The DANGER of Writing VERSE.
First printed in the Year 1741.
Quae poterant unquam satis expurgare cicutae,
Ni melius dormire putem, quam scribere versus?
HOR. Ep. 2. Lib. 2.
1 YOU ask me, sir, why thus by phantoms aw'd,
2 No kind occasion tempts the Muse abroad?
3 Why, when retirement sooths this idle art,
4 To fame regardless sleeps the youthful heart?
5 'Twou'd wrong your judgment, shou'd I fairly say
6 Distrust or weakness caus'd the cold delay:
7 Hint the small diff'rence, till we touch the lyre,
8 'Twixt real genius and too strong desire;
9 The human slips, or seeming slips pretend,
10 That rouze the critick, but escape the friend;
11 Nay which, tho' dreadful when the foe pursues,
12 You pass, and smile, and still provoke the Muse.
13 Yet, spite of all you think, or kindly feign,
14 My hand will tremble while it grasps the pen.
15 For not in this, like other arts, we try
16 Our light excursions in a summer sky,[Page 241]
17 No casual flights the dang'rous train admits,
18 But wits once authors, are for ever wits.
19 The fool in prose, like earth's unwieldy son,
20 May oft rise vig'rous, tho' he's oft o'erthrown;
21 One dangerous crisis marks our rise or fall,
22 By all we're courted, or we're shunn'd by all.
23 Will it avail, that unmatur'd by years,
24 My easy numbers pleas'd your partial ears,
25 If now condemn'd, my riper lays must bear
26 The wise man's censure, and the vain man's sneer?
27 Or, still more hard, ev'n where he's valu'd most,
28 The man must suffer if the poet's lost;
29 For wanting wit, be totally undone,
30 And barr'd all arts for having fail'd in one.
31 When fears like these his serious thoughts engage,
32 No bugbear phantom curbs the poet's rage.
33 'Tis powerful reason holds the streighten'd rein,
34 While flutt'ring fancy to the distant plain
35 Sends a long look, and spreads her wings in vain.
36 But grant for once, th' officious Muse has shed
37 Her gentlest influence on his infant head,
38 Let fears lie vanquish'd, and resounding Fame
39 Give to the bellowing blast the poet's name.
40 And see! distinguish'd from the crowd he moves,
41 Each finger marks him, and each eye approves!
42 Secure, as halcyons brooding o'er the deep,
43 The waves roll gently, and the thunders sleep,[Page 242]
44 Obsequious nature binds the tempest's wings,
45 And pleas'd attention listens whilst he sings!
46 O blissful state, O more than human joy!
47 What shafts can reach him, or what cares annoy?
48 What cares, my friend? why all that man can know,
49 Oppress'd with real or with fancy'd woe.
50 Rude to the world, like earth's first lord expell'd,
51 To climes unknown, from Eden's safer field;
52 No more eternal springs around him breathe,
53 Black air scowls o'er him, deadly damps beneath;
54 Now must he learn, misguided youth, to bear
55 Each varying season of the poet's year:
56 Flatt'ry's full beam, detraction's wintry store,
57 The frowns of fortune, or the pride of pow'r.
58 His acts, his words, his thoughts no more his own,
59 Each folly blazon'd, and each frailty known.
60 Is he reserv'd? — his sense is so refin'd
61 It ne'er descends to trifle with mankind.
62 Open and free? — they find the secret cause
63 Is vanity; He courts the world's applause.
64 Nay, tho' he speak not, something still is seen,
65 Each change of face betrays a fault within.
66 If grave, 'tis spleen; he smiles but to deride;
67 And downright aukwardness in him is pride.
68 Thus must he steer thro' fame's uncertain seas,
69 Now sunk by censure, and now puff'd by praise;
70 Contempt with envy strangely mix'd endure,
71 Fear'd where caress'd, and jealous tho' secure.
72 One fatal rock on which good authors split
73 Is thinking all mankind must have their wit;
74 And the grand business of the world stand still
75 To listen to the dictates of their quill.
76 Hurt if they fail, and yet how few succeed,
77 What's born in leisure men of leisure read;
78 And half of those have some peculiar whim
79 Their test of sense, and read but to condemn.
80 Besides, on parties now our fame depends,
81 And frowns or smiles, as these are foes or friends.
82 Wit, judgment, nature join; you strive in vain;
83 'Tis keen invective stamps the current strain.
