ON POETRY. A RHAPSODY.
Here follows one of the best versified poems in our language, and the most masterly produc|tion of its author. The severity with which Walpole is here treated, was in consequence of that minister's having refused to provide for Swift in England, when applied to for that purpose in the year 1725 (if I remember right). The se|verity of a poet, however, gave Walpole very little uneasiness. A man whose schemes, like this minister's, seldom extended beyond the exi|gency of the year, but little regarded the con|tempt of posterity.
ALL human race would fain be wits,
And millions miss for one that hits.
Young's universal passion, pride,
Was never known to spread so wide.
Say, Britain, could you ever boast
Three poets in an age, at most?
Our chilling climate hardly bears
A sprig of bays in fifty years:
While ev'ry fool his claim alledges,
As if it grew in common hedges.
What reason can there be assign'd
For this perverseness in the mind?
Brutes find out where their talents lie:
A bear will not attempt to fly;
A founder'd horse will oft debate
Before he tries a five-barr'd gate:
A dog, by instinct, turns aside,
Who sees the ditch too deep and wide.
But man we find the only creature,
Who, led by folly, combats nature;
Who, when she loudly cries forbear,
With obstinacy fixes there;
And, where his genius least inclines,
Absurdly bends his whole designs.
Not empire to the rising sun,
By valour, conduct, fortune won;
Not highest wisdom in debates
For framing laws to govern states;
Not skill in sciences profound,
So large, to grasp the circle round;
Such heav'nly influence require,
As how to strike the Muse's lyre.
Not beggar's brat, on bulk begot;
Not bastard of a pedlar Scot;
Not boy brought up to cleaning shoes,
The spawn of Bridewell, or the stews;
Not infants dropt, the spurious pledges
Of gipsies litt'ring under hedges,
To rise in church, or law, or state,
As he whom Phoebus, in his ire,
Hath blasted with poetic fire.
What hope of custom in the fair,
While not a soul demands your ware?
Where you have nothing to produce
For private life, or public use?
Court, city, country, want you not;
You cannot bribe, betray, or plot.
For poets law makes no provision;
The wealthy have you in derision;
Of state affairs you cannot smatter;
Are aukward, when you try to flatter;
Your portion, taking Britain round,
Was just one annual hundred pound;
Now not so much as in remainder,
Since Cibber brought in an attainder;
For ever fix'd by right divine
(A monarch's right) on Grub-street line.
Poor starvling bard, how small thy gains!
How unproportion'd to thy pains!
And here a simile comes pat in:
Though chickens take a month to fatten,
The guests, in less than half an hour,
Will more than half a score devour:
So, after toiling twenty days
To earn a stock of pence and praise,
Thy labours, grown the critic's prey,
Are swallow'd o'er a dish of tea:
Gone, to be never heard of more;
Gone, where the chickens went before.
How shall a new attempter learn
Of diff'rent spirits to discern,
And how distinguish which is which,
The poet's vein, or scribbling itch?
Then hear an old experienc'd sinner,
Instructing thus a young beginner.
Consult yourself, and, if you find
A powerful impulse, urge your mind;
Impartial judge within your breast
What subject you can manage best;
Whether your genius most inclines
To satyre, praise, or hum'rous lines;
To elegies in mournful tone,
Or prologue, sent from hand unknown.
Then, rising with Aurora's light,
The muse invok'd, sit down to write;
Blot out, correct, insert, refine,
Enlarge, diminish, interline;
Be mindful, when invention fails,
To scratch your head, and bite your nails.
Your poem finish'd, next, your care
Is needful to transcribe it fair.
In modern wit all printed trash is
Set off with num'rous breaks—and dashes—
To statesmen would you give a wipe,
You print it in Italic type.
When letters are in vulgar shapes,
'Tis ten to one the wit escapes;
The dullest reader smokes the jest;
Or else, perhaps, he may invent
A better than the poet meant;
As learned commentators view
In Homer more than Homer knew.
Your poem in its modish dress,
Correctly fitted for the press,
Convey by penny-post to Lintot,
But let no friend alive look into't.
If Lintot thinks 'twill quit the cost,
You need not fear your labour lost:
And how agreeably surpriz'd
Are you to see it advertiz'd!
