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The wit, the vigour, and the honesty of Mr. Pope's satiric writings had raised a great clamour against him, as if the Supplement, as he calls it, to the Public Laws, was a violation of morality and society. In answer to this charge he had it in his purpose to shew, that two of the most respectable characters in the modest and virtuous age of Elizabeth, Dr. Donne and Bishop Hall, had arraigned vice publicly, and shewn it in stronger colours, than he had done, whether they found it
“ On the pillory, or near the throne.” In pursuance of this purpose, our Poet hath admirably versified, as he expresses it, two or three Satires of Dr. Donne. He intended to have given two or three of Bishop Hall's likewise, whose force and classical elegance he much admired; but as Hall was a better versifier, and, as a mere academic, had not his vein vitiated like Donne's, by the fantastic language of Courts, Mr. Pope's purpose was only to correct a little, and smooth the versification. In the first edition of Hall's Satires, which was in Mr. Pope's library, we find that long Satire, called the First of the Sixth Book, corrected throughout, and the versification mended for his use. He entitles it, in the beginning of his corrections, by the name of Sut. Opt. This writer, Hall, fell under a severe examiner of his wit and reasoning, in the famous Milton. For Hall, a little before the unhappy breach between Charles I. and the long Parliament, having written in defence of Episcopacy, Milton, who first set out an advocate for Presbytery, thought fit to take Hall's defence to task. And as he rarely gave quarter to his adversaries, from the Bishop's theologic writings, he fell upon his poetry. But a stronger proof of the excellency of these Satires can hardly be given, than that all he could find to cavil at, was the title to the three first Books, which Hall, ridiculously enough, calls ToothLESS SATIRE : on this, for want of better hold, Milton fastens, and sufficiently mumbles.
Sir, though (I thank God for it) I do hate
rest. Though poetry, indeed, be such a sin, As, I think, that brings dearth and Spaniards in :
Ver. 1. Yes; thank my stars !] Two noblemen of taste and learning, the Duke of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Oxford, desired Pope to melt down and cast anew, the weighty bullion of Dr. Donne's Satireş; who had degraded and deformed a vast fund of sterling wit and strong sense, by the most harsh and uncouth diction. Pope succeeded in giving harmony to a writer, more rough and rugged than even any of his age, and who profited so little by the example Spenser had set, of a most musical and mellifluous versification ; far beyond the versification of Fairfax, who is frequently mentioned as the greatest improver of the harmony of our language. The Satires of Hall, written in very smooth and pleasing numbers, preceded those of Donne many years; for his Virgidemiarum were published, in six books, in the year 1597; in which he calls himself the very first English satirist. This, however, was not true in fact; for Sir Thomas Wyatt, of Allington Castle, in Kent, the friend and favourite of Henry VIII., and, as was suggested, of Ann Boleyn, was our first writer of satire worth notice. But it was not in his numbers only that Donne was reprehensible. He abounds in false thoughts, in far-sought sentiments, in forced unnatural conceits. He was the first corrupter of Cowley. Dryden was the first who called him a metaphysical poet. He had a considerable share of learning, and though he entered late into
Yes; thank my stars! as early as I knew
I grant that poetry's a crying sin;
orders, yet he was esteemed a good divine. James I. was so earnest to prefer him in the church, that he even refused the Earl of Somerset, his favourite, the request he earnestly made, of giving Donne an office in the council. In the entertaining account of that conversation, which Ben Jonson is said to have held with Mr. Drummond, of Hawthornden, in Scotland, in the year 1619, containing his judgments of the English Poets, he speaks thus of Donne, who was his intimate friend, and had frequently addressed him in various poems: “Donne was originally a poet; his grandfather, on the mother's side, was Heywood the epigrammatist; but for not being understood, he would perish. He esteemed him the first poet in the world for some things; his Verses of the Lost Ochadine, he had by heart; and that passage of the Calm, “ that dust and feather did not stir, all was so quiet.” He affirmed, that Donne wrote all his best pieces before he was twenty-five years of age.
Donne was one of our Poets who wrote elegantly in Latin; as did Ben Jonson, Cowley, Milton, Addison, and Gray. The private character of Donne, the inconvenience he underwent on account of his early marriage, and his remarkable sensibility of temper, render him
Though like the pestilence, and old-fashion'd love,
poor, disarm’d, like Papists, not worth hate.
One (like a wretch, which at barre judged as dead, Yet prompts him which stands next, and cannot
read, And saves his life) gives idiot actors means (Starving himself,) to live by his labour'd scenes. As in some organs, puppits dance above, And bellows pant below, which them do move. One would move love by rhymes; but witchcraft's
charms Bring not now their old fears, nor their old harms: Rams and slings now are silly battery, Pistolets are the best artillery. And they who write to Lords, rewards to get, Are they not like singers at doors for meat ? And they who write, because all write, have still That 'scuse for writing, and for writing ill.
But he is worst, who beggarly doth chaw Others wits’ fruits, and in his ravenous maw Rankly digested, doth these things out-spue, As his own things; and they're his own, 'tis true, For if one eat my meat, though it be known The meat was mine, the excrement's his own. But these do me no harm, nor they which use,
to out-usure Jews. Tout-drink the sea, t' out-swear the Letanie, Who with sins all kinds as familiar be
Catch'd like the plague, or love, the Lord knows
how, But that the cure is starving, all allow.
10 Yet like the papist's, is the poet's state, Poor and disarm'd, and hardly worth your hate!
Here a lean bard, whose wit could never give : Himself a dinner, makes an actor live: The thief condemn’d, in law already dead, 15 So prompts, and saves a rogue who cannot read.
. Thus as the pipes of some carved organ move, The gilded puppets dance and mount above. Heaved by the breath, th' inspiring bellows blow; Th' inspiring bellows lie and pant below. 20
One sings the fair ; but songs no longer move; No rat is rhymed to death, nor maid to love: In love's, in nature's spite, the siege they hold, And scorn the flesh, the devil, and all but gold.
These write to Lords, some mean reward to get, As needy beggars sing at doors for meat. Those write because all write, and so have still Excuse for writing, and for writing ill.
Wretched indeed! but far more wretched yet Is he who makes his meal on others' wit: 30 'Tis changed, no doubt, from what it was before, His rank digestion makes it wit no more: Sense, past through him, no longer is the same; For food digested takes another name.
I pass o'er all those confessors and martyrs 35 Who live like S-tt-n, or who die like Chartres, Out-cant old Esdras, or out-drink his heir, Out-usure Jews, or Irishmen out-swear;