'I had rather be a kitten, and cry mew!
Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers’~Shakespeare
‘Such shameless bards we have; and yet ’tis true,
There are as mad, abandon’d critics too,'~Pope.
Still must I hear?—shall hoarse Fitzgerald bawl
His creaking couplets in a tavern hall,
And I not sing, lest, haply, Scotch reviews
Should dub me scribbler, and denounce my muse?
Prepare for rhyme—I’ll publish, right or wrong:
Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.
O nature’s noblest gift—my grey goose-quill!
Slave of my thoughts, obedient to my will,
Torn from thy parent bird to form a pen,
That mighty instrument of little men!
The pen! foredoom’d to aid the mental throes
Of brains that labour, big with verse or prose,
Though nymphs forsake, and critics may deride,
The lover’s solace, and the author’s pride.
What wits, what poets dost thou daily raise!
How frequent is thy use, how small thy praise!
Condemn’d at length to be forgotten quite,
With all the pages which 'twas thine to write.
But thou, at least, mine own especial pen!
Once laid aside, but now assumed again,
Our task complete, like Hamet’s shall be free;
Though spurn’d by others, yet beloved by me:
Then let us soar today, no common theme,
No eastern vision, no distemper’d dream
Inspires—our path, though full of thorns, is plain;
Smooth be the verse, and easy be the strain.
When Vice triumphant holds her sov’reign sway,
Obey’d by all who nought beside obey;
When Folly, frequent harbinger of crime,
Bedecks her cap with bells of every clime;
When knaves and fools combined o’er all prevail,
And weigh their justice in a golden scale;
E’en then the boldest start from public sneers,
Afraid of shame, unknown to other fears,
More darkly sin, by satire kept in awe,
And shrink from ridicule, though not from law.
Such is the force of wit! but not belong
To me the arrows of satiric song;
The royal vices of our age demand
A keener weapon, and a mightier hand.
Still there are follies, e’en for me to chase,
And yield at least amusement in the race:
Laugh when I laugh, I seek no other fame;
The cry is up, and scribblers are my game.
Speed, Pegasus!—ye strains of great and small,
Ode, epic, elegy, have at you all!
I too can scrawl, and once upon a time
I pour’d along the town a flood of rhyme,
A schoolboy freak, unworthy praise or blame;
I printed—older children do the same.
'Tis pleasant, sure, to see one’s name in print;
A book’s a book, although there’s nothing in’t.
Not that a title’s sounding charm can save
Or scrawl or scribbler from an equal grave:
This Lambe must own, since his patrician name
Fail’d to preserve the spurious farce from shame.
No matter, George continues still to write,
Though now the name is veil’d from public sight.
Moved by the great example, I pursue
The self-same road, but make my own review:
Not seek great Jeffrey’s, yet, like him, will be
Self-constituted judge of poesy.
A man must serve his time to every trade
Save censure—critics all are ready made.
Take hackney’d jokes from Miller, got by rote,
With just enough of learning to misquote;
A mind well skill’d to find or forge a fault;
A turn for punning, call it Attic salt;
To Jeffrey go, be silent and discreet,
His pay is just ten sterling pounds per sheet:
Fear not to lie, ‘twill seem a sharper hit;
Shrink not from blasphemy, ’twill pass for wit;
Care not for feeling—pass you proper jest,
And stand a critic, hated yet carress’d.
And shall we own such judgment? no—as soon
Seek roses in December—ice in June;
Hope constancy in wind, or corn in chaff;
Believe a woman or an epitaph,
Or any other thing that’s false, before
You trust in critics, who themselves are sore;
Or yield one single thought to be misled
By Jeffrey’s heart, or Lambe’s Boeotian head.
To these young tyrants, by themselves misplaced,
Combined usurpers on the throne of taste;
To these, when authors bend in humble awe,
And hail their voice as truth, their word as law—
While these are censors, ‘t would be sin to spare;
While such are critics, why should I forebear?
But yet, so near all modern worthies run,
’Tis doubtful whom to seek, or whom to shun:
Nor know we when to spare, or where to strike,
Our bards and censors are so much alike.
Then should you ask me, why I venture o’er
The path which Pope and Gifford trod before;
If not yet sicken’d, you can still proceed;
Go on; my rhyme will tell you as you read.
‘But hold!’ exclaims a friend, 'here’s come neglect:
This—that—and t’other line seem incorrect.'
What then? the self-same blunder Pope has got,
And careless Dryden—'Ay, but Pye has not:'—
Indeed!—'tis granted, faith!—but what care I?
Better to err with Pope, than shine with Pye.
Time was, ere yet in these degenerate days
Ignoble themes obtain’d mistaken praise,
When sense and wit with poesy allied,
No fabl’d graces, flourish’d side by side;
From the same fount their inspiration drew,
And, rear’d by taste, bloom’d fairer as they grew.
Then, in this happy isle, a Pope’s pure strain
Sought the rapt soul to charm, nor sought in vain;
A polish’d nation’s praise aspir’d to claim,
And rais’d the people’s, as the poet’s fame.
Like him great Dryden pour’d the tide of song,
In stream less smooth, indeed, yet doubly strong.
Then Congreve’s scenes could cheer, or Otway’s melt—
For nature then an English audience felt.
But why these names, or greater still, retrace,
When all to feebler bards resign their place?
Yet to such times our lingering looks are cast,
When taste and reason with those times are past.
Now look around, and turn each trifling page,
Survey the precious works that please the age;
This truth at least let satire’s self allow,
No dearth of bards can be complain’d of now.
The loaded press beneath her labour groans,
And printers’ devils shake their weary bones;
While Southey’s epics cram the creaking shelves,
And Little’s lyrics shine in hot-press’d twelves.
Thus saith the Preacher: 'Nought beneath the sun
Is new’; yet still from change to change we run:
What varied wonders tempt us as they pass!
