An Essay Upon Satire




BY ME DRYDEN AND THE EARL OF MULGRAVE,[50] 1679.

How dull, and how insensible a beast Is man, who yet would lord it o'er the rest! Philosophers and poets vainly strove In every age the lumpish mass to move: But those were pedants, when compared with these, Who know not only to instruct, but please. Poets alone found the delightful way, Mysterious morals gently to convey In charming numbers; so that as men grew Pleased with their poems, they grew wiser too. 10 Satire has always shone among the rest, And is the boldest way, if not the best, To tell men freely of their foulest faults; To laugh at their vain deeds, and vainer thoughts. In satire too the wise took different ways, To each deserving its peculiar praise. Some did all folly with just sharpness blame, Whilst others laugh'd and scorn'd them into shame. But of these two, the last succeeded best, As men aim rightest when they shoot in jest. 20 Yet, if we may presume to blame our guides, And censure those who censure all besides, In other things they justly are preferr'd. In this alone methinks the ancients err'd,-- Against the grossest follies they declaim; Hard they pursue, but hunt ignoble game. Nothing is easier than such blots to hit, And 'tis the talent of each vulgar wit: Besides, 'tis labour lost; for who would preach Morals to Armstrong,[51] or dull Aston teach? 30 'Tis being devout at play, wise at a ball, Or bringing wit and friendship to Whitehall. But with sharp eyes those nicer faults to find, Which lie obscurely in the wisest mind; That little speck which all the rest does spoil, To wash off that would be a noble toil; Beyond the loose writ libels of this age, Or the forced scenes of our declining stage; Above all censure too, each little wit Will be so glad to see the greater hit; 40 Who, judging better, though concern'd the most, Of such correction, will have cause to boast. In such a satire all would seek a share, And every fool will fancy he is there. Old story-tellers too must pine and die, To see their antiquated wit laid by; Like her, who miss'd her name in a lampoon, And grieved to find herself decay'd so soon. No common coxcomb must be mentioned here: Not the dull train of dancing sparks appear; 50 Nor fluttering officers who never fight; Of such a wretched rabble who would write? Much less half wits: that's more against our rules; For they are fops, the other are but fools. Who would not be as silly as Dunbar? As dull as Monmouth, rather than Sir Carr?[52] The cunning courtier should be slighted too, Who with dull knavery makes so much ado; Till the shrewd fool, by thriving too, too fast, Like Ăsop's fox becomes a prey at last. 60 Nor shall the royal mistresses be named, Too ugly, or too easy to be blamed, With whom each rhyming fool keeps such a pother, They are as common that way as the other: Yet sauntering Charles, between his beastly brace,[53] Meets with dissembling still in either place, Affected humour, or a painted face. In loyal libels we have often told him, How one has jilted him, the other sold him: How that affects to laugh, how this to weep; 70 But who can rail so long as he can sleep? Was ever prince by two at once misled, False, foolish, old, ill-natured, and ill-bred? Earnely[54] and Aylesbury[55] with all that race Of busy blockheads, shall have here no place; At council set as foils on Danby's[56] score, To make that great false jewel shine the more; Who all that while was thought exceeding wise, Only for taking pains and telling lies. But there's no meddling with such nauseous men; 80 Their very names have tired my lazy pen: 'Tis time to quit their company, and choose Some fitter subject for sharper muse.

