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Edward Young (1683-1765)

Conjectures on Original Composition (1759)

{{Page i}}
CONJECTURES
ON
ORIGINAL COMPOSITION.

IN A
LETTER
TO THE
AUTHOR
OF
Sir CHARLES GRANDISON.
by Edward Young

Si habet aliquod tanquam pabulum
studii, |&| doctrinæ,
otiosâ senectute nihil est jucundius.
CIC.



LONDON:
Printed for A. MILLAR, in The
Strand; and
R. and J. DODSLEY, in Pall-Mall.
M.DCC.LIX.

{{Page ii}}
[[empty]]

{{Page 1}}
{{ornament}}

A
LETTER
TO THE
AUTHOR
OF
Sir CHARLES GRANDISON.

Dear Sir,

¶1 §1 WE confess the Follies of Youth without a Blush; not so, those of Age. §2 However, keep me a little in countenance by considering, that Age wants Amusements more, tho' {{Page 2}}it can justify them less, than the preceding periods of life. §3 How you may relish the Pastime here sent you, I know not. §4 It is miscellaneous in its Nature, somewhat licentious in its Conduct; and, perhaps, not over important in its End. §5 However, I have endeavoured to make some amends, by digressing into subjects more important, and more suitable to my season of life. §6 A serious Thought standing single among many of a lighter nature, will sometimes strike the careless Wanderer after Amusement only, with useful Awe: As monumental Marbles scattered in a wide Pleasure-Garden (and such there are) will call to Recollection those who would never have sought it in a Churchyard-walk of mournful Yews. {{Page 3}}

¶2 §7 To One such Monument I may conduct you, in which is a hidden Lustre, like the sepulchral Lamps of old; but not like them will This be extinguished, but shine the brighter for being produced, after so long Concealment, into open Day.

¶3 §8 You remember that your worthy Patron, and our common Friend, put some Questions on the Serious Drama, at the same time when he desired our Sentiments on Original, and on Moral Composition. §9 Tho' I despair of breaking thro' the frozen Obstructions of Age, and Care's incumbent Cloud, into that Flow of thought, and Brightness of expression, which such polite Subjects require; yet will I hazard some Conjectures on them. {{Page 4}}

¶4 §10 I begin with Original Composition; but, first, a few Thoughts on Composition in general. §11 Some are of Opinion, that its Growth, at present, is too luxuriant; and that the Press is overcharged. §12 Overcharged, I think, it could never be, if none were admitted, but such as brought their Imprimatur from sound Understanding, and the Public Good.Wit, indeed, however brilliant, should not be permitted to gaze self-enamour'd on its useless Charms, in that Fountain of Fame (if so I may call the Press, ) if Beauty is all that it has to boast; but, like the first Brutus, it should sacrifice its most darling Offspring to the sacred interests of Virtue, and real Service of mankind.

¶5 §13 This Restriction allowed, the more Composition the better. §14 To {{Page 5}} Men of Letters, and Leisure, it is not only a noble Amusement, but a sweet Refuge; it improves their Parts, and promotes their Peace: It opens a back-door out of the Bustle of this busy, and idle world, into a delicious Garden of Moral and Intellectual fruits and flowers; the Key of which is denied to the rest of mankind. §15 When stung with idle Anxieties, or teazed with fruitless Impertinence, or yawning over insipid Diversions, then we perceive the Blessing of a letter'd recess. §16 With what a Gust do we retire to our disinterested, and immortal Friends in our Closet, and find our minds, when applied to some favourite Theme, as naturally, and as easily quieted, and refreshed, as a peevish Child (and peevish Children are we all till we fall asleep) when laid to {{Page 6}}the breast? §17 Our Happiness no longer lives on Charity; nor bids fair for a fall, by leaning on that most precarious, and thorny Pillow, another's Pleasure, for our repose. §18 How independent of the world is he, who can daily find new Acquaintance, that at once entertain, and improve him, in the little World, the minute but fruitful Creation, of his own mind?

¶6 §19 These advantages Composition affords us, whether we write ourselves, or in more humble amusement peruse the Works of others. §20 While we bustle thro' the thronged walks of public Life, it gives us a respite, at least, from Care; a pleasing Pause of refreshing Recollection. §21 If the Country is our Choice, or Fate, there it rescues us from Sloth and {{Page 7}}Sensuality, which, like obscene vermin, are apt gradually to creep unperceived into the delightful bowers of our retirement, and to poison all its sweets. §22 Conscious guilt robs the Rose of its scent, the Lilly of its lustre; and makes an Eden a deflowered, and dismal scene.

¶7 §23 Moreover, if we consider life's endless Evils, what can be more prudent, than to provide for consolation under them? §24 A consolation under them the wisest of men have found in the pleasures of the Pen. §25 Witness, among many more, Thucydides, Xenophon, Tully, Ovid, Seneca, Pliny the younger, who says, In uxoris infirmitate, |&| amicorum periculo, aut morte turbatus, ad studia, unicum doloris levamentum, confugio. §26 And why not add to these {{Page 8}} their modern Equals, Rawleigh, Milton, Clarendon, under the same shield, unwounded by misfortune, and nobly smiling in distress?

¶8 §27 Composition was a Cordial to These under the Frowns of Fortune; but Evils there are, which her Smiles cannot prevent, or cure. §28 Among these are the Languors of old Age. §29 If those are held honourable, who in a hand benumbed by Time have grasped the just sword in defence of their Country; shall they be less esteemed, whose unsteady Pen vibrates to the last in the cause of Religion, of Virtue, of Learning? §30 Both These are happy in This, that by fixing their attention on objects most important, they escape numberless little Anxieties, and that Tedium vitæ which hangs often so {{Page 9}}heavy on its evening hours. §31 May not This insinuate some Apology for my spilling Ink, and spoiling Paper, so late in Life?

¶9 §32 But there are, who write with vigor, and success, to the world's Delight, and their own Renown. §33 These are the glorious fruits where Genius prevails. §34 The mind of a man of Genius is a fertile and pleasant field, pleasant as Elysium, and fertile as Tempe; it enjoys a perpetual Spring. §35 Of that Spring, Originals are the fairest Flowers: Imitations are of quicker growth, but fainter bloom. §36 Imitations are of two kinds; one of Nature, one of Authors: The first we call Originals, and confine the term Imitation to the second. §37 I shall not enter into the curious enquiry of what is, or {{Page 10}}is not, strictly speaking, Original, content with what all must allow, that some Compositions are more so than others; and the more they are so, I say, the better. §38 Originals are, and ought to be, great Favourites, for they are great Benefactors; they extend the Republic of Letters, and add a new province to its dominion: Imitators only give us a sort of Duplicates of what we had, possibly much better, before; increasing the mere Drug of books, while all that makes them valuable, Knowledge and Genius, are at a stand. §39 The pen of an Original Writer, like Armida's wand, out of a barren waste calls a blooming spring: Out of that blooming spring an Imitator is a transplanter of Laurels, which sometimes die on removal, always languish in a foreign soil.

¶10 §40 But suppose an Imitator to be most excellent (and such there are), yet still he but nobly builds on another's foundation; his Debt is, at least, equal to his Glory; which therefore, on the ballance, cannot be very great. §41 On the contrary, an Original , tho' but indifferent (its Originality being set aside,), yet has something to boast; it is something to say with him in Horace,

Meo sum Pauper in ære;
and to share ambition with no less than Cæsar, who declared he had rather be the First in a Village, than the Second at Rome.

¶11 §42 Still farther: An Imitator shares his crown, if he has one, with the chosen Object of his Imitation; an Original enjoys an undivided ap-{{Page 12}}plause. §43 An Original may be said to be of a vegetable nature; it rises spontaneously from the vital root of Genius; it grows, it is not made: Imitations are often a sort of Manufacture wrought up by those Mechanics, Art, and Labour, out of pre-existent materials not their own.

¶12 §44 Again: We read Imitation with somewhat of his languor, who listens to a twice-told tale: Our spirits rouze at an Original; that is a perfect stranger, and all throng to learn what news from a foreign land: And tho' it comes, like an Indian Prince, adorned with feathers only, having little of weight; yet of our attention it will rob the more Solid, if not equally New: Thus every Telescope is lifted at a new-discovered star; it makes a hundred {{Page 13}}Astronomers in a moment, and denies equal notice to the sun. §45 But if an Original, by being as excellent, as new, adds admiration to surprize, then are we at the Writer's mercy; on the strong wing of his Imagination, we are snatched from Britain to Italy, from Climate to Climate, from Pleasure to Pleasure; we have no Home, no Thought, of our own; till the Magician drops his Pen: And then falling down into ourselves, we awake to flat Realities, lamenting the change, like the Beggar who dreamt himself a Prince.

