EXTRACTED FROM MR. W. WHITEHEAD's CHARGE to the POETS.
1 TIME was when poets play'd thorough the game,
2 Swore, drank, and bluster'd, and blasphem'd for fame,
3 The first in brothels with their punk and Muse;
4 Your toast, ye bards? 'Parnassus and the stews!'
5 Thank heav'n, the times are chang'd; no poet now
6 Need roar for Bacchus, or to Venus bow.
7 'Tis our own fault if Fielding's lash we feel,
8 Or, like French wits, begin with the Bastile.
9 Ev'n in those days some few escap'd the fate,
10 By better judgment, or a longer date,
11 And rode, like buoys, triumphant o'er the tide.
12 Poor Otway, in an ale-house dos'd and dy'd!
13 While happier Southern, tho' with sports of yore,
14 Like Plato's hov'ring spirits, crusted o'er,
15 Liv'd every mortal vapour to remove,
16 And to our admiration, join'd our love.
17 Light lie his funeral turf! — For you, who join
18 His decent manners to his art divine,
19 Would ye (whilst, round you, toss the Proud and Vain
20 Convuls'd with feeling, or with giving pain),[Page 126]
21 Indulge the muse in innocence and ease,
22 And tread the flow'ry path of life in peace?
23 Avoid all authors, — "What! th' illustrious Few,
24 Who shunning Fame have taught her to pursue
25 Fair Virtue's heralds?"— Yes, I say again,
26 Avoid all authors, till you've read the men.
27 Full many a peevish, envious, slandering elf,
28 Is in his works, Benevolence itself.
29 For all mankind, unknown, his bosom heaves,
30 He only injures those with whom he lives.
31 Read then the Man: Does truth his actions guide,
32 Exempt from petulance, exempt from pride?
33 To social duties does his heart attend,
34 As son, as father, husband, brother, friend?
35 Do those who know him love him? if they do,
36 You've my permission, you may love him too.
37 But chief avoid the boist'rous roaring sparks,
38 The sons of fire! — you'll know them by their marks.
39 Fond to be heard they always court a croud,
40 And, tho' 'tis borrow'd nonsense, talk it loud.
41 One epithet supplies their constant chime,
42 Damn'd bad, damn'd good, damn'd low, and damn'd sublime!
43 But most in quick short repartee they shine
44 Of local humour: or from plays purloin
45 Each quaint stale scrap which every subject hits,
46 Till fools almost imagine they are wits.
47 Hear them on Shakespear! there they foam, they rage!
48 Yet taste not half the beauties of HIS page,
49 Nor see that art, as well as Nature, strove
50 To place him foremost in th' Aonian grove. [Page 127]
51 For there, there only, where the sisters meet,
52 His Genius triumphs, and the work's complete.
53 Or would ye sift more near these sons of fire,
54 'Tis Garrick, and not Shakespear, they admire:
55 Without his breath, inspiring every thought,
56 They ne'er perhaps had known what Shakespear wrote,
57 Without his eager, his becoming zeal,
58 To teach them, tho' they scarce know why, to feel,
59 A crude unmeaning mass had Johnson been,
60 And a dead letter Shakespear's noblest scene.
61 I'm no enthusiast, yet with joy can trace
62 Some gleams of shun-shine, for the tuneful race.
63 If Monarchs listen when the Muses woo,
64 Attention wakes, and nations listen too.
65 The Bard grows rapturous, who was dumb before,
66 And every fresh plum'd eagle learns to soar!
67 Friend of the finer arts, when Egypt saw
68 Her second Ptolemy give science law,
69 Each genius waken'd from his dead repose,
70 The column swell'd, the pile majestic rose,
71 Exact proportion borrow'd strength from ease,
72 And use was taught by elegance to please,
73 Along the breathing walls, as fancy flow'd,
74 The sculpture soften'd, and the picture glow'd,
75 Heroes reviv'd in animated stone,
76 The groves grew vocal, and the*[Page 128]
* The seven poets patronised by Ptolemy Philadelphus, are usu ally called by the name of the constellation. Pleiads shone!
77 Old Nilus rais'd his head, and wond'ring, cry'd,
78 "Long live the king! my patron! and my pride!"
79 Secure of endless praise, behold, I bear
80 My grateful suffrage to my sovereign's ear.
81 Tho' war shall rage, tho' time shall level all,
82 Yon colours sicken, and yon columns fall,
83 Tho' art's dear treasures feed the wasting flame,
84 And the proud volume sinks, an empty name;
85 Tho' Plenty may desert this copious vale,
86 My streams be scatter'd, or my fountains fail,
87 Yet Ptolemy has liv'd: the world has known
88 A king of arts, a patron on the throne,
89 Ev'n utmost Britain shall his name adore,
90 "And Nile be sung when Nile shall be no more."
91 One rule remains. Nor shun nor court the great;
92 Your truest centre is that middle state,
93 From whence with ease th' observing eye may go
94 To all which soars above, or sinks below.
95 'Tis yours all manners to have try'd, or known,
96 T' adopt all virtues, yet retain your own;
97 To stem the tide, where thoughtless crouds are hurl'd;
98 The firm spectators of a bustling world!
99 Thus arm'd, proceed: The breezes court your wing:
100 Go range all Helicon, taste every spring;
101 From varying nature cull th' innoxious spoil,
102 And, whilst amusement sooths the generous toil,
103 Let puzzled critics with suspicious spite
104 Descant on what you can, or cannot write;
105 True to yourselves, not anxious for renown,
106 Nor court the world's applause, nor dread its frown,[Page 129]
107 Guard your own breasts, and be the bulwark there,
108 To know no envy, and no malice fear.
109 At last you'll find, thus stoic-like prepar'd,
110 That verse and virtue are their own reward.