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Which Betterton's grave action dignified,"
Or well-mouth'd Booth with emphasis proclaims,
(Though but, perhaps, a muster-roll of names,) 8
How will our fathers rise up in a rage,
And swear, all shame is lost in George's age!
You'd think no fools disgraced the former reign,
Did not some grave examples yet remain,
Who scorn a lad should teach his father skill,
And, having once been wrong will be so still.
He, who to seem more deep than you or I,
Extols old bards, or Merlin's prophecy,
Mistake him not; he envies, not admires,
And to debase the sons, exalts the sires.
Had ancient times conspired 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 restored; In every taste of foreign courts improved,
All, by the king's example, lived and loved."9
Then peers grew proud in horsemanship to excel,10
Newmarket's glory rose, as Britain's fell;
The soldier breathed 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 canvas stolell
The sleepy eye, that spoke the melting soul.
7 [Thomas Betterton (born in 1635, died in 1710), was the Roscius of his times; a man of literary taste and excellent character. One of Pope's few existing attempts at the art of painting is a portrait of this actor. Barton Booth was born in 1681 and died in 1733. He was a splendid declaimer, and the original Cato in Addison's tragedy.]
8 An absurd custom of several actors, to pronounce with emphasis the mere proper names of Greeks or Romans, which (as they call it) fills the mouth of the player.
9 A verse of the Lord Lansdown.
10 The Duke of Newcastle's Book of Horsemanship; the Romance of Parthenissa, by the Earl of Orrery; and most of the French romances translated by persons of quality.
11 This was the characteristic of this excellent colourist's expression, who was an excessive mannerist.
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 12
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 loved we hate;
Now all for pleasure, now for Church and State;
Now for prerogative, and now for laws;
Effects unhappy! from a noble cause.
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:
To prove that luxury could never hold;
And place, on good security, his gold.
Now times are changed, and one poetic itch
Has seized the court and city, poor and rich:
Sons, sires, and grandsires, all will wear the bays,
Our wives read Milton, and our daughters plays,
To theatres, and to rehearsals throng,
And all our grace at table is a song.
I, who so oft renounce the Muses, lie,
Not's self e'er tells more fibs than I;13
When sick of muse, our follies we deplore,
And promise our best friends to rhyme no more;
We wake next morning in a raging fit,
And call for pen and ink to show our wit.
He served a 'prenticeship, who sets up shop;
Ward tried on puppies, and the poor, his drop; 14
E'en Radcliffe's doctors travel first to France,
Nor dare to practise till they've learn'd to dance.
Who builds a bridge that never drove a pile ?
(Should Ripley venture, all the world would smile)
12 The Siege of Rhodes, by Sir William Davenant, the first opera sung England.
13 [Probably Prior, who had many broken resolutions of this sort.] 14 A famous empiric, whose pill and drop had several surprising effects, and were one of the principal subjects of writing and conversation at this time.
But those who cannot write, and those who can,
All rhyme, and scrawl, and scribble, to a man.
Yet, sir, reflect, the mischief is not great;
These madmen never hurt the Church or State;
Sometimes the folly benefits mankind;
And rarely avarice taints the tuneful mind.
Allow him but his plaything of a pen,
He ne'er rebels, or plots, like other men;
Flight of cashiers, or mobs he'll never mind;15
And knows no losses while the muse is kind.
To cheat a friend, or ward, he leaves to Peter;
The good man heaps up nothing but mere metre,
Enjoys his garden and his book in quiet;
And then-a perfect hermit in his diet.
Of little use the man you may suppose,
Who says in verse what others say in prose;
Yet let me show a poet 's of some weight,
And (though no soldier) useful to the state.
What will a child learn sooner than a song?
What better teach a foreigner the tongue?
What's long or short, each accent where to place,
And speak in public with some sort of grace.
I scarce can think him such a worthless thing,
Unless he praise some monster of a king;
Or virtue or religion turn to sport,
To please a lewd or unbelieving court.
Unhappy Dryden !-in all Charles's days,
Roscommon only boasts unspotted bays;
And in our own (excuse from courtly stains)
No whiter page than Addison remains.
