AN EPISTLE ADDRESS'D TO Sir THOMAS HANMER,
On his EDITION of SHAKESPEAR'S WORKS.
By Mr. WILLIAM COLLINS.
1 WHILE born to bring the Muse's happier days,
2 A patriot's hand protects a poet's lays:
3 While nurs'd by you she sees her myrtles bloom,
4 Green and unwither'd o'er his honour'd tomb:
5 Excuse her doubts, if yet she fears to tell
6 What secret transports in her bosom swell:
7 With conscious awe she hears the critic's fame,
8 And blushing hides her wreath at Shakespear's name.[Page 65]
9 Hard was the lot those injur'd strains endur'd,
10 Unown'd by Science, and by years obscur'd,
11 Fair Fancy wept; and echoing sighs confess'd
12 A fixt despair in ev'ry tuneful breast.
13 Not with more grief th' afflicted swains appear,
14 When wintry winds deform the plenteous year;
15 When ling'ring frosts the ruin'd seats invade
16 Where Peace resorted, and the Graces play'd.
17 Each rising art by just gradation moves,
18 Toil builds on toil, and age on age improves:
19 The Muse alone unequal dealt her rage,
20 And grac'd with noblest pomp her earliest stage.
21 Preserv'd thro' time, the speaking scenes impart
22 Each changeful wish of Phaedra's tortur'd heart:
23 Or paint the curse, that mark'd thed
d The Oedipus of Sophocles. Theban's reign,
24 A bed incestuous, and a father slain.
25 With kind concern our pitying eyes o'erflow,
26 Trace the sad tale, and own another's woe.
27 To Rome remov'd, with wit secure to please,
28 The Comic sisters kept their native ease.
29 With jealous fear declining Greece beheld
30 Her own Meander's art almost excell'd!
31 But ev'ry Muse essay'd to raise in vain
32 Some labour'd rival of her Tragic strain;
33 Ilyssus' laurels, tho' transferr'd with toil,
34 Droop'd their fair leaves, nor knew th' unfriendly soil.
35 As arts expir'd, resistless Dulness rose;
36 Goths, priests, or Vandals, — all were Learning's foes.
e Julius II. the immediate predecessor of Leo X. Julius first recall'd each exil'd maid,
38 And Cosmo own'd them in th' Etrurian shade:
39 Then deeply skill'd in love's engaging theme,
40 The soft Provencial pass'd to Arno's stream:
41 With graceful ease the wanton lyre he strung,
42 Sweet flow'd the lays — but love was all he sung.
43 The gay description could not fail to move;
44 For, led by nature, all are friends to love.
45 But heav'n, still various in its works, decreed
46 The perfect boast of time should last succeed.
47 The beauteous union must appear at length,
48 Of Tuscan fancy, and Athenian strength:
49 One greater Muse Eliza's reign adorn,
50 And ev'n a Shakespear to her fame be born!
51 Yet ah! so bright her morning's opening ray,
52 In vain our Britain hop'd an equal day!
53 No second growth the western isle could bear,
54 At once exhausted with too rich a year.
55 Too nicely Johnson knew the critic's part;
56 Nature in him was almost lost in art.
57 Of softer mold the gentle Fletcher came,
58 The next in order, as the next in name.
59 With pleas'd attention 'midst his scenes we find
60 Each glowing thought, that warms the female mind;[Page 67]
61 Each melting sigh, and ev'ry tender tear,
62 The lover's wishes and the virgin's fear.
f Their characters are thus distinguished by Dryden. ev'ry strain the Smiles and Graces own;
64 But stronger Shakespear felt for Man alone:
65 Drawn by his pen, our ruder passions stand
66 Th' unrival'd picture of his early hand.
g About the time of Shakespear, the poet Hardy was in great repute in France. He wrote, according to Fontenelle, six hundred plays. The French poets after him applied themselves in general to the correct improvement of the stage, which was almost totally disregarded by those of our own country, Johnson excepted.With gradual steps, and slow, exacter France
