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Then peers grew proud in horsemanship t' excel,
Newmarket's glory rose as Britons fell;
The soldier breath'd the gallantries of France,
And every 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 the 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 prerogatives, 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;
Το 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 our 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 shew our wit.
He serv'd a 'prenticeship who sets up shop;
Ward tried on puppies and the poor,
Ev'n Radcliff'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 should 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: 190
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 shew a poet's of some weight,
And (though 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 bays;
And in our own (excuse some courtly strains)
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 pray'r besought in vain ;
The blessing thrills through all the labouring 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, 255 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
Preserv'd the freedom, and forebore 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 captives' 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 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
Shew'd us that France had something to admire. 275
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 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 humbler Muse of Comedy require.
But in known images of life I
The labour greater as th' indulgence less.
Observe how seldom e'en 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 Pinkey eat with vast applause!
But fill their purse, our poet's 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 bards grow fat or fall 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.
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 plumes, 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?"
Cato's long wig, flower'd gown, and lacker'd chair.
Yet, lest you think I rally more than teach,
Or praise malignly arts I cannot reach,