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That, conscious of their faults, they shun the eye,
And, as profane, from sacred places fly,
Rather than see the offended God, and die.
We bring no imperfections, but our own;
Such faults as made are by the makers shown:
And you have been so kind, that we may boast,
The greatest judges still can pardon most.
Poets may stoop, when they would please our pit,
Debased even to the level of their wit;
Disdaining that, which yet they know will take,
Hating themselves what their applause must make.
But when to praise from you they would aspire,
Though they like eagles mount, your Jove is higher.
So far your knowledge all their power transcends,
As what should be beyond what is extends.
[BY DR. DAVENANT, 1675.]
WERE you but half so wise as you 're severe,
Our youthful poet should not need to fear :
To his green years your censures you would suit,
Not blast the blossom, but expect the fruit.
The sex, that best does pleasure understand,
Will always choose to err on t' other hand.
They check him not that 's awkward in delight,
But clap the young rogue's cheek, and set him right.
Thus hearten'd well, and flesh'd upon his prey,
The youth may prove a man another day.
Your Ben and Fletcher, in their first young flight,
Did no Volpone, nor no Arbaces write;
But hopp'd about, and short excursions made
From bough to bough, as if they were afraid,
And each was guilty of some Slighted Maid.
Shakspeare's own Muse her Pericles first bore;
The Prince of Tyre was elder than the Moor:
'Tis miracle to see a first good play;
All hawthorns do not bloom on Christmas-day.
A slender poet must have time to grow,
And spread and burnish as his brothers do.
Who still looks lean, sure with some mark is cursed;
But no man can be Falstaff-fat at first.
Then damn not, but indulge his rude essays,
Encourage him, and bloat him up with praise,
That he may get more bulk before he dies;
He's not yet fed enough for sacrifice.
Perhaps, if now your grace you will not grudge,
He may grow up to write, and you to judge.
OUR author, by experience, finds it true,
"Tis much more hard to please himself than you;
And out of no feign'd modesty, this day
Damns his laborious trifle of a play:
Not that it's worse than what before he writ;
But he has now another taste of wit;
And, to confess a truth, though out of time,
Grows weary of his long-loved mistress, Rhyme.
Passion's too fierce to be in fetters bound,
And nature flies him like enchanted ground:
What verse can do, he has perform'd in this,
Which he presumes the most correct of his ;
But spite of all his pride, a secret shame
Invades his breast at Shakspeare's sacred name:
Awed when he hears his god-like Romans rage,
He, in a just despair, would quit the stage;
And to an age less polish'd, more unskill'd,
Does, with disdain, the foremost honours yield.
As with the greater dead he dares not strive,
He would not match his verse with those who live:
Let him retire, betwixt two ages cast,
The first of this, and hindmost of the last.
A losing gamester, let him sneak away;
He bears no ready money from the play.
The fate, which governs poets, thought it fit
He should not raise his fortunes by his wit.
The clergy thrive, and the litigious bar;
Dull heroes fatten with the spoils of war;
All southern vices, Heaven be praised, are here;
But wit's a luxury you think too dear.
When you to cultivate the plant are loth,
'Tis a shrewd sign 'twas never of your growth;
And wit in northern climates will not blow,
Except, like orange-trees, 'tis housed from snow.
There needs no care to put a playhouse down,
'Tis the most desert place of all the town:
We and our neighbours, to speak proudly, are,
Like monarchs, ruin'd with expensive war;
While, like wise English, unconcern'd you sit,
And see us play the tragedy of wit.
TRUE wit has seen its best days long ago;
It ne'er look'd up, since we were dipp'd in show;
When sense in doggrel rhymes and clouds was lost,
And dulness flourish'd at the actor's cost.
Nor stopp'd it here; when tragedy was done,
Satire and humour the same fate have run,
And comedy is sunk to trick and pun.
Now our machining lumber will not sell,
And you no longer care for heaven or hell;
What stuff can please you next, the Lord can tell.