The cow-pox, tractors, galvanism and gas,
In turns appear, to make the vulgar stare,
Till the swoll’n bubble bursts—and all is air!
Nor less new schools of Poetry arise,
Where dull pretenders grapple for the prize:
O’er taste awhile these pseudo-bards prevail;
Each country book-club bows the knee to Baal,
And, hurling lawful genius from the throne,
Erects a shrine and idol of its own;
Some leaden calf—but whom it matters not,
From soaring Southey down to grovelling Stott.
Behold! in various throngs the scribbling crew,
For notice eager, pass in long review:
Each spurs his jaded Pegasus apace,
And rhyme and blank maintain an equal race;
Sonnets on sonnets crowd, and ode on ode;
And tales of terror jostle on the road;
Immeasurable measures move along;
For simpering folly loves a varied song,
To strange mysterious dullness still the friend,
Admires the strain she cannot comprehend.
Thus Lays of Minstrels—may they be the last!—
On half-strung harps whine mournful to the blast.
While mountain spirits prate to river sprites,
That dames may listen to the sound at nights;
And goblin brats, of Gilpin Horner’s brood,
Decoy young border-nobles through the wood,
And skip at every step, Lord knows how high,
And frighten foolish babes, the Lord knows why;
While highborn ladies in their magic cell,
Forbidding knights to read who cannot spell,
Despatch a courier to a wizard’s grave,
And fight with honest men to shield a knave.
Next view in state, proud prancing on his roan,
The golden-crested haughty Marmion,
Now forging scrolls, now foremost in the fight,
Not quite a felon, yet but half a knight,
The gibbet or the field prepar’d to grace;
A mighty mixture of the great and base.
And think’st thou, Scott! by vain conceit perchance,
On public taste to foist thy stale romance,
Though Murray with his Miller may combine
To yield thy muse just half-a-crown per line?
No! when the sons of song descend to trade,
Their bays are sear, their former laurels fade.
Let such forego the poet’s sacred name,
Who rack their brains for lucre, not for fame:
Still for stern Mammon may they toil in vain!
And sadly gaze on gold they cannot gain!
Such be their meed, such still the just reward
Of prostituted muse and hireling bard!
For this we spurn Apollo’s venal son,
And bid a long ‘good night to Marmion.’
These are the themes that claim our plaudits now;
These are the bards to whom the muse must bow;
While Milton, Dryden, Pope, alike forgot,
Resign their hallow’d bays to Walter Scott.
The time has been, when yet the muse was young,
When Homer swept the lyre, and Maro sung,
An epic scarce ten centuries could claim,
While awe-struck nations hail’d the magic name;
The work of each immortal bard appears
The single wonder of a thousand years.
Empires have moulder’d from the face of earth,
Tongues have expir’d with those who gave them birth,
Without the glory such a strain can give,
As even in ruin bids the language live.
Not so with us, though minor bards, content
On one great work a life of labour spent:
With eagle pinion soaring to the skies,
Behold the ballad-monger Southey rise!
To him let Camoëns, Milton, Tasso yield,
Whose annual strains, like armies, take the field.
First in the ranks see Joan of Arc advance,
The scourge of England and the boast of France!
Though burnt by wicked Bedford for a witch,
Behold her statue plac’d in glory’s niche;
Her fetters burst, and just releas’d from prison,
A virgin phoenix from her ashes risen.
Next see tremendous Thalaba come on,
Arabia’s monstrous, wild and wondrous son:
Dom Daniel’s dread destroyer, who o’erthrew
More mad magicians than the world e’er knew.
Immortal hero! all thy foes o’ercome,
For ever reign—the rival of Tom Thumb!
Since startled metre fled before thy face,
Well wert thou doom’d the last of all thy race!
Well might triumphant genii bear thee hence,
Illustrious conqueror of common sense!
Now, last and greatest, Madoc spreads his sails,
Cacique in Mexico, and prince in Wales;
Tells us strange tales, as other travellers do,
More old than Mandeville’s, and not so true.
Oh Southey! Southey! cease thy varied song!
A bard may chant too often and too long:
As thou art strong in verse, in mercy, spare!
A fourth, alas! were more than we could bear.
But if, in spite of all the world can say,
Thou still wilt verseward plod thy weary way;
If still in Berkley ballads most uncivil,
Thou wilt devote old women to the devil,
The babe unborn thy dread intent may rue:
‘God help thee,’ Southey, and thy readers too.
Next comes the dull disciple of thy school,
That mild apostate from poetic rule,
The simple Wordsworth, framer of a lay
As soft as evening in his favourite May,
Who warns his friend 'to shake off toil and trouble,
And quit his books, for fear of growing double’;
Who, both by precept and example, shows
That prose is verse, and verse is merely prose;
Convincing all, by demonstration plain,
Poetic souls delight in prose insane;
And Christmas stories tortur’d into rhyme
Contain the essence of the true sublime.
Thus, when he tells the tale of Betty Foy,
The idiot mother of 'an idiot boy’;
A moon-struck, silly lad, who lost his way,
And, like his bard, confounded night with day;
So close on each pathetic part he dwells,
And each adventure so sublimely tells,
That all who view the 'idiot in his glory’
Conceive the bard the hero of the story.
Shall gentle Coleridge pass unnotic’d here,
To turgid ode and tumid stanza dear?
Though themes of innocence amuse him best,
Yet still obscurity’s a welcome guest.
If Inspiration should her aid refuse
To him who takes a pixey for a muse,
Yet none in lofty numbers can surpass
The bard who soars to elegize an ass.
So well the subject suits his noble mind,
He brays the laureat of the long-ear’d kind.
Oh! wonder-working Lewis! monk, or bard,
Who fain wouldst make Parnassus a churchyard!
Lo! wreaths of yew, not laurel, bind thy brow,
Thy muse a sprite, Apollo’s sexton thou!