The hawker shews you one in print,
As fresh as farthings from the mint:
The product of your toil and sweating;
A bastard of your own begetting.
Be sure at Wills, the following day,
Lie snug, and hear what critics say.
And, if you find the gen'ral vogue
Pronounces you a stupid rogue,
Damns all your thoughts as low and little,
Sit still, and swallow down your spittle
Be silent as a politician,
For talking may beget suspicion:
Or praise the judgement of the town,
And help, yourself, to run it down.
Give up your fond, paternal pride,
Nor argue on the weaker side
We justly praise, or justly blame;
And critics have no partial views,
Except they know whom they abuse:
And, since you ne'er provok'd their spight,
Depend upon't their judgement's right.
But if you blab, you are undone:
Consider what a risk you run:
You lose your credit all at once;
The town will mark you for a dunce;
The vilest doggrel Grub-street sends
Will pass for your's with foes and friends;
And you must bear the whole disgrace,
Till some fresh blockhead takes your place.
Your secret kept, your poem sunk,
And sent in quires to line a trunk,
If, still, you be dispos'd to rhime,
Go, try your hand a second time.
Again you fail; yet safe's the word;
Take courage, and attempt a third.
But, first, with care employ your thoughts,
Where critics mark'd your former faults:
The trivial turns, the borrow'd wit,
The similies, that nothing fit;
The cant which ev'ry fool repeats,
Town jests, and coffee-house conceits;
Descriptions tedious, flat, and dry,
And introduc'd the lord knows why:
Or, where we find your fury set
Against the harmless alphabet;
On A's and B's your malice vent,
While readers wonder whom you meant;
A public or a private robber,
A statesman, or a South-sea jobber;
A prelate who no God believes;
A parliament, or den of thieves;
A pick-purse at the bar, or bench;
A duchess, or a suburb wench:
Or oft when epithets you link
In gaping lines to fill a chink;
Like stepping-stones to save a stride
In streets where kennels are too wide;
Or like a heel-piece, to support
A cripple with one foot too short;
Or like a bridge that joins a marish
To moorlands of a diff'rent parish.
So have I seen ill-coupled hounds
Drag diff'rent ways in miry grounds.
So geographers in Afric maps
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er unhabitable downs
Place elephants, for want of towns.
But, though you miss your third essay,
You need not throw your pen away.
Lay now aside all thoughts of fame,
To spring more profitable game.
From party merit seek support;
The vilest verse thrives best at court.
A pamphlet in Sir Bob's defence
Will never fail to bring in pence:
Nor be concern'd about the sale,
He pays his workmen on the nail.
A prince, the moment he is crown'd,
Inherits every virtue round,
As emblems of the sov'reign pow'r,
Like other bawbles in the Tow'r:
Is gen'rous, valiant, just, and wise,
And so continues till he dies:
His humble senate this professes
In all their speeches, votes, addresses:
But once you fix him in a tomb,
His virtues fade, his vices bloom;
And each perfection, wrong imputed,
Is fully at his death confuted.
The loads of poems in his praise
Ascending, make one funeral-blaze:
As soon as you can hear his knell,
This God on earth turns d—l in hell:
And lo! his ministers of state,
Transform'd to imps, his levee wait;
Where, in the scenes of endless woe,
They ply their former arts below;
And, as they sail in Charon's boat,
Contrive to bribe the judge's vote:
To Cerberus they give a fop,
His tripple-barking mouth to stop;
Or, in the iv'ry gate of dreams,
Project Excise and South-sea schemes;
Or hire their party-pamphleteers
To set Elysium by the ears.
Then, poet, if you mean to thrive,
Employ your muse on kings alive;
With prudence gathering up a cluster
Of all the virtues you can muster;
Which, form'd into a garland sweet,
Lay, humbly, at your monarch's feet;
Who, as the odours reach his throne,
Will smile, and think 'em all his own;
For law and gospel both determine
All virtues lodge in royal ermine.
(I mean the oracles of both,
Who shall depose it upon oath.)
Your garland, in the following reign,
Change but the names, will do again.
But, if you think this trade too base,
(Which seldom is the dunce's case)
Put on the critic's brow, and sit
At Will's the puny judge of wit.
A nod, a shrug, a scornful smile,
With caution us'd, may serve awhile.
