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[From The Prophecy of Famine.]

Me, whom no muse of heavenly birth inspires,
No judgment tempers when rash genius fires :
Who boast no merit but mere knack of rhyme,
Short gleams of sense, and satire out of time,
Who cannot follow where trim Fancy leads
By prattling streams,' o'er 'flower-empurpled meads':
Who often, but without success, have prayed

For apt alliteration's artful aid:

Who would, but cannot, with a master's skill,
Coin fine new epithets, which mean no ill—

Me, thus uncouth, thus every way unfit

For pacing poesy, and ambling wit,

TASTE with contempt beholds, nor deigns to place
Among the lowest of her favoured race!


[From The Rosciad.]

Havard and Davies.

Here Havard, all serene, in the same strains,
Loves, hates, and rages, triumphs and complains:
His easy vacant face proclaim'd a heart
Which could not feel emotions, nor impart.
With him came mighty Davies. (On my life,
That Davies hath a very pretty wife!)
Statesman all over! In plots famous grown!
He mouths a sentence as curs mouth a bone.


In characters of low and vulgar mould,
Where nature's coarsest features we behold,
Where, destitute of every decent grace,
Unmannered jests are blurted in your face,
There Yates with justice strict attention draws,
Acts truly from himself, and gains applause.

But when, to please himself or charm his wife,
He aims at something in politer life,

When, blindly thwarting nature's stubborn plan,
He treads the stage by way of gentleman,

The clown, who no one touch of breeding knows,
Looks like Tom Errand dressed in Clincher's clothes.
Fond of his dress, fond of his person grown,
Laugh'd at by all, and to himself unknown,
From side to side he struts, he smiles, he prates,
And seems to wonder what's become of Yates.


By turns transformed into all kind of shapes,
Constant to none, Foote laughs, cries, struts, and scrapes:
Now in the centre, now in van or rear,
The Proteus shifts, bawd, parson, auctioneer.
His strokes of humour, and his burst of sport,
Are all contained in this one word-distort.
Doth a man stutter, look asquint, or halt?
Mimics draw humour out of nature's fault :
With personal defects their mirth adorn,
And hang misfortunes out to public scorn.
Ev'n I, whom nature cast in hideous mould,
Whom having made, she trembled to behold,
Beneath the load of mimicry may groan,
And find that nature's errors are my own.


His eyes, in gloomy socket taught to roll,
Proclaimed the sullen habit of his soul.
Heavy and phlegmatic he trod the stage,
Too proud for tenderness, too dull for rage.







In fancied scenes, as in life's real plan,
He could not, for a moment, sink the man.
In whate'er cast his character was laid,
Self still, like oil, upon the surface played:
Nature, in spite of all his skill, crept in,
Horatio, Dorax, Falstaff-still 't was Quin.

[From The Ghost.]

Pomposo, insolent and loud,
Vain idol of a scribbling crowd,
Whose very name inspires an awe,
Whose every word is sense and law;
(For what his greatness hath decreed,
Like laws of Persia and of Mede,
Sacred through all the realm of Wit,
Must never of repeal admit)
Who, cursing flattery, is the tool
Of every fawning, flattering fool;
Who wit with jealous eye surveys,
And sickens at another's praise :
Who, proudly seiz'd of learning's throne,
Now damns all learning but his own:
Who scorns those common wares to trade in,
Reas'ning, convincing, and persuading,

But makes each sentence current pass
With 'puppy,' 'coxcomb,' 'scoundrel,' 'ass':
(For 'tis with him a certain rule

That folly's proved when he calls 'Fool!')
Who to increase his native strength

Draws words six syllables in length,
With which, assisted with a frown
By way of club, he knocks us down:




His comrades' terrors to beguile,
Grinn'd horribly a ghastly smile:
Features so horrid, were it light,
Would put the devil himself to flight.



[From Gotham.]

List'ning uxorious, whilst a woman's prate Modelled the church, and parcelled out the state:

Whilst, in the state not more than women read,
High-churchmen preached, and turned his pious head:
Tutored to see with ministerial eyes,

Forbid to hear a loyal nation's cries:

Made to believe (what can't a favourite do?)
He heard a nation, hearing one or two:
Taught by state-quacks himself secure to think,
And out of danger e'en on danger's brink:
Whilst power was daily crumbling from his hand,
Whilst murmurs ran through an insulted land,
(As if to sanction tyrants Heav'n was bound!)
He proudly sought the ruin which he found.







Unhappy Stuart ! (harshly though that name
Grates on my ear) I should have died with shame,
To see my king before his subjects stand,
And at their bar hold up his royal hand:

At their command to hear the monarch plead,

By their decrees to see that monarch bleed.
What though thy faults were many and were great?
What though they shook the basis of the state?

In royalty secure thy person stood,

And sacred was the fountain of thy blood.

Vile ministers, who dared abuse their trust,
Who dared seduce a King to be unjust,

Vengeance, with justice leagued, with power made strong,
Had nobly crushed: the King could do no wrong.

Yet grieve not, Charles; nor thy hard fortunes blame,
They took thy life, but they secured thy fame.
Had'st thou in peace and years resigned thy breath.
At nature's call-had'st thou lain down in death
As in a sleep-thy name, by Justice borne
On the four winds, had been in pieces torn.
Pity, the virtue of a generous soul,

(Sometimes the vice) hath made thy memory whole.
Misfortune gave what virtue could not give,
And bade the tyrant slain the martyr live.


[JAMES BEATTIE was born at Laurencekirk in 1735, and died at Aberdeen in 1803. He published his first volume of poems in 1761, The Judgment of Paris in 1765, and Some Lines on the Proposed Monument to Churchill in 1766. The first part of The Minstrel appeared in 1770, the second in 1774.]

Beattie is perhaps the most difficult poet of the eighteenth century for a nineteenth-century reader to criticise sympathetically. His original poetical power was almost nil. But he had a delicate and sensitive taste, and was a diligent student of the works of Gray and Collins on the one hand, and of the ballads which Percy had just published on the other. His earlier poems are merely so many variations on the Elegy and the Ode on the Passions. His Judgment of Paris and his Lines on Churchill are perhaps those of his works in which he was least indebted to others, and they are almost worthless intrinsically, besides being (at least the Churchill lines) in the worst possible taste. As for The Minstrel, it is certainly a most remarkable poem. The author has shown his judgment in prefixing no argument to either book, for in truth neither admits of one. The poem has neither head nor tail, and the central figure of the youthful Edwin is a mere peg on which to hang descriptive passages, moral disquisitions, and digressions of every kind. The general effect upon the modern reader is exactly that of a sham ruin or a Gothic edifice of the Wyatt period. Yet the poem was, and long continued to be, extremely popular ; and it gave the impulse in many cases to the production of much better work than itself. In fact it exactly reflected the vague and ill-instructed craving of the age for the dismissal of artificial poetry and for a return to nature, and at the same time to the romantic style. This fact must always give it an interest which its elegant secondhand imagery, its feeble Werterisms, and above all its extraordinary incoherence, may on closer acquaintance fail to sustain.

Beattie would have been a poet if he could, and his sedulous efforts and gentle sensibility sometimes bring him within sight, though at a long distance, of the promised land. But he never reaches it, and his best work is only made up of reminiscences of others' visits and of far-off echoes of the heavenly music.


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