First, let's behold the merriest man alive[57] Against his careless genius vainly strive; Quit his dear ease, some deep design to lay, 'Gainst a set time, and then forget the day: Yet he will laugh at his best friends, and be Just as good company as Nokes and Lee.[58] But when he aims at reason or at rule, 90 He turns himself the best to ridicule; Let him at business ne'er so earnest sit, Show him but mirth, and bait that mirth with wit; That shadow of a jest shall be enjoy'd, Though he left all mankind to be destroy'd. So cat transform'd sat gravely and demure, Till mouse appear'd, and thought himself secure; But soon the lady had him in her eye, And from her friend did just as oddly fly. Reaching above our nature does no good; 100 We must fall back to our old flesh and blood; As by our little Machiavel we find That nimblest creature of the busy kind, His limbs are crippled, and his body shakes; Yet his hard mind which all this bustle makes, No pity of its poor companion takes. What gravity can hold from laughing out, To see him drag his feeble legs about, Like hounds ill-coupled? Jowler lugs him still Through hedges, ditches, and through all that's ill. 110 'Twere crime in any man but him alone, To use a body so, though 'tis one's own: Yet this false comfort never gives him o'er, That whilst he creeps his vigorous thoughts can soar; Alas! that soaring to those few that know, Is but a busy grovelling here below. So men in rapture think they mount the sky, Whilst on the ground the entranced wretches lie: So modern fops have fancied they could fly. As the new earl,[59] with parts deserving praise, 120 And wit enough to laugh at his own ways, Yet loses all soft days and sensual nights, Kind nature checks, and kinder fortune slights; Striving against his quiet all he can, For the fine notion of a busy man. And what is that at best, but one whose mind Is made to tire himself and all mankind? For Ireland he would go; faith, let him reign; For if some odd, fantastic lord would fain Carry in trunks, and all my drudgery do, 130 I'll not only pay him, but admire him too. But is there any other beast that lives, Who his own harm so wittingly contrives? Will any dog that has his teeth and stones, Refinedly leave his bitches and his bones, To turn a wheel, and bark to be employ'd, While Venus is by rival dogs enjoy'd? Yet this fond man, to get a statesman's name, Forfeits his friends, his freedom, and his fame.

Though satire, nicely writ, with humour stings 140 But those who merit praise in other things; Yet we must needs this one exception make, And break our rules for silly Tropos'[60] sake; Who was too much despised to be accused, And therefore scarce deserves to be abused; Raised only by his mercenary tongue, For railing smoothly, and for reasoning wrong, As boys, on holidays, let loose to play, Lay waggish traps for girls that pass that way; Then shout to see in dirt and deep distress 150 Some silly cit in her flower'd foolish dress: So have I mighty satisfaction found, To see his tinsel reason on the ground: To see the florid fool despised, and know it, By some who scarce have words enough to show it: For sense sits silent, and condemns for weaker The finer, nay sometimes the wittier speaker: But 'tis prodigious so much eloquence Should be acquirŔd by such little sense; For words and wit did anciently agree, 160 And Tully was no fool, though this man be: At bar abusive, on the bench unable, Knave on the woolsack, fop at council-table. These are the grievances of such fools as would Be rather wise than honest, great than good.

Some other kind of wits must be made known, Whose harmless errors hurt themselves alone; Excess of luxury they think can please, And laziness call loving of their ease: To live dissolved in pleasures still they feign, 170 Though their whole life's but intermitting pain: So much of surfeits, headaches, claps are seen, We scarce perceive the little time between: Well-meaning men who make this gross mistake, And pleasure lose only for pleasure's sake; Each pleasure has its price, and when we pay Too much of pain, we squander life away.

Thus Dorset, purring like a thoughtful cat, Married, but wiser puss ne'er thought of that: And first he worried her with railing rhyme, 180 Like Pembroke's mastives at his kindest time; Then for one night sold all his slavish life, A teeming widow, but a barren wife; Swell'd by contact of such a fulsome toad, He lugg'd about the matrimonial load; Till fortune, blindly kind as well as he, Has ill restored him to his liberty; Which he would use in his old sneaking way, Drinking all night, and dozing all the day; Dull as Ned Howard,[61] whom his brisker times 190 Had famed for dulness in malicious rhymes.

Mulgrave had much ado to 'scape the snare, Though learn'd in all those arts that cheat the fair: For after all his vulgar marriage mocks, With beauty dazzled, Numps was in the stocks; Deluded parents dried their weeping eyes, To see him catch his Tartar for his prize; The impatient town waited the wish'd-for change, And cuckolds smiled in hopes of sweet revenge; Till Petworth plot made us with sorrow see, 200 As his estate, his person too was free: Him no soft thoughts, no gratitude could move; To gold he fled from beauty and from love; Yet, failing there, he keeps his freedom still, Forced to live happily against his will: 'Tis not his fault, if too much wealth and power Break not his boasted quiet every hour.

