Alexander Pope (1688—1744)
Pope was the greatest English poet for a third of the eighteenth century, from about 1711, when he wrote his “Essay on Criticism,” until his death thirty-three years later. He was most successful as a translator of Homer, but his reputation rests largely on his genius as a satirist, especially in the mock-epic mode displayed in “The Rape of the Lock” and The Dunciad. As the “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” demonstrates, Pope was among the finest epistolary poets in English. Dr. John Arbuthnot (1667—1735) was the physician to Queen Anne. A friend of Swift and Pope, Arbuthnot was a gifted satirist; the figure of “John Bull” as the typical Englishman is Arbuthnot’s invention. In the final months of his life, he cautioned Pope about making enemies through satire; this epistle is part of Pope’s response.
Pope produced his effervescent “Essay on Criticism” at about age twenty. The period around 1710 was probably the last time anybody writing literary criticism in Europe could in effect limit his inquiry to poetry. Until the eighteenth century, serious creative literature was almost exclusively poetry. For some centuries, prose in drama was correlated with comedy, while poetry was associated with tragedy and other elevated forms. There were no important prose tragedies in English drama until 1731, when George Lillo’s domestic tragedy The London Merchant was published. By this time, the novel was becoming established as a much more serious and substantial form than it had been earlier, and the scope of criticism was enlarging to match what writers were doing. But it would be a long time before any serious critics addressed themselves to writing in prose; novels, for the most part, were considered a form of light entertainment. Pope’s main exemplars are Horace and Boileau, to whom he graciously acknowledges his debt. The poem is a verse essay on verse labors, which bears the double burden of needing to succeed as precept and example, but Pope manages it brilliantly.
AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM (1711)
’Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill
Appear in Writing or in Judging ill,
But, of the two, less dang’rous is th’ Offence,
To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense:
Some few in that, but Numbers err in this,
Ten Censure wrong for one who Writes amiss;
A Fool might once himself alone expose,
Now One in Verse makes many more in Prose.
’Tis with our Judgments as our Watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
In Poets as true Genius is but rare,
True Taste as seldom is the Critick’s Share;
Both must alike from Heav’n derive their Light,
These born to Judge, as well as those to Write.
Let such teach others who themselves excell,
And censure freely who have written well.
Authors are partial to their Wit, ’tis true,
But are not Criticks to their Judgment too?
Yet if we look more closely, we shall find
Most have the Seeds of Judgment in their Mind;
Nature affords at least a glimm’ring Light;
The Lines, tho’ touch’d but faintly, are drawn right.
But as the slightest Sketch, if justly trac’d,
Is by ill Colouring but the more disgrac’d,
So by false Learning is good Sense defac’d.
Some are bewilder’d in the Maze of Schools,
And some made Coxcombs Nature meant but Fools.
In search of Wit these lose their common Sense,
And then turn Criticks in their own Defence.
Each burns alike, who can, or cannot write,
Or with a Rival’s or an Eunuch’s spite.
All Fools have still an Itching to deride,
And fain wou’d be upon the Laughing Side;
If Maevius Scribble in Apollo’s spight,1
There are, who judge still worse than he can write
Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past,
Turn’d Criticks next, and prov’d plain Fools at last;
Some neither can for Wits nor Criticks pass,
As heavy Mules are neither Horse or Ass.
Those half-learn’d Witlings, num’rous in our Isle,
As half-form’d Insects on the Banks of Nile:
Unfinish’d Things, one knows now what to call,
Their Generation’s so equivocal:2
To tell ’em, wou’d a hundred Tongues require,
Or one vain Wit’s, that might a hundred tire.
But you who seek to give and merit Fame,
And justly bear a Critick’s noble Name,
Be sure your self and your own Reach to know.
How far your Genius, Taste, and Learning go;
Launch not beyond your Depth, but be discreet,
And mark that Point where Sense and Dulness meet.
Nature to all things fix’d the Limits fit,
And wisely curb’d proud Man’s pretending Wit:
As on the Land while here the Ocean gains,
In other Parts it leaves wide sandy Plains;
Thus in the Soul while Memory prevails,
The solid Pow’r of Understanding fails;
Where Beams of warm Imagination play,
The Memory’s soft Figures melt away.
One Science only will one Genius fit;
So vast is Art, so narrow Human Wit;3
Not only bounded to peculiar Arts,
But oft in those, confin’d to single Parts.
Like Kings we lose the Conquests gain’d before,
By vain Ambition still to make them more:
Each might his sev’ral Province well command,
Wou’d all but stoop to what they understand.
First follow NATURE, and your Judgment frame
By her just Standard, which is still the same:
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright,
One clear, unchang’d and Universal Light,
Life, Force, and Beauty, must to all impart,
At once the Source, and End, and Test of Art
Art from that Fund each just Supply provides,
Works without Show, and without Pomp presides:
In some fair Body thus th’ informing Soul
With Spirits feeds, with Vigour fills the whole,
Each Motion guides, and ev’ry Nerve sustains;
It self unseen, but in th’ Effects, remains.
Some, to whom Heav’n in Wit has been profuse.
Want as much more, to turn it to its use,
For Wit and Judgment often are at strife,
Tho’ meant each other’s Aid, like Man and Wife.
’Tis more to guide than spur the Muse’s Steed;
Restrain his Fury, than provoke his Speed;
The winged Courser, like a gen’rous Horse,
Shows most true Mettle when you check his Course.
Those RULES of old discover’d, not devis’d,
Are Nature still, but Nature Methodiz’d;
Nature, like Liberty, is but restrain’d
By the same Laws which first herself ordain’d.
Hear how learn’d Greece her useful Rules indites,
When to repress, and when indulge our Flights:
High on Parnassus’ Top her Sons she show’d,
And pointed out those arduous Paths they trod,
Held from afar, aloft, th’ Immortal Prize,
And urg’d the rest by equal Steps to rise;
Just Precepts thus from great Examples giv’n,
She drew from them what they deriv’d from Heav’n
The gen’rous Critick fann’d the Poet’s Fire,
And taught the World, with Reason to Admire.
Then Criticism the Muse’s Handmaid prov’d,
To dress her Charms, and make her more belov’d;
But following Wits from that Intention stray’d;
Who cou’d not win the Mistress, woo’d the Maid;
Against the Poets their own Arms they turn’d,
Sure to hate most the Men from whom they learn’d
So modern Pothecaries, taught the Art
By Doctor’s Bills to play the Doctor’s Part,
Bold in the Practice of mistaken Rules,
Prescribe, apply, and call their Masters Fools.
Some on the Leaves of ancient Authors prey,
Nor Time nor Moths e’er spoil’d so much as they:
Some dryly plain, without Invention’s Aid,
Write dull Receits how Poems may be made:
These leave the Sense, their Learning to display,
And those explain the Meaning quite away
You then whose Judgment the right Course wou’d steer,
Know well each ANCIENT’s proper Character,
His Fable, Subject, Scope in ev’ry Page,
Religion, Country, Genius of his Age:
Without all these at once before your Eyes,
Cavil you may, but never Criticize.
