Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Dryden and his Critics
By John Dryden (16311700)
From Dedication to Juvenal
THIS, I think, my lord, is a sufficient reproach to you; and should I carry it as far as mankind would authorise me, would be little less than satire. And indeed, a provocation is almost necessary, in behalf of the world, that you might be induced sometimes to write; and in relation to a multitude of scribblers, who daily pester the world with their insufferable stuff, that they might be discouraged from writing any more. I complain not of their lampoons and libels, though I have been the public mark for many years. I am vindictive enough to have repelled force by force, if I could imagine that any of them had ever reached me; but they either shot at rovers, and therefore missed, or their powder was so weak, that I might safely stand them at the nearest distance. I answered not the Rehearsal, because I knew the author sat to himself when he drew the picture, and was the very Bayes of his own farce; because also I knew that my betters were more concerned than I was in that satire; and, lastly, because Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson, the main pillars of it, were two such languishing gentlemen in their conversation, that I could liken them to nothing but to their own relations, those noble characters of men of wit and pleasure about the town. The like considerations have hindered me from dealing with the lamentable companions of their prose and doggrel. I am so far from defending my poetry against them, that I will not so much as expose theirs. And for my morals, if they are not proof against their attacks, let me be thought by posterity, what those authors would be thought, if any memory of them, or of their writings, could endure so long as to another age. But these dull makers of lampoons, as harmless as they have been to me, are yet of dangerous example to the public. Some witty men may perhaps succeed to their designs, and mixing sense with malice, blast the reputation of the most innocent amongst men, and the most virtuous amongst women.
Heaven be praised, our common libellers are as free from the imputation of wit as of morality; and therefore whatever mischief they have designed, they have performed but little of it. Yet these ill writers, in all justice, ought themselves to be exposed; as Persius has given us a fair example in his first satire, which is levelled particularly at them; and none is so fit to correct their faults, as he who is not only clear from any in his own writings, but is also so just, that he will never defame the good; and is armed with the power of verse, to punish and make examples of the bad.