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Thursday, December 20. [1711.]
Indignor quicquam reprehendi, non quia crasse
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 5 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, 15 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 25 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 scriblers of the age, the
decay of Poetry, are the topicks 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 5 Fletcher's works !
But whither am I straid? I need not raise
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 15 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 20 sees them explained with that elegance and perspecuity 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 25 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 30 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.
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,
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line.
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
Soft is the strain when Zephir gently blows,
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
Sisyphus is represented lifting his stone up the hill, which is 15 no sooner carried to the top of it, but it immediately tumbles
to the bottom. This double motion of the stone is admirably described in the numbers of these verses ; as in the four first it is heaved up by several Spondees intermixed with proper breath
ing-places, and at last trundles down in a continued line of 20 Dactyls.
Και μήν Σίσυφον εισείδον, κρατέρ' άλγε έχοντα,
Λάαν άνω ώθεσκε ποτί λόφον. αλλ' ότε μέλλοι 25
"Ακρον υπερβαλέειν, τότ' αποστρέψασκε κραταιές
Αυτις, έπειτα πέδονδε κυλίνδετο λάας αναιδής. It would be endless to quote verses out of Virgil which have this particular kind of beauty in the numbers; but I may take
an occasion in a future paper to shew several of them which 30
have escaped the observation of others.
I cannot conclude this paper without taking notice, that we have three poems in our tongue, which are of the same nature, and each of them a master-piece in its kind ; the Essay on
translated verse, the Essay on the art of poetry, and the Essay 35 upon criticism.
N° 269. Tuesday, January 8. [1712.]
Ævo rarissima nostro
I was this morning surprized with a great knocking at the door, when my Landlady's daughter came up to me and told me there was a man below desired to speak with me. Upon my asking her who it was, she told me it was a very grave elderly person, but that she did not know his name. I immediately went down to him, and found him to be the coachman of my worthy friend Sir ROGER DE COVERLY. He told me that his master came to town last night, and would be glad to take a turn with me in Grays-Inn walks. As I was wondring in my self what had brought Sir Roger to town, not having lately received any
letter from him, he told me that his master was come up to get a sight of Prince Eugene, and that he desired I would immediately meet him.
I was not a little pleased with the curiosity of the old Knight, though I did not much wonder at it, having heard him say more than once in private discourse, that he looked upon Prince Eugenio (for so the Knight always calls him) to be a greater man than Scanderbeg.
I was no sooner come into Grays-Inn walks, but I heard my friend upon the Terrace hemming twice or thrice to himself with great vigour, for he loves to clear his pipes in good air (to make use of his own phrase) and is not a little pleased with any one who takes notice of the strength which he still exerts in his morning hemms.
I was touched with a secret joy at the sight of the good old man, who before he saw me was engaged in conversation with a beggar man that had asked an alms of him. I could hear my friend chide him for not finding out some work; but at the same time saw him put his hand in his pocket and give him six-pence.