Si te fortè meae gravis uret sarcina chartoe
HOR. LIB. I. EPIS. 13.
1 YOU told me, I remember, glory built
2 On selfish principles, is shame and guilt.
3 The deeds that men admire as half divine,
4 Stark naught, because corrupt in their design.
5 Strange doctrine this! that without scruple tears
6 The laurel that the very light'ning spares,
[Page 2]
7 Brings down the warrior's trophy to the dust,
8 And eats into his bloody sword like rust.
9 I grant, that men continuing what they are,
10 Fierce, avaricious, proud, there must be war.
11 And never meant the rule should be applied
12 To him that fights with justice on his side.
13 Let laurels, drench'd in pure Parnassian dews,
14 Reward his mem'ry, dear to ev'ry muse,
15 Who, with a courage of unshaken root,
16 In honour's field advancing his firm foot,
17 Plants it upon the line that justice draws,
18 And will prevail or perish in her cause.
19 Tis to the virtues of such men, man owes
20 His portion in the good that heav'n bestows,
21 And when recording history displays
22 Feats of renown, though wrought in antient days,
23 Tells of a few stout hearts that fought and dy'd
24 Where duty plac'd them, at their country's side,
25 The man that is not mov'd with what he reads,
26 That takes not fire at their heroic deeds,
[Page 3]
27 Unworthy of the blessings of the brave,
28 Is base in kind, and born to be a slave.
29 But let eternal infamy pursue
30 The wretch to nought but his ambition true,
31 Who, for the sake of filling with one blast
32 The post horns of all Europe, lays her waste.
33 Think yourself station'd on a tow'ring rock,
34 To see a people scatter'd like a flock,
35 Some royal mastiff panting at their heels,
36 With all the savage thirst a tyger feels,
37 Then view him self-proclaim'd in a gazette,
38 Chief monster that has plagu'd the nations yet,
39 The globe and sceptre in such hands misplac'd,
40 Those ensigns of dominion, how disgrac'd!
41 The glass that bids man mark the fleeting hour,
42 And death's own scythe would better speak his pow'r,
43 Then grace the boney phantom in their stead
44 With the king's shoulder knot and gay cockade,
45 Cloath the twin brethren in each other's dress,
46 The same their occupation and success.
[Page 4]
47 'Tis your belief the world was made for man,
48 Kings do but reason on the self same plan,
49 Maintaining your's you cannot their's condemn,
50 Who think, or seem to think, man made for them.
51 Seldom, alas! the power of logic reigns
52 With much sufficiency in royal brains.
53 Such reas'ning falls like an inverted cone,
54 Wanting its proper base to stand upon.
55 Man made for kings! those optics are but dim
56 That tell you so say rather, they for him.
57 That were indeed a king-enobling thought,
58 Could they, or would they, reason as they ought.
59 The diadem with mighty projects lin'd,
60 To catch renown by ruining mankind,
61 Is worth, with all its gold and glitt'ring store,
62 Just what the toy will sell for and no more.
63 Oh! bright occasions of dispensing good,
64 How seldom used, how little understood!
65 To pour in virtue's lap her just reward,
66 Keep vice restrain'd behind a double guard,
[Page 5]
67 To quell the faction that affronts the throne,
68 By silent magnanimity alone;
69 To nurse with tender care the thriving arts,
70 Watch every beam philosophy imparts;
71 To give religion her unbridl'd scope,
72 Nor judge by statute a believer's hope;
73 With close fidelity and love unfeign'd,
74 To keep the matrimonial bond unstain'd;
75 Covetous only of a virtuous praise,
76 His life a lesson to the land he sways;
77 To touch the sword with conscientious awe,
78 Nor draw it but when duty bids him draw,
79 To sheath it in the peace-restoring close,
80 With joy, beyond what victory bestows,
81 Blest country! where these kingly glories shine,
82 Blest England! if this happiness be thine.
83 Guard what you say, the patriotic tribe
84 Will sneer and charge you with a bribe.
84 A bribe?
85 The worth of his three kingdoms I defy,
86 To lure me to the baseness of a lie.
[Page 6]
