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Unhappy Dryden !In all Charles's days,
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 engraved :• The rights a court attack'd, a poet saved.' Behold the hand that wrought a nation's cure, 225 Stretch'd to relieve the idiot and the
poor, Proud vice to brand, or injured 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
Verse prays for peace, or sings down pope and
Turk. The silent preacher yields to potent strain, And feels that grace his prayer besought in vain ;
224 The rights a court attack'd. The attorney-general of the day must have been peculiarly sensitive to libel : he found public danger in this vague line ; and Pope, for the first time in his life, was startled with the threat of a prosecution.
The blessing thrills through all the laboring throng, And heaven is won by violence of song
240 Our rural ancestors, with little bless'd, Patient of labor when the end was rest, Indulged the day that housed 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: 246 The laugh, the jest, attendants on the bowl, Smoothed every brow, and open'd every soul : With growing years the pleasing license grew, And taunts alternate innocently flew.
250 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. 256 At length, by wholesome dread of statutes bound, The poets learn'd to please, and not to wound:
240 Heaven is won by violence of song. The use of so direct an allusion to Scripture is unbecoming: the contemptuous air of the passage, too, is unwise. The fashion of Pope's day was aristocratic, in the worst sense of the word : all below the line of the opulent, the titled, and the educated, went for nothing. This was the French folly, introduced by Charles Il. In France the roturier was, as the dust of the earth, fit only to be trampled on; but the old habits of England, more manly, generous, and natural, held the peasantry at their proper value. To the fastidious tastes of opera-hunting men and women, the rudeness of village psalmody must occasionally repel the ear; but want of refinement may be easily forgiven for sincerity of devotion. No pomp of foreign worship is equal in true power over the heart to the noble simplicity of supplication, the ardent sympathy of homage, gratitude, and love, often felt in the united hymn of an English congregation.
Most warp'd to flattery's side; but some, more nice,
265 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, 270 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, 276 And full in Shakspeare, fair in Otway shone: But Otway faild to polish or refine, And fluent Shakspeare scarce effaced a line.
274 Exact Racine. This is but frigid praise for Racine; but it is perhaps all that an English ear can honestly give. The charm of Racine is in his barmony; a charm which no man can feel in the poets of any land but his own: though our scholars conceive that they can feel the harmony of verse in two languages, dead a thousand years ago ; which they do not pronounce even like the descendants of those who spoke them, and of which they are not secure of the sound of a single letter! The French prefer Racine to all their other tragedians; but laugh at the idea of an Englishman's attempting to enjoy the flow of his language : as the English laugh at the Frenchman's attempt to enjoy the sweetness of Shakspeare's lines. Both are in the right: yet both alike pretend to be enraptured with the silver stream of Euripides.
Ev'n copious Dryden wanted or forgot,
Some doubt, if equal pains or equal fire
290 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
There still remains, to mortify a wit,
287 Congreve. He alludes to the characters of Brisk and Witwood.
290 Astrea. A name taken by Mrs. Behn, authoress of several gross plays, &c.
Clattering their sticks before ten lines are spoke,
313 From heads to ears, and now from ears to eyes. The course of theatrical degeneracy, as Warburton says, “from plays to operas, and from operas to pantomimes.
319 Old Edward's armor beams on Cibber's breast. The coronation of Henry VIII. and queen Anne Boleyn, in which the playhouses vied with each other to represent all the pomp of a coronation. In this noble contention the armor of one of the kings of England was borrowed from the Tower to dress the champion.-Pope.
328 Orcas' stormy steep. The farthest northern promontory of Scotland, opposite to the Orcades.-Pope.