Proceed no further in your part,
Before you learn the terms of art;
For you can ne'er be too far gone
In all our modern critics jargon:
Then talk, with more authentic face,
Of unities, in time and place;
Get scraps of Horace from your friends,
And have them at your fingers ends;
Learn Aristotle's rules by rote,
And, at all hazards, boldly quote;
Wise Dennis, and profound Bossu.
Read all the prefaces of Dryden,
For these our critics much confide in,
(Though merely writ, at first, for filling,
To raise the volume's price a shilling).
A forward critic often dupes us
With sham quotations, peri hupsous:
And, if we have not read Longinus,
Will magisterially out-shine us.
Then, lest with Greek he over-run ye,
Procure the book for love or money,
Translated from Boileau's translation,
And quote quotation on quotation.
At Will's you hear a poem read,
Where Battus, from the table-head,
Reclining on his elbow-chair,
Gives judgement with decisive air;
To whom the tribe of circling wits,
As to an oracle, submits.
He gives directions to the town
To cry it up, or run it down;
Like courtiers, when they send a note,
Instructing members how to vote.
He sets the stamp of bad and good,
Though not a word be understood.
Your lesson learnt, you'll be secure
To get the name of connoisseur:
And, when your merits once are known,
Procure disciples of your own.
For poets (you can never want 'em)
Spread through *
Computing by their pecks of coals,
Amount to just nine thousand souls:
These o'er their proper districts govern,
Of wit and humour judges sov'reign.
In ev'ry street a city-bard
Rules, like an alderman, his ward;
His indisputed rights extend
Through all the lane, from end to end;
The neighbours round admire his shrewdness
For songs of loyalty and lewdness;
Out-done by none in rhiming well,
Although he never learnt to spell.
Two bordering wits contend for glory,
And one is Whig, and one is Tory:
And this for epics claims the bays,
And that for elegiac lays:
Some fam'd for numbers soft and smooth,
By lovers spoke in Punch's booth:
And some as justly fame extols
For lofty lines in Smithfield drolls.
Bavius in Wapping gains renown,
And Maevius reigns o'er Kentish-town:
Tigellius, plac'd in Phoebus' car,
From Ludgate shines to Temple-bar:
Harmonious Cibber entertains
The court, with annual birth-day strains;
Whence Gay was banish'd in disgrace,
Where Pope will never show his face;
Where Y—g must torture his invention
To flatter knaves, or lose his pension.
But these are not a thousandth part
Of jobbers in the poet's art,
Attending each his proper station,
And all in due subordination,
Through ev'ry alley to be found,
In garrets high, or under ground;
And when they join their pericranies,
Out skips a book of miscellanies.
Hobbes clearly proves, that ev'ry creature
Lives in a state of war, by nature.
The greater for the smallest watch,
But meddle seldom with their match.
A whale, of mod'rate size, will draw
A shoal of herrings down his maw.
A fox with geese his belly crams,
A wolf destroys a thousand lambs.
But, search among the rhiming race,
The brave are worried by the base.
If on Parnassus' top you sit,
You rarely bite, are always bit.
Each poet of inferior size
On you shall rail and criticise;
And strive to tear you limb from limb,
While others do as much for him.
The vermin only teaze and pinch
Their foes superior by an inch.
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus ev'ry poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him that comes behind;
Who, though too little to be seen,
Can tease, and gall, and give the spleen;
Call dunces fools, and sons of whores,
Lay Grub-street at each other's doors;
Extol the Greek and Roman masters,
And curse our modern poetasters.
Complain, as many an ancient bard did,
How genius is no more rewarded;
How wrong a taste prevails among us;
How much our ancestors out-sung us;
Can personate an aukward scorn
For those who are not poets born;
And all their brother dunces lash,
Who croud the press with hourly trash.
Oh Grub-street! how do I bemoan thee,
Whose graceless children scorn to own thee!
Their filial piety forgot,
Deny their country, like a Scot;
Though, by their idiom and grimace,
They soon betray their native place:
Yet thou hast greater cause to be
Asham'd of them, than they of thee,
Degenerate from their ancient brood,
Since first the court allow'd them food.
To purchase fame by writing ill?
From Flecknoe down to Howard's time,
How few have reach'd the low sublime?
