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ENGLISH BARDS AND SCOTCH REVIEWERS
STILL must I hear?-shall hoarse Fitzgerald bawl
His creaking couplets in a tavern hall,
And I not sing, lest, haply, Scotch reviews
Should dub me scribbler, and denounce my muse?
Prepare for rhyme-I'll publish, right or wrong:
Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.
Oh! nature's noblest gift-my grey goose-quill!
Slave of my thoughts, obedient to my will,
Torn from thy parent bird to form a pen,
That mighty instrument of little men!
The pen! foredoom'd to aid the mental throes
Of brains that labour, big with verse or prose,
Though nymphs forsake, and critics may deride,
The lover's solace, and the author's pride.
What wits, what poets dost thou daily raise !
How frequent is thy use, how small thy praise !
Condemn'd at length to be forgotten quite,
With all the pages which 'twas thine to write.
But thou, at least, mine own especial pen!
Once laid aside, but now assumed again,
Our task complete, like Hamet's shall be free ;
Though spurn'd by others, yet beloved by me:
Then let us soar to-day; no common theme,
No eastern vision, no distemper'd dream
Inspires our path, though full of thorns, is plain;
Smooth be the verse, and easy be the strain.
When Vice triumphant holds her sov'reign sway, Obey'd by all who nought beside obey;
When Folly, frequent harbinger of crime,
Bedecks her cap with bells of every clime;
When knaves and fools combined o'er all prevail,
And weigh their justice in a golden scale;
E'en then the boldest start from public sneers,
Afraid of shame, unknown to other fears,
More darkly sin, by satire kept in awe,
And shrink from ridicule, though not from law.
Such is the force of wit! but not belong
To me the arrows of satiric song;
The royal vices of our age demand
A keener weapon, and a mightier hand.
Still there are follies, e'en for me to chase,
And yield at least amusement in the race:
Laugh when I laugh, I seek no other fame;
Thy cry is up, and scribblers are my game.
Speed, Pegasus !-ye strains of great and small,
Ode, epic, elegy, have at you all!
I too can scrawl, and once upon a time
I pour'd along the town a flood of rhyme,
A schoolboy freak, unworthy praise or blame;
I printed-older children do the same.
'Tis pleasant, sure, to see one's name in print;
A book's a book, although there's nothing in 't.
Not that a title's sounding charm can save
Or scrawl or scribbler from an equal grave:
This Lambe must own, since his patrician name
Fail'd to preserve the spurious farce from shame.
No matter, George continues still to write,
Though now the name is veil'd from public sight.
Moved by the great example, I pursue
The self-same road, but make my own review:
Not seek great Jeffrey's, yet, like him, will be
Self-constituted judge of poesy.
A man must serve his time to every trade
Save censure critics all are ready made.
Take hackney'd jokes from Miller, got by rote,
With just enough of learning to misquote;
A mind well skill'd to find or forge a fault;
A turn for punning, call it Attic salt;
To Jeffrey go, be silent and discreet,
His pay is just ten sterling pounds per sheet:
Fear not to lie, 'twill seem a sharper hit;
Shrink not from blasphemy, 'twill pass for wit;
Care not for feeling-pass your proper jest,
And stand a critic, hated yet caress'd.
And shall we own such judgment? no--as soon
Seek roses in December-ice in June;
Hope constancy in wind, or corn in chaff;
Believe a woman or an epitaph,
Or any other thing that 's false, before
You trust in critics, who themselves are sore;
Or yield one single thought to be misled
By Jeffrey's heart, or Lambe's Boeotian head.
To these young tyrants, by themselves misplaced,
Combined usurpers on the throne of taste;
To these, when authors bend in humble awe,
And hail their voice as truth, their word as law-
While these are censors, 'twould be sin to spare;
While such are critics, why should I forbear?
But yet, so near all modern worthies run,
"Tis doubtful whom to seek, or whom to shun;
Nor know we when to spare, or where to strike,
Our bards and censors are so much alike.
Time was, ere yet in these degenerate days Ignoble themes obtain'd mistaken praise,
Then should you ask me, why I venture o'er The path which Pope and Gifford trod before; If not yet sicken'd, you can still proceed: Go on; my rhyme will tell you as you read. "But hold!" exclaims a friend, "here's some neglect: This-that-and t'other line seem incorrect." What then? the self-same blunder Pope has got, And careless Dryden-" Ay, but Pye has not: Indeed!-'tis granted, faith!—but what care I ? Better to err with Pope, than shine with Pye.
When sense and wit with poesy allied,
No fabled graces, flourish'd side by side;
From the same fount their inspiration drew,
And, rear'd by taste, bloom'd fairer as they grew.
Then, in this happy isle, a Pope's pure strain
Sought the rapt soul to charm, nor sought in vain ;
A polish'd nation's praise aspired to claim,
And raised the people's, as the poet's fame.
Like him great Dryden pour'd the tide of song,
In stream less smooth, indeed, yet doubly strong.
Then Congreve's scenes could cheer, or Otway's
For nature then an English audience felt.
But why these names, or greater still, retrace,
When all to feebler bards resign their place?
Yet to such times our lingering looks are cast,
When taste and reason with those times are past.
Now look around, and turn each trifling page,
Survey the precious works that please the age;
This truth at least let satire's self allow,
No dearth of bards can be complain'd of now.
The loaded press beneath her labour groans,
And printers' devils shake their weary bones;
While Southey's epics cram the creaking shelves,
And Little's lyrics shine in hot-press'd twelves.
Thus saith the Preacher: Nought beneath the
Is new; " yet still from change to change we run :
What varied wonders tempt us as they pass!
The cow-pox, tractors, galvanism, and gas,
In turns appear, to make the vulgar stare,
Till the swoln bubble bursts-and all is air!
Nor less new schools of Poetry arise,
Where dull pretenders grapple for the prize :
O'er taste awhile these pseudo-bards prevail;
Each country book-club bows the knee to Baal,
And, hurling lawful genius from the throne,
Erects a shrine and idol of its own;
Some leaden calf-but whom it matters not,
From soaring Southey down to grovelling Stott.
Behold! in various throngs the scribbling crew, For notice eager, pass in long review : Each spurs his jaded Pegasus apace, And rhyme and blank maintain an equal race; Sonnets on sonnets crowd, and ode on ode; And tales of terror jostle on the road; Immeasurable measures move along; For simpering folly loves a varied song, To strange mysterious dulness still the friend, Admires the strain she cannot comprehend. Thus Lays of Minstrels-may they be the last !— On half-strung harps whine mournful to the blast. While mountain spirits prate to river sprites, That dames may listen to the sound at nights; And goblin brats, of Gilpin Horner's brood, Decoy young border-nobles through the wood, And skip at every step, Lord knows how high, And frighten foolish babes, the Lord knows why; 160 While high-born ladies in their magic cell, Forbidding knights to read who cannot spell, Despatch a courier to a wizard's grave, And fight with honest men to shield a knave.
Next view in state, proud prancing on his roan, The golden-crested haughty Marmion, Now forging scrolls, now foremost in the fight, Not quite a felon, yet but half a knight, The gibbet or the field prepared to grace; A mighty mixture of the great and base. And think'st thou, Scott! by vain conceit perchance, On public taste to foist thy stale romance, Though Murray with his Miller may combine To yield thy muse just half-a-crown per line? No! when the sons of song descend to trade, Their bays are sear, their former laurels fade. Let such forego the poet's sacred name, Who rack their brains for lucre, not for fame : Still for stern Mammon may they toil in vain! And sadly gaze on gold they cannot gain! Such be their meed, such still the just reward