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Sons of the Stagyrite, all such draw nigh,
And break that sceptre formed of brass and lead,
* The public are not fully aware how widely the good or ill effects produced by impartial or interested criticism extend themselves; neither do men duly consider how deeply its decrees may influence the decisions of that important law, the law of opinion. Horace Walpole has this observation, “The manoeuvres of bookselling are now equal in number to the stratagems in war; publishers open and shut the sluices of reputation as their various interests lead them; and it is become more and more difficult to judge of the merit or fame of recent publications."
"No beggar is so poor but he can keep a cur, and no author is so beggarly but he can keep a critic."
The resemblance will be more complete if we reflect that an engagement by sea is as great a feast to the crabs, as a paper war by land is to the critics.
Self-constituted kings of A, B, C,
Such judges stamp all Authors tame and trite, That cannot contrarieties unite:
The style sublime and bold, wants common sense;
As Wordsworth wild, as soaring Southey bold;
* The Virgin Queen condescended sometimes to a little flirtation: Shakespeare was performing the part of a king. The theatre was small, “Parva fuit, si prima velis elementa referre, Roma." Queen Elizabeth's box was contiguous to the stage she purposely dropped her handkerchief, upon the board's at the feet of Shakespeare, having a mind to try whether her poet would stoop from his assumed majesty. She was mistaken, "Take up our sister's handkerchief," was his prompt and dignified order, to one of the actors in his train.
Frowns undeserved, misplaced severities,
Still scribble faster from the critics lash.
* It is well known that Gibbon never attempted to speak in the house of Commons, though highly gifted with many of the requisites of oratory. The feelings that prevented him, he thus explained to a friend, "The good speakers filled me with despair, the bad ones with apprehension." The imbecility also of Hare and Addison, in the House of Commons, formed a curious contrast with their acknowledged powers out of it; the latter, indeed, did not shine even in conversation, on which account it was wittily observed of him, that although he never had a guinea in his pocket, he could at any time draw for a thousand pounds upon his Banker. Lord Shaftesbury experienced a temporary embarrassment of this kind, on introducing his motion for extending the privilege of Counsel to those attainted of High Treason; but he immediately adduced the very embarrassment under which he then laboured, as the strongest argument for the necessity of that very privilege for which he was contending. Thus did that great geniu, like Antæus, gather strength from his fall; and from the awkward situation in which he felt himself placed, 'ex re natà, did he conjure up a most impressive and successful effort of cloquence.
Their old excuse then let not critics plead,
They take no bribe, they swear, yet what is worse From party views they canonize or curse;
But what hath Genius, that survives them all,
The Colour of his Politics, or Coat?
Layman, or Priest, (it matters not a fig,)
Longinus, Scaligers, and thou their Son,
* Eclipses produced by Satellites are usually partial. Bentley, a slashing critic! but there was a hardihood about him that pleases rather than disgusts. Most of his emendations were conceived in this spirit, "meo periculo, repugnantibus omnibus;" and at times by way of climax, "ipso auctore." But with all his faults, he might repeat that he had forgotten more than most of our modern Critics have ever
Such judges, (did but in Court preside,)
Turn'd criminals, in shame their heads must hide.
No wonder then, if such recruits should yield
learned; or to use another favourite expression of his, “what he did know,and what they do not know, would make a large Book!"
* I have heard my Father relate the following anecdote, it may be authentic, as he was extremely intimate with one of the Parties. Dr. Samuel Gash had carried away in his head, an amazing cargo of Greek, from Eton and Cambridge, into Warwickshire; there it grew a little mouldy. Dr. Parr paid him a literary visit: so much Greek was quoted, and talked, amidst such a dearth of English, that if Lord Monboddo had been present, he might have fancied himself transported to his beloved Attica. "When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of War." After a very late hour, for these Grecians were no starters, poor Gash knocked under, confessing himself outgreeked, out-smoked, and out-quoted; but he concluded his concession, with this apology; that he had lived so long in the country, insulated as it were, from all literary society, that he was become "BagBagos μila Bagßages." Dr.P. without the slightest hesitation, or a moment's pause, consoled the vanquished Grecian with this fine fragment (I think) of Menander,
“συγε βαρβαρος ; Είθεν γενοίμην αυτός, ουτος βαρβαρος,”