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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. ]
To thee, the world its present homage pays,
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,
Though justly Greece her eldest sons admires,
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, Or damn to all eternity at once,
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,
Shakespear (whom you and every play-house bill
"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,
All this may be; the people's voice is odd,
"I love no roast but a nut-brown toast,
* 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 :
Or say our fathers never broke a rule;
And God the Father turns a school-divine.
In the dry desert of a thousand lines,
Or lengthen'd thought that gleams through many a page,
Has sanctified whole poems for an age.
I lose my patience, and I own it too,
On Avon's bank, where flowers eternal blow,
Has quite deserted this poor John Trot head,
A little bread shall do me stead,
No frost, no snow, no wind, I trow,
I ani so wrapt and thoroughly capt
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