Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chap. 2. CHAPTER II: Generation and Succession of our national and modern Wit.—Manners of the Proprietors.— Corporation and Joint-Stock—Statute against Criticism. A Coffee-House Committee.—Mr. Bays. — Other Bays' s in Divinity.—Censure of our Author - Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, vol. 3
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Chap. 2. CHAPTER II: Generation and Succession of our national and modern Wit.—Manners of the Proprietors.— Corporation and Joint-Stock—Statute against Criticism. A Coffee-House Committee.—Mr. Bays. — Other Bays’ s in Divinity.—Censure of our Author - Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, vol. 3 
Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. Douglas den Uyl (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001). 3 vols. Vol. 3.
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Chap. 2.CHAPTER II
Generation and Succession of our national and modern Wit.—Manners of the Proprietors.—Corporation and Joint-Stock—Statute against Criticism. A Coffee-House Committee.—Mr.Bays.—OtherBays’s in Divinity.—Censure of our Author’s Dialogue-Piece; and of the Manner of Dialogue-Writing, us’d by Reverend Wits.
ACCORDING to the common Course of Practice in our Age, we seldom see the Character of Writer and that of Critick united in the same Person. There is, I know, a certain Species of Authors, who subsist wholly by the criticizing or commenting Practice upon others, and can appear in no other Form besides what this Employment authorizes them to assume. They have no original Character, or first Part; but wait for something which may be call’d a Work, in order to graft upon it, and come in, for Sharers, at second hand.
The Pen-men of this Capacity and Degree are, from their Function and Employment, distinguish’d by the Title of Answerers. For it happens in the World, that there are Readers of a Genius and Size just fitted to these answering Authors. These, if they teach ’em nothing else, will teach ’em, they think, to criticize. And tho the new practising Criticks are of a sort unlikely ever to understand any original Book or Writing; they can understand, or at least remember, and quote the subsequent Reflections, Flouts, and Jeers, which may accidentally be made on such a Piece. Where-ever a Gentleman of this sort happens, at any time, to be in company, you shall no sooner hear a new Book spoken of, than ’twill be ask’d, “Who has answer’d it?” or “When is there an Answer to come out?”—Now the Answer, as our Gentleman knows, must needs be newer than the Book. And the newer a thing is, the more fashionable still, and the genteeler the Subject of Discourse. For this the Bookseller knows how to fit our Gentleman to a nicety: For he has commonly an Answer ready bespoke, and perhaps finish’d, by the time his new Book comes abroad. And ’tis odds but our fashionable Gentleman, who takes both together, may read the latter first, and drop the other for good and all.
But of these answeringWits, and the manner of Rejoinders, and reiterate Replies, we have said what is sufficient * in a former Miscellany. We need only remark in general, “That ’tis necessary a writingCritick shou’d understand how to write. And tho every Writer is not bound to shew himself in the capacity of Critick, every writing Critick is bound to shew himself capable of being a Writer. For if he be apparently impotent in this latter kind, he is to be deny’d all Title or Character in the other.”
To censure merely what another Person writes; to twitch, snap, snub up, or banter; to torture Sentences and Phrases, turn a few Expressions into Ridicule, or write what is now-a-days call’d an Answer to any Piece, is not sufficient to constitute what is properly esteem’d a Writer, or Author, in due form. For this reason, tho there are many Answerers seen abroad, there are few or no Criticks or Satirists. But whatever may be the State of Controversy in our Religion, or politick Concerns; ’tis certain that in the mere literate World, Affairs are manag’d with a better Understanding between the principal Partys concern’d. The Writers or Authorsin possession have an easier time than any Ministry, or religious Party, which is uppermost. They have found a way, by decrying allCriticismin general, to get rid of their Dissenters, and prevent all Pretences to further Reformation in their State. TheCritick is made to appear distinct, and of another Species; wholly different from the Writer. None who have a Genius for Writing, and can perform with any Success, are presum’d so ill-natur’d or illiberal as to endeavour to signalize themselves in Criticism.
