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(I mean the oracles of both,
Who shall depose it upon oath.)
Your garland in the following reign,
Change but the names, will do again.
But, if you think this trade too base,
(Which seldom is the dunce's case,)
Put on the critic's brow, and sit
At Will's the puny judge of wit.
A nod, a shrug, a scornful smile,
With caution us’d, may serve awhile.
Proceed no further in your part,
Before you learn the terms of art;
For you can never be too far gone
In all our modern critic's jargon: -
Then talk with more authentic face
Of unities, in time and place ;
Get scraps of Horace from your friends,
And have them at your fingers' ends ;
Learn Aristotle's rules by rote,
And at all hazards boldly quote;
Judicious Rymer oft review,
Wise Dennis, and profound Bossu;
Read all the prefaces of Dryden,
For these our critics much confide in,
(Though merely writ at first for filling,
To raise the volume's price a shilling.)
A forward critic often dupes us
With sham quotations peri hupsous;
And if we have not read Longinus,
Will magisterially outshine us.
Then, lest with Greek he overrun ye,
Procure the book for love or money,
Translated from Boileau's translation,
And quote quotation on quotation.
At Will's you hear a poem read,
Where Battus, from the table head,
Reclining on his elbow-chair,
Gives judgment with decisive air ;
To whom the tribe of circling wits
As to an oracle submits.
He gives directions to the town,
To cry it up or run it down;
Like courtiers, when they send a note,
Instructing members how to vote.
He sets the stamp of bad and good,
Though not a word be understood.
Your lesson learn'd, you 'll be secure
To get the name of connoisseur :
And, when your merits once are known,
Procure disciples of your own.
For poets (you can never want 'em)
Spread through Augusta Trinobantum,
Computing by their pecks of coals,
Amount to just nine thousand souls :
These o'er their proper districts govern,
Of wit and humour judges sovereign.
In every street a city-bard
Rules, like an alderman, his ward ;
His indisputed rights extend
Through all the lane, from end to end;
The neighbours round admire his shrewdness
For songs of loyalty and lewdness;
Outdone by none in rhyming well,
Although he never learn’d to spell.
Two bordering wits contend for glory; And one is Whig, and one is Tory : And this for epics claims the bays, And that for elegiac lays: Some fam'd for numbers soft and smooth, By lovers spoke in Punch's booth ; And some as justly fame extols For lofty lines in Smithfield drolls. Bavius in Wapping gains renown, And Mævius reigns o'er Kentish-town: Tigellius, plac'd in Phoebus' car, From Ludgate shines to Temple-bar; Harmonious Cibber entertains The court with annual birth-day strains; Whence Gay was banish'd in disgrace; Where Pope will never show his face; Where Young must torture his invention To flatter knaves, or lose his pension.
But these are not a thousandth part Of jobbers in the poet's art, Attending each his proper station, And all in due subordination, Through every alley to be found, In garrets high, or under ground; And when they join their pericranies, Out skips a book of miscellanies. Hobbes clearly proves that every creature Lives in a state of war by nature, The greater for the smallest watch, But meddle seldom with their match. A whale of moderate size will draw A shoal of herrings down his maw;
A fox with geese his belly crams;
A wolf destroys a thousand lambs :
But search among the rhyming race,
The brave are worry'd by the base.
If on Parnassus' top you sit,
You rarely bite, are always bit.
Each poet of inferior size
On you shall rail and criticise,
And strive to tear you limb from limb;
While others do as much for him.
The vermin only tease and pinch
Their foes superior by an inch.
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus every poet in his kind
Is bit by him that comes behind :
Who, though too little to be seen,
Can tease, and gall, and give the spleen ;
Call dunces fools and sons of whores,
Lay Grub-street at each other's doors;
Extol the Greek and Roman masters,
And curse our modern poetasters;
Complain, as many an ancient bard did,
How genius is no more rewarded ;
How wrong a taste prevails among us ;
How much our ancestors outsung us ;
Can personate an awkward scorn
For those who are not poets born;
And all their brother-dunces lash,
Who crowd the press with hourly trash.
O Grub-street ! how do I bemoan thee, Whose graceless children scorn to own thee! Their filial piety forgot, Deny their country, like a Scot ; Though, by their idiom and grimace, They soon betray their native place. Yet thou hast greater cause to be Asham’d of them, than they of thee, Degenerate from their ancient brood, Since first the court allow'd them food.
Remains a difficulty still,
To purchase fame by writing ill.
From Flecknoe down to Howard's time,
How few have reach'd the low sublime !
For when our high-born Howard dy'd,
Blackmore alone his place supply'd :
And, lest a chasm should intervene,
When Death had finish'd Blackmore's reign,
The leaden crown devolv'd to thee,
Great poet of the hollow tree.
But ah! how unsecure thy throne !
A thousand bards thy right disown:
They plot to turn, in factious zeal,
Duncenia to a common weal;
And with rebellious arms pretend
An equal privilege to descend.
In bulk there are not more degrees
From elephants to mites in cheese,
Than what a curious eye may trace
In creatures of the rhyming race.
From bad to worse, and worse, they fall ;
But who can reach the worst of all ?