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WRITTEN IN NOVEMBER, 1693
Thrice, with a prophet's voice, and prophet's power, The Muse was called in a poetic hour, And insolently thrice the slighted maid Dared to suspend her unregarded aid; Then with that grief we form in spirits divine, Pleads for her own neglect, and thus reproaches mine.
Once highly honoured! false is the pretence You make to truth, retreat, and innocence! Who, to pollute my shades, bring'st with thee down The most ungenerous vices of the town; Ne'er sprung a youth from out this isle before I once esteem'd, and loved, and favour'd more, Nor ever maid endured such courtlike scorn, So much in mode, so very city-born; 'Tis with a foul design the Muse you send, Like a cast mistress, to your wicked friend; But find some new address, some fresh deceit, Nor practise such an antiquated cheat; These are the beaten methods of the stews, Stale forms, of course, all mean deceivers use, Who barbarously think to 'scape reproach, By prostituting her they first debauch.
Thus did the Muse severe unkindly blame This offering long design'd to Congreve's fame; First chid the zeal as unpoetic fire, Which soon his merit forced her to inspire; Then call this verse, that speaks her largest aid, The greatest compliment she ever made, And wisely judge, no power beneath divine Could leap the bounds which part your world and mine; For, youth, believe, to you unseen, is fix'd A mighty gulf, unpassable betwixt.
Nor tax the goddess of a mean design To praise your parts by publishing of mine; That be my thought when some large bulky writ Shows in the front the ambition of my wit; There to surmount what bears me up, and sing Like the victorious wren perch'd on the eagle's wing. This could I do, and proudly o'er him tower, Were my desires but heighten'd to my power. Godlike the force of my young Congreve's bays, Softening the Muse's thunder into praise; Sent to assist an old unvanquish'd pride That looks with scorn on half mankind beside; A pride that well suspends poor mortals' fate, Gets between them and my resentment's weight, Stands in the gap 'twixt me and wretched men, T'avert th'impending judgments of my pen.
Thus I look down with mercy on the age, By hopes my Congreve will reform the stage: For never did poetic mind before Produce a richer vein, or cleaner ore; The bullion stamp'd in your refining mind Serves by retail to furnish half mankind. With indignation I behold your wit Forced on me, crack'd, and clipp'd, and counterfeit, By vile pretenders, who a stock maintain From broken scraps and filings of your brain. Through native dross your share is hardly known, And by short views mistook for all their own; So small the gains those from your wit do reap, Who blend it into folly's larger heap, Like the sun's scatter'd beams which loosely pass, When some rough hand breaks the assembling glass.
Yet want your critics no just cause to rail, Since knaves are ne'er obliged for what they steal. These pad on wit's high road, and suits maintain With those they rob, by what their trade does gain. Thus censure seems that fiery froth which breeds O'er the sun's face, and from his heat proceeds, Crusts o'er the day, shadowing its partent beam, As ancient nature's modern masters dream; This bids some curious praters here below Call Titan sick, because their sight is so; And well, methinks, does this allusion fit To scribblers, and the god of light and wit; Those who by wild delusions entertain A lust of rhyming for a poet's vein, Raise envy's clouds to leave themselves in night, But can no more obscure my Congreve's light, Than swarms of gnats, that wanton in a ray Which gave them birth, can rob the world of day.
What northern hive pour'd out these foes to wit? Whence came these Goths to overrun the pit? How would you blush the shameful birth to hear Of those you so ignobly stoop to fear; For, ill to them, long have I travell'd since, Round all the circles of impertinence, Search'd in the nest where every worm did lie Before it grew a city butterfly; I'm sure I found them other kind of things Than those with backs of silk and golden wings; A search, no doubt, as curious and as wise As virtuosoes' in dissecting flies: For, could you think? the fiercest foes you dread, And court in prologues, all are country bred; Bred in my scene, and for the poet's sins Adjourn'd from tops and grammar to the inns; Those beds of dung, where schoolboys sprout up beaux Far sooner than the nobler mushroom grows: These are the lords of the poetic schools, Who preach the saucy pedantry of rules; Those powers the critics, who may boast the odds O'er Nile, with all its wilderness of gods; Nor could the nations kneel to viler shapes, Which worshipp'd cats, and sacrificed to apes; And can you think the wise forbear to laugh At the warm zeal that breeds this golden calf?
Haply you judge these lines severely writ Against the proud usurpers of the pit; Stay while I tell my story, short, and true; To draw conclusions shall be left to you; Nor need I ramble far to force a rule, But lay the scene just here at Farnham school. Last year, a lad hence by his parents sent With other cattle to the city went; Where having cast his coat, and well pursued The methods most in fashion to be lewd, Return'd a finish'd spark this summer down, Stock'd with the freshest gibberish of the town; A jargon form'd from the lost language, wit, Confounded in that Babel of the pit; Form'd by diseased conceptions, weak and wild, Sick lust of souls, and an abortive child; Born between whores and fops, by lewd compacts, Before the play, or else between the acts; Nor wonder, if from such polluted minds Should spring such short and transitory kinds, Or crazy rules to make us wits by rote, Last just as long as every cuckoo's note: What bungling, rusty tools are used by fate! 'Twas in an evil hour to urge my hate, My hate, whose lash just Heaven has long decreed Shall on a day make sin and folly bleed: When man's ill genius to my presence sent This wretch, to rouse my wrath, for ruin meant; Who in his idiom vile, with Gray's-Inn grace, Squander'd his noisy talents to my face; Named every player on his fingers' ends, Swore all the wits were his peculiar friends; Talk'd with that saucy and familiar ease Of Wycherly, and you, and Mr. Bayes: Said, how a late report your friends had vex'd, Who heard you meant to write heroics next; For, tragedy, he knew, would lose you quite, And told you so at Will's but t'other night.