Be Homer’s Works your Study, and Delight,
Read them by Day, and meditate by Night,
Thence form your Judgment, thence your Maxims bring,
And trace the Muses upward to their Spring;
Still with It self compar’d, his Text peruse;
And let your Comment be the Mantuan Muse.4
When first young Maro in his boundless Mind
A Work t’ outlast Immortal Rome design’d,
Perhaps he seem’d above the Critick’s Law,
And but from Nature’s Fountains scorn’d to draw:
But when t’examine ev’ry Part he came,
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same:
Convinc’d, amaz’d, he checks the bold Design,
And Rules as strict his labour’d Work confine,
As if the Stagyrite o’er looked each Line.5
Learn hence for Ancient Rules a just Esteem;
To copy Nature is to copy Them.
Some Beauties yet, no Precepts can declare,
For there’s a Happiness as well as Care.
Musick resembles Poetry, in each
Are nameless Graces which no Methods teach,
And which a Master-Hand alone can reach.
If, where the Rules not far enough extend,
(Since Rules were made but to promote their End)
Some Lucky LICENCE answers to the full
Th’ Intent propos’d, that Licence is a Rule.
Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
May boldly deviate from the common Track.
Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to Faults true Criticks dare not mend;
From vulgar Bounds with brave Disorder part,
And snatch a Grace beyond the Reach of Art,
Which, without passing thro’ the Judgment, gains
The Heart, and all its End at once attains.
In Prospects, thus, some Objects please our Eyes,
Which out of Nature’s common Order rise,
The shapeless Rock, or hanging Precipice.
But tho’ the Ancients thus their Rules invade,
(As Kings dispense with Laws Themselves have made)
Moderns, beware! Or if you must offend
Against the Precept, ne’er transgress its End,
Let it be seldom, and compell’d by Need,
And have, at least, Their Precedent to plead.
The Critick else proceeds without Remorse,
Seizes your Fame, and puts his Laws in force.
I know there are, to whose presumptuous Thoughts
Those Freer Beauties, ev’n in Them, seem Faults:
Some Figures monstrous and mis-shap’d appear,
Consider’d singly, or beheld too near,
Which, but proportion’d to their Light, or Place,
Due Distance reconciles to Form and Grace.
A prudent Chief not always must display
His Pow’rs in equal Ranks, and fair Array,
But with th’ Occasion and the Place comply,
Conceal his Force, nay seem sometimes to Fly.
Those oft are Stratagems which Errors seem,
Nor is it Homer Nods, but We that Dream.
Still green with Bays each ancient Altar stands,
Above the reach of Sacrilegious Hands,
Secure from Flames, from Envy’s fiercer Rage,
Destructive War, and all-involving Age.
See, from each Clime the Learn’d their Incense bring;
Hear, in all Tongues consenting Paeans ring!
In Praise so just, let ev’ry Voice be join’d,
And fill the Gen’ral Chorus of Mankind!
Hail Bards Triumphant! born in happier Days;
Immortal Heirs of Universal Praise!
Whose Honours with Increase of Ages grow,
As streams roll down, enlarging as they flow!
Nations unborn your mighty Names shall sound,
And Worlds applaud that must not yet be found!
Oh may some Spark of your Coelestial Fire
The last, the meanest of your Sons inspire,
(That on weak Wings, from far, pursues your Flights;
Glows while he reads, but trembles as he writes)
To teach vain Wits a Science little known,
T’ admire Superior Sense, and doubt their own!
Of all the Causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring Judgment, and misguide the Mind,
What the weak Head with strongest Byass rules,
Is Pride, the never-failing Vice of Fools.
Whatever Nature has in Worth deny’d,
She gives in large Recruits of needful Pride;
For as in Bodies, thus in Souls, we find
What wants in Blood and Spirits, swell’d with Wind;
Pride, where Wit fails, steps in to our Defence,
And fills up all the mighty Void of Sense!
If once right Reason drives that Cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless Day;
Trust not your self; but your Defects to know,
Make use of ev’ry Friend—and ev’ry Foe.
A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:6
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fir’d at first Sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless Youth we tempt the Heights of Arts,
While from the bounded Level of our Mind,
Short Views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But more advanc’d, behold with strange Surprize
New, distant Scenes of endless Science rise!
So pleas’d at first, the towring Alps we try,
Mount o’er the Vales, and seem to tread the Sky;
Th’ Eternal Snows appear already past,
And the first Clouds and Mountains seem the last:
But those attain’d, we tremble to survey
The growing Labours of the lengthen’d Way,
Th’ increasing Prospect tires our wandering Eyes,
Hills peep o’er Hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
A perfect Judge will read each Work of Wit
With the same Spirit that its Author writ,
Survey the Whole, nor seek slight Faults to find,
Where Nature moves, and Rapture warms the Mind;
Nor lose, for that malignant dull Delight,
The gen’rous Pleasure to be charm’d with Wit.
But in such Lays as neither ebb, nor flow,
Correctly cold, and regularly low,
That shunning Faults, one quiet Tenour keep;
We cannot blame indeed—but we may sleep.
In Wit, as Nature, what affects our Hearts
Is nor th’ Exactness of peculiar Parts;
’Tis not a Lip, or Eye, we Beauty call,
But the joint Force and full Result of all.
Thus when we view some well-proportion’d Dome,
The World’s just Wonder, and ev’n thine O Rome!)
No single Parts unequally surprize;
All comes united to th’ admiring Eyes;
No monstrous Height, or Breadth, or Length appear;
The Whole at once is Bold, and Regular.
Whoever thinks a faultless Piece to see,
Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.
In ev’ry Work regard the Writer’s End,
Since none can compass more than they Intend;
And if the Means be just, the Conduct true,
Applause, in spite of trivial Faults, is due.
As Men of Breeding, sometimes Men of Wit,
T’ avoid great Errors, must the less commit,
Neglect the Rules each Verbal Critick lays,
For not to know some Trifles, is a Praise.
Most Criticks, fond of some subservient Art,
Still make the Whole depend upon a Part,
They talk of Principles, but Notions prize,
And All to one lov’d Folly Sacrifice.
Once on a time, La Mancha’s Knight, they say,7
A certain Bard encountring on the Way,
Discours’d in Terms as just, with Looks as Sage,
As e’er cou’d Dennis, of the Grecian Stage;
Concluding all were desp’rate Sots and Fools,
Who durst depart from Aristotle’s Rules.
Our Author, happy in a Judge so nice,
Produc’d his Play, and beg’d the Knight’s Advice,
Made him observe the Subject and the Plot,
The Manners, Passions, Unities, what not?
All which, exact to Rule were brought about,
Were but a Combate in the Lists left out.
What! Leave the Combate out? Exclaims the Knight;
Yes, or we must renounce the Stagyrite.
Not so by Heav’n (he answers in a Rage)
Knights, Squires, and Steeds, must enter on the Stage.
So vast a Throng the Stage can ne’er contain.
