Who would not laugh, if Lawrence, hired to grace
His costly canvas with each flattered face,
Abused his art, till Nature, with a blush,
Saw cits grow Centaurs underneath his brush?
Or, should some limner join, for show or sale,
A Maid of Honour to a Mermaid’s tail?
Or low Dubost—as once the world has seen—
Degrade God’s creatures in his graphic spleen?
Not all that forced politeness, which defends
Fools in their faults, could gag his grinning friends.
Believe me, Moschus, like that picture seems
The book which, sillier than a sick man’s dreams,
Displays a crowd of figures incomplete,
Poetic Nightmares, without head or feet.
Poets and painters, as all artists know,
May shoot a little with a lengthened bow;
We claim this mutual mercy for our task,
And grant in turn the pardon which we ask;
But make not monsters spring from gentle dams—
Birds breed not vipers, tigers nurse not lambs.
A laboured, long Exordium, sometimes tends
(Like patriot speeches) but to paltry ends;
And nonsense in a lofty note goes down,
As Pertness passes with a legal gown:
Thus many a Bard describes in pompous strain
The clear brook babbling through the goodly plain:
The groves of Granta, and her Gothic halls,
King’s Coll-Cam’s stream-stained windows, and old walls:
Or, in adventurous numbers, neatly aims
To paint a rainbow, or the river Thames.
You sketch a tree, and so perhaps may shine—
But daub a shipwreck like an alehouse sign;
You plan a vase—it dwindles to a ***;
Then glide down Grub-street—fasting and forgot:
Laughed into Lethe by some quaint Review,
Whose wit is never troublesome till—true.
In fine, to whatsoever you aspire,
Let it at least be simple and entire.
The greater portion of the rhyming tribe
(Give ear, my friend, for thou hast been a scribe)
Are led astray by some peculiar lure.
I labour to be brief—become obscure;
One falls while following Elegance too fast;
Another soars, inflated with Bombast;
Too low a third crawls on, afraid to fly,
He spins his subject to Satiety;
Absurdly varying, he at last engraves
Fish in the woods, and boars beneath the waves!
Unless your care’s exact, your judgment nice,
The flight from Folly leads but into Vice;
None are complete, all wanting in some part,
Like certain tailors, limited in art.
For galligaskins Slowshears is your man
But coats must claim another artisan.
Now this to me, I own, seems much the same
As Vulcan’s feet to bear Apollo’s frame;
Or, with a fair complexion, to expose
Black eyes, black ringlets, but—a bottle nose!
Dear Authors! suit your topics to your strength,
And ponder well your subject, and its length;
Nor lift your load, before you’re quite aware
What weight your shoulders will, or will not, bear.
But lucid Order, and Wit’s siren voice,
Await the Poet, skilful in his choice;
With native Eloquence he soars along,
Grace in his thoughts, and Music in his song.
Let Judgment teach him wisely to combine
With future parts the now omitted line:
This shall the Author choose, or that reject,
Precise in style, and cautious to select;
Nor slight applause will candid pens afford
To him who furnishes a wanting word.
Then fear not, if ’tis needful, to produce
Some term unknown, or obsolete in use,
(As Pitt has furnished us a word or two,
Which Lexicographers declined to do;)
So you indeed, with care,—(but be content
To take this license rarely)—may invent.
New words find credit in these latter days,
If neatly grafted on a Gallic phrase;
What Chaucer, Spenser did, we scarce refuse
To Dryden’s or to Pope’s maturer Muse.
If you can add a little, say why not,
As well as William Pitt, and Walter Scott?
Since they, by force of rhyme and force of lungs,
Enriched our Island’s ill-united tongues;
’Tis then—and shall be—lawful to present
Reform in writing, as in Parliament.
As forests shed their foliage by degrees,
So fade expressions which in season please;
And we and ours, alas! are due to Fate,
And works and words but dwindle to a date.
