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idea is communicated, the reader is not intruded upon by useless repetitions.
V. But perhaps the superlative merit of Pope consists in the purity and correctness of his language, which is truly English, and exhibits no instances of being debased or intermixed with the French or any other foreign idioms, as some of his critics would lead us to suppose. If we had paid as much attention to our own language as the Italians have done to theirs, this would place Pope at the head of our Testi di Lingua, or models of composition; nor would it be too much to say, that if every English writer were to be corrected, so as to bring him to a true standard, there would be less to alter in Pope than in any other. In this respect it has justly been observed by Lord Byron, that in case of an overwhelming convulsion, the surviving world would snatch from the wreck the writings of Pope in preference to those of all his countrymen.
VI. To these peculiar endowments of Pope, as a poet, we may add, the variety which he has displayed not only in the choice of his subjects, but in the manner in which he has treated them. Poetry, like music, and, indeed, like all the imitative arts, admits of great diversity of excellence, and it is in general sufficient if a poet can arrive at superiority in any one department, as it is for a musician to perform with superlative skill on any one instrument. If, however, we consider the writings of Pope with a view of ascertaining the universality of his talents, we shall find that there is scarcely a subject, from the simplest description, to the sublimest strains of devotion, or the deepest recesses of intellectual and moral truth, which has not
POETICAL CHARACTER, &c. OF POPE.
engaged his attention, and on which his efforts have not been attended with the most acknowledged success. To exemplify these remarks, by showing in what manner Pope has employed his different powers and acquirements in the various productions of his pen, would here have been necessary; but for what remains to be said on this subject, the reader is referred to the observations which will be found prefixed to the principal poems in the ensuing volumes; which may be considered as continuing the present imperfect estimate of the poetical character and writings of Pope.
The clearness, the closeness, and the elegance of style with which this preface is written, render it one of the best pieces of prose in our language. It abounds in strong good sense, and profound knowledge of life. It is written with such simplicity that scarcely a single metaphor is to be found in it. Atterbury was so delighted with it, that he tells our Author he had read it over twice with pleasure, and desired him not to balance a moment about printing it ; " always provided there is nothing said there that you may have occasion to unsay hereafter.” These words are remarkable. This preface far excels those of Pelisson, Vaugelas, and D’Ablancourt, of which the French boast so highly.- Warton.
If Pope has not distinguished himself as much by his prose compositions as by his poetry, yet he has attained in the former, as Dr. Warton has justly observed, a high degree of excellence ; as appears not only in this preface, but from other parts of his writings ; in which we perceive the same force and precision, the same clear construction of his sentences, and easy flow of expression as in his verses ; insomuch, that if published anonymously, it would not have been difficult to have ascribed them to their proper author. The same may be observed of Dryden, whose poetry and prose bear a near resemblance to each other, and have the same characteristic excellences and defects ; but is by no means applicable to all writers who have adopted both modes of composition. Who, for instance, that had only read some of Milton's prose works, would have conjectured from them that he was the author of Lycidas, Comus, or the Paradise Lost ? Many examples might be given, where the finest writers in prose have totally failed when they have applied their talents to poetry; and it is therefore the less extraordinary that all who have excelled in poetry, should not have succeeded equally in prose.
I Am inclined to think that both the writers of books, and the readers of them, are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations. The first seem to fancy the world must approve whatever they produce, and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate. Methinks, as on the one hand, no single man is born with a right of controuling the opinions of all the rest; so on the other, the world has no title to demand, that the whole care and time of any particular person should be sacrificed to its entertainment. Therefore I cannot but believe that writers and readers are under equal obligations, for as much fame, or pleasure, as each affords the other.
Every one acknowledges, it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly past upon poems.
A Critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point: and can it then be wondered at, if the Poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error ? For as long as one side will make no allow