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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 elaps’d ere Homer's lamp appear'd,
And ages ere the Mantuan swain was heard:
To carry nature lengths unknown before,
To give a Milton birth, ask ages more.
Thus Genius rose and set at order'd times,
And shot a day-spring into distant climes,
Ennobling ev'ry region that he chose;
He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose;
And, tedious years of Gothic darkness passed,
Emerg'd, 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 pow'rs your own at once, Or candidly confess yourself a dunce.
B. These were the chief: each interval of night Was grac'd 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 unnotic'd, 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 ecstacy, unmanacld by form;
Not prompted, as in our degen’rate 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 seduc'd the mind
To joys less innocent, as less refind;
Then Genius danc'd a bacchanal; he crown'd
The brimming goblet, seiz’d 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, profan'd the sacred wires.
Anacreon, Horace, play'd in Greece and Rome
This bedlam part; and others nearer home.
WhenCromwell fought for pow'r, and while he reign'd
The proud protector of the pow'r he gained,
Religion harsh, intolerant, austere,
Parent of manners like himself 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
Judg'd ev'ry 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 assum'd the sway,
And arts reviv'd beneath a softer day,
Then, like a bow long forc'd into a curve,
The mind, releasd 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 Circe made.
From these a long succession, in the rage
Of rank obscenity, debauch'd their age;
Nor ceas'd, till, ever anxious to redress
The abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
The Muse instructed a well-nurtur'd 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 defild the scene.
In front of these came Addison. In him
Humour in holiday and sightly trim,
Sublimity and Attic taste, combin'd,
To polish, furnish, and delight the mind,
Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
In verse well disciplin'd, 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 ev'ry warbler has his tune by heart.
Nature imparting her satiric gift,
Her serious mirth, to Arbuthnot and Swift,
With droll sobriety they rais’d a smile
At Folly’s cost, themselves unmov'd 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 consum'd his idle hours;
And, like a scatter'd seed at random sown,
Was left to spring by. 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 ev'ry flower ;
Spreads the fresh verdure of the field, and leads
The dancing Naiads through the dewy meads :
She fills profuse ten thousand little throats
With music, modulating all their notes ;
And charms the woodlandscenes and wilds unknown,
With artless airs and concerts of her own :
But seldom (as if fearful of expense)
Vouchsafes to man a poet's just 'pretence-
Fervency, freedom, fluency of thought,
Harmony, strength, words exquisitely sought;
Fancy, that, from the bough that spans the sky,
Brings colours, dipp'd in Heav'ng, that never die ;
A soul exalted above Earth, a mind
Skill'd in the characters that form mankind;
And, as the Sun in rising beauty dress’d,
Looks to the westward from the dappled east,
And marks, whatever clouds may interpose,
Ere yet his race begins, its glorious close;
like his to catch the distant goal;
Or, ere the wheels of verse begin to roll,
Like his to shed illuminating rays
On every scene and subject it surveys:
Thus grac'd, the man asserts a poet's name,
And the world cheerfully admits the claim.
Pity Religion has so seldom found
A skilful guide into poetic ground! (stray,
The flowers would spring where'er she deign'd to
And every muse attend her in her way.
Virtue, indeed, meets many a rhyming friend,
And many a compliment politely penn'd;
But, unattir'd in that becoming vest
Religion weaves for her, and half undressid,
Stands in the desert, shiv’ring and forlorn,
A wintry figure, like a wither'd thorn.
The shelves are full, all other themes are sped;
Hackney'd and worn to the last flimsy thread,
Satire has long since done his best; and curst
And loathsome Ribaldry has done his worst;
Fancy has sported all her powers away
In tales, in trifles, and in children's play;
And 'tis the sad complaint, and almost true,
Whate'er we write, we bring forth nothing new.
"Twere new indeed to see a bard all fire,
Touch'd with a coal from Heav'n, assume the lyre,
And tell the world, still kindling as he sung,
With more than mortal music on his tongue,
That He, who died below, and reigns above,
Inspires the song, and that his name is Love.
For, after all, if merely to beguile,
By flowing numbers and a flow'ry style,