¶13 §46 It is with Thoughts, as it is with Words; and with both, as with Men; they may grow old, and die. §47 Words tarnished, by passing thro' the mouths of the Vulgar, are laid {{Page 14}}aside as inelegant, and obsolete. §48 So Thoughts, when become too common, should lose their Currency; and we should send new metal to the Mint, that is, new meaning to the Press. §49 The Division of tongues at Babel did not more effectually debar men from making themselves a name (as the Scripture speaks, ) than the too great Concurrence, or Union of tongues will do for ever. §50 We may as well grow good by another's Virtue, or fat by another's Food, as famous by another's Thought. §51 The world will pay its Debt of Praise but once; and instead of applauding, explode a second Demand, as a Cheat.

¶14 §52 If it is said, that most of the Latin Classics, and all the Greek, except, perhaps, Homer, Pindar, {{Page 15}} and Anacreon, are in the number of Imitators, yet receive our highest applause; our answer is, That They, tho' not real, are accidental Originals; the works they imitated, few excepted, are lost: They, on their Father's Decease, enter, as lawful Heirs, on their Estates in Fame: The Fathers of our Copyists are still in possession; and secured in it, in spite of Goths, and Flames, by the perpetuating power of the Press. §53 Very late must a modern Imitator's fame arrive, if it waits for their Decease.

¶15 §54 An Original enters early upon Reputation: Fame, fond of new Glories, sounds her Trumpet in Triumph at its birth; and yet how few are awaken'd by it into the noble ambition of like attempts? §55 {{Page 16}}Ambition is sometimes no Vice in life; it is always a Virtue in Composition. §56 High in the towering Alps is the Fountain of the Po; high in Fame, and in Antiquity, is the Fountain of an Imitator's Undertaking; but the River, and the Imitation, humbly creep along the Vale. §57 So few are our Originals, that, if all other books were to be burnt, the letter'd World would resemble some Metropolis in flames, where a few incombustible buildings, a Fortress, Temple, or Tower, lift their Heads, in melancholy Grandeur, amid the mighty ruin. §58 Compared with this Conflagration, old Omar lighted up but a small Bonfire, when he heated the baths of the Barbarians, for eight months together, with the famed Alexandrian Library's inestimable spoils, {{Page 17}}that no prophane book might obstruct the triumphant progress of his holy Alcoran round the Globe.

¶16 §59 But why are Originals so few? not because the Writer's harvest is over, the great Reapers of Antiquity having left nothing to be gleaned after them; nor because the human mind's teeming time is past, or because it is incapable of putting forth unprecedented births; but because Illustrious Examples engross, prejudice, and intimidate.They engross our attention, and so prevent a due inspection of ourselves; they prejudice our Judgment in favour of their abilities, and so lessen the sense of our own; and they intimidate us with the splendor of their Renown, and thus under Diffidence bury our strength. §60 Nature's Im-{{Page 18}} possibilities, and those of Diffidence, lie wide asunder.

¶17 §61 Let it not be suspected, that I would weakly insinuate any thing in favour of the Moderns, as compared with antient Authors; no, I am lamenting their great Inferiority. §62 But I think it is no necessary Inferiority; that it is not from divine Destination, but from some cause far beneath the moon: I think that human Souls, thro' all periods, are equal; that due care, and exertion, would set us nearer our immortal Predecessors than we are at present; and he who questions and confutes this, will show abilities not a little tending toward a proof of that Equality, which he denies.

¶18 §63 After all, the first Antients had {{Page 19}}no Merit in being Originals: They could not be Imitators. §64 Modern Writers have a Choice to make; and therefore have a Merit in their power. §65 They may soar in the Regions of Liberty, or move in the soft Fetters of easy Imitation; and Imitation has as many plausible Reasons to urge, as Pleasure had to offer to Hercules. §66 Hercules made the Choice of an Hero, and so became immortal.

¶19 §67 Yet let not Assertors of Classic Excellence imagine, that I deny the Tribute it so well deserves. §68 He that admires not antient Authors, betrays a secret he would conceal, and tells the world, that he does not understand them. §69 Let us be as far from neglecting, as from copying, their admirable Compositions; Sa-{{Page 20}}cred be their Rights, and inviolable their Fame. §70 Let our Understandings feed on theirs; they afford the noblest nourishment; But let them nourish, not annihilate, our own. §71 When we read, let our Imagination kindle at their Charms; when we write, let our Judgment shut them out of our Thoughts; treat even Homer himself, as his royal Admirer was treated by the Cynic; bid him stand aside, nor shade our Composition from the beams of our own Genius; for nothing Original can rise, nothing Immortal can ripen, in any other Sun.

¶20 §72 Must we then, you say, not imitate antient Authors? §73 Imitate them, by all means; but imitate aright. §74 He that imitates the divine lliad, does not imitate Homer; but he {{Page 21}}who takes the same method, which Homer took, for arriving at a capacity of accomplishing a work so great. §75 Tread in his steps to the sole Fountain of Immortality; drink where he drank, at the true Helicon, that is, at the breast of Nature: Imitate; but imitate not the Composition, but the Man. §76 For may not this Paradox pass into a Maxim? |viz.| "The less we copy the renowned Antients, we shall resemble them the more."

¶21 §77 But possibly you may reply, that you must either imitate Homer, or depart from Nature. §78 Not so: For suppose You was to change place, in time, with Homer; then, if you write naturally, you might as well charge Homer with an imitation of You. §79 Can you be said to imitate {{Page 22}} Homer for writing so, as you would have written, if Homer had never been? §80 As far as a regard to Nature, and sound Sense, will permit a Departure from your great Predecessors; so far, ambitiously, depart from them; the farther from them in Similitude, the nearer are you to them in Excellence; you rise by it into an Original ; become a noble Collateral, not an humble Descendant from them. §81 Let us build our Compositions with the Spirit, and in the Taste, of the Antients; but not with their Materials: Thus will they resemble the structures of Pericles at Athens, which Plutarch commends for having had an air of Antiquity as soon as they were built. §82 All Eminence, and Distinction, lies out of the beaten road; Excursion, and Deviation, are neces-{{Page 23}}sary to find it; and the more remote your Path from the Highway, the more reputable; if, like poor Gulliver (of whom anon,) you fall not into a Ditch, in your way to Glory.

¶22 §83 What glory to come near, what glory to reach, what glory (presumptuous thought!) to surpass, our Predecessors? §84 And is that then in Nature absolutely Impossible? §85 Or is it not, rather, contrary to Nature to fail in it? §86 Nature herself sets the Ladder, all wanting is our ambition to climb. §87 For by the bounty of Nature we are as strong as our Predecessors; and by the favour of Time (which is but another Round in Nature's Scale,) we stand on higher ground. §88 As to the First, were they more than men? §89 Or are we less? §90 Are not our minds cast in the same {{Page 24}}mould with those before the Flood? §91 The flood affected Matter; Mind escaped. §92 As to the Second; tho' we are Moderns, the World is an Antient; more antient far, than when they filled it with their Fame, whom we most admire. §93 Have we not their Beauties, as stars, to guide; their Defects, as rocks, to be shunn'd; the Judgment of Ages on both, as a chart to conduct, and a sure helm to steer us in our passage to greater Perfection than Theirs? §94 And shall we be stopt in our rival pretensions to Fame by this just Reproof?

Stat contra, dicitque tibi tua Pagina, Fur es. MART.
It is by a sort of noble Contagion, from a general familiarity with their Writings, and not by any particular sordid Theft, that we can be the {{Page 25}}better for those who went before us. §95 Hope we, from Plagiarism, any Dominion in Literature; as that of Rome arose from a nest of Thieves?

¶23 §96 Rome was a powerful Ally to many States; antient Authors are our powerful Allies; but we must take heed, that they do not succour, till they enslave, after the manner of Rome.Too formidable an Idea of their Superiority, like a Spectre, would fright us out of a proper use of our Wits; and dwarf our Understanding, by making a Giant of theirs. §97 Too great Awe for them lays Genius under restraint, and denies it that free scope, that full elbow-room, which is requisite for striking its most masterly strokes. §98 Genius is a Master-workman, Learning is but an Instrument; and an Instrument, tho' {{Page 26}}most valuable, yet not always indispensable. §99 Heaven will not admit of a Partner in the accomplishment of some favourite Spirits; but rejecting all human means, assumes the whole glory to itself. §100 Have not some, tho' not famed for Erudition, so written, as almost to persuade us, that they shone brighter, and soared higher, for escaping the boasted aid of that proud Ally?

¶24 §101 Nor is it strange; for what, for the most part, mean we by Genius, but the Power of accomplishing great things without the means generally reputed necessary to that end? §102 A Genius differs from a good Understanding, as a Magician from a good Architect; That raises his structure by means invisible; This by the skilful use of common tools. §103 {{Page 27}}Hence Genius has ever been supposed to partake of something Divine. §104 Nemo unquam vir magnus fuit, sine aliquo afflatu Divino.

