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Here various kinds, by various fortunes led,
Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
drench'd in mud, Dead cats and turnip.tops come tumbling down the flood.
N° 239. THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19, 1710.
Mecum certasse feretur ? OVID. Met. xiii. 20, Shall he contend with me to get a name?
From my own Apartment, October 18. It is ridiculous for any man to criticise on the works of another, who has not distinguished himself by bis own performances. A judge would make but an indifferent figure who had never been known at the bar. Cicer was reputed the greatest orator of his age
and country, before he wrote a book “De Oratore;" and Horace the greatest poet, before he published his “ Art of Poetry.” This observation arises naturally in any one who casts his eye upon this last-mentioned author, where he will find the criticisms placed in the latter end of his book, that is, after the finest odes and satires in the Latin tongue.
A modern, whose name I shall not mention, because I would not make a silly Paper sell, was born a Crilic and an Examiner, and, like one of the race of the serpent's teeth, came into the world with a sword in his hand. His works put me in mind of the story that is told of the German monk, who was taking a catalogue of a friend's library, and meeting with a Hebrew book in it, en!ered it under the title of, “ A book that has the beginning where the end should be.” This author, in the last of his crudities, has amassed together a heap of quotations,
to prove that Horace and Virgil were both of them modester men than myself; and if his works were to live as long as mine, they might possibly give posterity a notion, that Isaac Bickerstaff was a very conceited old fellow, and as vain a man as either Tully or Sir Francis Bacon. Had this serious writer fallen upon me only, I could have overlooked it; but to see Cicero abused is, I must confess, what I cannot bear. The censure lie passes upon this great man runs thus: “ The itch of being very abusive is almost inseparable from vain-glory. Tully has these two faults in so high a degree, that nothing but his being the best writer in the world can make amends for them.” The scurrilous wretch goes on to say, that I ain as bad as Tully. His words are these : " And yet the Tatler, in his Paper of September the twenty-sixth, lias outdone them both. He speaks of himself with more arrogance, and with more insolence of others.” I am afraid, by his discourse, this gentleman lias no more read Plutarch than he has Tully. If he had, he would have observed a passage in that historian, wherein he has, with great delicacy, distinguished between two passions which are usually complicated in human nature, and which an ordinary writer would not have thought of separating. Not having my Greek spectacles by me, I shall quote the passage word for word as I find it translated to my hand. “ Never theless, though he was intemperately fond of his own praise, yet he was very free from envying others, and most liberally profuse in commending both the ancients and his contemporaries, as is to be understood by his writings; and many of those sayings are still recorded, as that concerning Aristotle, that he was a river of flowing gold:' of Plato's dialogue, that if Jupiter were to speak, he would discourse as he did. Theophrastus he was wont to call his peculiar delight: and being asked,
which of Demosthenes his orations he liked best?' He answered, “The longest.'
And as for the eminent men of his own time either for eloquence or philosophy, there was not one of them which he did not, by writing or speaking favorably of, render more illustrious."
Thus the critic tells us, that Cicero was excessively vain-glorious and abusive; Plutarch, that he was vain, but not abusive. Let the reader believe which of them he pleases.
After this he complains to the world, that I call him names, and tirat, in my passion, I said he was a flea, a louse, an owl, a bat, a small wit, a scribbler, and a nibler. When he had thus bespoken his reader's pity, he falls into that admirable vein of mirth, which I shall set down at length, it being an exquisite piece of raillery, and written in great gaiety of heart.
“ After this list of names," viz. flea, louse, owl, bat, &c. “I was surprized to hear him say, that he has hitherto kept his temper pretty well; I wonder how he will write when he has lost his temper! I suppose, as he is now very angry and unniannerly, he will then be exceeding courteous and good-humoured.” If I can outlive this raillery, I shall be able to bear any thing.
There is a method of criticism made use of by this author, for I shall take care how I call him a scribbler again, which may turn into ridicule any work that was ever written, wherein there is a va. riety of thoughts. This the reader will observe in the following words: “ He," meaning me,“ is so intent upon being something extraordinary, that he scarce knows what he would be; and is as fruitful in his similes as a brother of his whom I lately tock notice of. In the compass of a few lines lie compares bimself to a fox, to Daniel Burgess, to the Knight of the Red Cross, to an oak with ivy about it, and to a great man with an equipage." I think myself as much honoured by being joined in this part of his paper with the gentleman whom he here calls my brother, as I am in the beginning of it, by being mentioned with Horace and Virgil.
It is very hard that a man cannot publish ten papers without stealing from himself; but to show you that this is only a knack of writing, and that ihe author is got into à ce tain road of criticisin, I shall set down his remarks on the works of the gentleman whom he here glances upon, as they stand in his sixth Paper, and desire the reader to compare them with the foregoing passage upon mine.
“ In thirty lines his patron is a river, the primum mobile, a pilot, a victim, the sun, any thing, and nothing. He bestows increase, conceals his source, makes the machine move, teaches to steer, expiates our offences, raises vapours, and looks larger as he sets.”
What poem can be safe from this sort of criticism? I think I was never in my life so much offended, as at a wag whom I once met with in a coffee-louse. He had in his hand one of the “ Miscellanies," and was reading the following short copy of verses, which without flattery to the author is, I think, as beautiful in its kind as any one in the English tongue:
Flavia the least and slightest toy
To every other breast a flame.