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HORACE, BOOK II. EPISTLE I.
WHILE you, great Patron of mankind ! sustain
Edward and Henry, now the boast of fame,
15 Finds Envy never conquer'd but by Death. The great Alcides, ev'ry labor past, Had still this monster to subdue at last : Sure fate of all, beneath whose rising ray Each star of meaner merit fades away! 20 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 :
POPE, VOL. 11l, Q
Great friend of liberty! in kings a name 25
Just in one instance, be it yet confest
36 Chaucer's worst ribaldry is learn’d by rote, And beastly Skelton heads of houses quote. One likes no language but the Fairy Queen; A Scot will fight for Christ's Kirk o'the Green ; 40 And each true Briton is to Ben so civil, He swears the Muses inet himn at The Devil.
Though justly Greece her eldest sons admires, || Why should not we be wiser than our sires ? In ev'ry public virtue we excel;
45 We build, we paint, we sing, we cance, as well; And learned Athens to our art must stoop, Could she behold us tumbling through a hoop.
If time improve our wits as well as wine, Say at what age a poet grows divine ?
50 Shall we, or shall we not, account him so, Who dy'd, perhaps, an hundred years ago ?
Te nostris ducibus, te Graiis antefetendo.
End all dispute; and fix the year precise
Who lasts a century can have no flaw; 55 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 ? 60
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, 65 While you, to measure merits, look in Stowe, And estimating authors by the year, Bestow a garland only on a bier.
Shakespeare (whom you and ev'ry play-house bill Style the Divine, the Matchless, what you will) 70 For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight, And grew immortal in his own despight. Ben, old and poor, as little seem'd to heed The life to come, in ev'ry poet's creed. Who now reads Cowley ? if he pleases yet, 75 His moral pleases, not his pointed wit; Forgot his Epic, nay Pindaric art; But still I love the language of his heart.
Yet surely, surely, these were famous men! - What boy but hears the sayings of old Ben?:80 . In all debates where critics bear a part,
Not one but nods, and talks of Jonson's art,
Of Shakespear's nature, and of Cowley's wit; • How Beaumont's judgment check'd what Fletcher
writ; • How Shadwell hasty, Wycherly was slow; 85 • But, for the passions, Southern sure and Rowe • These, only these, support the crowded 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. 90 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 95 They had, and greater virtues, I'll agree. Spenser himself affects the obsolete, And Sydney's verse halts ill on Roman feet; Milton's strong pinion now not heav'n can bound, Now, serpent-like, in prose he sweeps the ground In quibbles angel and archangel join, 101 And God the Father turns a school-divine. .. Not that I'd lop the beauties from his book, , Like slashing Bentley with his desp'rate hook; Or damn all Shakespeare, like th' 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 case; Sprat, Carew, Sedley, and a hundred more, (Like twinkling stars the miscellanies o'er) 11
One simile, that solitary shines
On Avon's bank, where flow'rs eternal blow,
In days of ease, when now the weary sword Was sheath'd, and Luxury with Charlos restor'd;