Page images





It is true, I have one privilege which is almost particular to myself, that I saw you in the east at your first arising above the hemisphere: I was as soon sensible as any man of that light, when it was but just shooting out, and beginning to travel upward to the meridian. I made my early addresses to your lordship, in my Essay of Dramatic

LORD CHAMBERLAIN OF HIS MAJESTY'S HOUSEHOLD, Poetry; and therein bespoke you to the world,



[ocr errors]

THE wishes and desires of all good men, which have attended your lordship from your first appearance in the world, are at length accomplished,

in your obtaining those honours and dignities, which you have so long deserved. There are no factions, though irreconcileable to one another, that are not united in their affection to you, and the respect they pay you. They are equally pleased in your prosperity, and would be equally concerned in your affliction. Titus Vespasian was not more the delight of human-kind. The universal empire made him only more known, and more powerful, but could not make him more beloved. He had greater ability of doing good, but your inclination to it is not less: and though you could not extend your beneficence to so many persons, yet you have lost as few days as that excellent emperor, and never had his complaint to make when you went to bed, that the Sun had shone upon you in vain, when you had the opportunity of relieving some unhappy man. This, my lord, has justly acquired you as many friends as there are persons who have the honour to be known to you: mere acquaintance you have none; you have drawn them all into a nearer line; and they who have conversed with you are for ever after inviolably yours. This is a truth so generally acknowledged, that it needs no proof: it is of the nature of a first principle, which is received as soon as it is proposed; and needs not the reformation which Descartes used to his: for we doubt not, neither can we properly say, we think we admire and love you, above all other men: there is a certainty in the proposition, and we know it. With the same assurance can I say, you neither have enemies, nor can scarce have any; for they who have never heard of you, can neither love or hate you; and they who have, can have no other notion of you, than that which they receive from the public, that you are the best of men. After this, my testimony can be of no farther use, than to declare it to be day-light at high noon: and all who have the benefit of sight, can look up as well and see the Sun.

wherein I have the right of a first discoverer. When I was myself in the rudiments of my Poetry, without name or reputation in the world, having rather the ambition of a writer, than the skill; when I was drawing the out-lines of an art, without any living master to instruct me in it; an art

which had been better praised than studied here in England, wherein Shakspeare, who created the stage among us, had rather written happily, than knowingly and justly: and Jonson, who, by studying Horace, had been acquainted with the rules, yet seemed to envy posterity that knowledge, and

like an inventor of some useful art, to make a

monopoly of his learning: when thus, as I may say, before the use of the loadstone, or know• ledge of the compass, I was sailing in a vast ocean, without other help than the pole-star of the ancients, and the rules of the French stage amongst the moderns, which are extremely different from ours, by reason of their opposite taste; yet, even then, I had the presumption to dedicate to your lordship: a very unfinished piece, I must confess, and which only can be excused by the little experience of the author, and the modesty of the title, An Essay. Yet I was stronger in prophecy than I was in criticism; I was inspired to foretel you to mankind, as the restorer of poetry, the greatest genius, the truest judge, and

the best patron.

Good sense and good nature are never separated, though the ignorant world has thought otherwise. Good nature, by which I mean beneficence and candour, is the product of, right reason; which of necessity will give allowance to the failings of others, by considering that there is nothing perfect in mankind; and, by distinguishing that which comes nearest to excellency, though not absolutely free from faults, will certainly produce a candour in the judge. It is incident to an elevated understanding, like your lordship's, to find out the errours of other men: but it is your prerogative to pardon them; to look with pleasure on those things, which are somewhat congenial, and ef a remote kindred to your own conceptions; and to forgive the many failings of those, who, with their wretched art, cannot arrive to those heights that you possess from a happy, abundant, and

native genius; which are as inborn to you, as they were to Shakspeare; and, for aught I know, to Homer; in either of whom we find all arts and sciences, all moral and natural philosophy, without knowing that they ever studied them.