¶25 §105 Learning, destitute of this superior Aid, is fond, and proud, of what has cost it much pains; is a great Lover of Rules, and Boaster of famed Examples: As Beauties less perfect, who owe half their Charms to cautious Art, she inveighs against natural unstudied Graces, and small harmless Indecorums, and sets rigid Bounds to that Liberty, to which Genius often owes its supreme Glory; but the No-Genius its frequent Ruin. §106 For unprescribed Beauties, and unexampled Excellence, which are Characteristics of Genius, lie without the Pale of Learning 's Authorities, and {{Page 28}}Laws; which Pale, Genius must leap to come at them: But by that Leap, if Genius is wanting, we break our Necks; we lose that little credit, which possibly we might have enjoyed before. §107 For Rules, like Crutches, are a needful Aid to the Lame, tho' an Impediment to the Strong. §108 A Homer casts them away; and, like his Achilles,

Jura negat sibi nata, nihil non arrogat,
by native force of mind. §109 There is something in Poetry beyond Prose-reason; there are Mysteries in it not to be explained, but admired; which render mere Prose-men Infidels to their Divinity. §110 And here pardon a second Paradox; viz. "Genius often then deserves most to be praised, when it is most sure to be condemned; that is, when its Excel-{{Page 29}} lence, from mounting high, to weak eyes is quite out of sight."

¶26 §111 If I might speak farther of Learning, and Genius, I would compare Genius to Virtue, and Learning to Riches. §112 As Riches are most wanted where there is least Virtue; so Learning where there is least Genius. §113 As Virtue without much Riches can give Happiness, so Genius without much Learning can give Renown. §114 As it is said in Terence, Pecuniam negligere interdum maximum est Lucrum; so to neglect of Learning, Genius sometimes owes its greater glory. §115 Genius, therefore, leaves but the second place, among men of letters, to the Learned. §116 It is their Merit, and Ambition, to fling light on the works of Genius, and point out its Charms. §117 We most justly {{Page 30}}reverence their informing Radius for that favour; but we must much more admire the radiant Stars pointed out by them.

¶27 §118 A Star of the first magnitude among the Moderns was Shakespeare; among the Antients, Pindar; who (as Vossius tells us) boasted of his No-learning, calling himself the Eagle, for his Flight above it. §119 And such Genii as these may, indeed, have much reliance on their own native powers. §120 For Genius may be compared to the Body's natural Strength; Learning to the superinduced Accoutrements of Arms: if the First is equal to the proposed exploit, the Latter rather encumbers, than assists; rather retards, than promotes, the Victory. §121 Sacer nobis inest Deus, says Seneca .With {{Page 31}}regard to the Moral world, Conscience, with regard to the Intellectual, Genius, is that God within. §122 Genius can set us right in Composition, without the Rules of the Learned; as Conscience sets us right in Life, without the Laws of the Land: This, singly, can make us Good, as Men; That, singly, as Writers, can, sometimes, make us Great.

¶28 §123 I say, sometimes, because there is a Genius, which stands in need of Learning to make it shine. §124 Of Genius there are two species, an Earlier, and a Later; or call them Infantine, and Adult. §125 An Adult Genius comes out of Nature's hand, as Pallas out of Jove's head, at full growth, and mature: Shakespeare's Genius was of this kind: On the contrary, Swift stumbled at the threshold, and set {{Page 32}}out for Distinction on feeble knees: His was an Infantine Genius; a Genius, which, like other Infants, must be nursed, and educated, or it will come to nought: Learning is its Nurse, and Tutor; but this Nurse may overlay with an indigested Load, which smothers common sense; and this Tutor may mislead, with pedantic Prejudice, which vitiates the best understanding: As too great admirers of the Fathers of the Church have sometimes set up their Authority against the true Sense of Scripture; so too great admirers of the Classical Fathers have sometimes set up their Authority, or Example, against Reason.

Neve minor, neu sit quinto productior actu Fabula.
So says Horace, so says antient Ex- {{Page 33}}ample. §126 But Reason has not subscribed. §127 I know but one book that can justify our implicit acquiescence in it.

¶29 §128 But superstition set aside, the Classicks are for ever our rightful, and revered Masters in Composition; and our understandings bow before them: But when? §129 When a master is wanted; which, sometimes, (as I have shown) is not the case. §130 Some are Pupils of nature only, nor go farther to school: From such we reap often a double advantage; they not only rival the reputation of the great antient authors, but also reduce the number of mean ones among the moderns. §131 For when they enter on subjects which have been in former hands, such is their Superiority, that, like a tenth Wave, they overwhelm, {{Page 34}}and bury in oblivion all that went before: And thus not only enrich and adorn, but remove a load, and lessen the labour, of the letter'd world.

¶30 §132 "But, you say, since Originals can arise from Genius only, and since Genius is so very rare, it is scarce worth while to labour a point so much, from which we can reasonably expect so little." To show that Genius is not so very rare as you imagine, I shall point out strong instances of it, in a far distant quarter from that mentioned above. §133 The minds of the Schoolmen were almost as much cloistered as their bodies; they had but little learning, and few books; yet may the most learned be struck with some astonishment at their so singu-{{Page 35}}lar natural sagacity, and most exquisite edge of thought. §134 Who would expect to find Pindar and Scotus, Shakespear and Aquinas, of the same Party? §135 Both equally shew an original, unindebted, energy; the Vigor igneus , and Cœlestis origo burns in both; and leaves us in doubt if Genius is more evident in the sublime flights and beauteous flowers of poetry, or in the profound penetrations, and marvelously keen and minute distinctions, called the Thorns of the schools. §136 There might have been more able Consuls called from the plough, than ever arrived at that honour: Many a Genius, probably, there has been, which could neither write, nor read. §137 So that Genius, that supreme Lustre of literature, is less rare than you conceive. {{Page 36}}

¶31 §138 By the praise of Genius we detract not from Learning; we detract not from the value of Gold, by saying that Diamond has greater still. §139 He who disregards Learning, shows that he wants its aid; and he that overvalues it, shows that its aid has done him harm. §140 Overvalued indeed it cannot be, if Genius, as to Composition, is valued more. §141 Learning we thank, Genius we revere; That gives us pleasure, This gives us rapture; That informs, This inspires; and is itself inspired; for Genius is from Heaven, Learning from man: This sets us above the low, and illiterate; That, above the learned, and polite. §142 Learning is borrowed knowlege; Genius is knowlege innate, and quite our own. §143 Therefore, as Bacon observes, it may take a nobler name, and be called Wis-{{Page 37}}dom; in which sense of wisdom, some are born wise.

¶32 §144 But here a caution is necessary against the most fatal of errors in those Automaths, those self-taught Philosophers of our age, who set up Genius, and often, mere fancied Genius, not only above human Learning, but divine Truth. §145 I have called Genius wisdom; but let it be remembered, that in the most renowned ages of the most refined Heathen wisdom (and theirs is not Christian) "the world by wisdom knew not God, and it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those that believed." In the Fairyland of Fancy, Genius may wander wild; there it has a creative power, and may reign arbitrarily over its own empire of Chimeras. §146 The wide {{Page 38}}field of Nature also lies open before it, where it may range unconfined, make what discoveries it can, and sport with its infinite objects uncontrouled, as far as visible nature extends, painting them as wantonly as it will: But what Painter of the most unbounded and exalted Genius can give us the true portrait of a Seraph? §147 He can give us only what by his own, or others eyes, has been seen; though that indeed infinitely compounded, raised, burlesqued, dishonoured, or adorned: In like manner, who can give us divine Truth unrevealed? §148 Much less should any presume to set aside divine Truth when revealed, as incongruous to their own Sagacities. §149 -- Is this too serious for my subject? §150 I shall be more so before I close. {{Page 39}}

¶33 §151 Having put in a Caveat against the most fatal of errors, from the too great indulgence of Genius, return we now to that too great suppression of it, which is detrimental to Composition; and endeavour to rescue the writer, as well as the man. §152 I have said, that some are born Wise; but they, like those that are born Rich, by neglecting the cultivation and produce of their own Possessions, and by running in debt, may be beggared at last; and lose their reputations, as younger brothers estates, not by being born with less abilities than the rich heir, but at too late an hour.

¶34 §153 Many a great man has been lost to himself, and the Publick, purely because great ones were born before him. §154 Hermias in his collections on {{Page 40}}Homer's blindness, says, that Homer requesting the Gods to grant him a sight of Achilles, that Hero rose, but in armour so bright, that it struck Homer blind with the blaze. §155 Let not the blaze of even Homer's Muse darken us to the discernment of our own Powers; which may possibly set us above the rank of Imitators; who, though most excellent, and even immortal (as some of them are) yet are still but Dii minorum gentium , nor can expect the largest share of incense, the greatest profusion of praise, on their secondary altars.

¶35 §156 But farther still: a spirit of Imitation hath many ill effects; I shall confine myself to three. §157 First, It deprives the liberal and politer arts of an advantage which the mechanic {{Page 41}}enjoy: In these, men are ever endeavouring to go beyond their Predecessors; in the former, to follow them. §158 And since copies surpass not their Originals, as streams rise not higher than their spring, rarely so high; hence, while arts Mechanic are in perpetual progress, and increase, the Liberal are in retrogradation, and decay. §159 These resemble Pyramids, are broad at bottom, but lessen exceedingly as they rise; Those resemble Rivers which, from a small fountain-head, are spreading ever wider, and wider, as they run. §160 Hence it [[[is]]] is evident, that different portions of understanding are not (as some imagine) allotted to different periods of time; for we see, in the same period, understanding rising in one set of artists, and declining in another. §161 Therefore Nature stands {{Page 42}}absolved, and the inferiority of our Composition must be charged on ourselves.