’Tis not difficult, however, to imagine why this practical Difference between Writer and Critick has been so generally establish’d amongst us, as to make the Provinces seem wholly distinct, and irreconcilable. The forwardWits, who without waiting their due time, or performing their requisite Studys, start up in the World as Authors, having with little Pains or Judgment, and by the strength of Fancy merely, acquir’d a Name with Mankind, can on no account afterwards submit to a Decrial or Disparagement of those raw Works, to which they ow’d their early Character and Distinction. Ill wou’d it fare with ’em, indeed, if on these tenacious Terms they shou’d venture upon Criticism, or offer to move that Spirit which wou’d infallibly give such Disturbance to their establish’d Title.
Now we may consider, That in our Nation, and especially in our present Age, whilst Wars, Debates, and publick Convulsions turn our Minds so wholly upon Business and Affairs; the better Genius’s being in a manner necessarily involv’d in the active Sphere, on which the general Eye of Mankind is so strongly fixt; there must remain in the Theatre of Wit a sufficient Vacancy of Place: and the quality of Actor upon that Stage must of consequence be very easily attainable, and at a low Price of Ingenuity or Understanding.
The Persons therefore who are in possession of the prime Parts in this deserted Theatre, being suffer’d to maintain their Ranks and Stations in full Ease, have naturally a good Agreement and Understanding with their Fellow-Wits. Being indebted to the Times for this Happiness, that with so little Industry or Capacity they have been able to serve the Nation with Wit, and supply the Place of real Dispensers and Ministers of the MusesTreasures; they must, necessarily, as they have any Love for themselves, or fatherly Affection for their Works, conspire with one another to preserve their common Interest of Indolence, and justify their Remisness, Uncorrectness, Insipidness, and downright Ignorance of all literate Art, or just poetick Beauty.
* Great is the unity of the effeminate.
For this reason you see ’em mutually courteous, and benevolent; gracious and obliging, beyond measure; complimenting one another interchangeably, at the head of their Works, in recommendatory Verses, or in separate Panegyricks, Essays, and Fragments of Poetry; such as in the Miscellaneous Collections (our yearly Retail of Wit) we see curiously compacted, and accommodated to the Relish of the World. Here the Tyrocinium of Genius’s is annually display’d. Here, if you think fit, you may make acquaintance with the young Offspring of Wits, as they come up gradually under the old; with due Courtship, and Homage, paid to those high Predecessors of Fame, in hope of being one day admitted, by turn, into the noble Order, and made Wits by Patent and Authority.
This is the young Fry which you may see busily surrounding the grown Poet, or chief Play-house-Author, at a Coffee-House. They are his Guards; ready to take up Arms for him; if by some presumptuous Critick he is at any time attack’d. They are indeed the very Shadows of their immediate Predecessor, and represent the same Features, with some small Alteration perhaps for the worse. They are sure to aim at nothing above or beyond their Master; and wou’d on no account give him the least Jealousy of their aspiring to any Degree or Order of writing above him. From hence that Harmony and reciprocal Esteem, which, on such a bottom as this, cannot fail of being perfectly well establish’d among our Poets: The Age, mean while, being after this manner hopefully provided, and secure of a constant and like Succession of meritorious Wits, in every kind!
If by chance a Man of Sense, un-appriz’d of the Authority of these high Powers, shou’d venture to accost the Gentlemen of this Fraternity, at some Coffee-house Committee, whilst they were taken up, in mutual Admiration, and the usual Praise of their national and co-temporary Wits; ’tis possible he might be treated with some Civility, whilst he inquir’d, for Satisfaction sake, into the Beautys of those particular Works so unanimously extoll’d. But shou’d he presume to ask, in general, “Why is our Epick or Dramatick, our Essay, or common Prose no better executed?” Or, “Why in particular does such or such a reputed Wit write so incorrectly, and with so little regard to Justness of Thought or Language?” The Answer wou’d presently be given, “That we Englishmen are not ty’d up to such rigid Rules as those of the antient Grecian, or modern French Criticks.”
