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I must confess 'twas bold, nor would you now
That liberty to vulgar wits allow,
Which works by magic supernatural things :
But Shakspeare's power is sacred as a king's.
Those legends from old priesthood were received,
And he then writ as people then believed.
But if for Shakspeare we your grace implore,
We for our theatre shall want it more :
Who, by our dearth of youths, are forced to employ
One of our women to present a boy ;
And that's a transformation, you will say,
Exceeding all the magic in the play.
Let none expect, in the last act, to find
Her sex transform'd from man to woman-kind.
Whate'er she was before the play began,
shall see of her is perfect man.
Or, if your fancy will be farther led
To find her woman-it must be a-bed.
SELF-LOVE, which, never rightly understood,
Makes poets still conclude their plays are good,
And malice, in all critics, reigns so high,
That for small errors, they whole plays decry;
So that to see this fondness, and that spite,
You'd think that none but madmen judge or write.
Therefore our poet, as he thinks not fit
To impose upon you what he writes for wit ;
So hopes, that, leaving you your censures free,
You equal judges of the whole will be:
They judge but half, who only faults will see.
Poets, like lovers, should be bold and dare,
They spoil their business with an over-care ;
And he, who servilely creeps
Is safe, but ne'er will reach an excellence.
Hence 'tis, our poet, in his conjuring,
Allow'd his fancy the full scope and swing.
But when a tyrant for his theme he had,
He loosed the reins, and bid his muse run
And though he stumbles in a full career,
Yet rashness is a better fault than fear.
He saw his way ; but in so swift a pace,
To choose the ground might be to lose the race.
They then, who of each trip the advantage take,
Find but those faults, which they want wit to make.
SPOKEN THE FIRST DAY OF THE KING'S HOUSE
ACTING AFTER THE FIRE.
So shipwreck'd passengers escape to land,
So look they, when on the bare beach they stand
Dropping and cold, and their first fear scarce o’er,
Expecting famine on a desert shore.
From that hard climate we must wait for bread,
Whence e'en the natives, forced by hunger, fled.
Our stage does human chance present to view,
But ne'er before was seen so sadly true :
You are changed too, and your pretence to see
Is but a nobler name for charity.
Your own provisions furnish out our feasts,
While you the founders make yourselves the guests.
Of all mankind beside fate had some care,
But for poor Wit no portion did prepare,
'Tis left a rent-charge to the brave and fair.
You cherish'd it, and now its fall you mourn,
Which blind unmanner'd zealots make their scorn,
Who think that fire a judgment on the stage,
Which spared not temples in its furious rage.
But as our new-built city rises higher,
So from old theatres may new aspire,
Since fate contrives magnificence by fire.
Our great metropolis does far surpass
Whate'er is now, and equals all that was :
Our wit as far does foreign wit excel,
And, like a king, should in a palace dwell.
But we with golden hopes are vainly fed,
Talk high, and entertain you in a shed :
Your presence here, for which we humbly sue,
Will grace old theatres, and build up new.
As needy gallants in the scriveners' hands,
Court the rich knave that gripes their mortgaged lands,
The first fat buck of all the season's sent,
And keeper takes no fee in compliment:
The dotage of some Englishmen is such,
To fawn on those who ruin them the Dutch.
They shall have all, rather than make a war
With those who of the same religion are.
The Straits, the Guinea trade, the herrings too,
Nay, to keep friendship, they shall pickle you.
Some are resolved not to find out the cheat,
But, cuckold-like, love him who does the feat :
What injuries soe'er upon us fall,
, the same religion answers all :
Religion wheedled you to civil war,
Drew English blood, and Dutchmen's now would spare:
Be gulld no longer, for you'll find it true,
They have no more religion, faith-than you ;
Interest's the god they worship in their state;
And you, I take it, have not much of that.
Well, monarchies may own religion's name,
But states are atheists in their very frame.
They share a sin, and such proportions fall
, That, like a stink, 'tis nothing to them all. How they love England, you shall see this day; No map shows Holland truer than our play: Their pictures and inscriptions well we know; We may
be bold one medal sure to show. View then their falsehoods, rapine, cruelty ; And think what once they were, they still would be : But hope not either language, plot, or art; 'Twas writ in haste, but with an English heart : And least hope wit; in Dutchmen that would be As much improper, as would honesty.
SPOKEN AT THE OPENING OF THE NEW HOUSE,
A PLAIN built house, after so long a stay,
half unsatisfied away;
When, fallin from your expected pomp, you find
A bare convenience only is design'd.
You, who each day can theatres behold,
Like Nero's palace, shining all with gold,
Our mean ungilded stage will scorn, we fear,
And, for the homely room, disdain the cheer.
Yet now cheap druggets to a mode are grown,
And a plain suit, since we can make but one,
Is better than to be by tarnish'd gaudry known.
They, who are by your favours wealthy made,
With mighty sums may carry on the trade :
We, broken bankers, half destroy'd by fire,
With our small stock to humble roofs retire :
Pity our loss, while
For fame and honour we no longer strive,
We yield in both, and only beg to live :
Unable to support their vast expense,
Who build and treat with such magnificence;
That, like the ambitious monarchs of the age,
They give the law to our provincial stage.
Great neighbours enviously promote excess,
While they impose their splendour on the less.
But only fools, and they of vast estate,
The extremity of modes will imitate,
The dangling knee-fringe, and the bib-cravat.
Yet if some pride with want may be allow'd,
We in our plainness may be justly proud :
Our royal master will'd it should be so ;
Whate'er he's pleased to own, can need no show:
That sacred name gives ornament and grace,
And, like his stamp, makes basest metals pass.
'Twere folly now a stately pile to raise,
To build a playhouse while you throw down plays,
While scenes, machines, and empty operas reign,
And for the pencil you the pen disdain:
While troops of famish'd Frenchmen hither drive,
And laugh at those upon whose alms they live :
Old English authors vanish and give place
To these new conquerors of the Norman race.
More tamely than your fathers you submit;
You're now grown vassals to them in your wit.
Mark, when they play, how our fine fops advance
The mighty merits of their men of France,
Keep time, cry Bon! and humour the cadence.
, please yourselves; but sure 'tis understood, That French machines have ne'er done England good. I would not prophesy our house's fate : But while vain shows and scenes you over-rate, 'Tis to be fearedThat as a fire the former house o’erthrew, Machines and tempests will destroy the new.
TO THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, 1674.
POETS, your subjects, have their parts assign'd
To unbend, and to divert their sovereign's mind:
When tired with following nature, you think fit
To seek repose in the cool shades of wit,
And, from the sweet retreat, with joy survey
What rests, and what is conquer'd, of the way.
Here, free yourselves from envy, care, and strife,
You view the various turns of human life :
Safe in our scene, through dangerous courts you go,
And, undebauch'd, the vice of cities know.
Your theories are here to practice brought,
As in mechanic operations wrought;
And man, the little world, before you set,
As once the sphere of crystal show'd the great.
Blest sure are you above all mortal kind,
If to your fortunes you can suit your mind :
Content to see, and shun, those ills we show,
And crimes on theatres alone to know.
With joy we bring what our dead authors writ,
And beg from you the value of their wit:
That Shakspeare's, Fletcher's, and great Jonson's claim
May be renew'd from those who gave them fame.
None of our living poets dare appear;
For muses so severe are worshipp'd here,