And little Sid,[62] for simile renown'd, Pleasure has always sought but never found: Though all his thoughts on wine and women fall, 210 His are so bad, sure he ne'er thinks at all. The flesh he lives upon is rank and strong, His meat and mistresses are kept too long. But sure we all mistake this pious man, Who mortifies his person all he can: What we uncharitably take for sin, Are only rules of this odd capuchin; For never hermit under grave pretence, Has lived more contrary to common sense; And 'tis a miracle we may suppose, 220 No nastiness offends his skilful nose: Which from all stink can with peculiar art Extract perfume and essence from a f--t. Expecting supper is his great delight; He toils all day but to be drunk at night: Then o'er his cups this night-bird chirping sits, Till he takes Hewet and Jack Hall[63] for wits.

Rochester I despise for want of wit, Though thought to have a tail and cloven feet; For while he mischief means to all mankind, 230 Himself alone the ill effects does find: And so like witches justly suffer shame, Whose harmless malice is so much the same. False are his words, affected is his wit; So often he does aim, so seldom hit; To every face he cringes while he speaks, But when the back is turn'd, the head he breaks: Mean in each action, lewd in every limb, Manners themselves are mischievous in him: A proof that chance alone makes every creature, 240 A very Killigrew[64] without good nature. For what a Bessus[65] has he always lived, And his own kickings notably contrived! For, there's the folly that's still mix'd with fear, Cowards more blows than any hero bear; Of fighting sparks some may their pleasures say, But 'tis a bolder thing to run away: The world may well forgive him all his ill, For every fault does prove his penance still: Falsely he falls into some dangerous noose, 250 And then as meanly labours to get loose; A life so infamous is better quitting, Spent in base injury and low submitting. I'd like to have left out his poetry; Forgot by all almost as well as me. Sometimes he has some humour, never wit, And if it rarely, very rarely, hit, 'Tis under so much nasty rubbish laid, To find it out's the cinderwoman's trade; Who for the wretched remnants of a fire, 260 Must toil all day in ashes and in mire. So lewdly dull his idle works appear, The wretched texts deserve no comments here; Where one poor thought sometimes, left all alone, For a whole page of dulness must atone.

How vain a thing is man, and how unwise! Even he, who would himself the most despise! I, who so wise and humble seem to be, Now my own vanity and pride can't see; While the world's nonsense is so sharply shown, 270 We pull down others' but to raise our own; That we may angels seem, we paint them elves, And are but satires to set up ourselves. I, who have all this while been finding fault, Even with my master, who first satire taught; And did by that describe the task so hard, It seems stupendous and above reward; Now labour with unequal force to climb That lofty hill, unreach'd by former time; 'Tis just that I should to the bottom fall, 280 Learn to write well, or not to write at all.

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FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 50: 'Mulgrave:' Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham. It was for this satire, the joint composition of Dryden and Sheffield, that Rochester hired bravoes to cudgel Dryden.]

[Footnote 51: 'Armstrong:' Sir Thomas Armstrong, a notorious character of the time--hanged at Tyburn.]

[Footnote 52: 'Carr:' Sir Carr Scrope, a wit of the time.]

[Footnote 53: 'Beastly brace:' Duchess of Portsmouth and Nell Gwynn.]

[Footnote 54: 'Earnely:' Sir John Earnely, one of the lords of the treasury.]

[Footnote 55: 'Aylesbury:' Robert, the first Earl of Aylesbury.]

[Footnote 56: 'Danby:' Thomas, Earl of Danby, lord high-treasurer of England.]

[Footnote 57: 'Merriest man alive:' Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury.]

[Footnote 58: 'Nokes and Lee:' two celebrated comedians in Charles II.'s reign.]

[Footnote 59: 'New earl:' Earl of Essex.]

[Footnote 60: 'Tropos:' Sir William Scroggs. See Macaulay.]

[Footnote 61: 'Ned Howard:' Edward Howard, Esq., a dull writer. See Butler's works.]

[Footnote 62: 'Sid:' brother to Algernon Sidney.]

[Footnote 63: 'Hewet and Jack Hall:' courtiers of the day.]

[Footnote 64: 'Killigrew:' Thomas Killigrew, many years master of the revels, and groom of the chamber to King Charles II.]

[Footnote 65: 'Bessus:' a remarkable cowardly character in Beaumont and Fletcher's play of 'A King and no King.']

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