Though as a Monarch nods, and Commerce calls,
Impetuous rivers stagnate in canals;
Though swamps subdued, and marshes drained, sustain
The heavy ploughshare and the yellow grain,
And rising ports along the busy shore
Protect the vessel from old Ocean’s roar,
All, all, must perish; but, surviving last,
The love of Letters half preserves the past.
True, some decay, yet not a few revive;
Though those shall sink, which now appear to thrive,
As Custom arbitrates, whose shifting sway
Our life and language must alike obey.
The immortal wars which Gods and Angels wage,
Are they not shown in Milton’s sacred page?
His strain will teach what numbers best belong
To themes celestial told in Epic song.
The slow, sad stanza will correctly paint
The Lover’s anguish, or the Friend’s complaint.
But which deserves the Laurel—Rhyme or Blank?
Which holds on Helicon the higher rank?
Let squabbling critics by themselves dispute
This point, as puzzling as a Chancery suit.
Satiric rhyme first sprang from selfish spleen.
You doubt—see Dryden, Pope, St. Patrick’s Dean.
Blank verse is now, with one consent, allied
To Tragedy, and rarely quits her side.
Though mad Almanzor rhymed in Dryden’s days,
No sing-song Hero rants in modern plays;
Whilst modest Comedy her verse foregoes
For jest and ‘pun’ in very middling prose.
Not that our Bens or Beaumonts show the worse,
Or lose one point, because they wrote in verse.
But so Thalia pleases to appear,
Poor ******! ****** some twenty times a year!
Whate’er the scene, let this advice have weight:—
Adapt your language to your Hero’s state.
At times Melpomene forgets to groan,
And brisk Thalia takes a serious tone;
Nor unregarded will the act pass by
Where angry Townly “lifts his voice on high.”
Again, our Shakespeare limits verse to Kings,
When common prose will serve for common things;
And lively Hal resigns heroic ire,—
To “hollaing Hotspur” and his sceptred sire.
’Tis not enough, ye Bards, with all your art,
To polish poems; they must touch the heart:
Where’er the scene be laid, whate’er the song,
Still let it bear the hearer’s soul along;
Command your audience or to smile or weep,
Whiche’er may please you—anything but sleep.
The Poet claims our tears; but, by his leave,
Before I shed them, let me see ‘him’ grieve.
If banished Romeo feigned nor sigh nor tear,
Lulled by his languor, I could sleep or sneer.
Sad words, no doubt, become a serious face,
And men look angry in the proper place.
At double meanings folks seem wondrous sly,
And Sentiment prescribes a pensive eye;
For Nature formed at first the inward man,
And actors copy Nature—when they can.
She bids the beating heart with rapture bound,
Raised to the Stars, or levelled with the ground;
And for Expression’s aid, ’tis said, or sung,
She gave our mind’s interpreter—the tongue,
Who, worn with use, of late would fain dispense
(At least in theatres) with common sense;
O’erwhelm with sound the Boxes, Gallery, Pit,
And raise a laugh with anything—but Wit.
To skilful writers it will much import,
Whence spring their scenes, from common life or Court;
Whether they seek applause by smile or tear,
To draw a Lying Valet, or a Lear,
A sage, or rakish youngster wild from school,
A wandering Peregrine, or plain John Bull;
All persons please when Nature’s voice prevails,
Scottish or Irish, born in Wilts or Wales.
Or follow common fame, or forge a plot;
Who cares if mimic heroes lived or not!
One precept serves to regulate the scene:
Make it appear as if it might have been.
If some Drawcansir you aspire to draw,
Present him raving, and above all law:
If female furies in your scheme are planned,
Macbeth’s fierce dame is ready to your hand;
For tears and treachery, for good and evil,
Constance, King Richard, Hamlet, and the Devil!
But if a new design you dare essay,
And freely wander from the beaten way,
True to your characters, till all be past,
Preserve consistency from first to last.
Tis hard to venture where our betters fail,
Or lend fresh interest to a twice-told tale;
And yet, perchance,’tis wiser to prefer
A hackneyed plot, than choose a new, and err;
Yet copy not too closely, but record,
More justly, thought for thought than word for word;
Nor trace your Prototype through narrow ways,
But only follow where he merits praise.