87 And of all lies (be that one poet's boast)
88 The lie that flatters I abhor the most.
89 Those arts be their's that hate his gentle reign,
90 But he that loves him has no need to feign.
91 Your smooth eulogium to one crown address'd,
92 Seems to imply a censure on the rest.
93 Quevedo, as he tells his sober tale,
94 Ask'd, when in hell, to see the royal jail,
95 Approv'd their method in all other things,
96 But where, good Sir, do you confine your kings?
97 There said his guide, the groupe is full in view.
98 Indeed? Replied the Don there are but few.
99 His black interpreter the charge disdain'd
100 Few, fellow? There are all that ever reign'd.
101 Wit undistinguishing is apt to strike
102 The guilty and not guilty, both alike.
103 I grant the sarcasm is too severe,
104 And we can readily refute it here,
105 While Alfred's name, the father of his age,
106 And the Sixth Edward's grace th' historic page.
[Page 7]
107 King's then at last have but the lot of all,
108 By their own conduct they must stand or fall.
109 True. While they live, the courtly laureat pays
110 His quit-rent ode, his pepper-corn of praise,
111 And many a dunce whose fingers itch to write,
112 Adds, as he can, his tributary mite;
113 A subject's faults, a subject may proclaim,
114 A monarch's errors are forbidden game.
115 Thus free from censure, over-aw'd by fear,
116 And prais'd for virtues that they scorn to wear,
117 The fleeting forms of majesty engage
118 Respect, while stalking o'er life's narrow stage,
119 Then leave their crimes for history to scan,
120 And ask with busy scorn, Was this the man?
121 I pity kings whom worship waits upon
122 Obsequious, from the cradle to the throne,
123 Before whose infant eyes the flatt'rer bows,
124 And binds a wreath about their baby brows.
125 Whom education stiffens into state,
126 And death awakens from that dream too late.
[Page 8]
127 Oh! is servility with supple knees,
128 Whose trade it is to smile, to crouch, to please;
129 If smooth dissimulation, skill'd to grace
130 A devil's purpose with an angel's face;
131 Is smiling peeresses and simp'ring peers,
132 Incompassing his throne a few short years;
133 If the gilt carriage and the pamper'd steed,
134 That wants no driving and disdains the lead;
135 If guards, mechanically form'd in ranks,
136 Playing, at beat of drum, their martial pranks;
137 Should'ring and standing as if struck to stone,
138 While condescending majesty looks on;
139 If monarchy consist in such base things,
140 Sighing, I say again, I pity kings!
141 To be suspected, thwarted, and withstood,
142 Ev'n when he labours for his country's good,
143 To see a band call'd patriot for no cause,
144 But that they catch at popular applause,
145 Careless of all th' anxiety he feels,
146 Hook disappointment on the public wheels,
[Page 9]
147 With all their flippant fluency of tongue,
148 Most confident, when palpably most wrong,
149 If this be kingly, then farewell for me
150 All kingship, and may I be poor and free.
151 To be the Table Talk of clubs up stairs,
152 To which th' unwash'd artificer repairs,
153 T' indulge his genius after long fatigue,
154 By diving into cabinet intrigue,
155 (For what kings deem a toil, as well they may,
156 To him is relaxation and mere play)
157 To win no praise when well-wrought plans prevail,
158 But to be rudely censur'd when they fail,
159 To doubt the love his fav'rites may pretend,
160 And in reality to find no friend,
161 If he indulge a cultivated taste,
162 His gall'ries with the works of art well grac'd,
163 To hear it call'd extravagance and waste,
164 If these attendants, and if such as these,
165 Must follow royalty, then welcome ease;
166 However humble and confin'd the sphere,
167 Happy the state that has not these to fear.
[Page 10]
168 Thus men whose thoughts contemplative have dwelt,
169 On situations that they never felt,
170 Start up sagacious, cover'd with the dust
171 Of dreaming study and pedantic rust,
172 And prate and preach about what others prove,
173 As if the world and they were hand and glove.
174 Leave kingly backs to cope with kingly cares,
175 They have their weight to carry, subjects their's;
176 Poets, of all men, ever least regret
177 Increasing taxes and the nation's debt.
178 Could you contrive the payment, and rehearse
179 The mighty plan, oracular, in verse,
180 No bard, howe'er majestic, old or new,
181 Should claim my fixt attention more than you.
182 Not Brindley nor Bridgewater would essay
183 To turn the course of Helicon that way;
184 Nor would the nine consent, the sacred tide
185 Should purl amidst the traffic of Cheapside,
186 Or tinkle in 'Change Alley, to amuse
187 The leathern ears of stock-jobbers and jews.
[Page 11]
