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AFTER having suggested the publication of these slight Volumes, it was my design to preface them, merely, with some account of the deceased Author, and the unhappy situation of his Widow : But, while ruminating on one who so very humbly ventured on the borders of literary fancy, my thoughts have stray'd to a consideration of those who penetrate deeply into it's labyrinths, and of the brambles, and thorns, which obstruct their passage.
I shall, now, hazard a few of these Thoughts upon paper. As they are applicable chiefly to Poets, Dramatists, and their Scrutators, they may seem irrelative bere, prima facie, but will be found, at last, introductory to the Novel. They are offer'd as crude hints for CONSIDERATIONS
LIVING CRITICKS, who so piteously bewail the dearth of living genius!—but we have heard of crocodiles' tears.
If two questions could be fairly decided, it would be a "consummation devoutly to be wish'd :"_First, Whether the existing state of Poetry,and Dramatick Writing, deserve to be so run down,as we perceive it to
be, by a herd of periodical, and anonymous censors. -Secondly, Whether (if we, really, live in an age of lead) the generality of such criticks be not more degenerate than the criticised ?
Had not Newspapers, Magazines,and Reviews*, become the most conspicuous, and almost only vehicles of note, for remarks on modern works of the description to which I allude; had not such remarks gain'd a sort of mock authority, by their assumed importance, their increasing numbers, and their unwearied reiterations,—the above questions would not be worth agitating ;
But, circumstanced as we are, here is an ample · field open
for discussion :For an Inquiry into a twofold case, by comparing the parties, on both sides, with their predecessors, and afterwards with each other ;-for a further Inquiry into their abstracted merits, and defects;—for an Examination of Examiners, and of many trading Judges, who condemî, without calling in twelve honest and competent men in the kingdom, to authorise their sentence;—for an Exposure of Mercenaries, who puff or abuse for pay; and from partiality and pique ;--and who, not being Regulars in the College of Criticism, sometimes cry up as great Quacks in invention, as they themselves are in animadversion ; in short, for an Inquiry from which conclusions
* There are two Reviews (one appears quarterly, and the other comes from the North), executed with the ability of writers who leave the numerous tribe of their censorian brethren behind thein, longo intervallo.
might be establish'd, branching into various corol. laries, and forming an interesting treatise *.
I have neither inclination, leisure, nor fortitude of research, sufficient for such an undertaking; and, were not these wanting, great taste and judgment are, indispensably, requisite; I, therefore, defer it to my superiors.
Were individual talent, even, much less rare than it is, there would be plenty of pert stupidity left in the world to depress it; for dirt will, always, be more common than jewels, and one perishable dunghill can, for a time, overlay a quantity of diamonds.
* As a modern satire of deserved reputation, I must acknowJedge the “ Baviad," written by Mr. Gifford, it's avow'd author; who exhibits strong powers of poetry, and, perhaps, a little too much haste, and rigour, of criticism.
When I saw “ Colman's flippant trash” recorded in his poem, I was humbled ::--but I was sorry, afterwards, for the satirist, when he substituted the name of another author, to inherit the censure with which I was originally chastised; particularly when I was well assured, (though not absolutely by a direct mesa sage from Mr. Gifford), that he had alter'd his opinion of my writings. When a critick publishes a stricture before it has been well weigh’d, he is culpable towards the publick; and, when he has reversed his own judgment, we must slight his authority, but acknowledge his candour. I recollect no recent book, bé. sides that of the above gentleman, worth notice. Pains, indeed, have been taken to exalt the “ Persuits Literature ;" but, surely, we persue it's pages with more fatigue than edification, or amusement.
- The human mind, too, is so morbid, that, although some men may be too high, or too low in intellect, to envy, or to emulate abilities, still the careless majority experience more diversion in seeing them ridiculed by a frothy ribald, than gratitude for their beauties, pointed out by an enlighten’d observer.
From the above cause, and various others, (in which malignity, venality, vanity, and a hundred silly moa tives, and shabby passions, are included,) it has happen'd in every era, in England at least, if not universally, that contemporary writers of merit have been bespatter'd, if not seriously injured, by contemporary writers of dulness :
« Nay, should great Homer lift his awful head,
Having quoted Pope, let me ask how many Dunces, in his life time, assail'd him and how many of those dunces, without his records of them, would not, now, be sunk in oblivion ? But he has pluck'd up their memories from Lethe, to float, like dead carrion, on the silver stream of his smooth numbers which glide, and glide, and will glide on *, after many an Aristarchus, of present and future times, shall have glided off.
Let me ask, also, whether the Pseudo-Criticks of their day did not set up Poets of the second, third, and sometimes lowest elass, to knock down Poets of
* * Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum."