For works may have more wit than does 'em good, As bodies perish through excess of blood. Others for language all their care express, And value books, as women men, for dress: Their praise is still—"the style is excellent": The sense, they humbly take upon content. Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
False eloquence, like the prismatic glass, Its gaudy colours spreads on ev'ry place; The face of Nature we no more survey, All glares alike, without distinction gay: But true expression, like th' unchanging sun, Clears, and improves whate'er it shines upon, It gilds all objects, but it alters none.
Expression is the dress of thought, and still Appears more decent, as more suitable; A vile conceit in pompous words express'd, Is like a clown in regal purple dress'd: For diff'rent styles with diff'rent subjects sort, As several garbs with country, town, and court.
Some by old words to fame have made pretence, Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense; Such labour'd nothings, in so strange a style, Amaze th' unlearn'd, and make the learned smile. Unlucky, as Fungoso in the play, These sparks with awkward vanity display What the fine gentleman wore yesterday!
And but so mimic ancient wits at best, As apes our grandsires, in their doublets dress'd. In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold; Alike fantastic, if too new, or old; Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Not yet the last to lay the old aside.
But most by numbers judge a poet's song; And smooth or rough, with them is right or wrong: In the bright Muse though thousand charms conspire, Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire, Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear, Not mend their minds; as some to church repair, Not for the doctrine, but the music there.
These equal syllables alone require, Tho' oft the ear the open vowels tire, While expletives their feeble aid do join, And ten low words oft creep in one dull line, While they ring round the same unvaried chimes, With sure returns of still expected rhymes. Where'er you find "the cooling western breeze", In the next line, it "whispers through the trees": If "crystal streams with pleasing murmurs creep", The reader's threaten'd not in vain with "sleep". Then, at the last and only couplet fraught With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, A needless Alexandrine ends the song, That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, and know What's roundly smooth, or languishingly slow; And praise the easy vigour of a line, Where Denham's strength, and Waller's sweetness join.
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; But when loud surges lash the sounding shore, The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar. When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw, The line too labours, and the words move slow; Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain, Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise, And bid alternate passions fall and rise! While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove Now burns with glory, and then melts with love; Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow, Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow: Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found, And the world's victor stood subdu'd by sound!
The pow'r of music all our hearts allow, And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now. Avoid extremes; and shun the fault of such, Who still are pleas'd too little or too much. At ev'ry trifle scorn to take offence, That always shows great pride, or little sense; Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best, Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest. Yet let not each gay turn thy rapture move, For fools admire, but men of sense approve; As things seem large which we through mists descry, Dulness is ever apt to magnify.
Some foreign writers, some our own despise; The ancients only, or the moderns prize. Thus wit, like faith, by each man is applied To one small sect, and all are damn'd beside. Meanly they seek the blessing to confine, And force that sun but on a part to shine; Which not alone the southern wit sublimes, But ripens spirits in cold northern climes; Which from the first has shone on ages past, Enlights the present, and shall warm the last; Though each may feel increases and decays, And see now clearer and now darker days.
Regard not then if wit be old or new, But blame the false, and value still the true. Some ne'er advance a judgment of their own, But catch the spreading notion of the town; They reason and conclude by precedent, And own stale nonsense which they ne'er invent.
Some judge of authors' names, not works, and then Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men. Of all this servile herd, the worst is he That in proud dulness joins with quality, A constant critic at the great man's board, To fetch and carry nonsense for my Lord.
What woeful stuff this madrigal would be, In some starv'd hackney sonneteer, or me? But let a Lord once own the happy lines, How the wit brightens! Before his sacred name flies every fault, And each exalted stanza teems with thought! The vulgar thus through imitation err; As oft the learn'd by being singular; So much they scorn the crowd, that if the throng By chance go right, they purposely go wrong: So Schismatics the plain believers quit, And are but damn'd for having too much wit.
Some praise at morning what they blame at night; But always think the last opinion right. A Muse by these is like a mistress us'd, This hour she's idoliz'd, the next abus'd; While their weak heads, like towns unfortified, Twixt sense and nonsense daily change their side. Ask them the cause; they're wiser still, they say; And still tomorrow's wiser than today.
We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow; Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so. Once school divines this zealous isle o'erspread; Who knew most Sentences, was deepest read; Faith, Gospel, all, seem'd made to be disputed, And none had sense enough to be confuted: Scotists and Thomists, now, in peace remain, Amidst their kindred cobwebs in Duck Lane. If Faith itself has different dresses worn, What wonder modes in wit should take their turn?