Then build a New, or act it in a Plain.
Thus Criticks, of less Judgment than Caprice,
Curious, not Knowing, not exact, but nice,
Form short Ideas; and offend in Arts
(As most in Manners) by a Love to Parts.
Some to Conceit alone their Taste confine,
And glitt’ring Thoughts struck out at ev’ry Line;
Pleas’d with a Work where nothing’s just or fit;
One glaring Chaos and wild Heap of Wit;
Poets like Painters, thus, unskill’d to trace
The naked Nature and the living Grace,
With Gold and Jewels cover ev’ry Part,
And hide with Ornaments their Want of Art.
True Wit is Nature to Advantage drest,
What oft was Thought, but ne’er so well Exprest,
Something, whose Truth convinc’d at Sight we find,
That gives us back the Image of our Mind:
As Shades more sweetly recommend the Light,
So modest Plainness sets off sprightly Wit:
For Works may have more Wit than does ’em good,
As Bodies perish through Excess of Blood.
Others for Language all their Care express,
And value Books, as Women Men, for Dress:
Their Praise is still—The Stile is excellent:
The Sense, they humbly take upon Content.
Words are like Leaves; and where they most abound,
Much Fruit of Sense beneath is rarely found.
False Eloquence, like the Prismatic Glass,
Its gawdy Colours spreads on ev’ry place;
The Face of Nature was no more Survey,
All glares alike, without Distinction gay:
But true Expression, like th’ unchanging Sun,
Clears, and improves whate’er it shines upon,
It gilds all Objects, but it alters none.
Expression is the Dress of Thought, and still
Appears more decent as more suitable;
A vile Conceit in pompous Words exprest,
Is like a Clown in regal Purple drest;
For diff ’rent Styles with diff ’rent Subjects sort,
As several Garbs with Country, Town, and Court.
Some by Old Words to Fame have made Pretence;
Ancients in Phrase, meer Moderns in their Sense!
Such labour’d Nothings, in so strange a Style,
Amaze th’unlearn’d, and make the Learned Smile.
Unlucky, as Fungoso in the Play,8
These Sparks with aukward Vanity display
What the Fine Gentleman wore Yesterday!
And but so mimick ancient Wits at best,
As Apes our Grandsires in their Doublets treat.
In Words, as Fashions, the same Rule will hold;
Alike Fantastick, if too New, or Old;
Be not the first by whom the New are try’d,
Nor yet the last to lay the Old aside.
But most by Numbers judge a Poet’s Song,
And smooth or rough, with them, is right or wrong;
In the bright Muse tho’ thousand Charms conspire,
Her Voice is all these tuneful Fools admire,
Who haunt Parnassus but to please their Ear,
Not mend their Minds; as some to Church repair,
Not for the Doctrine, but the Musick there.
These Equal Syllables alone require,
Tho’ oft the Ear the open Vowels tire,
While Expletives their feeble Aid do join,
And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line,
While they ring round the same unvary’d Chimes,
With sure Returns of still expected Rhymes.
Where-e’er you find the cooling Western Breeze,
In the next Line, it whispers thro’ the Trees;
If Chrystal Streams with pleasing Murmurs creep,
The Reader’s threaten’d (not in vain) with Sleep.
Then, at the last and only Couplet fraught
With some unmeaning Thing they call a Thought,
A needless Alexandrine ends the Song,
That like a wounded Snake, drags its slow length along.
Leave such to tune their own dull Rhimes, and know
What’s roundly smooth, or languishingly slow;
And praise the Easie Vigor of a Line,
Where Denham’s Strength, and Waller’s Sweetness join.
True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance,
’Tis not enough no Harshness gives Offence,
The Sound must seem an Eccho to the Sense.
Soft is the Strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth Stream in smoother Numbers flows;
But when loud Surges lash the sounding Shore,
The hoarse, rough Verse shou’d like the Torrent roar.
When Ajax strives, some Rocks’ vast Weight to throw,
The Line too labours, and the Words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the Plain,
Flies o’er th’unbending Corn, and skims along the Main.
Hear how Timotheus’ vary’d Lays surprize,
And bid Alternate Passions fall and rise!
While, at each Change, the Son of Lybian Jove
Now burns with Glory, and then melts with Love;
Now his fierce Eyes with sparkling Fury glow;
Now Sighs steal out, and Tears begin to flow:
Persians and Greeks like Turns of Nature found,
And the World’s Victor stood subdu’d by Sound!
The Pow’rs of Musick all our Hearts allow;
And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now.
Avoid Extreams; and shun the Fault of such,
Who still are pleas’d too little, or too much.
At ev’ry Trifle scorn to take Offence,
That always shows Great Pride, or Little Sense;
Those Heads as Stomachs are not sure the best
Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest.
Yet let not each gay Turn thy Rapture move,
For Fools Admire, but Men of Sense Approve;
As things seem large which we thro’ Mists descry,
Dulness is ever apt to Magnify.
Some foreign Writers, some our own despise;
The Ancients only, or the Moderns prize:
(Thus Wit, like Faith by each Man is apply’d
To one small Sect, and All are damn’d beside.)
Meanly they seek the Blessing to confine,
And force that Sun but on a Part to Shine;
Which not alone the Southern Wit sublimes,
But ripens Spirits in cold Northern Climes;
Which from the first has shone on Ages past,
Enlights the present, and shall warm the last:
(Tho’ each may feel Increases and Decays,
And see now clearer and now darker Days)
Regard not then if Wit be Old or New,
But blame the False, and value still the True.
Some ne’er advance a Judgment of their own,
But catch the spreading Notion of the Town;
They reason and conclude by Precedent,
And own stale Nonsense which they ne’er invent.
Some judge of Authors’ Names, not Works, and then
Nor praise nor blame the Writings, but the Men.
Of all this Servile Herd the worst is He
That in proud Dulness joins with Quality,
A constant Critick at the Great-man’s Board,
To fetch and carry Nonsense for my Lord.
What woful stuff this Madrigal wou’d be,
To some starv’d Hackny Sonneteer, or me?
But let a Lord once own the happy Lines,
How the Wit brightens! How the Style refines!
Before his sacred Name flies ev’ry Fault,
And each exalted Stanza teems with Thought!
The Vulgar thus through Imitation err;
As oft the Learn’d by being Singular;
So much they scorn the Crowd, that if the Throng
By Chance go right, they purposely go wrong;
So Schismatics the plain Believers quit,
And are but damn’d for having too much Wit.
Some praise at Morning what they blame at Night;
But always think the last Opinion right.
A Muse by these is like a Mistress us’d,
This hour she’s idoliz’d, the next abus’d,
While their weak Heads, like Towns unfortify’d,
’Twixt Sense and Nonsense daily change their Side.
Ask them the Cause; They’re wiser still, they say;
And still to Morrow’s wiser than to Day.
We think our Fathers Fools, so wise we grow;
Our wiser Sons, no doubt, will think us so.
