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BOOK II. EPISTLE I.
WHILE you, great patron of mankind ! sustain
The balanc'd world, and open all the main ;
Your country, chief in arms, abroad defend,
At home with morals, arts, and laws amend ;
How shall the Muse, from such a monarch, steal
An hour, and not defraud the public weal?
Edward and Henry, now the boast of fame,
And virtuous Alfred, a more sacred name,
After a life of generous toils endur'd,
The Gaul subdued, or property securd,
Ambition humbled, mighty cities storm'd,
Or laws establish’d, and the world reformid;
Clos'd their long glories with a sigh, to find
The' unwilling gratitude of base mankind !
All human virtue, to its latest breath,
Finds envy never conquer'd but by death.
The great Alcides, every labour past,
Had still this monster to subdue at last :
Sure fate of all, beneath wbose rising ray
Each star of meaner merit fades away!
Oppress'd we feel the beam directly beat;
Those suns of glory please not till they set.
To thee the world its present bomage pays,
The harvest early, but mature the praise :
Great friend of liberty! in kings a name.
Above all Greek, above all Roman fame;
Whose word is truth, as sacred and reverd
As Heaven's own oracles from altars heard.
Wonder of kings ! like whom, to mortal eyes,
None e'er has risen, and none e'er shall rise.
Just in one instance, be it yet confess'd Your people, sir, are partial in the rest; Foes to all living worth, except your own, And advocates for folly dead and gone. Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old ; It is the rust we value, not the gold. Chancer's worst ribaldry is learn'd by rote, And beastly Skelton heads of houses quote. One likes no language but the Faery Queen; A Scot will fight for Christ's Kirk o' the Green; And each true Briton is to Ben so civil, He swears the Muses met him at the Devil.
Though justly Greece her eldest sons admires,
Why should not we be wiser than our sires ?
In every public virtue we excel,
We build, we paint, we sing, we dance, as well ;
And learned Athens to our art must stoop,
Could she behold us tumbling through a hoop.
If time improve our wit as well as wine,
Say at what age a poet grows divine?
Shall we, or shall we not, account him so
Who died, perhaps, an hundred years ago ?
End all dispute ; and fix the year precise
When British bards began to' immortalize?
• Who lasts a century can have no flaw; I hold that wit a classic, good in law.'
Suppose he wants a year, will you compound ? And shall we deem him ancient, right, and sound, Or damn to all eternity at once At ninety-nine a modern and a dunce?
"We sball not quarrel for a year or two; By courtesy of England he may do.'
Then by the rule that made the horse-tail bare, I pluck out year by year, as bair by hair,
And melt down ancients like a heap of spow,
While you, to measure merits, look in Stowe,
And estimating anthors by the year,
Bestow a garland only on a bier.
Shakspeare (whom you and every playhouse bill
Style, the divine! the matchless! what you will,)
For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight,
And grew immortal in his own despight.
Ben, old and poor, as little seem'd to heed
The life to come in every poet's creed.
Who now reads Cowley ? if he pleases yet,
His moral pleases, not his pointed wit:
Forgot bis Epic, nay Pindaric art,
But still I love the language of his heart.
" Yet surely, surely these were famous men!
What boy but hears the sayings of old Ben?
In all debates where critics bear a part,
Not one but nods, and talks of Jonson's art,
Of Shakspeare's nature, and of Cowley's wit;
How Beaumonts judgment check'd what Fletcher
How Shadwell hasty, Wycherly was slow; [writ;
But for the passions, Southern, sure, and Rowe!
These, only these, support the crowded stage,
From eldest Heywood down to Cibber's age..
All this may be; the people's voice is odd;
It is, and it is not, the voice of God.
To Gammer Gurton if it give the bays,
And yet deny the Careless Husband praise,
Or say our fathers never broke a rule;
Why then, I say, the public is a fool."
But let them own that greater faults than we
They had, and greater virtues, I'll agree.
Spenser himself affects the obsolete,
And Sidney's verse halts ill op Roman feet;
Milton's strong pinion now not Heaven can bound,
Now, serpent-like, in prose he sweeps the ground;
In quibbles angel and archangel join,
And God the Father turns a school-divine.
Not that I'd lop the beauties from his book,
Like slashing Bentley with his desperate hook ;
Or damn all Shakspeare, like the affected fool
At court, who hates whate'er he read at school.
But for the wits of either Charles's days,
The mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease;
Sprat, Carew, Sedley, and a hundred more,
(Like twinkling stars the miscellanies o'er)
One simile that solitary shines
In the dry desert of a thousand lines,
Or lengthen'd thought, that gleams through many
Has sanctified whole poems for an age. [a page,
I lose my patience, ard I own it too,
When works are censur'd, not as bad, but new;
While, if our elders break all reason's laws,
These fools demand not pardon, but applause.
On Avon's bank, where flowers eternal blow, If I but ask if any weed can grow? One tragic sentence if I dare deride, Which Betterton's grave action dignified, Or well-mouth'd Booth with emphasis proclaims, (Though but perhaps a muster-roll of names) How will our fathers rise up in a rage, And swear all shame is lost in George's age ! You'd think no fools disgrac'd the former reign, Did not some grave examples yet remain, Who scorn a lad should teach his father's skill, And having once been wrong will be so still. He who, to seem more deep than you or 1, Extols old bards, or Merliu's prophecy,
Mistake him not; he envies, not admires,
And to debase the sops exalts the sires.
Had ancient times conspird to disallow
What then was new, what had been ancient now?
Or what remain'd, so worthy to be read
By learned critics, of the mighty dead?
In days of ease, when now the weary sword
Was sheath'd, and luxury with Charles restor'd;
In every taste of foreign conrts improv'd,
• All by the king's example liv'd and lov’d.'
Then peers grew proud in horsemanship to excel,
Newmarket's glory rose, as Britain's 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 canvass 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 an 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 canse.
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;