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If a Time improve our Wit as well as Wine, Say at what age a Poet grows divine? Shall we, or shall we not, account him fo, Who dy'd, perhaps, an hundred years ago? End all difpute; and fix the year precife When British bards begin t' immortalize?
“Who lasts a * century can have no flaw, "I hold that Wit a Claffic, good in law.
Suppose he wants a year, will you compound? And shall we deem him Ancient, right and found, Or damn to all eternity at once,
At ninety nine, a Modern and a Dunce?
Then, by the rule that made the " Horse-tail bare, I pluck out year by year, as hair by hair,
And meltdown Ancients like a heap of snow: 65
terment) with Garlands. A manly and pious cuftom, which arofe from the ancient practice of rewarding victors; and from thence was brought into the Church, and applied to those who had fought the good fight of the Apofile.
*Ennius et fapiens, et fortis, et alter Homerus,
Ut critici dicunt, leviter curare videtur
Quo promiffa cadant, et fomnia Pythagorea.
Naevius in manibus non eft; at mentibus haeret
VER. 69. Shakespear.] Shakespear and Ben Johnson may truly be faid not much to have thought of this Immortality; the one in many pieces compofed in hafte for the Stage; the other in his latter works in general, which Dryden call'd his Dotages. P.
Ibid. Shakespear -For gain not glory, etc.] SHAKESPEAR knew perfectly well what belonged to a true compofition, as appears from the Tempest, and the Merry Wives of Windfor. But he generally complied with the ignorance, and the ill taste of his Audience. However, in his most irregular plays his wit and fublimity make amends for his tranfgreffion of the rules of art; and fupport him in it. But, happily for the improvement of the Drama, he had a competitor in JoHNSON, who, with a greater temptation to comply with the bad taste of the age, had not the fame force of genius to fupport him in it. Johnfon, therefore, borrowed all he could from art; and like an experienced general, when he could not depend on his natural ftrength, kept ftill behind his lines. The consequence was, that Shakespear having once tried to reform the tafte [See Hamlet] and on failing, had complied with it, became the favourite Poet of the People; while Johnfon, who, for the rea
Shakespear (whom you and ev'ry Play-house bill Style the divine, the matchless, what you will) 70 For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight, And grew Immortal in his own despight. Ben, old and poor, as little feem'd to heed The Life to come, in ev'ry Poet's Creed. Who now reads Cowley? if he pleases yet, 75
His Moral pleases, not his pointed wit;
But still I love the language of his heart.
fon given above, could not be fo complaisant, was all his life long in a state of war with them. This, and not (as is commonly supposed) the ignorance of one, and the fuperior knowledge of the other, was the true cause of that difference which we find between these two Capital Writers, in the art and construction of their pieces. So that here, we fee, a want of fufficient natural genius accidentally contributed to the refinement of the English stage.
Ibid. and ev'ry Playhouse bill] A ridicule on those who talk of Shakespear, because he is in fashion; who, if they dared to do justice, to their taste or confcience, would own they liked. Durfey better.
VER. 74. The life to come, in ev'ry Poet's Creed.]
The beauty of this arifes from a circumstance in Ennius's story.
VER. 77. Pindaric Art,] Which has much more merit than his Epic, but very unlike the Character, as well as Numbers, of Pindar.
Pene recens: adeo fanctum eft vetus omne poema.
Ambigitur quoties, uter utro fit prior; aufert
Pacuvius docti famam fenis, Accius alti:
• Interdum vulgus rectum videt: eft ubi peccat.
VER. 81. In all debates etc.] The Poet has here put the bald cant of women and boys into extreme fine verse. This is in ftrict imitation of his Original, where the fame impertinent and gratuitous criticism is admirably ridiculed.
VER. 85. Wycherly] The chief fupport of this writer's reputation is his famous comedy of the Plain Dealer; which is taken from Moliere's Mifanthrope. But it has fo happen'd that while Moliere's Mifanthrope is but a Plain Dealer, Wycherly's Plain Dealer is a downright Mifanthrope. Whether this was owing to the different genius of the Nations, or to the different judgments of the Poets, is left for the Critics to determine.
Ibid. Shadwell hafly, Wycherly was flow.] Nothing was lefs true than this particular: But the whole paragragh has a mix
1 "Yet furely, furely, these were famous men! "What boy but hears the fayings of old Ben? 80 "In all debates where Critics bear a part, "Not one but nods, and talks of Johnson's Art, "Of Shakespear's Nature, and of Cowley's Wit; 'How Beaumont's judgment check'dwhatFletcher << writ;
"How Shadwell hafty, Wycherly was flow; 85
ture of Irony, and muft not altogether be taken for Horace's own Judgment, only the common Chat of the pretenders to Criticifm; in fome things right, in others, wrong; as he tells us in his anfwer,
Interdum vulgus rectum videt: eft ubi peccat. VER. 91. Gammer Gurton] A piece of very low humour, one of the first printed Plays in English, and therefore much valued by fome Antiquaries.
Ibid. To Gammer Gurton, And yet deny, etc.] i. e. If they give the bays to one play because it is old, and deny it to another because it is new; why then, I fay, the Public acts a very foolish part.