Alexander Pope An Essay on Criticism Excerpts

posted by: Wesley Ismay

No Comments »

Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.
Whatever Nature has in worth denied,
She gives in large recruits of needful pride;
For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find
What wants in blood and spirits, swell’d with wind;
Pride, where wit fails, steps in to our defence,
And fills up all the mighty void of sense!
If once right reason drives that cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless day;
Trust not yourself; but your defects to know,
Make use of ev’ry friend—and ev’ry foe.

A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ,
Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find,
Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind;
Nor lose, for that malignant dull delight,
The gen’rous pleasure to be charm’d with wit.

In ev’ry work regard the writer’s end,
Since none can compass more than they intend;
And if the means be just, the conduct true,
Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due.
As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit,
T’ avoid great errors, must the less commit:
Neglect the rules each verbal critic lays,
For not to know such trifles, is a praise.
Most critics, fond of some subservient art,
Still make the whole depend upon a part:
They talk of principles, but notions prize,
And all to one lov’d folly sacrifice.

Thus critics, of less judgment than caprice,
Curious not knowing, not exact but nice,
Form short ideas; and offend in arts
(As most in manners) by a love to parts.

False eloquence, like the prismatic glass,
Its gaudy colours spreads on ev’ry place;
The face of Nature we no more survey,
All glares alike, without distinction gay:
But true expression, like th’ unchanging sun,
Clears, and improves whate’er it shines upon,
It gilds all objects, but it alters none.
Expression is the dress of thought, and still
Appears more decent, as more suitable;
A vile conceit in pompous words express’d,
Is like a clown in regal purple dress’d:

And but so mimic ancient wits at best,
As apes our grandsires, in their doublets dress’d.
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold;
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old;
Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Not yet the last to lay the old aside.

Avoid extremes; and shun the fault of such,
Who still are pleas’d too little or too much.
At ev’ry trifle scorn to take offence,
That always shows great pride, or little sense;
Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best,
Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest.
Yet let not each gay turn thy rapture move,
For fools admire, but men of sense approve;
As things seem large which we through mists descry,
Dulness is ever apt to magnify.

Some ne’er advance a judgment of their own,
But catch the spreading notion of the town;
They reason and conclude by precedent,
And own stale nonsense which they ne’er invent.
Some judge of authors’ names, not works, and then
Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men.

Short is the date, alas, of modern rhymes,
And ’tis but just to let ’em live betimes.
No longer now that golden age appears,
When patriarch wits surviv’d a thousand years:
Now length of Fame (our second life) is lost,
And bare threescore is all ev’n that can boast;

But where’s the man, who counsel can bestow,
Still pleas’d to teach, and yet not proud to know?
Unbias’d, or by favour or by spite;
Not dully prepossess’d, nor blindly right;
Though learn’d, well-bred; and though well-bred, sincere;
Modestly bold, and humanly severe?
Who to a friend his faults can freely show,
And gladly praise the merit of a foe?
Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfin’d;
A knowledge both of books and human kind;
Gen’rous converse; a soul exempt from pride;
And love to praise, with reason on his side?

posted in: Thinking Book Passages

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *