1750 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Bentley

Patrick Murdoch to Andrew Millar, 1750 ca.; in Wooll, Biographical Memoirs of Joseph Warton (1806) 256.



The other remark I would make, is on the bad success our commentators and editors have had, either in improving their authors, or advancing their own reputation as critics — witness Bentley's Milton, and the late editions of Shakespeare. Those men being able grammarians, were tempted to deal in criticism; which requires what they wanted, a feeling of poetical beauty. Whence it happens that an image or phraze which they cannot convert into very intelligible prose, is declared faulty, and to need their correction. Thus Bentley found nonsense in these divine lines of Milton,

No light but rather "darkness visible"
Serv'd only to discover sights of woe.

Sometimes we see a thoughtless puerility in their emendations, as when the same critic changes "secret" top of Horeb into "sacred." At other times, they wantonly treat us like children, or as a juggler does the multitude: "See, Gentlemen, here is the very best and properest epithet that can be, 'ear piercing'; but you shall see how dexterously I can turn it into th' 'fear-spersing,'" &c. &c. Such criticisms are diverting enough, but there is this danger in them, that if we are not on our guard, we may be insensibly seduced to imitate them.