Whether on ancient tombs thou tak’st thy stand,
By gibb’ring spectres hail’d, thy kindred band;
Or tracest chaste descriptions on thy page,
To please the females of our modest age;
All hail, M.P.! from whose infernal brain
Thin-sheeted phantoms glide, a grisly train;
At whose command 'grim women’ throng in crowds,
And kings of fire, of water, and of clouds,
With ‘small gray men,’ ‘wild yagers,’ and what not,
To crown with honour thee and Walter Scott;
Again all hail! if tales like thine may please,
St. Luke alone can vanquish the disease;
Even Satan’s self with thee might dread to dwell,
And in thy skull discern a deeper hell.
Who in soft guise, surrounded by a choir
Of virgins melting, not to Vesta’s fire
With sparkling eyes, and cheek by passion flush’d,
Strikes his wild lyre, whilst listening dames are hush’d?
'Tis Little! young Catullus of his day,
As sweet, but as immoral, in his lay!
Grieved to condemn, the muse must still be just,
Nor spare melodious advocates of lust.
Pure is the flame which o’er her altar burns;
From grosser incense with disgust she turns;
Yet kind to youth, this expiation o’er,
She bids thee ‘mend thy line and sin no more.’
For thee, translator of the tinsel song,
To whom such glittering ornaments belong,
Hiberian Strangford! with thine eyes of blue,
And boasted locks of red or auburn hue,
Whose plaintive strain each love-sick miss admires,
And o’er harmonious fustian half expires,
Learn, if thou canst, to yield thine author’s sense,
Nor vend thy sonnets on a false pretence.
Think’st thou to gain thy verse a higher place,
By dressing Camoëns in suit of lace?
Mend, Strangford! mend thy morals and thy taste;
Be warm, but pure; be amorous, but be chaste;
Cease to deceive,: thy pilfer’d harp restore,
Nor teach the Lusian bard to copy Moore.
Behold!—ye tarts!—one moment spare the text—
Hayley’s last work, and worst—until his next;
Whether he spin poor couplets into plays,
Or damn the dead with purgatorial praise,
His style in youth or age is still the same,
For ever feeble and for ever tame.
Triumphant first see 'Temper’s Triumphs’ shine!
At least I’m sure they triumph’d over mine.
Of 'Music’s Triumphs’ all who read may swear
That luckless music never triumph’d there.
Moravians, arise! bestow some meet reward
On dull devotion—Lo! the Sabbath bard,
Sepulchral Grahame, pours his notes sublime
In mangled prose, nor e’en aspires to rhyme;
Breaks into blank the Gospel of St. Luke,
And boldly pilfers from the Pentateuch;
And, undisturb’d by conscientious qualms,
Perverts the Prophets, and purloins the Psalms.
Hail, Sympathy! thy soft idea brings
A thousand visions of a thousand things,
And shows, still whimpering through three-score of years,
The maudlin prince of mournful sonneteers.
Art thou not their prince, harmonious Bowles!
Thou first, great oracle of tender souls?
Whether thou sing’st with equal ease, and grief,
The fall of empires, or a yellow leaf:
Whether thy muse most lamentably tells
What merry sounds proceed from Oxford bells,
Or, still in bells delighting, finds a friend
In every chime that jingled from Ostend:
Ah! how much juster were thy muse’s hap
If to thy bells thou wouldst but add a cap!
Delightful Bowles! still blessing and still blest,
All love thy strain, but children like it best.
'Tis thine, with gentle Little’s moral song,
To soothe the mania of the amorous throng!
With thee our nursery damsels shed their tears,
Ere miss as yet completes her infant years:
But in her teens thy winning powers are vain;
She quits poor Bowles for Little’s purer strain.
Now to soft themes thou scornest to confine
The lofty numbers of a harp like thine:
‘Awake a louder and a loftier strain,’
Such as none heard before, or will again!
Where all Discoveries jumbled from the flood,
Since first the leaky ark reposed in mud,
By more or less, are sung in every book,
From Captain Noah down to Captain Cook.
Nor this alone; but, pausing on the road,
The bard sighs forth a gentle episode;
And gravely tells—attend, each beauteous miss!—
When first Madeira trembled to a kiss.
Bowles! in thy memory let this precept dwell,
Stick to thy sonnets, man!—at least they sell.
But if some new-born whim, or larger bribe,
Prompt thy crude brain, and claim thee for a scribe;
If chance some bard, though once by dunces fear’d,
Now, prone in dust, can only be revered;
If Pope, whose fame and genius, from the first,
Have foil’d the best of critics, needs the worst,
Do thou essay: each fault, each falling scan;
The first of poets was, alas! but man.
Rake from each ancient dunghill every pearl,
Consult Lord Fanny, and confide in Curll;
Let all the scandals of a former age
Perch on thy pen, and flutter o’er thy page;
Affect a candour which thou canst not feel,
Clothe envy in the garb of honest zeal;
Write, as if St. John’s soul could still inspire,
And do from hate what Mallet did for hire.
Oh! hadst thou lived in that congenial time,
To rave with Dennis, and with Ralph to rhyme;
Throng’d with the rest around his living head,
Not raised thy hoof against the lion dead;
A meet reward had crown’d thy glorious gains,
And link’d thee to the Dunciad for thy pains.
Another epic! Who inflicts again
More books of blank upon the sons of men?
Boeotian Cottle, rich Browtowa’s boast,
Imports old stories from the Cambrian coast,
And sends his goods to market—all alive!
Lines forty thousand, cantos twenty-five!
Fresh fish from Helicon! who’ll buy, who’ll buy?
The precious bargain’s cheap—in faith, not I.
Your turtle-feeder’s verse must needs be flat,
Though Bristol bloat them with the verdant fat;
If Commerce fills the purse, she clogs the brain
And Amos Cottle strikes the lyre in vain.
In him an author’s luckless lot behold,
Condemn’d to make the books which once he sold.