¶36 §162 Nay, so far are we from complying with a necessity, which Nature lays us under, that, Secondly, by a spirit of Imitation we counteract Nature, and thwart her design. §163 She brings us into the world all Originals: No two faces, no two minds, are just alike; but all bear Nature's evident mark of Separation on them. §164 Born Originals, how comes it to pass that we die Copies? That medling Ape Imitation, as soon as we come to years of Indiscretion (so let me speak), snatches the Pen, and blots out nature's mark of Separation, cancels her kind intention, destroys all mental Individuality; the letter'd world no longer {{Page 43}}consists of Singulars, it is a Medly, a Mass; and a hundred books, at bottom, are but One. §165 Why are Monkies such masters of mimickry? §166 Why receive they such a talent at imitation? §167 Is it not as the Spartan slaves received a licence for ebriety; that their Betters might be ashamed of it?

¶37 §168 The Third fault to be found with a spirit of Imitation is, that with great incongruity it makes us Poor, and Proud: makes us think little, and write much; gives us huge folios, which are little better than more reputable cushions to promote our repose. §169 Have not some sevenfold volumes put us in mind of Ovid 's sevenfold channels of the Nile at the conflagration?

Ostia septem Pulverulenta vacant septem sine flumine Valles.
{{Page 44}}Such leaden labours are like Lycurgus's iron money, which was so much less in value, than in bulk, that it required Barns for Strong-boxes, and a yoke of oxen to draw five hundred pounds.

¶38 §170 But notwithstanding these disadvantages of Imitation, imitation must be the lot, (and often an honourable lot it is) of most writers. §171 If there is a famine of Invention in the land, like Joseph's brethren, we must travel far for food; we must visit the remote, and rich, Antients; but an inventive Genius may safely stay at home; that, like the Widow's cruse, is divinely replenished from within; and affords us a miraculous delight. §172 Whether our own Genius be such, or not, we diligently should inquire; that we may not go a begging {{Page 45}}with Gold in our purse. §173 For there is a Mine in man, which must be deeply dug ere we can conjecture its contents. §174 Another often sees that in us, which we see not ourselves; and may there not be that in us which is unseen by both? §175 That there may, Chance often discovers, either by a luckily chosen Theme, or a mighty Premium, or an absolute Necessity of exertion, or a noble stroke of Emulation from another's Glory; as that on Thucydides from hearing Herodotus repeat part of his History at the Olympic Games: Had there been no Herodotus, there might have been no Thucydides, and the world's admiration might have begun at Livy for excellence in that province of the pen. §176 Demosthenes had the same stimulation on hearing Callistratus; or Tully might have been {{Page 46}}the first of consummate renown at the bar.

¶39 §177 Quite clear of the dispute concerning antient and modern Learning, we speak not of Performance, but Powers. §178 The modern powers are equal to those before them; modern performance in general is deplorably short. §179 How great are the names just mentioned? §180 Yet who will dare affirm, that as great may not rise up in some future, or even in the present age? §181 Reasons there are why talents may not appear, none why they may not exist, as much in one period as another. §182 An Evocation of vegetable fruits depends on rain, air, and sun; an Evocation of the fruits of Genius no less depends on Externals. §183 What a marvellous crop bore it in Greece , {{Page 47}}and Rome? And what a marvellous sunshine did it there enjoy? §184 What encouragement from the nature of their governments, and the spirit of their people? §185 Virgil and Horace owed their divine talents to Heaven; their immortal works, to men; thank Mæcenas, and Augustus for them. §186 Had it not been for these, the genius of those poets had lain buried in their ashes. §187 Athens expended on her Theatre, Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, a tax levied for the support of a war. §188 Cæsar dropt his papers when Tully spoke; and Philip trembled at the voice of Demosthenes: And has there shone but one Tully, one Demosthenes, in so long a course of years? §189 The powerful eloquence of them both in one stream, should never bear me down into the melan{{Page 48}}choly persuasion, that several have not been born, though they have not emerged. §190 The sun as much exists in a cloudy day, as in a clear; it is outward, accidental circumstances that with regard to Genius either in nation, or age,

Collectas fugat nubes, solemque reducit. VIRG.

¶40 §191 As great, perhaps, greater than those mentioned (presumptuous as it may sound) may, possibly, arise; for who hath fathomed the mind of man? §192 Its bounds are as unknown, as those of the creation; since the birth of which, perhaps, not One has so far exerted, as not to leave his Possibilities beyond his Attainments, his Powers beyond his Exploits. §193 Forming our judgments, altogether by what has been done, without knowing, or at all inquiring, what {{Page 49}}possibly might have been done, we naturally enough fall into too mean an opinion of the human mind. §194 If a sketch of the divine Iliad before Homer wrote, had been given to mankind, by some superior being, or otherwise, its execution would, probably, have appeared beyond the power of man. §195 Now, to surpass it, we think impossible. §196 As the First of these opinions would evidently have been a mistake, why may not the Second be so too? §197 Both are founded on the same bottom; on our ignorance of the possible dimensions of the mind of man.

¶41 §198 Nor are we only ignorant of the dimensions of the human mind in general, but even of our own. §199 That a Man may be scarce less ignorant of his own powers, than an Oyster {{Page 50}}of its pearl, or a Rock of its diamond; that he may possess dormant, unsuspected abilities, till awakened by loud calls, or stung up by striking emergencies, is evident from the sudden eruption of some men, out of perfect obscurity, into publick admiration, on the strong impulse of some animating occasion; not more to the world's great surprize, than their own. §2201 Few authors of distinction but have experienced something of this nature, at the first beamings of their yet unsuspected Genius on their hitherto dark Composition: The writer starts at it, as at a lucid Meteor in the night; is much surprized; can scarce believe it true. §202 During his happy confusion, it may be said to him, as to Eve at the Lake, {{Page 51}}

What there thou seest, fair creature is thyself. MILT.
Genius, in this view, is like a dear Friend in our company under disguise; who, while we are lamenting his absence, drops his mask, striking us, at once, with equal surprize and joy. §203 This sensation, which I speak of in a writer, might favour, and so promote, the fable of poetic Inspiration: A Poet of a strong imagination, and stronger vanity, on feeling it, might naturally enough realize the world's mere compliment, and think himself truly inspired. §204 Which is not improbable; for Enthusiasts of all kinds do no less.

¶42 §205 Since it is plain that men may be strangers to their own abilities; and {{Page 52}}by thinking meanly of them without just cause, may possibly lose a name, perhaps, a name immortal; I would find some means to prevent these Evils. §206 Whatever promotes Virtue, promotes something more, and carries its good influence beyond the moral man: To prevent these evils, I borrow two golden rules from Ethics, which are no less golden in Composition, than in life. §207 I. Know thyself; 2dly, Reverence thyself. I design to repay Ethics in a future Letter, by two rules from Rhetoric for its service.

¶43 §208 1st. Know thyself. §209 Of ourselves it may be said, as Martial says of a bad neighbour,

Nil tam prope, proculque nobis.
{{Page 53}} Therefore dive deep into thy bosom; learn the depth, extent, biass, and full fort of thy mind; contract full intimacy with the Stranger within thee; excite, and cherish every spark of Intellectual light and heat, however smothered under former negligence, or scattered through the dull, dark mass of common thoughts; and collecting them into a body, let thy Genius rise (if a Genius thou hast) as the sun from Chaos; and if I should then say, like an Indian, worship it, (though too bold) yet should I say little more than my second rule enjoins, (viz.) Reverence thyself.

¶44 §210 That is, let not great Examples, or Authorities, browbeat thy Reason into too great a diffidence of thyself: Thyself so reverence as to prefer the native growth of thy own {{Page 54}}mind to the richest import from abroad; such borrowed riches make us poor. §211 The man who thus reverences himself, will soon find the world's reverence to follow his own. §212 His works will stand distinguished; his the sole Property of them; which Property alone can confer the noble title of an Author, that is, of one who (to speak accurately) thinks, and composes; while other invaders of the Press, how voluminous, and learned soever, (with due respect be it spoken) only read, and write.