“Be it so (Gentlemen!) ’Tis your good Pleasure. Nor ought any one to dispute it with you. You are Masters, no doubt, in your own Country. But (Gentlemen!) the Question here, is not What your Authority may be over your own Writers. You may have them of what Fashion or Size of Wit you please; and allow them to entertain you at the rate you think sufficient, and satisfactory. But can you, by your good Pleasure, or the Approbation of your highest Patrons, make that to be either Wit, or Sense, which wou’d otherwise have been Bombast and Contradiction? If your Poets are still * Mr. Bays’s, and your Prose-Authors Sir Rogers, without offering at a better Manner; must it follow that the Manner it-self is good, or the Wit genuine?—What say you (Gentlemen!) to this new Piece?—Let us examine these Lines which you call shining! This String of Sentences which you call clever! This Pile of Metaphors which you call sublime!—Are you unwilling (Gentlemen!) to stand the Test? Do you despise the Examination?
“Sir!—Since you are pleas’d to take this Liberty with us; May we presume to ask you a Question?” “O Gentlemen! as many as you please: I shall be highly honour’d.” “Why then (pray Sir!) inform us, Whether you have ever writ?” “Very often (Gentlemen!) especially on a Post-night.” “But have you writ (for instance, Sir!) a Play, a Song, an Essay, or a Paper, as, by way of Eminence, the current Pieces of our Weekly Wits are generally styl’d?” “Something of this kind I may perhaps (Gentlemen!) have attempted, tho without publishing my Work. But pray (Gentlemen!) what is my writing, or not writing to the question in hand?” “Only this, (Sir!) and you may fairly take our words for it: That, whenever you publish, you will find the Town against you. Your Piece will infallibly be condemn’d.” “So let it. But for what reason, Gentlemen? I am sure, you never saw the Piece.” “No, Sir. But you are a Critick. And we know by certain Experience, that, when a Critick writes according to Rule and Method, he is sure never to hit the English Taste. Did not Mr. R——, who criticiz’d our English Tragedy, write a sorry one of his own?” “If he did (Gentlemen!) ’twas his own fault, not to know his Genius better. But is his Criticism the less just on this account? If a Musician performs his Part well in the hardest Symphonys, he must necessarily know the Notes, and understand the Rules of Harmony and Musick. But must a Man, therefore, who has an Ear, and has study’d the Rules of Musick, of necessity have a Voice or Hand? Can no one possibly judg a Fiddle, but who is himself a Fiddler? Can no one judg a Picture, but who is himself a Layer of Colours?”—
Thus far our rational Gentleman perhaps might venture, before his Coffee-house Audience. Had I been at his Elbow to prompt him as a Friend, I shou’d hardly have thought fit to remind him of any thing further. On the contrary, I shou’d have rather taken him aside, to inform him of this Cabal, and establish’d Corporation of Wit; of their declar’d Aversion to Criticism, and of their known Laws and Statutes in that Case made and provided. I shou’d have told him, in short, that learned Arguments wou’d be mispent on such as these: And that he wou’d find little Success, tho he shou’d ever so plainly demonstrate to the Gentlemen of this Size of Wit and Understanding, “That the greatest Masters of Art, in every kind of Writing, were eminent in the critical Practice.” But that they really were so, witness, among the Antients, their greatest *Philosophers, whose critical Pieces lie intermixt with their profound philosophical Works, and other politer Tracts ornamentally writ, † for publick use. Witness in History and Rhetorick,Isocrates, Dionysius Halicarnasseus, Plutarch, and the corrupt Lucian himself; the only one perhaps of these Authors, whom our Gentlemen may, in some modern Translation, have look’d into, with any Curiosity or Delight. To these among the Romans we may add Cicero, Varro, Horace, Quintilian, Pliny, and many more.
