by Chance Herbert
Alexander Pope was born in London, England, May 21st 1688 into a Roman Catholic family, and is remembered as one of the most prolific writers during the Enlightenment period, and “one of the most epigrammatic of al English authors” (Butt). His Catholicism left him with a limited education, and with a lack of opportunity in his life, and so too did his health and physical appearance. Pope was a 4 foot 6 inch man who, throughout his life, suffered from a “curvature of the spine” and what was most likely Pott’s disease, an infection of the spinal column (Butt). Pope endured such limitations and defeated any boundaries laid out in front of him by becoming one of the most celebrated satirical writers, and a master of the mock-epic and the heroic couplet. His health would ultimately lead him to his death on May 30th, 1744, when he would say to his physician, “Here am I, dying of a hundred good symptoms.”
The selected poems of Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism,” “The Rape of the Lock,” and “An Essay on Man,” show a poet whose optimistic view on the human spirit aimed to hold a mirror to 18th-century aristocratic society, critics of the past, present and the future, and in many ways, to all of mankind so that it may improve upon itself through better understanding of its place in nature.
The first of the three selected poems, “An Essay on Criticism” is a didactic poem, intended to convey a moral observation to the reader, and is written in heroic couplets, a style that Pope arguably became the master of. This work was published in 1711 when Pope was twenty-two, however, upon initial publication, the author was anonymous (“An Essay on Criticism”). The work sets out in praise of Neoclassical rules and of the ancient Roman poet Horace (and his work Ars Poetica), and in it, Pope lays out two distinct themes for critics. In the first, Pope argues “that good taste derives from nature,” and that this fact was laid out by poets such as Horace, and in the second, Pope explains how “critics have deviated from these rules” (“An Essay on Criticism”). It is a work that covers not only guidelines for the art critic, but, by extension, argues for what good poets should strive for in their work.
Pope’s work, “The Rape of the Lock” is a satirical critique on high society as defined by the 18th century upper-class, and in it, Pope highlights the triviality of “high society” through the form of a mock-heroic epic arguing that society has failed in defining value in almost everything, labeling the important worthless, and the worthless important.
In “An Essay on Man”, Pope examines man’s relationship to nature through an optimistic philosophy that would see everything that exists as being just because everything comes from God. In this work, Pope makes claims that, through science and understanding, man has confused himself with God, and that man must first understand that it cannot know the reasoning of God nor their own place in nature’s design.
Alexander Pope’s writings serve as a reflection to humanity, forcing the reader to view the workings of their own society and their place in not only their culture, but in nature itself.
Pope challenges al people to hold themselves to the standards of prodigious ideals and to abandon what makes mankind itself a foolish and at times ignorant lot, exuding an optimism rooted in a certain trust in the goodness of humanity.
Butt, John Everett. “Alexander Pope.” Encylopædia Britannica. 13 October. 2019. www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Pope-English-author. Accessed 12 April. 2020.
“An Essay on Criticism.” Encylopædia Britannica. 09 February. 2014. www.britannica.com/topic/An-Essay-on-Criticism. Accessed 12 April. 2020.
- Is “An Essay on Man” a work that uplifts or limits mankind’s potential? Explain how Pope uplifts/limits the human spirit.
- What are the qualities that a critic should strive to hold, according to Pope?
- In the poem “The Rape of the Lock” what is Pope’s message? Why has he chosen the genre of satire to deliver it?
- According to Pope, where do the faults of mankind lie? Are they curable or permanent?
- Is Alexander Pope’s optimistic philosophy relevant today, or has it been proven to be misguided?
Reading: An Essay on Criticism
An Essay on Criticism
‘Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill;
But, of the two, less dang’rous is th’ offence
To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.
Some few in that, but numbers err in this,
Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss;
A fool might once himself alone expose,
Now one in verse makes many more in prose.
‘Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
In poets as true genius is but rare,
True taste as seldom is the critic’s share;
Both must alike from Heav’n derive their light,
These born to judge, as well as those to write.