For, when our high-born Howard died,
Blackmore, alone, his place supplied:
And lest a chasm should intervene,
When death had finish'd Blackmore's reign,
The leaden crown devolv'd to thee,
poet of the Hollow-tree.
But ah! how unsecure thy throne!
A thousand bards thy right disown:
They plot to turn, in factious zeal,
Duncinea to a common-weal;
And, with rebellious arms, pretend,
An equal priv'lege to descend.
In bulk there are not more degrees,
From elephants to mites in cheese,
Than what a curious eye may trace,
In creatures of the rhiming race.
From bad to worse, and worse they fall;
But who can reach the worst of all?
For though, in nature, depth and height
Are equally held infinite,
In poetry the height we know;
'Tis only infinite below.
For instance: when you rashly think,
No rhimer can like Welsted sink,
His merits ballanc'd, you shall find,
The laureate leaves him far behind.
Concannen, more aspiring bard,
Soars downwards deeper by a yard.
Smart Jemmy Moor with vigour drops,
The rest pursue as thick as hops.
With heads to points the gulph they enter,
Link'd perpendicular to the center;
And, as their heels elated rise,
Their heads attempt the nether skies.
O, what indignity and shame,
To prostitute the Muse's name!
By flatt'ring —, whom Heav'n design'd
The plagues and scourges of mankind;
Bred up in ignorance and sloth,
And ev'ry vice that nurses both.
Fair Britain, in thy monarch blest,
Whose virtues bear the strictest test;
Whom never faction could bespatter,
Nor minister nor poet flatter.
What justice in rewarding merit!
What magnanimity of spirit!
What lineaments divine we trace
Through all his figure, mien, and face!
Though peace with olive bind his hands,
Confest the conq'ring hero stands.
Hydaspes, Indus, and the Ganges,
Dread from his hand impending changes.
From him the Tartar, and Chinese,
Short by the knees, intreat for peace.
The consort of his throne and bed
A perfect goddess born and bred,
Appointed sov'reign judge to sit
On learning, eloquence, and wit.
Our eldest hope, divine Iülus,
(Late, very late, O, may he rule us!)
What early manhood has he shown,
Before his downy beard was grown!
Then think what wonders will be done
By going on as he begun,
An heir for Britain to secure
As long as sun and moon endure.
The remnant of the royal blood
Comes pouring on me like a flood.
Bright goddesses, in number five;
Duke William, sweetest prince alive.
Now sing the Minister of state,
Who shines alone without a mate.
Observe with what majestic port
This atlas stands, to prop the court:
Intent the public debts to pay
Like prudent Fabius, by delay.
Thou great vicegerent of the king,
Thy praises ev'ry muse shall sing!
In all affairs thou sole director,
Of wit and learning chief protector;
Though small the time thou hast to spare,
The church is thy peculiar care.
Of pious prelates what a stock
You chuse to rule the sable flock?
You raise the honour of the peerage,
Proud to attend you at the steerage.
You dignify the noble race,
Content yourself with humbler place.
Now learning, valour, virtue, sense,
To titles give the sole pretence.
St. George beheld thee, with delight,
Vouchsafe to be an azure knight,
When on thy breast and sides herculean
He fixt the star and string cerulean.
Say, poet, in what other nation
Shone ever such a constellation!
Attend, ye Popes, and Youngs, and Gays,
And tune your harps, and strow your bays:
Your panegyrics here provide:
You cannot err on Flattery's side.
Above the stars exalt your style,
You still are low ten thousand mile.
On Lewis all his bards bestow'd,
Of incense, many a thousand load;
But Europe mortify'd his pride,
And swore the fawning rascals ly'd.
Yet what the world refus'd to Lewis,
Applied to George, exactly true is.
Exactly true! invidious poet!
'Tis fifty thousand times below it.
Translate me now some lines, if you can,
From Virgil, Martial, Ovid, Lucan.
They could all pow'r in Heav'n divide,
And do no wrong to either side:
They teach you how to split a hair,
Give — and Jove an equal share.
Yet, why should we be lac'd so strait?
I'll give my — butter-weight.
And reason good; for many a year
Jove never intermeddled here:
Nor, though his priests be duly paid,
Did ever we desire his aid:
We now can better do without him,
Since Woolston gave us arms to rout him.
* * * * * Caetera desiderantur. * * * * *