Oft, leaving what is natural and fit, The current folly proves the ready wit; And authors think their reputation safe Which lives as long as fools are pleased to laugh. Some valuing those of their own side or mind, Still make themselves the measure of mankind; Fondly we think we honour merit then, When we but praise ourselves in other men. Parties in wit attend on those of state, And public faction doubles private hate.
Pride, Malice, Folly, against Dryden rose, In various shapes of Parsons, Critics, Beaus; But sense surviv'd, when merry jests were past; For rising merit will buoy up at last. Might he return, and bless once more our eyes, New Blackmores and new Milbourns must arise; Nay should great Homer lift his awful head, Zoilus again would start up from the dead.
Envy will merit, as its shade, pursue, But like a shadow, proves the substance true; For envied wit, like Sol eclips'd, makes known Th' opposing body's grossness, not its own. When first that sun too powerful beams displays, It draws up vapours which obscure its rays; But ev'n those clouds at last adorn its way, Reflect new glories, and augment the day.
Be thou the first true merit to befriend; His praise is lost, who stays till all commend. Short is the date, alas, of modern rhymes, And 'tis but just to let 'em live betimes. No longer now that golden age appears, When patriarch wits surviv'd a thousand years: Now length of Fame our second life is lost, And bare threescore is all ev'n that can boast; Our sons their fathers' failing language see, And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be. So when the faithful pencil has design'd Some bright idea of the master's mind, Where a new world leaps out at his command, And ready Nature waits upon his hand; When the ripe colours soften and unite, And sweetly melt into just shade and light; When mellowing years their full perfection give, And each bold figure just begins to live, The treacherous colours the fair art betray, And all the bright creation fades away!
Unhappy wit, like most mistaken things, Atones not for that envy which it brings. In youth alone its empty praise we boast, But soon the short-liv'd vanity is lost: Like some fair flow'r the early spring supplies, That gaily blooms, but ev'n in blooming dies. What is this wit, which must our cares employ? The owner's wife, that other men enjoy; Then most our trouble still when most admir'd, And still the more we give, the more requir'd; Whose fame with pains we guard, but lose with ease, Sure some to vex, but never all to please; 'Tis what the vicious fear, the virtuous shun; By fools 'tis hated, and by knaves undone!
If wit so much from ign'rance undergo, Ah let not learning too commence its foe! Of old, those met rewards who could excel, And such were prais'd who but endeavour'd well: Though triumphs were to gen'rals only due, Crowns were reserv'd to grace the soldiers too. But still the worst with most regret commend, For each ill author is as bad a friend. To what base ends, and by what abject ways, Are mortals urg'd through sacred lust of praise!
Ah ne'er so dire a thirst of glory boast, Nor in the critic let the man be lost! Good nature and good sense must ever join; To err is human; to forgive, divine. But if in noble minds some dregs remain, Not yet purg'd off, of spleen and sour disdain, Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes, Nor fear a dearth in these flagitious times.
No pardon vile obscenity should find, Though wit and art conspire to move your mind; But dulness with obscenity must prove As shameful sure as impotence in love.
In the fat age of pleasure, wealth, and ease, Sprung the rank weed, and thriv'd with large increase: When love was all an easy monarch's care; Seldom at council, never in a war: Jilts ruled the state, and statesmen farces writ; Nay wits had pensions, and young Lords had wit: The fair sat panting at a courtier's play, And not a mask went unimprov'd away: The modest fan was lifted up no more, And virgins smil'd at what they blush'd before.
The following licence of a foreign reign Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain; Then unbelieving priests reform'd the nation, And taught more pleasant methods of salvation; Where Heav'n's free subjects might their rights dispute, Lest God himself should seem too absolute: Pulpits their sacred satire learned to spare, And Vice admired to find a flatt'rer there!
Encourag'd thus, wit's Titans brav'd the skies, And the press groan'd with licenc'd blasphemies. Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice, Will needs mistake an author into vice; All seems infected that th' infected spy, As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye. Learn then what morals critics ought to show, For 'tis but half a judge's task, to know. That not alone what to your sense is due, All may allow; but seek your friendship too. Be silent always when you doubt your sense; And speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence: Some positive, persisting fops we know, Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so; But you, with pleasure own your errors past, And make each day a critic on the last.
Without good breeding, truth is disapprov'd; That only makes superior sense belov'd. Be niggards of advice on no pretence; For the worst avarice is that of sense. With mean complacence ne'er betray your trust, Nor be so civil as to prove unjust.
Fear not the anger of the wise to raise; Those best can bear reproof, who merit praise. Fear most to tax an honourable fool, Whose right it is, uncensur'd, to be dull; Such, without wit, are poets when they please, As without learning they can take degrees. Leave dangerous truths to unsuccessful satires, And flattery to fulsome dedicators, Whom, when they praise, the world believes no more, Than when they promise to give scribbling o'er.
