Alexander Pope From An Essay On Criticism Summary

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Then criticism the Muse's handmaid prov'd, To dress her charms, and make her more belov'd; But following wits from that intention stray'd; Who could not win the mistress, woo'd the maid; Against the poets their own arms they turn'd, Sure to hate most the men from whom they learn'd.

So modern 'pothecaries, taught the art By doctor's bills to play the doctor's part, Bold in the practice of mistaken rules, Prescribe, apply, and call their masters fools.

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 glimm'ring light; The lines, tho' touch'd but faintly, are drawn right.

He advocates looking at a whole piece of work, instead of being swayed by some of its showier or faulty parts: “As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit, / T’ avoid great errors, must the less commit.” He advises against too much ornamentation in writing, and against fancy style that communicates little of merit.

In his description of versification, his lines enact the effects of clumsy writing: “And ten low words oft creep in one dull line,” and “A needless Alexandrine ends the song, / That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.” In Part III, Pope discusses what critics should do, holding up the “Ancients” as models, including Aristotle (the “Stagirite”) who was respected by the lawless poets: “Poets, a race long unconfin’d and free, / Still fond and proud of savage liberty, / Receiv’d his laws; and stood convinc’d ‘twas fit, / Who conquer’d nature, should preside o’er wit.” PART 1 'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill Appear in writing or in judging ill; But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' offence To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.

Just precepts thus from great examples giv'n, She drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n.

The gen'rous critic fann'd the poet's fire, And taught the world with reason to admire.

Some have at first for wits, then poets pass'd, Turn'd critics next, and prov'd plain fools at last; Some neither can for wits nor critics pass, As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass.

Those half-learn'd witlings, num'rous in our isle As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile; Unfinish'd 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.

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