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If any one fhould imagine I am not in earnest, I defire him to reflect, that the Antients (to fay the least of them) had as much genius as we : and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more complete pieces. They conftantly applied themfelves not only to that art, but to that single branch of an art, to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the business of their lives to correct and finish their works for Pofterity. If we can pretend to have used the same industry, let us expect the fame immortality: Though if we took the fame care, we should still lie under a further misfortune: they writ in languages that became universal and everlasting, while ours are extremely limited both in extent and in duration. A mighty foundation for our pride! when the utmost we can hope, is but to be read in one Island, and to be thrown aside at the end of one Age.
All that is left us is to recommend our productions by the imitation of the Ancients: and it will be found true, that, in every age, the highest character for sense and learning has been obtained by those who have been most indebted to them. For, to fay truth, whatever is very good fenfe, must have been common fenfe in all times; and what we call Learning, is but the knowledge of the fenfe of our predeceffors. Therefore they who fay our thoughts are not our own, because they resemble the Ancients, may as well fay our faces are not our own, because they are like our Fathers: And indeed it is very unreasonable, that people should expect us to be Scholars, and yet be angry to find us fo.
I fairly confefs that I have served myself all I could by reading; that I made use of the judgment of authors dead and living; that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errors, both by my friends and enemies: But the true reason these pieces are not
more correct, is owing to the confideration how short a time they and I have to live: One may be ashamed to confume half one's days in bringing fenfe and rhyme together; and what Critic can be fo unreasonable, as not to leave a man time enough for any more ferious employment, or more agreeable amufement?
The only plea I fhall ufe for the favour of the public, is, that I have as great a respect for it, as most au. thors have for themfelves; and that I have facrificed much of my own felf-love for its fake, in preventing not only many mean things from feeing the light, but many which I thought tolerable. I would not be like thofe Authors, who forgive themselves fome particular lines for the fake of a whole Poem, and, vice versa, a whole Poem for the fake of fome particular lines. I believe, no one qualification is fo likely to make a good writer, as the power of rejecting his own thoughts; and it must be this (if any thing) that can give me a chance to be one. For what I have published, I can only hope to be pardoned; but for what I have burned, I deserve to be praised. On this account the world' is under fome obligation to me, and owes me the justice in return, to look upon no verfes as mine that are not inferted in this collection. And perhaps nothing could make it worth my while to own what are really fo, but to avoid the imputation of so many dull and immoral things, as partly by malice, and partly by ignorance, have been afcribed to me. I muft further acquit myfelf of the prefumption of having lent my name to recommend any Mifcellanies, or Works of other men; a thing I never thought becoming a perfon who has hardly credit enough to answer for his own.
In this office of collecting my pieces, I am altogether uncertain, whether to look upon myself as a man building a monument, or burying the dead.
If Time shall make it the former, may thefe Poems (as long as they laft) remain as a teftimony that their Author never made his talents fubfervient to the mean and unworthy ends of Party or Self-intereft; the gratification of public prejudices or private paffions; the flattery of the undeferving, or the infult of the unforIf I have written well, let it be confidered that it is what no man can do without good fense, a quality that not only renders one capable of being a good writer, but a good man. And if I have made any acquisition in the opinion of any one under the notion of the former, let it be continued to me under no other title than that of the latter.
But if this publication be only a more folemn funeral of my remains, I defire it may be known that I die in charity, and in my fenfes; without any murmurs against the justice of this age, or any mad appeals to posterity. I declare I shall think the world in the right, and quietly fubmit to every truth which time shall dif cover to the prejudice of these writings; not fo much as wishing fo irrational a thing, as that every body fhould be deceived merely for my credit. However, I defire it may then be confidered, That there are very few things in this collection which were not written under the age of five and twenty: so that my youth may be made (as it never fails to be in Executions) a cafe of compaffion. That I was never fo concerned about my works as to vindicate them in print, believing, if any thing was good, it would defend itself, and what was bad could never be defended. That I used no artifice to raise or continue a reputation, depreciated no dead author I was obliged to, bribed no living one with unjust praise, insulted no adversary with ill-language; or when I could not attack a Rival's works, encouraged reports against his Morals. To conclude, if this volume
perish, let it ferve as a warning to the Critics, not to take too much pains, for the future to deftroy fuch things as will die of themselves; and a Memento mori to fome of my vain cotemporaries the Poets, to teach them that, when real merit is wanting, it avails nothing to have been encouraged by the great, commended by the eminent, and favoured by the public in general.
Nov. 10, 1716.
VARIATIONS in the Author's Manuscript Preface.
FTER page iv. 1. 4. it followed thus-For my part, I confefs, had I feen things in this view, at firft, the public had never been troubled either with my writings, or with this apology for them. I am fenfible how difficult it is to speak of one's felf with decency: but when a man must speak of himself, the best way is to speak truth of himself, or, he may depend upon it, others will do it for him. I'll therefore make this Preface a general confeffion of all my thoughts of my own Poetry, refolving with the fame freedom to expofe myfelf, as it is in the power of any other to expofe them. In the first place, I thank God and nature, that I was born with a love to poetry; for nothing more conduces to fill up all the intervals of our time, or, if rightly ufed, to make the whole courfe of life entertaining: Cantantes licet ufque (minus via lædet.) 'Tis a vaft happiness to poffefs the pleasures of the head, the only pleasures in which a man is fufficient to himself, and the only part of him which, to his fatisfaction, he can employ all day long. The Mufes are amicæ omnium
horarum; and, like our gay acquaintance, the best com pany in the world as long as one expects no real fervice from them. I confefs there was a time when I was in love with myself, and my first productions were the children of felf-love upon innocence. I had made an Epic Poem, and Panegyrics on all the Princes in Europe, and thought myself the greatest genius that ever was. I can't but regret those delightful visions of my childhood, which, like the fine colours we see when our eyes are shut, are vanished for ever. Many trials, and fad experience have fo undeceived me by degrees, that I am utterly at a lofs at what rate to value myself. As for fame, I fhall be glad of any I can get, and not repine at any I mifs; and as for vanity, I have enough to keep me from hanging myself, or even from wishing those hanged who would take it away. It was this that made me write. The fenfe of my faults made me correct; befides that it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write.
At P. V. 1. 31. In the first place, I own that I have ufed my beft endeavours to the finishing these pieces. That I made what advantage I could of the judgment of authors dead and living; and that I omitted no means in my power to be informed of my errors by my friends and my enemies. And that I expect no favour on account of my youth, bufinefs, want of health, or any fuch idle excufes. But the true reason why they are not yet more correct is owing to the confideration how short a time they, and I, have to live. A man that can expect but fixty years may be afhamed to employ thirty in measuring fyllables, and bringing fenfe and rhyme together. We spend our youth in pursuit of riches or fame, in hopes to enjoy them when we are old; and when we are old, we find it too late to enjoy any thing. I therefore hope the Wits will pardon me,