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ceding age; fecondly against the Court and Nobility, who encouraged only the writers for the theatre; and lastly against the Emperor himself, who had conceived them of little use to the government. He shews (by a view of the progress of learning, and the change of taste among the Romans) that the introduction of the polite arts of Greece had given the writers of his time great advantages over their predecessors; that their morals were much improved, and the licence of those ancient poets restrained: that Satire and Comedy were become more just and useful; that whatever extravagances were left on the stage, were owing to the Ill Taste of the Nobility ; that poets, under due regulations, were in many respects useful to the State, and concludes, that it was upon them the Emperor himself muft depend, for his fame with pofterity.
We may farther learn from this Epistle, that Horace made his court to this great prince by writing with a decent freedom toward him, with a just contempt of his low flatterers, and with a manly regard to his own cha
W HILE you, great patron of mankind! sustain
The balanc'd world, and open all the main ;
Your country, chief, in arms abroad defend,
At home, with morals, arts, and laws amend;
How shall the muse, from such a monarch steal
An hour, and not defraud the public weal?
Edward and Henry, now the boast of fame,
And virtuous Alfred, a more sacred name,
After a life of gen'rous toils endur'd,
The Gaul subdu'd, or property secur’d,
Ambition humbled, mighty cities storm'd,
Ör laws establish'd, and the world reform’d;
Clos'd their long glories with a figh, to find
Th' unwilling gratitude of base mankind !
All human Virtue, to its latest breath,
Finds Envy never conquer'd, but by Death.
The great Alcides, ev'ry labour past,
Had still this monster to subdue at last.
Sure fate of all, beneath whose rising ray
Each star of meaner merit fades away!
Oppress'd we feel the beam directly beat,
Those sons of glory please not till they set.
To thee, the world its present homage pays,
The harveft early, but mature the praise :
Great friend of LIBERTY! in Kings a name
Above all Greek, above all Roman fame :
Whose word is truth, as sacred and rever’d,
As heav'n's own oracles from altars heard.
Wonder of kings ! like whom, to mortal eyes
None e'er has risen, and none e'er shall rife.
Just in one instance, be it yet confest
Your people, Sir, are partial in the reft :
Foes to all living worth except your own,
And advocates for folly dead and gone.
Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old; 35
It is the ruft we value, not the gold.
Chaucer's worst ribaldry is learn’d by rote,
And beastly Skelton * heads of houses quote :
One likes no language but the Faery Queen;
A Scot will fight for Christ's Kirk o'the Green $; 40
And each true Briton is to Ben so civil,
He swears the Muses met him at the Devil t.
Tho' juftly Greece her eldest sons admires,
Why should not we be wiser than our fires ?
In ev'ry public virtue we excell;
We build, we paint, we fing, we dance as well,
And learned Athens to our art must stoop,
Could she behold us tumbling thro' a hoop.
If time improve our wits as well as wine,
Say at what age a poet grows divine ?
Shall we, or shall we not, account him so,
Who dy'd, perhaps, an hundred years ago?
End all dispute ; and fix the year precise
When British bards begin t’immortalize ?
" Who lasts a century can have no flaw, “ I hold that wit a claffic, good in law.”
Suppose he wants a year, will you compound ?
And shall we deem him ancient, right and sound,
Or damn to all eternity at once,
At ninety-nine, a modern and a dunce ?
“ We shall not quarrel for a year or two; “ By courtesy of England, he may do.”
Then, by the rule that made the horse-tail bare, I pluck out year by year, as hair by hair,
* Skelton, Poet Laureat to Henry VIII. a volume of whose verses has been lately reprinted, coulisting almost wholly of sibuldıy, ob.cenity, and scurrilous language.
§ A ballad made by a king of Scotland.
# The Devil-Tavern, where Ben Johnson held his poetica!-club.
And melt down ancients like a heap of snow : 65
While you, to measure merits, look in Stowe,
And estimating authors by the year,
Bestow a garland only on a bier.
Shakespeare * (whom you and ev'ry playhouse bill
Style the divine, the matchless, what you will) 70
For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight,
And grew immortal in his own despight.
Ben, old and poor, as little seem'd to heed
The life to come, in ev'ry poet's creed.
Who now reads Cowley? if he pleases yet,
His moral pleases, not his pointed wit;
Forgot his Epic, nay Pindaric art,
But still I love the language of his heart.
" Yet surely, surely, these were famous men!
- What boy but hears the fayings of old Ben?
" In all debates, where critics bear a part, .
« Not one but nods, and talks of Johnson's art,
« Of Shakespeare's nature, and of Cowley's wit ;
66 How Beaumont's judgment check'd what Fletcher
" How Shadwell hafty, Wycherly was flow s; 85
6. But, for the passions, Southern fure and Rowe.
". These, only these, support the crouded stage,
6 Froin eldest Heywood down to Cibber's age.”
All this may be ; the people's voice is odd, It is, and it is not, the voice of God.
90 To Gammer Gurton + if it give the bays, And yet deny the Careless Husband praise,
* Shakespeare and Ben Johnson may truly be said not much to have thought of this immortality; the one in many picces composed in haste for the stage ; the other in his latter works in general, which Dryden called his dotages.
$ No:hing was lefs true than this particular : but the whole paragraph has a mixture of irony, and must not altogether be taken for Horace's own judg. ment, only the common chat of the pretenders to criticism ; in some things right, in otheis, wrong; as he tells us in lois answer,
Interdum vulgus reliumvidet: est ubi peccat. + A piece of very low humour, one of the first printed plays in English, and therefore much valued by fome antiquarians.
Or say our fathers never broke a rule ;
Why then, I say, 'the public is a fool.
But let them own, that greater faults than we 95
They had, and greater virtues, I'll agree,
Spencer himself affects the obsolete,
And Sidney’s verse halts ill on Roman feet :
Milton's strong pinion now not heav'n can bound,
Now serpent-like, in prose he sweeps the ground, 100 .
In quibbles, angel and archangel join,
And God the Father turns a school-divine.
Not that I'd lop the beauties froin his book,
Like slashing Bentley with his desp’rate hook,
Or damn all Shakespeare, like th' affected fool 105
At court, who hates whate'er he read at school.
But for the wits of either Charles's days,
The mob of gentlemen 'who'wrote with ease;
Sprat, Carew, Sedley, and a hundred more,
(Like twinkling iftars the miscellanies o’er) 110
One simile, that folitary shines
In the dry desert of a thousand lines,
Or lengthen'd thought that gleams through many a page,
Has fanctify'd whole poems for an age.
I lose my patience, and I own it too,
When works are cenfur’d, not as bad but new;
While if our elders break all reason's laws,
These fools demand not pardon, but applause.
On Avon's bank, where flow'rs eternal blow,
If I but ask, if any weed can grow;
One tragic fentence if I dare deride,
Which Betterton's grave action dignify’d,
Or well-mouth'd Booth with emphasis proclaims,
(Tho' but, perhaps, a muster-roll of names)
How will our fathers rise up in a rage,
And swear, all shame is lost in George's age !
You'd think no fools disgrac'd the former feign,
Did not some grave examples yet remain,
Who fcorn a lad should teach his father skill,
And, having once been wrong, will be so ftill. 130