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They mistake the whole matter. It is not charity to encourage them in the way they follow, but to get them out of it; for men are not bunglers because they are poor, but they are poor because they are bunglers.
Is it not pleasant enough, to hear our authors crying out on the one hand, as if their persons and characters were too sacred for satire ; and the public objecting on the other, that they are too mean even for ridicule ? But whether bread or fame be their end, it must be allowed, our author, by and in this poem, has mercifully given them a little of both.
There are two or three, who by their rank and fortune have no benefit from the former objections, supposing them good; and these I was sorry to see in such company: but if, without any provocation, two or three gentlemen will fall on one, in an affair wherein his interest and reputation are equally embarked; they cannot certainly, after they have been content to print themselves his enemies, complain of being put into the number of them.
Others, I am told, pretend to have been once his friends : surely they are their enemies who say so; since nothing can be more odious than to treat a friend as they have done : but of this I cannot persuade myself, when I consider the constant and eternal aversion of all bad writers to a good
Such as claim a 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 theirs. That had truly been a sign he was of their acquaintance; but would not the malicious world have suspected such an approbation of some motive worse than ignorance, in the author of the · Essay on Criticism ?' Be it as it will, the reasons of their admiration and of his contempt are equally subsisting; for his works and theirs are the very same that they were.
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 modesty to claim this as a justice; it lies not on him, but intirely on the public, to defend its own judgment.
There remains what, in my opinion, might seem a better plea for these people, than any they have made use of. If obscurity 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 ridicule when a man sets up for being handsome; 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 never to be made so in complaisance to a few who are. Accordingly, we find that in all ages, all vain pretenders, 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 judgment 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 has met with the better fate, as he has had for his translators persons of the most eminent rank and abilities in their respective nations. But the resem
blance holds in nothing more, than in their being equally abused by the ignorant pretenders to poetry of their times; of which not the least memory will remain but in their own writings, and in the notes made on 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 in no more; 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 others were his enemies. However, 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 or 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; he 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 favor, but what was done him in his friends. As his satires were the more just for being delayed, so were his panegyrics ; bestowed only on such persons as he had familiarly known, only for such virtues as he had long observed in them, and only in 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 himself; as none, it is plain, was so little in their friendships, or so much in that of those whom they had most abused, namely, the greatest and best of all parties. Let me add a farther reason; that, though engaged in their friendships, he never espoused their animosities; and can almost singly challenge this honor, not to have written a line of any man, which, through guilt, through shame, or through fear, through variety of fortune, or change of interests, he was ever unwilling to own.
I shall conclude with remarking what 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 illnature, 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 to his subject and his manner, vetustis dare novitatem, obsoletis nitorem, obscuris lucem, fastiditis gratiam.'
Your most humble servants
WILLIAM CLELAND.2 St. James's, Dec. 22, 1728.
2 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 the 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.-P. +
HIS PROLEGOMENA AND ILLUSTRATIONS
HYPERCRITICS OF ARISTARCHUS.
Dennis, Remarks on Prince Arthur. 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 on whom the reflections are made. It is true, it may 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 recourse to something in which they may be more successful.
Character of Mr. Pope, 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 on 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-natured thing to expose the pre