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John Dryden (1631–1700). The Poems of John Dryden. 1913.


Preface to Sylvae, or the Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies, 1685

For this last half Year I have been troubled with the disease (as I may call it) of Translation; the cold Prose fits of it (which are always the most tedious with me) were spent in the History of the League; the hot (which succeeded them) in this Volume of Verse Miscellanies. The truth is, I fancied to my self, a kind of ease in the change of the Paroxism; never suspecting but the humour wou’d have wasted itself in two or three Pastorals of Theocritus, and as many Odes of Horace. But finding, or at least thinking I found, something that was more pleasing in them than my ordinary productions, I encourag’d myself to renew my old acquaintance with Lucretius and Virgil; and immediately fix’d upon some parts of them, which had most affected me in the reading. These were my natural Impulses for the undertaking: But there was an accidental motive which was full as forcible, and God forgive him who was the occasion of it. It was my Lord Roscommon’s Essay on Translated Verse; which made me uneasie till I tried whether or no I was capable of following his Rules, and of reducing the speculation into practice. For many a fair Precept in Poetry is like a seeming Demonstration in the Mathematicks, very specious in the Diagram, but failing in the Mechanick Operation. I think I have generally observ’d his instructions; I am sure my reason is sufficiently convinc’d both of their truth and usefulness; which, in other words, is to confess no less a vanity, than to pretend that I have at least in some places made Examples to his Rules. Yet withall, I must acknowledge that I have many times exceeded my Commission; for I have both added and omitted, and even sometimes very boldly made such expositions of my Authors, as no Dutch Commentator will forgive me. Perhaps, in such particular passages, I have thought that I discover’d some beauty yet undiscovered by those Pedants, which none but a Poet could have found. Where I have taken away some of their Expressions, and cut them shorter, it may possibly be on this consideration, that what was beautiful in the Greek or Latin, would not appear so shining in the English; and where I have enlarg’d them, I desire the false Criticks would not always think that those thoughts are wholly mine, but that either they are secretly in the Poet, or may be fairly deduc’d from him; or at least, if both those considerations should fail, that my own is of a piece with his, and that if he were living, and an Englishman, they are such as he wou’d probably have written.

For, after all, a Translator is to make his Author appear as charming as possibly he can, provided he maintains his Character, and makes him not unlike himself. Translation is a kind of Drawing after the Life, where every one will acknowledge there is a double sort of likeness, a good one and a bad. ’Tis one thing to draw the Out-lines true, the Features like, the Proportions exact, the Colouring it self perhaps tolerable, and another thing to make all these graceful, by the posture, the shadowings, and chiefly by the Spirit which animates the whole. I cannot, without some indignation, look on an ill Copy of an excellent Original. Much less can I behold with patience Virgil, Homer, and some others, whose beauties I have been endeavouring all my Life to imitate, so abused, as I may say, to their Faces, by a botching Interpreter. What English Readers, unacquainted with Greek or Latin, will believe me, or any other Man, when we commend those Authors, and confess we derive all that is pardonable in us from their Fountains, if they take those to be the same Poets, whom our Ogleby’s have Translated? But I dare assure them, that a good Poet is no more like himself, in a dull Translation, than his Carcass would be to his living Body. There are many, who understand Greek and Latin, and yet are ignorant of their Mother Tongue. The proprieties and delicacies of the English are known to few: ’tis impossible even for a good Wit to understand and practise them, without the help of a liberal Education, long Reading, and digesting of those few good Authors we have amongst us, the knowledge of Men and Manners, the freedom of habitudes and conversation with the best company of both Sexes; and, in short, without wearing off the rust which he contracted, while he was laying in a stock of Learning. Thus difficult it is to understand the purity of English, and critically to discern not only good Writers from bad, and a proper stile from a corrupt, but also to distinguish that which is pure in a good Author, from that which is vicious and corrupt in him. And for want of all these requisites, or the greatest part of them, most of our ingenious young Men take up some cry’d up English Poet for their Model, adore him, and imitate him, as they think, without knowing wherein he is defective, where he is Boyish and trifling, wherein either his thoughts are improper to his Subjects, or his Expressions unworthy of his Thoughts, or the turn of both is unharmonious.