There is not an English writer this day living, who is not perfectly convinced, that your lordship excels all others, in all the several parts of poetry which you have undertaken to adorn. The most vain, and the most ambitious of our age, have not dared to assume so much, as the competitors of Themistocles: they have yielded the first place without dispute; and have been arrogantly content to be esteemed as second to your lordship; and even that also with a longe sed proximi intervallo. If there have been, or are any, who go farther in their self-conceit, they must be very singular in their opinion: they must be like the officer in a play, who was called Captain, Lieutenant, and Company. The world will easily conclude, whether such unattended generals can ever be capable of making a revolution in Par



I will not attempt, in this place, to say any thing particular of your Lyric Poems, though they are the delight and wonder of this age, and will be the envy of the next. The subject of this book confines me to satire; and in that, an author of your own quality, (whose ashes I shall not disturb) | has given you all the commendation, which his self-sufficiency could afford to any man: "The best good man, with the worst-natured Muse." In that character, methinks, I am reading Jonson's verses to the memory of Shakspeare: an insolent, -sparing, and invidious panegyric: where goodnature, the most godlike commendation of a man, is only attributed to your person, and denied to your writings for they are every where so full of candour, that, like Horace, you only expose the follies of men, without arraigning their vices; and in this excel him, that you add that pointedness of thought, which is visibly wanting in our great Roman. There is more of salt in all your verses, than I have seen in any of the moderns, or even of the ancients: but you have been sparing of the gall; by which means you have pleased all readers, and offen ied none. Donne alone, of all our countrymen, had your talent; but was not happy enough to arrive at your versification. And were he translated into numbers and English, he would yet be wanting in the dignity of expression. That which is the prime virtue and chief ornament of Virgil, which distinguishes him from the rest of writers, is so conspicuous in your verses, that it

casts a shadow on all your contemporaries; we cannot be seen, or but obscurely, while you are present. You equal Donne in the variety, multiplicity, and choice of thoughts; you excel him in the manner, and the words. I read you both with the same admiration, but not with the same delight. He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softness of love. In this (if I may be pardoned for so bold a truth) Mr. Cowley has copied him to a fault; so great a one, in my opinion, that it throws his Mistress infinitely below his Pindariques, and his latter compositions, which are undoubtedly the best of his poems, and the most correct. For my own part, I must avow it freely to the world, that I never attempted any thing in satire, wherein I have not studied your writings as the most perfect model. I have continually laid them before me; and the greatest commendation, which my own partiality can give to my productions, is, that they are copies, and no farther to be allowed, than as they have something more or less of the original. Some few touches of your lordship, some secret graces which I have endeavoured to express after your manner, have made whole poems of mine to pass with approbation: but take your verses altogether, and they are inimitable. If therefore I have not written better, it is because you have not written more. You have not set me sufficient copy to transcribe; and I cannot add one letter of my own invention, of which I have not the example there.

It is a general complaint against your lordship, and I must have leave to upbraid you with it, that, because you need not write, you will not. Mankind that wish you so well, in all things that relate to your prosperity, have their intervals of wishing for themselves, and are within a little of grudging you the fullness of your fortune: they would be more malicious if you used it not so well, and with so much generosity.

Fame is in itself a real good, if we may believe Cicero, who was perhaps too fond of it. But even farme, as Virgil tells us, acquires strength by going forward. Let Epicurus give indolence as an attribute to his gods, and place in it the happiness of the blest: the divinity which we worship has given us not only a precept against it, but his own example to the contrary. The world, my lord, would be content to allow you a seventh day for rest; or, if you thought that hard upon you, we

would not refuse you half your time: if you come out, like some great monarch, to take a town but once a year, as it were for your diversion, though you had no need to extend your territories: in short, if you were a bad, or which is worse, an indifferent poet, we would thank you for your own quiet, and not expose you to the want of yours. But when you are so great and so successful, and when we have that necessity of your writing, that we cannot subsist entirely without it; any more (I may almost say) than the world without the daily course of ordinary providence, methinks this argument might prevail with you, my lord, to forego a little of your repose for the public benefit. It is not that you are under any force of working daily miracles, to prove your being; but now and then somewhat of extraordinary, that is any thing of your production, is requisite to refresh your character.

been to me, are yet of dangerous example to the public: some witty men may perhaps succeed to their designs, and, mixing sense with malice, blast the reputation of the most innocent amongst men, and the most virtuous amongst women.

Heaven be praised, our common libellers are as free from the imputation of wit, as of morality; and therefore whatever mischief they have designed, they have performed but little of it. Yet these ill writers, in all justice, ought themselves to be exposed: as Persius has given us a fair example in his first satire: which is levelled par ticularly at them: and none is so fit to correct their faults, as he who is not only clear from any in his own writings, but also so just, that he will never defame the good; and is armed with the power of verse, to punish and make examples of the bad. But of this I shall have occasion to speak further, when I come to give the definition and character of true satires.

In the mean time, as a counsellor, bred up in the knowledge of the municipal and statute laws, may honestly inform a just prince how far his prerogative extends; so I may be allowed to tell your lordship, who, by an undisputed title, are the king of poets, what an extent of power you have, and how lawfully you may exercise it, over the petulant scribblers of this age. As lord chamber

all that belongs to the decency and good manners of the stage. You can banish from thence scurrility and prophaneness, and restrain the licentious insolence of poets and their actors in all things that shock the public quiet, or the reputation of private persons, under the notion of humour. But I mean not the authority which is annexed to your office: I speak of that only which is inborn, aad inherent to your person. What is produced in you by an excellent wit, a masterly and commanding genius over all writers: whereby you are inpowered, when you please, to give the final decision of wit; to put your stamp on all that ought to pass for current; and set a brand of reprobation on clipt poetry and false coin. A shilling,

This, I think, my lord, is a sufficient reproach to you; and, should I carry it as far as mankind would authorise me, would be little less than satire. And, indeed, a provocation is almost necessary, in behalf of the world, that you might be induced sometimes to write; and in relation to a multitude of scribblers, who daily pester the world with their insufferable stuff, that they might be discouraged from writing any more. I complain not of their lampoons, and libels, though I have been the pub-lain, I know, you are absolute by your office, in lic mark for many years. I am vindictive enough to have repelled force by force, if I could imagine that any of them had ever reached me; but they either shot at rovers, and therefore missed, or their power was so weak, that I might safely stand them, at the nearest distance. I answered not the Rehearsal, because I knew the author sat to himself when he drew the picture, and was the very Bayes of his own farce. Because also I knew, that my betters were more concerned than I was in that satire: and, lastly, because Mr. Smith and Mr. Jonson, the main pillars of it, were two such Janguishing gentlemen in their conversation, that I could liken them to nothing but to their own relations, those noble characters of men of wit and pleasure about the town. The like considera-dipt in the bath, may go for gold amongst the tions have hindered me from dealing with the lamentable companions of their prose and doggrel; I am so far from defending my poetry against them, that I will not so much as expose theirs. And for my morals, if they are not proof against their attacks, let me be thought by posterity, what those authors would be thought, if any memory of them, or of their writings, could endure so long, as to another age. But these dull makers of lampoons, as harmless as they have

ignorant; but the sceptres on the guineas show the difference. That your lordship is formed by nature for this supremacy, I could easily prove, (were it not already granted by the world,) from the distinguishing character of your writings; which is so visible to me, that I never could be imposed on to receive for yours what is written by any others; or to mistake your genuine poetry for their spurious productions. I can farther add with truth (though not without some vanity in

saying it) that in the same paper, written by divers hands, whereof your lordship was only part, I could separate your gold from their copper: and though I could not give back to every author his own brass (for there is not the same rule for distinguishing betwixt bad and bad, as betwixt ill and excellently good) yet I never failed of knowing what was yours, and what was not; and was absolutely certain, that this, or the other part, was positively yours, and could not positively be written by any other.