Once School-Divines this zealous Isle o’erspread;
Who knew most Sentences was deepest read;
Faith, Gospel, All, seem’d made to be disputed,
And none had Sense enough to be Confuted.
Scotists and Thomists, now, in Peace remain,
Amidst their kindred Cobwebs in Duck-Lane.
If Faith it self has diff ’rent Dresses worn,
What wonder Modes in Wit shou’d take their Turn?
Oft, leaving what is Natural and fit,
The current Folly proves the ready Wit,
And Authors think their Reputation safe,
Which lives as long as Fools are pleas’d to Laugh.
Some valuing those of their own, Side or Mind,
Still make themselves the measure of Mankind;
Fondly we think we honour Merit then,
When we but praise Our selves in Other Men.
Parties in Wit attend on those of State,
And publick Faction doubles private Hate.
Pride, Malice, Folly, against Dryden rose,
In various Shapes of Parsons, Criticks, Beaus;
But Sense surviv’d, when merry Jests were past;
For rising Merit will buoy up at last.
Might he return, and bless once more our Eyes,
New Blackmores and new Milbourns must arise;
Nay shou’d great Homer lift his awful Head,
Zoilus again would start up from the Dead.9
Envy will Merit as its Shade pursue,
But like a Shadow, proves the Substance true;
For envy’d Wit, like Sol Eclips’d, makes known
Th’ opposing Body’s Grossness, not its own.
When first that Sun too powerful Beams displays,
It draws up Vapours which obscure its Rays;
But ev’n those Clouds at last adorn its Way,
Reflect new Glories, and augment the Day.
Be thou the first true Merit to befriend;
His Praise is lost, who stays till All commend;
Short is the Date, alas, of Modern Rhymes;
And ’tis but just to let ’em live betimes.
No longer now that Golden Age appears,
When Patriarch-Wits surviv’d thousand Years;
Now Length of Fame (our second Life) is lost,
And bare Threescore is all ev’n That can boast:
Our Sons their Fathers’ failing language see,
And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be.
So when the faithful Pencil has design’d
Some bright Idea of the Master’s Mind,
Where a new World leaps out at his command,
And ready Nature waits upon his Hand;
When the ripe Colours soften and unite,
And sweetly melt into just Shade and Light,
When mellowing Years their full Perfection give,
And each Bold Figure just begins to Live;
The treach’rous Colours the fair Art betray,
And all the bright Creation fades away!
Unhappy Wit, like most mistaken Things,
Attones not for that Envy which it brings.
In Youth alone its empty Praise we boast,
But soon the Short-liv’d Vanity is lost!
Like some fair Flow’r the early Spring supplies,
That gaily Blooms, but ev’n in blooming Dies.
What is this Wit which must our Cares employ?
The Owner’s Wife, that other Men enjoy,
Then most our Trouble still when most admir’d,
And still the more we give, the more requir’d;
Whose Fame with Pains we guard, but lose with Ease,
Sure some to vex, but never all to please;
’Tis what the Vicious fear, the Virtuous shun;
By Fools ’tis hated, and by Knaves undone!
If Wit so much from Ign’rance undergo,
Ah let not Learning too commence its Foe!
Of old, those met Rewards who cou’d excel,
And such were Prais’d who but endeavour’d well:
Tho’ Triumphs were to Gen’rals only due,
Crowns were reserv’d to grace the Soldiers too.
Now, they who reached Parnassus’ lofty Crown,
Employ their Pains to spurn some others down;
And while Self-Love each jealous Writer rules,
Contending Wits becomes the Sport of Fools:
But still the Worst with most Regret commend,
For each Ill Author is as bad a Friend.
To what base Ends, and by what abject Ways,
Are Mortals urg’d thro’ Sacred Lust of praise!
Ah ne’er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,
Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!
Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.
But if in Noble Minds some Dregs remain,
Not yet purg’d off, of Spleen and sow’r Disdain,
Discharge that Rage on more Provoking Crimes,
Nor fear a Dearth in these Flagitious Times.
No Pardon vile Obscenity should find,
Tho’ Wit and Art conspire to move your Mind;
But Dulness with Obscenity must prove
As Shameful sure as Importance in Love.
In the fat Age of Pleasure, Wealth, and Ease,
Sprung the rank Weed, and thriv’d with large Increase;
When Love was all an easie Monarch’s Care;10
Seldom at Council, never in a War:
Jilts rul’d the State, and Statesmen Farces writ;
Nay Wits had Pensions, and young Lords had Wit:
The Fair sate panting at a Courtier’s Play,
And not a Mask went un-improv’d away:
The modest Fan was liked up no more,
And Virgins smil’d at what they blush’d before—
The following Licence of a Foreign Reign
Did all the Dregs of bold Socinus drain;11
Then Unbelieving Priests reform’d the Nation,
And taught more Pleasant Methods of Salvation;
Where Heav’ns Free Subjects might their Rights dispute,
Lest God himself shou’d seem too Absolute.
Pulpits their Sacred Satire learn’d to spare,
And Vice admir’d to find a Flatt’rer there!
Encourag’d thus, Witt’s Titans brav’d the Skies,
And the Press groan’d with Licenc’d Blasphemies—
These Monsters, Criticks! with your Darts engage,
Here point your Thunder, and exhaust your Rage!
Yet shun their Fault, who, Scandalously nice,
Will needs mistake an Author into Vice;
All seems Infected that th’ Infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the Jaundic’d Eye.
LEARN then what MORALS Criticks ought to show,
For ’tis but half a Judge’s Task, to Know.
’Tis not enough, Taste, Judgment, Learning, join;
In all you speak, let Truth and Candor shine:
That not alone what to your Sense is due,
All may allow; but seek your Friendship too.
Be silent always when you doubt your Sense;
And speak, tho’ sure, with seeming Diffidence:
Some positive persisting Fops we know,
Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so;
But you, with Pleasure own your Errors past,
An make each Day a Critick on the last.
’Tis not enough your Counsel still be true,
Blunt Truths more Mischief than nice Falsehood do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
And Things unknown propos’d as Things forgot:
Without Good Breeding, Truth is disapprov’d;
That only makes Superior Sense belov’d.
Be Niggards of Advice on no Pretence;
For the worst Avarice is that of Sense:
With mean Complacence ne’er betray your Trust,
Nor be so Civil as to prove Unjust;
Fear not the Anger of the Wise to raise;
Those best can bear Reproof, who merit Praise.
’Twere well, might Criticks still this Freedom take;
But Appius reddens at each Word you speak,
And stares, Tremendous! with a threatning Eye
Like some fierce Tyrant in Old Tapestry!
Fear most to tax an Honourable Fool,
Whose Right it is, uncensur’d to be dull;
Such without Wit are Poets when they please.
As without Learning they can take Degrees.
Leave dang’rous Truths to unsuccessful Satyrs,
And Flattery to fulsome Dedicators,
Whom, when they Praise, the World believes no more,
Than when they promise to give Scribling o’er.
