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I Am inclined to think that both the writers of books,
and the readers of them, are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations. The first seem to fancy the world must approve whatever they produce, and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate. Methinks, as on the one hand no single man is born with a right of controlling the opinions of all the rest, so, on the other, the world has no title to demand that the whole care and time of any particular perfon ihould be sacrificed to its entertainment: therefore I cannot but believe that writers and readers are under equal obligations, for as much fame or pleasure as each affords the other.
Every one acknowledges it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man, and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted by the judgment commonly paffed upon poems. A critic luppoles he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point ; and can it then be wondered at if the poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error? for as long as one side will make no allowances, the other will be brought to no acknowledgments*.
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is illplaced, poetry and criticism being by no means the univeriai concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.
Yet ture, upon the whole, a bad author deserves better usage than a bad critic; for a writer's endeavour, for the most part, is to please his readers, and he fails merely through the misfortune of an ill judgment; but such a critic's is to put them out of humour; a design he could never go upon without both that and an ill temper. VOL. I.
* In the former editions it was thus.--- For as long as one side despises a * we l-meant endeavour, the other will not be satisfied with a moderate ap
robation;":--but the Author altered it, as these words were rather a consecuence from the co.clufios be would draw, than the conclu hon iter, whicle be las now inte,ted.
I think a good deal may be faid to extenuate the faults of bad poets. What we call a Genius is hard to be distinguished by a man himself from a strong inclination ; and if his genius be ever fo great, he cannot at first discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistiken. The only method he has is to make the experiment by writing, and appealing to the judgment of others. Now, if he happens to write ill (which is certainly no fin in itfelf) he is immediately made an object of ridicule. I wish we had the humanity to reflect, that even the worst authors might, in their endeavour to pleale us, deserve something at our hands. We have no cause to quarrel with them but for their obstinacy in perfisting to write; and this, tvo, may admit of alleviating circumitances. Their particular friends may be either ignorant or insincere; and the rest of the world in general is too well-bred to shock them with a truth which generally their booksellers are the first that inform them of. This happens not till they have spent too much of their time to apply to any profession which might better fit their talents, and till such talents as they have are so far discredited as to be but of small service to them. For (what is the hardest case imaginable) the reputation of a man generally depends upon the first fteps he makes in the world, and people will establish their opinion of us from what we do at that season when we have leait judgment to direct us.
On the other hand, a good poet no sooner commi.com nicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature, given. up to the ambition of fame,
perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with the fear of being ridiculous. If he is made to hope he may please the world, he falls under very unlucky, circumstances; for, from the moinent he prints, he must expect to hear no more truth than if he were a prince or a beauty. If he has not very good sense (and indeed there are twenty men of wit for one man of sense) his living
thus in a course of flattery may put him in no small danger of becoming a coxcomb; if he has, he will, consequently, have so much diffidence as not to reap any great satisfaction from his praise; fince, if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from Aattery; and if in his absence, it is hard to be certain of it. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as fure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine genius as with a fine fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it; and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so much good as ill-will does him harm. Then there is a third class of people, who make the largest part of mankind, those of ordinary or indifferent capacities, and these, to a man, will hate or fu!pect him; a hundred honest gentlemen will dread him as a wit, and a hundred innocent women as a satirist. In a word, whatever be his fate in poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it.
There are indeed some advantages accruing from a genius to poetry, and they are all I can think of; the agreeable power of self-amusement when a man is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted into the best company; and the freedom of saying as many careless things as other people, without being so feverely remarked upon.
I believe if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration. The life of a wit is a warfare upon earth; and the present fpirit of the learned world is such, that to attempt to serve it, any way, one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its fake. I could wish people would believe, what I am pretty certain they will not, that I have been much less concerned about fame than I durst declare till this occasion, when, methinks, I should find more credit than I could heretofore, since my writings have had their fate already, and it is too late to think of prepossessing the B 2
reader in their favour. I would plead it as some merit in me, that the world has never been prepared for these trifles by prefaces, biassed by recommendation, dazzled with the names of great patrons, wheedled with fine realons and pretences, or troubled with excules. I confess it was want of consideration that made me an author : I writ, because it amused me ; I corrected, because it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write; and I published, because I was told I might please such as it was a credit to please. To what degree I have done this I am really ignorant : I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleafed with them at last; but I have realon to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deserves to do so; for they have always fallen fhort, not only of what I read of others, but even of my own ideas of poetry.
If any one should imagine I am not in earnest, I desire him to reflect, that the Ancients (to say the least of them) had as much genius as we; and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more complete pieces. They constantly applied themselves not only to that art, but to that fingle branch of an art to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the business of their lives to correct and finish their works for posterity. If we can pretend to have used the same industry, let us expect the same immortality: though, if we took the same care, we should still lie under a further misfortune ; they writ in languages that became universal and everlasting, while ours are extremely limited both in extent and in duration. A mighty foundation for our pride! when the utmost we can hope is but to be read in one island, and to be thrown afide at the end of one age.
All that is left us is to recommend our productions hy the imitation of the Ancients: and it will be found true that, in every age, the highest character for sense and learning has been obtained by those who have been
most indebted to them. For, to say truth, whatever is very good sense, must have been common senfe in all times; and what we call Learning, is but the knowledge of the sense of our predecessors. Therefore they who say our thoughts are not our own, because they resemble the Ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our fathers : and indeed it is very unreasonable that people should expect us to be fcholars, and yet be angry to find us fo.
I fairly confess that I have served myself all I could by reading; that I made use of the judgment of authors dead and living; that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errors, both by my friends and enemies : but the true reason these pieces are not more correct, is owing to the confideration how short a time they and I have to live: one may be ashamed to consume half one's days in bringing sense and rhime together; and what critic can be so unreasonable as not to leave a man time enough for any more serious employment, or more agreeable amusement ?
The only plea I shall use for the favour of the public is, that I have as great a respect for it as most authors have for themselves; and that I have facrificed. much of my own self-love for its fake, in preventing not only many mean things from seeing the light, but many which I thought tolerable. I would not be like those authors who forgive themselves some particular lines for the sake of a whole poem, and, vice versa, a whole poem for the sake of some particular lines. I believe no one qualification is so likely to make a good writer as the power of rejecting his own thoughts; and it must be this, if any thing, that can give me a chance to be one. For what I have published I can only hope to be pardoned ; but for what I have burned I deserve to be praised. On this account the world is under some obligation to me, and owes me the justice, in return, to look upon no verses as mine that are not inserted in this Collection. And perhaps nothing could make it worth my while to own what are really so, but to avoid the im