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Indulged the day that housed their annual grain,
With feasts, and offerings, and å thankful strain:
The joy their wives, their sons, and servants share,
Ease of their toil, and partners of their care:
The laugh, the jest, attendants on the bowl,
Smoothed every brow, and open'd every soul:
With growing years the pleasing licence grew,
And taunts alternate innocently flew.
But times corrupt, and Nature, ill-inclined,
Produced the point that left a sting behind;
Till friend with friend, and families at strife,
Triumphant malice raged through private life.
Who felt the wrong, or fear'd it, took the alarm,
Appeal'd to law, and justice lent her arm.
At length, by wholesome dread of statutes bound,
The poets learn'd to please, and not to wound:
Most warp'd to flattery's side; but some, more nice,
· Preserved the freedom, and forbore the vice.
Hence satire rose, that just the medium hit,
And heals with morals. what it hurts with wit.
We conquer'd France, but felt our captive's charms;
Her arts victorious triumph'd o'er our arms;
Britain to soft refinements less a foe,
Wit grew polite, and numbers learn'd to flow.
Waller was smooth ;' but Dryden taught to join
The varying verse, the full resounding line,
The long majestic march, and energy divine.
Though stiļl some traces of our rustic vein,
And splay-foot verse, remain'd, and will remain.
Late, very late, correctness grew our care,
When the tired nation breathed from civil war.
Exact Racine, and Corneille's noble fire,
Show'd us that France had something to admire.
Not but the tragic spirit was our own,
And full in Shakspeare, fair in Otway shone:
But Otway fail'd to polish or refine,
And fluent Shakspeare scarce effaced a line.
Even copious Dryden wanted, or forgot,
The last and greatest art, the art to blot.
Some doubt, if equal pains, or equal fire The humble muse of comedy require. 1 Mr. Waller, about this time, with the Earl of Dorset, Mr. Godolphin, and others, translated the Pompey of Corneille, and the more correct French poets began to be in reputation.
But in known images of life, I guess
The labour greater, as the indulgence less.
Observe how seldom even the best succeed:
Tell me if Congreve's fools are fools indeed ?
What pert, low dialogue has Farquhar writ!
How Van' wants grace, who never wanted wit!
The stage how loosely does Astrea tread,
Who fairly puts all characters to bed !
And idle Cibber, how he breaks the laws,
To make poor Pinky eat with vast applause !
But fill their purse, our poets' work is done,
Alike to them, by pathos or by pun.
O you! whom vanity's light bark conveys
On Fame's mad voyage by the wind of praise,
With what a shifting gale your course you ply,
For ever sunk too low, or borne too high !
Who pants for glory finds but short repose,
A breath revives him, or a breath o'erthrows.
Farewell the stage ! if just as thrives the play,
The silly bard grows fat, or falls away.
There still remains, to mortify a wit,
The many-headed monster of the pit
A senseless, worthless, and unhonour'd crowd;
Who, to disturb their betters mighty proud,
Clattering their sticks before ten lines are spoke,
Call for the farce, the Bear, or the Black-joke.
What dear delight to Britons farce affords !
Ever the taste of mobs, but now of lords:
(Taste, that eternal wanderer, which flies
From heads to ears, and now from ears to eyes.)
The play stands still; damn action and discourse;
Back fly the scenes, and enter foot and horse;
Pageants on pageants, in long order drawn,
Peers, heralds, bishops, ermine, gold, and lawn;
The champion too! and, to complete the jest,
Old Edward's armour beams on Cibber's breast.3
With laughter sure Democritus had died,
Had he beheld an audience gape so wide.
Let bear or elephant be e'er so white,
The people, sure, the people are the sight!
Ah luckless poet! stretch thy lungs and roar,
That bear or elephant shall heed thee more;
While all its throats the gallery extends,
And all the thunder of the pit ascends !
Loud as the wolves, on Orcas' stormy steep,
Howl to the roarings of the northern deep;
Such is the shout, the long-applauding note,
At Quin's high plume, or Oldfield's petticoat;
Or when from court a birth-day suit bestow'd,
Sinks the lost actor in the tawdry load.
Booth enters,--hark! the universal peal!
“But has he spoken ?”—Not a syllable.
“ What shook the stage, and made the people stare goo
Cato's long wig, flower'd gown, and lacquer'd chair.
