so few who write well in this age, said Crites, that methinks any praises should be welcome; they neither rise to the dignity of the last age, nor to any of the ancients: and we may cry out of the writers of this time, with more reason than Petronius of his, Pace vestrá liceat dixisse, primi omnium eloquentiam perdidistis : you have debauched the true old poetry so far, that Nature, which is the soul of it, is not in any of your writings. . lle firera Lorenzo
If your quarrel (said Eugenius) to those who now write, be grounded only on your reverence to antiquity, there is no man more ready to adore those great Greeks and Romans than I am: but on the other side, I cannot think so contemptibly of the age in which I live, or so dishonourably of my own country, as not to judge we equal the ancients in most kinds of poesy, and in some surpass them ; neither know I any reason why I may not be as zealous for the reputation of our age, as we find the ancients themselves were in reference to
those who lived before them. For you hear your Horace* saying, int
Indignor quidquam reprehendi, non quia crassé
Compositum, illepidève putetur, sed quia nuper. And after
Si meliora dies, ut vina, poemata reddit, Scire velim, pretium chartis quotus arroget annus ? But I see I am engaging in a wide dispute, where the arguments are not like to reach close on either side ; for poesy is of so large an extent, and so many both of the ancients and moderns have done well in all kinds of it, that in citing one against the other, we shall take up more time this evening than each man's occasions will allow him: therefore I would ask Crites to what part of poesy he would confine his arguments, and whether he would defend the general cause of the ancients against the moderns, or oppose any age of the moderns against this of ours?
Crites, a little while considering upon this demand, told Eugenius, that if he pleased, he would limit their dispute to Dramatick Poesy; in which he thought it not difficult to prove, either that the ancients were superior to the moderns, or the last age to this of ours.
Eugenius was somewhat surprised, when he heard Crites make choice of that subject. For aught I see, said he, I have undertaken a harder province than I imagined; for though I never
* This passage adds some support to my conjecture, that Crites was intended to represent lord Roscommon.