Among the Moderns, a Boileau and a Corneille are sufficient Precedents in the Case before us. They apply’d their Criticism with just Severity, even to their own Works. This indeed is a Manner hardly practicable with the Poets of our own Nation. It wou’d be unreasonable to expect of ’em that they shou’d bring such Measures in use, as being apply’d to their Works, wou’d discover ’em to be wholly deform’d and disproportionable. ’Tis no wonder therefore if we have so little of this critical Genius extant, to guide us in our Taste. ’Tis no wonder if what is generally current in this kind, lies in a manner bury’d, and in disguise under Burlesque, as particularly in the ‡ witty Comedy of a noble Author of this last Age. To the Shame, however, of our profess’d Wits and Enterprizers in the higher Spheres of Poetry, it may be observ’d, that they have not wanted good Advice and Instruction of the graver kind, from as high a Hand in respect of Quality and Character: Since one of the justest of our modern Poems, and so confess’d even by our Poets themselves, is a short Criticism, An ArtofPoetry; by which, if they themselves were to be judg’d, they must in general appear no better than mere Bunglers, and void of all true Sense and Knowledg in their Art. But if in reality both Critick and Poet, confessing the Justice of these Rules of Art, can afterwards, in Practice, condemn and approve, perform and judg, in a quite different manner from what they acknowledg just and true: it plainly shews, That, tho perhaps we are not indigent in Wit; we want what is of more consequence, and can alone raise Wit to any Dignity or Worth; even plainHonesty, Manners, and a Sense of that Moral Truth, on which (as has been often express’d in these * Volumes) poetickTruth and Beauty must naturally depend.
† The man who has learned what are his duties to his fatherland or to his friends; what affection is due to a father, a brother, or a guest; what is the duty of a senator, what of a juryman, . . . he to be sure knows how to find suitable language for each character.
As for this Species of Morality which distinguishes the Civil Offices of Life, and describes each becoming Personage or Character in this Scene; so necessary it is for the Poet and polite Author to be appriz’d of it, that even the Divine himself may with juster pretence be exempted from the knowledg of this sort. The Composer of religious Discourses has the advantage of that higher Scene of Mystery, which is above the level of human Commerce. ’Tis not so much his Concern, or Business, to beagreeable. And often when he wou’d endeavour it, he becomes more than ordinarily displeasing. His Theater, and that of the polite World, are very different: Insomuch that in a ReverendAuthor, or Declaimer of this sort, we naturally excuse the Ignorance of ordinary Decorum, in what relates to the Affairs of our inferior temporal World. But for thePoet or genteelWriter, who is of this World merely, ’tis a different Case. He must be perfect in this moral Science. We can easily bear the loss of indifferentPoetry or Essay. A good Bargain it were, cou’d we get rid of every moderate Performance in this kind. But were we oblig’d to hear only excellentSermons, and to read nothing, in the way of Devotion, which was not well writ; it might possibly go hard with many Christian People, who are at present such attentive Auditors and Readers. Establish’d Pastors have a right to be indifferent. But voluntary Discourses and Attempters in Wit or Poetry, are as intolerable, when they are indifferent, as either Fiddlers or Painters:
* Because a dinner could be carried on without them.
Other Bays’s and Poetasters may be lawfully baited; tho we patiently submit to our Bays’s in Divinity.
Had the Author of our †Subject-Treatises consider’d thorowly of these literate Affairs, and found how the Interest of Wit stood at present in our Nation, he wou’d have had so much regard surely to his own Interest, as never to have writ unless either in the single Capacity of mere Critick, or that of Authorin form. If he had resolv’d never to produce a regular or legitimate Piece, he might pretty safely have writ on still after the rate of his first Volume, and mixt manner. He might have been as critical, as satirical, or as full of Raillery as he had pleas’d. But to come afterwards as a grave Actor upon the Stage, and expose himself to Criticism in his turn, by giving us a Work or two in form, after the regular manner of Composition, as we see in his second Volume; this, I think, was no extraordinary Proof of his Judgment or Ability, in what related to his own Credit and Advantage.
