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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.
When Labour and when Dullness, club in hand,
Like the two figures at St. Dunstan's, stand,
Beating alternately, in measur'd time,
The clock-work tintinnabulum of rhyme,
Exact and regular the sounds will
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;
Or, having whelp'd a prologue with great pains,
Feels himself spent, and fumbles for his brains;
A prologue interdash'd with many a stroke.com
An art contriv'd to advertise a joke,
So that the jest is clearly to be seen,
Not in the words—but in the gap between :
Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ,
The substitute for genius, sense, and wit.
To dally much with subjects mean and low Proves that the mind is weak, or makes it so. Neglected talents rust into decay, And ev'ry effort ends in push-pin 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, The fruit of all her labour is whipp'd cream. As if an eagle flew aloft, and then Stoop'd from its highest pitch to pounce a wren.
As if the poet, purposing to wed,
Should carve himself a wife in gingerbread.
Ages elaps'd ere Homer's lamp appear'd,
And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard.
To carry nature lengths unknown before,
To give a Milton birth, ask'd ages more.
Thus Genius rose and set at order'd times,
And shot a dayspring into distant climes,
Ennobling ev'ry region that he chose ;
He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose :
And, tedious years of Gothick darkness past,
Emerg'd, all splendour, in our isle at last.
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,
Or candidly confess yourself a dunce.
B. These were the chief: each interval of night Was grac'd with many an undulating light. In less illustrious bards his beauty shone A meteor, or a star; in these the sun.
The nightingale may claim the topmost bough, While the poor grasshopper must chirp below. Like him unnotic'd, I, and such as I, Spread little wings, and rather skip than fly; Perch'd on the meagre produce of the land, An ell or two of prospect we command; But never peep beyond the thorny bound, Or oaken fence, that hems the paddock round.
In Eden, ere yet innocence of heart Had faded, poetry was not an art :
Language, above all teaching, or, if taught,
Only by gratitude and glowing thought,
Elegant as simplicity, and warm
As ecstacy, unmanacled by form;
Not prompted, as in our degen’rate days,
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,
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.
'Twas thus, till Luxury seduc'd the mind
To joys less innocent, as less refin'd;
Then Genius danc'd a bacchanal; he crown'd
The brimming goblet, seiz'd the thyrsus, bound
His brows with ivy, rush'd into the field
Of wild imagination, and there reeld,
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'r, and while he
The proud protector of the pow'r 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
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,
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.
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 ;
Nor ceas'd, till, ever anxious to redress
T'h' abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
The muse instructed a well-nurtur'd train
Of abler 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 defild the scene.
In front of these came Addison. In him
Humour in holiday and sightly trim,
Sublimity and Attick taste, combin'd,
To polish, furnish, and delight the mind.
Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
In verse well disciplin'd, complete, compact,
Gave virtue and morality a grace,
That, quite eclipsing Pleasure's painted face,
Levied a tax of wonder and applause,
F'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.
Nature imparting her satirick gift,
Her serious mirth, to Arbuthnot and Swift,
With droll sobriety they rais'd a smile
At Folly's cast, themselves unmov'd 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 pow'rs,
In penury consum'd his idle hours;
And, like a scatter'd 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.