’Tis best sometimes your Censure to restrain,
And charitably let the Dull be vain:
Your Silence there is better than your Spite,
For who can rail so long as they can write?
Still humming on, their drowzy Course they keep,
And lash’d so long, like Tops, are lash’d asleep.
False Steps but help them to renew the Race,
As after Stumbling, Jades will mend their Pace.
What Crouds of these, impenitently bold,
In Sounds and jingling Syllables grown old,
Still run on Poets in a raging Vein,
Ev’n to the Dregs and Squeezings of the Brain;
Strain out the last, dull droppings of their Sense,
And Rhyme with all the Rage of Impotence!
Such shameless Bards we have; and yet ’tis true,
There are as mad, abandon’d Criticks too.
The Bookful Blockhead, ignorantly read,
With Loads of Learned Lumber in his Head,
With his own Tongue still edifies his Ears,
And always List’ning to Himself appears.
All Books he reads, and all he reads assails,
From Dryden’s Fables down to Durfey’s Tales.
With him, most Authors steal their Works, or buy;
Garth did not write his own Dispensary.
Name a new Play, and he’s the Poet’s Friend,
Nay show’d his Faults—but when wou’d Poets mend?
No Place so Sacred from such Fops is barr’d,
Nor is Paul’s Church more safe than Paul’s Church-yard:
Nay, fly to Altars; there they’ll talk you dead;
For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.
Distrustful Sense with modest Caution speaks;
It still looks home, and short Excursions makes;
But ratling Nonsense in full Vollies breaks;
And never shock’d, and never turn’d aside,
Bursts out, resistless, with a thundering Tyde!
But where’s the Man, who Counsel can bestow,
Still pleas’d to teach, and not proud to know?
Unbiass’d, or by Favour or by Spite;
Not dully prepossest, nor blindly right;
Tho’ Learn’d well-bred; and tho’ well-bred, sincere;
Modestly bold, and Humanly severe?
Who to a Friend his Faults can freely show,
And gladly praise the Merit of a Foe?
Blest with a Taste exact, yet unconfin’d;
A Knowledge both of Books and Humankind;
Gen’rous Converse; a Sound exempt from Pride;
And Love to Praise, with Reason on his Side?
Such once were Criticks, such the Happy Few,
Athens and Rome in better Ages knew.
The mighty Stagyrite first left the Shore,
Spread all his Sails, and durst the Deeps explore;
He steer’d securely, and discover’d far,
Led by the Light of the Maeonian Star.12
Poets, a Race long unconfin’d and free,
Still fond and proud of Savage Liberty,
Receiv’d his Laws, and stood convinc’d ’twas fit
Who conquer’d Nature, shou’d preside o’er Wit.
Horace still charms with graceful Negligence,
And without Method talks us into Sense,
Will like a Friend familarly convey
The truest Notions in the easiest way.
He, who Supream in Judgment, as in Wit,
Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ,
Yet judg’d with Coolness tho’ he sung with Fire;
His Precepts teach but what his Works inspire.
Our Criticks take a contrary Extream,
They judge with Fury, but they write with Fle’me:
Nor suffers Horace more in wrong Translations
By Wits, than Criticks in as wrong Quotations.
See Dionysius Homer’s Thoughts refine,
And call new Beauties forth from ev’ry Line!
Fancy and Art in gay Petronius please,
The Scholar’s Learning, with the Courtier’s Ease.
In grave Quintilian’s copious Work we find
The justest Rules, and clearest Method join’d;
Thus useful Arms in Magazines we place,
All rang’d in Order, and dispos’d with Grace,
But less to please the Eye, than arm the Hand,
Still fit for Use, and ready at Command.
Thee, bold Longinus! all the Nine inspire,
And bless their Critick with a Poet’s Fire.
An ardent Judge, who Zealous in his Trust,
With Warmth gives Sentence, yet is always Just;
Whose own Example strengthens all his Laws,
And Is himself that great Sublime he draws.
Thus long succeeding Criticks justly reign’d,
Licence repress’d, and useful Laws ordain’d;
Learning and Rome alike in Empire grew,
And Arts still follow’d where her Eagles flew;
From the same Foes, at last, both felt their Doom,
And the same Age saw Learning fall, and Rome.
With Tyranny, then Superstition join’d,
As that the Body, this enslav’d the Mind;
Much was Believ’d, but little understood,
And to be dull was constru’d to be good;
A second Deluge Learning thus o’er-run,
And the Monks finish’d what the Goths begun.
At length, Erasmus, that great, injur’d Name,
(The Glory of the Priesthood, and the Shame!)
Stemm’d the wild Torrent of a barb’rous Age.
And drove those Holy Vandals off the Stage.
But see! each Muse, in Leo’s Golden Days,
Starts from her Trance, and trims her wither’d Bays!
Rome’s ancient Genius, o’er its Ruins spread,
Shakes off the Dust, and rears his rev’rend Head!
Then Sculpture and her Sister-Arts revive;
Stones leap’d to Form, and Rocks began to live;
With sweeter Notes each rising Temple rung;
A Raphael painted, and a Vida sung!
Immortal Vida! on whose honour’d Brow
The Poet’s Bays and Critick’s Ivy grow:
Cremona now shall ever boast thy Name,
As next in Place to Mantua, next in Fame!
But soon by Impious Arms from Latium chas’d,
Their ancient Bounds the banish’d Muses past:
Thence Arts o’er all the Northern World advance,
But Critic Learning flourish’d most in France.
The Rules, a Nation born to serve, obeys,
And Boileau still in Right of Horace sways.
But we, brave Britons, Foreign Laws despis’d,
And kept unconquer’d and unciviliz’d,
Fierce for the Liberties of Wit, and bold,
We still defy’d the Romans as of old.
Yet some there were, among the sounder Few
Of those who less presum’d, and better knew,
Who durst assert the juster Ancient Cause,
And here restor’d Wit’s Fundamental Laws.
Such was the Muse, whose Rules and Practice tell,
Nature’s chief Master-piece is writing well.
Such was Roscomon—not more learn’d than good,13
With Manners gen’rous as his Noble Blood;
To him the Wit of Greece and Rome was known,
And ev’ry Author’s Merit, but his own.
Such late was Walsh,—the Muse’s Judge and Friend,
Who justly knew to blame or to commend;
To Failings mild, but zealous for Desert;
The clearest Head, and the sincerest Heart.
This humble Praise, lamented Shade! receive,
This Praise at least a grateful Muse may give!
The Muse, whose early Voice you taught to Sing,
Prescrib’d her Heights, and prun’d her tender Wing,
(Her Guide now lost) no more attempts to rise,
But in low Numbers short Excursions tries:
Content, if hence th’ Unlearned their Wants may view,
The Learn’d reflect on what before they knew:
Careless of Censure, not too fond of Fame,
Still pleas’d to praise, yet not afraid to blame,
Averse alike to Flatter, or Offend,
Not free from Faults, nor yet too vain to mend.
1. Maevius: a bad poet, often coupled with Bavius, another bad poet; ridiculed in Virgil’s Third Eclogue and Horace’s Tenth Epode.
