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THE FIRST EPISTLE
SECOND BOOK OF HORACE.
[Published in 1737. Pope prefixed to it the following
"The reflections of Horace, and the judgments passed in his Epistle to Augustus, seemed so seasonable to the present times, that I could not help applying them to the use of my own country. The author thought them considerable enough to address them to his Prince, whom he paints with all the great and good qualities of a Monarch, upon whom the Romans depended for the increase of an absolute empire. But to make the poem entirely English, I was willing to add one or two of those which contribute to the happiness of a free people, and are more consistent with the welfare of our neighbours. "This Epistle will show the learned world to have fallen into two mistakes: one, that Augustus was a patron of Poets in general, whereas he not only prohibited all but the best writers to name him, but recommended that care even to the civil magistrate: Admonebat Prætores, ne paterentur Nomen suum obsolefieri, &c. The other, that this piece was only a general Discourse of Poetry, whereas it was an Apology for the Poets, in order to render Augustus more their patron. Horace here pleads the cause of his contemporaries, first, against the taste of the town, whose humour it was to magnify the authors of the preceding age; secondly, against the Court and nobility, who encouraged only the writers for the Theatre; and lastly, against the Emperor himself, who had conceived them of little use to the Government. He shows (by a View of the Progress of Learning, and the change of taste among the Romans) that the introduction of the polite arts of Greece had given the writers of his time great advantages over their predecessors; that their morals were much improved, and the licence of those ancient poets restrained: that Satire and Comedy were become more just and useful; that whatever extravagances were left on the stage, were owing to the ill taste of the nobility; that poets, under due regulations, were in many respects useful to the State; and concludes, that it was upon them the Emperor himself must depend for his fame with posterity.
"We may further learn from this Epistle, that Horace made his court to
this great Prince by writing with a decent freedom toward him, with a just contempt of his low flatterers, and with a manly regard to his own character." Pope's imitation is a Satire on George II.—the British Augustus—and on the follies and flatteries of the age. He also reviews the literature of that and preceding reigns; and concludes with an ironical panegyric on the King, conceived and expressed in his happiest manner.]
WHILE you, great patron of mankind! sustain
The balanced world, and open all the main ;
Your country, chief, in arms abroad defend,
To thee, the world its present homage pays,
Foes to all living worth except your own,
Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old;
A Scot will fight for Christ's kirk o' the Green :2
He swears the Muses met him at the Devil.3
We build, we paint, we sing, we dance as well;
If time improve our wits as well as wine,
"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,
At ninety-nine, a modern and a dunce?
"We shall not quarrel for a year or two;
By courtesy of England, he may do."
1 Skelton, Poet Laureate to Henry VIII., a volume of whose verses has been lately reprinted, consisting almost wholly of ribaldry, obscenity, and scurrilous language.
[This censure of the old poets is exaggerated. Chaucer is a study; no one learns him by rote. Skelton is, indeed, often coarse, but not so much so as Rabelais, and his object was the same-to decry, under this garb of coarse licentiousness, (which he dared not do openly,) the vices of the clergy and the court. He often attacked Cardinal Wolsey, and that powerful prelate threatened him with vengeance, to escape which Skelton took refuge in the sanctuary at Westminster, where he died 21st June, 1529.]
2 A ballad made by a king of Scotland.
3 The Devil Tavern, where Ben Jonson held his poetical club.
Then, by the rule that made the horse-tail bare,
While you, to measure merits, look in Stowe,
Shakespear (whom you and every play-house bill Style the divine, the matchless, what you will),
For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight,
And grew immortal in his own despite.
Ben, old and poor, as little seem'd to heed
Who now reads Cowley? if he pleases yet,
But still I love the language of his heart.
"Yet surely, surely, these were famous men!
Of Shakespear's nature, and of Cowley's wit;
How Beaumont's judgment check'd what Fletcher writ;
But, for the passions, Southern sure and Rowe.
These, only these, support the crowded stage,
All this may be; the people's voice is odd,
It is, and it is not, the voice of God.
Shakespear and Ben Jonson may truly be said not much to have thought of this immortality; the one in many pieces composed in haste for the stage; the other in his latter works in general, which Dryden called his dotages. 5 A piece of very low humour, one of the first printed plays in English, and therefore much valued by some antiquaries.
[This comedy was written about the year 1565 by Dr. John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells. The humour of the piece, it must be admitted, is low enough, for it turns upon the loss and recovery of a needle with which Dame Gurton was mending the breeches of Hodge her husband. The song of "Jolly Good Ale" in this rude drama is the best part of it, and is still deservedly a favourite :
"I love no roast but a nut-brown toast,
And a crab laid in the fire;
Or say our fathers never broke a rule;
But let them own, that greater faults than we
And Sydney's verse halts ill on Roman feet:
Milton's strong pinion now not Heaven can bound,
(Like twinkling stars the miscellanies o'er,) One simile, that solitary shines
In the dry desert of a thousand lines,
Has sanctified whole poems for an age.
Or lengthen'd thought that gleams through many a page,
I lose my patience, and I own it too,
When works are censured, not as bad but new;
While if our elders break all reason's laws,
On Avon's bank, where flowers eternal blow,
These fools demand not pardon, but applause.
If I but ask, if any weed can grow;
A little bread shall do me stead,
Much bread I not desire.
No frost, no snow, no wind, I trow,
Can hurt me if it wold,
I am so wrapt and thoroughly capt
Of jolly good ale and old."
The "Careless Husband," noticed in the next line, is Colley Cibber's best play, produced in 1706.]
6 [An indirect satire on Lord Hervey, who in his "Epistle to a Doctor of Divinity from a Nobleman at Hampton Court," has these lines:
"All I learn'd from Dr. Friend at school
Has quite deserted this poor John Trot head,