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Or damn all Shakespeare, like th' affected fool
At court, who hates what'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 stars the Miscellanies o'er,)
One simile, that solitary shines
In the dry desert of a thousand lines,
Or lengthen'd thought that gleams through many a page,
Has sanctified whole poems for an age.
I lose my patience, and I own it too,
When works are censur'd, not as bad but new;
While it our elders break all reason's laws,
These fools demand not pardon, but applause.
On Avon's bank, where flowers eternal blow,
If I but ask, if any weed can grow?
One tragic sentence if I dare deride
Which Betterton's grave action dignified,
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 reign,
Did not some grave examples yet remain,
Who scorn a lad should teach his father skill,
And, having once been wrong, will be so still
He, who to seem more deep than you or I,
Extols old bards, or Merlin's prophecy,
Mistake him not; he envies, not admires,
And to debase the sons, exalts the sires.
Had ancient times conspir'd to di allow
What then was new, what had been ancient now?
Or what remain'd, so worthy to be read
By learned critics, of the mighty dead?
In days of ease, when now the weary sword
Was sheath'd, and luxury with Charles restor❜d;
In ev'ry taste of foreign courts improv'd,
‘All, by the king's example, liv'd and lov’d'
Then peers grew proud in horsemanship t'excel,
Newmarket's glory rose, as Britain's fell;
The soldier breath'd the gallantries of France,
And ev'ry flowery courtier writ romance.
Then marble, soften'd into life, grew warm,
And yielding metal flow'd to human form:
Lely on animated canvas stole
The sleepy eye, that spoke the melting soul.
No wonder then, when all was love and sport,
The willing Muses were debauch'd at court :
On each enervate string they taught the note
To pant, or tremble through an eunuch's throat.
But Britain, changeful as a child at play,
Now calls in princes, and now turns away.
Now Whig, now Tory, what we lov'd we hate;
Now all for pleasure, now for church and state;
Now for prerogative, and now for laws;
Effects unhappy! from a noble cause.
Time was, a sober Englishman would knock
His servants up, and rise by five o'clock,
Instruct his family in every rule,
And send his wife to church, his son to school.
To worship like his fathers, was his care;
To teach their frugal virtues to his heir;
To prove, that luxury could never hold;
And place, on good security, his gold.
Now times are chang'd, and one poetic itch
Has seiz'd the court and city, poor and rich:
Sons, sires, and grandsires, all will wear the bays,
Our wives read Milton, and our daughters plays,
To theatres, and to rehearsals throng,
And all our grace at table is a song.
I, who so oft renounce the muses, lie,
Not -'s self e'er tells more fibs than I;
When sick of muse, or follies we deplore,
And promise our best friends to rhyme no more; We wake next morning in a raging fit,
And call for pen and ink to show our wit.
He serv'd a 'prenticeship, who sets up shop; Ward tried on puppies, and the poor, his drop; Ev'n Radcliffe's doctors travel first to France, Nor dare to practise till they 've learn'd to dance. Who builds a bridge that never drove a pile? (Should Ripley venture, all the world would smile ;) But those who cannot write, and those who can, All rhyme, and scrawl, and scribble, to a man.
Yet, Sir, reflect, the mischief is not great; These madmen never hurt the church or state : Sometimes the folly benefits mankind; And rarely avarice taints the tuneful mind. Allow him but his plaything of a pen, He ne'er rebels, or plots, like other men: Flight of cashiers, or mobs, he'll never mind; And knows no losses while the muse is kind. To cheat a friend, or ward, he leaves to Peter; The good man heaps up nothing but mere metre, Enjoys his garden and his book in quiet; And then-a perfect hermit in his diet.
Of little use the man you may suppose Who says in verse what others say in prose; Yet let me show, a poet's of some weight, And (tho' no soldier) useful to the state. What will a child learn sooner than a song? What better teach a foreigner the tongue? What's long or short, each accent where to place, And speak in public with some sort of grace. I scarce can think him such a worthless thing, Unless he praise some monster of a king; Or virtue, or religion turn to sport, To please a lewd, or unbelieving Court. Unhappy Dryden !—In all Charles's days, Roscommon only boasts unspotted bas; And in our own (excuse some courtly stains) No whiter page than Addison remains. He, from the taste obscene reclaims our youth, And sets the passions on the side of truth,
Forms the soft bosom with the gentlest art,
And pours each human virtue in the heart.
Let Ireland tell, how wit upheld her cause,
Her trade supported, and supplied her laws;
And leave on Swift this grateful verse engrav'd,
"The rights a court attack'd, a poet sav'd.'
Behold the hand that wrought a nation's cure,
Stretch'd to relieve the idiot and the poor,
Proud vice to brand, or injur'd worth adorn,
And stretch the ray to ages yet unborn.
Not but there are, who merit other palms;
Hopkins and Sternhold glad the heart with psalms:
The boys and girls whom charity maintains,
Implore your help in these pathetic strains :
How could devotion touch the country pews,
Unless the Gods bestow'd a proper muse?
Verse cheers their leisure, verse assists their work,
Verse prays for peace, or sings down Pope and Turk.
The silenc'd preacher yields to potent strain,
And feels that grace his prayer besought in vain;
The blessing thrills through all the lab'ring throng,
And heaven is won by violence of song.
Our rural ancestors, with little blest, Patient of labour when the end was rest, Indulg'd the day that hous'd their annual grain, With feasts, and offerings, and a 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, Smooth'd 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-inclin'd, Produc'd the point that left a sting behind; Till friend with friend, and families at strife, Triumphant malice rag'd through private life. Who felt the wrong, or fear'd it, took th' 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,
Preserv'd 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.
Tho' still some traces of our rustic vein,
And splay-foot verse, remain'd, and will remain.
Late, very late, correctness grew our care,
When the tir'd nation breath'd 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 Shakespeare, fair in Otway shone:
But Otway fail'd to polish or refine,
And fluent Shakespeare scarce effac'd a line.
Ev'n 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.
But in known images of life, I guess
The labour greater, as th' indulgence less.
Observe how seldom ev'n 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 poet's work is done,
Alike to them, by pathos or by pun.