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When Labour and when Dulness, club in hand,
Like the two figures at St. Dunstan's, stand,
Beating alternately, in measured time,
The clockwork tintinnabulum of rhyme,
Exact and regular the sounds will be;
But such mere quarter-strokes are not for me.
From him who rears a poem lank and long
To him who strains his all into a song:
Perhaps some bonny Caledonian air,
All birks and braes, though he was never there;
Or, having whelp'd a prologue with great pains,
Feels himself spent, and fumbles for his brains;
A prologue interdash'd with many a stroke-
An art contrived to advertise a joke,
So that the jest is clearly to be seen,
Not in the words—but in the
between: Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ, The substitute for genius, sense, and wit.
To dally much with subjects mean and low
Proves that the mind is weak, or makes it so.
Neglected talents rust into decay,
And every effort ends in pushpin play.
The man that means success should soar above
A soldier's feather or a lady's glove;
Else, summoning the Muse to such a theme,
The fruit of all her labour is whipp'd cream.
As if an eagle flew aloft, and then-
Stoop'd from its highest pitch to pounce a wren.
As if the poet, purposing to wed,
Should carve himself a wife in gingerbread.
Ages elapsed ere Homer's lamp appear'd,
And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard:
To carry nature lengths unknown before,
To give a Milton birth, ask'd ages more.
Thus genius rose and set at order'd times,
And shot a dayspring into distant climes,
Ennobling every region that he chose;
He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose;
And, tedious years of gothic darkness pass'd,
Emerged all splendour in our isle at last.
Thus lovely halcyons dive into the main,
Then show far off their shining plumes again.
A. Is genius only found in epic lays ?
Prove this, and forfeit all pretence to praise.
Make their heroic powers your own at once,
Or candidly confess yourself a dunce.
B. These were the chief; each interval of night Was graced with many an undulating light. In less illustrious bards his beauty shone A meteor, or a star; in these, the sun.
The nightingale may claim the topmost bough,
While the poor grasshopper must chirp below.
Like him unnoticed, I, and such as I,
Spread little wings, and rather skip than fly:
Perch'd on the meagre produce of the land,
An ell or two of prospect we command;
But never peep beyond the thorny bound,
Or oaken fence, that hems the paddock round.
In Eden, ere yet innocence of heart
Had faded, poetry was not an art;
Language, above all teaching, or, if taught,
Only by gratitude and glowing thought,
Elegant as simplicity, and warm
As ecstasy, unmanacled by form,
Not prompted, as in our degenerate days,
By low ambition and the thirst of praise,
Was natural as is the flowing stream,
And yet magnificent--A God the theme!
That theme on earth exhausted, though above
'Tis found as everlasting as his love,
Man lavish'd all his thoughts on human things
The feats of heroes, and the wrath of kings:
But still, while Virtue kindled his delight,
The song was moral, and so far was right.
'Twas thus till Luxury seduced the mind
To joys less innocent, as less refined;
Then Genius danced a bacchanal; he crown'd
The brimming goblet, seized the thyrsus, bound
His brows with ivy, rush'd into the field
Of wild imagination, and there reeld,
The victim of his own lascivious fires,
And, dizzy with delight, profaned the sacred wires.
Anacreon, Horace play'd in Greece and Rome
This bedlam part; and others nearer home.
When Cromwell fought for power, and while he
The proud protector of the power he gain'd,
Religion harsh, intolerant, austere,
Parent of manners like herself severe,
Drew a rough copy of the Christian face,
Without the smile, the sweetness, or the grace;
The dark and sullen humour of the time
Judged every effort of the Muse a crime;
Verse, in the finest mould of fancy cast,
Was lumber in an age so void of taste;
But, when the second Charles assumed the sway,
And arts revived beneath a softer day,
Then, like a bow long forced into a curve,
The mind, released from too constrain'd a nerve,
Flew to its first position with a spring,
That made the vaulted roofs of Pleasure ring.
His court, the dissolute and hateful school
Of Wantonness, where vice was taught by rule,
Swarmd with a scribbling herd, as deep inlaid
With brutal lust as ever Circè made.
From these a long succession, in the rage
Of rank obscenity, debauch'd their age:
Nor 'ceased, till, ever anxious to redress
The' abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
The Muse instructed a well nurtured train
Of abler votaries to cleanse the stain,
And claim the palm for purity of song,
That Lewdness had usurp'd and worn so long..
Then decent pleasantry, and sterling sense,
That neither gave nor would endure offence,
Whipp'd out of sight, with satire just and keen,
The puppy pack that had defiled the scene.
In front of these came Addison. In him
Humour in holiday and sightly trim,
Sublimity and attic taste combined,
To polish, furnish, and delight the mind.
Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
In verse well disciplined, complete, compact,
Gave Virtue and Morality a grace,
That, quite eclipsing Pleasure's painted face,
Levied a tax of wonder and applause,
E’en on the fools that trampled on their laws.
But he (his musical finesse was such,
So nice his ear, so delicate his touch)
Made poetry a mere mechanic art;
And every warbler has his tune by heart.
Nature imparting her satiric gift,
Her serious mirth, to Arbuthnot and Swift,
With droll sobriety they raised a smile
At Folly's cost, themselves unmoved the while.
That constellation set, the world in vain
Must hope to look upon their like again.
A. Are we then left-B. Not wholly in the
dark; Wit now and then struck smartly shows a spark, Sufficient to redeem the modern race From total night and absolute disgrace, While servile trick and imitative knack Confine the million in the beaten track, Perhaps some courser, who disdains the road, Snuffs
up the wind and flings himself abroad. Contemporaries all surpass'd, see one; Short his career, indeed, but ably run; Churchill, himself unconscious of his
powers, In penury consumed his idle hours; And, like a scatter'd seed at random sown, Was left to spring hy vigour of his own. Lifted at length, by dignity of thought And dint of genius, to an affluent lot, He laid his head in Luxury's soft lap, And took, too often, there his easy nap. If brighter beams than all he threw not forth, 'Twas negligence in him, not want of worth. Surly, and slovenly, and bold, and coarse, Too proud for art, and trusting in mere force, Spendthrift alike of money and of wit, Always at speed, and never drawing bit, He struck the lyre in such a careless mood, And so disdain'd the rules he understood, The laurel seem'd to wait on his command; He snatch'd it rudely from the Muses' hand. Nature, exerting an unwearied power, Forms, opens, and gives scent to every flower; Spreads the fresh verdure of the fields, and leads The dancing Naiads through the dewy meads: