Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
Extract from Taste, an Epistle to a Young Critic
By John Armstrong (1709–1779)
  READ boldly, and unprejudiced peruse
Each fav’rite modern, e’en each ancient Muse.
With all the comic salt and tragic rage,
The great stupendous genius of our stage,
Boast of our island, pride of humankind,        5
Had faults to which the boxes are not blind;
His frailties are to every gossip known,
Yet Milton’s pedantries not shock the town.
Ne’er be the dupe of names however high,
For some outlive good parts, some misapply.        10
Each elegant Spectator you admire,
But must you therefore swear by Cato’s fire?
Masks for the court, and oft a clumsy jest,
Disgraced the muse that wrought the Alchemist.
‘But to the ancients.’—Faith! I am not clear,        15
For all the smooth round type of Elzevir,
That ev’ry work which lasts in prose or song
Two thousand years deserves to last so long:
For—not to mention some eternal blades
Known only now in academic shades,        20
(Those sacred groves where raptured spirits stray,
And in word-hunting waste the livelong day)
Ancients whom none but curious critics scan,—
Do read Messala’s praises if you can.
Ah! who but feels the sweet contagious smart        25
While soft Tibullus pours his tender heart?
With him the loves and muses melt in tears,
But not a word of some hexameters!
‘You grow so squeamish and so devilish dry
You ’ll call Lucretius vapid next.’ Not I:        30
Some find him tedious, others think him lame,
But if he lags his subject is to blame.
Rough weary roads thro’ barren wilds he tried.
Yet still he marches with true Roman pride;
Sometimes a meteor, gorgeous, rapid, bright,        35
He streams athwart the philosophic night.
Find you in Horace no insipid odes?—
He dared to tell us Homer sometimes nods;
And but for such a critic’s hardy skill
Homer might slumber unsuspected still.        40

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