Oh, Amos Cottle!—Pheobus! what a name
To fill the speaking trump of future fame!—
Oh, Amos Cottle! for a moment think
What meagre profits spring from pen and ink!
When thus devoted to poetic dreams,
Who will peruse thy prostituted reams?
Oh! pen perverted! paper misapplied!
Had Cottle still adorn’d the counter’s side,
Bent o’er the desk, or, born to useful toils,
Been taught to make the paper which he soils,
Plough’d, delved, or plied the oar with lusty limb,
He had not sung of Wales, nor I of him.
As Sisyphus against the infernal steep
Rolls the huge rock whose motions ne’er may sleep,
So up thy hill, ambrosial Richmond, heaves
Dull Maurice all his granite weight of leaves:
Smooth, solid monuments of mental pain!
The petrifactions of a plodding brain,
That, ere they reach the top, fall lumbering back again.
With broken lyre, and cheek serenely pale,
Lo! sad Alcæus wanders down the vale;
Though fair they rose, and might have bloom’d at last,
His hopes have perish’d by the northern blast:
Nipp’d in the bud by Caledonian gales,
His blossoms wither as the blast prevails!
O’er his lost works let classic Sheffield weep;
May no rude hand disturb their early sleep!
Yet say! why should the bard at once resign
His claim to favour from the sacred Nine?
For ever startled by the mingled howl
Of northern wolves, that still in darkness prowl;
A coward brood, which mangle as they prey,
By hellish instinct, all that cross their way;
Aged or young, the living or the dead,
No mercy find—these harpies must be fed.
Why do the injured unresisting yield
The calm possession of their native field?
Why tamely thus before their fangs retreat,
Nor hunt the blood-hounds back to Arthur’s Seat?
Health to immortal Jeffrey! once, in name,
England could boast a judge almost the same;
In soul so like, so merciful, yet just,
Some think that Satan has resign’d his trust,
And given the spirit to the world again,
To sentence letters, as he sentenced men.
With hand less mighty, but with heart as black,
With voice as willing to decree the rack;
Bred in the courts betimes, though all that law
As yet hath taught him is to find a flaw;
Since well instructed in the patriot school
To rail at party, though a party tool,
Who knows, if chance his patrons should restore
Back to the sway they forfeited before,
His scribbling toils some recompense may meet,
And raise this Daniel to the judgment-seat?
Let Jeffreys’ shade indulge the pious hope,
And greeting thus, present him with a rope:
'Heir to my virtues! man of equal mind!
Skill’d to condemn as to traduce mankind,
This cord receive, for thee reserved with care,
To wield in judgment, and at length to wear.'
Health to great Jeffrey! Heaven preserve his life,
To flourish on the fertile shores of Fife,
And guard it sacred in its future wars,
Since authors sometimes seek the field of Mars!
Can none remember that eventful day,
That ever-glorious, almost fatal fray,
When Little’s leadless pistol met his eye,
And Bow-street myrmidons stood laughing by?
Oh, day disastrous! on her firm-set rock,
Dunedin’s castle felt a secret shock;
Dark roll’d the sympathetic waves of Forth,
Low groan’d the startled whirlwinds of the north;
Tweed ruffled half his waves to form a tear,
The other half pursued its calm career;
Arthur’s steep summit nodded to its base,
The surly Tolbooth scarcely kept her place.
The Tolbooth felt—for marble sometimes can,
On such occasions feel as much as man—
The Tolbooth felt defrauded of his charms,
If Jeffrey died, except within her arms:
Nay last, not least on that portentious morn,
The sixteenth story, where himself was born,
His patrimonial garret, fell to the ground,
And pale Edina shudder’d at the sound:
Strew’d were the streets around with milk-white reams,
Flow’d all the Canongate with inky streams;
This of candour seem’d the sable dew,
That of his valour show’d the bloodless hue;
And all with justice deem’d the two combined
The mingled emblems of his mighty mind.
But Caledonia’s goddess hover’d o’er
The field and saved him from the wrath of Moore;
From either pistol snatch’d the vengeful lead,
And straight restored it to her favourite’s head:
That head, with greater than magnetic power,
Caught it, as Danaë caught the golden shower,
And, though the thickening dross will scarce refine,
Augments its ore, and is itself a mine.
‘My son,’ she cried, 'ne’er thirst for gore again,
Resign the pistol and resume the pen;
O’er politics and poesy preside,
Boast of thy country, and Britannia’s guide!
For as long as Albion’s heedless sons submit,
Or Scottish taste decides on English wit,
So long shall last thine unmolested reign,
Nor any dare to take thy name in vain.
Behold, a chosen band shall aid thy plan,
And own thee chieftain of the critic clan.
First in the oat-fed phalanx shall be seen
The travell’d thane, Athenian Aberdeen.
Herbert shall wield Thor’s hammer, and sometimes,
In graditude, thou’lt praise his rugged rhymes.
Smug Sidney too thy bitter page shall seek,
And classic Hallam, much renown’d for Greek;
Scott must perchance his name and influence lend,
And paltry Pillans shall traduce his friend!
While gay Thalia’s luckless votary, Lambe,
Damn’d like the devil, devil-like will damn.
Known be thy name, unbounded be thy sway!
Thy Holland’s banquets shall each toil repay;
While grateful Britain yields the praise she owes
To Holland’s hirelings and to learning’s foes.
Yet mark one caution ere thy next Review
Spread its light wings of saffron and of blue,
Beware lest blundering Brougham destroy the sale,
Turn beef to bannocks, cauliflowers to kail.'
Thus having said, the kilted goddess kiss’d
Her son, and vanish’d in a Scottish mist
Then prosper, Jeffrey! pertest of the train
Whom Scotland pampers with her fiery grain!
Whatever blessing waits a genuine Scot,
In double portion swells thy glorious lot;
For thee Edina culls her evening sweets,
And showers their odours on thy candid sheets,
Whose hue and fragrance to thy work adhere—
This scents its pages, and that gilds its rear.
