For my own part, if in treating of this subject, I sometimes dissent from the opinion of better Wits, I declare it is not so much to combat their opinions as to defend mine own, which were first made public. Sometimes, like a scholar in a fencing school, I put forth myself, and show my own ill play, on purpose to be better taught. Sometimes, I stand desperately to my arms, like the Foot, when deserted by their Horse; not in hope to overcome, but only to yield on more honourable terms.
And yet, my Lord! this War of Opinions, you well know, has fallen out among the Writers of all Ages, and sometimes betwixt friends: only it has been persecuted by some, like pedants, with violence of words; and managed, by others, like gentlemen, with candour and civility. Even TULLY had a controversy with his dear ATTICUS; and in one of his_ Dialogues, makes him sustain the part of an enemy in Philosophy, who, in his Letters, is his confident of State, and made privy to the most weighty affairs of the Roman Senate: and the same respect, which was paid by TULLY to ATTICUS; we find returned to him, afterwards, by CAESAR, on a like occasion: who, answering his book in praise of CATO, made it not so much his business to condemn CATO, as to praise CICERO.
But that I may decline some part of the encounter with my adversaries, whom I am neither willing to combat, nor well able to resist; I will give your Lordship the relation of a dispute betwixt some of our wits upon this subject: in which, they did not only speak of Plays in Verse, but mingled, in the freedom of discourse, some things of the Ancient, many of the Modern Ways of Writing; comparing those with these, and the Wits of our Nation with those of others. ’Tis true, they differed in their opinions, as ’tis probable they would; neither do I take upon me to reconcile, but to relate them, and that, as TACITUS professes of himself_, sine studio partium aut ira_, “without passion or interest”: leaving your Lordship to decide it in favour of which part, you shall judge most reasonable! And withal, to pardon the many errors of_
Your Lordship’s most obedient humble servant,
TO THE READER.
The drift of the ensuing Discourse was chiefly to vindicate the honour of our English Writers from the censure of those who unjustly prefer the French before them. This I intimate, lest any should think me so exceeding vain, as to teach others an Art which they understand much better than myself. But if this incorrect Essay, written in the country, without the help of books or advice of friends, shall find any acceptance in the World: I promise to myself a better success of the Second Part, wherein the virtues and faults of the English Poets who have written, either in this, the Epic, or the Lyric way, will be more fully treated of; and their several styles impartially imitated.