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PROLOGUE ON THE OPENING OF THE NEW PHILADELPHIA THEATRE, DECEMBER 1, 1822.
WHEN learning slumber'd in the convent's shade,
And holy craft the groping nations sway'd,
By dulness banned, the Muses wander'd long,
Each lyre neglected, and forgot each song
Till Heaven's bright halo wreathed the Drama's dome,
And great Apollo call'd the pilgrims home.
Then their glad harps, that charm'd old Greece, they swept,
Their altars throng'd, and joy's high sabbath kept.
Young Genius there his glorious banners rear'd,
To float forever loved, forever fear'd.
The cowl's device, the cloister's legend known,
Old Superstition tumbled from his throne;
Back to his cell the king of gloom retired,
The buskin triumph'd, and the world admired!
Since that proud hour, through each unfetter'd age,
The sons of light have cluster'd round the stage.
From Fiction's realms her richest spoils they bring,
And Pleasure's walls with Rapture's echoes ring.
Here hermit Wisdom lays his mantle down,
To win with smiles the heart that fears his frown;
In mirth's gay robe he talks to wondering youth,
And Grandeur listens to the voice of Truth.
Beauty, with bounding heart and tingling ear,
Melts at the tale to love and feeling dear;
Their sacred bowers the sons of learning quit,
To rove with fancy, and to feast with wit;
All come to gaze, the valiant and the vain,
Virtue's bright troop, and Fashion's glittering train.
Here Labor rests, pale Grief forgets her wo,
And Vice, whose mildew breath taints all below,
Even Vice looks on!-For this the Stage was rear'd,
To scourge the fiend, so cherish'd, scorn'd and fear'd'
Not tied alone to poverty's cold walls,
He dwells with pomp, treads plenty's marble halls;
Proudly he sits where senate-sages meet,
Gravely he dooms in judgment's awful seat;
God's lovely temple shall behold him there,
With eye upturn'd, and aspect false as fair;
Even at the altar's very horns he stands,
And breaks and blesses with polluted hands.
Then hither let the unblushing villain roam,
Satire shall knot its whip and strike it home.
The stage one groan from his dark soul shall draw,
That mocks religion, and that laughs at law!
To grace the stage, the bard's careering mind
Seeks other worlds, and leaves his own behind:
He lures from air its bright, unprison'd forms,
Breaks through the tomb, and death's dull region storms.
O'er ruin'd realms he pours creative day,
And slumbering kings his mighty voice obey.
From its damp shroud the long-laid spirit walks,
And round the murderer's bed in vengeance stalks.
Poor maniac beauty brings her cypress wreath,
Her smile a moon-beam o'er a blasted heath;
Round some cold grave she comes, sweet flowers to strew,
And lost to reason, still to love is true.
Hate shuts his soul when dove-eyed Mercy pleads,
Power lifts the axe, and Truth's bold servant bleeds;
Remorse drops anguish from his burning eyes,
Feels hell's eternal worm, and, shuddering, dies.
War's trophied minion, too, forsakes the dust,
Grasps his worn shield, and waves his sword of rust,
Springs to the slaughter at the trumpet's call,
Again to conquer, or again to fall.
With heads to censure, yet with souls to feel,
Friends of the Stage! receive our frank appeal.
No suppliant lay we frame; acquit your trust;
The Drama guard; be gentle, but be just!
Within her courts, unbribed, unslumbering, stand,
Scourge lawless Wit, and leaden Dulness brand;
Lash pert Pretence, but bashful Merit spare,
His firstlings hail, and speak the trembler fair;
Yet shall he cast his cloud, and proudly claim
The loftiest station and the brightest fame.
So from his perch, through seas of golden light,
Our mountain eagle takes his glorious flight;
To heaven the monarch bird exulting springs,
And shakes the night-fog from his mighty wings.
Bards all our own shall yet enchant their age,
And pour redeeming splendor o'er the Stage.
For them, for you, Truth hoards a nobler theme,
Than ever bless'd young Fancy's sweetest dream.
Bold hearts shall kindle, and bright eyes shall gaze,
When genius wakes the tale of other days,
Sheds life's own lustre o'er each holy deed
Of Him who planted, and of Him who freed!
And now, Fair Pile, thou chaste and glorious shrine,
Our fondest wish, our warmest smile be thine;
The home of genius and the court of taste,
In beauty raised, be thou by beauty graced.
Within thy walls may Wit's adorers throng,
To drink the magic of the poet's song:
Within thy walls may youth and goodness draw
From every scene a lecture or a law.