84 Fix'd to one side like Homer's gods, we fight,
85 These always wrong, and those for ever right.
86 And would you chuse to see your friend, resign'd
87 Each conscious tie which guides the virtuous mind,
88 Embroil'd in factions, hurl with dreadful skill
89 The random vengeance of his desp'rate quill?
90 'Gainst pride in man with equal pride declaim,
91 And hide ill-nature under virtue's name?
92 Or deeply vers'd in flattery's wily ways,
93 Flow in full reams of undistinguish'd praise?
94 To vice's grave, or folly's bust bequeath
95 The blushing trophy, and indignant wreath?
Like Aegypt's priests, did endless temples rise,
Qui nescit qualia demens
Aegyptus portenta colat? crocodilon adorat.
JUV. Sat. 15.
97 And people with earth's pests th' offended skies?
98 The Muse of old her native freedom knew,
99 And wild in air the sportive wand'rer flew;
100 On worth alone her bays eternal strow'd,
101 And found the hero, ere she hymn'd the god.
102 Nor less the chief his kind support return'd,
103 No drooping Muse her slighted labours mourn'd;
104 But stretch'd at ease she prun'd her growing wings,
105 By sages honour'd and rever'd by kings.
106 Ev'n knowing Greece confess'd her early claim,
107 And warlike Latium caught the gen'rous flame.
108 Not so our age regards the tuneful tongue,
109 'Tis senseless rapture all, and empty song:
110 No Pollio sheds his genial influence round,
111 No Varus listens whilst the groves resound.
112 Ev'n those, the knowing and the virtuous few,
113 Who noblest ends by noblest means pursue,
114 Forget the poet's use; the powerful spell
115 Of magic verse, which SIDNEY paints so well,
116 Forget that Homer wak'd the Grecian flame,
117 That Pindar rous'd inglorious Thebes to fame,
118 That every age has great examples given
119 Of virtue taught in verse, and verse inspir'd by heaven.
120 But I forbear — these dreams no longer last,
121 The times of fable and of flights are past.
122 To glory now no laurel'd suppliants bend,
123 No coins are struck, no sacred domes ascend.
124 Yet ye, who still the Muse's charms admire,
125 And best deserve the verse your deeds inspire,[Page 245]
126 Ev'n in these gainful unambitious days,
127 Feel for yourselves at least, ye fond of praise,
128 And learn one lesson taught in mystic rhyme,
129 "'Tis verse alone arrests the wings of Time."
b Bacon de augmentis.Fast to the thread of life, annex'd by Fame,
131 A sculptur'd medal bears each human name,
132 O'er Lethe's streams the fatal threads depend,
133 The glitt'ring medal trembles as they bend;
134 Close but the shears, when chance or nature calls,
135 The birds of rumour catch it as it falls;
136 Awhile from bill to bill the trifle's tost,
137 The waves receive it, and 'tis ever lost!
138 But should the meanest swan that cuts the stream
139 Consign'd to Phoebus, catch the favour'd name,
140 Safe in her mouth she bears the sacred prize
141 To where bright Fame's eternal altars rise.
142 'Tis there the Muse's friends true laurels wear,
c Ptolemy Philadelphus. Aegypt's monarch reigns, and great Augustus there.