188 Vouchsafe, at least, to pitch the key of rhime
189 To themes more pertinent, if less sublime.
190 When ministers and ministerial arts,
191 Patriots who love good places at their hearts,
192 When Admirals extoll'd for standing still,
193 Or doing nothing with a deal of skill;
194 Gen'rals who will not conquer when they may,
195 Firm friends to peace, to pleasure, and good pay,
196 When freedom wounded almost to despair,
197 Though discontent alone can find out where,
198 When themes like these employ the poet's tongue.
199 I hear as mute as if a syren sung.
200 Or tell me if you can, what pow'r maintains
201 A Briton's scorn of arbitrary chains?
202 That were a theme might animate the dead,
203 And move the lips of poets cast in lead.
204 The cause, tho' worth the search, may yet elude
205 Conjecture and remark, however shrewd.
206 They take, perhaps, a well-directed aim,
207 Who seek it in his climate and his frame.
[Page 12]
208 Lib'ral in all things else, yet nature here
209 With stern severity deals out the year.
210 Winter invades the spring, and often pours
211 A chilling flood on summer's drooping flow'rs,
212 Unwelcome vapors quench autumnal beams,
213 Ungenial blasts attending, curl the streams,
214 The peasants urge their harvest, plie the fork
215 With double toil, and shiver at their work,
216 Thus with a rigor, for his good design'd,
217 She rears her fav'rite man of all mankind.
218 His form robust and of elastic tone,
219 Proportion'd well, half muscle and half bone,
220 Supplies with warm activity and force
221 A mind well lodg'd, and masculine of course.
222 Hence liberty, sweet liberty inspires,
223 And keeps alive his fierce but noble fires.
224 Patient of constitutional controul,
225 He bears it with meek manliness of soul,
226 But if authority grow wanton, woe
227 To him that treads upon his free-born toe,
[Page 13]
228 One step beyond the bound'ry of the laws
229 Fires him at once in freedom's glorious cause.
230 Thus proud prerogative, not much rever'd,
231 Is seldom felt, though sometimes seen and heard;
232 And in his cage, like parrot fine and gay,
233 Is kept to strut, look big, and talk away.
234 Born in a climate softer far than our's,
235 Not form'd like us, with such Herculean pow'rs,
236 The Frenchman, easy, debonair and brisk,
237 Give him his lass, his fiddle and his frisk,
238 Is always happy, reign whoever may,
239 And laughs the sense of mis'ry far away.
240 He drinks his simple bev'rage with a gust,
241 And feasting on an onion and a crust,
242 We never feel th' alacrity and joy
243 With which he shouts and carols, Vive le Roy,
244 Fill'd with as much true merriment and glee,
245 As if he heard his king say Slave be free.
246 Thus happiness depends, as nature shews,
247 Less on exterior things than most suppose.
[Page 14]
248 Vigilant over all that he has made,
249 Kind Providence attends with gracious aid,
250 Bids equity throughout his works prevail,
251 And weighs the nations in an even scale;
252 He can encourage slav'ry to a smile,
253 And fill with discontent a British isle.
254 Freeman and slave then, if the case be such,
255 Stand on a level, and you prove too much.
256 If all men indiscriminately share,
257 His fost'ring pow'r and tutelary care,
258 As well be yok'd by despotism's hand,
259 As dwell at large in Britain's charter'd land.
260 No. Freedom has a thousand charms to show,
261 That slaves, howe'er contented, never know.
262 The mind attains beneath her happy reign,
263 The growth that nature meant she should attain.
264 The varied fields of science, ever new,
265 Op'ning and wider op'ning on her view,
266 She ventures onward with a prosp'rous force,
267 While no base fear impedes her in her course.
[Page 15]
268 Religion, richest favour of the skies,
269 Stands most reveal'd before the freeman's eyes;
270 No shades of superstition blot the day,
271 Liberty chaces all that gloom away;
272 The soul, emancipated, unoppress'd,
273 Free to prove all things and hold fast the best,
274 Learns much, and to a thousand list'ning minds,
275 Communicates with joy the good she finds.
276 Courage in arms, and ever prompt to show
277 His manly forehead to the fiercest foe;
278 Glorious in war, but for the sake of peace,
279 His spirits rising as his toils increase,
280 Guards well what arts and industry have won,
281 And freedom claims him for her first-born son.
282 Slaves fight for what were better cast away,
283 The chain that binds them, and a tyrant's sway,
284 But they that fight for freedom, undertake
285 The noblest cause mankind can have at stake,
286 Religion, virtue, truth, whate'er we call
287 A blessing, freedom is the pledge of all.
[Page 16]