2. Their generation’s so equivocal: thought to be born without parents.
3. So vast is Art: learning in general.
4. Mantuan Muse: Virgil.
5. Stagyrite: Aristotle.
6. Pierian Spring: sacred to the Muses.
7. La Mancha’s Knight: in Don Quixote, bk. 3, ch. 10.
8. Fungoso in the Play: Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour.
9. Zoilus: early Greek grammarian who castigated Homer.
10. easie Monarch: King Charles II.
11. bold Socinus: Italian heretic (L. Sozzini, 1525—1562; he espoused a precursor of Unitarianism).
12. Maeonian star: Homer.
13. Roscomon: fourth earl of Roscommon, translator of Horace and early advocate of Milton.
EPISTLE TO DR. ARBUTHNOT (1735)
Neque sermonibus vulgi dederis te, nec in præmiis spem
posueris rerum tuarum; suis te oportet illecebris ipsa virtus
trahat ad verum decus. Quid de te alii loquantur, ipsi
videant, sed loquentur tamen.
[“… you will not any longer attend to the vulgar mob’s
gossip nor put your trust in human rewards for your deeds;
virtue, through her own charms, should lead you to true
glory. Let what others say about you be their concern;
whatever it is, they will say it anyway.”]
Cicero, De Re Publica VI.
Shut, shut the door, good John! fatigu’d, I said,1
Tie up the knocker, say I’m sick, I’m dead.
The dog-star rages! nay ’tis past a doubt,2
All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out:3
Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand,
They rave, recite, and madden round the land.
What walls can guard me, or what shades can hide?
They pierce my thickets, through my grot they glide;
By land, by water, they renew the charge;
They stop the chariot, and they board the barge.
No place is sacred, not the church is free;
Ev’n Sunday shines no Sabbath-day to me:
Then from the Mint walks forth the man of rhyme,
Happy! to catch me just at dinner-time.
Is there a parson, much bemus’d in beer,
A maudlin poetess, a rhyming peer,
A clerk, foredoom’d his father’s soul to cross,
Who pens a stanza, when he should engross?
Is there, who, lock’d from ink and paper, scrawls
With desp’rate charcoal round his darken’d walls?
All fly to Twit’nam, and in humble strain4
Apply to me, to keep them mad or vain.
Arthur, whose giddy son neglects the laws,
Imputes to me and my damn’d works the cause:
Poor Cornus sees his frantic wife elope,5
And curses wit, and poetry, and Pope.
Friend to my life! (which did not you prolong,
The world had wanted many an idle song)
What drop or nostrum can this plague remove?
Or which must end me, a fool’s wrath or love?
A dire dilemma! either way I’m sped,
If foes, they write, if friends, they read me dead.
Seiz’d and tied down to judge, how wretched I!
Who can’t be silent, and who will not lie;
To laugh, were want of goodness and of grace,
And to be grave, exceeds all pow’r of face.
I sit with sad civility, I read
With honest anguish, and an aching head;
And drop at last, but in unwilling ears,
This saving counsel, “Keep your piece nine years.”
“Nine years!” cries he, who high in Drury-lane
Lull’d by soft zephyrs through the broken pane,
Rhymes ere he wakes, and prints before Term ends,6
Oblig’d by hunger, and request of friends:
“The piece, you think, is incorrect: why, take it,
I’m all submission, what you’d have it, make it.”
Three things another’s modest wishes bound,
My friendship, and a prologue, and ten pound.
Pitholeon sends to me: “You know his Grace,7
I want a patron; ask him for a place.”
Pitholeon libell’d me—“but here’s a letter
Informs you, sir, ’twas when he knew no better.
Dare you refuse him? Curll invites to dine,
He’ll write a Journal, or he’ll turn Divine.”
Bless me! a packet—“’Tis a stranger sues,
A virgin tragedy, an orphan muse.”
If I dislike it, “Furies, death and rage!”
If I approve, “Commend it to the stage.”
There (thank my stars) my whole commission ends,
The play’rs and I are, luckily, no friends.
Fir’d that the house reject him, “’Sdeath I’ll print it,
And shame the fools—your int’rest, sir, with Lintot!”
“Lintot, dull rogue! will think your price too much.”
“Not, sir, if you revise it, and retouch.”
All my demurs but double his attacks;
At last he whispers, “Do; and we go snacks.”8
Glad of a quarrel, straight I clap the door,
“Sir, let me see your works and you no more.”
’Tis sung, when Midas’ ears began to spring,
(Midas, a sacred person and a king)
His very minister who spied them first,
(Some say his queen) was forc’d to speak, or burst.
And is not mine, my friend, a sorer case,
When ev’ry coxcomb perks them in my face?
“Good friend, forbear! you deal in dang’rous things.
I’d never name queens, ministers, or kings;
Keep close to ears, and those let asses prick;
’Tis nothing”—Nothing? if they bite and kick?
Out with it, Dunciad! let the secret pass,
That secret to each fool, that he’s an ass:
The truth once told (and wherefore should we lie?)
The queen of Midas slept, and so may I.
You think this cruel? take it for a rule,
No creature smarts so little as a fool.
Let peals of laughter, Codrus! round thee break,9
Thou unconcern’d canst hear the mighty crack:
Pit, box, and gall’ry in convulsions hurl’d,
Thou stand’st unshook amidst a bursting world.
Who shames a scribbler? break one cobweb through,
He spins the slight, self-pleasing thread anew;
Destroy his fib or sophistry, in vain,
The creature’s at his dirty work again;
Thron’d in the centre of his thin designs;
Proud of a vast extent of flimsy lines!
Whom have I hurt? has poet yet, or peer,
Lost the arch’d eye-brow, or Parnassian sneer?
And has not Colley still his lord, and whore?
His butchers Henley, his Free-masons Moore?
Does not one table Bavius still admit?10
Still to one bishop Philips seem a wit?11
Still Sappho—“Hold! for God-sake—you’ll offend:12
No names!—be calm!—learn prudence of a friend!
I too could write, and I am twice as tall;
But foes like these!” One flatt’rer’s worse than all.
Of all mad creatures, if the learn’d are right,
It is the slaver kills, and not the bite.
A fool quite angry is quite innocent;
Alas! ’tis ten times worse when they repent.
One dedicates in high heroic prose,
And ridicules beyond a hundred foes;
One from all Grub Street will my fame defend,13
And, more abusive, calls himself my friend.
This prints my Letters, that expects a bribe,
And others roar aloud, “Subscribe, subscribe.”
There are, who to my person pay their court:
I cough like Horace, and, though lean, am short,
Ammon’s great son one shoulder had too high,14
Such Ovid’s nose, and “Sir! you have an eye”—
Go on, obliging creatures, make me see
All that disgrac’d my betters, met in me:
Say for my comfort, languishing in bed,
“Just so immortal Maro held his head:”15
And when I die, be sure you let me know
Great Homer died three thousand years ago.