One of these formal Pieces (the Inquiry already examin’d) we have found to be wholly after the Manner, which in one of his critical Pieces he calls the Methodick. But his next Piece (the Moralists, which we have now before us) must, according to his own * Rules, be reckon’d as an Undertaking of greater weight. ’Tis not only at the bottom, as systematical, didactick and preceptive, as that other Piece of formal Structure; but it assumes withal another Garb, and more fashionable Turn of Wit. It conceals what is scholastical, under the appearance of a polite Work. It aspires to Dialogue, and carrys with it not only those poetick Features of the Pieces antiently call’d Mimes; but it attempts to unite the several Personages and Characters in OneAction, or Story, within a determinate Compass of Time, regularly divided, and drawn into different and proportion’d Scenes: And this, too, with variety of Style; the simple, comick, rhetorical, and even the poetick or sublime; such as is the aptest to run into Enthusiasm and Extravagance. So much is our Author, by virtue of this Piece,†aPoetin due form, and by a more apparent claim, than if he had writ a Play, or dramatick Piece, in as regular a manner, at least, as any known at present on our Stage.
It appears, indeed, that as high as our Author, in his critical Capacity, wou’d pretend to carry the refin’d Manner and accurate Simplicity of the Antients; he dares not, in his own Model and principal Performance, attempt to unite his Philosophy in one solid and uniform Body, nor carry on his Argument in one continu’d Chain or Thred. Here our Author’s Timorousness is visible. In the very Plan or Model of his Work, he is apparently put to a hard shift, to contrive how or with what probability he might introduce Men of any Note or Fashion, * reasoning expresly and purposely, without play or trifling, for two or three hours together, on mere Philosophy and Morals. He finds these Subjects (as he confesses) so wide of common Conversation, and, by long Custom, so appropriated to the School, the University-Chair, or Pulpit, that he thinks it hardly safe or practicable to treat of them elsewhere, or in a different Tone. He is forc’d therefore to raise particular Machines, and constrain his principal Characters, in order to carry a better Face, and bear himself out, against the appearance of Pedantry. Thus his Gentleman-Philosopher Theocles, before he enters into his real Character, becomes a feign’d Preacher. And even when his real Character comes on, he hardly dares stand it out; but to deal the better with his Sceptick-Friend, he falls again to personating, and takes up the Humour of the Poet and Enthusiast.Palemon the Man of Quality, and who is first introduc’d as Speaker in the Piece, must, for fashion-sake, appear in Love, and under a kind of Melancholy, produc’d by some Mis-adventures in the World. How else shou’d he be suppos’d so serious? Philocles his Friend (an airy Gentleman of the World, and a thorow Raillier) must have a home Charge upon him, and feel the Anger of his grave Friend, before he can be suppos’d grave enough to enter into a philosophical Discourse. A quarter of an hour’s reading must serve to represent an hour or two’s Debate. And a new Scene presenting it self, ever and anon, must give Refreshment, it seems, to the faint Reader, and remind him of the Characters and Business going on.
’Tis in the same view that we Miscellanarian Authors, being fearful of the natural Lassitude and Satiety of our indolent Reader, have prudently betaken ourselves to the way of Chapters and Contents; that as the Reader proceeds, by frequent Intervals of Repose, contriv’d on purpose for him, he may from time to time be advertis’d of what is yet to come, and be tempted thus to renew his Application.
Thus in our modern Plays we see, almost in every other Leaf, Descriptions or Illustrations of the Action, not in the Poem it-self, or in the mouth of the Actors; but by the Poet, in his own Person; in order, as appears, to help out a Defect of the Text, by a kind of marginal Note, or Comment: which renders these Pieces of a mix’d kind between the narrative and dramatick. ’Tis in this fashionable Style, or manner of dumb Shew, that the Reader finds the Action of the Piece more amazingly express’d, than he possibly cou’d by the Lines of the Drama it-self; where the Partys alone are suffer’d to be Speakers.
