An Essay upon Poetry.

London, Printed for Joseph Hindmarsh … 1682.

4to., pp. [2], 21, [1]; a fine copy, fore- and lower edge uncut; disbound.


US $1686€1372

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First edition, a verse satire in imitation of Horace’s Ars Poetica. There are indirect attacks on Rochester (‘Bawdry barefac’d, that poor pretence to Wit’), and Cowley, who has poetic fury but ‘ill expression’, while Sheffield reserves praise for Dryden, who took the blame for Sheffield’s own ‘Essay on Satire’, which had circulated in manuscript a few years earlier.

Even Milton and Spenser cannot reach the heights of Homer, and contemporary drama is seen as farcical – turn instead to Shakespeare and Fletcher: ‘Consider them, and read them o’re and o’re, / Go see them play’d, then read them as before’.

Sheffield, rival of Rochester and patron of Dryden, worked on the poem throughout his life, and it was published, with revisions, in numerous editions. Pope, in his Essay on Criticism, numbered Sheffield with Roscommon as ‘among the sounder few’ in the modern age, and quoted his dictum ‘Nature’s chief Masterpiece is writing well’.

Wing B 5339; Hayward 129; Wither to Prior 795.

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