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ed particulars, but plainly discover, by the phrases which they make use of, and by their confused way of thinking, that they are not acquainted with the most common and ordinary systems of arts and sciences. A few general rules extracted out of the French authors, with a certain cant of words, has sometimes set up an illiterate heavy writer for a most judicious and formidable critic.
One great mark, by which you may discover a critic who has neither taste nor learning, is this, that he seldom ventures to praise any passage in an author which has not been before received and applauded by the public, and that his criticism turns wholly upon little faults and errors. This part of a critic is so very easy to succeed in, that we find every ordinary reader, upon the publishing of a new poem, has wit and ill-nature enough to turn several passages of it into ridicule, and very often in the right place. This Mr. Dryden has very agreeably remarked in those two celebrated lines:
Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation. The most exquisite words, and finest strokes of an author, are those which very often appear the most doubtful and exceptionable to a man who wants a relish for polite learning; and they are these, which a sour undistinguishing critic generally attacks with the greatest violence. Tully observes, that it is very easy to brand or fix a mark upon what he calls verbum ardens, or as it may be rendered into English, 'a glowing bold expression, and to turn it into ridicule by a cold ill-natured criticism. A little wit is equally capable of exposing a beauty, and of aggravating a fault; and though such a treatment of an author naturally produces indignation in the mind of an understanding reader, it has however its effect among the generality of those whose hands it falls into, the rabble of mankind being very apt to think that every thing which is laughed at, with any mixture of wit, is ridiculous in itself.
Such a mirth as this is always unseasonable in a critic, as it rather prejudices the reader than convinces him, and is capable of making a beauty, as well as a blemish, the subject of derision. A man who cannot write with wit on a proper subject, is dull and stupid ; but one who shews it in an improper place, is as impertinent and absurd. Besides, a man who has the gift of ridicule is apt to find fault with any thing that gives him an opportunity of exerting his beloved talent, and very often censures a passage, not because there is any fault in it, but because he can be merry upon it. Such kinds of pleasantry are very unfair and disingenuous in works of criticism, in which the greatest masters, both ancient and modern, have always appeared with a serious and instructive air.
As I intend in my next paper to shew the defects in Milton's Paradise Lost, I thought fit to premise these few particulars, to the end that the reader may know I enter upon it, as on a very ungrateful work, and that I shall just point at the imperfections without endeavouring to inflame them with ridicule. I must also observe with Longinus, that the productions of a great genius, with many lapses and inad,
vertencies, are infinitely preferable to the works of an inferior kind of author, which are scrupulously exact, and conformable to all the rules of correct writing
I shall conclude my paper with a story out of Boccalini, which sufficiently shews us the opinion that judicious author entertained of the sort of critics I have been here mentioning.
“A famous critic,” says he, “ having gathered together all the faults of an eminent poet, made a present of them to Apollo, who received them very graciously, and resolved to make the author a suitable return for the trouble he had been at in collecting them. In order to this, he set before him a sack of wheat, as it had been just thrashed out of the sheaf. He then bid him pick out the chaff from among the corn, and lay it aside by itself. The critic applied himself to the task with great industry and pleasure, and, after having made the due separation, was presented by Apollo with the chaff for his pains.”
No 292. MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 1711-12.
Illam, quicquid agit, quoquò vestigia flectit,
TIBULL. Eleg. ii. 1. 4. ver. 8.
As no one can be said to enjoy health, who is only not sick, without he feel within himself a lightsome and invigorating principle, which will not suffer him to remain idle, but still spurs him on to action; so in
the practice of every virtue, there is some additional grace required, to give a claim of excelling in this or that particular action. A diamond may want polishing, though the value be still intrinsically the same; and the same good may be done with different degrees of lustre. No man should be contented with himself that he barely does well, but he should perform every thing in the best and most becoming manner that he is able.
Tully tells us he wrote his book of Offices because there was no time of life in which some correspondent duty might not be practised; nor is there a duty without a certain decency accompanying it, by which every virtue it is joined to, will seem to be doubled. Another may do the same thing, and yet the action want that air and beauty which distinguish it from others; like that inimitable sunshine Titian is said to have diffused over his landskips; which denotes them his, and has been always unequalled by any other
person. There is no one action in which this quality I am speaking of will be more sensibly perceived, than in granting a request, or doing an office of kindness. Mummius, by his way of consenting to a benefaction, shall make it lose its name; while Carus doubles the kindness and the obligation. From the first, the desired request drops indeed at last, but from so doubtful a brow, that the obliged has almost as much reason to resent the manner of bestowing it, as to be thankful for the favour itself. Carus invites with a pleasing air, to give him an opportunity of doing an act of humanity, meets the petition half way, and consents to a request with a countenance which proclaims the satisfaction of his mind in assisting the distressed,
The decency then that is to be observed in liberality, seems to consist in its being performed with such cheerfulness, as may express the godlike pleasure to be met with, in obliging one's fellow-creatures; that may shew good-nature and benevolence overflowed, and do not, as in some men, run upon the tilt, and taste of the sediments of a grutching, uncommunicative disposition.
Since I have intimated that the greatest decorum is to be preserved in the bestowing our good offices, I will illustrate it a little, by an example drawn from private life, which carries with it such a profusion of liberality, that it can be exceeded by nothing but the humanity and good-nature which accompanies it. It is a letter of Pliny, which I shall here translate, because the action will best appear in its first dress of thought, without any foreign or ambitious ornaments.
PLINY TO QUINTILIAN. THOUGH I ain fully acquainted with the contentment and just moderation of your mind, and the conformity the education you have given your daughter bears to your own character; yet since she is suddenly to be married to a person of distinction, whose figure in the world makes it necessary for her to be at a more than ordinary expence, in clothes and equipage suitable to her husband's quality; by which, though her intrinsic worth be not augmented, yet will it receive both ornament and lustre: and knowing your estate to be as moderate as the riches of your mind are abundant, I must challenge to myself some part of the burthen; and as a parent of your child, I present her with twelve hundred and fifty crowns, toward these expences; which sum had been much larger, had I not feared the smallness of it would be