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with a short account of themselves and their art, by looking into the original and pedigree of the word as it is generally understood among us, and very briefly considering the ancient and present state thereof.
By the word critic, at this day so frequent in all conversations, there have sometimes been die stinguished three very different species of mortal men, according as I have read in ancient books and pamphlets. For, first, by this term was understood such persons as invented or drew up rules for themselves and the world; by observing which, a careful reader might be able to pronounce upon the productions of the learned, from his taste to a true relish of the sublime and the admirable, and divide every beauty of matter or of style from the corruption that apes it: in their common perusal of books, singling out the errors and defects, the nauseous, the fulsome, the dull, and the impertinent, with the caution of a man that walks through Edinburgh streets in a morning: who is indeed as careful as he can, to watch diligently, and spy out the filth in his way; not that he is curious to observe the colour and complexion of the ordure, or take its dimensions, much less to be paddling in, or tasting ; but only with a design to come out as cleanly as he may. These men seem, though very erroneously, to have un. derstood the appellation of critic in a literal sense; that one principal part of his office, was to praise and acquit; and that a critic, who sets up to read only for an occasion of censure and reproof, is a creature as barbarous as a judge, who should take up a resolution to hang all men that came before him upon a trial.
Again, by the word critic have been meant the restorers of ancient learning, from the worms, and graves, and dust of manuscripts.
Now, the races of those two have been for some ages utterly extinct; and besides, to discourse any farther of them, would not be at all! to my purpose. :
The third, and noblest sort, is that of the TRUE CRITIC, whose original is the most ancient of all. Every true critic is a hero born, descending in a direct line from a celestial stem by Momus and Hybris, who begat Zoilus, who begat Tigellius, who begat Etcætera the elder, who begat Bentley and Rymer, and Wotton, and Perrault, and Dennis, who begat Etcætera the younger
And these are the critics from whom the common-wealth of learning has in all ages received such immense benefits, that thé gratitude of their admirers placed their origin in heaven, among those of Hercules, Theseus, Perseus, and other great deservers of mankind. But heroic virtue itself hath not been exempt from the oblo
quy of evil tongues. For it hath been objected, that those ancient heroes, famous for their combating so many giants, and dragons, and robbers, were in their own persons a greater nuisance to mankind, than any of those monsters they subdued; and therefore, to render their obligations more complete, when all other vermin were destroyed, should in conscience have concluded with the same justice upon themselves; as Hercules most generously did; and hath, upon that score, procured to himself more temples and votaries, than the best of his fellows. For these reasons, I suppose, it is, why some have conceived, it would be very expedient for the public good of learning, that every true critic, as soon as he had finished his task assigned, should immediately deliver himself up to ratsbane, or hemp, or from some convenient altitude ; and that no man's pretensions to so illustrious a character, should by any means be received, before that operation were performed.
Now, from this heavenly descent of criticism, and the close analogy it bears to heroic virtue, it is easy to assign the proper employment of a true ancient genuine critic; which is, to travel through this vast world of writings; to pursue and hunt those monstrous faults bred within them; to drag out the lurking errors, like Cacus from his den; to multiply them like Hydra’s heads; and rake them together like Augeas's dung: or else drive away a sort of dangerous fowl, who have a perverse inclination to plunder the best branches of the tree of knowledge, like those Stymphalian birds that eat up the fruit.
These reasonings will furnish us with an adequate definition of a true critic ; that he is a discoverer and collector of writers faults; which may be farther put beyond dispute, by the following demonstration: That whoever will examine the writings in all kinds, wherewith this antient sect has honoured the world, shall immediately find, from the whole thread and tenor of them, that the ideas of the authors have been altogether conversant and taken up with the faults, and blemishes, and oversights, and mistakes of other writers; and, let the subject treated on be whatever it will, their imaginations are so entirely possessed, and replete with the defects of other pens, that the very quintessence of what is bad, does of necessity distill into their own; by which means, the whole appears to be nothing else but an abstract of the criticisms they themselves have made. .
Having thus briefly considered the original and office of a critic, as the word is understood in its most noble and universal acceptation; I proceed to refute the objections of those who argue from the silence and pretermission of authors; by which they pretend to prove, that the very art of