Thus it appears necessary that a Man shou’d be a nice Critick in his Mother Tongue, before he attempts to Translate a foreign Language. Neither is it sufficient, that he be able to Judge of Words and Stile; but he must be a Master of them too: He must perfectly understand his Authors Tongue, and absolutely command his own: So that, to be a thorow Translator, he must be a thorow Poet. Neither is it enough to give his Authors sence in good English, in Poetical expressions, and in Musical numbers; For, though all these are exceeding difficult to perform, there yet remains a harder task; and ’tis a secret of which few Translators have sufficiently thought. I have already hinted a word or two concerning it; that is, the maintaining the Character of an Author, which distinguishes him from all others, and makes him appear that individual Poet, whom you wou’d interpret. For example, not only the thoughts, but the Style and Versification of Virgil and Ovid, are very different: Yet I see, even in our best Poets, who have Translated some parts of them, that they have confounded their several Talents; and, by endeavouring only at the sweetness and harmony of Numbers, have made them both so much alike, that if I did not know the Originals, I should never be able to Judge by the Copies, which was Virgil, and which was Ovid. It was objected against a late noble Painter, that he drew many graceful Pictures, but few of them were like. And this happen’d to him, because he always studied himself, more than those who sat to him. In such Translatours I can easily distinguish the hand which performed the Work, but I cannot distinguish their Poet from another. Suppose two Authors are equally sweet, yet there is as great distinction to be made in sweetness, as in that of Sugar, and that of Honey. I can make the difference more plain, by giving you (if it be worth knowing) my own method of proceeding, in my Translations out of four several Poets in this volume— Virgil, Theocritus, Lucretius, and Horace. In each of these, before I undertook them, I consider’d the Genius and distinguishing Character of my Author. I looked on Virgil, as a succinct and grave Majestick writer; one who weigh’d not only every thought, but every Word and Syllable: who was still aiming to crowd his sence into as narrow a compass as possibly he cou’d; for which reason he is so very Figurative, that he requires (I may almost say) a Grammar apart to construe him. His Verse is every where sounding the very thing in your Ears, whose sence it bears: yet the Numbers are perpetually varied, to increase the delight of the Reader; so that the same sounds are never repeated twice together. On the contrary, Ovid and Claudian, though they Write in Styles differing from each other, yet have each of them but one sort of Musick in their Verses. All the versification and little variety of Claudian is included within the compass of four or five Lines, and then he begins again in the same tenour; perpetually closing his sence at the end of a Verse, and that Verse commonly which they call golden, or two Substantives and two Adjectives, with a Verb betwixt them to keep the peace. Ovid with all his sweetness, has as little variety of Numbers and sound as he: He is always, as it were, upon the Hand-gallop, and his Verse runs upon Carpet ground. He avoids, like the other, all Synalæpha’s, or cutting off one Vowel when it comes before another, in the following word: So that minding only smoothness, he wants both Variety and Majesty. But to return to Virgil: though he is smooth where smoothness is requir’d, yet he is so far from affecting it, that he seems rather to disdain it; frequently makes use of Synalæpha’s, and concludes his sence in the middle of his Verse. He is every where above conceits of Epigrammatick Wit, and gross Hyperboles: He maintains Majesty in the midst of plainess; he shines, but glares not; and is stately without ambition, which is the vice of Lucan. I drew my definition of Poetical Wit from my particular consideration of him: For propriety of thoughts and words are only to be found in him; and, where they are proper, they will be delightful. Pleasure follows of necessity, as the effect does the cause; and therefore is not to be put into the definition. This exact propriety of Virgil I particularly regarded, as a great part of his Character; but must confess to my shame, that I have not been able to Translate any part of him so well, as to make him appear wholly like himself. For where the Original is close, no Version can reach it in the same compass. Hannibal Caro’s, in the Italian, is the nearest, the most Poetical, and the most Sonorous of any Translation of the Æneids: yet, though he takes the advantage of blank Verse, he commonly allows two lines for one of Virgil, and does not always hit his sence. Tasso tells us, in his Letters, that Sperone Speroni, a great Italian Wit, who was his Contemporary, observed of Virgil and Tully; that the Latin Oratour endeavoured to imitate the Copiousness of Homer, the Greek poet; and that the Latine Poet made it his business to reach the conciseness of Demosthenes, the Greek Oratour. Virgil therefore, being so very sparing of his words, and leaving so much to be imagined by the Reader, can never be translated as he ought, in any modern Tongue. To make him Copious, is to alter his Character; and to Translate him Line for Line is impossible; because the Latin is naturally a more succinct Language than either the Italian, Spanish, French, or even than the English (which, by reason of its Monosyllables, is far the most compendious of them.) Virgil is much the closest of any Roman Poet, and the Latin Hexameter has more Feet than the English Heroick.