Lo! blushing Itch, coy nymph, enamour’d grown,
Forsakes the rest, and cleaves to thee alone;
And, too unjust to other Pictish men,
Enjoys thy person, and inspires thy pen!
Illustrious Holland! hard would be this lot,
His hirelings mention’d, and himself forgot!
Holland, with Henry Petty at his back,
The whipper-in and huntsman of the pack.
Blest be the banquets spread at Holland House,
Where Scotchmen feed, and critics may carouse!
Long, long beneath that hospitable roof
Shall Grub-street dine, while duns are kept aloof.
See honest Hallam lay aside his fork,
Resume his pen, review his Lordship’s work,
And, grateful for the dainties on his plate,
Declare his landlord can at least translate!
Dunedin! view thy children with delight,
They write for food—and feed because they write:
And lest, when heated with unusual grape,
Some glowing thoughts should to the press escape,
And tinge with red the female reader’s cheek,
My lady skims the cream of each critique;
Breathes o’er the page her purity of soul,
Reforms each error, and refines the whole.
Now to the Drama turn—Oh! motley sight!
What precious scenes the wondering eyes invite!
Puns, and a prince within a barrel pent,
And Dibdin’s nonsense yield complete content.
Though now, thank Heaven! the Rosciomania’s o’er,
And full-grown actors are endured once more:
Yet what avail their vain attempts to please,
While British critics suffer scenes like these;
While Reynolds vents his ‘dammes!’ ‘poohs!’ and ‘zounds!’
And common-place and common sense confounds?
While Kenney’s 'World’—ah! where is Kenney’s wit?—
Tires the sad gallery, lulls the listless pit;
And Beaumont’s pilfer’d Caratach affords
A tragedy complete in all but words?
Who but must mourn, while these are all the rage,
The degradation of our vaunted stage!
Heavens! is all sense of shame and talent gone?
Have we no living bard of merit?—none!
Awake, George Colman! Cumberland, awake!
Ring the alarum bell! let folly quake!
Oh Sheridan! if aught can move they pen,
Let Comedy assume her throne again;
Abjure the mummery of German schools;
Leave new Pizarros to translating fools;
Give, as thy last memorial to the age,
One classic drama, and reform the stage.
Gods! o’er those boards shall Folly rear her head
Where Garrick trod and Siddons lives to tread?
On those shall Farce display Buffoon’ry’s mask,
And Hook conceal his heroes in a cask?
Shall sapient managers new scenes produce
From Cherry, Skeffington, and Mother Goose?
While Shakespeare, Otway, Massinger, forgot,
On stalls must moulder, or in closets rot?
Lo! with what pomp the daily prints proclaim
The rival candidates for Attic fame!
In grim array though Lewis’ spectres rise,
Still Skeffington and Goose divide the prize.
And sure great Skeffington must claim our praise,
For skirtless coats and skeletons of plays
Renown’d alike; whose genius ne’er confines
Her flight to garnish Greenwood’s gay designs;
Nor sleeps with ‘Sleeping Beauties,’ but anon
In five facetious acts comes thundering on,
While poor John Bull, bewilder’d with the scene
Stares, wondering what the devil it can mean;
But as some hands applaud, a venal few!
Rather than sleep, why John applauds it too.
Such are we now. Ah! wherefore should we turn
To what our fathers were, unless to mourn?
Degenerate Britons! are ye dead to shame,
Or, kind to dullness, do you fear to blame?
Well may the nobles of our present race
Watch each distortion of a Naldi’s face;
Well may they smile on Italy’s buffoons,
And worship Catalani’s pantaloons,
Since their own drama yields no fairer trace
Of wit than puns, of humour than grimace.
Then let Ausonia, skill’d in every art
To soften manners, but corrupt the heart,
Pour her exotic follies o’er the town,
To sanction Vice, and hunt Decorum down:
Let wedded strumpets languish o’er Deshayes,
And bless the promise which his form displays;
While Grayton bounds before th’ enraptured looks
Of hoary marquises and stripling dukes;
Let high-born lechers eye the lively Présle
Twirl her light limbs, that spurn the needless veil;
Let Angiolini bare her breast of snow,
Wave the white arm, and point the pliant toe;
Collini trill her love-inspiring song,
Strain her fair neck, and charm the listening throng!
Whet not your scythe, suppressers of our vice!
Reforming saints! too delicately nice!
By whose decrees, our sinful souls to save,
No Sunday tankards foam, no barber’s shave;
And beer undrawn, and beards unmown, display
You holy reverence for the Sabbath-day.
Or hail at once the patron and the pile
Of vice and folly, Greville and Argyle!
Where yon proud palace, Fashion’s hallow’d fane,
Spreads wide her portals for the motley train,
Behold the new Petronius of the day,
Our arbiter of pleasure and of play!
There the hired eunuch, the Hesperian choir,
The melting lute, the soft lascivious lyre,
The song from Italy, the step from France,
The midnight orgy, and the mazy dance,
The smile of beauty, and the flush of wine,
For fops, fools, gamesters, knaves, and lords combine:
Each to his humour—Comus all allows;
Champaign, dice, music or your neighbour’s spouse.
Talk not to us, ye starving sons of trade!
Of piteous ruin, which ourselves have made;
In plenty’s sunshine Fortune’s minions bask,
Nor think of poverty, except ‘en masque,’
When for the night some lately titled ass
Appears the beggar which his grandsire was.
The curtain dropp’d, the gay burletta o’er,
The audience take their turn upon the floor;
Now round the room the circling dow’gers sweep,
Now in loose waltz the thin-clad daughters leap;
The first in lengthen’d line majestic swim,
The last display the free unfetter’d limb!
Those for Hibernia’s lusty sons repair
With art the charms which nature could not spare;
These after husbands wing their eager flight,
Nor leave much mystery for the nuptial night.