’Tis out of the same regard to Ease, both in respect of Writer and Reader, that we see long Characters and Descriptions at the head of most dramatick Pieces, to inform us of the Relations, Kindred, Interests, and Designs of the Dramatis Personae: This being of the highest importance to the Reader, that he may the better understand the Plot, and find out the principal Characters and Incidents of the Piece; which otherways cou’d not possibly discover themselves, as they are read in their due order. And to do justice to our Play-Readers, they seldom fail to humour our Poets in this respect, and read over the Characters with strict application, as a sort of Grammar, or Key, before they enter on the Piece it-self. I know not whether they wou’d do so much for any philosophical Piece in the world. Our Author seems very much to question it; and has therefore made that part easy enough, which relates to the distinction of his Characters, by making use of the narrative Manner. Tho he had done, as well, perhaps, not to have gone out of the natural plain way, on this account. For with those to whom such philosophical Subjects are agreeable, it cou’d be thought no laborious Task to give the same attention to Characters in Dialogue, as is given at the first entrance by every Reader to the easiest Play, compos’d of fewest and plainest Personages. But for those who read these Subjects with mere Supineness, and Indifference; they will as much begrudg the pains of attending to the Characters thus particularly pointed out, as if they had only been discernible by Inference and Deduction from the mouth of the speaking Partys themselves.
MORE REASONS are given by our * Author himself, for his avoiding the direct way of Dialogue; which at present lies so low, and is us’d only now and then, in our Party-Pamphlets, or new-fashion’d theological Essays. For of late, it seems, the Manner has been introduc’d into Church-Controversy, with an Attempt of Raillery and Humour, as a more successful Method of dealing with Heresy and Infidelity. The Burlesque-Divinity grows mightily in vogue. And the cry’d-up Answers to heterodox Discourses are generally such as are written in Drollery, or with resemblance of the facetious and humorous Language of Conversation.
Joy to the reverend Authors, who can afford to be thus gay, and condescend to correct us, in this Lay-Wit. The Advances they make in behalf of Piety and Manners, by such a popular Style, are doubtless found, upon experience, to be very considerable. As these Reformers are nicely qualify’d to hit the Air of Breeding and Gentility, they will in time, no doubt, refine their Manner, and improve this jocular Method, to the Edification of the polite World; who have been so long seduc’d by the way of Raillery and Wit. They may do wonders by their comickMuse, and may thus, perhaps, find means to laugh Gentlemen into their Religion, who have unfortunately been laugh’d out of it. For what reason is there to suppose that Orthodoxy shou’d not be able to laugh as agreeably, and with as much Refinedness, as Heresy or Infidelity?
At present, it must be own’d, the Characters, or Personages, employ’d by our new orthodox Dialogists, carry with ’em little Proportion or Coherence; and in this respect may be said to sute perfectly with that figurative metaphorical Style and rhetorical Manner, in which their Logick and Arguments are generally couch’d. Nothing can be more complex or multiform than their moral Draughts or Sketches of Humanity. These, indeed, are so far from representing any particularMan, or Order ofMen, that they scarce resemble any thing of the Kind. ’Tis by their Names only that these Characters are figur’d. Tho they bear different Titles, and are set up to maintain contrary Points; they are found, at the bottom, to be all of the same side; and, notwithstanding their seeming Variance, to co-operate in the most officious manner with the Author, towards the display of his own proper Wit, and the establishment of his private Opinion and Maxims. They are indeed his very legitimate and obsequious Puppets; as like real Men in Voice, Action, and Manners, as those wooden or wire Engines of the lower Stage. Philotheus and Philatheus, Philautus and Philalethes are of one and the same Order: Just Tallys to one another: Questioning and Answering in concert, and with such a sort of Alternative as is known in a vulgar Play, where one Person lies down blindfold, and presents himself, as fair as may be, to another, who by favour of the Company, or the assistance of his Good-fortune, deals his Companion many a sound Blow, without being once challeng’d, or brought into his Turn of lying down.
There is the same curious Mixture of Chance, and elegant Vicissitude, in the Style of these Mock-Personages of our new Theological Drama: with this difference only, “That after the poor Phantom or Shadow of an Adversary has said as little for his Cause as can be imagin’d, and given as many Opens and Advantages as cou’d be desir’d, he lies down for good and all, and passively submits to the killing Strokes of his unmerciful Conqueror.”