Besides all this, an Author has the choice of his own thoughts and words, which a Translatour has not; he is confin’d by the sence of the Inventor to those expressions which are the nearest to it: So that Virgil, studying brevity, and having the command of his own Language, could bring those words into a narrow compass, which a Translatour cannot render without circumlocutions. In short, they, who have call’d him the torture of Grammarians, might also have called him the plague of Translatours; for he seems to have studied not to be Translated. I own that, endeavouring to turn his Nisus and Euryalus as close as I was able, I have performed that Episode too literally; that, giving more scope to Mezentius and Lausus, that Version, which has more of the Majesty of Virgil, has less of his conciseness; and all that I can promise for myself is only that I have done both better than Ogleby, and perhaps as well as Caro. So that, methinks, I come like a Malefactor, to make a Speech upon the Gallows, and to warn all other Poets, by my sad example, from the Sacrilege of Translating Virgil. Yet, by considering him so carefully as I did before my attempt, I have made some faint resemblance of him; and, had I taken more time, might possibly have succeeded better; but never so well, as to have satisfied myself.

He who excels all other Poets in his own Language, were it possible to do him right, must appear above them in our Tongue; which, as my Lord Roscommon justly observes, approaches nearest to the Roman in its Majesty: Nearest indeed, but with a vast interval betwixt them. There is an inimitable grace in Virgils words, and in them principally consists that beauty which gives so unexpressible a pleasure to him who best understands their force. This Diction of his, I must once again say, is never to be Copied; and, since it cannot, he will appear but lame in the best Translation. The turns of his Verse, his breakings, his propriety, his numbers, and his gravity, I have as far imitated as the poverty of our Language and the hastiness of my performance wou’d allow. I may seem sometimes to have varied from his sence; but I think the greatest variations may be fairly deduc’d from him; and where I leave his Commentators, it may be I understand him better: At least I Writ without consulting them in many places. But two particular lines in Mezentius and Lausus I cannot so easily excuse; they are indeed remotely allied to Virgil’s sence; but they are too like the trifling tenderness of Ovid and were printed before I had consider’d them enough to alter them: The first of them I have forgotten, and cannot easily retrieve, because the Copy is at the Press: the second is this;

  • When Lausus dy’d, I was already slain.
  • This appears pretty enough at first sight; but I am convinc’d for many reasons, that the expression is too bold; that Virgil wou’d not have said it, though Ovid wou’d. The Reader may pardon it, if he please, for the freeness of the confession; and instead of that, and the former, admit these two Lines, which are more according to the Author:

