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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
Th' abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
The muse instructed a well nurtur'd train
Of abler votaries, to cleanse the strain,
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 defil'd the scene.
In front of these came Addison. In him
Humour in holiday and sightly trim,
Sublimity and attic 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
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 rais'd a smile
At folly's cost, 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 Aings himself abroad.
Contemporaries all surpass’d, see one ;
Short his career, indeed, but ably run ;
Churchill, himself unconscious of his powers,
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.
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 muses' 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, dipp'd 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 cast,
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 grac’d, the man asserts a poet's name,
And the world cheerfully admits the claim.
Pity religion has so seldom found A skillul guide into poetic ground ! The flowers would spring where'er she deign'd to stras, And every muse attend her in her way. Virtue, indeed, meets many a rhyming friend, And many a compliment politely penn'd; But, upattir'd in that becoming vest Religion weaves for her, and half undress'd, Stands in the desert, shivering and forlorn, A wintry figure, like a wither'd thorn. The shelves are full, all other themes are sped ; Hackney'd and worn to the last slimsy 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 'tis the sad complaint, and almost true, Whate’er we write, we bring forth nothing new, 'Twere 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 idle self Stamp'd on the well-bound quarto, grace the shelf,
To float a bubble on the breath of fame,
Prompt his endeavour, ard engage his aim,
Debas'd 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 trilling and a worthless mind.
A. Hail, Sternhold, then ; and Hopkins, hail !
If Aattery, 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. 'Twould 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 not ; And should, no doubt, if they were all forgot,