True it is, that some bad poems, though not all, carry their owner's mark about them. There is some peculiar aukwardness, false grammar, imperfect sense, or, at the least, obscurity; some brand or other on this buttock, or that ear, that it is notorious who are the owners of the cattle, though they should not sign it with their names. But your lordship, on the contrary, is distinguished, not only by the excellency of your thoughts, but by your style and manner of expressing them. A painter, judging of some admirable piece, may affirm with certainty, that it was of Holben, or Van Dyck; but vulgar designs, and common draughts, are easily mistaken and misapplied. Thus, by my long study of your lordship, I am arrived at the knowledge of your particular manner. In the good poems of other men, like those artists, I can only say, this is like the draught of such a one, or like the colouring of another. In short, I can only be sure, that it is the hand of a good master; but in your performances, it is scarcely possible for me to be deceived. If you write in your strength, you stand revealed at the first view; and should you write under it, you cannot avoid some peculiar graces, which only cost me a second consideration to discover you: for I must say it, with all the severity of truth, that every line of yours is precious. Your lordship's only fault is, that you have not written more; unless I could add another, and that yet a greater, but I fear for the public the accusation would not be true, that you have written, and, out of vicious modesty, will not publish.

Virgil has confined his works within the compass of eighteen thousand lines, and has not treated many subjects; yet he ever had, and ever will have, the reputation of the best poet. Martial says of him, that he could have excelled Varius in tragedy, and Horace in lyric poetry; but, out of deference to his friends, he attempted neither.

The same prevalence of genius is in your lordship; but the world cannot pardon your concealing it, on the same consideration: because we have neither a living Varius, nor a Horace, in VOL. XIX

whose excellencies both of poems, odes, and satires, you have equalled them, if our language had not yielded to the Roman majesty, and length of time had not added a reverence to the works of Horace. For good sense is the same in all or most ages; and course of time rather improves Nature, than impairs her. What has been, may be again another Homer, and another Virgil, may possibly arise from those very causes which produced the first: though it would be impru dence to affirm, that any such have appeared.

It is manifest, that some particular ages have been more happy than others in the production of great men, in all sorts of arts and sciences; as that of Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and the rest, for stage poetry, amongst the Greeks: that of Augustus for heroic, lyric, dramatic, elegiac, and indeed all sorts of poetry, in the persons of Virgil, Horace, Varius, Ovid, and many others; especially if we take into that century the latter end of the commonwealth; wherein we find Varro, Lucretius, and Catullus: and at the same time lived Cicero, Sallust, and Cæsar. A famous age in modern times, for learning in every kind, was that of Lorenzo de Medici, and his son Leo X. wherein painting was revived, and poetry flourished, and the Greek language was restored.

Examples in all these are obvious: but what I would infer is this; that, in such an age, it is possible some great genius may arise, equal to any of the ancients; abating only for the language. For great contemporaries whet and cultivate each other and mutual borrowing and commerce makes the common riches of learning, as it does of the civil government.

But suppose that Homer and Virgil were the only of their species, and that Nature was so much worn out in producing them, that she is never able to bear the like again; yet, the example only holds in heroic poetry: in tragedy and satire, I offer myself to maintain against some of our modern critics, that this age and the last, particularly in England, have excelled the ancients in both those kinds; and I would instance in Shakspeare of the former, of your lordship in the latter


Thus I might safely confine myself to my native country: but, if I would only cross the seas, I might find in France a living Horace and a Juvenal, in the person of the admirable Boileau; whose numbers are excellent, whose expressions are noble, whose thoughts are just, whose language is pure, whose satire is pointed, and whose sense is close what he borrows from the ancients, he repays with usury of his own, in coin as good, and нь

almost as universally valuable: for, setting pre- | is not as below those two Italians, and subject to a

judice and partiality apart, though he is our enemy, the stamp of Louis, the patron of all arts, is not much inferior to the medal of an Augustus Cæsar. Let this be said without entering into the interest of factions and parties, and relating only to the bounty of that king to men of learning and merit: a praise so just, that even we, who are his enemies, cannot refuse it to him.

