"Damn With Faint Praise"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Pope's poetical epistle was written in the form of a dialogue between the poet and his good friend, Dr. Arbuthnot, a physician and contemporary literary figure. The poem is a vehicle for the poet's mordant comments upon other writers of the time, with whom, by his own admission, he found little favor himself. The "Atticus" of the section in which this quotation occurs is Joseph Addison, a quiet and workmanlike man of letters of the period. Pope, however, felt that he had more than one grievance against Addison; in this poem he complains, not quite fairly, that his critic, not being able to stand competition, causes others to sneer at Pope's work to which Addison himself gives less praise than it deserves:

But were there one whose fires
True genius kindles and fair fame inspires;
Blest with each talent and each art to please,
And born to write, converse, and live with ease:
Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne,
View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
And hate for arts that caus'd himself to rise;
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;
. . .
Who but must laugh, if such a man there be?
Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?