Literary Criticism of Alexander Pope

By Bertrand A. Goldgar | Go to book overview
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An Essay on Criticism (1711)

PART I

Introduction. That 'tis as great a fault to judge ill as to write ill, and a more dangerous one to the public. That a true taste is as rare to be found as a true genius. That most men are born with some taste, but spoiled by false education. The multitude of critics, and causes of them. That we are to study our own taste and know the limits of it. Nature the best guide of judgment. Improved by art and rules, which are but methodized Nature. Rules derived from the practice of the ancient poets. That therefore the Ancients are necessary to be studied by a critic, particularly Homer and Virgil. Of licenses and the use of them by the Ancients. Reverence due to the Ancients, and praise of them.

'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill;
But, of the two, less dangerous is th' offense,
To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.
Some few in that, but numbers err in this,
Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss;
A fool might once himself alone expose,
Now one in verse makes many more in prose.

'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none

Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
10
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,
And censure freely who have written well.
Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true,
But are not critics to their judgment too?

Yet if we look more closely, we shall find

Most have the seeds of judgment in their mind;
20
Nature affords at least a glimmering light;
The lines, though touched but faintly, are drawn right.
But as the slightest sketch, if justly traced,
Is by ill coloring but the more disgraced,

-3-

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