Judges for Justice


Alexander Pope

An Essay on Criticism

Alexander Pope

516 Now, they who reach Parnassus' lofty crown, 517 Employ their pains to spurn some others down; 518 And while self-love each jealous writer rules, 519 Contending wits become the sport of fools. 520 But still the worst with most regret commend, 521 For each ill Author is as bad a Friend. 522 To what base ends, and by what abject ways, 523 Are mortals urg'd thro' sacred Lust of praise! 524 Ah ne'er so dire a thirst of glory boast, 525 Nor in the Critic let the Man be lost! 526 Good-nature and good-sense must ever join; 527 To err is humane, to forgive, divine. 528 But if in noble minds some dregs remain, 529 Not yet purg'd off, of spleen and sour disdain; 530 Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes, 531 Nor fear a dearth in these flagitious times. 532 No pardon vile Obscenity should find, 533 Tho' wit and art conspire to move your mind; 534 But Dulness with obscenity must prove 535 As shameful sure as Impotence in love. 536 In the fat age of pleasure, wealth, and ease, 537 Sprung the rank weed, and thriv'd with large increase; 538 When Love was all an easy Monarch's care; 539 Seldom at council, never in a war: 540 Jilts rul'd the state, and statesmen Farces writ; 541 Nay wits had pensions, and young Lords had wit: 542 The Fair sate panting at a Courtier's play, 543 And not a Mask went unimprov'd away: 544 The modest fan was lifted up no more, 545 And Virgins smil'd at what they blush'd before.   546 The following licence of a Foreign reign 547 Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain; 548 Then unbelieving Priests reform'd the nation, 549 And taught more pleasant methods of salvation; 550 Where heav'ns free subjects might their rights dispute, 551 Lest God himself should seem too Absolute: 552 Pulpits their sacred satire learn'd to spare, 553 And Vice admir'd to find a flatt'rer there! 554 Encourag'd thus, Wit's Titans brav'd the skies, 555 And the Press groan'd with licens'd blasphemies. 556 These monsters, Critics! with your darts engage, 557 Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage! 558 Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice, 559 Will needs mistake an author into vice; 560 All seems infected that th'infected spy, 561 As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye.   562 Learn then what Morals Critics ought to show, 563 For 'tis but half a judge's task, to know. 564 'Tis not enough, wit, art, and learning join; 565 In all you speak, let truth and candour shine: 566 That not alone what to your judgment's due 567 All may allow; but seek your friendship too. 568 Be silent always when you doubt your sense; 569 And speak, tho' sure, with seeming diffidence: 570 Some positive, persisting fops we know, 571 That, if once wrong, will needs be always so; 572 But you, with pleasure own your errors past, 573 And make each day a Critic on the last. 574 'Tis not enough, your counsel still be true; 575 Blunt truths more mischief than nice falshoods do; 576 Men must be taught as if you taught them not, 577 And things unknown propos'd as things forgot. 578 Without good-breeding, truth is disapprov'd; 579 That only makes superiour sense belov'd. 580 Be niggards of advice on no pretence; 581 For the worst avarice is that of sense. 582 With mean complacence ne'er betray your trust, 583 Nor be so civil as to prove unjust. 584 Fear not the anger of the wise to raise; 585 Those best can bear reproof, who merit praise. 586 'Twere well might Critics still this freedom take; 587 But Appius reddens at each word you speak, 588 And stares, tremendous, with a threat'ning eye, 589 Like some fierce Tyrant in old Tapestry. 590 Fear most to tax an Honourable fool, 591 Whose right it is, uncensur'd to be dull; 592 Such without wit are Poets when they please, 593 As without learning they can take Degrees. 594 Leave dang'rous truths to unsuccessful Satyrs, 595 And flattery to fulsome Dedicators, 596 Whom, when they praise, the world believes no more, 597 Than when they promise to give scribling o'er. 598 'Tis best sometimes your censure to restrain, 599 And charitably let the dull be vain: 600 Your silence there is better than your spite, 601 For who can rail so long as they can write? 602 Still humming on, their drouzy course they keep, 603 And lash'd so long, like Tops, are lash'd asleep. 604 False steps but help them to renew the race, 605 As after stumbling, Jades will mend their pace. 606 What crouds of these, impenitently bold, 607 In sounds and jingling syllables grown old, 608 Still run on Poets, in a raging vein, 609 Ev'n to the dregs and squeezings of the brain, 610 Strain out the last dull droppings of their sense, 611 And rhyme with all the rage of Impotence. 612 Such shameless Bards we have; and yet 'tis true, 613 There are as mad, abandon'd Critics too. 614 The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, 615 With loads of learned lumber in his head, 616 With his own tongue still edifies his ears, 617 And always list'ning to himself appears. 618 All books he reads, and all he reads assails, 619 From Dryden's Fables down to Durfey's Tales. 620 With him, most authors steal their works, or buy; 621 Garth did not write his own Dispensary. 622 Name a new Play, and he's the Poet's friend, 623 Nay show'd his faults---but when wou'd Poets mend? 624 No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd, 625 Nor is Paul's church more safe than Paul's church-yard: 626 Nay, fly to altars; there they'll talk you dead; 627 For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread. 628 Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks, 629 It still looks home, and short excursions makes; 630 But rattling nonsense in full vollies breaks, 631 And never shock'd, and never turn'd aside, 632 Bursts out, resistless, with a thund'ring tyde. 633 But where's the man, who counsel can bestow, 634 Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know? 635 Unbiass'd, or by favour, or by spite; 636 Not dully prepossess'd; or blindly right; 637 Tho' learn'd, well-bred; and tho' well-bred, sincere; 638 Modestly bold, and humanly severe: 639 Who to a friend his faults can freely show, 640 And gladly praise the merit of a foe? 641 Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfin'd; 642 A knowledge both of books and human-kind; 643 Gen'rous converse; a soul exempt from pride; 644 And love to praise, with reason on his side? 645 Such once were Critics; such the happy few, 646 Athens and Rome in better ages knew. 647 The mighty Stagyrite first left the shore, 648 Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore; 649 He steer'd securely, and discover'd far, 650 Led by the light of the Mæonian Star. 651 Poets, a race long unconfin'd, and free, 652 Still fond and proud of savage liberty, 653 Receiv'd his laws; and stood convinc'd 'twas fit 654 Who conquer'd Nature, should preside o'er Wit. 655 Horace still charms with graceful negligence, 656 And without method talks us into sense, 657 Will like a friend, familiarly convey 658 The truest notions in the easiest way. 659 He, who supreme in judgment, as in wit, 660 Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ, 661 Yet judg'd with coolness, tho' he sung with fire, 662 His Precepts teach but what his works inspire. 663 Our Critics take a contrary extreme, 664 They judge with fury, but they write with fle'me: 665 Nor suffers Horace more in wrong Translations 666 By Wits, than Critics in as wrong Quotations. 667 See  Dionysius Homer's thoughts refine, 668 And call new beauties forth from ev'ry line! 669 Fancy and art in gay Petronius meet, 670 The scholar's learning, with the courtier's wit.  


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An Essay on Criticism

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