Let them, who the rebellion first began
To wit, restore the monarch, if they can;
Our author dares not be the first bold man.
He, like the prudent citizen, takes care
To keep for better marts his staple ware;
His toys are good enough for Stourbridge fair.
Tricks were the fashion; if it now be spent,
"Tis time enough at Easter to invent;
No man will make up a new suit for Lent.
If now and then he takes a small pretence,
To forage for a little wit and sense,
Pray pardon him, he meant you no offence.
Next summer, Nostradamus tells, they say,
That all the critics shall be shipp'd away,
And not enow be left to damn a play.
every sail beside, good Heaven, be kind;
But drive away that swarm with such a wind,
That not one locust may be left behind!
WHEN Athens all the Grecian state did guide,
And Greece gave laws to all the world beside;
Then Sophocles with Socrates did sit,
Supreme in wisdom one, and one in wit:
And wit from wisdom differ'd not in those,
But, as 'twas sung in verse, or said in prose.
Then, Edipus, on crowded theatres,
Drew all admiring eyes and listening ears:
The pleased spectator shouted every line,
The noblest, manliest, and the best design!
And every critic of each learned age,
By this just model has reform'd the stage.
Now, should it fail, (as Heaven avert our fear)
Damn it in silence, lest the world should hear.
For were it known this poem did not please,
You might set up for perfect savages:
Your neighbours would not look on you as men,
But think the nation all turn'd Picts again.
Faith, as you manage matters, 'tis not fit
You should suspect yourselves of too much wit :
Drive not the jest too far, but spare this piece;
And, for this once, be not more wise than Greece.
See twice! do not pell-mell to damning fall,
Like true-born Britons, who ne'er think at all:
Pray be advised; and though at Mons you won,
On pointed cannon do not always run.
With some respect to ancient wit proceed;
You take the four first councils for your creed.
But, when you lay tradition wholly by,
And on the private spirit alone rely,
You turn fanatics in your poetry.
If, notwithstanding all that we can say,
You needs will have your pen'orths of the play,
And come resolved to damn, because you pay
Record it, in memorial of the fact,
The first play buried since the woollen act.
TO "TROILUS AND CRESSIDA."
SPOKEN BY MR. BETTERTON, REPRESENTING THE GHOST OF
SEE, my loved Britons, see your Shakspeare rise,
An awful ghost confess'd to human eyes!
Unnamed, methinks, distinguish'd I had been
From other shades, by this eternal green,
About whose wreaths the vulgar poets strive,
And with a touch, their wither'd bays revive.
Untaught, unpractised, in a barbarous age,
I found not, but created first the stage.
And, if I drain'd no Greek or Latin store,
"Twas, that my own abundance gave me more.
On foreign trade I needed not rely,
Like fruitful Britain, rich without supply.
In this my rough-drawn play you shall behold
Some master-strokes, so manly and so bold,
That he who meant to alter, found 'em such,
He shook, and thought it sacrilege to touch.
Now, where are the successors to my name?
What bring they to fill out a poet's fame?
Weak, short-lived issues of a feeble age;
Scarce living to be christen'd on the stage!
For humour farce, for love they rhyme dispense,
That tolls the knell for their departed sense.
Dulness might thrive in any trade but this:
"Twould recommend to some fat benefice.
Dulness, that in a playhouse meets disgrace,
Might meet with reverence in its proper place.
The fulsome clench, that nauseates the town,
Would from a judge or alderman go down,
Such virtue is there in a robe and gown!
And that insipid stuff which here you hate,
Might somewhere else be call'd a grave debate;
Dulness is decent in the church and state.
But I forget that still 'tis understood,
Bad plays are best decried by showing good.
Sit silent then, that my pleased soul may see
A judging audience once and worthy me;
My faithful scene from true records shall tell.
How Trojan valour did the Greek excel;
Your great forefathers shall their fame regain,
And Homer's angry ghost repine in vain.