288 Oh liberty! the pris'ners pleasing dream,
289 The poet's muse, his passion and his theme,
290 Genius is thine, and thou art fancy's nurse,
291 Lost without thee th' ennobling pow'rs of verse,
292 Heroic song from thy free touch acquires
293 Its clearest tone, the rapture it inspires;
294 Place me where winter breathes his keenest air,
295 And I will sing if liberty be there;
296 And I will sing at liberty's dear feet,
297 In Afric's torrid clime or India's fiercest heat.
298 Sing where you please, in such a cause I grant
299 An English Poet's privilege to rant,
300 But is not freedom, at least is not our's
301 Too apt to play the wanton with her pow'rs,
302 Grow freakish, and o'er leaping ev'ry mound
303 Spread anarchy and terror all around?
304 Agreed. But would you sell or slay your horse
305 For bounding and curvetting in his course;
306 Or if, when ridden with a careless rein,
307 He break away, and seek the distant plain?
[Page 17]
308 No. His high mettle under good controul,
309 Gives him Olympic speed, and shoots him to the goal.
310 Let discipline employ her wholesome arts,
311 Let magistrates alert perform their parts,
312 Not skulk or put on a prudential mask,
313 As if their duty were a desp'rate task;
314 Let active laws apply the needful curb
315 To guard the peace that riot would disturb,
316 And liberty preserv'd from wild excess,
317 Shall raise no feuds for armies to suppress.
318 When tumult lately burst his prison door,
319 And set Plebeian thousands in a roar,
320 When he usurp'd authority's just place,
321 And dar'd to look his master in the face,
322 When the rude rabbles watch-word was, destroy,
323 And blazing London seem'd a second Troy,
324 Liberty blush'd and hung her drooping head,
325 Beheld their progress with the deepest dread,
326 Blush'd that effects like these she should produce,
327 Worse than the deeds of galley-slaves broke loose.
[Page 18]
328 She loses in such storms her very name,
329 And fierce licentiousness should bear the blame.
330 Incomparable gem! thy worth untold,
331 Cheap, though blood-bought, and thrown away when sold;
332 May no foes ravish thee, and no false friend
333 Betray thee, while professing to defend;
334 Prize it ye ministers, ye monarchs spare,
335 Ye patriots guard it with a miser's care.
336 Patriots, alas! the few that have been found
337 Where most they flourish, upon English ground,
338 The country's need have scantily supplied,
339 And the last left the scene, when Chatham died.
340 Not so the virtue still adorns our age,
341 Though the chief actor died upon the stage.
342 In him, Demosthenes was heard again,
343 Liberty taught him her Athenian strain;
344 She cloath'd him with authority and awe,
345 Spoke from his lips, and in his looks, gave law.
346 His speech, his form, his action, full of grace,
347 And all his country beaming in his face,
[Page 19]
348 He stood, as some inimitable hand
349 Would strive to make a Paul or Tully stand.
350 No sycophant or slave that dar'd oppose
351 Her sacred cause, but trembl'd when he rose,
352 And every venal stickler for the yoke,
353 Felt himself crush'd at the first word he spoke.
354 Such men are rais'd to station and command,
355 When providence means mercy to a land.
356 He speaks, and they appear; to him they owe
357 Skill to direct, and strength to strike the blow,
358 To manage with address, to seize with pow'r
359 The crisis of a dark decisive hour.
360 So Gideon earn'd a vict'ry not his own,
361 Subserviency his praise, and that alone.
362 Poor England! thou art a devoted deer,
363 Beset with ev'ry ill but that of fear.
364 The nations hunt; all mark thee for a prey,
365 They swarm around thee, and thou standst at bay.
366 Undaunted still, though wearied and perplex'd,
367 Once Chatham sav'd thee, but who saves thee next?
[Page 20]
368 Alas! the tide of pleasure sweeps along
369 All that should be the boast of British song.
370 'Tis not the wreath that once adorn'd thy brow,
371 The prize of happier times will serve thee now.
372 Our ancestry, a gallant christian race,
373 Patterns of ev'ry virtue, ev'ry grace,
374 Confess'd a God, they kneel'd before they fought,
375 And praised him in the victories he wrought.
376 Now from the dust of antient days bring forth
377 Their sober zeal, integrity and worth,
378 Courage, ungrac'd by these, affronts the skies,
379 Is but the fire without the sacrifice.
380 The stream that feeds the well-spring of the heart
381 Not more invigorates life's noblest part,
382 Than virtue quickens with a warmth divine,
383 The pow'rs that sin has brought to a decline.
384 Th' inestimable estimate of Brown,
385 Rose like a paper-kite, and charm'd the town;
386 But measures plann'd and executed well,
387 Shifted the wind that rais'd it, and it fell.
[Page 21]