Let such teach others who themselves excel,
And censure freely who have written well.
Authors are partial to their wit, ’tis true,
But are not critics to their judgment too?
Yet if we look more closely we shall find
Most have the seeds of judgment in their mind;
Nature affords at least a glimm’ring light;
The lines, tho’ touch’d but faintly, are drawn right.
But as the slightest sketch, if justly trac’d,
Is by ill colouring but the more disgrac’d,
So by false learning is good sense defac’d;
Some are bewilder’d in the maze of schools,
And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools.
In search of wit these lose their common sense,
And then turn critics in their own defence:
Each burns alike, who can, or cannot write,
Or with a rival’s, or an eunuch’s spite.
All fools have still an itching to deride,
And fain would be upon the laughing side.
If Mævius scribble in Apollo’s spite,
There are, who judge still worse than he can write.
Some have at first for wits, then poets pass’d,
Turn’d critics next, and prov’d plain fools at last;
Some neither can for wits nor critics pass,
As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass.
Those half-learn’d witlings, num’rous in our isle
As half-form’d insects on the banks of Nile;
Unfinish’d things, one knows not what to call,
Their generation’s so equivocal:
To tell ’em, would a hundred tongues require,
Or one vain wit’s, that might a hundred tire.
But you who seek to give and merit fame,
And justly bear a critic’s noble name,
Be sure your self and your own reach to know,
How far your genius, taste, and learning go;
Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet,
And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.
Nature to all things fix’d the limits fit,
And wisely curb’d proud man’s pretending wit:
As on the land while here the ocean gains,
In other parts it leaves wide sandy plains;
Thus in the soul while memory prevails,
The solid pow’r of understanding fails;
Where beams of warm imagination play,
The memory’s soft figures melt away.
One science only will one genius fit;
So vast is art, so narrow human wit:
Not only bounded to peculiar arts,
But oft in those, confin’d to single parts.
Like kings we lose the conquests gain’d before,
By vain ambition still to make them more;
Each might his sev’ral province well command,
Would all but stoop to what they understand.
First follow NATURE, and your judgment frame
By her just standard, which is still the same:
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright,
One clear, unchang’d, and universal light,
Life, force, and beauty, must to all impart,
At once the source, and end, and test of art.
Art from that fund each just supply provides,
Works without show, and without pomp presides:
In some fair body thus th’ informing soul
With spirits feeds, with vigour fills the whole,
Each motion guides, and ev’ry nerve sustains;
Itself unseen, but in th’ effects, remains.
Some, to whom Heav’n in wit has been profuse,
Want as much more, to turn it to its use;
For wit and judgment often are at strife,
Though meant each other’s aid, like man and wife.
‘Tis more to guide, than spur the Muse’s steed;
Restrain his fury, than provoke his speed;
The winged courser, like a gen’rous horse,
Shows most true mettle when you check his course.
Those RULES of old discover’d, not devis’d,
Are Nature still, but Nature methodis’d;
Nature, like liberty, is but restrain’d
By the same laws which first herself ordain’d.
Hear how learn’d Greece her useful rules indites,
When to repress, and when indulge our flights:
High on Parnassus’ top her sons she show’d,
And pointed out those arduous paths they trod;
Held from afar, aloft, th’ immortal prize,
And urg’d the rest by equal steps to rise.
Just precepts thus from great examples giv’n,
She drew from them what they deriv’d from Heav’n.
The gen’rous critic fann’d the poet’s fire,
And taught the world with reason to admire.
Then criticism the Muse’s handmaid prov’d,
To dress her charms, and make her more belov’d;
But following wits from that intention stray’d;
Who could not win the mistress, woo’d the maid;
Against the poets their own arms they turn’d,
Sure to hate most the men from whom they learn’d.
So modern ‘pothecaries, taught the art
By doctor’s bills to play the doctor’s part,
Bold in the practice of mistaken rules,
Prescribe, apply, and call their masters fools.