thousand more reflections, without examining their St. Lewis, their Pucelle, or their Alarique: the English have only to boast of Spenser and Milton, who neither of them wanted either genius or learn. ing, to have been perfect poets; and yet, both of them are liable to many censures. For there is no uniformity in the design of Spenser: he aims at the accomplishment of no one action: he raises up a hero for every one of his adventures; and endows each of them with some particular moral virtue, which renders them all equal, without subordination or performance. Every one is most valiant in his own legend; only we must do them that justice to observe, that magnanimity, which is the character of prince Arthur, shines throughout the whole poem; and succours the rest, when they are in distress. The original of every knight was then living in the court of queen Elizabeth; and he attributed to each of them, that virtes which he thought most conspicuous in them: an ingenious piece of flattery, though it turned not

much to his account.

Had he lived to finish his poem, in the six remaining legends, it had certainly been more of a piece; but could not have been perfect, because the model was not true. But prince Arthur, or his chief patron, sir Philip Sidney, whom he intended to make happy by the marriage of his Gloriana, dying before him, de prived the poet both of means and spirit, to ac complish his design: for the rest, his obsolete language, and the ill choice of his stanza, are faults but of the second magnitude: for, notwithstand

Now, if it be permitted me to go back again to the consideration of epic poetry, 1 have confessed, that no man hitherto has reached, or so much as approached to, the excellencies of Homer, or of Virgil; I must further add, that Statius, the best versificator next Virgil, knew not how to design after him, though he had the model in his eye; that Lucan is wanting both in design and subject, and is, besides, too full of heat and affectation; that, among the moderns, Ariosto neither designed justly, nor observed any unity of action, or compass of time, or moderation in the vastness of his draught: his style is luxurious, without majesty or decency; and his adventures, without the compass of nature and possibility: Tasso, whose design was regular, and who observed the rules of unity in time and place more closely than Virgil, yet was not so happy in his action; he confesses himself to have been too lyrical; that is, to have written beneath the dignity of heroic verse, in his Episodes of Sophronia, Erminia, and Armida; his story is not so pleasing as Ariosto's; he is too flatulent sometimes, and sometimes too dry; many times unequal, and almost always forced; and, besides, is full of conception, points of epigraming the first, he is still intelligible, at least after and witticism; all which are not only below the dignity of heroic verse, but contrary to its nature: Virgil and Homer have not one of them. And those who are guilty of so boyish an ambition in so grave a subject, are so far from being considered as heroic poets, that they ought to be turned down from Homer to the Anthologia, from Virgil to Martial and Owen's epigrams, and from Spenser to Flecnoe; that is, from the top to the bottom of all poetry. But to return to Tasso: he borrows from the invention of Boyardo; and in his alteration of his poem, which is infinitely the worse, imitates Homer so very servilely, that (for example) he gives the king of Jerusalem fifty sons, only, because Homer had bestowed the like number on king Priam; he kills the youngest in the same manner, and has provided his hero with a Patroclus, under another name, only to bring him back to the wars, when his friend was killed. The French have performed nothing in this kind, which

a little practice; and for the last, he is the more to be admired, that, labouring under such a diff. culty, his verses are so numerous, so various, and harmonious, that only Virgil, whom he professedly imitated, has surpassed him, among the Romans; and only Mr. Waller among the English.

As for Mr. Milton, whom we all admire with 59 much justice, his subject is not that of an here: poem, properly so called. His design is the losing of our happiness: his event is not prosperous, like that of all other epic works: his heavenly mi chines are many, and human persons are but twe. But I will not take Mr. Rymer's work out of h hands: he has promised the world a critique on that author; wherein, though he will not all his poem for heroic, I hope he will grant us, that his thoughts are elevated, his words sounding, and that no man has so happily copied the manner of Homer, or so copiously translated bis Græcists, and the Latin elegancies of Virgil. It is true, be

« PreviousContinue »