1746 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Blacklock

Thomas Blacklock, Preface to Poems on Several Occasions (1746) sigs a2-a3v.



If what is now offered, be so fortunate as to gain the public attention, whether it deserves the title of entertainment, or intrusion, will be best submitted to the public candor. If it gains the former character, it attains its highest aim: if it is branded with the latter, neither need the world fear a repeated insult, nor will the author be much disappointed with his fate: for if candidates for public esteem, merit what they wish, why are they concerned at losing the approbation of knaves or fools? (for such alone can meet real worth, when it appears with indifference or opposition;) but, if the united voice of mankind, to which they appeal, and which can hardly be supposed to speak the language of prejudice or ignorance, pronounce them unworthy of the honours they wish; why are they solicitous to gain that praise, which only false taste, or disingenuity can bestow? If the fear of living or dying, distinguished by no other characteristic, than as a dead weight on society (a vortex, where the circulation of public blessings is either diverted, or absorbed) be not sufficient to excuse the author's attempt; yet an inclination to assure the world, that he is no voluntary drone, but fired for the public, and resolved to promote its interest at every hazard consistent with virtue, had he been capacitated, may at least soften his fault.

But to judge fairly of him, the disadvantages under which he appears, ought not perhaps entirely to escape our notice. From green retreats, affluence, and serenity, joined with every other advantage of art and nature, perfect performances of this kind may reasonably be expected: but here we can only see genius, if it can deserve that name, no otherwise assisted than by some notion of the Latin and English poets, and exerted under the want of the most exquisite enjoyments of life, a lively sense of their value, and almost an absolute despair of every obtaining them, struggling with blindness, which has continued from the author's infancy, and which is certainly one of the greatest difficulties a poet can labour under; as it must confine and enervate every description, and perhaps render it impracticable to paint any object of sight with propriety, at least in their gayest, happiest attitude, or colours. Yet, that these disadvantages might be as little as possible conspicuous, of all the poems now exhibited, there is scarce an entire piece, or even a single sentiment, where the author has not some precedent, either from the ancients, or justly admired moderns, in view.

Let it be therefore confest, that it was not without hopes of being in some measure agreeable, he ventured thus far: and had these hopes been no better supported, than by his own vanity, he had saved himself and the world so much trouble.

And now, before he and his works be left to their destiny, it may be just proper to add, That when the fundamental laws of any civil constitution are threatened with entire subversion, since any man may oppose the torrent, neither from mercenary views, nor a blind attachment to particular persons and princes; and since none can have any reason to suspect the author of any of these faults, it will be ungenerous, notwithstanding the explicite sentiments, to brand him with opprobrious name of a party writer.

This much was thought proper to be said, though there may be many faults of which he is entirely ignorant, or for which it would be tedious to apologize; ye such, as it is hoped, any generous critic may forgive.