Some on the leaves of ancient authors prey,
Nor time nor moths e’er spoil’d so much as they:
Some drily plain, without invention’s aid,
Write dull receipts how poems may be made:
These leave the sense, their learning to display,
And those explain the meaning quite away.
You then whose judgment the right course would steer,
Know well each ANCIENT’S proper character;
His fable, subject, scope in ev’ry page;
Religion, country, genius of his age:
Without all these at once before your eyes,
Cavil you may, but never criticise.
Be Homer’s works your study and delight,
Read them by day, and meditate by night;
Thence form your judgment, thence your maxims bring,
And trace the Muses upward to their spring;
Still with itself compar’d, his text peruse;
And let your comment be the Mantuan Muse.
When first young Maro in his boundless mind
A work t’ outlast immortal Rome design’d,
Perhaps he seem’d above the critic’s law,
And but from Nature’s fountains scorn’d to draw:
But when t’ examine ev’ry part he came,
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same.
Convinc’d, amaz’d, he checks the bold design,
And rules as strict his labour’d work confine,
As if the Stagirite o’erlook’d each line.
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem;
To copy nature is to copy them.
Some beauties yet, no precepts can declare,
For there’s a happiness as well as care.
Music resembles poetry, in each
Are nameless graces which no methods teach,
And which a master-hand alone can reach.
If, where the rules not far enough extend,
(Since rules were made but to promote their end)
Some lucky LICENCE answers to the full
Th’ intent propos’d, that licence is a rule.
Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
May boldly deviate from the common track.
Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to faults true critics dare not mend;
From vulgar bounds with brave disorder part,
And snatch a grace beyond the reach of art,
Which, without passing through the judgment, gains
The heart, and all its end at once attains.
In prospects, thus, some objects please our eyes,
Which out of nature’s common order rise,
The shapeless rock, or hanging precipice.
But tho’ the ancients thus their rules invade,
(As kings dispense with laws themselves have made)
Moderns, beware! or if you must offend
Against the precept, ne’er transgress its end;
Let it be seldom, and compell’d by need,
And have, at least, their precedent to plead.
The critic else proceeds without remorse,
Seizes your fame, and puts his laws in force.
I know there are, to whose presumptuous thoughts
Those freer beauties, ev’n in them, seem faults.
Some figures monstrous and misshap’d appear,
Consider’d singly, or beheld too near,
Which, but proportion’d to their light, or place,
Due distance reconciles to form and grace.
A prudent chief not always must display
His pow’rs in equal ranks, and fair array,
But with th’ occasion and the place comply,
Conceal his force, nay seem sometimes to fly.
Those oft are stratagems which errors seem,
Nor is it Homer nods, but we that dream.
Still green with bays each ancient altar stands,
Above the reach of sacrilegious hands,
Secure from flames, from envy’s fiercer rage,
Destructive war, and all-involving age.
See, from each clime the learn’d their incense bring!
Hear, in all tongues consenting pæans ring!
In praise so just let ev’ry voice be join’d,
And fill the gen’ral chorus of mankind!
Hail, bards triumphant! born in happier days;
Immortal heirs of universal praise!
Whose honours with increase of ages grow,
As streams roll down, enlarging as they flow!
Nations unborn your mighty names shall sound,
And worlds applaud that must not yet be found!
Oh may some spark of your celestial fire
The last, the meanest of your sons inspire,
(That on weak wings, from far, pursues your flights;
Glows while he reads, but trembles as he writes)
To teach vain wits a science little known,
T’ admire superior sense, and doubt their own!
Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.
Whatever Nature has in worth denied,
She gives in large recruits of needful pride;
For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find
What wants in blood and spirits, swell’d with wind;
Pride, where wit fails, steps in to our defence,
And fills up all the mighty void of sense!
If once right reason drives that cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless day;
Trust not yourself; but your defects to know,
Make use of ev’ry friend—and ev’ry foe.