388 He trod the very self-same ground you tread,
389 And victory refuted all he said.
390 And yet his judgment was not fram'd amiss,
391 Its error, if it err'd, was merely this
392 He thought the dying hour already come,
393 And a complete recov'ry struck him dumb.
394 But that effeminacy, folly, lust,
395 Enervate and enfeeble, and needs must,
396 And that a nation shamefully debas'd,
397 Will be despis'd and trampl'd on at last,
398 Unless sweet penitence her pow'rs renew,
399 Is truth, if history itself be true.
400 There is a time, and justice marks the date,
401 For long-forbearing clemency to wait,
402 That hour elaps'd, th'incurable revolt
403 Is punish'd, and down comes the thunder-bolt.
404 If mercy then put by the threat'ning blow,
405 Must she perform the same kind office now?
406 May she, and if offended heav'n be still
407 Accessible and pray'r prevail, she will.
[Page 22]
408 'Tis not however insolence and noise,
409 The tempest of tumultuary joys,
410 Nor is it yet despondence and dismay,
411 Will win her visits, or engage her stay,
412 Pray'r only, and the penitential tear,
413 Can call her smiling down, and fix her here.
414 But when a country, (one that I could name)
415 In prostitution sinks the sense of shame,
416 When infamous venality grown bold,
417 Writes on his bosom, to be lett or sold;
418 When perjury, that heav'n defying vice,
419 Sells oaths by tale, and at the lowest price,
420 Stamps God's own name upon a lie just made,
421 To turn a penny in the way of trade;
422 When av'rice starves, and never hides his face,
423 Two or three millions of the human race,
424 And not a tongue enquires, how, where, or when,
425 Though conscience will have twinges now and then;
426 When profanation of the sacred cause
427 In all its parts, times, ministry and laws,
[Page 23]
428 Bespeaks a land once christian, fall'n and lost
429 In all that wars against that title most,
430 What follows next let cities of great name,
431 And regions long since desolate proclaim,
432 Nineveh, Babylon, and antient Rome,
433 Speak to the present times and times to come,
434 They cry aloud in ev'ry careless ear,
435 Stop, while ye may, suspend your mad career;
436 O learn from our example and our fate,
437 Learn wisdom and repentance e'er too late.
438 Not only vice disposes and prepares
439 The mind that slumbers sweetly in her snares,
440 To stoop to tyranny's usurp'd command,
441 And bend her polish'd neck beneath his hand,
442 (A dire effect, by one of nature's laws
443 Unchangeably connected with its cause)
444 But providence himself will intervene
445 To throw his dark displeasure o'er the scene.
446 All are his instruments; each form of war,
447 What burns at home, or threatens from afar,
[Page 24]
448 Nature in arms, her elements at strife,
449 The storms that overset the joys of life,
450 Are but his rods to scourge a guilty land,
451 And waste it at the bidding of his hand.
452 He gives the word, and mutiny soon roars
453 In all her gates, and shakes her distant shores,
454 The standards of all nations are unfurl'd,
455 She has one foe, and that one foe, the world.
456 And if he doom that people with a frown,
457 And mark them with the seal of wrath, press'd down,
458 Obduracy takes place; callous and tough
459 The reprobated race grows judgment proof:
460 Earth shakes beneath them, and heav'n roars above,
461 But nothing scares them from the course they love;
462 To the lascivious pipe and wanton song
463 That charm down fear, they frolic it along,
464 With mad rapidity and unconcern,
465 Down to the gulph from which is no return.
466 They trust in navies, and their navies fail,
467 God's curse can cast away ten thousand sail;
[Page 25]
468 They trust in armies, and their courage dies,
469 In wisdom, wealth, in fortune, and in lies;
470 But all they trust in, withers, as it must,
471 When he commands, in whom they place no trust.
472 Vengeance at last pours down upon their coast,
473 A long despis'd, but now victorious host,
474 Tyranny sends the chain that must abridge
475 The noble sweep of all their privilege,
476 Gives liberty the last, the mortal shock,
477 Slips the slave's collar on, and snaps the lock.
478 Such lofty strains embellish what you teach,
479 Mean you to prophecy, or but to preach?
480 I know the mind that feels indeed the fire
481 The muse imparts, and can command the lyre,
482 Acts with a force, and kindles with a zeal,
483 Whate'er the theme, that others never feel.
484 If human woes her soft attention claim,
485 A tender sympathy pervades the frame,
486 She pours a sensibility divine
487 Along the nerve of ev'ry feeling line.
[Page 26]
