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To my honoured friend, Sir Robert Howard, on his excellent Poems.
As there is music uninform'd by art In those wild notes, which, with a merry heart, The birds in unfrequented shades express, Who, better taught at home, yet please us less: So in your verse a native sweetness dwells, Which shames composure, and its art excels. Singing no more can your soft numbers grace, Than paint adds charms unto a beauteous face. Yet as, when mighty rivers gently creep, Their even calmness does suppose them deep; 10 Such is your muse: no metaphor swell'd high With dangerous boldness lifts her to the sky: Those mounting fancies, when they fall again, Show sand and dirt at bottom do remain. So firm a strength, and yet withal so sweet, Did never but in Samson's riddle meet. 'Tis strange each line so great a weight should bear, And yet no sign of toil, no sweat appear. Either your art hides art, as Stoics feign Then least to feel when most they suffer pain; 20 And we, dull souls, admire, but cannot see What hidden springs within the engine be: Or 'tis some happiness that still pursues Each act and motion of your graceful muse. Or is it fortune's work, that in your head The curious net, that is for fancies spread, Lets through its meshes every meaner thought, While rich ideas there are only caught? Sure that's not all; this is a piece too fair To be the child of chance, and not of care. 30 No atoms casually together hurl'd Could e'er produce so beautiful a world. Nor dare I such a doctrine here admit, As would destroy the providence of wit. 'Tis your strong genius, then, which does not feel Those weights would make a weaker spirit reel. To carry weight, and run so lightly too, Is what alone your Pegasus can do. Great Hercules himself could ne'er do more, Than not to feel those heavens and gods he bore. 40 Your easier odes, which for delight were penn'd, Yet our instruction make their second end: We're both enrich'd and pleased, like them that woo At once a beauty and a fortune too. Of moral knowledge poesy was queen, And still she might, had wanton wits not been; Who, like ill guardians, lived themselves at large, And, not content with that, debauch'd their charge. Like some brave captain, your successful pen Restores the exiled to her crown again: 50 And gives us hope, that having seen the days When nothing flourish'd but fanatic bays, All will at length in this opinion rest,-- "A sober prince's government is best." This is not all: your art the way has found To make the improvement of the richest ground; That soil which those immortal laurels bore, That once the sacred Maro's temples wore. Eliza's griefs are so express'd by you, They are too eloquent to have been true. 60 Had she so spoke, Æneas had obey'd What Dido, rather than what Jove had said. If funeral rites can give a ghost repose, Your Muse so justly has discharged those; Eliza's shade may now its wandering cease, And claim a title to the fields of peace. But if Æneas be obliged, no less Your kindness great Achilles doth confess; Who, dress'd by Statius in too bold a look, Did ill become those virgin robes he took. 70 To understand how much we owe to you, We must your numbers, with your author's, view: Then we shall see his work was lamely rough, Each figure stiff, as if design'd in buff: His colours laid so thick on every place, As only show'd the paint, but hid the face. But as in perspective we beauties see, Which in the glass, not in the picture, be; So here our sight obligingly mistakes That wealth, which his your bounty only makes. 80 Thus vulgar dishes are by cooks disguised, More for their dressing than their substance prized. Your curious notes so search into that age, When all was fable but the sacred page, That, since in that dark night we needs must stray, We are at least misled in pleasant way. But what we most admire, your verse no less The prophet than the poet doth confess. Ere our weak eyes discern'd the doubtful streak Of light, you saw great Charles his morning break. 90 So skilful seamen ken the land from far, Which shows like mists to the dull passenger. To Charles your Muse first pays her duteous love, As still the ancients did begin from Jove; With Monk you end, whose name preserved shall be, As Rome recorded Rufus'  memory, Who thought it greater honour to obey His country's interest, than the world to sway. But to write worthy things of worthy men, Is the peculiar talent of your pen: 100 Yet let me take your mantle up, and I Will venture in your right to prophesy-- "This work, by merit first of fame secure, Is likewise happy in its geniture: For, since 'tis born when Charles ascends the throne, It shares at once his fortune and its own."
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[Footnote 1: 'Sir Robert Howard:' brother to Dryden's wife.]
[Footnote 2: 'The curious net,' &c.: a compliment to a poem of Sir Robert's, called 'Rete Mirabile.']
[Footnote 3: 'Statius:' author of 'Thebaid' and the 'Achilleid;' the latter translated by Sir Robert Howard.]
[Footnote 4: 'With Monk you end,' &c.: alluding to a poem of this gentleman's on General Monk.]
[Footnote 5: 'Rufus:' a Roman consul, banished to Smyrna through intrigues, but greatly respected.]LE II.
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