A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fir’d at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind,
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But more advanc’d, behold with strange surprise
New, distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleas’d at first, the tow’ring Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
Th’ eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;
But those attain’d, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen’d way,
Th’ increasing prospect tires our wand’ring eyes,
Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ,
Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find,
Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind;
Nor lose, for that malignant dull delight,
The gen’rous pleasure to be charm’d with wit.
But in such lays as neither ebb, nor flow,
Correctly cold, and regularly low,
That shunning faults, one quiet tenour keep;
We cannot blame indeed—but we may sleep.
In wit, as nature, what affects our hearts
Is not th’ exactness of peculiar parts;
‘Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call,
But the joint force and full result of all.
Thus when we view some well-proportion’d dome,
(The world’s just wonder, and ev’n thine, O Rome!’
No single parts unequally surprise;
All comes united to th’ admiring eyes;
No monstrous height, or breadth, or length appear;
The whole at once is bold, and regular.
Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,
Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.
In ev’ry work regard the writer’s end,
Since none can compass more than they intend;
And if the means be just, the conduct true,
Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due.
As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit,
T’ avoid great errors, must the less commit:
Neglect the rules each verbal critic lays,
For not to know such trifles, is a praise.
Most critics, fond of some subservient art,
Still make the whole depend upon a part:
They talk of principles, but notions prize,
And all to one lov’d folly sacrifice.
Once on a time, La Mancha’s knight, they say,
A certain bard encount’ring on the way,
Discours’d in terms as just, with looks as sage,
As e’er could Dennis of the Grecian stage;
Concluding all were desp’rate sots and fools,
Who durst depart from Aristotle’s rules.
Our author, happy in a judge so nice,
Produc’d his play, and begg’d the knight’s advice,
Made him observe the subject and the plot,
The manners, passions, unities, what not?
All which, exact to rule, were brought about,
Were but a combat in the lists left out.
“What! leave the combat out?” exclaims the knight;
“Yes, or we must renounce the Stagirite.”
“Not so by Heav’n” (he answers in a rage)
“Knights, squires, and steeds, must enter on the stage.”
So vast a throng the stage can ne’er contain.
“Then build a new, or act it in a plain.”
Thus critics, of less judgment than caprice,
Curious not knowing, not exact but nice,
Form short ideas; and offend in arts
(As most in manners) by a love to parts.
Some to conceit alone their taste confine,
And glitt’ring thoughts struck out at ev’ry line;
Pleas’d with a work where nothing’s just or fit;
One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit.
Poets, like painters, thus, unskill’d to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover ev’ry part,
And hide with ornaments their want of art.
True wit is nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d,
Something, whose truth convinc’d at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.
As shades more sweetly recommend the light,
So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit.
For works may have more wit than does ’em good,
As bodies perish through excess of blood.
Others for language all their care express,
And value books, as women men, for dress:
Their praise is still—”the style is excellent”:
The sense, they humbly take upon content.
Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
False eloquence, like the prismatic glass,
Its gaudy colours spreads on ev’ry place;
The face of Nature we no more survey,
All glares alike, without distinction gay:
But true expression, like th’ unchanging sun,
Clears, and improves whate’er it shines upon,
It gilds all objects, but it alters none.
Expression is the dress of thought, and still
Appears more decent, as more suitable;
A vile conceit in pompous words express’d,
Is like a clown in regal purple dress’d:
For diff’rent styles with diff’rent subjects sort,
As several garbs with country, town, and court.
Some by old words to fame have made pretence,
Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense;
Such labour’d nothings, in so strange a style,
Amaze th’ unlearn’d, and make the learned smile.
Unlucky, as Fungoso in the play,
These sparks with awkward vanity display
What the fine gentleman wore yesterday!
And but so mimic ancient wits at best,
As apes our grandsires, in their doublets dress’d.
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold;
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old;
Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Not yet the last to lay the old aside.
But most by numbers judge a poet’s song;
And smooth or rough, with them is right or wrong:
In the bright Muse though thousand charms conspire,
Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire,
Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear,
Not mend their minds; as some to church repair,
Not for the doctrine, but the music there.
