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WHILE you, great patron of mankind ! sustain The balanced world, and open all the main; Your country, chief in arms, abroad defend; At home, with morals, arts, and laws amend; How shall the Muse, from such a monarch steal An hour, and not defraud the public weal?
Edward and Henry, now the boast of fame, And virtuous Alfred, a more sacred name, After a life of generous toils endured, The Gaul subdued, or property secured, Ambition humbled, mighty cities storm'd, Or law establish’d, and the world reform’d, Closed their long glories with a sigh, to find The unwilling gratitude of base mankind! AN human virtue to its latest breath Finds envy never conquer'd but by death. The great Alcides, every labour past, Had still this monster to subdue at last : Sure fate of all, beneath whose rising ray Each star of meaner merit fades away! Oppress'd we feel the beam directly beat; Those suns of glory please not till they set.
To thee the world its present homage pays, The harvest 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 sacred and revered, As Heaven's own oracles from altars heard : Wonder of kings ! like whom, to mortal eyes, None e'er has risen, and none e'er shall rise.
Just in one instance, be it yet confess'd, Your people, sir, are partial in the rest : 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 rust 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 Fairy Queen :
Though justly Greece her eldest sons admires,
If time improve our wits as well as wine,
• Who lasts a century can have no flaw; I hold that wit a classic, good in law.'
Suppose he wants a year, will you compound ? And shall we deem him ancient, right, and sound, Or damn to all eternity at once, At ninety-nine a modern and a dunce?
We shall 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, And melt down ancients like a heap of snow While you, to measure merits, look in Stowe, And estimating authors by the year, Bestow a garland only on a bier.
Shakspeare (whom you and every playhouse-ol Style the divine, the matchless, what
Forgot his epic, nay Pindaric art,
• Yet surely, surely, these were famous men!
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 Husband praise, Or say our fathers never broke a rule ; Why then, I say, the public is a fool. But let them own, that greater faults than we They had, and greater virtues, I'll agree. Spencer himself affects the obsolete, And Sydney's verse halts ill on Roman feet: Milton's strong pinion now not Heaven can bound, Now serpent-like, in prose he sweeps the ground; In quibbles, angel and archangel join, And God the Father turns a school divine. Not that I'd lop the beauties from his book, Like slashing Bentley with his desperate hook ; Or damn all Shakspeare, like the affected fool At court, who hates whate'er he read at school
But for the wits of either Charles's days, The mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease; Sprat, Carew, Sedly, and a hundred more (Like twinkling stars, the miscellanies o'er,) One simile, that solitary shines In the dry desert of a thousand lines, Or lengthen'd thought that gleams through many a Has sanctified whole poems for an age.
[page VOL. II.
I lose my patience, and I own it too,
On Avon's bank, where flowers eternal blow,
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.' Then peers grew proud in horsemanship to excel, 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 canvass stole The sleepy eye, that spoke the melting soul. 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
But Britain, changeful as a child at play,
Time was, a sober Englishman would knock
He served a 'prenticeship, who sets up shop ; Ward tried on puppies, and the poor, his drop; 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 But those that 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.