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observant of the parting ray,
Eyes the calm sunset of thy various day, Through fortune's cloud one truly great can see, Nor fears to tell that Mortimer is he.
JONATHAN SWIFT. 1667-1744.
ALL human race would fain be wits,
And millions miss for one that hits.
Young's universal passion, pride,
Was never known to spread so wide.
Say, Britain, could you ever boast
Three poets in an age at most?
Our chilling climate hardly bears
A sprig of bay in fifty years;
While every fool his claim alleges,
As if it grew in common hedges.
What reason can there be assign'd
For this perverseness in the mind?
Brutes find out where their talents lie:
A bear will not attempt to fly;
A founder'd horse will oft debate
Before he tries a five-barr'd gate;
A dog by instinct turns aside,
Who sees the ditch too deep and wide.
But man we find the only creature,
Who, led by folly, combats Nature;
Who, when she loudly cries Forbear,
With obstinacy fixes there;
And, where his genius least inclines,
Absurdly bends his whole designs.
Not empire to the rising sun
By valour, conduct, fortune won;
Not highest wisdom in debates
For framing laws to govern states;
Not skill in sciences profound,
So large to grasp the circle round;
Such heavenly influence require,
As how to strike the Muse's lyre.
Consult yourself; and if you find
A powerful impulse urge your mind,
Impartial judge within your breast
What subject you can manage best;
Whether your genius most inclines
To satire, praise, or humorous lines;
To elegies in mournful tone,
Or prologues sent from hands unknown.
Then, rising with Aurora's light,
The Muse invoked, sit down to write;
Blot out, correct, insert, refine,
Enlarge, diminish, interline;
Be mindful, when invention fails,
To scratch your head and bite your nails. Your poem finish'd, next your care
Is needful to transcribe it fair.
In modern wit all printed trash is
Set off with numerous breaks and dashes. To statesmen would you give a wipe,
You print it in Italic type.
When letters are in vulgar shapes,
"Tis ten to one the wit escapes;
But, when in capitals express'd,
The dullest reader smokes the jest:
Or else, perhaps, he may invent
A better than the poet meant ;
As learned commentators view
In Homer, more that Homer knew.
Your poem in its modish dress,
Correctly fitted for the press,
Convey by penny-post to Lintot,
But let no friend alive look into 't.
If Lintot thinks 'twill quit the cost,
You need not fear your labour lost:
And how agreeably surprised
Are you to see it advertised!
The hawker shows you one in print,
As fresh as farthings from the mint.
Be sure at Will's the following day,
Lie snug, and hear what critics say;
And if you find the general vogue
Pronounces you a stupid rogue,
Be silent as a politician,
For talking may beget suspicion :
Or praise the judgment of the town,
And help yourself to run it down.
Give up your fond paternal pride,
Nor argue on the weaker side:
For poems read without a name
We justly praise or justly blame;
And critics have no partial views,
Except they know whom they abuse;
And, since you ne'er provoke their spite,
Depend upon 't, their judgment's right.
But if you blab you are undone :
Consider what a risk you run:
You lose your credit all at once,
The town will mark you for a dunce;
The vilest doggrel Grub-street sends,
Will pass for yours with foes and friends;
And you must bear the whole disgrace,
Till some fresh blockhead takes your place.
Your secret kept, your poem sunk,
And sent in quires to line a trunk,
If still you be disposed to rhyme,
Go try your hand a second time.
Again you fail: yet Safe 's the word;
Take courage, and attempt a third.
But first with care employ your thoughts
Where critics mark'd your former faults;
The trivial turns, the borrow'd wit,
The similes that nothing fit;
The cant which every fool repeats,
Town jests and coffee-house conceits;
Descriptions tedious, flat, and dry,
And introduced the Lord knows why:
Or where we find your fury set
Against the harmless alphabet;
And A's and B's your malice vent,
While readers wonder whom you meant;
A public or a private robber,
A statesman or a South Sea jobber;
A. prelate who no God believes,
A parliament or den of thieves;
A pick-purse at the bar or bench,
A duchess, or a suburb wench:
Or oft, when epithets you link,
In gaping lines to fill a chink,
Like stepping-stones to save a stride,
In streets where kennels are too wide;
Or like a heel-piece, to support
A cripple with one foot too short;
Or like a bridge, that joins a marish
To moorland of a different parish.
So have I seen ill-coupled hounds
Drag different ways in miry grounds.
So geographers in Afric maps
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er unhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns.
But, though you miss your third essay,
You need not throw your pen away.
Lay now aside all thoughts of fame,
To spring more profitable game.
From party-merit seek support;
The vilest verse thrives best at court.
A pamphlet in Sir Bob's defence
Will never fail to bring in pence:
Nor be concern'd about the sale,
He pays his workmen on the nail.
A prince, the moment he is crown'd,
Inherits every virtue round,
As emblems of the sovereign power,
Like other bawbles in the Tower;
Is generous, valiant, just, and wise,
And so continues till he dies:
His humble senate this professes,
In all their speeches, votes, addresses.
But once you fix him in a tomb,
His virtues fade, his vices bloom;
And each perfection, wrong imputed,
Is fully at his death confuted.
The loads of poems in his praise,
Ascending, make one funeral blaze:
As soon as you can hear his knell,
This god on earth turns devil in hell;
And lo! his ministers of state,
Transform'd to imps, his levee wait;
Where, in the scenes of endless wo,
They ply their former arts below;
And, as they sail in Charon's boat,
Contrive to bribe the judge's vote;
To Cerberus they give a sop,
His triple-barking mouth to stop;
Or in the ivory gate of dreams
Project excise and South Sea schemes;
Or hire their party pamphleteers
To set Elysium by the ears.
Then, poet, if you mean to thrive,
Employ your Muse on kings alive;
With prudence gathering up a cluster
Of all the virtues you can muster,
Which, form'd into a garland sweet,
Lay humbly at your monarch's feet;
Who, as the odours reach his throne,
Will smile, and think them all his own;
For law and gospel both determine
All virtues lodge in royal ermine
(I mean the oracles of both,
Who shall depose it upon oath).
Your garland in the following reign,
Change but the names, will do again.
But, if you think this trade too base
(Which seldom is the dunce's case),