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ceding age; fecondly against the Court and Nobility, who encouraged only the writers for the theatre; and laftly against the Emperor himfelf, who had conceived them of little ufe to the government. He fhews (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 predeceffors; that their morals. were much improved, and the licence of those ancient poets reftrained that Satire and Comedy were become more just and useful; that whatever extravagances were left on the ftage, were owing to the Ill Tafte 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 muft depend, for his fame with posterity.
We may farther learn from this Epiftle, that Horace made his court to this great prince by writing with a decent freedom toward him, with a juft contempt of his low flatterers, and with a manly regard to his own character.
WE HILE 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 fhall the muse, from fuch a monarch steal
An hour, and not defraud the public weal?
Edward and Henry, now the boast of fame,
And virtuous Alfred, a more facred name,
After a life of gen'rous toils endur'd,
The Gaul fubdu'd, or property fecur'd,
Ambition humbled, mighty cities ftorm'd,
Ör laws eftablifh'd, and the world reform'd;
Clos'd their long glories with a figh, to find
Th' unwilling gratitude of base mankind!
All human Virtue, to its latest breath,
Finds Envy never conquer'd, but by Death.
The great Alcides, ev'ry labour past,
Had ftill this monfter to fubdue at laft.
Sure fate of all, beneath whose rising ray
Each ftar of meaner merit fades away!
Opprefs'd we feel the beam directly beat,
Those fons of glory please not till they set.
To thee, the world its prefent homage pays,
The harveft 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 facred and rever'd,
As heav'n's own oracles from altars heard.
Wonder of kings! like whom, to mortal eyes
None e'er has rifen, and none e'er fhall rife.
Juft in one inftance, be it yet confeft
Your people, Sir, are partial in the reft:
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 ruft we value, not the gold.
Chaucer'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 Chrift's Kirk o' the Green §;
And each true Briton is to Ben fo civil,
He fwears the Mufes met him at the Devil +.
Tho' juftly Greece her eldest fons admires,
Why should not we be wiser than our fires?
In ev'ry public virtue we excell;
We build, we paint, we fing, we dance as well,
And learned Athens to our art muft ftoop,
Could the behold us tumbling thro' a hoop.
If time improve our wits as well as wine,
Say at what age a poet grows divine?
Shall we, or fhall we not, account him fo,
Who dy'd, perhaps, an hundred years ago?
End all difpute; and fix the year precise
When British bards begin t'immortalize?
"Who lafts a century can have no flaw, "I hold that wit a claffic, good in law."
Suppose he wants a year, will you compound?
And shall we deem him ancient, right and found,
Or damn to all eternity at once,
At ninety-nine, a modern and a dunce?
"We fhall 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 hair by hair,
A ballad made by a king of Scotland.
†The Devil-Tavern, where Ben Johnson held his poetical-club.
* Skelton, Poet Laureat to Henry VIII. a volume of whose verses has been lately reprinted, coufisting almost wholly of ribaldry, ob.cenity, and scurrilous language.
And melt down ancients like a heap of fnow:
While you, to measure merits, look in Stowe,
And eftimating authors by the year,
Bestow a garland only on a bier.
Shakespeare (whom you and ev'ry playhoufe bill
Style the divine, the matchlefs, what you will)
For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight,
And grew immortal in his own defpight.
Ben, old and poor, as little feem'd to heed
The life to come, in ev'ry poet's creed.
Who now reads Cowley? if he pleases yet,
His moral pleases, not his pointed wit;
Forgot his Epic, nay Pindaric art,
But ftill I love the language of his heart.
"Yet furely, furely, these were famous men ! "What boy but hears the fayings of old Ben ? "In all debates, where critics bear a part, "Not one but nods, and talks of Johnfon's art, "Of Shakespeare's nature, and of Cowley's wit; "How Beaumont's judgment check'd what Fletcher writ;
"How Shadwell hafty, Wycherly was flow §;
"But, for the paffions, Southern fure and Rowe.
"Thefe, only thefe, fupport the crouded 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 Hufband praise,
* Shakespeare and Ben Johnson may truly be faid 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.
S Nothing was lefs true than this particular: but the whole paragraph has a mixture of irony, and must not altogether be taken for Horace's own judgment, only the common chat of the pretenders to criticism; in fome things right, in others, wrong; as he tells us in his answer.
Interdum vulgus reflumvidet: eft ubi peccat.
A piece of very low humour, one of the first printed plays in English,. and therefore much valued by fome antiquarians.
Or fay our fathers never broke a rule;
Why then, I fay, the public is a fool.
But let them own, that greater faults than we
They had, and greater virtues, I'll
Spencer himself affects the obsolete,
And Sidney's verfe halts ill on Roman feet:
Milton's ftrong pinion now not heav'n can bound,
Now ferpent-like, in profe he fweeps the ground,
In quibbles, angel and archangel join,
And God the Father turns a fchool-divine.
Not that I'd lop the beauties from his book,
Like flashing Bentley with his desp’rate hook,
Or damn all Shakespeare, like th' affected fool
At court, who hates whate'er he read at fchool.
On Avon's bank, where flow'rs eternal blow,
If I but ask, if any weed can grow;
One tragic fentence if I dare deride,
Which Betterton's grave action dignify'd,
Or well-mouth'd Booth with emphafis proclaims,
(Tho' but, perhaps, a mufter-roll of names)
How will our fathers rife up in a rage,
And fwear, all shame is loft in George's age!
You'd think no fools difgrac'd the former feign,
Did not fome grave examples yet remain,
Who fcorn a lad fhould teach his father ikill,
And, having once been wrong, will be fo ftill.
But for the wits of either Charles's days,
The mob of gentlemen who wrote with eafe;
Sprat, Carew, Sedley, and a hundred more,
(Like twinkling ftars the mifcellanies o'er)
One fimile, that folitary shines
In the dry defert of a thousand lines,
Or lengthen'd thought that gleams through many a page, Has fanctify'd whole poems for an age.
I lose my patience, and I own it too,
When works are cenfur'd, not as bad but new ;
While if our elders break all reafon's laws,
These fools demand not pardon, but applause.