Page images
PDF
EPUB

"All hail, arch-poet, without peer!
Vine, bay, or cabbage fit to wear,
And worthy of the prince's ear.”

From hence he was conducted in pomp to the Capitol of Rome, mounted on an elephant, through the shouts of the populace, where the ceremony ended.

4

The historian tells us farther, "That at his introduction to Leo, he not only poured forth verses innumerable, like a torrent, but also sung them with open mouth. Nor was he only once introduced, or on stated days (like our Laureates), but made a companion to his master, and entertained as one of the instruments of his most elegant pleasures. When the prince was at table, the poet had his place at the window. When the prince had half * eaten his meat, he gave with his own hands the rest to the poet. When the poet drank, it was out of the prince's own flagon, insomuch (says the historian) that through so great good eating and drinking, he contracted a most terrible gout." Sorry I am to relate what follows, but that I cannot leave my reader's curiosity unsatisfied in the catastrophe of this extraordinary man. To use my author's words, which are remarkable, mortuo Leone, profligatisque poetis, &c. "When Leo died, and poets were no more" (for I would not understand profligatis literally, as if poets then were profligate), this unhappy Laureate was forthwith reduced to return to his country, where, oppressed with old age and want, he miserably perished in a common hospital.

We see from this sad conclusion (which may be of example to the poets of our time) that it were happier to meet with no encouragement at all, to remain at the plough, or other lawful occupation, than to be elevated above their condition, and taken out of the common

4 Semesis opsoniis.

means of life, without a surer support than the temporary, or, at best, mortal favours of the great. It was doubtless for this consideration, that when the Royal Bounty was lately extended to a rural genius, care was taken to settle it upon him for life. And it hath been the practice of our Princes, never to remove from the station of Poet Laureate any man who hath once been chosen, though never so much greater Geniuses might arise in his time. A noble instance how much the charity of our monarchs hath exceeded their love of fame.

To come now to the intent of this paper. We have here the whole ancient ceremonial of the Laureate. In the first place the crown is to be mixed with vineleaves, as the vine is the plant of Bacchus, and full as essential to the honour, as the butt of sack to the salary.

Secondly, the brassica must be made use of as a qualifier of the former. It seems the cabbage was anciently accounted a remedy for drunkenness; a power the French now ascribe to the onion, and style a soup made of it, Soupe d'ivrogne. I would recommend a large mixture of the brassica if Mr. Dennis be chosen ; but if Mr. Tibbald, it is not so necessary, unless the cabbage be supposed to signify the same thing with respect to poets as to tailors, viz. stealing. I should judge it not amiss to add another plant to this garland, to wit, ivy; not only as it anciently belonged to poets in general, but as it is emblematical of the three virtues of a court poet in particular; it is creeping, dirty, and dangling.

In the next place, a canticle must be composed and sung in laud and praise of the new poet. If Mr. CIBBER be laureated, it is my opinion no man can write this but himself; and no man, I am sure, can sing it so affectingly. But what this canticle should be, either in

his or the other candidate's case, I shall not pretend to determine.

Thirdly, there ought to be a public show, or entry of the poet; to settle the order or procession of which, Mr. Anstis and Mr. DENNIS ought to have a conference. I apprehend here two difficulties: one, of procuring an elephant; the other, of teaching the poet to ride him. Therefore I should imagine the next animal in size or dignity would do best; either a mule or a large ass ; particularly if that noble one could be had, whose portraiture makes so great an ornament of the Dunciad, and which (unless I am misinformed) is yet in the park of a nobleman near this city:-unless Mr. CIBBER be the man; who may, with great propriety and beauty, ride on a dragon, if he goes by land; or if he choose the water, upon one of his own swans from Cæsar in Egypt.

We have spoken sufficiently of the ceremony; let us now speak of the qualifications and privileges of the Laureate. First, we see he must be able to make verses extempore, and to pour forth innumerable, if required. In this I doubt Mr. TIBBALD. Secondly, he ought to sing, and intrepidly, patulo ore: here, I confess the excellency of Mr. CIBBER. Thirdly, he ought to carry a lyre about with him. If a large one be thought too cumbersome, a small one may be contrived to hang about the neck, like an order, and be very much a grace to the person. Fourthly, he ought to have a good stomach, to eat and drink whatever his betters think fit; and therefore it is in this high office as in many others, no puny constitution can discharge it. I do not think CIBBER or TIBBALD here so happy: but rather a stanch, vigorous, seasoned, and dry old gentleman, whom I have in my eye.

I could also wish at this juncture, such a person as is truly jealous of the honour and dignity of poetry; no

joker, or trifler, but a bard in good earnest; nay, not amiss if a critic, and the better if a little obstinate. For when we consider what great privileges have been lost from this office (as we see from the forecited authentic record of Jovius), namely, those of feeding from the prince's table, drinking out of his own flagon, becoming even his domestic and companion; it requires a man warm and resolute, to be able to claim and obtain the restoring of these high honours. I have cause to fear the most of the candidates would be liable, either through the influence of ministers, or for rewards or favours, to give up the glorious rights of the Laureate. Yet I am not without hopes, there is one, from whom a serious and steady assertion of these privileges may be expected; and, if there be such a one, I must do him the justice to say, it is Mr. DENNIS, the worthy president of our society.

VIII.

A

PARALLEL

OF THE

CHARACTERS

OF

MR. DRYDEN AND MR. POPE,

AS DRAWN BY CERTAIN OF THEIR CONTEMPORARIES.

MR. DRYDEN,

His POLITICS, RELIGION, MOrals.

MR. DRYDEN is a mere renegado from monarchy, poetry, and good sense'. A true republican son of monarchical Church 2. A republican Atheist. Dryden was from the beginning an αλλοπρόσαλλος, and I doubt not will continue so to the last 1.

In the poem called Absalom and Achitophel are notoriously traduced, the KING, the QUEEN, the LORDS, and GENTLEMEN; not only their honourable persons exposed, but the whole NATION and its REPRESENTATIVES notoriously libelled. It is scandalum magnatum, yea, of MAJESTY itself 5.

He looks upon God's gospel as a foolish fable, like the Pope, to whom he is a pitiful purveyor. His His very Christianity may be questioned'. He ought to expect more severity than other men, as he is most unmerciful

[blocks in formation]

5

6 Ibid.

3

Page 192.

4 Page 8.

Whip and Key, 4to. printed for R. Janeway, 1682, Preface.

7 Milbourn, p. 9.

« EelmineJätka »