These equal syllables alone require,
Tho’ oft the ear the open vowels tire,
While expletives their feeble aid do join,
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line,
While they ring round the same unvaried chimes,
With sure returns of still expected rhymes.
Where’er you find “the cooling western breeze”,
In the next line, it “whispers through the trees”:
If “crystal streams with pleasing murmurs creep”,
The reader’s threaten’d (not in vain) with “sleep”.
Then, at the last and only couplet fraught
With some unmeaning thing they call a thought,
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, and know
What’s roundly smooth, or languishingly slow;
And praise the easy vigour of a line,
Where Denham’s strength, and Waller’s sweetness join.
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.
‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.
When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw,
The line too labours, and the words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o’er th’ unbending corn, and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus’ varied lays surprise,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise!
While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove
Now burns with glory, and then melts with love;
Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow,
Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow:
Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found,
And the world’s victor stood subdu’d by sound!
The pow’r of music all our hearts allow,
And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now.
Avoid extremes; and shun the fault of such,
Who still are pleas’d too little or too much.
At ev’ry trifle scorn to take offence,
That always shows great pride, or little sense;
Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best,
Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest.
Yet let not each gay turn thy rapture move,
For fools admire, but men of sense approve;
As things seem large which we through mists descry,
Dulness is ever apt to magnify.
Some foreign writers, some our own despise;
The ancients only, or the moderns prize.
Thus wit, like faith, by each man is applied
To one small sect, and all are damn’d beside.
Meanly they seek the blessing to confine,
And force that sun but on a part to shine;
Which not alone the southern wit sublimes,
But ripens spirits in cold northern climes;
Which from the first has shone on ages past,
Enlights the present, and shall warm the last;
(Though each may feel increases and decays,
And see now clearer and now darker days.)
Regard not then if wit be old or new,
But blame the false, and value still the true.
Some ne’er advance a judgment of their own,
But catch the spreading notion of the town;
They reason and conclude by precedent,
And own stale nonsense which they ne’er invent.
Some judge of authors’ names, not works, and then
Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men.
Of all this servile herd, the worst is he
That in proud dulness joins with quality,
A constant critic at the great man’s board,
To fetch and carry nonsense for my Lord.
What woeful stuff this madrigal would be,
In some starv’d hackney sonneteer, or me?
But let a Lord once own the happy lines,
How the wit brightens! how the style refines!
Before his sacred name flies every fault,
And each exalted stanza teems with thought!
The vulgar thus through imitation err;
As oft the learn’d by being singular;
So much they scorn the crowd, that if the throng
By chance go right, they purposely go wrong:
So Schismatics the plain believers quit,
And are but damn’d for having too much wit.
Some praise at morning what they blame at night;
But always think the last opinion right.
A Muse by these is like a mistress us’d,
This hour she’s idoliz’d, the next abus’d;
While their weak heads, like towns unfortified,
Twixt sense and nonsense daily change their side.
Ask them the cause; they’re wiser still, they say;
And still tomorrow’s wiser than today.
We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow;
Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so.
Once school divines this zealous isle o’erspread;
Who knew most Sentences, was deepest read;
Faith, Gospel, all, seem’d made to be disputed,
And none had sense enough to be confuted:
Scotists and Thomists, now, in peace remain,
Amidst their kindred cobwebs in Duck Lane.
If Faith itself has different dresses worn,
What wonder modes in wit should take their turn?
Oft, leaving what is natural and fit,
The current folly proves the ready wit;
And authors think their reputation safe
Which lives as long as fools are pleased to laugh.
Some valuing those of their own side or mind,
Still make themselves the measure of mankind;
Fondly we think we honour merit then,
When we but praise ourselves in other men.
Parties in wit attend on those of state,
And public faction doubles private hate.
Pride, Malice, Folly, against Dryden rose,
In various shapes of Parsons, Critics, Beaus;
But sense surviv’d, when merry jests were past;
For rising merit will buoy up at last.