¶45 §213 This is the difference between those two Luminaries in Literature, the well-accomplished Scholar, and the divinely-inspired Enthusiast; the First is, as the bright morning star; the Second, as the rising sun. §214 The writer who neglects those two rules {{Page 55}}above will never stand alone; he makes one of a group, and thinks in wretched unanimity with the throng: Incumbered with the notions of others, and impoverished by their abundance, he conceives not the least embryo of new thought; opens not the least vista thro' the gloom of ordinary writers, into the bright walks of rare Imagination, and singular Design; while the true Genius is crossing all publick roads into fresh untrodden ground; he, up to the knees in Antiquity, is treading the sacred footsteps of great examples, with the blind veneration of a bigot saluting the papal toe; comfortably hoping full absolution for the sins of his own understanding, from the powerful charm of touching his idol's Infallibility. {{Page 56}}

¶46 §215 Such meanness of mind, such prostration of our own powers, proceeds from too great admiration of others. §216 Admiration has, generally, a degree of two very bad ingredients in it; of Ignorance, and of Fear; and does mischief in Composition, and in Life. §217 Proud as the world is, there is more superiority in it given, than assumed: And its Grandees of all kinds owe more of their elevation to the Littleness of others minds, than to the Greatness of their own. §218 Were not prostrate spirits their voluntary pedestals, the figure they make among mankind would not stand so high. §219 Imitators and Translators are somewhat of the pedestal-kind, and sometimes rather raise their Original's reputation, by showing him to be by them inimitable, than their own. §220 Homer has {{Page 57}}been translated into most languages; Ælian tells us, that the Indians, (hopeful tutors!) have taught him to speak their tongue. §221 What expect we from them? §222 Not Homer's Achilles, but something, which, like Patroclus, assumes his name, and, at its peril, appears in his stead; nor expect we Homer's UIysses, gloriously bursting out of his cloud into royal grandeur, but an UIysses under disguise, and a beggar to the last. §223 Such is that inimitable Father of poetry, and Oracle of all the wise whom Lycurgus transcribed; and for an annual publick recital of whose works Solon enacted a law; that it is much to be feared, that his so numerous translations are but as the publish'd testimonials of so many nations, and ages, that this author so divine is untranslated still. {{Page 58}}

¶47 §224 But here,

Cynthius aurem Vellit. -- VIRG.
and demands justice for his favourite, and ours. §225 Great things he has done; but he might have done greater. §226 What a fall is it from Homer 's numbers, free as air, lofty, and harmonious as the spheres, into childish shackles, and tinkling sounds! §227 But, in his fall, he is still great --
Nor appears Less than archangel ruin'd, and the excess Of glory obscur'd. -- MILT.

¶48 §228 Had Milton never wrote, Pope had been less to blame: But when in Milton's genius, Homer, as it were, personally rose to forbid Britons doing him that ignoble wrong; it is {{Page 59}}less pardonable, by that effeminate decoration, to put Achilles in petticoats a second time: How much nobler had it been, if his numbers had rolled on in full flow, through the various modulations of masculine melody, into those grandeurs of solemn sound, which are indispensably demanded by the native dignity of Heroick song? §229 How much nobler, if he had resisted the temptation of that Gothic Dæmon, which modern Poesy tasting, became mortal? §230 O how unlike the deathless, divine harmony of three great names (how justly join'd!), of Milton, Greece, and Rome? His Verse, but for this little speck of mortality, in its extreme parts, as his Hero had in his Heel; like him, had been invulnerable, and immortal. §231 But, unfortunately, that was undipt in Heli-{{Page 60}}con; as this , in Styx. §232 Harmony as well as Eloquence is essential to poesy; and a murder of his Musick is putting half Homer to death. §233 Blank is a term of diminution; what we mean by blank verse, is verse unfallen, uncurst; verse reclaim'd, reinthron'd in the true language of the Gods; who never thunder'd nor suffer'd their Homer to thunder, in Rhime; and therefore, I beg you, my Friend, to crown it with some nobler term; nor let the greatness of the thing lie under the defamation of such a name.

¶49 §234 But supposing Pope's Iliad to have been perfect in its kind; yet it is a Translation still; which differs as much from an Original, as the moon from the sun. {{Page 61}}

--Phœben alieno jusserat igne Impleri, solemque suo. CLAUD.
But, as nothing is more easy than to write originally wrong; Originals are not here recommended, but under the strong guard of my first rule--Know thyself. §235 Lucian , who was an Original, neglected not this rule, if we may judge by his reply to one who took some freedom with him. §236 He was, at first, an apprentice to a Statuary; and when he was reflected on as such, by being called Prometheus, he replied, "I am indeed the Inventor of new work, the model of which I owe to none; and, if I do not execute it well, I deserve to be torne by twelve Vulturs, instead of one." {{Page 62}}

¶50 §237 If so, O Gulliver! dost thou not shudder at thy brother Lucian's vulturs hovering o'er thee? §238 Shudder on! they cannot shock thee more, than Decency has been shock'd by thee. §239 How have thy Houyhnhunms thrown thy judgment from its seat, and laid thy imagination in the mire? §240 In what ordure hast thou dipt thy pencil? §241 What a monster hast thou made of the

-- Human face Divine? MILT.
This writer has so satirised human nature, as to give a demonstration in himself, that it deserves to be satirised. §242 But, say his wholesale admirers, Few could so have written; true, and Fewer would. If it required great abilities to commit the fault, greater still would have saved him from it. §243 But whence arise such warm advocates for such a {{Page 63}} performance? §244 From hence, (viz. ) before a character is established, Merit makes fame; afterwards fame makes merit. §245 Swift is not commended for this piece, but this piece for Swift . §246 He has given us some beauties which deserve all our praise; and our comfort is, that his faults will not become common; for none can be guilty of them, but who have Wit as well as Reputation to spare. §247 His wit had been less wild, if his Temper had not jostled his Judgment. §248 If his favourite Houyhnhunms could write, and Swift had been one of them, every Horse with him would have been an Ass, and he would have written a panegyrick on mankind, saddling with much reproach the present heroes of his pen: On the contrary, being born amongst men, and, of consequence, piqued {{Page 64}}by many, and peevish at more, he has blasphemed a nature little lower than that of Angels, and assumed by far higher than they: But surely the contempt of the world is not a greater virtue, than the contempt of mankind is a vice. §249 Therefore I wonder that, though forborn by others, the laughter-loving Swift, was not reproved by the venerable Dean, who could sometimes be very grave.

¶51 §250 For I remember, as I and others were taking with him an evening's walk, about a mile out of Dublin, he stopt short; we passed on; but perceiving that he did not follow us, I went back; and found him fixed as a statue, and earnestly gazing upward at a noble elm, which in its uppermost branches was much withered, and decayed. §251 Pointing at {{Page 65}}it, he said, "I shall be like that tree, I shall die at top." As in this he seemed to prophesy like the Sybils; if, like one of them, he had burnt part of his works, especially this blasted branch of a noble Genius, like her too, he might have risen in his demand for the rest.

¶52 §252 Would not his friend Pope have succeeded better in an original attempt? §253 Talents untried are talents unknown. §254 All that I know, is, that, contrary to these sentiments, he was not only an avowed professor of Imitation, but a zealous recommender of it also. §255 Nor could he recommend any thing better, except Emulation, to those who write. §256 One of these all writers must call to their aid; but aids they are of unequal repute. §257 Imitation is inferiority con- {{Page 66}}fessed; Emulation is superiority contested, or denied; Imitation is servile, Emulation generous; That fetters, This fires; That may give a name; This, a name immortal: This made Athens to succeeding ages the rule of taste, and the standard of perfection. §258 Her men of Genius struck fire against each other; and kindled, by conflict, into glories no time shall extinguish. §259 We thank Eschylus for Sophocles; and Parrhasius for Zeuxis ; Emulation, for both. §260 That bids us fly the general fault of Imitators; bids us not be struck with the loud report of former fame, as with a Knell, which damps the spirits; but, as with a Trumpet, which inspires ardour to rival the renown'd. §261 Emulation exhorts us, instead of learning our discipline for ever, like raw {{Page 67}}troops, under antient leaders in composition, to put those laurel'd veterans in some hazard of losing their superior posts in glory.

¶53 §262 Such is Emulation's high-spirited advice, such her immortalizing call. §263 Pope would not hear, pre-engaged with Imitation, which blessed him with all her charms. §264 He chose rather, with his namesake of Greece, to triumph in the old world, than to look out for a new. §265 His taste partook the error of his Religion; it denied not worship to Saints and Angels; that is, to writers, who, canonized for ages, have received their apotheosis from established and universal fame. §266 True Poesy, like true Religion, abhors idolatry; and though it honours the memory of the exemplary, and takes them {{Page 68}}willingly (yet cautiously) as guides in the way to glory; real, though unexampled, excellence is its only aim; nor looks it for any inspiration less than divine.

¶54 §267 Though Pope's noble Muse may boast her illustrious descent from Homer, Virgil, Horace, yet is an Original author more nobly born. §268 As Tacitus says of Curtius Rufus, an Original author is born of himself, is his own progenitor, and will probably propagate a numerous offspring of Imitators, to eternize his glory; while mule-like Imitators, die without issue. §269 Therefore, tho' we stand much obliged for his giving us an Homer, yet had he doubled our obligation, by giving us--a Pope. §270 Had he a strong Imagination, and the true Sublime? §271 That {{Page 69}}granted, we might have had two Homers instead of one, if longer had been his life; for I heard the dying swan talk over an Epic plan a few weeks before his decease.

¶55 §272 Bacon, under the shadow of whose great name I would shelter my present attempt in favour of Originals, says, "Men seem not to know their own stock, and abilities; but fancy their possessions to be greater, and their abilities less, than they really are." Which is, in effect, saying, "That we ought to exert more than we do; and that, on exertion, our probability of success is greater than we conceive."