Oh! blest retreats of infamy and ease,
Where, all forgotten but the power to please,
Each maid may give a loose to genial thought,
Each swain may teach new systems, or be taught:
There the blithe youngster, just return’s from Spain,
Cuts the light pack, or calls the rattling main;
The jovial caster’s set, and seven’s the nick,
Or—done!—a thousand on the coming trick!
If, mad with loss, existence 'gins to tire,
And all your hope or wish is to expire,
Here’s Powell’s pistol ready for your life,
And, kinder still, two Pagets for your wife;
Fit consummation of an earthly race
Begun in folly, ended in disgrace;
While none but menials o’er the bed of death,
Wash thy red wounds, or watch thy wavering breath;
Traduced by liars, and forgot by all,
The mangled victim of a drunken brawl,
To live, like Clodius, and like Falkland fall.
Truth! rouse some genuine bard, and guide his hand
To drive this pestilence from out the land.
E’en I—least thinking of a thoughtless throng,
Just skill’d to know the right and choose the wrong,
Freed at that age when reason’s shield is lost,
To fight my course through passion’s countless host,
Whom every path of pleasure’s flowery way
Has lured in turn, and all have led astray—
E’en I must raise my voice, e’en I must feel
Such scenes, such men, destroy the public weal:
Although some kind, censorious friend will say,
‘What art thou better, meddling fool, than they?’
And every brother rake will smile to see
That miracle, a moralist in me.
No matter—when some bard in virtue strong,
Gifford perchance, shall raise the chastening song,
Then sleep my pen for ever! and my voice
Be only heard to hail him, and rejoice;
Rejoice, and yield my feeble praise, though I
May feel the lash that Virtue must apply.
As for the smaller fry, who swarm in shoals,
From silly Hafiz up to simple Bowles,
Why should we call them from their dark abode,
In broad St. Giles’s or in Tottenham-road?
Or (since some men of fashion nobly dare
To scrawl in verse) from Bond-street or the Square?
If things of ton their harmless lays indict,
Most wisely doom’d to shun the public sight,
What harm? in spite of every critic elf,
Sir T. may read his stanzas to himself;
Miles Andrews still his strength in couplets try,
And life in prologues, though his dramas die:
Lords too are bards, such things at times befall,
And 'tis some praise in peers to write at all.
Yet, did or taste or reason sway the times
Ah! who would take their titles with their rhymes?
Roscommon! Sheffield! with your spirits fled,
No future laurels deck a noble head;
No muse will cheer, with renovating smile
The paralytic puling of Carlisle.
The puny schoolboy and his early lay
Men pardon, if his follies pass away;
But who forgives the senior’s ceaseless verse,
Whose hairs grow hoary as his rhymes grow worse?
What heterogeneous honours deck the peer!
Lord, rhymester, petit-maître, and pamphleteer!
So dull in youth, so drivelling in his age,
His scenes alone had damn’d our stage;
But managers for once cried, ‘Hold, enough!’
Nor drugg’d their audience with the tragic stuff.
Yet at their judgment let his lordship laugh,
And case his volumes in congenial calf;
Yes! doff that covering, where morocco shines,
And hang a calf-skin on those recreant lines.
With you, ye Druids! rich in native lead,
Who daily scribble for your daily bread;
With you I war not: Gifford’s heavy hand
Has crush’d, without remorse, your numerous band.
On 'all the talents’ vent your venal spleen;
Want is your plea, let pity be your screen.
Let monodies on Fox regale your crew,
And Melville’s Mantle prove a blanket too!
One common Lethe waits each hapless bard,
And, peace be with you! ‘tis your best reward.
Such damning fame as Dunciads only give
Could bid your lines beyond a morning live;
But now at once your fleeting labours close,
With names of greater note in blest repose,
Far be ’t from me unkindly to upbraid,
The lovely Rosa’s prose in masquerade,
Whose strains, the faithful echoes of her mind,
Leave wondering comprehension far behind.
Though Crusca’s bards no more our journals fill,
Some stragglers skirmish round the columns still;
Last of the howling host which once was Bell’s,
Matilda snivels yet, and Hafix yells;
And Merry’s metaphors appear anew,
Chain’d to the signature of O. P. Q.
When some brisk youth, the tenant of a stall,
Employs a pen less pointed than his awl,
Leaves his snug shop, forsakes his store of shoes,
St. Crispin quits, and cobbles for the muse,
Heavens! how the vulgar stare! how crowds applaud!
How ladies read, and literati laud!
If chance some wicked wag should pass his jest,
'Tis sheer ill-nature—don’t the world know best?
Genius must guide when wits admire the rhyme,
And Capel Lofft declares 'tis quite sublime.
Hear, then, ye happy sons of needless trade!
Swains! quit the plough, resign the useless spade!
Lo! Burns and Bloomfield, nay, a greater far,
Gifford was born beneath an adverse star,
Forsook the labours of a servile state,
Stemm’d the rude storm, and triumph’d over fate:
Then why no more? if Phoebus smiled on you,
Bloomfield! why not on brother Nathan too?
Him too the mania, not the muse, has seized;
Not inspiration, but a mind diseased:
And now no boor can seek his last abode,
No common be enclosed without an ode.
Oh! since increased refinement deigns to smile
On Britain’s sons, and bless our genial isle,
Let poesy go forth, pervade the whole,
Alike the rustic, and mechanic soul!
Ye tuneful cobblers! still your notes prolong,
Compose at once a slipper and a song;
So shall the fair your handiwork peruse,
Your sonnets sure shall please—perhaps your shoes.
May Moorland weavers boast Pindaric skill,
And tailors’ lays be longer than their bill!
While punctual beaux reward the grateful notes,
And pay for poems—when they pay for coats.
To the famed throng now paid the tribute due,
Neglected genius! let me turn to you,
Come forth, oh Campbell give thy talents scope;
Who dares aspire if thou must cease to hope?
