Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Of verbal criticism

[David Mallet], Of Verbal Criticism: An Epistle to Mr. Pope. Occasioned by Theobald’s Shakespear, and Bentley’s Milton (London: Lawton Gilliver, 1733).

See, in the darkness of dull Authors bred,
With all their refuse lumber’d in his head,
Long years consum’d, large volumes daily turn’d,
And Servius read perhaps, while Maro burn’d,
In error obstinate, in wrangling loud,
Unbred, unsocial, positive, and proud;
Forth steps at last the self-applauding Wight,
Of points and letters, chaff and straws, to write;
Sagely resolv’d to swell each bulky piece
With venerable toys, from Rome and Greece;
How oft, in Homer, Paris curl’d his Hair;
If Aristotle’s Cap were round or square;
If in the Cave where Dido first was sped,
To Tyre she turn’d her Heels, to Troy her head.
Such the choice Anecdotes, profound and vain,
That store a Bentley’s and a Burman’s brain:
Hence Plato quoted, or the Stagyrite,
To prove that flame ascends, and snow is white:
Hence much hard study without sense or breeding,
And all the grave impertinence of reading.
If Shakespear says, the noon-day sun is bright,
His Scholiast will remark, it then was light;
Turn Caxton, Winkin, each old Goth and Hun,
To rectify the reading of a pun.
Thus, nicely trifling, accurately dull,
How one may toil, and toil---to be a fool! (4-5, ll.15-40)

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