¶56 §273 Nor have I Bacon's opinion only, but his assistance too, on my side. §274 {{Page 70}}His mighty mind travelled round the intellectual world; and, with a more than eagle's eye, saw, and has pointed out blank spaces, or dark spots in it, on which the human mind never shone: Some of these have been enlightened since; some are benighted still.

¶57 §275 Moreover, so boundless are the bold excursions of the human mind, that in the vast void beyond real existence, it can call forth shadowy beings, and unknown worlds, as numerous, as bright, and, perhaps, as lasting, as the stars; such quite-original beauties we may call Paradisaical,

Natos sine semine flores. OVID.
When such an ample area for renowned adventure in original at-{{Page 71}}tempts lies before us, shall we be as mere leaden pipes, conveying to the present age small streams of excellence from its grand reservoir in antiquity; and those too, perhaps, mudded in the pass? §276 Originals shine, like comets; have no peer in their path; are rival'd by none, and the gaze of all: All other compositions (if they shine at all) shine in clusters; like the stars in the galaxy; where, like bad neighbours, all suffer from all; each particular being diminished, and almost lost in the throng.

¶58 §277 If thoughts of this nature prevailed; if Antients and Moderns were no longer considered as masters and pupils, but as hard-match'd rivals for renown; then moderns, by the longevity of their labours, might, one day, become antients them-{{Page 72}}selves: And old Time, that best weigher of merits, to keep his balance even, might have the golden weight of an Augustan age in both his scales: Or rather our scale might descend; and antiquity's (as a modern match for it strongly speaks) might kick the beam.

¶59 §278 And why not? §279 For, consider, since an impartial Providence scatters talents indifferently, as thro' all orders of persons, so thro' all periods of time; since, a marvelous light, unenjoy'd of old, is pour'd on us by revelation, with larger prospects extending our Understanding, with brighter objects enriching our Imagination, with an inestimable prize setting our Passions on fire, thus strengthening every power that enables composition to shine; since, {{Page 73}}there has been no fall in man on this side Adam, who left no works, and the works of all other antients are our auxiliars against themselves, as being perpetual spurs to our ambition, and shining lamps in our path to fame; since, this world is a school, as well for intellectual, as moral, advance; and the longer human nature is at school, the better scholar it should be; since, as the moral world expects its glorious Milennium, the world intellectual may hope, by the rules of analogy, for some superior degrees of excellence to crown her latter scenes; nor may it only hope, but must enjoy them too; for Tully, Quintillian, and all true critics allow, that virtue assists Genius, and that the writer will be more able, when better is the man -- All these parti-{{Page 74}} culars, I say, consider'd, why should it seem altogether impossible, that heaven's latest editions of the human mind may be the most correct, and fair; that the day may come, when the moderns may proudly look back on the comparative darkness of former ages, on the children of antiquity; reputing Homer, and Demosthenes, as the dawn of divine Genius; and on Athens as the cradle of infant Fame; what a glorious revolution would this make in the rolls of renown?

¶60 §280 What a rant, say you, is here?--I partly grant it: Yet, consider, my Friend! knowlege physical, mathematical, moral, and divine, increases; all arts and sciences are making considerable advance; with them, all the accommodations, orna-{{Page 75}}ments, delights, and glories of human life; and these are new food to the Genius of a polite writer; these are as the root, and composition, as the flower; and as the root spreads, and thrives, shall the flower fail? §281 As well may a flower flourish, when the root is dead. §282 It is Prudence to read, Genius to relish, Glory to surpass, antient authors; and Wisdom to try our strength in an attempt in which it would be no great dishonour to fail.

¶61 §283 Why condemn'd Maro his admirable Epic to the flames? §284 Was it not because his discerning eye saw some length of perfection beyond it? §285 And what he saw, may not others reach? §286 And who bid fairer than our countrymen for that glory? §287 Something new may be expected from {{Page 76}}Britons particularly; who seem not to be more sever'd from the rest of mankind by the surrounding sea, than by the current in their veins; and of whom little more appears to be required, in order to give us Originals, than a consistency of character, and making their compositions of a piece with their lives.

¶62 §288 In polite composition, in natural, and mathematical, knowlege, we have great Originals already: Bacon, Newton, Shakespeare , Milton, have showed us, that all the winds cannot blow the British flag farther, than an Original spirit can convey the British fame; their names go round the world; and what foreign Genius strikes not as they pass? §289 Why should not their posterity embark in the same bold bottom of {{Page 77}}new enterprize, and hope the same success? §290 Hope it they may; or you must assert, that either those Originals, which we already enjoy, were written by Angels, or deny that we are Men. §291 As Simonides said to Pausanias, reason should say to the writer, "Remember thou art a man." And for man not to grasp at all which is laudable within his reach, is a dishonour to human nature, and a disobedience to the divine; for as heaven does nothing in vain, its gift of talents implies an injunction of their use.

¶63 §292 A friend of mine has obeyed that injunction; he has relied on himself, and with a Genius, as well moral, as original (to speak in bold terms), has cast out evil spirits; has made a convert to virtue of a species of {{Page 78}}composition, once most its foe. §293 As the first christian Emperors expell'd dæmons, and dedicated their temples to the living God.

¶64 §294 But you, I know, are sparing in your praise of this author; therefore I will speak of one, which is sure of your applause. §295 Shakespeare mingled no water with his wine, lower'd his Genius by no vapid Imitation. §296 Shakespeare gave us a Shakespeare, nor could the first in antient fame have given us more. §297 Shakespeare is not their Son, but Brother; their Equal, and that, in spite of all his faults. §298 Think you this too bold? §299 Consider, in those antients what is it the world admires? §3301 Not the fewness of their Faults, but the number and brightness of their Beauties; and if Shakespeare is their equal (as he {{Page 79}} doubtless is) in that, which in them is admired, then is Shakespeare as great as they; and not impotence, but some other cause, must be charged with his defects. §302 When we are setting these great men in competition, what but the comparative size of their Genius is the subject of our inquiry? §303 And a giant loses nothing of his size, tho' he should chance to trip in his race. §304 But it is a compliment to those heroes of antiquity to suppose Shakespeare their equal only in dramatic powers; therefore, tho' his faults had been greater, the scale would still turn in his favour. §305 There is at least as much Genius on the British, as on the Grecian stage, tho' the former is not swept so clean; so clean from violations not only of the dramatic, but moral rule; for an honest hea- {{Page 80}}then, on reading some of our celebrated scenes, might be seriously concerned to see, that our obligations to the religion of nature were cancel'd by Christianity.

¶65 §306 Johnson, in the serious drama, is as much an Imitator, as Shakespeare is an Original. §307 He was very learned, as Sampson was very strong, to his own hurt: Blind to the nature of Tragedy, he pulled down all antiquity on his head, and buried himself under it; we see nothing of Johnson, nor indeed, of his admired (but also murdered) antients; for what shone in the Historian is a cloud on the Poet; and Cataline might have been a good play, if Salust had never writ. {{Page 81}}

¶66 §308 Who knows if Shakespeare might not have thought less, if he had read more? §309 Who knows if he might not have laboured under the load of Johnson's learning, as Enceladus under Ætna? His mighty Genius, indeed, thro' the most mountainous oppression would have breathed out some of his inextinguishable fire; yet, possibly, he might not have risen up into that giant, that much more than common man, at which we now gaze with amazement, and delight. §310 Perhaps he was as learned as his dramatic province required; for whatever other learning he wanted, he was master of two books, unknown to many of the profoundly read, tho' books, which, the last conflagration alone can destroy; the book of Nature, and that of Man. §311 These he had by heart, and has tran- {{Page 82}}scribed many admirable pages of them, into his immortal works. §312 These are the fountain-head, whence the Castalian streams of original composition flow; and these are often mudded by other waters, tho' waters in their distinct chanel, most wholesome and pure: As two chymical liquors, separately clear as crystal, grow foul by mixture, and offend the sight. §313 So that he had not only as much learning as his dramatic province required, but, perhaps, as it could safely bear.

¶67 §314 Dryden, destitute of Shakespeare's Genius, had almost as much learning as Johnson and, for the buskin, quite as little taste. §315 He was a stranger to the Pathos, and by numbers, expression, sentiment, and every other dramatic cheat, {{Page 83}}strove to make amends for it; as if a Saint could make amends for the want of conscience; a Soldier, for the want of valour; or a Vestal, of modesty. §316 The noble nature of tragedy disclaims an equivalent; like virtue, it demands the heart; and Dryden had none to give. §317 Let Epic poets think, the tragedian's point is rather to feel; such distant things are a tragedian and a poet, that the latter indulged, destroys the former. §318 Look on Barnwell, and Essex, and see how as to these distant characters Dryden excells, and is excelled. §319 But the strongest demonstration of his no-taste for the buskin, are his tragedies fringed with rhyme; which, in Epic poetry, is a sore disease; in the Tragic, absolute death. §320 To Dryden 's enormity, Pope's was a light offence. §321 As lacemen are foes {{Page 84}}to mourning, these two authors, rich in rhyme, were no great friends to those solemn ornaments which the nature of their works required.

