I heartily recommend reading Pope’s entire essay. In the meantime, here are a few choice lines to spark your interest:
‘Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill;
But, of the two, less dangerous is the offence
To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.
‘Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
Go each alike, yet each believes his own.
Let such teach others who themselves excel,
And censure freely who have written well.
Authors are partial to their wit, ‘tis true,
But are not critics to their judgments too?
Be sure yourself and your own reach to know,
How far your genius, taste, and learning go;
Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet,
And mark that point where sense and dullness meet.
Music resembles poetry, in each
Are nameless graces which no methods teach,
And which a master-hand alone can reach.
If, where the rules not far enough extend,
(Since rules were made but to promote their end)
Some lucky license answer to the full
The intent proposed, that license is a rule.
Moderns, beware! or if you must offend
Against the precept, ne’er transgress its end.
Trust not to yourself; but your defects to know,
Make use of every friend—and every foe.
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ.
‘Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call,
But the joint force and full result of all.
Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,
Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.
True wit is Nature, to advantage dress’d;
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.
Fear not the anger of the wise to raise;
Those best can bear reproof who merit praise.
‘Tis best sometimes your censure to restrain,
And charitably let the dull be vain:
Your silence there is better than your spite,
For who can rail so long as they can write?
Some valuing those of their own side or mind,
Still make themselves the measure of mankind:
Fondly we think we honor merit then,
When we but praise ourselves in other men.
Alexander Pope defined the Augustan period of English poetry. A master of the heroic couplets, verse epistles, and poetic essays, Pope exemplified poetic wit, masterfully fitting together form and content. Here are a few of his shorter works:
To James Craggs, Esquire.
SECRETARY OF STATE
A soul as full of worth as void of pride,
Which nothing seeks to show, or needs to hide,
Which nor to guilt nor fear its caution owes,
And boasts a warmth that from no passion flows.
A face untaught to feign; a judging eye,
That darts severe upon a rising lie,
And strikes a blush through frontless flattery.
All this thou wert; and being this before,
Know, kings and fortune cannot make thee more.
Then scorn to find a friend by servile ways,
Nor wish to lose a foe these virtues raise;
But candid, free, sincere, as you began,
Proceed—a minister, but still a man.
Be not (exalted to whate’er degree)
Ashamed of any friend, not e’en of me:
The patriot’s plain, but untrod, path pursue;
If not, ‘tis I must be ashamed of you.
On a Certain Lady at Court
I know the thing that’s most uncommon;
(Envy be silent and attend!)
I know a Reasonable Woman,
Handsome and witty, yet a Friend.
Not warp’d by Passion, aw’d by Rumour,
Not grave thro’ Pride, or gay thro’ Folly,
An equal Mixture of good Humour,
And sensible soft Melancholy.
“Has she no Faults then (Envy says) Sir?”
Yes she has one, I must aver:
When all the World conspires to praise her,
The Woman’s deaf, and does not hear.
Upon a Girl of Seven Years Old
Wit’s queen (if what the poets sing be true)
And Beauty’s goddess, childhood never knew—
Pallas, they say, sprung from the head of Jove
Full grown, and from the sea the queen of Love;
But had they, Miss, your wit and beauty seen,
Venus and Pallas both had children been.
They, from the sweetness of that radiant look,
A copy of young Venus might have took,
And from those pretty things you speak have told
How Pallas talked when she was seven years old.
When other ladies to the shades go down,
Still Flavia, Chloris, Celia stay in town;
Those ghosts of beauty lingering there abide,
And haunt the places where their honor died.
On a Lady Who P-ssed at the Tragedy of Cato
While maudlin Whigs deplored their Cato’s fate,
Still with dry eyes the Tory Celia sate;
But while her pride forbids her tears to flow,
The gushing waters find a vent below:
Though secret, yet with copious grief she mourns,
Like twenty river-gods with all their urns.
Let others screw their hypocritic face,
She shows her grief in a sincerer place:
There Nature reigns, and Passion void of art,
For that road leads directly to the heart.
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter, fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind;
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mixed, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
For more of Alexander Pope, I recommend his verse essays, Essay on Criticism and Essay on Man. For a mock epic, check out his Rape of the Lock.