68 Saw Art's fair empire o'er her shores advance:
69 By length of toil a bright perfection knew,
70 Correctly bold, and just in all she drew.
71 Till late Corneille, withh
h The favourite author of the elder Corneille. Lucan's spirit fir'd,
72 Breath'd the free strain, as Rome and He inspir'd:
73 And classic judgment gain'd to sweet Racine
74 The temp'rate strength of Maro's chaster line.
75 But wilder far the British laurel spread,
76 And wreaths less artful crown our poet's head.
77 Yet He alone to ev'ry scene could give
78 Th' historian's truth, and bid the manners live.
79 Wak'd at his call I view, with glad surprize,
80 Majestic forms of mighty monarchs rise.[Page 68]
81 There Henry's trumpets spread their loud alarms,
82 And laurel'd Conquest waits her hero's arms.
83 Here gentler Edward claims a pitying sigh,
84 Scarce born to honours, and so soon to die!
85 Yet shall thy throne, unhappy infant, bring
86 No beam of comfort to the guilty king:
i Tempus erit Turno, magno cum optaverit emptum Intactum pallanta, &c. time shall come, when Glo'ster's heart shall bleed
88 In life's last hours, with horror of the deed:
89 When dreary visions shall at last present
90 Thy vengeful image in the midnight tent,
91 Thy hand unseen the secret death shall bear,
92 Blunt the weak sword, and break th' oppressive spear.
93 Where-e'er we turn, by Fancy charm'd, we find
94 Some sweet illusion of the cheated mind.
95 Oft, wild of wing, she calls the soul to rove
96 With humbler nature, in the rural grove;
97 Where swains contented own the quiet scene,
98 And twilight fairies tread the circled green:
99 Dress'd by her hand, the Woods and Vallies smile,
100 And Spring diffusive decks th' inchanted isle.
101 O more than all in pow'rful genius blest,
102 Come, take thine empire o'er the willing breast!
103 Whate'er the wounds this youthful heart shall feel,
104 Thy songs support me, and thy morals heal![Page 69]
105 There ev'ry thought the poet's warmth may raise,
106 There native musick dwells in all the lays.
107 O might some verse with happiest skill persuade
108 Expressive Picture to adopt thine aid!
109 What wond'rous draughts might rise from ev'ry page!
110 What other Raphaels charm a distant age!
111 Methinks ev'n now I view some free design,
112 Where breathing Nature lives in ev'ry line:
113 Chaste and subdu'd the modest lights decay,
114 Steal into shades, and mildly melt away.
115 — And see, wherek
k See the tragedy of Julius Caesar. Anthony in tears approv'd,
116 Guard the pale relicks of the chief he lov'd:
117 Over the cold corse the warrior seems to bend,
118 Deep sunk in grief, and mourns his murder'd friend!
119 Still as they press, he calls on all around,
120 Lifts the torn robe, and points the bleeding wound.
l Coriolanus. See Mr. Spence's dialogue on the Odyssey. who is he, whose brows exalted bear
122 A wrath impatient, and a fiercer air?
123 Awake to all that injur'd worth can feel,
124 On his own Rome he turns th' avenging steel.
125 Yet shall not War's insatiate fury fall,
126 (So heav'n ordains it) on the destin'd wall.
127 See the fond mother 'midst the plaintive train
128 Hung on his knees, and prostrate on the plain![Page 70]
129 Touch'd to the soul, in vain he strives to hide
130 The son's affection, in the Roman's pride:
131 O'er all the man conflicting passions rise,
132 Rage grasps the sword, while Pity melts the eyes.
133 Thus, gen'rous Critick, as thy Bard inspires,
134 The sister Arts shall nurse their drooping fires;
135 Each from his scenes her stores alternate bring,
136 Blend the fair tints, or wake the vocal string:
137 Those Sibyl-leaves, the sport of ev'ry wind,
138 (For poets ever were a careless kind)
139 By thee dispos'd, no farther toil demand,
140 But, just to Nature, own thy forming hand.
141 So spread o'er Greece, th' harmonious whole unknown,
142 Ev'n Homer's numbers charm'd by parts alone.
143 Their own Ulysses scarce had wander'd more,
144 By winds and water cast on ev'ry shore:
145 When rais'd by Fate, some former HANMER join'd
146 Each beauteous image of the boundless mind:
147 And bade, like thee, his Athens ever claim
148 A fond alliance with the Poet's name.