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Some have at first for wits, then poets pass'd, Turn'd critics next, and prov'd plain fools at last; Some neither can for wits nor critics pass, As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass.Those half-learn'd witlings, num'rous in our isle As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile; Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call, Their generation's so equivocal: To tell 'em, would a hundred tongues require, Or one vain wit's, that might a hundred tire.
Just precepts thus from great examples giv'n, She drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n.
The gen'rous critic fann'd the poet's fire, And taught the world with reason to admire.
Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true, But are not critics to their judgment too?
Yet if we look more closely we shall find Most have the seeds of judgment in their mind; Nature affords at least a glimm'ring light; The lines, tho' touch'd but faintly, are drawn right.
One science only will one genius fit; So vast is art, so narrow human wit: Not only bounded to peculiar arts, But oft in those, confin'd to single parts.
Like kings we lose the conquests gain'd before, By vain ambition still to make them more; Each might his sev'ral province well command, Would all but stoop to what they understand.
It is a discussion of what good critics should do; however, in reading it one gleans much wisdom on the qualities poets should strive for in their own work.
In Part I of “An Essay on Criticism,” Pope notes the lack of “true taste” in critics, stating: “’Tis with our judgments as our watches, none / Go just alike, yet each believes his own.” Pope advocates knowing one’s own artistic limits: “Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, / And mark that point where sense and dullness meet.” He stresses the order in nature and the value of the work of the “Ancients” of Greece, but also states that not all good work can be explained by rules: “Some beauties yet, no precepts can declare, / For there’s a happiness as well as care.” In Part II, Pope lists the mistakes that critics make, as well as the defects in poems that some critics short-sightedly praise.
Some few in that, but numbers err in this, Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss; A fool might once himself alone expose, Now one in verse makes many more in prose.
'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none Go just alike, yet each believes his own.