Why did I write? what sin to me unknown
Dipp’d me in ink, my parents’, or my own?
As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame,
I lisp’d in numbers, for the numbers came.
I left no calling for this idle trade,
No duty broke, no father disobey’d.
The Muse but serv’d to ease some friend, not wife,
To help me through this long disease, my life,
To second, Arbuthnot! thy art and care,
And teach the being you preserv’d, to bear.
But why then publish? Granville the polite,
And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write;
Well-natur’d Garth inflamed with early praise,
And Congreve lov’d, and Swift endur’d my lays;
The courtly Talbot, Somers, Sheffield read,
Ev’n mitred Rochester would nod the head,
And St. John’s self (great Dryden’s friends before)
With open arms receiv’d one poet more.
Happy my studies, when by these approv’d!
Happier their author, when by these belov’d!
From these the world will judge of men and books,
Not from the Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cookes.
Soft were my numbers; who could take offence,
While pure description held the place of sense?
Like gentle Fanny’s was my flow’ry theme,
A painted mistress, or a purling stream.
Yet then did Gildon draw his venal quill;
I wish’d the man a dinner, and sat still.
Yet then did Dennis rave in furious fret;
I never answer’d, I was not in debt.
If want provok’d, or madness made them print,
I wag’d no war with Bedlam or the Mint.
Did some more sober critic come abroad?
If wrong, I smil’d; if right, I kiss’d the rod.
Pains, reading, study, are their just pretence,
And all they want is spirit, taste, and sense.
Commas and points they set exactly right,
And ’twere a sin to rob them of their mite.
Yet ne’er one sprig of laurel grac’d these ribalds,
From slashing Bentley down to pidling Tibbalds.
Each wight who reads not, and but scans and spells,
Each word-catcher that lives on syllables,
Ev’n such small critics some regard may claim,
Preserv’d in Milton’s or in Shakespeare’s name.
Pretty! in amber to observe the forms
Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms;
The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare,
But wonder how the devil they got there?
Were others angry? I excus’d them too;
Well might they rage; I gave them but their due.
A man’s true merit ’tis not hard to find,
But each man’s secret standard in his mind,
That casting weight pride adds to emptiness,
This, who can gratify? for who can guess?
The bard whom pilfer’d pastorals renown,
Who turns a Persian tale for half a crown,
Just writes to make his barrenness appear,
And strains, from hard-bound brains, eight lines a year:
He, who still wanting, though he lives on theft,
Steals much, spends little, yet has nothing left:
And he, who now to sense, now nonsense leaning,
Means not, but blunders round about a meaning:
And he, whose fustian’s so sublimely bad,
It is not poetry, but prose run mad:
All these, my modest satire bade translate,
And own’d, that nine such poets made a Tate.
How did they fume, and stamp, and roar, and chafe?
And swear, not Addison himself was safe.
Peace to all such! but were there one whose fires
True genius kindles, and fair fame inspires,
Blest with each talent and each art to please,
And born to write, converse, and live with ease:
Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne,
View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
And hate for arts that caus’d himself to rise;
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;
Alike reserv’d to blame, or to commend,
A tim’rous foe, and a suspicious friend;
Dreading ev’n fools, by flatterers besieg’d,
And so obliging, that he ne’er oblig’d;
Like Cato, give his little senate laws,16
And sit attentive to his own applause;
While wits and templars ev’ry sentence raise,17
And wonder with a foolish face of praise.
Who but must laugh, if such a man there be?
Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?18
What though my name stood rubric on the walls,
Or plaister’d posts, with claps, in capitals?19
Or smoking forth, a hundred hawkers’ load,
On wings of winds came flying all abroad?
I sought no homage from the race that write;
I kept, like Asian monarchs, from their sight:
Poems I heeded (now berhym’d so long)
No more than thou, great George! a birthday song.
I ne’er with wits or witlings pass’d my days,
To spread about the itch of verse and praise;
Nor like a puppy, daggled through the town,
To fetch and carry sing-song up and down;
Nor at rehearsals sweat, and mouth’d, and cried,
With handkerchief and orange at my side;
But sick of fops, and poetry, and prate,
To Bufo left the whole Castalian state.20
Proud as Apollo on his forked hill,21
Sat full-blown Bufo, puff’d by every quill;
Fed with soft dedication all day long,
Horace and he went hand in hand in song.
His library (where busts of poets dead
And a true Pindar stood without a head,)
Receiv’d of wits an undistinguish’d race,
Who first his judgment ask’d, and then a place:
Much they extoll’d his pictures, much his seat,
And flatter’d ev’ry day, and some days eat:
Till grown more frugal in his riper days,
He paid some bards with port, and some with praise,
To some a dry rehearsal was assign’d,
And others (harder still) he paid in kind.
Dryden alone (what wonder?) came not nigh,
Dryden alone escap’d this judging eye:
But still the great have kindness in reserve,
He help’d to bury whom he help’d to starve.
May some choice patron bless each grey goose quill!
May ev’ry Bavius have his Bufo still!
So, when a statesman wants a day’s defence,
Or envy holds a whole week’s war with sense,
Or simple pride for flatt’ry makes demands,
May dunce by dunce be whistled off my hands!
Blest be the great! for those they take away,
And those they left me—for they left me Gay;
Left me to see neglected genius bloom,
Neglected die! and tell it on his tomb;
Of all thy blameless life the sole return
My verse, and Queensb’ry weeping o’er thy urn!
Oh let me live my own! and die so too!
(“To live and die is all I have to do:”)
Maintain a poet’s dignity and ease,
And see what friends, and read what books I please.
Above a patron, though I condescend
Sometimes to call a minister my friend:
I was not born for courts or great affairs;
I pay my debts, believe, and say my pray’rs;
Can sleep without a poem in my head,
Nor know, if Dennis be alive or dead.
Why am I ask’d what next shall see the light?
Heav’ns! was I born for nothing but to write?
Has life no joys for me? or (to be grave)
Have I no friend to serve, no soul to save?
“I found him close with Swift”—“Indeed? no doubt,”
(Cries prating Balbus) “something will come out.”
’Tis all in vain, deny it as I will.
“No, such a genius never can lie still,”
And then for mine obligingly mistakes
The first lampoon Sir Will. or Bubo makes.
Poor guiltless I! and can I choose but smile,
When ev’ry coxcomb knows me by my style?
Curs’d be the verse, how well soe’er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy man my foe,
Give virtue scandal, innocence a fear,
Or from the soft-ey’d virgin steal a tear!
But he, who hurts a harmless neighbour’s peace,
Insults fall’n worth, or beauty in distress,
Who loves a lie, lame slander helps about,
Who writes a libel, or who copies out:
That fop, whose pride affects a patron’s name,
Yet absent, wounds an author’s honest fame;
Who can your merit selfishly approve,
And show the sense of it without the love;
Who has the vanity to call you friend,
Yet wants the honour, injur’d, to defend;
Who tells what’er you think, whate’er you say,
And, if he lie not, must at least betray:
Who to the Dean, and silver bell can swear,
And sees at Cannons what was never there;
Who reads, but with a lust to misapply,
Make satire a lampoon, and fiction, lie.