Might he return, and bless once more our eyes,
New Blackmores and new Milbourns must arise;
Nay should great Homer lift his awful head,
Zoilus again would start up from the dead.
Envy will merit, as its shade, pursue,
But like a shadow, proves the substance true;
For envied wit, like Sol eclips’d, makes known
Th’ opposing body’s grossness, not its own.
When first that sun too powerful beams displays,
It draws up vapours which obscure its rays;
But ev’n those clouds at last adorn its way,
Reflect new glories, and augment the day.
Be thou the first true merit to befriend;
His praise is lost, who stays till all commend.
Short is the date, alas, of modern rhymes,
And ’tis but just to let ’em live betimes.
No longer now that golden age appears,
When patriarch wits surviv’d a thousand years:
Now length of Fame (our second life) is lost,
And bare threescore is all ev’n that can boast;
Our sons their fathers’ failing language see,
And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be.
So when the faithful pencil has design’d
Some bright idea of the master’s mind,
Where a new world leaps out at his command,
And ready Nature waits upon his hand;
When the ripe colours soften and unite,
And sweetly melt into just shade and light;
When mellowing years their full perfection give,
And each bold figure just begins to live,
The treacherous colours the fair art betray,
And all the bright creation fades away!
Unhappy wit, like most mistaken things,
Atones not for that envy which it brings.
In youth alone its empty praise we boast,
But soon the short-liv’d vanity is lost:
Like some fair flow’r the early spring supplies,
That gaily blooms, but ev’n in blooming dies.
What is this wit, which must our cares employ?
The owner’s wife, that other men enjoy;
Then most our trouble still when most admir’d,
And still the more we give, the more requir’d;
Whose fame with pains we guard, but lose with ease,
Sure some to vex, but never all to please;
‘Tis what the vicious fear, the virtuous shun;
By fools ’tis hated, and by knaves undone!
If wit so much from ign’rance undergo,
Ah let not learning too commence its foe!
Of old, those met rewards who could excel,
And such were prais’d who but endeavour’d well:
Though triumphs were to gen’rals only due,
Crowns were reserv’d to grace the soldiers too.
Now, they who reach Parnassus’ lofty crown,
Employ their pains to spurn some others down;
And while self-love each jealous writer rules,
Contending wits become the sport of fools:
But still the worst with most regret commend,
For each ill author is as bad a friend.
To what base ends, and by what abject ways,
Are mortals urg’d through sacred lust of praise!
Ah ne’er so dire a thirst of glory boast,
Nor in the critic let the man be lost!
Good nature and good sense must ever join;
To err is human; to forgive, divine.
But if in noble minds some dregs remain,
Not yet purg’d off, of spleen and sour disdain,
Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes,
Nor fear a dearth in these flagitious times.
No pardon vile obscenity should find,
Though wit and art conspire to move your mind;
But dulness with obscenity must prove
As shameful sure as impotence in love.
In the fat age of pleasure, wealth, and ease,
Sprung the rank weed, and thriv’d with large increase:
When love was all an easy monarch’s care;
Seldom at council, never in a war:
Jilts ruled the state, and statesmen farces writ;
Nay wits had pensions, and young Lords had wit:
The fair sat panting at a courtier’s play,
And not a mask went unimprov’d away:
The modest fan was lifted up no more,
And virgins smil’d at what they blush’d before.
The following licence of a foreign reign
Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain;
Then unbelieving priests reform’d the nation,
And taught more pleasant methods of salvation;
Where Heav’n’s free subjects might their rights dispute,
Lest God himself should seem too absolute:
Pulpits their sacred satire learned to spare,
And Vice admired to find a flatt’rer there!
Encourag’d thus, wit’s Titans brav’d the skies,
And the press groan’d with licenc’d blasphemies.
These monsters, critics! with your darts engage,
Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage!
Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice,
Will needs mistake an author into vice;
All seems infected that th’ infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundic’d eye.
Learn then what morals critics ought to show,
For ’tis but half a judge’s task, to know.