488 But if a deed not tamely to be borne,
489 Fire indignation and a sense of scorn,
490 The strings are swept with such a pow'r, so loud,
491 The storm of music shakes th' astonish'd crowd.
492 So when remote futurity is brought
493 Before the keen enquiry of her thought,
494 A terrible sagacity informs
495 The poet's heart, he looks to distant storms,
496 He hears the thunder e'er the tempest low'rs,
497 And arm'd with strength surpassing human pow'rs,
498 Seizes events as yet unknown to man,
499 And darts his soul into the dawning plan.
500 Hence, in a Roman mouth, the graceful name
501 Of prophet and of poet was the same,
502 Hence British poets too the priesthood shar'd,
503 And ev'ry hallow'd druid was a bard.
504 But no prophetic fires to me belong,
505 I play with syllables, and sport in song.
506 At Westminster, where little poets strive
507 To set a distich upon six and five,
[Page 27]
508 Where discipline helps op'ning buds of sense,
509 And makes his pupils proud with silver-pence,
510 I was a poet too but modern taste
511 Is so refin'd and delicate and chaste,
512 That verse, whatever fire the fancy warms,
513 Without a creamy smoothness has no charms.
514 Thus, all success depending on an ear,
515 And thinking I might purchase it too dear,
516 If sentiment were sacrific'd to sound,
517 And truth cut short to make a period round,
518 I judg'd a man of sense could scarce do worse,
519 Than caper in the morris-dance of verse.
520 Thus reputation is a spur to wit,
521 And some wits flag through fear of losing it.
522 Give me the line, that plows its stately course
523 Like a proud swan, conq'ring the stream by force.
524 That like some cottage beauty strikes the heart,
525 Quite unindebted to the tricks of art.
526 When labour and when dullness, club in hand,
527 Like the two figures at St. Dunstan's stand,
[Page 28]
528 Beating alternately, in measur'd time,
529 The clock-work tintinabulum of rhime,
530 Exact and regular the sounds will be,
531 But such mere quarter-strokes are not for me.
532 From him who rears a poem lank and long,
533 To him who strains his all into a song,
534 Perhaps some bonny Caledonian air,
535 All birks and braes, though he was never there,
536 Or having whelp'd a prologue with great pains,
537 Feels himself spent, and fumbles for his brains;
538 A prologue interdash'd with many a stroke,
539 An art contriv'd to advertise a joke,
540 So that the jest is clearly to be seen,
541 Not in the words but in the gap between,
542 Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ,
543 The substitute for genius, sense, and wit.
544 To dally much with subjects mean and low,
545 Proves that the mind is weak, or makes it so.
546 Neglected talents rust into decay,
547 And ev'ry effort ends in push-pin play.
[Page 29]
548 The man that means success, should soar above
549 A soldier's feather, or a lady's glove,
550 Else summoning the muse to such a theme,
551 The fruit of all her labour is whipt-cream.
552 As if an eagle flew aloft, and then
553 Stoop'd from his highest pitch to pounce a wren.
554 As if the poet purposing to wed,
555 Should carve himself a wife in gingerbread.
556 Ages elaps'd e'er Homer's lamp appear'd,
557 And ages e'er the Mantuan swan was heard,
558 To carry nature lengths unknown before,
559 To give a Milton birth, ask'd ages more.
560 Thus genius rose and set at order'd times,
561 And shot a day-spring into distant climes,
562 Ennobling ev'ry region that he chose,
563 He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose,
564 And tedious years of Gothic darkness pass'd,
565 Emerg'd all splendor in our isle at last.
566 Thus lovely Halcyons dive into the main,
567 Then show far off their shining plumes again.
[Page 30]
568 Is genius only found in epic lays?
569 Prove this, and forfeit all pretence to praise.
570 Make their heroic pow'rs your own at once,
571 Or candidly confess yourself a dunce.
572 These were the chief, each interval of night
573 Was grac'd with many an undulating light;
574 In less illustrious bards his beauty shone
575 A meteor or a star, in these, the sun.
576 The nightingale may claim the topmost bough,
577 While the poor grasshopper must chirp below.
578 Like him unnotic'd, I, and such as I,
579 Spread little wings, and rather skip than fly,
580 Perch'd on the meagre produce of the land,
581 An ell or two of prospect we command,
582 But never peep beyond the thorny bound
583 Or oaken fence that hems the paddoc round.
584 In Eden e'er yet innocence of heart
585 Had faded, poetry was not an art;
586 Language above all teaching, or if taught,
587 Only by gratitude and glowing thought,
[Page 31]