  • Nor ask I Life, nor fought with that design;
  • As I had us’d my Fortune, use thou thine.
  • Having with much ado got clear of Virgil, I have, in the next place, to consider the genius of Lucretius, whom I have translated more happily in those parts of him which I undertook. If he was not of the best age of Roman Poetry, he was at least of that which preceded it; and he himself refin’d it to that degree of perfection, both in the Language and the thoughts, that he left an easy task to Virgil; who as he succeeded him in time, so he Copy’d his excellencies: for the method of the Georgicks is plainly deriv’d from him. Lucretius had chosen a Subject naturally crabbed; he therefore adorn’d it with Poetical descriptions, and Precepts of Morality, in the beginning and ending of his Books. Which you see Virgil has imitated with great success, in those four Books, which in my opinion, are more perfect in their kind than even his Divine Æneids. The turn of his Verse he has likewise follow’d, in those places which Lucretius has most labour’d, and some of his very lines he has transplanted into his own Works, without much variation. If I am not mistaken, the distinguishing Character of Lucretius (I mean of his Soul and Genius) is a certain kind of noble pride, and positive assertion of his Opinions. He is every where confident of his own reason, and assuming an absolute command, not only over his vulgar Reader, but even his Patron Memmius. For he is always bidding him attend, as if he had the Rod over him, and using a Magisterial authority, while he instructs him. From his time to ours, I know none so like him as our Poet and Philosopher of Malmsbury. This is that perpetual Dictatorship, which is exercis’d by Lucretius; who, though often in the wrong, yet seems to deal bonâ fide with his Reader, and tells him nothing but what he thinks: in which plain sincerity, I believe, he differs from our Hobbs, who cou’d not but be convinc’d, or at least doubt of some eternal Truths, which he has oppos’d. But for Lucretius, he seems to disdain all manner of Replies, and is so confident of his cause, that he is beforehand with his Antagonists; Urging for them whatever he imagin’d they cou’d say, and leaving them, as he supposes, without an objection for the future; all this too, with so much scorn and indignation, as if he were assur’d of the Triumph, before he entered into the lists. From this sublime and daring Genius of his, it must of necessity come to pass, that his thoughts must be Masculine, full of argumentation, and that sufficiently warm. From the same fiery temper proceeds the loftiness of his Expressions, and the perpetual torrent of his Verse, where the barrenness of his Subject does not too much constrain the quickness of his Fancy. For there is no doubt to be made, but that he cou’d have been every where as Poetical, as he is in his Descriptions, and in the Moral part of his Philosophy, if he had not aim’d more to instruct, in his Systeme of Nature, than to delight. But he was bent upon making Memmius a Materialist, and teaching him to defie an invisible power: In short, he was so much an Atheist, that he forgot sometimes to be a Poet. These are the considerations which I had of that Author, before I attempted to translate some parts of him. And accordingly I lay’d by my natural Diffidence and Scepticism for a while, to take up that Dogmatical way of his, which, as I said, is so much his Character, as to make him that individual Poet. As for his Opinions concerning the mortality of the Soul, they are so absurd, that I cannot, if I wou’d, believe them. I think a future state demonstrable even by natural Arguments; at least, to take away rewards and punishments, is only a pleasing prospect to a Man, who resolves beforehand not to live morally. But on the other side, the thought of being nothing after death is a burthen unsupportable to a vertuous Man, even though a Heathen. We naturally aim at happiness, and cannot bear to have it confin’d to the shortness of our present Being, especially when we consider, that vertue is generally unhappy in this World and vice fortunate: so that ’tis hope of Futurity alone that makes this Life tolerable, in expectation of a better. Who wou’d not commit all the excesses, to which he is prompted by his natural inclinations, if he may do them with security while he is alive, and be uncapable of punishment after he is dead! if he be cunning and secret enough to avoid the Laws, there is no band of morality to restrain him: for Fame and Reputation are weak ties: many men have not the least sence of them: Powerful men are only aw’d by them, as they conduce to their interest, and that not always, when a passion is predominant: and no Man will be contain’d within the bounds of duty, when he may safely transgress them. These are my thoughts abstractedly, and without entering into the Notions of our Christian Faith, which is the proper business of Divines.

    But there are other Arguments in this Poem (which I have turned into English) not belonging to the Mortality of the Soul, which are strong enough to a reasonable Man, to make him less in love with Life, and consequently in less apprehensions of Death. Such as are the natural Satiety proceeding from a perpetual enjoyment of the same things; the inconveniences of old age, which make him uncapable of corporeal pleasures; the decay of understanding and memory, which render him contemptible, and useless to others. These, and many other reasons, so pathetically urged, so beautifully express’d, so adorn’d with examples, and so admirably rais’d by the Prosopopeia of Nature, who is brought in speaking to her Children, with so much authority and vigour, deserve the pains I have taken with them, which I hope have not been unsuccessful, or unworthy of my Author. At least I must take the liberty to own, that I was pleased with my own endeavours, which but rarely happens to me; and that I am not dissatisfied upon the review of any thing I have done in this Author.

