Alexander Pope: The Critical Heritage

By John Barnard | Go to book overview

APPENDIX B

'The Ballance of Poets'

1745

From Robert Dodsley's The Museum: or, the Literary and Historical Register, no. xix, 6 December 1745 (1746 ed.), ii. 165-9.

SIR,

M.De Piles is one of the most judicious Authors on the Art of Painting. He has added to his Treatise on that Subject, a very curious Paper, which he calls The Ballance of the Painters. He divides the whole Art of Painting into four Heads; Composition, Design, or Drawing, Colouring, and Expression; under each of which, he assigns the Degree of Perfection which the several Masters have attained. To this End he first settles the Degree of sovereign Perfection, which has never been attain'd, and which is beyond even the Taste of Knowledge of the best Criticks at present; this he rates as the twentieth Degree. The nineteenth Degree is the highest of which the human Mind has any Comprehension, but which has not yet been expressed or executed by the greatest Masters. The eighteenth is that to which the greatest Masters have actually attained; and so downwards according to their comparative Genius and Skill. Monsieur de Piles makes four Columns of his chief Articles or Parts of Painting; and opposite to the Names of the great Masters, writes their several Degrees of Perfection in each Article. The Thought is very ingenious; and had it been executed with Accuracy, and a just Rigour of Taste, would have been of the greatest use to the Lovers of that noble Art. But we can hardly expect that any Man should be exactly right in his Judgment, through such a Multiplicity of the most delicate Ideas.

I have often wished to see a Ballance of this Kind, that might help to settle our comparative Esteem of the greater Poets in the several polite Languages. But as I have never seen nor heard of any such Design, I have here attempted it myself, according to the best Information which

-532-

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