He, from the taste obscene reclaims our youth,
And sets the passions on the side of truth,
Forms the soft bosom with the gentlest art,
And pours each human virtue in the heart.
Let Ireland tell, how wit upheld her cause,
Her trade supported, and supplied her laws;
15 [Alluding to the flight of Mr. Knight, the principal cashier of the South Sea Company. By means of bribery and court favour, Knight was allowed to return to England, where he lived many years in wealth and comfort. He died in 1744.]
And leave on Swift this grateful verse engraved,
"The rights a court attack'd, a poet saved."16
Behold the hand that wrought a nation's cure,
Stretch'd to relieve the idiot and the poor,17
Proud vice to brand, or injured worth adorn,
And stretch the ray to ages yet unborn.
Not but there are, who merit other palms;
Hopkins and Sternhold glad the heart with psalms: 18 230
The boys and girls whom charity maintains,
Implore your help in these pathetic strains:
How could devotion touch the country pews,
Unless the gods bestow'd a proper muse?
Verse cheers their leisure, verse assists their work,
Verse prays for peace, or sings down Pope and Turk.
The silenced preacher yields to potent strain,
And feels that grace his prayer besought in vain ;
The blessing thrills through all the labouring throng,
And Heaven is won by violence of song.
Our rural ancestors, with little blest,
Patient of labour when the end was rest,
Indulged the day that housed their annual grain,
With feasts, and offerings, and a thankful strain :
The joy their wives, their sons, and servants share,
Ease of their toil, and partners of their care:
The laugh, the jest, attendants on the bowl,
Smooth'd every brow, and open'd every soul:
With growing years the pleasing license grew,
And taunts alternate innocently flew.
But times corrupt, and nature ill-inclined,
Produced the point that left a sting behind;
Till friend with friend, and families at strife,
Triumphant malice raged through private life.
Who felt the wrong, or fear'd it, took the alarm,
Appeal'd to law, and justice lent her arm.
16 [Pope, it is said, was threatened with a prosecution in consequence of this verse.]
17 A foundation for the maintenance of idiots, and a fund for assisting the poor, by lending small sums of money on demand.
18 Sternhold, one of the versifiers of the old singing psalms. He was a courtier, and Groom of the Robes to Henry VIII., and of the bedchamber to Edward VI. Fuller, in his Church History, says he was esteemed an excellent poet.
At length, by wholesome dread of statutes bound,
The poets learn'd to please, and not to wound:
Most warp'd to flattery's side; but some, more nice,
Preserved the freedom, and forbore the vice.
Hence satire rose, that just the medium hit,
And heals with morals what it hurts with wit.
We conquer'd France, but felt our captive's charms;
Her arts victorious triumph'd o'er our arms:
Britain to soft refinements less a foe,
Wit grew polite, and numbers learn'd to flow.
Waller was smooth; but Dryden taught to join
The varying verse, the full-resounding line,
The long majestic march and energy divine.19
Though still some traces of our rustic vein
And splayfoot verse remain'd, and will remain.
Late, very late, correctness grew our care,
When the tired nation breathed from civil war.
Exact Racine, and Corneille's noble fire,
Show'd us that France had something to admire.
Not but the tragic spirit was our own,
And full in Shakspeare, fair in Otway shone:
But Otway fail'd to polish or refine,
And fluent Shakspeare scarce effaced a line.
Even copious Dryden wanted, or forgot,
The last and greatest art, the art to blot.
Some doubt, if equal pains, or equal fire,
The humbler muse of comedy require.
But in known images of life, I guess
The labour greater, as the indulgence less.
Observe how seldom even the best succeed:
Tell me if Congreve's fools are fools indeed?
What pert low dialogue has Farquhar writ!
How Van wants grace, who never wanted wit!
The stage how loosely does Astræa tread,20
Who fairly puts all characters to bed!
And idle Cibber, how he breaks the laws,
To make poor Pinkey eat with vast applause!
21 Mr. Waller about this time, with the Earl of Dorset, Mr. Godolphin, and others, translated the Pompey of Corneille; and the more correct French poets began to be in reputation.
20 A name taken by Mrs. Behn, authoress of several obscene plays, &c.