    ’Tis true, there is something, and that of some moment, to be objected against my Englishing the Nature of Love, from the fourth book of Lucretius; and I can less easily answer why I Translated it, than why I thus Translated it. The Objection arises from the Obscenity of the Subject; which is aggravated by the too lively and alluring delicacy of the Verses. In the first place, without the least Formality of an excuse, I own it pleas’d me: and let my enemies make the worst they can of this Confession: I am not yet so secure from that passion, but that I want my Authors Antidotes against it. He has given the truest and most Philosophical account both of the Disease and Remedy, which I ever found in any Author: For which reasons I Translated him. But it will be ask’d why I turned him into this luscious English, (for I will not give it a worse word:) Instead of an answer, I wou’d ask again of my Supercilious Adversaries, whether I am not bound, when I translate an author, to do him all the right I can, and to Translate him to the best advantage? If, to mince his meaning, which I am satisfi’d was honest and instructive, I had either omitted some part of what he said, or taken from the strength of his expression, I certainly had wrong’d him; and that freeness of thought and words being thus cashier’d in my hands, he had no longer been Lucretius. If nothing of this kind be to be read, Physicians must not study nature, Anatomies must not be seen, and somewhat I cou’d say of particular passages in Books, which, to avoid prophaneness, I do not name. But the intention qualifies the act; and both mine and my Authors were to instruct as well as please. ’Tis most certain that barefac’d Bawdery is the poorest pretence to wit imaginable: If I shou’d say otherwise, I should have two great authorities against me: The one is the Essay on Poetry, which I publickly valu’d before I knew the Author of it, and with the commendation of which my Lord Roscommon so happily begins his Essay on Translated Verse: The other is no less than our admir’d Cowley, who says the same thing in other words: For in his Ode concerning Wit, he writes thus of it:

  • Much less can that have any place,
  • At which a Virgin hides her Face:
  • Such dross the fire must purge away; ’tis just
  • The Author blush, there, where the Reader must.
  • Here indeed Mr. Cowley goes farther than the Essay; for he asserts plainly, that obscenity has no place in Wit: the other only says, ’tis a poor pretence to it, or an ill sort of Wit, which has nothing more to support it than bare-faced Ribaldry; which is both unmannerly in it self, and fulsome to the Reader. But neither of these will reach my case: For in the first place, I am only the Translatour, not the Inventor; so that the heaviest part of the censure falls upon Lucretius, before it reaches me; in the next place, neither he nor I have us’d the grossest words, but the cleanliest Metaphors we cou’d find, to palliate the broadness of the meaning; and, to conclude, have carried the Poetical part no farther, than the philosophical exacted. There is one mistake of mine which I will not lay to the Printer’s charge, who has enough to answer for in false pointings: ’tis in the word Viper: I wou’d have the verse run thus,

  • The Scorpion, Love, must on the wound be bruis’d.
  • There are a sort of blundering half-witted people, who make a great deal of noise about a Verbal slip; though Horace wou’d instruct them better in true criticism: Non ego paucis Offendor maculis, quas aut incuria fudit; Aut humana parum cavit natura. True judgment in Poetry, like that in Painting, takes a view of the whole together, whether it be good or not; and where the beauties are more than the Faults, concludes for the Poet against the little Judge; ’tis a sign that malice is hard driven, when ’tis forc’d to lay hold on a Word or Syllable; to arraign a Man is one thing, and to cavil at him is another. In the midst of an ill natur’d Generation of Scriblers, there is always Justice enough left in Mankind to protect good Writers: And they too are oblig’d, both by humanity and interest, to espouse each other’s cause against false Criticks, who are the common Enemies. This last consideration puts me in mind of what I owe to the Ingenious and Learned translatour of Lucretius; I have not here design’d to rob him of any part of that commendation, which he has so justly acquir’d by the whole Author, whose Fragments only fall to my Portion. What I have now perform’d, is no more than I intended above twenty years ago: The ways of our Translation are very different; he follows him more closely than I have done, which became an Interpreter of the whole Poem: I take more liberty, because it best suited with my design, which was to make him as pleasing as I could. He had been too voluminous, had he us’d my method in so long a work; and I had certainly taken his, had I made it my business to Translate the whole. The preference then is justly his: and I joyn with Mr. Evelyn in the confession of it, with this additional advantage to him, that his Reputation is already establish’d in this Poet, mine is to make its Fortune in the World. If I have been any where obscure, in following our common Author, or if Lucretius himself is to be condemn’d, I refer my self to his excellent Annotations, which I have often read, and always with some new pleasure.

