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At the same time I intend to do justice upon our neighbours, inhabitants of the upper Parnassus; who, taking advantage of the rising ground, are perpetually throwing down rubbish, dirt, and stones upon us, never suffering us to live in, peace. These men, while they enjoy the crystal stream of helicon, envy us our common water, which, (thank our stars) though it is somewhat muddy, flows in much greater abundance. Nor is this the greatest injustice, that we have to complain of: for, though it is evident that we never made the least attempt or inrode into their territories, but lived contented in our native fens; they have often not only committed petty larcenies upon our borders, but driven the country, and carried off at once whole cartloads of our manufacture; to reclaim some of which stolen goods is part of the design of this treatise.
For we shall see in the course of this work, that our greatest adversaries have sometimes descended toward us; and doubtless might now and then have arrived at the bathos itself, had it not been for that mistaken opinion they all entertained, that the rules of the ancients were equally necessary to the moderns; than which there cannot be a more grievous errour, as will be amply proved in the following disCOUlrSC. * - - - - -
And indeed when any of these have gone so far, as by the light of their own genius to attempt new models, it is wonderful to observe, how nearly they have approached us in those particular pieces; though in their others they differed toto calo from us.
That the bathos, or profund, is the natural taste of mail, and in particular of the present age.
THE taste of the bathos is implanted by nature itself in the soul of man; till perverted by custom or example, he is taught, or rather compelled to relish the sublime. Accordingly, we see the unprejudiced minds of children delight only in such productions, and in such images, as our true modern writers set before them. I have observed, how fast the general taste is returning to this first simplicity and innocence; and if the intent of all poetry be to divert and instruct, certainly that kind, which diverts and instructs the greatest number, is to be preferred. Let us look round among the admirers of poetry; we shall find those, who have a taste of the sublime, to be very few ; but the profund strikes universally, and is adapted to every capacity. It is a fruitless undertaking to write for men of a nice and foppish gusto, whom after all it is almost impossible to please; and it is still more chimerical to write for posterity, of whose taste we cannot make any judgment, and whose applause we can never enjoy. It must be confessed, our wise authors have a present end,
Et prodesse volunt, et delectare poètae.
Their true design is profit or gain; in order to acquire which, it is necessary to procure applause by admi
administering pleasure to the reader: from whence it follows demonstrably, that their productions must be suited to the present state. And I cannot but congratulate our age on this peculiar felicity, that though we have made indeed great progress in all other branches of luxury, we are not yet debauched with any high relish in poetry, but are in this one taste less nice than our ancestors. If an art is to be estimated by its success, I appeal to experience, whether there have not been, in proportion to their number, as many starving good poets, as bad ones : Nevertheless, in making gain the principal end of our art, far be it from me to exclude any great geniuses of rank or fortune from diverting themselves this way. They ought to be praised no less than those princes, who pass their vacant hours in some ingenious mechanical or manual art. And to such as these, it would be ingratitude not to own, that our art has been often infinitely indebted.
FARTHERMORE, it were great cruelty and injustice, if all such authors as cannot write in the other way, were prohibited from writing at all. Against this I draw an argument from what seems to me an undoubted physical maxim; that poetry is a natural or morbid secretion from the brain. As I would not Suddenly stop a cold in the head, or dry up my neigh
B 4. bour's
bour's issue, I would as little hinder him from necessary writing. It may be affirmed with great truth, that there is hardly any human creature past childhood, but at one time or other has had some poetical evacuation, and, no question, was much the better for it in his health; so true is the saying, mascimur počac. Therefore is the desire of writing properly termed prurious, the “titillation of the generative faculty of the brain,” and the person is said to conceive: now, such as conceive, must bring forth. I have known a man thoughtful, melancholy, and raving for divers days, who forthwith grew wonderfully easy, lightsome, and cheerful, upon a discharge of the peccant humour in exceeding purulent metre. Nor can I question, but abundance of untimely deaths are occasioned for want of this laudable vent of unruly passions: yea, perhaps, in poor wretches (which is very lamentable) for meer want of pen, ink, and paper | From hence it follows, that a suppression of the very worst poetry is of dangerous consequence to the state. We find by experience, that the same humours which vent themselves in summer in ballads and sonnets, are condensed by the winter's cold into pamphlets and speeches for and against the ministry: nay, I know not, but many times a piece of poetry may be the most innocent composition of a minister himself.
It is therefore manifest, that mediocrity ought to be allowed, yea indulged, to the good subjects of England. Nor can I conceive how the world has swallowed the contrary as a maxim, upon the single authority of Horace ". Why should the golden
Mediocribus esse poetis
mean, and quintessence of all virtues, be deemed so offensive in this art 2 or coolness or mediocrity be so amiable a quality in a man, and so detestable in a poet? However, far be it from me to compare these writers with those great spirits, who are born with a vivacité de pesanteur, or (as an English author calls it) an “alacrity of sinking *;” and who by strength of nature alone can excel. All I mean, is, to evince the necessity of rules to these lesser geniuses, as well as the usefulness of them to the greater.
WE come now to prove, that there is an art of sinking in poetry. Is there not an architecture of vaults and cellars, as well as of lofty domes and pyramids 2 Is there not as much skill and labour in making ditches, as in raising mounts : Is there not an art of diving as well as of flying 2 and will any sober practitioner affirm, that a diving engine is not of singular use in making him longwinded, assisting his descent, and furnishing him with more ingenious means of keeping under water If we search the authors of antiquity, we shall find as few to have been distinguished in the true profund, as in the true sublime. And the very
* Spoken by Falstaff of himself in Shakspeare's Merry Wives of Windsor.