For you, young Bard! whom luckless fate may lead
To tremble on the nod of all who read,
Ere your first score of cantos Time unrolls,
Beware—for God’s sake, don’t begin like Bowles!
“Awake a louder and a loftier strain,”—
And pray, what follows from his boiling brain?—
He sinks to Southey’s level in a trice,
Whose Epic Mountains never fail in mice!
Not so of yore awoke your mighty Sire
The tempered warblings of his master-lyre;
Soft as the gentler breathing of the lute,
“Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit”
He speaks, but, as his subject swells along,
Earth, Heaven, and Hades echo with the song.”
Still to the “midst of things” he hastens on,
As if we witnessed all already done;
Leaves on his path whatever seems too mean
To raise the subject, or adorn the scene;
Gives, as each page improves upon the sight,
Not smoke from brightness, but from darkness—light;
And truth and fiction with such art compounds,
We know not where to fix their several bounds.
If you would please the Public, deign to hear
What soothes the many-headed monster’s ear:
If your heart triumph when the hands of all
Applaud in thunder at the curtain’s fall,
Deserve those plaudits—study Nature’s page,
And sketch the striking traits of every age;
While varying Man and varying years unfold
Life’s little tale, so oft, so vainly told;
Observe his simple childhood’s dawning days,
His pranks, his prate, his playmates, and his plays:
Till time at length the mannish tyro weans,
And prurient vice outstrips his tardy teens!
Behold him Freshman! forced no more to groan
O’er Virgil’s devilish verses and his own;
Prayers are too tedious, Lectures too abstruse,
He flies from Tavell’s frown to “Fordham’s Mews;”
(Unlucky Tavell! doomed to daily cares
By pugilistic pupils, and by bears,)
Fines, Tutors, tasks, Conventions threat in vain,
Before hounds, hunters, and Newmarket Plain.
Rough with his elders, with his equals rash,
Civil to sharpers, prodigal of cash;
Constant to nought—save hazard and a *****,
Yet cursing both—for both have made him sore:
Unread (unless since books beguile disease,
The P——x becomes his passage to Degrees);
Fooled, pillaged, dunned, he wastes his terms away,
And unexpelled, perhaps, retires M.A.;
Master of Arts! as hells and clubs proclaim,
Where scarce a blackleg bears a brighter name!
Launched into life, extinct his early fire,
He apes the selfish prudence of his Sire;
Marries for money, chooses friends for rank,
Buys land, and shrewdly trusts not to the Bank;
Sits in the Senate; gets a son and heir;
Sends him to Harrow—for himself was there.
Mute, though he votes, unless when called to cheer,
His son’s so sharp—he’ll see the dog a Peer!
Manhood declines—Age palsies every limb;
He quits the scene—or else the scene quits him;
Scrapes wealth, o’er each departing penny grieves,
And Avarice seizes all Ambition leaves;
Counts cent per cent, and smiles, or vainly frets,
O’er hoards diminished by young Hopeful’s debts;
Weighs well and wisely what to sell or buy,
Complete in all life’s lessons—but to die;
Peevish and spiteful, doting, hard to please,
Commending every time, save times like these;
Crazed, querulous, forsaken, half forgot,
Expires unwept—is buried—Let him rot!
But from the Drama let me not digress,
Nor spare my precepts, though they please you less.
Though Woman weep, and hardest hearts are stirred,
When what is done is rather seen than heard,
Yet many deeds preserved in History’s page
Are better told than acted on the stage;
The ear sustains what shocks the timid eye,
And Horror thus subsides to Sympathy,
True Briton all beside, I here am French—
Bloodshed ’tis surely better to retrench:
The gladiatorial gore we teach to flow
In tragic scenes disgusts though but in show;
We hate the carnage while we see the trick,
And find small sympathy in being sick.
Not on the stage the regicide Macbeth
Appals an audience with a Monarch’s death;
To gaze when sable Hubert threats to sear
Young Arthur’s eyes, can ours or Nature bear?