And thou, melodious Rogers! rise at last,
Recall the pleasing memory of the past;
Arise! let blest remembrance still inspire,
And strike to wonted tones thy hallow’d lyre;
Restore Apollo to his vacant throne,
Assert thy country’s honour and thine own.
What! must deserted Poesy still weep
Where her last hopes with pious Cowper sleep?
Unless, perchance, from his cold bier she turns,
To deck the turf that wraps her minstrel, Burns!
No! though contempt hath mark’d the spurious brood,
The race who rhyme from folly, or for food,
Yet still some genuine sons ‘tis hers to boast,
Who, least affecting, still affect the most:
Feel as they write, and write but as they feel—
Bear witness Gifford, Sotheby, Macneil.
’Why slumbers Gifford?' once was ask’d in vain;
Why slumbers Gifford? let us ask again.
Are there no follies for his pen to purge?
Are there no fools whose backs demand the scourge?
Are there no sins for satire’s bard to greet?
Stalks not gigantic Vice in very street?
Shall peers or princes tread pollution’s path,
And 'scape alike the law’s and muse’s wrath?
Nor blaze with guilty glare through future time,
Eternal beacons of consummate crime?
Arouse thee, Gifford! be thy promise claim’d,
Make bad men better, or at least ashamed.
Unhappy White! while life was in its spring,
And thy young muse just waved her joyous wing,
The spoiler swept that soaring lyre away,
Which else had sounded an immortal lay.
Oh! what a noble heart was here undone,
When Science’ self destroy’d her favourite son!
Yes, she too much indulged thy fond pursuit,
She sow’d the seeds, but death has reap’d the fruit.
'Twas thine own genius gave the final blow,
And help’d to plant the wound that laid thee low:
So the struck eagle, stretch’d upon the plain,
No more through rolling clouds to soar again,
View’d his own feather on the fatal dart,
And wing’d the shaft that quiver’d in his heart;
Keen were his pangs, but keener far to feel
He nursed the pinion which impell’d the steel;
While the same plumage that had warm’d his nest
Drank the last life-drop of his bleeding breast.
There be who say, in these enlighten’d days,
That splendid lies are all the poet’s praise;
That strain’d invention, ever on the wing,
Alone impels the modern bard to sing:
'Tis true, that all who rhyme—nay, all who write,
Shrink from that fatal word to genius—trite;
Yet Truth sometimes will lend her noblest fires,
And decorate the verse herself inspires:
This fact in Virtue’s name let Crabbe attest;
Though nature’s sternest painter, yet the best.
And here let Shee and Genius find a place,
Whose pen and pencil yield an equal grace;
To guide whose hand the sister arts combine,
And trace the poet’s or the painter’s line;
Whose magic touch can bid the canvas glow,
Or pour the easy rhyme’s harmonious flow;
While honours, doubly merited, attend
The poet’s rival, but the painter’s friend.
Blest is the man who dares approach the bower
Where dwelt the muses at their natal hour;
Whose steps have press’d, whose eye has mark’d afar,
The clime that nursed the sons of song and war,
The scenes which glory still must hover o’er,
Her place of birth, her own Achaian shore.
But doubly blest is he whose heart expands
With hallow’d feelings for those classic lands;
Who rends the veil of ages long gone by,
And views their remnants with a poet’s eye!
Wright! 'twas thy happy lot at once to view
Those shores of glory, and to sing them too;
And sure no common muse inspired thy pen
To hail the land of gods and godlike men.
And you, associate bards! who snatch’d to light
Those gems too long withheld from modern sight;
Whose mingling taste combined to cull the wreath
Where Attic flowers Aonion odours breathe,
And all their renovated fragrance flung
To grace the beauties of your native tongue;
Now let those minds that nobly could transfuse
The glorious spirit of the Grecian muse,
Though soft the echo, scorn a borrow’d tone:
Resign Achaia’s lyre, and strike your own.
Let these, or such as these with just applause,
Restore the muse’s violated laws;
But not in flimsy Darwin’s pompous chime,
That mighty master of unmeaning rhyme,
Whose gilded cymbals, more adorn’d than clear,
The eye delighted, but fatigued the ear;
In show the simple lyre could once surpass,
But now, worn down, appear in native brass;
While all his train of hovering sylphs around
Evaporate in similes and sound:
Him let them shun, with him let tinsel die:
False glare attracts, but more offends the eye.
Yet let them not to vulgar Wordsworth stoop,
The meanest object of the lowly group,
Whose verse, of all but childish prattle void,
Seems blessed harmony to Lamb and Lloyd:
Let them—but hold, my muse, nor dare to teach
A strain far, far beyond thy humble reach:
The native genius with their being given
Will point the path, and peal their notes to heaven.
And thou, too, Scott! resign to minstrels rude
The wilder slogan of a border feud:
Let others spin their meagre lines for hire;
Enough for genius, if itself inspire!
Let Southey sing, although his teeming muse,
Prolific every spring, be too profuse;
Let simple Wordsworth chime his childish verse,
And brother Coleridge lull the babe at nurse;
Let spectre-mongering Lewis aim, at most,
To rouse the galleries, or to raise a ghost;
Let Moore still sigh; let Strangford steal from Moore,
And swear that Comoëns sang such notes of yore;
Let Hayley hobble on, Montgomery rave,
And godly Grahame chant a stupid stave:
Let sonneteering Bowles his strains refine,
And whine and whimper to the fourteenth line;
Let Stott, Carlisle, Matilda, and the rest
Of Grub Street, and of Grosvenor Place the best,
Scrawl on, till death release us from the strain,
Or Common Sense assert her rights again.
But thou, with powers that mock the aid of praise,
Shouldst leave to humbler bards ignoble lays:
Thy country’s voice, the voice of all the nine,
Demand a hallow’d harp—that harp is thine.
Say! will not Caledonia’s annals yield
The glorious record of some nobler field,
Than the wild foray of a plundering clan,
Whose proudest deeds disgrace the name of man?
