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If human woes her soft attention claim,
505 A. At Westminster, where little poets strive To set a distich upon six and five, Where Discipline helps th' op’ning buds of sense', And makes his pupils proud with silver pence, I was a poet too : but modern taste
510 Is so refin'd, and delicate, and chaste, That verse, whatever fire the fancy warms, Without a creamy smoothness has no charms. Thus, all success depending on an ear, And thinking I might purchase it too dear, 515 If sentiment were sacrific'd to sound, And truth cut short to make a period round, I judg'd a man of sense could scarce do worse, Than caper in the morris-dance of verse. B. Thus reputation is a spur to wit,
520 And some wits flag through fear of losing it.
Give me the line that ploughs its stately course Like a proud swan, conqu’ring the stream by force ; That, like some cottage beauty, strikes the heart, Quite unindebted to the tricks of art.
525 When Labour and when Dulness club in hand, Like the two figures at St. Dunstan’s, stand, Beating alternately in measur'd time, The clock-work tintinabulum of rhyme, Exact and regular the sounds will be ;
530 But such mere quarter-strokes are not for me.
From him who rears a poem lank and long, To him who strains his all into a song ; Perhaps some bonny Caledonian air, All birks and braes, though he was never there ; 535 Or, having whelp'd a prologue with great pains, Feels himself spent, and fumbles for his brains ; A prologue interdash'd with many a strokeAn art contriv'd to advertise a joke, So that the jest is clearly to be seen,
550 Not in the words--but in the gap between : Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ To substitute for genius, sense, and wit.
To dally much with subjects mean and low Proves that the mind is weak, or makes it so.
545 Neglected talents rust into decay, And ev'ry effort ends in pushpin play. The man that means success should soar above A soldier's feather, or a lady's glove ; Else, summoning the muse to such a theme, 550 The fruit of all her labour is whipp'd cream, As if an eagle flew aloft, and thenStoop'd from its highest pitch to pounce a wren. As is the poet, purposing to wed, Should carve himself a wife in gingerbread.
555 Ages elaps'd ere Homer's lamp appear’d, And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard, To carry Nature's lengths unknown before, To give a Milton birth, ask'd ages more. VOL. I.
Thus Genius rose and set at order'd times, 560
565 Thus lovely halcyons dive into the main, Then show far off their shining plumes again.
A. Is genius only found in epick lays ? Prove this, and forfeit all pretence to praise. Make their heroick pow'rs your own at once,
570 Or candidly confess yourself a dunce.
B. These were the chief: each interval of night
In Eden, ere yet innocence of heart Had faded, poetry was not an art:
535 Language above all teaching, or, if taught, Only by gratitude and glowing thought, Elegant as simplicity, and warm As ecstasy, unmanacled by form, Not prompted, as in our degen’rate days,
590 By low ambition and the thirst of praise, Was natural as is the flowing stream, And yet magnificent-A God the theme ! That theme on Earth exhausted, though above 'Tis found as everlasting as his love,
595 Man lavish'd all his thoughts on human things Itho feats of heroes, and thc wrath of kings;
But still, while virtue kindled his delight,
605 The victim of his own lascivious fires, And, dizzy with delight, profan'd the sacred wires. Anacreon, Horace, play'd in Greece and Rome This bedlam part, and others nearer home. When Cromwell fought for pow's, and while he reign'd The proud protector of the power he gain’d, 611 Religion harsh, intolerant, austere, Parent of manners like herself severe, Drew a rough copy of the Christian face, Without the smile, the sweetness, or the grace ;
615 The dark and sullen humour of the time Judg'd ev'ry effort of the muse a crime; Verse, in the finest mould of fancy cast, Was lumber in an age so void of taste : But when the second Charles assum'd the sway, 620 And arts reviv'd beneath a softer day, Then like a bow long forc'd into a curve, The mind, releas'd from too constrain'd a nerve, Flew to its first position with a spring, That made the vaulted roofs of Pleasure ring. 625 His court, the dissolute and hateful school Of Wantonness, where vice was taught by rule, Swarm’d with a scribbling herd, as deep inlaid With brutal lust as ever Circe made. From these a long succession, in a rage
630 Of rank obscenity debauch'd their age : Nor ceas'd till ever anxious to redress The abuses of her sacred charge, the press, Tlie muse instructed a well-nurtur'd train Of abler votaries to cleanse the stain,
And claim the palm for purity of song,
In front of these came Addison. In him
650 E'en on the fools that trampled on their laws. But he, (his musical finesse was such, So nice his ear, so delicate his touch,) Made poetry a mere mechanick art; And ev'ry warbler has his tune by heart.
655 Nature imparting her satirick gift, Her serious mirth, to Arbuthnot and Swift, With droll sobriety they rais'd a smile At Folly's cost, themselves unmov'd the while. That constellation set, the world in vain
660 Must hope to look upon their like again.
A. Are we then left-B. Not wholly in the dark;
670 Short his career, indeed, but ably run; Churchill, himself unconscious of his pow'rs, In penury consum'd his idle hours;