    My Preface begins already to swell upon me, and looks as if I were afraid of my Reader, by so tedious a bespeaking of him: and yet I have Horace and Theocritus upon my hands; but the Greek Gentleman shall quickly be dispatch’d, because I have more business with the Roman.

    That which distinguishes Theocritus from all other Poets, both Greek and Latin, and which raises him even above Virgil in his Eclogues, is the inimitable tenderness of his passions, and the natural expression of them in words so becoming of a Pastoral. A simplicity shines through all he writes: he shows his Art and Learning by disguising both. His Shepherds never rise above their Country Education in their complaints of Love: There is the same difference betwixt him and Virgil, as there is betwixt Tasso’s Aminta and the Pastor Fido of Guarini. Virgils Shepherds are too well read in the Philosophy of Epicurus and of Plato; and Guarini’s seem to have been bred in Courts: but Theocritus and Tasso have taken theirs from Cottages and Plains. It was said of Tasso, in relation to his similitudes, Mai esce del Bosco: That he never departed from the Woods, that is, all his comparisons were taken from the Country. The same may be said of our Theocritus; he is softer than Ovid, he touches the passions more delicately, and performs all this out of his own Fond, without diving into the Arts and Sciences for a supply. Even his Dorick Dialect has an incomparable sweetness in its Clownishness, like a fair Shepherdess in her Country Russet, talking in a Yorkshire Tone. This was impossible for Virgil to imitate; because the severity of the Roman Language denied him that advantage. Spencer has endeavour’d it in his Shepherds Calendar; but neither will it succeed in English; for which reason I forebore to attempt it. For Theocritus writ to Sicilians, who spoke that Dialect; and I direct this part of my Translations to our Ladies, who neither understand nor will take pleasure in such homely expressions. I proceed to Horace.