Or Marmion’s acts of darkness, fitter food
For Sherwood’s outlaw tales of Robin Hood?
Scotland! still proudly claim thy native bard,
And be thy praise his first, his best reward!
Yet not with thee alone his name should live,
But own the vast renown a world can give:
Be known, perchance, when Albion is no more,
And tell the tale of what she was before;
To future times her faded fame recall,
And save her glory, though his country fall.
Yet what avails the sanguine poet’s hope,
To conquer ages, and with time to cope?
New eras spread their wings, new nations rise,
And other victors fill the applauding skies;
A few brief generations fleet along,
Whose sons forget the poet and his song:
E’en now, what once-loved minstrels scarce may claim
The transient mention of a dubious name!
When fame’s loud trump hath blown it noblest blast,
Though long the sound, the echo sleeps at last;
And glory, like the phoenix midst her fires,
Exhales her odours, blazes, and expires.
Shall hoary Granta call her sable sons,
Expert in science, more expert at puns?
Shall these approach the muse? ah, no! she flies,
Even from the tempting ore of Seaton’s prize:
Though printers condescend the press to soil
With rhyme by Hoare, the epic blank by Hoyle:
Not him whose page, if still upheld by whist,
Requires no sacred theme to bid us list.
Ye! who in Granta’s honours would surpass,
Must mount her Pegasus, a full-grown ass;
A foal well worthy of her ancient dam,
Whose Helicon is duller than her Cam.
There Clarke, still striving piteously 'to please’,
Forgetting doggerel leads not to degrees,
A would-be satirist, a hired buffoon,
A monthly scribbler of some low lampoon,
Condemn’d to drudge, the meanest of the mean,
And furbish falsehoods for a magazine,
Devotes to scandal his congenial mind;
Himself a living libel on mankind.
Oh! dark asylum of a Vandal race!
At once the boast of learning, and disgrace!
So lost to Phoebus, that nor Hodgson’s verse
Can make thee better, nor poor Hewson’s worse.
But where fair Isis rolls her purer wave,
The partial muse delighted loves to lave;
On her green banks a greener wreath she wove,
To crown the bards that haunt her classic grove:
Where Richards wakes a genuine poet’s fires,
And modern Britons glory in their sires.
For me, who, thus unask’d, have dared to tell
My country what her sons should know too well,
Zeal for her honour bade me here engage
The host of idiots that infest her age;
No just applause her honour’d name shall lose,
As first in freedom, dearest to the muse.
Oh! would thy bards but emulate thy fame,
And rise more worthy, Albion, of thy name!
What Athens was in science, Rome in power,
What Tyre appear’d in her meridian hour,
'Tis thine at once, fair Albion! to have been—
Earth’s chief dictatress, ocean’s lovely queen:
But Rome decay’d, and Athens strew’d the plain,
And Tyre’s proud piers lie shattered in the main;
Like these, thy strength may sink, in ruin hurl’d,
And Britain fall, the bulwark of the world.
But let me cease, and dread Cassandra’s fate,
With warning ever scoff’d at, till too late;
To themes less lofty still my lay confine
And urge thy bards to gain a name like thine.
Then, hapless Britain! be thy rulers blest,
The senate’s oracles, the people’s jest!
Still hear thy motley orators dispense
The flowers of rhetoric, though not of sense,
While Canning’s colleagues hate him for his wit,
And old dame Portland fills the place of Pitt.
Yet, once again, adieu! ere this the sail
That wafts me hence is shivering in the gale;
And Afric’s coast and Calpe’s adverse height,
And Stamboul’s minarets must greet my sight:
Thence shall I stray through beauty’s native clime,
Where Kaff is clad in rocks, and crown’d with snows sublime.
But should I back return, no tempting press
Shall drag my journal from the desk’s recess;
Let coxcombs, printing as they come from far,
Snatch his own wreath of ridicule from Carr;
Let Aberdeen and Elgin still pursue
The shade of fame through regions of virtù;
Waste useless thousands on their Phidian freaks,
Misshapen monuments and maim’d antiques;
And make their grand saloons a general mart
For all the mutilated blocks of art;
Of Dardan tours let dilettanti tell,
I leave topography to rapid Gell;
And, quite content, no more shall interpose
To stun the public ear—at least with prose.
Thus far I’ve held my undisturb’d career,
Prepared for rancour, steel’d 'gainst selfish fear;
This thing of rhyme I ne’er disdain’d to own -
Though not obtrusive, yet not quite unknown:
My voice was heard again, though not so loud,
My page, though nameless, never disavow’d;
And now at once I tear the veil away:—
Cheer on the pack! the quarry stands at bay,
Unscared by all the din of Melbourne House,
By Lambe’s resentment, or by Holland’s spouse,
By Jeffrey’s harmless pistol, Hallam’s rage,
Edina’s brawny sons and brimstone page.
Our men in buckram shall have blows enough,
And feel they too are 'penetrable stuff’:
And though I hope not hence unscathed to go,
Who conquers me shall find a stubborn foe.
The time hath been, when no harsh sound would fall
From lips that now may seem imbued with gall;
Nor fools nor follies tempt me to despise
The meanest thing that crawl’d beneath my eyes;
But now, so callous grown, so changed since youth,
I’ve learn’d to think, and sternly speak the truth;
Learn’d to deride the critic’s starch decree,
And break him on the wheel he meant for me;
To spurn the rod a scribbler bids me kiss,
Nor care if courts and crowds applaud or hiss:
Nay more, though all my rival rhymesters frown,
I too can hunt a poetaster down;
And, arm’d in proof, the gauntlet cast at once
To Scotch marauder, and to southern dunce.
Thus much I’ve dared; if my incondite lay
Hath wrong’d these righteous times, let others say;
This, let the world, which knows not how to spare,
Yet rarely blames unjustly, now declare.