588 Elegant as simplicity, and warm
589 As exstasy, unmanacl'd by form,
590 Not prompted as in our degen'rate days,
591 By low ambition and the thirst of praise,
592 Was natural as is the flowing stream,
593 And yet magnificent, a God the theme.
594 That theme on earth exhausted, though above
595 'Tis found as everlasting as his love,
596 Man lavish'd all his thoughts on human things,
597 The feats of heroes and the wrath of kings,
598 But still while virtue kindled his delight,
599 The song was moral, and so far was right.
600 'Twas thus till luxury seduc'd the mind,
601 To joys less innocent, as less refin'd,
602 Then genius danc'd a bacchanal, he crown'd
603 The brimming goblet, seiz'd the thyrsus, bound
604 His brows with ivy, rush'd into the field
605 Of wild imagination, and there reel'd
606 The victim of his own lascivious fires,
607 And dizzy with delight, profan'd the sacred wires.
[Page 32]
608 Anacreon, Horace, play'd in Greece and Rome
609 This Bedlam part; and, others nearer home.
610 When Cromwell fought for pow'r, and while he reign'd
611 The proud protector of the pow'r he gain'd,
612 Religion harsh, intolerant, austere,
613 Parent of manners like herself severe,
614 Drew a rough copy of the Christian face
615 Without the smile, the sweetness, or the grace;
616 The dark and sullen humour of the time
617 Judg'd ev'ry effort of the muse a crime;
618 Verse in the finest mould of fancy cast,
619 Was lumber in an age so void of taste:
620 But when the second Charles assum'd the sway,
621 And arts reviv'd beneath a softer day,
622 Then like a bow long forc'd into a curve,
623 The mind releas'd from too constrain'd a nerve,
624 Flew to its first position with a spring
625 That made the vaulted roofs of pleasure ring.
626 His court, the dissolute and hateful school
627 Of wantonness, where vice was taught by rule,
[Page 33]
628 Swarm'd with a scribbling herd as deep inlaid
629 With brutal lust as ever Circe made.
630 From these a long succession, in the rage
631 Of rank obscenity debauch'd their age,
632 Nor ceas'd, 'till ever anxious to redress
633 Th' abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
634 The muse instructed a well nurtur'd train
635 Of abler votaries to cleanse the stain,
636 And claim the palm for purity of song,
637 That lewdness had usurp'd and worn so long.
638 Then decent pleasantry and sterling sense
639 That neither gave nor would endure offence,
640 Whipp'd out of sight with satyr just and keen,
641 The puppy pack that had defil'd the scene.
642 In front of these came Addison. In him
643 Humour in holiday and sightly trim,
644 Sublimity and attic taste combin'd,
645 To polish, furnish, and delight the mind.
646 Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
647 In verse well disciplin'd, complete, compact,
[Page 34]
648 Gave virtue and morality a grace
649 That quite eclipsing pleasure's painted face,
650 Levied a tax of wonder and applause,
651 Ev'n on the fools that trampl'd on their laws.
652 But he (his musical finesse was such,
653 So nice his ear, so delicate his touch)
654 Made poetry a mere mechanic art,
655 And ev'ry warbler has his tune by heart.
656 Nature imparting her satyric gift,
657 Her serious mirth, to Arbuthnot and Swist,
658 With droll sobriety they rais'd a smile
659 At folly's cost, themselves unmov'd the while.
660 That constellation set, the world in vain
661 Must hope to look upon their like again.
662 Are we then left
662 Not wholly in the dark,
663 Wit now and then, struck smartly, shows a spark,
664 Sufficient to redeem the modern race
665 From total night and absolute disgrace.
666 While servile trick and imitative knack
667 Confine the million in the beaten track,
[Page 35]
668 Perhaps some courser who disdains the road,
669 Snuffs up the wind and flings himself abroad.
670 Contemporaries all surpass'd, see one,
671 Short his career, indeed, but ably run.
672 Churchill, himself unconscious of his pow'rs,
673 In penury confum'd his idle hours,
674 And like a scatter'd seed at random sown,
675 Was left to spring by vigor of his own.
676 Lifted at length by dignity of thought,
677 And dint of genius to an affluent lot,
678 He laid his head in luxury's soft lap,
679 And took too often there his easy nap.
680 If brighter beams than all he threw not forth,
681 'Twas negligence in him, not want of worth.
