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ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none Go just alike, yet each believes his own. In poets as true genius is but rare, True taste as seldom is the critic's share: Both must alike from Heaven derive their light, These born to judge, as well as those to write. Let such teach others who themselves excel; 15 And censure freely, who have written well.
15 Let such teach others. The inadequacy of all but artists to judge of an art is a maxim of ancient origin. 'De pictore, sculptore, fictore, nisi artifex, judicare non potest,'says Pliny.
Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true;
Yet if we look more closely, we shall find
right; But as the slightest sketch, if justly traced, Is by ill-coloring but the more disgraced, So by false learning is good sense defaced : 25 Some are bewilder'd in the maze of schools, And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools: In search of wit these lose their common sense, And then turn critics in their own defence: Each burns alike, who can or cannot write, 30 Or with a rival's or an eunuch's spite. All fools have still an itching to deride, And fain would be upon the laughing side. , Yet, for what tribunal do painters and sculptors exert their skill? for the eyes of the multitude; in other words, they appeal to the judgment of those, who, in a thousand instances, can have no direct knowlege of the processes, or even of the principles, of art. The truth is, that the maxim, whether in the works of the pen, the pencil, or the chisel, is little more than an ingenious subterfuge from criticism. It will be readily conceded, that the practised writer or artist alone can derive full enjoyment from, or exercise the most accurate judgment on, a fine performance : but the work which fails of pleasing the taste of the multitude has defects which no subterfuge can shelter, and no dexterity can argue into perfections.
32 All fools have still an itching to deride. Warburton conceives this to allude to idiots and natural fools, who are observed to be ever on the grin.' It more obviously alludes to the foolish jealousy which tempts inferior writers to ridicule those whom they cannot hope to equal. One of the well-known absurdities of Hobbes was his attributing laughter to pride!
If Mævius scribble in Apollo's spite,
34 There are, who judge still worse than he can write.
Some have at first for wits, then poets pass’d, Turn'd critics next, and proved plain fools at last: Some neither can for wits nor critics pass, As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass, Those half-learn'd witlings, numerous in our isle, As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile; 41 Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call, Their generation's so equivocal: To tell them would a hundred tongues require, Or one vain wits, that might a hundred tire. 45
But you, who seek to give and merit fame, And justly bear a critic's noble name, Be sure yourself and your own reach to know, How far your genius, taste, and learning go; Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet; And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.
51 Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit, And wisely curb’d proud man's pretending wit. As on the land while here the ocean gains, In other parts it leaves wide sandy plains; 55 Thus in the soul while memory prevails, The solid power of understanding fails ; Where beams of warm imagination play, The memory's soft figures melt away.
41 Insects on the banks of Nile. Fenton amusingly, and with sufficient truth, pronounces the Nile to be as fruitful of English similes as the sun ;' compassionately adding, that it would be as hard to restrain a young poet from either, as forbidding fire and water was esteemed among the Romans.'
One science only will one genius fit; 60
60 One science only will one genius fit. Warton vindicates this maxim; but adduces only the weak examples ;-that La Fontaine wrote clever tales, but was hissed in comedy; that Terence made no attempt in tragedy; that Rowe's · Biter' was wretched; that Heemskirk and Teniers could never have succeeded in the sublime of painting ; that Tully made bad verses, &c. However, he has the candor to acknowlege other instances against him; and what are these ? that Garrick could alike personate Lear and Abel Drugger; and that Macbeth and Falstaff were the work of the same pen.
Roscoe, on the other hand, charges both the poet and the commentator with an attempt to depreciate the powers of the human mind; and adduces the examples of Michael Angelo, the sculptor, painter, architect, and poet;' of Bacon, and Shakspeare. The actual argument in the text seems to have equally escaped both. Warton coincides with Pope on palpably inadequate grounds: for his evidences from the failures of writers and artists in different styles of their own arts, are trifling: Roscoe's evidences from the success of writers and artists in different styles of their own arts, are not less insuffi. cient. The painting, sculpture, and architecture of Angelo are too analogous to each other to afford an argument for the universality of genius: as a poet, he was nothing. And what was the science of Shakspeare, beyond the drama ? The true question is, whether any pre-eminent genius has ever maintained his pre-eminence in more than one province of intellectual distinction; whether the great poet, the great painter, the great orator, the great mathematician,- whether any man, standing in the foremost rank of mind, has ever been enabled to pursue fame with complete success in more directions than one. We do not here speak of the general activity which loves
First follow Nature, and your judgment frame
Those rules of old discover'd, not devised,
dites, When to repress, and when indulge our flights : High on Parnassus' top her sons she show'd, And pointed out those arduous paths they trod; to throw off its superfluous force on every pursuit within its reach : we speak of equal triumphs achieved in totally separate departments by powers of the first order. Probably not a single instance of the kind is discoverable in the whole history of man.