¶68 §322 Must rhyme then, say you, be banished? §323 I wish the nature of our language could bear its intire expulsion; but our lesser poetry stands in need of a toleration for it; it raises That, but it sinks the Great; as spangles adorn children, but expose men. §324 Prince Henry bespangled all over in his oylet-hole suit, with glittering pins; and an Achilles, or an Almanzor, in this Gothic array; are very much on a level, as to the majesty of the poet, and the prince. §325 Dryden had a great, but a general capacity; and as for a general Genius, there is no such thing in nature: A Genius implies the rays of {{Page 85}}the mind concenter'd, and determined to some particular point; when they are scatter'd widely, they act feebly, and strike not with sufficient force, to fire, or dissolve, the heart. §326 As what comes from the Writer's heart, reaches ours; so what comes from his head, sets our brains at work, and our hearts at ease. §327 It makes a circle of thoughtful Critics, not of distressed Patients; and a passive audience, is what tragedy requires. §328 Applause is not to be given, but extorted; and the silent lapse of a single tear, does the writer more honour, than the rattling thunder of a thousand hands. §329 Applauding hands, and dry eyes (which during Dryden's theatrical reign often met) are a satire on the Writer's talent, and the Spectator's taste. §330 When by such {{Page 86}}judges the laurel is blindly given, and by such a poet proudly received, they resemble an intoxicated hoste, and his tasteless guests, over some sparkling adulteration, commending their Champaign.

¶69 §331 But Dryden has his glory, tho' not on the stage: What an inimitable original is his Ode? §332 A small one, indeed, but of the first lustre, and without a flaw; and, amid the brightest boasts of antiquity, it may find a foil.

¶70 §333 Among the brightest of the moderns, |Mr.| Addison must take his place. §334 Who does not approach his character with great respect? §335 They who refuse to close with the public in his praise, refuse at their peril. §336 But, if men will be fond of their {{Page 87}}own opinions, some hazard must be run. §337 He had, what Dryden and Johnson wanted, a warm, and feeling heart; but, being of a grave and bashful nature, thro' a philosophic reserve, and a sort of moral prudery, he conceal'd it, where he should have let loose all his fire, and have show'd the most tender sensibilities of heart. §338 At his celebrated Cato, few tears are shed, but Cato's own; which, indeed, are truly great, but unaffecting, except to the noble Few, who love their country better than themselves. §339 The bulk of mankind want virtue enough to be touched by them. §340 His strength of Genius has reared up one glorious image, more lofty, and truly golden, than that in the plains of Dura, for cool admiration to gaze at, and warm patriotism (how rare!) to wor-{{Page 88}} ship; while those two throbbing pulses of the drama, by which alone it is shown to live, terror and pity, neglected thro' the whole, leave our unmolested hearts at perfect peace. §341 Thus the poet, like his hero, thro' mistaken excellence, and virtue overstrain'd, becomes a sort of suicide; and that which is most dramatic in the drama, dies. §342 All his charms of poetry are but as funeral flowers, which adorn; all his noble Sentiments but as rich spices, which embalm, the tragedy deceased.

¶71 §343 Of tragedy, Pathos is not only the life and soul, but the soul inextinguishable; it charms us thro' a thousand faults. §344 Decorations, which in this author abound, tho' they might immortalize other poesy, are the splendida peccata which {{Page 89}} damn the drama; while, on the contrary, the murder of all other beauties is a venial sin, nor plucks the Laurel from the tragedian's brow.

¶72 §345 Socrates frequented the plays of Euripides; and, what living Socrates would decline the theatre, at the representation of Cato? §346 Tully's assassins found him in his litter, reading the Medea of the Grecian poet, to prepare himself for death. §347 Part of Cato might be read to the same end. §348 In the weight and dignity of moral reflection, Addison resembles that poet, who was called the dramatic philosopher; and is himself, as he says of Cato, ambitiously sententious. But as to the singular talent so remarkable in Euripides, at melting down hearts into {{Page 90}}the tender streams of grief and pity, there the resemblance fails. §349 His beauties sparkle, but do not warm; they sparkle as stars in a frosty night. §350 There is, indeed, a constellation in his play; there is the philosopher, patriot, orator, and poet; but where is the tragedian? §351 And, if that is wanting,

Cur in theatrum Cato severe venisti? MART.
And, when I recollect what passed between him and Dryden , in relation to this drama, I must add the next line,
An ideo tantum veneras, ut exires?
For, when Addison was a student at Oxford, he sent up this play to his friend Dryden, as a proper person to recommend it to the Theatre, if {{Page 91}}it deserved it; who returned it, with very great commendation; but with his opinion, that, on the stage, it could not meet with its deserved success. §352 But tho' the performance was denied the theatre, it brought its author on the public stage of life. §353 For persons in power inquiring soon after of the head of his college for a youth of parts, Addison was recommended, and readily received, by means of the great reputation which Dryden had just then spread of him above.

¶73 §354 There is this similitude between the poet and the play; as This is more fit for the closet than the stage; so, That shone brighter in private conversation than on the public scene. §355 They both had a sort of local excellency, as the heathen gods {{Page 92}}a local divinity; beyond such a bound they, unadmired; and these, unadored. §356 This puts me in mind of Plato, who denied Homer to the public; that Homer, which, when in his closet, was rarely out of his hand. §357 Thus, tho' Cato is not calculated to signalize himself in the warm emotions of the theatre, yet we find him a most amiable companion, in our calmer delights of recess.

¶74 §358 Notwithstanding what has been offered, This, in many views, is an exquisite piece. §359 But there is so much more of art, than nature in it, that I can scarce forbear calling it, an exquisite piece of statuary,

Where the smooth chisel all its skill has shown, To soften into flesh the rugged stone. ADDISON.
{{Page 93}} That is, where art has taken great pains to labour undramatic matter into dramatic life; which is impossible. §360 However, as it is, like Pygmalion, we cannot but fall in love with it, and wish it was alive. §361 How would a Shakespeare, or an Otway, have answered our wishes? §362 They would have outdone Prometheus, and, with their heavenly fire, have given him not only life, but immortality. §363 At their dramas (such is the force of nature) the Poet is out of sight, quite hid behind his Venus, never thought of, till the curtain falls. §364 Art brings our author forward, he stands before his piece; splendidly indeed, but unfortunately; for the writer must be forgotten by his audience, during the representation, if for ages he would be remembered by posterity. §365 In the {{Page 94}}theatre, as in life, delusion is the charm; and we are undelighted, the first moment we are undeceived. §366 Such demonstration have we, that the theatre is not yet opened, in which solid happiness can be found by man; because none are more than comparatively good; and folly has a corner in the heart of the wise.

¶75 §367 A Genius fond of ornament should not be wedded to the tragic muse, which is in mourning: We want not to be diverted at an entertainment, where our greatest pleasure arises from the depth of our concern. §368 But whence (by the way) this odd generation of pleasure from pain? §369 The movement of our melancholy passions is pleasant, when we ourselves are safe: We love to be, {{Page 95}}at once, miserable, and unhurt: So are we made; and so made, perhaps, to show us the divine goodness; to show that none of our passions were designed to give us pain, except when being pain'd is for our advantage on the whole; which is evident from this instance, in which we see, that passions the most painful administer greatly, sometimes, to our delight.

¶76 §370 To close our thoughts on Cato: He who sees not much beauty in it, has no taste for poetry; he who sees nothing else, has no taste for the stage. §371 While it justifies censure, it extorts applause. §372 It is much to be admired, but little to be felt. §373 Had it not been a tragedy, it had been immortal; as it is a tragedy, its uncommon fate somewhat resembles {{Page 96}}his, who, for conquering gloriously, was condemn'd to die. §374 Both shone, but shone fatally; because in breach of their respective laws, the laws of the drama, and the laws of arms. §375 But how rich in reputation must that author be, who can spare a Cato, without feeling the loss.

¶77 §376 That loss by our author would scarce be felt; it would be but dropping a single feather from a wing, that mounts him above his cotemporaries. §377 He has a more refined, decent, judicious, and extensive Genius, than Pope, or Swift.To distinguish this triumvirate from each other, and, like Newton, to discover the different colours in these genuine and meridian rays of literary light, Swift is a singular wit, Pope a correct poet, Addison a great author. §378 Swift {{Page 97}}looked on Wit as the Jus divinum to dominion and sway in the world; and considered as usurpation, all power that was lodged in persons of less sparkling understandings. §379 This inclined him to tyranny in wit; Pope was somewhat of his opinion, but was for softening tyranny into lawful monarchy; yet were there some acts of severity in his reign. §380 Addison's crown was elective, he reigned by the public voice:

-- Volentes Per populos dat jura viamque affectat Olympo. VIRG.