Hardly, as I conceive, will it be objected to our Moralist, (the Author of the philosophick Dialogue above) “That the Personages who sustain the sceptical or objecting Parts, are over-tame and tractable in their Disposition.” Did I perceive any such foul dealing in his Piece; I shou’d scarce think it worthy of the Criticism here bestow’d. For in this sort of Writing, where Personages are exhibited, and natural Conversation set in view; if Characters are neither tolerably preserv’d, nor Manners with any just Similitude describ’d; there remains nothing but what is too gross and monstrous for Criticism or Examination.
’Twill be alledg’d, perhaps, in answer to what is here advanc’d, “That shou’d a Dialogue be wrought up to the Exactness of these Rules; it ought to be condemn’d, as the worse Piece, for affording the Infidel or Sceptick such good quarter, and giving him the full advantage of his Argument and Wit.”
But to this I reply, That either Dialogue shou’d never be attempted; or, if it be, the Partys shou’d appear natural, and such as they really are. If we paint at all; we shou’d endeavour to paint like Life, and draw Creatures as they are knowable, in their proper Shapes and better Features; not in Metamorphosis, not mangled, lame, distorted, aukard Forms, and impotent Chimeras. Atheists have their Sense and Wits, as other Men; or why is Atheism so often challeng’d in those of the better Rank? Why charg’d so often to the account of Wit and subtle Reasoning?
Were I to advise these Authors, towards whom I am extremely well-affected on account of their good-humour’d Zeal, and the seeming Sociableness of their Religion; I shou’d say to ’em, “Gentlemen! Be not so cautious of furnishing your representativeSceptick with too good Arguments, or too shreud a Turn of Wit or Humour. Be no so fearful of giving quarter. Allow your Adversary his full Reason, his Ingenuity, Sense, and Art. Trust to the chief Character or Heroof your Piece. Make him as dazling bright, as you are able. He will undoubtedly overcome the utmost Force of his Opponent, and dispel the Darkness or Cloud, which the Adversary may unluckily have rais’d. But if when you have fairly wrought up your Antagonist to his due Strength and cognizable Proportion, your chief Character cannot afterwards prove a match for him, or shine with a superior Brightness; Whose Fault is it?—The Subject’s?—This, I hope, you will never allow.—Whose, therefore, beside your own?—Beware then; and consider well your Strength and Mastership in this manner of Writing, and in the qualifying Practice of the polite World, ere you attempt these accurate and refin’d Limnings or Portraitures of Mankind, or offer to bring Gentlemen on the Stage. For if real Gentlemen, seduc’d, as you pretend, and made erroneous in their Religion or Philosophy, discover not the least Feature of their real Faces in your Looking-glass, nor know themselves, in the least, by your Description; they will hardly be apt to think they are refuted. How wittily soever your Comedy may be wrought up, they will scarce apprehend any of that Wit to fall upon themselves. They may laugh indeed at the Diversion you are pleas’d to give ’em: But the Laugh perhaps may be different from what you intend. They may smile secretly to see themselves thus encounter’d; when they find, at last, your Authority laid by, and your scholastick Weapons quitted, in favour of this weak Attempt, To master them by their own Arms, and proper Ability.”
THUS WE have perform’d our critical Task, and try’d our Strength, both on our Author, and those of his Order, who attempt to write in Dialogue, after the active dramatick, *mimical, or personating Way; according to which a Writer is properly poetical.
What remains, we shall examine in our succeeding and last Chapter.
[* ]Viz. Supra, MISC. I. chap. 2.
[* ]Magna inter molles Concordia. Juven. Sat. ii. ver. 47.