Thus are the lives of fools a sort of dreams, Rendering shades things, and substances of names; Such high companions may delusion keep, Lords are a footboy's cronies in his sleep. As a fresh miss, by fancy, face, and gown, Render'd the topping beauty of the town, Draws every rhyming, prating, dressing sot, To boast of favours that he never got; Of which, whoe'er lacks confidence to prate, Brings his good parts and breeding in debate; And not the meanest coxcomb you can find, But thanks his stars, that Phillis has been kind; Thus prostitute my Congreve's name is grown To every lewd pretender of the town. Troth, I could pity you; but this is it, You find, to be the fashionable wit; These are the slaves whom reputation chains, Whose maintenance requires no help from brains. For, should the vilest scribbler to the pit, Whom sin and want e'er furnish'd out a wit; Whose name must not within my lines be shown, Lest here it live, when perish'd with his own; Should such a wretch usurp my Congreve's place, And choose out wits who ne'er have seen his face; I'll bet my life but the dull cheat would pass, Nor need the lion's skin conceal the ass; Yes, that beau's look, that vice, those critic ears, Must needs be right, so well resembling theirs.
Perish the Muse's hour thus vainly spent In satire, to my Congreve's praises meant; In how ill season her resentments rule, What's that to her if mankind be a fool? Happy beyond a private Muse's fate, In pleasing all that's good among the great, Where though her elder sisters crowding throng, She still is welcome with her innocent song; Whom were my Congreve blest to see and know, What poor regards would merit all below! How proudly would he haste the joy to meet, And drop his laurel at Apollo's feet!
Here by a mountain's side, a reverend cave Gives murmuring passage to a lasting wave: 'Tis the world's watery hour-glass streaming fast, Time is no more when th'utmost drop is past; Here, on a better day, some druid dwelt, And the young Muse's early favour felt; Druid, a name she does with pride repeat, Confessing Albion once her darling seat; Far in this primitive cell might we pursue Our predecessors' footsteps still in view; Here would we sing--But, ah! you think I dream, And the bad world may well believe the same; Yes: you are all malicious slanders by, While two fond lovers prate, the Muse and I.
Since thus I wander from my first intent, Nor am that grave adviser which I meant, Take this short lesson from the god of bays, And let my friend apply it as he please: Beat not the dirty paths where vulgar feet have trod, But give the vigorous fancy room.
For when, like stupid alchymists, you try To fix this nimble god, This volatile mercury, The subtile spirit all flies up in fume; Nor shall the bubbled virtuoso find More than fade insipid mixture left behind.
While thus I write, vast shoals of critics come, And on my verse pronounce their saucy doom; The Muse like some bright country virgin shows Fallen by mishap among a knot of beaux; They, in their lewd and fashionable prate, Rally her dress, her language, and her gait; Spend their base coin before the bashful maid, Current like copper, and as often paid: She, who on shady banks has joy'd to sleep Near better animals, her father's sheep, Shamed and amazed, beholds the chattering throng, To think what cattle she is got among; But with the odious smell and sight annoy'd, In haste she does th'offensive herd avoid.
'Tis time to bid my friend a long farewell, The muse retreats far in yon crystal cell; Faint inspiration sickens as she flies, Like distant echo spent, the spirit dies.
In this descending sheet you'll haply find Some short refreshment for your weary mind, Nought it contains is common or unclean, And once drawn up, is ne'er let down again.
[Footnote 1: Where Swift lived with Sir William Temple, who had bought an estate near Farnham, called Compton Hall, which he afterwards named Moor Park. See "Prose Works," vol. xi, 378.--W. E. B.]
[Footnote 2: Dryden. See "The Rehearsal," and post, p. 43.--W. E. B.]
[Footnote 3: Will's coffee-house in Russell Street, Covent Garden, where the wits of that time used to assemble. See "The Tatler," No. I, and notes, edit. 1786.--W. E. B.]
[Footnote 4: To this resolution Swift always adhered; for of the infinite multitude of libellers who personally attacked him, there is not the name mentioned of any one of them throughout his works; and thus, together with their writings, have they been consigned to eternal oblivion.--S.]
[Footnote 5: This alludes to Sir William Temple, to whom he presently gives the name of Apollo.--W. E. B.]
[Footnote 6: Out of an Ode I writ, inscribed "The Poet." The rest of it is lost.--Swift.]
[Footnote 7: For an account of Congreve, see Leigh Hunt's edition of "Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar."--W. E. B.]
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