A haltered heroine Johnson sought to slay—
We saved Irene, but half ****** the play,
And (Heaven be praised!) our tolerating times
Stint Metamorphoses to Pantomimes;
And Lewis’ self, with all his sprites, would quake
To change Earl Osmond’s ***** to a snake!
Because, in scenes exciting joy or grief,
We loathe the action which exceeds belief:
And yet, God knows! what may not authors do,
Whose Postscripts prate of dyeing “heroines blue”?
Above all things, Dan Poet, if you can,
Eke out your acts, I pray, with mortal man,
Nor call a ghost, unless some cursed scrape
Must open ten trap-doors for your escape.
Of all the monstrous things I’d fain forbid,
I loathe an Opera worse than Dennis did;
Where good and evil persons, right or wrong,
Rage, love, and aught but moralise—in song.
Hail, last memorial of our foreign friends,
Which Gaul allows, and still Hesperia lends!
Napoleon’s edicts no embargo lay
On ******—spies—singers—wisely shipped away.
Our giant Capital, whose squares are spread
Where rustics earned, and now may beg, their bread,
In all iniquity is grown so nice,
It scorns amusements which are not of price.
Hence the pert shopkeeper, whose throbbing ear
Aches with orchestras which he pays to hear,
Whom shame, not sympathy, forbids to snore,
His anguish doubling by his own “encore;”
Squeezed in “Fop’s Alley,” jostled by the beaux,
Teased with his hat, and trembling for his toes;
Scarce wrestles through the night, nor tastes of ease,
Till the dropped curtain gives a glad release:
Why this, and more, he suffers—can ye guess?—
Because it costs him dear, and makes him dress!
So prosper eunuchs from Etruscan schools;
Give us but fiddlers, and they’re sure of fools!
Ere scenes were played by many a reverend clerk,
(What harm, if David danced before the ark?)
In Christmas revels, simple country folks
Were pleased with morrice-mumm’ry and coarse jokes.
Improving years, with things no longer known,
Produced blithe Punch and merry Madame Joan,
Who still frisk on with feats so lewdly low,
’Tis strange Benvolio suffers such a show;
Suppressing peer! to whom each vice gives place,
Oaths, boxing, begging—all, save rout and race.
Farce followed Comedy, and reached her prime,
In ever-laughing Foote’s fantastic time:
Mad wag! who pardoned none, nor spared the best,
And turned some very serious things to jest.
Nor Church nor State escaped his public sneers,
Arms nor the Gown—Priests—Lawyers—Volunteers:
“Alas, poor Yorick!” now for ever mute!
Whoever loves a laugh must sigh for Foote.
We smile, perforce, when histrionic scenes
Ape the swoln dialogue of Kings and Queens,
When “Crononhotonthologos must die,”
And Arthur struts in mimic majesty.
Moschus! with whom once more I hope to sit,
And smile at folly, if we can’t at wit;
Yes, Friend! for thee I’ll quit my cynic cell,
And bear Swift’s motto, “Vive la bagatelle!”
Which charmed our days in each ægean clime,
As oft at home, with revelry and rhyme.
Then may Euphrosyne, who sped the past,
Soothe thy Life’s scenes, nor leave thee in the last;
But find in thine—like pagan Plato’s bed,
Some merry Manuscript of Mimes, when dead.
Now to the Drama let us bend our eyes,
Where fettered by whig Walpole low she lies;
Corruption foiled her, for she feared her glance;
Decorum left her for an Opera dance!
Yet Chesterfield, whose polished pen inveighs
‘Gainst laughter, fought for freedom to our Plays;
Unchecked by Megrims of patrician brains,
And damning Dulness of Lord Chamberlains.
Repeal that act! again let Humour roam
Wild o’er the stage—we’ve time for tears at home;
Let Archer plant the horns on Sullen’s brows,
And Estifania gull her “Copper” spouse;
The moral’s scant—but that may be excused,
Men go not to be lectured, but amused.
He whom our plays dispose to Good or Ill
Must wear a head in want of Willis’ skill;
Aye, but Macheath’s examp