[* ] To see the Incorrigibleness of our Poets in their pedantick Manner, their Vanity, Defiance of Criticism, their Rhodomontade, and poetical Bravado; we need only turn to our famous Poet-Laureat (the very Mr. Bays himself) in one of his latest and most valu’d Pieces, writ many years after the ingenious Author of the Rehearsal had drawn his Picture. “I have been listening” (says our Poet, in his Preface to Don Sebastian) “what Objections had been made against the Conduct of the Play, but found them all so trivial, that if I shou’d name them, a true Critick wou’d imagine that I plaid booty—Some are pleas’d to say the Writing is dull. But aetatem habet, de se loquatur. [But he is mature, let him speak for himself.] Others, that the double Poison is unnatural. Let the common receiv’d Opinion, and Ausonius’s famous Epigram answer that. Lastly, a more ignorant sort of Creatures than either of the former, maintain that the Character of Dorax is not only unnatural, but inconsistent with it-self. Let them read the Play, and think again.—A longer Reply is what those Cavillers deserve not. But I will give them and their Fellows to understand, that the Earl of * * * was pleas’d to read the Tragedy twice over before it was acted, and did me the favour to send me word, that I had written beyond any of my former Plays, and that he was displeas’d any thing shou’d be cut away. If I have not reason to prefer his single Judgment to a whole Faction, let the World be judge: For the Opposition is the same with that of Lucan’s Hero against an Army, concurrere Bellum atque Virum [they run together the war and the man.] I think I may modestly conclude, &c.”
Thus he goes on, to the very end, in the self-same Strain. Who, after this, can ever say of the Rehearsal-Author, that his Picture of our Poet was over-charg’d, or the national Humour wrong describ’d?”
[* ]Viz.Plato, Aristotle. See, in particular, the Phaedrus of the former; where an entire Piece of the Orator Lysias is criticiz’d in form.
[† ] The distinction of Treatises was into the ἀκροαματικοί and ἐξωτερικοί [esoteric . . . [versus] . . . exoteric].
[‡ ] The Rehearsal. See VOL. I. pag. 259. and just above, pag. 277. in the Notes.
[* ]Viz. VOL. I. pag. 207, 208. and 277, 278. and 336, &c. So above, pag. 260. and in the Notes.
[* ] ——Poterat duci quia Coena sine istis. Hor. Ars Poet. ver. 376.
[† ]Supra, p. 135, 189.
[* ] VOL. I. pag. 193, &c. and pag. 257.
[† ] That he is conscious of this, we may gather from that Line or two of Advertisement, which stands at the beginning of his first Edition. “As for the Characters, and Incidents, they are neither wholly feign’d (says he) nor wholly true: but according to the Liberty allow’d in the way of DIALOGUE, the principal Matters are founded upon Truth; and the rest as near resembling as may be. ’Tis a Sceptick recites: and the Hero of the Piece passes for an Enthusiast. If a perfect Character be wanting; ’tis the same Case here, as with the Poets in some of their best Pieces. And this surely is a sufficient Warrant for the Author of a PHILOSOPHICAL ROMANCE.”—Thus our Author himself; who to conceal, however, his strict Imitation of the antient poetick DIALOGUE, has prefix’d an auxiliary Title to his Work, and given it the Sirname of RHAPSODY: As if it were merely of that Essay or mix’d kind of Works, which come abroad with an affected Air of Negligence and Irregularity. But whatever our Author may have affected in his Title-Page, ’twas so little his Intention to write after that Model of incoherent Workmanship, that it appears to be sorely against his Will, if this Dialogue-Piece of his has not the just Character, and correct Form of those antient Poems describ’d. He wou’d gladly have constituted ONE single Action and Time, sutable to the just Simplicity of those Dramatick Works. And this, one wou’d think, was easy enough for him to have done. He needed only to have brought his first Speakers immediately into Action, and sav’d the narrative or recitative Part of PhiloclestoPalemon, by producing them as speaking Personages upon his Stage. The Scene all along might have been the Park. From the early Evening to the late Hour of Night, that the two Galants withdrew to their Town-Apartments, there was sufficient time for the Narrator Philocles, to have recited the whole Transaction of the second and third Part; which wou’d have stood thro’out as it now does: only at the Conclusion, when the narrative or recitative Part had ceas’d, the simple and direct DIALOGUE wou’d have again return’d, to grace the Exit. By this means the temporal as well as local Unity of the Piece had been preserv’d. Nor had our Author been necessitated to commit that Anachronism, of making his first Part, in order, to be last in time.
[* ] VOL. I. pag. 202, &c.
[* ] VOL. II. pag. 187, 188.
[* ]See VOL. I. pag. 193, &c.