    Take him in parts, and he is chiefly to be consider’d in his three different Talents, as he was a Critick, a Satyrist, and a Writer of Odes. His Morals are uniform, and run through all of them; For let his Dutch Commentatours say what they will, his Philosophy was Epicurean; and he made use of Gods and providence only to serve a turn in Poetry. But since neither his Criticisms (which are the most instructive of any that are written in this Art) nor his Satyrs (which are incomparably beyond Juvenals, if to laugh and rally is to be preferr’d to railing and declaiming), are no part of my present undertaking, I confine my self wholly to his Odes. These are also of several sorts: some of them are Panegyrical, others Moral, the rest Jovial, or (if I may so call them) Bacchanalian. As difficult as he makes it, and as indeed it is, to imitate Pindar, yet in his most elevated flights, and in the sudden changes of his Subject with almost imperceptible connexions, that Theban Poet is his Master. But Horace is of the more bounded Fancy, and confines himself strictly to one sort of Verse, or Stanza, in every Ode. That which will distinguish his Style from all other Poets, is the Elegance of his Words, and the numerousness of his Verse; there is nothing so delicately turn’d in all the Roman Language. There appears in every part of his diction, or, (to speak English) in all his Expressions, a kind of noble and bold Purity. His Words are chosen with as much exactness as Virgils; but there seems to be a greater Spirit in them. There is a secret Happiness attends his Choice, which in Petronius is called Curiosa Felicitas, and which I suppose he had from the Feliciter audere of Horace himself. But the most distinguishing part of all his Character seems to me to be his Briskness, his Jollity, and his good Humour: and those I have chiefly endeavour’d to Coppy; his other Excellencies, I confess, are above my Imitation. One Ode, which infinitely pleas’d me in the reading, I have attempted to translate in Pindarique Verse: ’tis that which is inscribd to the present Earl of Rochester, to whom I have particular Obligations, which this small testimony of my gratitude can never pay. ’Tis his Darling in the Latine, and I have taken some pains to make it my Master-piece in English: for which reason I took this kind of verse, which allows more Latitude than any other. Every one knows it was introduced into our Language, in this age, by the happy Genius of Mr. Cowley. The seeming easiness of it has made it spread; but it has not been considerd enough, to be so well cultivated. It languishes in almost every hand but his, and some very few, (whom to keep the rest in countenance) I do not name. He, indeed, has brought it as near Perfection as was possible in so short a time. But if I may be allowed to speak my Mind modestly, and without Injury to his sacred Ashes, somewhat of the Purity of the English, somewhat of more equal Thoughts, somewhat of sweetness in the Numbers, in one Word, somewhat of a finer turn and more Lyrical Verse is yet wanting. As for the Soul of it, which consists in the Warmth and Vigor of Fancy, the masterly Figures, and the copiousness of Imagination, he has excelld all others in this kind. Yet, if the kind it self be capable of more Perfection, though rather in the Ornamental parts of it, than the Essential, what Rules of Morality or respect have I broken, in naming the defects, that they may hereafter be amended? Imitation is a nice point, and there are few Poets who deserve to be Models in all they write. Miltons Paradice Lost is admirable; but am I therefore bound to maintain, that there are no flats amongst his Elevations, when ’tis evident he creeps along sometimes, for above an Hundred lines together? cannot I admire the height of his Invention, and the strength of his expression, without defending his antiquated words, and the perpetual harshness of their sound? ’Tis as much commendation as a Man can bear, to own him excellent; all beyond it is Idolairy. Since Pindar was the Prince of Lyrick Poets, let me have leave to say, that in imitating him, our numbers shou’d, for the most part, be Lyrical: For variety, or rather where the Majesty of thought requires it, they may be stretch’d to the English Heroick of five Feet, and to the French Alexandrine of Six. But the ear must preside, and direct the Judgment to the choice of numbers: Without the nicety of this, the Harmony of Pindarick Verse can never be compleat: the cadency of one line must be a rule to that of the next; and the sound of the former must slide gently into that which follows; without leaping from one extream into another. It must be done like the shadowings of a Picture, which fall by degrees into a darker colour. I shall be glad, if I have so explain’d my self as to be understood; but if I have not, quod nequeo dicere, & sentio tantùm, must be my excuse. There remains much more to be said on this subject; but, to avoid envy, I will be silent. What I have said is the general Opinion of the best Judges, and in a manner has been forc’d from me, by seeing a noble sort of Poetry so happily restor’d by one Man, and so grossly copied by almost all the rest: A musical eare, and a great genius, if another Mr. Cowley cou’d arise, in another age may bring it to perfection. In the mean time,

  • —— Fungar vice cotis, acutum
  • Reddere quæ ferrum valet, expers ipsa secandi.
  • I hope it will not be expected from me, that I shou’d say any thing of my fellow undertakers in this Miscellany. Some of them are too nearly related to me, to be commended without suspicion of partiality: Others I am sure need it not; and the rest I have not perus’d.

    To conclude, I am sensible that I have written this too hastily and too loosely: I fear I have been tedious, and, which is worse, it comes out from the first draught, and uncorrected. This I grant is no excuse; for it may be reasonably urg’d, why did he not write with more leisure, or, if he had it not (which was certainly my case), why did he attempt to write on so nice a subject? The objection is unanswerable; but in part of recompense, let me assure the Reader, that, in hasty productions, he is sure to meet with an Authors present sence, which cooler thoughts would possibly have disguisd. There is undoubtedly more of spirit though not of judgment, in these uncorrect Essays, and consequently, though my hazard be the greater, yet the Readers pleasure is not the less.

    John Dryden.