Yet, lest you think I rally more than teach,
Or praise malignly arts I cannot reach,
Let me for once presume to instruct the times,
To know the poet from the man of rhymes :
'Tis he, who gives my breast a thousand pains,
Can make me feel each passion that he feigns;
Enrage, compose, with more than magic art;
With pity, and with terror, tear my heart;
And snatch me, o'er the earth, or through the air,
To Thebes, to Athens, when he will, and where.
But not this part of the poetic state,
Alone, deserves the favour of the great.
Think of those authors, sir, who would rely
More on a reader's sense than gazer's eye.
Or who shall wander where the Muses sing ?
Who climb their mountain, or who taste their spring ?
How shall we fill a library with wit,
When Merlin's Cave’ is half-unfinish'd yet!
My liege! why writers little claim your thought.
I guess, and, with their leave, will tell the fault!
We poets are (upon a poet's word)
Of all mankind, the creatures most absurd:
1 The farthest northern promontory of Scotland, opposite to the Orcades.
2 The Palatine Library, then building by Augustus.
3 A building in the Royal Gardens of Richmond, where was a small but choice collection of books.
The season, when to come; and when to go,
To sing, or cease to sing, we never know;
And if we will recite nine hours in ten,
You lose your patience, just like other men.
Then too we hurt ourselves, when to defend
A single verse, we quarrel with a friend;
Repeat unask'd; lament, the wit's too fine
For vulgar eyes, and point out every line.
But most, when straining with too weak a wing,
We needs will write epistles to the king;
And from the moment we oblige the town,
Expect a place, or pension from the crown;
Or dubb'd historians by express command,
To enrol your triumphs o'er the seas and land,
Be call'd to court to plan some work divine,
As once for Louis, Boileau and Racine.
Yet think, great sir! (so many virtues shown)
Ah think, what poet best may make them known?
Or choose at least some minister of grace,
Fit to bestow the laureat's weighty place.
Charles, to late times to be transmitted fair,
Assign'd his figure to Bernini's care;
And great Nassau to Kneller's hand decreed
To fix him graceful on the bounding steed;
So well in paint and stone they judged of merit:
in wit may want discerning spirit. The hero William, and the martyr Charles, One knighted Blackmore, and one pension'd Quarles Which made old Ben and surly Dennis swear “No lord's anointed, but a Russian bear."
Not with such majesty, such bold relief, The forms august, of king, or conquering chief, E’er swellid on marble; as in verse have shined (In polish'd verse) the manners and the mind. Oh! could I mount on the Mæonian wing, Your arms, your actions, your repose to sing ! What seas you traversed, and what fields you fought! Your country's peace, how oft, how dearly bought! How barbarous rage subsided at your word, And nations wonder'd while they dropp'd the sword ! How, when you nodded, o'er the land and deep, Peace stole her wing, and wrapt the world in sleep; Till earth's extremes your mediation own, And Asia's tyrants tremble at your throne
But verse, alas ! your majesty disdains;
And I'm not used to panegyric strains:
The zeal of fools offends at any time,
But most of all, the zeal of fools in rhyme.
Besides, a fate attends on all I write,
That when I aim at praise, they say I bite.
A vile encomium doubly ridicules:
There's nothing blackens like the ink of fools.
If true, a woful likeness; and if lies,
“ Praise undeserved is scandal in disguise:"
Well may he blush, who gives it, or receives;
And when I flatter, let my dirty leaves
(Like journals, odes, and such forgotten things
As Eusden, Philips, Settle, writ of kings)
Clothe spice, line trunks, or fluttering in a row,
Befringe the rails of Bedlam and Soho.
DEAR Colonel, COBHAM's and your country's friend !
You love a verse, take such as I can send.
A Frenchman comes, presents you with his boy,
Bows and begins-“This lad, sir, is of Blois:
Observe his shape how clean ! his locks how curl'd!
My only son, I'd have him see the world:
His French is pure; his voice toom-you shall hear.
Sir, he's your slave, for twenty pound a-year.
Mere wax as yet, you fashion him with ease,
Your barber, cook, upholsterer, what you please:
A perfect genius at an opera song
To say too
much, might do my honour wrong.
Take him with all his virtues, on my word;
His whole ambition was to serve a lord;
But, sir, to you, with what would I not part ?
Tho' faith, I fear, 'twill break his mother's heart.
1 A town in Beauce, where the French tongue is spoken in great purity.