So bright the fane, be priest and offering pure,
And friends shall bless, and bigot foes endure:
Long, long be spared to echo truths sublime,
And lift thy pillars through the storms of time.
GOD of the glorious Lyre!
Whose notes of old on lofty Pindus rang,
While Jove's exulting quire
Caught the glad echoes and responsive sang-
Come! bless the service and the shrine,
We consecrate to thee and thine.
Fierce from the frozen north,
When havoc led his legions forth,
O'er Learning's sunny groves the dark destroyer spread:
In dust the sacred statue slept,
Fair Science round her altars wept,
And Wisdom cowl'd his head.
At length, Olympian Lord of morn,
The raven veil of night was torn,
When, through golden clouds descending,
Thou didst hold thy radiant flight,
O'er nature's lovely pageant bending,
Till Avon roll'd, all-sparkling, to thy sight!
There, on its bank, beneath the Mulberry's shade,
Wrapp'd in young dreams, a wild-eyed Minstrel stray'd.
Lighting there and lingering long,
Thou didst teach the Bard his song;
Thy fingers strung his sleeping shell,
And round his brows a garland curl'd;
On his lips thy spirit fell,
And bade him wake and warm the world!
Then Shakspeare rose!
Across the trembling strings
His daring hand he flings,
And lo! a new creation glows!
There, clustering round, submissive to his will,
Fate's vassal train his high commands fulfil.
Madness, with his frightful scream,
Vengeance, leaning on his lance,
Avarice, with his blade and beam,
Hatred, blasting with a glance;
Remorse, that weeps, and Rage, that roars,
And Jealousy, that dotes, but dooms, and murders, yet adores.
Mirth, his face with sunbeams lit,
Waking laughter's merry swell,
Arm in arm with fresh-eyed Wit,
That waves his tingling lash, while Folly shakes his bell.
Despair, that haunts the gurgling stream,
Kiss'd by the virgin moon's cold beam,
Where some lost maid wild chaplets wreathes,
And, swan-like, there her own dirge breathes,
Then, broken-hearted, sinks to rest,
Beneath the bubbling wave, that shrouds her maniac breast.
Young Love, with eye of tender gloom,
Now drooping o'er the hallow'd tomb,
Where his plighted victims lie,
Where they met, but met to die:
And now, when crimson buds are sleeping,
Through the dewy arbor peeping,
Where beauty's child, the frowning world forgot,
To youth's devoted tale is listening,
Rapture on her dark lash glistening,
While fairies leave their cowslip cells and guard the happy spot.
Thus rise the phantom throng,
Obedient to their Master's song,
And lead in willing chain the wondering soul along.
For other worlds war's Great One sigh'd in vain,-
O'er other worlds see Shakspeare rove and reign!
The rapt Magician of his own wild lay,
Earth and her tribes his mystic wand obey.
Old ocean trembles, thunder cracks the skies,
Air teems with shapes, and tell-tale spectres rise:
Night's paltering hags their fearful orgies keep,
And faithless guilt unseals the lip of sleep:
Time yields his trophies up, and death restores
The moulder'd victims of his voiceless shores.
The fireside legend, and the faded page,
The crime that cursed, the deed that bless'd an age,
All, all come forth-the good to charm and cheer,
To scourge bold Vice, and start the generous tear;
With pictured Folly gazing fools to shame,
And guide young Glory's foot along the path of fame.
Lo! hand in hand,
Hell's juggling sisters stand,
To greet their victim from the fight;-
Group'd on the blasted heath,
They tempt him to the work of death,
Then melt in air and mock his wondering sight.
In midnight's hallow'd hour,
He seeks the fatal tower,
Where the lone raven, perch'd on high,
Pours to the sullen gale
Her hoarse prophetic wail,
And croaks the dreadful moment nigh.
See, by the phantom dagger led,
Pale, guilty thing,
Slowly he steals with silent tread,
And grasps his coward steel to smite his sleeping king.
Hark! 't is the signal bell,
Struck by that bold and unsex'd one,
Whose milk is gall, whose heart is stone;
His ear hath caught the knell—
"T is done! 't is done!
Behold him from the chamber rushing,
Where his dead monarch's blood is gushing!
Look where he trembling stands,
Life's smoking crimson on his hands,
And in his felon heart the worm of wild despair.
Mark the sceptred traitor slumbering!
There flit the slaves of conscience round,
With boding tongue foul murders numbering;
Sleep's leaden portals catch the sound.
In his dream of blood for mercy quaking,
At his own dull scream behold him waking!