144 Patrons of arts must live 'till arts decay,
145 Sacred to verse in every poet's lay.
146 Thus grateful France does Richlieu's worth proclaim,
147 Thus grateful Britain doats on Somers' name.
148 And, spite of party rage, and human flaws,
149 And British liberty and British laws,[Page 246]
150 Times yet to come shall sing of ANNA'S reign,
151 And bards, who blame the measures, love the men.
152 But why round patrons climb th' ambitious bays?
153 Is interest then the sordid spur to praise?
d Persius.Shall the same cause, which prompts the chatt'ring jay
155 To aim at words, inspire the poet's lay?
156 And is there nothing in the boasted claim
157 Of living labours and a deathless name?
158 The pictur'd front, with sacred fillets bound?
159 The sculptur'd bust with laurels wreath'd around?
160 The annual roses scatter'd o'er his urn,
161 And tears to flow from poets yet unborn?
162 Illustrious all! but sure to merit these,
163 Demands at least the poet's learned ease.
164 Say, can the bard attempt what's truly great,
165 Who pants in secret for his future fate?
166 Him serious toils, and humbler arts engage,
167 To make youth easy, and provide for age;
168 While lost in silence hangs his useless lyre,
169 And tho' from heav'n it came, fast dies the sacred fire.
170 Or grant true genius with superior force
171 Bursts ev'ry bond, resistless in its course,
172 Yet lives the man, how wild soe'er his aim,
173 Would madly barter fortune's smiles for fame!
174 Or distant hopes of future ease forego,
175 For all the wreaths that all the Nine bestow?[Page 247]
176 Well pleas'd to shine, thro' each recording page,
177 The hapless Dryden of a shameless age?
178 Ill-fated bard! where-e'er thy name appears,
179 The weeping verse a sad memento bears.
180 Ah! what avail'd th' enormous blaze between
181 Thy dawn of glory, and thy closing scene!
182 When sinking nature asks our kind repairs,
183 Unstrung the nerves, and silver'd o'er the hairs;
184 When stay'd reflection comes uncall'd at last,
185 And grey experience counts each folly past,
186 Untun'd and harsh the sweetest strains appear,
187 And loudest Paeans but fatigue the ear.
188 'Tis true the man of verse, tho' born to ills,
189 Too oft deserves the very fate he feels.
190 When, vainly frequent at the great man's board,
191 He shares in ev'ry vice with ev'ry lord:
192 Makes to their taste his sober sense submit,
193 And 'gainst his reason madly arms his wit;
194 Heav'n but in justice turns their serious heart
195 To scorn the wretch, whose life belies his art.
196 He, only he, should haunt the Muse's grove,
197 Whom youth might rev'rence and grey hairs approve;
198 Whose heav'n-taught numbers, now, in thunder roll'd,
199 Might rouse the virtuous and appal the bold.
200 Now, to truth's dictates lend the grace of ease,
201 And teach instruction happier arts to please.
202 For him would PLATO change their gen'ral fate,
203 And own one poet might improve his state.
204 Curs'd be their verse, and blasted all their bays,
205 Whose sensual lure th' unconscious ear betrays;
206 Wounds the young breast, ere virtue spreads her shield,
207 And takes, not wins, the scarce disputed field,
208 Tho' specious rhetoric each loose thought refine,
209 Tho' music charm in ev'ry labour'd line,
210 The dang'rous verse, to full perfection grown,
211 BAVIUS might blush, and QUARLES disdain to own.
212 Shou'd some MACHAON, whose sagacious soul
213 Trac'd blushing nature to her inmost goal,
214 Skill'd in each drug the varying world provides,
215 All earth embosoms, and all ocean hides,
216 Nor cooling herb, nor healing balm supply,
217 Ease the swoln breast, or close the languid eye;
218 But, exquisitely ill, awake disease,
219 And arm with poisons ev'ry baleful breeze:
220 What racks, what tortures must his crimes demand,
221 The more than BORGIA of a bleeding land!
222 And is less guilty he, whose shameless page
223 Not to the present bounds its subtil rage,
224 But spreads contagion wide, and stains a future age?
225 Forgive me, Sir, that thus the moral strain,
226 With indignation warm'd, rejects the rein;
227 Nor think I rove regardless of my theme,
228 'Tis hence new dangers clog the paths to fame.
229 Not to themselves alone such bards confine
230 Fame's just reproach for virtue's injur'd shrine;[Page 249]
231 Profan'd by them, the Muse's laurels fade,
232 Her voice neglected, and her flame decay'd.
233 And the son's son must feel the father's crime,
234 A curse entail'd on all the race that rhyme,
235 New cares appear, new terrors swell the train,
236 And must we paint them ere we close the scene?
237 Say, must the Muse th' unwilling task pursue,
238 And to compleat her dangers mention you?
239 Yes you, my friend, and those whose kind regard
240 With partial fondness views this humble bard:
241 Ev'n you he dreads. — Ah! kindly cease to raise
242 Unwilling censure, by exacting praise.
243 Just to itself the jealous world will claim
244 A right to judge; or give, or cancel fame.
245 And, if th' officious zeal unbounded flows,
246 The friend too partial is the worst of foes.
e Platonis Apologia.Behold th' ATHENIAN sage, whose piercing mind
248 Had trac'd the wily lab'rinths of mankind,
249 When now condemn'd, he leaves his infant care
250 To all those evils man is born to bear.
251 Not to his friends alone the charge he yields,
252 But nobler hopes on juster motives builds;
253 Bids e'en his foes their future steps attend,
254 And dare to censure, if they dar'd offend.
255 Wou'd thus the poet trust his offspring forth,
256 Or bloom'd our BRITAIN with ATHENIAN worth:[Page 250]
257 Wou'd the brave foe th' imperfect work engage
258 With honest freedom, not with partial rage,
259 What just productions might the world surprize!
260 What other POPES, what other MAROS rise!
261 But since by foes, or friends alike deceiv'd,
262 Too little those, and these too much believ'd;
263 Since the same fate pursues by diff'rent ways,
264 Undone by censure, or undone by praise;
265 Since bards themselves submit to vice's rule,
266 And party-feuds grow high, and patrons cool:
267 Since, still unnam'd, unnumber'd ills behind
268 Rise black in air, and only wait the wind:
269 Let me, O let me, ere the tempest roar,
270 Catch the first gale, and make the nearest shore;
271 In sacred silence join th' inglorious train,
272 Where humble peace, and sweet contentment reign;
273 If not thy precepts, thy example own,
274 And steal thro' life not useless, tho' unknown.