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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— 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 pushpin 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 it's 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 Gothic darkness pass'd,
Emerged 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 epic lays?
Prove this, and forfeit all pretence to praise.
Make their heroic 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 reel'd,
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
reign'd 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 JudgM 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 reviVd beneath a softer day, Then, like a bow long forc'd into a curve, The mind, released from too constrain'd a nerve. Flew to it's 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
The 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 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,