A lash like mine no honest man shall dread,
But all such babbling blockheads in his stead.
Let Sporus tremble—“What? that thing of silk,22
Sporus, that mere white curd of ass’s milk?
Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?
Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?”
Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings,
This painted child of dirt that stinks and stings;
Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys,
Yet wit ne’er tastes, and beauty ne’r enjoys,
So well-bred spaniels civilly delight
In mumbling of the game they dare not bite.
Eternal smiles his emptiness betray,
As shallow streams run dimpling all the way.
Whether in florid impotence he speaks,
And, as the prompter breathes, the puppet squeaks;
Or at the ear of Eve, familiar toad,
Half froth, half venom, spits himself abroad,
In puns, or politics, or tales, or lies,
Or spite, or smut, or rhymes, or blasphemies.
His wit all see-saw, between that and this,
Now high, now low, now Master up, now Miss,
And he himself one vile antithesis.
Amphibious thing! that acting either part,
The trifling head, or the corrupted heart,
Fop at the toilet, flatt’rer at the board,
Now trips a lady, and now struts a lord.
Eve’s tempter thus the rabbins have express’d,
A cherub’s face, a reptile all the rest;
Beauty that shocks you, parts that none will trust,
Wit that can creep, and pride that licks the dust.
Not fortune’s worshipper, nor fashion’s fool,
Not lucre’s madman, nor ambition’s tool,
Not proud, nor servile, be one poet’s praise,
That, if he pleas’d, he pleas’d by manly ways;
That flatt’ry, even to kings, he held a shame,
And thought a lie in verse or prose the same:
That not in fancy’s maze he wander’d long,
But stoop’d to truth, and moraliz’d his song:
That not for fame, but virtue’s better end,
He stood the furious foe, the timid friend,
The damning critic, half-approving wit,
The coxcomb hit, or fearing to be hit;
Laugh’d at the loss of friends he never had,
The dull, the proud, the wicked, and the mad;
The distant threats of vengeance on his head,
The blow unfelt, the tear he never shed;
The tale reviv’d, the lie so oft o’erthrown;
Th’ imputed trash, and dulness not his own;
The morals blacken’d when the writings ’scape;
The libell’d person, and the pictur’d shape;
Abuse, on all he lov’d, or lov’d him, spread,
A friend in exile, or a father, dead;
The whisper, that to greatness still too near,
Perhaps, yet vibrates on his sovereign’s ear:—
Welcome for thee, fair Virtue! all the past:
For thee, fair Virtue! welcome ev’n the last!
“But why insult the poor? affront the great?”
A knave’s a knave, to me, in ev’ry state:
Alike my scorn, if he succeed or fail,
Sporus at court, or Japhet in a jail,
A hireling scribbler, or a hireling peer,
Knight of the post corrupt, or of the shire;
If on a pillory, or near a throne,
He gain his prince’s ear, or lose his own.
Yet soft by nature, more a dupe than wit,
Sappho can tell you how this man was bit:
This dreaded sat’rist Dennis will confess
Foe to his pride, but friend to his distress:
So humble, he has knock’d at Tibbald’s door,
Has drunk with Cibber, nay, has rhym’d for Moore.
Full ten years slander’d, did he once reply?
Three thousand suns went down on Welsted’s lie.
To please a mistress one aspers’d his life;
He lash’d him not, but let her be his wife.
Let Budgell charge low Grub Street on his quill,
And write whate’er he pleas’d, except his will;
Let the two Curlls of town and court, abuse
His father, mother, body, soul, and muse.
Yet why? that father held it for a rule,
It was a sin to call our neighbour fool:
That harmless mother thought no wife a whore,—
Hear this! and spare his family, James Moore!
Unspotted names! and memorable long,
If there be force in virtue, or in song.
Of gentle blood (part shed in honour’s cause,
While yet in Britain honour had applause)
Each parent sprung—“What fortune, pray?”—Their own,
And better got, than Bestia’s from the throne.23
Born to no pride, inheriting no strife,
Nor marrying discord in a noble wife,
Stranger to civil and religious rage,
The good man walk’d innoxious through his age.
No courts he saw, no suits would ever try,
Nor dar’d an oath, nor hazarded a lie:
Un-learn’d, he knew no schoolman’s subtle art,
No language, but the language of the heart.
By nature honest, by experience wise,
Healthy by temp’rance and by exercise;
His life, though long, to sickness past unknown;
His death was instant, and without a groan.
O grant me, thus to live, and thus to die!
Who sprung from kings shall know less joy than I.
O friend! may each domestic bliss be thine!
Be no unpleasing melancholy mine:
Me, let the tender office long engage
To rock the cradle of reposing age,
With lenient arts extend a mother’s breath,
Make langour smile, and smooth the bed of death,
Explore the thought, explain the asking eye,
And keep a while one parent from the sky!
On cares like these if length of days attend,
May Heav’n, to bless those days, preserve my friend,
Preserve him social, cheerful, and serene,
And just as rich as when he serv’d a queen.
Whether that blessing be denied or giv’n,
Thus far was right, the rest belongs to Heav’n.
1. good John: Pope’s servant John Serle.
2. Dog-star: Sirius, associated with maddening heat.
3. Bedlam: an insane asylum in London. Parnassus: mountain sacred to the Muses and Apollo.
4. Twit’nam: Twickenham, where Pope lived.
5. Cornus: from Latin cornu, a horn, thus a cuckold.
6. before Term ends: the end of the summer law court terms; also the close of the publishing season.
7. Pitholeon: a foolish poet at Rhodes who pretended to Greek learning.
8. go snacks: “to divide profits” (OED).
9. Codrus: a traditional name for a bad poet, borrowed from Juvenal.
10. Bavius: a Roman poetaster who owed his immortality to the enmity which he held towards Horace and Virgil, and who was attacked by them. See Virgil, Eclogues, III.
11. Philips: Ambrose Philips (1675?—1749), a pastoral poet. He survives today in a nickname given by his enemies: Namby-Pamby.
12. Sappho: Name of a great woman poet of the seventh century B.C., applied here to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
13. Grub Street: section of eighteenth-century London inhabited by hack writers.
14. Ammon’s great son: Alexander the Great.
15. Maro: Virgil.
16. Cato: Addison’s tragedy Cato.
17. templars: lawyers, from those who had their chambers in the Inner or Middle Temple.
18. Atticus: Joseph Addison.
19. claps: posters.
20. Bufo: a composite portrait of a literary patron. Castalian state: Castalia is the name of a spring on Mount Parnassus; hence this refers to the poetic state.
21. forked hill: Parnassus, sacred to Apollo and the Muses.
22. Sporus: a homosexual favourite of the Emperor Nero. Pope applies the name to Lord Hervey (“Fanny” earlier).
23. Bestia: a Roman consul bribed into a dishonourable peace, possibly a reference to the Duke of Marlborough.