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Just in one instance, be it yet confest Your People, Sir, are partial in the rest: Foes to all living worth except your own, And Advocates for folly dead and gone. 34 Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old; It is the rust we value, not the gold.
Chaucer's worst ribaldry is learn’d by rote, And beastly Skelton Heads of houses quote: One likes no language but the Faery Queen; 39 A Scot will fight for Christ's Kirk o' the Green ; And each true Briton is to Ben so civil, m He swears the Muses met him at the Devil.
Tho' justly" Greece her eldest sons admires, Why should not We be wiser than our fires? In ev'ry Public virtue we excell;
45 We build, we paint, we fing, we dance as well, And P learned Athens to our art must stoop, Could she behold us tumbling thro'a hoop.
NOTES VER. 40. Christ's Kirk o' the Green;] A Ballad made by a King of Scotland.
P. VER. 42. The Muses met him] This instance of the People's ill taste was both well chosen and happily expressed. Johnson's talents were learning, judgment, and industry, rather than wit, or natural genius.
Ver. 42. met him at the Devil] The Devil Tavern, where Ben Johnson held his Poetical Club.
Si meliora dies, ut vina, poemata reddit ;
referendus erit? sveteresne poetas,
Utor permiffo, caudaeque pilos ut " equinae
VER. 68. Bestow a Garland only on a Bier.] The thought is beautiful, and alludes to the old practice of our Ancestors, of covering the Bier (on which the dead were carried to their in
If ? Time improve our Wit as well as Wine,
year precise When British bards begin t' immortalize ?
“ Who lasts a 'century can have no flaw, 55 “ I hold that Wit a Classic, good in law. Suppose he wants a year,
you compound? And shall we deem him. Ancient, right and sound, Or damn to all eternity at once, At ninety nine, a Modern and a Dunce? 60
“ We shall not quarrel for a year or two ; By courtesy of England, he
do. Then, by the rule that made the "Horse-tail bare, I pluck out year by year, as hair by hair, And melt w down Ancients like a heap of snow: 65 While
to measure merits, look in Stowe, And estimating authors by the
year, Bestow a Garland only on a' Bier.
Notes. terment) with Garlands. A manly and pious custom, which arose from the ancient practice of rewarding victors; and from thence was brought into the Church, and applied to those who had fought the good fight of the Apostle.
* Ennius et sapiens, et fortis, et alter Homerus,
Ut critici dicunt, leviter curare videtur
Quo * promissa cadant, et fomnia Pythagorea.
Naevius in manibus non eft ; at 'mentibus haeret
Ver. 69. Shakespear.) Shakespear and Ben Johnson may truly be said not much to have thought of this Immortality; the one in many pieces composed in haste for the Stage; the other in his latter works in general, which Dryden call’d his Dotages. P.
Ibid. Shakespear -- For gain not glory, etc.] SHAKESPEAR knew perfectly well what belonged to a true composition, as appears from the Tempest, and the Merry Wives of Windsor. But he generally complied with the ignorance, and the ils taste of his Audience. However, in his most irregular plays his wit and sublimity make amends for his transgression of the rules of art; and support him in it. But, happily for the improvement of the Drama, he had a competitor in JOHNSON, who, with a greater temptation to comply with the bad taste of the age, had not the same force of genius to support him in it. Johnfon, therefore, borrowed all he could from art; and like an experienced general, when he could not depend on his natural strength, kept ftill behind his lines. The consequence was, that Shakespear having once tried to reform the taste (See Hamlet) and on failing, had complied with it, became the favourite Poet of the People; while Johnion, who, for the rea
z Shakespear (whom you and ev'ry Play-house bill Style the divine, the matchless, what you will) 70 For gain, not glory, wing’d his roving flight, And grew
Immortal in his own despight. Ben, old and poor, as little feemd to heed * The Life to come, in ev'ry Poet's Creed. Who now reads • Cowley? if he pleases yet, 75 His Moral pleases, not his pointed wit; Forgot his Epic, nay Pindaric Art, But still ° I love the language of his heart.
son given above, could not be so complaisant, was all his life long in a state of war with them. This, and not (as is commonly supposed) the ignorance of one, and the superior knowledge of the other, was the true cause of that difference which we find between these two Capital Writers, in the art and construction of their pieces. So that here, we see, a want of sufficient natural genius accidentally contributed to the refinement of the English stage.
Ibid. and ev'ry Playhouse bill] A ridicule on those who talk of Shakespear, because he is in fashion ; who, if they dared to do justice, to their taste or conscience, would own they liked. Ver. 74. The life to come, in ev'ry Poet's Creed.]
Quo promiffa cadant, et somnia Pythagorea.
Ver. 77. Pindaric Art,] Which has much more merit than his Epic, but very unlike the Character, as well as Numbers, of Pindar,