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Man lavish'd all his thoughts on human things,
The feats of heroes and the wrath of kings,
But still while virtue kindled his delight,
The song was moral, and so far was right.
’T was thus till luxury seduced the mind
To joys less innocent, as less refined,
Then genius danced a bacchanal, he crown'd
The brimming goblet, seized the thyrsus, bound
His brows with ivy, rush'd into the field
Of wild imagination, and there reel'd
The victim of his own lascivious fires,
And dizzy with delight, profaned the sacred wires.
Anacreon, Horace, play'd in Greece and Rome
This Bedlam part; and, others nearer home.
When Cromwell fought for power,and while he reign'd
The proud protector of the power he gain’d,
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;
The dark and sullen humour of the time
Judged every 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 assumed the sway,
And arts revived beneath a softer day,
Then like a bow long forced into a curve,
The mind, released from too constrain’d a nerve,
Flew to its first position with a spring
That made the vaulted roofs of pleasure ring.
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 the rage
Of rank obscenity debauch'd their age,
Vor ceased, till ever anxious to redress
She abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
As Muse instructed a well-nurtured train
Sholiler votaries to cleanse the stain,
And claim the palm for purity of song,
That lewdness had usurp'd and worn so long.
Then decent pleasantry and sterling sense,
That neither gave nor would endure offence,
Whipp'd out of sight, with satire just and keen,
The puppy pack that had defiled the scene.
In front of these came Addison. In him
Humour in holiday and sightly trim,
Sublimity and attic taste combined,
To polish, furnish, and delight the mind.
Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
In verse well disciplined, complete, compact,
Gave virtue and morality a grace
That, quite eclipsing pleasure's painted face,
Levied a tax of wonder and applause,
Even 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 mechanic art,
And every warbler has his tune by heart.
Nature imparting her satiric gift,
Her serious mirth, to Arbuthnot and Swift,
With droll sobriety they raised a smile
At folly's cost, themselves unmoved the while.
That constellation set, the world in vain
Must hope to look upon their like again.
A. Are we then left-B. Not wholly in the dark:
Wit now and then, struck smartly, shows a spark,
Sufficient to redeem the modern race
From total night and absolute disgrace.
While servile trick and imitative knack
Confine the million in the beaten track,
Perhaps some courser who disdains the road,
Snuffs up the wind and flings himself abroad.
Contemporaries all surpass’d, see one,
Short his career, indeed, but ably run.
Churchill, himself unconscious of his powers,
In penury consumed his idle hours,
And like a scattered seed at random sown,
Was left to spring by vigour of his own.
Lifted at length by dignity of thought,
And dint of genius, to an affluent lot,
He laid his head in luxury's soft lap,
And took too often there his easy nap.
If brighter beams than all he threw not forth,
'Twas negligence in him, not want of worth.
Surly and slovenly, and bold and coarse,
Too proud for art, and trusting in mere force,
Spendthrift alike of money and of wit,
Always at speed, and never drawing bit,
He struck the lyre in such a careless mood,
And so disdain'd the rules he understood,
The laurel seem'd to wait on his command,
He snatch'd it rudely from the Muse's hand.
Nature, exerting an unwearied power,
Forms, opens, and gives scent to every flower,
Spreads the fresh verdure of the field, and leads
The dancing Naiads through the dewy meads,
She fills profuse ten thousand little throats
With music, modulating all their notes,
And charms the woodland scenes and wilds unknown,
With artless airs and concerts of her own;
But seldom (as if fearful of expense)
Vouchsafes to man a poet's just pretence.
Fervency, freedom, fluency of thought,
Harmony, strength, words exquisitely sought,
Fancy that from the bow that spans the sky,
Brings colours dipt in heaven that never die,
A soul exalted above earth, a mind
Skill'd in the characters that form mankind,
And as the sun in rising beauty dress’d,
Looks to the westward from the dappled east,
And marks, whatever clouds may interpose,
Ere yet his race begins, its glorious close,
An eye like his to catch the distant goal,
Or ere the wheels of verse begin to roll,
Like his to shed illuminating rays
On every scene and subject it surveys,-
Thus graced the man asserts a poet's name,
And the world cheerfully admits the claim.
Pity! Religion has so seldom found A skilful guide into poetic ground !
(stray, The flowers would spring where'er she deign'd to And every Muse attend her in her way. Virtue indeed meets many a rhyming friend, And many a compliment politely penn’d, But unattired in that becoming vest Religion weaves for her, and half undress'd, Stands in the desert shivering and forlorn, A wintry figure, like a withered thorn. The shelves are full, all other themes are sped; Hackney'd and worn to the last flimsy thread, Satire has long since done his best, and curst And loathsome ribaldry has done his worst; Fancy has sported all her powers away In tales, in trifles, and in children's play, And 't is the sad complaint, and almost true, Whate'er we write, we bring forth nothing new. 'T were new indeed, to see a bard all fire, Touch'd with a coal from heaven, assume the lyre, And tell the world, still kindling as he sung, With more than mortal music on his tongue, That He who died below and reigns above, Inspires the song, and that his name is Love.
For, after all, if merely to beguile By flowing numbers and a flowery style The tædium that the lazy rich endure, Which now and then sweet poetry may cure, Or if to see the name of idol self Stamp'd on the well-bound quarto, grace the shelf To float a bubble on the breath of fame, Prompt his endeavour, and engage his aim, Debased to servile purposes of pride, How are the powers of genius misapplied ! The gift whose office is the giver's praise, To trace him in his word, his works, his ways, Then spread the rich discovery, and invite Mankind to share in the divine delight, Distorted from its use and just design, To make the pitiful possessor shine,
To purchase at the fool-frequented fair
Of vanity, a wreath for self to wear,
Is profanation of the basest kind,
Proof of a trifling and a worthless mind.
A. Hail, Sternhold, then, and Hopkins, hail !
If flattery, folly, lust employ the pen,
If acrimony, slander, and abuse,
Give it a charge to blacken and traduce;
Though Butler's wit, Pope's numbers, Prior's ease,
With all that fancy can invent to please,
Adorn the polish'd periods as they fall,
One madrigal of theirs is worth them all.
A. ’T would thin the ranks of the poetic tribe, To dash the pen through all that you proscribe.
B. No matter ;-we could shift when they were And should, no doubt, if they were all forgot. [not;
“Si quid loquar audiendum."-Hor. lib. iv. od. 2.
SING, Muse, (if such a theme, so dark, so long,
May find a Muse to grace it with a song.)
By what unseen and unsuspected arts
The serpent Error twines round human hearts;
Tell where she lurks, beneath what flowery shades
That not a glimpse of genuine light pervades,
The poisonous, black, insinuating worm
Successfully conceals her loathsome form.
Take, if ye can, ye careless and supine!
Counsel and caution from a voice like mine;
Truths that the theorist could never reach,
And observation taught me, I would teach.