¶78 §381 But as good books are the medicine of the mind, if we should dethrone these authors, and consider them, not in their royal, but their medicinal capacity, might it not then be said, that Addison prescribed a wholesome and pleasant {{Page 98}}regimen, which was universally relished, and did much good; that Pope preferred a purgative of satire, which, tho' wholesome, was too painful in its operation; and that Swift insisted on a large dose of ipecacuanha, which, tho' readily swallowed from the fame of the physician, yet, if the patient had any delicacy of taste, he threw up the remedy, instead of the disease?

¶79 §382 Addison wrote little in Verse, much in sweet, elegant, Virgilian, Prose; so let me call it, since Longinus calls Herodotus most Homeric, and Thucydides is said to have formed his style on Pindar. §383 Addison's compositions are built with the finest materials, in the taste of the antients, and (to speak his own language) on truly Classic ground: {{Page 99}} And tho' they are the delight of the present age, yet am I persuaded that they will receive more justice from posterity. §384 I never read him, but I am struck with such a disheartening idea of perfection, that I drop my pen. §385 And, indeed, far superior writers should forget his compositions, if they would be greatly pleased with their own.

¶80 §386 But you say, that you know his value already--You know, indeed, the value of his writings, and close with the world in thinking them immortal; but, I believe, you know not, that his name would have deserved immortality, tho' he had never written; and that, by a better title than the pen can give: You know too, that his life was amiable; but, perhaps, you are still to learn, that {{Page 100}} his death was triumphant: That is a glory granted to very few: And the paternal hand of Providence, which, sometimes, snatches home its beloved children in a moment, must convince us, that it is a glory of no great consequence to the dying individual; that, when it is granted, it is granted chiefly, for the sake of the surviving world, which may profit by his pious example, to whom is indulged the strength, and opportunity to make his virtue shine out brightest at the point of death: And, here, permit me to take notice, that the world will, probably, profit more by a pious example of lay-extraction, than by one born of the church; the latter being, usually, taxed with an abatement of influence by the bulk of mankind: Therefore, to smother a bright example of this {{Page 101}}superior good influence, may be reputed a sort of murder injurious to the living, and unjust to the dead.

¶81 §387 Such an example have we in Addison; which, tho' hitherto suppressed, yet, when once known, is insuppressible, of a nature too rare, too striking to be forgotten. §388 For, after a long, and manly, but vain struggle with his distemper, he dismissed his physicians, and with them all hopes of life: But with his hopes of life he dismissed not his concern for the living, but sent for a youth nearly related, and finely accomplished, but not above being the better for good impressions from a dying friend: He came; but life now glimmering in the socket, the dying friend was silent: After a decent, and proper pause, the youth said, {{Page 102}}"Dear Sir! you sent for me: I believe, and I hope, that you have some commands; I shall hold them most sacred:'' May distant ages not only hear, but feel the reply! §389 Forcibly grasping the youth's hand, he softly said, "See in what peace a Christian can die." He spoke with difficulty, and soon expired. §390 Thro' grace divine, how great is man? §391 Thro' divine Mercy, how stingless death! §392 Who would not thus expire?

¶82 §393 What an inestimable legacy were those few dying words to the youth beloved? §394 What a glorious supplement to his own valuable fragment on the truth of Christianity? §395 What a full demonstration, that his fancy could not feign beyond what his virtue could reach? §396 For when he {{Page 103}}would strike us most strongly with the grandeur of Roman magnanimity, his dying hero is ennobled with this sublime sentiment,

While yet I live, let me not live in vain. CATO.

¶83 §397 But how much more sublime is that sentiment when realized in life; when dispelling the languors, and appeasing the pains of a last hour; and brightening with illustrious action the dark avenue, and all-awful confines of an Eternity? §398 When his soul scarce animated his body, strong Faith, and ardent Charity, animated his soul into divine ambition of saving more than his own. §399 It is for our honour, and our advantage, to hold him high in our esteem: For the better men are, the more they will admire him; and the more {{Page 104}}they admire him, the better will they be.

¶84 §401 By undrawing the long-closed curtain of his death-bed, have I not showed you a stranger in him whom you knew so well? §402 Is not this of your favourite author,

--Notâ major imago? VIRG.
His compositions are but a noble preface; the grand work is his death: That is a work which is read in heaven: How has it join'd the final approbation of angels to the previous applause of men? §403 How gloriously has he opened a splendid path, thro' fame immortal, into eternal peace? §404 How has he given religion to triumph amidst the ruins of his nature? §405 And, stronger than {{Page 105}}death, risen higher in virtue when breathing his last?

¶85 §406 If all our men of Genius had so breathed their last; if all our men of Genius, like him, had been men of Genius for eternals; then, had we never been pained by the report of a latter end--oh! how unlike to this? §407 But a little to balance our pain, let us consider, that such reports as make us, at once, adore, and tremble, are of use, when too many there are, who must tremble before they will adore; and who convince us, to our shame, that the surest refuge of our endanger'd virtue is in the fears, and terrors of the disingenuous human heart.

¶86 §408 "But reports, you say, may be false; and you farther ask me, {{Page 106}}If all reports were true, how came an anecdote of so much honour to human nature, as mine, to lie so long unknown? §409 What inauspicious planet interposed to lay its lustre under so lasting, and so surprizing an eclipse?"

¶87 §410 The fact is indisputably true; nor are you to rely on me for the truth of it: My report is but a second edition: It was published before, tho' obscurely, and with a cloud before it.

¶00 As clouds before the sun are often beautiful; so, this of which I speak. How finely pathetic are those two lines, which this so solemn, and affecting scene inspired?

He taught us how to live; and, oh! too high A price for knowlege, taught us how to die. TICKELL.
{{Page 107}}

¶88 §411 With truth wrapped in darkness, so sung our oracle to the public; but explained himself to me: He was present at his patron's death, and that account of it here given, he gave to me before his eyes were dry: By what means Addison taught us how to die, the Poet left to be made known by a late, and less able hand; but one more zealous for his patron's glory: Zealous, and impotent, as the poor Ægyptian, who gather'd a few splinters of a broken boat, as a funeral-pile for the great Pompey, studious of doing honour to so renown'd a name: Yet had not this poor plank (permit me, here, so to call this imperfect page) been thrown out, the chief article of his patron's glory, would probably have been sunk for ever, and late ages had received but a fragment of his {{Page 108}}fame: A fragment glorious indeed, for his Genius how bright! §412 But to commend him for composition, tho' immortal, is detraction now; if there our encomium ends: Let us look farther to that concluding scene, which spoke human nature not unrelated to the divine.

¶00 To that let us pay the long, and large arrear of our greatly posthumous applause.

¶89 §413 This you will think a long digression; and justly; if that may be called a digression, which was my chief inducement for writing at all: I had long wished to deliver up to the public this sacred deposit, which by Providence was lodged in my hands; and I entered on the present undertaking partly as an introduction to that, which is more worthy to see the light; of which I gave an {{Page 109}}intimation in the beginning of my Letter: For this is the monumental marble there mentioned, to which I promised to conduct you; this is the sepulchral lamp, the long-hidden lustre of our accomplished countryman, who now rises, as from his tomb, to receive the regard so greatly due to the dignity of his death; a death to be distinguished by tears of joy; a death which angels beheld with delight.

¶90 §414 And shall that, which would have shone conspicuous amid the resplendent lights of Christianity's glorious morn, by these dark days be dropped into oblivion? §415 Dropped it is; and dropped by our sacred, august, and ample register of renown, which has entered in its marble-memoirs the dim splendor of far inferior worth: {{Page 110}}Tho' so lavish of praise, and so talkative of the dead, yet is it silent on a subject, which (if any) might have taught its unletter'd stones to speak: If powers were not wanting, a monument more durable than those of marble, should proudly rise in this ambitious page, to the new, and far nobler Addison, than that which you, and the public have so long, and so much admired; nor this nation only; for it is Europe's Addison, as well as ours; tho' Europe knows not half his title to her esteem; being as yet unconscious that the dying Addison far outshines her Addison immortal: Would we resemble him? §416 Let us not limit our ambition to the least illustrious part of his character; heads, indeed, are crowned on earth; but hearts only are crowned in heaven: A truth, {{Page 111}}which, in such an age of authors, should not be forgotten.

¶91 §417 It is piously to be hoped, that this narrative may have some effect, since all listen, when a death-bed speaks; and regard the person departing as an Actor of a part, which the great master of the drama has appointed us to perform to-morrow: This was a Roscius on the stage of life; his Exit how great? §418 Ye lovers of virtue! §419 plaudite: And let us, my Friend! ever "remember his end, as well as our own, that we may never do amiss." I am,

§420 Dear SIR,

Your most obliged, humble Servant.

{{Page 112}}

¶92 §421 |P. S.| How far Addison is an Original, you will see in my next; where I descend from this consecrated ground into his sublunary praise: And great is the descent, tho' into noble heights of intellectual power.


Copytext: Young 1759.
Source: [Edward Young.] Conjectures on Original Composition. In a Letter to the Author of Sir Charles Grandison. London: A. Millar and R. and J. Dodsley, 1759.
Ed. (text): Ian Lancashire, Rep. Criticism On-line (1996).

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