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TO MY DEAR FRIEND MR. CONGREVE, ON HIS COMEDY CALLED THE DOUBLE DEALER.
WELL then, the promis'd hour is come at last,
The present age of wit obscures the past:
Strong were our sires, and as they fought they writ,
Conquering with force of arms, and dint of wit:
Theirs was the giant race, before the flood:
And thus, when Charles return'd, our empire stood.
Like Janus he the stubborn soil manur'd,
With rules of husbandry the rankness cur'd;
Tam'd us to manners, when the stage was rude;
And boisterous English wit with art indu'd.
Our age was cultivated thus at length;
But what we gain'd in skill we lost in strength.
Our builders were with want of genius curs'd;
The second temple was not like the first:
Till you, the best Vitruvius, come at length;
Our beauties equal, but excel our strength.
Firm Doric pillars found your solid base:
The fair Corinthian crowns the higher space :
Thus all below is strength, and all above is grace.
In easy dialogue is Fletcher's praise;
He mov'd the mind, but had not power to raise.
Great Jonson did by strength of judgment please;
Yet, doubling Fletcher's force, he wants his ease.
In differing talents both adorn'd their age;
One for the study, t' other for the stage.
But both to Congreve justly shall submit,
One match'd in judgment, both o'ermatch'd in wit.
In him all beauties of this age we see,
Etherege's courtship, Southerne's purity,
The satire, wit, and strength of manly Wycherly.
All this in blooming youth you have achiev'd:
Nor are your foil'd contemporaries griev'd.
So much the sweetness of your manners move,
We cannot envy you, because we love.
Fabius might joy in Scipio, when he saw
A beardless consul made against the law,
And join his suffrage to the votes of Rome;
Though he with Hannibal was overcome.
Thus old Romano bow'd to Raphael's fame,
And scholar to the youth he taught became.
O that your brows my laurel had sustain'd!
Well had I been depos'd, if you had reign'd:
The father had descended for the son;
For only you are lineal to the throne.
Thus, when the state one Edward did depose, 45
A greater Edward in his room arose.
But now, not I, but poetry is curs'd;
For Tom the second reigns like Tom the first.
But let them not mistake my patron's part,
Nor call his charity their own desert.
Yet this I prophesy; thou shalt be seen,
(Though with some short parenthesis between)
High on the throne of wit, and, seated there,
Not mine, that's little, but thy laurel wear.
Thy first attempt an early promise made;
That early promise this has more than paid.
So bold, yet so judiciously you dare,
That your least praise is to be regular.
Time, place, and action, may with pains be wrought;
But genius must be born, and never can be taught.
This is your portion; this your native store;
Heaven, that but once was prodigal before,
To Shakespeare gave as much; she could not give
Maintain your post: That's all the fame you
For 'tis impossible you should proceed.
Already I am worn with cares and age,
And just abandoning the ungrateful stage:
Unprofitably kept at heaven's expense,
I live a rent-charge on his providence :
But you, whom every muse and grace adorn,
Whom I foresee to better fortune born,
Be kind to my remains; and O defend,
Against your judgment, your departed friend!
Let not the insulting foe my fame pursue,
But shade those laurels which descend to you:
And take for tribute what these lines express:
You merit more; nor could my love do less.
TO MR. GRANVILLE, ON HIS EXCELLENT TRAGEDY, CALLED HEROIC LOVE.
AUSPICIOUS poet, wert thou not my friend,
How could I envy what I must commend!
But since 'tis nature's law, in love and wit,
That youth should reign, and withering age submit,
With less regret those laurels I resign,
Which, dying on my brows, revive on thine.
With better grace an ancient chief
The long contended honours of the field,
Than venture all his fortune at a cast,
And fight, like Hannibal, to lose at last.
Young princes, obstinate to win the prize,
Though yearly beaten, yearly yet they rise:
Old monarchs, though successful, still in doubt,
Catch at a peace, and wisely turn devout.
Thine be the laurel then; thy blooming age
Can best, if any can, support the stage;
Which so declines, that shortly we may see
Players and plays reduc'd to second infancy.
Sharp to the world, but thoughtless of renown,
They plot not on the stage, but on the town, 20
And, in despair their empty pit to fill,
Set up some foreign monster in a bill.
Thus they jog on, still tricking, never thriving, And murdering plays, which they miscall reviving. Our sense is nonsense, through their pipes convey'd ;
Scarce can a poet know the play he made,
'Tis so disguis'd in death; nor thinks 'tis he
That suffers in the mangled tragedy.
Thus Itys first was kill'd, and after dress'd For his own sire, the chief invited guest. say not this of thy successful scenes, Where thine was all the glory, theirs the gains. With length of time, much judgment, and more toil,
Not ill they acted, what they could not spoil. Their setting sun still shoots a glimmering ray, 35 Like ancient Rome, majestic in decay:
And better gleanings their worn soil can boast, Than the crab-vintage of the neighbouring coast. This difference yet the judging world will see; Thou copiest Homer, and they copy thee.