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But random praise—the task can ne'er be done; Each mother asks it for her booby son,
Each widow asks it for the best of men, For him she weeps, for him she weds again. Praise cannot stoop, like satire, to the ground; The number may be hang'd, but not be crown'd. Enough for half the greatest of these days To scape my censure, not expect my praise. Are they not rich? what more can they pretend? Dare they to hope a poet for their friend? What Richelieu wanted, Louis scarce could gain, And what young Ammon wish'd, but wish'd in vain. No power the Muse's friendship can command: No power, when Virtue claims it, can withstand. To Cato, Virgil paid one honest line; O let my country's friends illumine mine! [no sin; What are you thinking? F. Faith the thought's I think your friends are out, and would be in. P. If merely to come in, sir, they go out, The way they take is strangely round about. F. They too may be corrupted, you'll allow? P. I only call those knaves who are so now. Is that too little? come then, I'll comply— Spirit of Arnall! aid me while I lie: Cobham's a coward, Polwarth is a slave, And Lyttelton a dark designing knave, St. John has ever been a wealthy foolBut let me add, Sir Robert's mighty dull, Has never made a friend in private life, And was, besides, a tyrant to his wife.
But pray, when others praise him, do I blame? Call Verres, Wolsey, any odious name? Why rail they then if but a wreath of mine, Oh, all-accomplish'd St. John! deck thy shrine?
What! shall each spur-gall'd hackney of the day,
Of honour bind me not to maul his tools;
And begg'd he'd take the pains to kick the rest;
F. Hold, sir! for God's sake: where's the' affront to you?
Against your worship when had S**k writ?
Whoever borrow'd could not be to blame,
Since the whole house did afterwards the same.
Let courtly wits to wits afford supply,
Ask you what provocation I have had? The strong antipathy of good to bad. When truth or virtue an affront endures, The' affront is mine, my friend, and should be Mine, as a foe profess'd to false pretence, Who think a coxcomb's honour like his sense; Mine, as a friend to every worthy mind; And mine as man, who feel for all mankind.
F. You're strangely proud.
P. So proud, I am no slave; So impudent, I own myself no knave; So odd, my country's ruin makes me grave. Yes, I am proud; I must be proud to see Men, not afraid of God, afraid of me; Safe from the bar, the pulpit, and the throne, Yet touch'd and shamed by ridicule alone. O sacred weapon! left for Truth's defence, Sole dread of Folly, Vice, and Insolence! To all but Heaven-directed hands denied, The Muse may give thee, but the gods must guide: Reverent I touch thee! but with honest zeal, To rouse the watchmen of the public weal, To Virtue's work provoke the tardy hall, And goad the prelate, slumbering in his stall. Ye tinsel insects! whom a court maintains, That counts your beauties only by your stains, Spin all cobwebs o'er the eye of day! The Muse's wing shall brush you all away: All his grace preaches, all his lordship sings, All that makes saints of queens, and gods of kings; All, all but truth, drops dead-born from the press, Like the last gazette or the last address.
When black Ambition stains a public cause, A monarch's sword when mad Vainglory draws, Not Waller's wreath can hide the nation's scar, Nor Boileau turn the feather to a star.
Not so when diadem'd with rays divine,
Touch'd with the flame that breaks from Virtue's shrine,
Her priestess Muse forbids the good to die,
There other trophies deck the truly brave
And may descend to Mordington from Stair:
Yes, the last pen for Freedom let me draw, When Truth stands trembling on the edge of law. Here, last of Britons! let your names be read: Are none, none living? let me praise the dead; And for that cause which made your fathers shine, Fall by the votes of their degenerate line.
F. Alas! alas! pray end what you began, And write next winter more Essays on Man.