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Humour. But I mean not the Authority, which is annex'd to your Office: I speak of that only which is inborn and inherent to your Person. What is produc'd in you by an excellent Wit, a Mafterly and Commanding Genius over all Writers: Whereby you are impower'd, when you please, to give the final Decision of Wit; to put your Stamp on all that ought to pass for current; and set a Brand of Reprobation on clipt Poetry, and false Coin. A Shilling dipt in the Bath may go for Gold amongst the Ignorant, but the Scepters on the Guineas fhew the Difference. That your Lordship is form'd by Nature for this Supremacy, I could easily prove, (were it not already granted by the World)
from the distinguishing Character of your Writing. Which is so visible to me, that I never cou'd be impos’d on to receive for yours, what was written by any others; or to mistake your Genuine Poetry, for their Spurious Productions. I can farthe add with Truth (tho' not without some Vanity in saying it) that in the same Paper, written by divers Hands, whereof your Lordship's was only part, I cou'd separate your Gold from their Copper: And tho' I could not give back to every Author his own Brass, (for there is not the same Rule for distinguishing betwixt bad and bad, as betwixt ill and excellently good) yet I never faild of knowing what was yours, and what was not : And was absolutely certain, that this, or the other Part, was positively yours, and cou'd not pomibly be written by any other
Trúe it is, that some bad Poems, tho' not all, carry their Owners Marks about 'em. There is some peculiar Aukwardness, false Grammar, imperfe& Sense, or at the least Obscurity; Tome Brand or other on this Buttock, or that Ear, that
'tis notorious who are the Owners of the Cattle, tho' they shou'd not sign it with their Names. But your Lordship, on the contrary, is distinguishid, not only by the Excellency of your Thoughts, but by your style and Manner of expressing them. A Painter judging of some admirable Piece, may affirm with certainty, that it was of Holben, or Vandike : But Vulgar Designs, and Common Draughts, are easily mistaken, and misapply'd. Thus, by my long Study of your Lordfhip, I am arriv'd at the Knowledge of your particular Manner. In the Good Poems of other Men, like those Artists, I can only say, this is like the Draught of such a one, or like the Colouring of another. In short, I can only be sure, that 'tis the Hand of a good Maker : But in your Performances, 'tis scarcely possible for me to be deceiv'd. If you write in your Strength, you stand reveal'd at the first view; and shou'd you write under it, you cannot avoid fome peculiar Graces, which only cost me a second Confideration to discover you: For I may say it, with all the Severity of Truth, that every Line of yours is precious. Your Lordship’s only Fault is, that you have not written more; unless I cou'd add another, and that yet greater, but I fear for the Publick, the Accufation wou'd not be true, that you have written, and out of yi. tious Modesty will not publifh,
Virgil has confin'd his works within the Compass of Eighteen Thousand Lines, and has not treated many Subjects; yet he ever had, and ever will have, the Reputation of the beft Poet. Mar. tial fays of him, that he could have excell'd Varia us in Tragedy, and Horace in Lyrick Poetry, but out of Deference to his Friends, he attempted neither.
The same prevalence of Genius is in Your LordThip, but the World cannot pardon your concealing it on the same Consideration; because we have neither a living Varius, nor a Horace, in whose Excellencies both of Poems, Odes, and Satyrs, you had equalld them, if our Language had not yielded to the Roman Majesty, and length of Time had not added a Reverence to the Works of Ho.
For good Sense is the same in all or most Ages; and course of Time rather improves Nature, than impairs her. What has been, may be again: Another Homer, and another Virgil, may possibly arise from those very Causes which produc'd the first: Tho' it would be Impudence to affirm that any such have appear'd.
'Tis manifest, that some particular Ages have been moro happy than others in the Produâion of Great Men, in all sorts of Arts and Sciences : As that of Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and the rest for Stage Poetry amongti the Greeks: That of Augustus for. Heroick, Lyrick, Dramatick, Elegiaque, and indeed all sorts of Poetry; in the Persons of Virgil, Horace, Varius, Ovid, and many others; especially if we take into that Century the latter end of the Common-wealth; wherein we find Varro, Lucretius, and Catullus : And at the same time liv'd Cicero, and Saluf, and Cæsar. A famous Age in modern Times, for Learning in every kind, was that of Lorenzo de Medici, and his Son Leo X. wherein Painting was reviv'd and Poetry flourish'd, and the Greek Language was restor'á.
Examples in all these are obvious: But what I wou'd inferr is this ; That in such an Age, 'tis poffible fome Great Genius may arise, to equal any of the Ancients; abating only for the Lan
guage. For great Contemporaries whet and coltivate each other : And mutual Borrowing, and Commerce, makes the common Riches of Learning, as it does of the Civil Government.
But fuppose that Homer and Virgil were the only of their Species, and that Nature was so much worn out in producing them, that she is never able to bear the like again; yet the Example only holds in Heroick Poetry : In Tragedy and Satyr I offer my self to maintain against some of our modern Criticks, that this Age and the last, particularly in England, have exceli'd the Ancients in both those Kinds; and I wou'd instance in Shakespear of the former, of your Lordship in the latter fort.
Thus I might safely confine my self to my Native Country: But if I would only cross the Seas, I might find in France à living Horace and a fue venal, in the Person of the admirable Boileau; whose Numbers are Excellent, whose Expressions are Noble, whose Thoughts are Just, whose Language is Pure, whose Satyr is Pointed, and whose Sense is Close: What he borrows from the Ancients, he repays with Usury of his own; in Coin as good, and almost as universally valuable: For setting Prejudice and Partiality apart ; tho' he is our Enemy, the Stamp of a Louis, the Patron of all Arts, is not much inferior to the Medal of an Augustus Cæfar. Let this be said without entring into the Interests of Factions and Parties ; and relating only to the Bounty of that King to Men of Learning and Merit: A Praise fo just, that even we who are his Enemies, cannot refuse it to him.
Now if it may be permitted me to go back again to the Conlideration of Epique Poetry, I have confess’d, that no Man hitherto has reachd, B
or so much as approach'd to the Excellencies of Homer or of Virgil; I must farther add, that Statius, the best Versificator next Virgil, knew not how to Design after him, tho' he had. the Model in his Eye; that Lucan is wanting both in Design and Subject, and is besides too full of Heat and Affectation; that among the Moderns, Ariosto neither design'd Justly, nor observ'd any Unity of A&ion, or Compass of Time, or Moderation in the Vastness of his Draught: His Styleis luxurious, without Majesty, or Decency, and his Adventurers without the Compass of Nature and Possibility: Taso, whose Design was Regular, and who obferv'd the Rules of Unity in Time and Place, more closely than Virgil, yet was not so happy in his Ation ; he confesses himself to have been too Lyrical, that is, to have written beneath the Dignity of Heroick Verse, in his Episodes of Sophronia, Erminia, and Armida; his Story is not so pleafing as Ariosto's; he is too flatulent sometimes, and sometimes too dry; many times unequal, and almost always forc'd; and besides, is full of Conceptions, Points of Epigram and Witticisms ; all which are not only below the Dignity of Heroick Verse, but contrary to its Nature: Virgil and Homer have not one of them. And those who are guilty of fo Boyish an Ambition in so grave a Subject, are so far from being consider'd as Heroick Poets, that they ought to be turn'd down from Homer to the Anthologia, from Virgil to Martial and Owen's Epigrams, and from Spencer to Flecno; that is, from the top to the bottom of all Poetry. But to return to Taso, he borrows from the Invention of Boyardo, and in his Alteration of his Poem, which is infinitely the worse, imitates Homer fo very servilely, that (for example) he gives the King of