Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Alexander Pope on writing and judging

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was the epitome of 18th-century poetic wit, and there is a mere taste of it in these lines from his celebrated ''An Essay on Criticism ,'' most of which was written before he was 21.

Tis with our judgments as our watches, none Go just alike, yet each believes his own. In Poets as true genius is but rare, True Taste as seldom is the Critic's share; Both must alike from Heaven derive their light, These born to judge, as well as those to write. Let such teach others who themselves excel, And censure freely who have written well. Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true, But are not Critics to their judgment too? Yet if we look more closely, we shall find Most have the seeds of judgment in their mind: Nature affords at least a glimmering light; The lines, though touched but faintly, are drawn right. But as the slightest sketch, if justly traced, Is by ill-colouring but the more disgraced, So by false learning is good sense defaced: Some are bewildered in the maze of schools, And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools. In search of wit these lose their common sense, And then turn Critics in their own defence: Each burns alike, who can, or cannot write, Or with a Rival's, or an Eunuch's spite. All fools have still an itching to deride, And fain would be upon the laughing side. If Maevius scribble in Apollo's spite, There are who judge still worse than he can write. Some have at first for Wits, then Poets passed, Turned Critics next, and proved plain fools at last. Some neither can for Wits nor Critics pass, As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass. Those half-learned witlings, numerous in our isle, As half-formed insects on the banks of Nile; Unfinished things, one knows not what to call, Their generation's so equivocal; To tell 'em, would a hundred tongues require, Or one vain wit's, that might a hundred tire. But you who seek to give and merit fame, And justly bear a Critic's noble name, Be sure yourself and your own reach to know, How far your genius, taste, and learning go; Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.

About these ads

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.