Your silence there is better than your spite, For who can rail so long as they can write? Still humming on, their drowsy course they keep, And lash'd so long, like tops, are lash'd asleep.
False steps but help them to renew the race, As after stumbling, jades will mend their pace. What crowds of these, impenitently bold, In sounds and jingling syllables grown old, Still run on poets, in a raging vein, Even to the dregs and squeezings of the brain, Strain out the last, dull droppings of their sense, And rhyme with all the rage of impotence! Such shameless bards we have; and yet 'tis true, There are as mad, abandon'd critics too.
The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, With loads of learned lumber in his head, With his own tongue still edifies his ears, And always list'ning to himself appears.
With him, most authors steal their works, or buy; Garth did not write his own Dispensary. Name a new play, and he's the poet's friend, Nay show'd his faults—but when would poets mend? No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd, Nor is Paul's church more safe than Paul's churchyard: Nay, fly to altars; there they'll talk you dead: For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks; It still looks home, and short excursions makes; But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks; And never shock'd, and never turn'd aside, Bursts out, resistless, with a thund'ring tide. But where's the man, who counsel can bestow, Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know? Unbias'd, or by favour or by spite; Not dully prepossess'd, nor blindly right; Though learn'd, well-bred; and though well-bred, sincere; Modestly bold, and humanly severe?
Who to a friend his faults can freely show, And gladly praise the merit of a foe? Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfin'd; A knowledge both of books and human kind; Gen'rous converse; a soul exempt from pride; And love to praise, with reason on his side?
Such once were critics; such the happy few, Athens and Rome in better ages knew. The mighty Stagirite first left the shore, Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore: Poets, a race long unconfin'd and free, Still fond and proud of savage liberty, Receiv'd his laws; and stood convinc'd 'twas fit, Who conquer'd nature, should preside o'er wit.
Horace still charms with graceful negligence, And without methods talks us into sense, Will, like a friend, familiarly convey The truest notions in the easiest way. He, who supreme in judgment, as in wit, Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ, Yet judg'd with coolness, though he sung with fire; His precepts teach but what his works inspire.
Our critics take a contrary extreme, They judge with fury, but they write with fle'me: Nor suffers Horace more in wrong translations By wits, than critics in as wrong quotations. See Dionysius Homer's thoughts refine, And call new beauties forth from ev'ry line! The poem received much attention and brought Pope a wider circle of friends, notably Joseph Addison and Richard Steele , who were then collaborating on The Spectator.
The second section lists the many ways in which critics have deviated from these rules. In this part Pope stressed the importance of onomatopoeia in prosody, suggesting that the movement of sound and metre should represent the actions they carry:. The final section, which discusses the characteristics of a good critic, concludes with a short history of literary criticism and a catalog of famous critics. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind.
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An Essay on Criticism poem by Pope. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. In this part Pope stressed the importance of onomatopoeia in prosody, suggesting that the movement of sound and metre should represent the actions they carry: Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; But when loud surges lash the sounding shore, The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.
Learn More in these related Britannica articles: The mock-heroic The Rape of the Lock final version published in is an astonishing feat,…. Prosody was to be more nearly onomatopoetic; the movement of sound and metre should represent the actions they carry: Johnson, too, though he respected precedent, was above all a champion of moral sentiment….
This was An Essay on Criticism , published in Its brilliantly polished epigrams e. Early works exposition of prosodic theory In prosody:
Alexander Pope and the Enlightenment 'A little learning is a dang'rous thing,' Alexander Pope famously writes in his poem 'An Essay on Criticism.'The poem is one of the most quoted in the English.
An Essay on Criticism was published when Pope was relatively young. The work remains, however, one of the best-known commentaries on literary criticism. Although the work treats literary criticism.
(An Essay on Criticism, ll. ) Basic set up: In this section of Pope's poem (yeah, it's a poem, but it's also an essay), he praises the ancient Roman poet Horace. Pope wrote “An Essay on Criticism” when he was 23; he was influenced by Quintillian, Aristotle, Horace’s Ars Poetica, and Nicolas Boileau’s L’Art Poëtique. Written in heroic couplets, the tone is straight-forward and conversational.
An Essay on Criticism, didactic poem in heroic couplets by Alexander Pope, first published anonymously in when the author was 22 years old. Although inspired by Horace ’s Ars poetica, this work of literary criticism borrowed from . An Essay on Criticism. 2 years ago; Tags: about, age, alexander pope, alps, an essay on criticism, analogy, as-level, content, context, Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem. Context Themes Content Language and techniques Structure Tone.