682 Surly and slovenly and bold and coarse,
683 Too proud for art, and trusting in mere force,
684 Spendthrift alike of money and of wit,
685 Always at speed and never drawing bit,
686 He struck the lyre in such a careless mood,
687 And so disdain'd the rules he understood,
[Page 36]
688 The laurel seem'd to wait on his command,
689 He snatch'd it rudely from the muses hand.
690 Nature exerting an unwearied pow'r,
691 Forms, opens and gives scent to ev'ry flow'r,
692 Spreads the fresh verdure of the field, and leads
693 The dancing Naiads through the dewy meads,
694 She fills profuse ten thousand little throats
695 With music, modulating all their notes,
696 And charms the woodland scenes and wilds unknown,
697 With artless airs and concerts of her own;
698 But seldom (as if fearful of expence)
699 Vouchsafes to man a poet's just pretence.
700 Fervency, freedom, fluency of thought,
701 Harmony, strength, words exquisitely sought,
702 Fancy that from the bow that spans the sky,
703 Brings colours dipt in heav'n that never die,
704 A soul exalted above earth, a mind
705 Skill'd in the characters that form mankind,
706 And as the sun in rising beauty dress'd,
707 Looks to the westward from the dappl'd east,
[Page 37]
708 And marks, whatever clouds may interpose,
709 E'er yet his race begins, its glorious close,
710 An eye like his to catch the distant goal,
711 Or e'er the wheels of verse begin to roll,
712 Like his to shed illuminating rays
713 On ev'ry scene and subject it surveys,
714 Thus grac'd the man asserts a poet's name,
715 And the world chearfully admits the claim.
716 Pity! Religion has so seldom found
717 A skilful guide into poetic ground,
718 The flow'rs would spring where'er she deign'd to stray,
719 And ev'ry muse attend her in her way.
720 Virtue indeed meets many a rhiming friend,
721 And many a compliment politely penn'd,
722 But unattir'd in that becoming vest
723 Religion weaves for her, and half undress'd,
724 Stands in the desart shiv'ring and forlorn,
725 A wint'ry figure, like a wither'd thorn.
726 The shelves are full, all other themes are sped,
727 Hackney'd and worn to the last flimsy thread,
[Page 38]
728 Satyr has long since done his best, and curst
729 And loathsome ribaldry has done his worst,
730 Fancy has sported all her pow'rs away
731 In tales, in trifles, and in children's play,
732 And 'tis the sad complaint, and almost true,
733 Whate'er we write, we bring forth nothing new.
734 'Twere new indeed, to see a bard all fire,
735 Touch'd with a coal from heav'n assume the lyre,
736 And tell the world, still kindling as he sung,
737 With more than mortal music on his tongue,
738 That he who died below, and reigns above
739 Inspires the song, and that his name is love.
740 For after all, if merely to beguile
741 By flowing numbers and a flow'ry stile,
742 The taedium that the lazy rich endure,
743 Which now and then sweet poetry may cure,
744 Or if to see the name of idol self
745 Stamp'd on the well-bound quarto, grace the shelf,
746 To float a bubble on the breath of fame,
747 Prompt his endeavour, and engage his aim,
[Page 39]
748 Debas'd to servile purposes of pride,
749 How are the powers of genius misapplied?
750 The gift whose office is the giver's praise,
751 To trace him in his word, his works, his ways,
752 Then spread the rich discov'ry, and invite
753 Mankind to share in the divine delight,
754 Distorted from its use and just design,
755 To make the pitiful possessor shine,
756 To purchase at the fool-frequented fair
757 Of vanity, a wreath for self to wear,
758 Is profanation of the basest kind,
759 Proof of a trifling and a worthless mind.
760 Hail Sternhold then and Hopkins hail!
760 Amen.
761 If flatt'ry, folly, lust employ the pen,
762 If acrimony, slander and abuse,
763 Give it a charge to blacken and traduce;
764 Though Butler's wit, Pope's numbers, Prior's ease,
765 With all that fancy can invent to please,
766 Adorn the polish'd periods as they fall,
767 One Madrigal of their's is worth them all.
[Page 40]
768 'Twould thin the ranks of the poetic tribe,
769 To dash the pen through all that you proscribe.
770 No matter we could shift when they were not,
771 And should no doubt if they were all forgot.


  • TEI/XML [chunk] (XML - 525K / ZIP - 67K) / ECPA schema (RNC - 357K / ZIP - 73K)
  • Plain text [excluding paratexts] (TXT - 33K / ZIP - 15K)

About this text

Title (in Source Edition): TABLE TALK.
Themes: wit; poetry; literature; writing
Genres: heroic couplet; dialogue

Text view / Document view

Source edition

Poems: by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq. London: printed for J. Johnson, 1782, pp. []-40. [4],367,[1]p. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T14895; OTA K027775.000)

Editorial principles

The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

Other works by William Cowper