‘Tis not enough, taste, judgment, learning, join;
In all you speak, let truth and candour shine:
That not alone what to your sense is due,
All may allow; but seek your friendship too.
Be silent always when you doubt your sense;
And speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence:
Some positive, persisting fops we know,
Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so;
But you, with pleasure own your errors past,
And make each day a critic on the last.
‘Tis not enough, your counsel still be true;
Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
And things unknown proposed as things forgot.
Without good breeding, truth is disapprov’d;
That only makes superior sense belov’d.
Be niggards of advice on no pretence;
For the worst avarice is that of sense.
With mean complacence ne’er betray your trust,
Nor be so civil as to prove unjust.
Fear not the anger of the wise to raise;
Those best can bear reproof, who merit praise.
‘Twere well might critics still this freedom take,
But Appius reddens at each word you speak,
And stares, Tremendous ! with a threatening eye,
Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry!
Fear most to tax an honourable fool,
Whose right it is, uncensur’d, to be dull;
Such, without wit, are poets when they please,
As without learning they can take degrees.
Leave dangerous truths to unsuccessful satires,
And flattery to fulsome dedicators,
Whom, when they praise, the world believes no more,
Than when they promise to give scribbling o’er.
‘Tis best sometimes your censure to restrain,
And charitably let the dull be vain:
Your silence there is better than your spite,
For who can rail so long as they can write?
Still humming on, their drowsy course they keep,
And lash’d so long, like tops, are lash’d asleep.
False steps but help them to renew the race,
As after stumbling, jades will mend their pace.
What crowds of these, impenitently bold,
In sounds and jingling syllables grown old,
Still run on poets, in a raging vein,
Even to the dregs and squeezings of the brain,
Strain out the last, dull droppings of their sense,
And rhyme with all the rage of impotence!
Such shameless bards we have; and yet ’tis true,
There are as mad, abandon’d critics too.
The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read,
With loads of learned lumber in his head,
With his own tongue still edifies his ears,
And always list’ning to himself appears.
All books he reads, and all he reads assails,
From Dryden’s Fables down to Durfey’s Tales.
With him, most authors steal their works, or buy;
Garth did not write his own Dispensary .
Name a new play, and he’s the poet’s friend,
Nay show’d his faults—but when would poets mend?
No place so sacred from such fops is barr’d,
Nor is Paul’s church more safe than Paul’s churchyard:
Nay, fly to altars; there they’ll talk you dead:
For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks;
It still looks home, and short excursions makes;
But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks;
And never shock’d, and never turn’d aside,
Bursts out, resistless, with a thund’ring tide.
But where’s the man, who counsel can bestow,
Still pleas’d to teach, and yet not proud to know?
Unbias’d, or by favour or by spite;
Not dully prepossess’d, nor blindly right;
Though learn’d, well-bred; and though well-bred, sincere;
Modestly bold, and humanly severe?
Who to a friend his faults can freely show,
And gladly praise the merit of a foe?
Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfin’d;
A knowledge both of books and human kind;
Gen’rous converse; a soul exempt from pride;
And love to praise, with reason on his side?
Such once were critics; such the happy few,
Athens and Rome in better ages knew.
The mighty Stagirite first left the shore,
Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore:
He steer’d securely, and discover’d far,
Led by the light of the Mæonian Star.
Poets, a race long unconfin’d and free,
Still fond and proud of savage liberty,
Receiv’d his laws; and stood convinc’d ’twas fit,
Who conquer’d nature, should preside o’er wit.
Horace still charms with graceful negligence,
And without methods talks us into sense,
Will, like a friend, familiarly convey
The truest notions in the easiest way.
He, who supreme in judgment, as in wit,
Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ,
Yet judg’d with coolness, though he sung with fire;
His precepts teach but what his works inspire.
Our critics take a contrary extreme,
They judge with fury, but they write with fle’me:
Nor suffers Horace more in wrong translations
By wits, than critics in as wrong quotations.
See Dionysius Homer’s thoughts refine,
And call new beauties forth from ev’ry line!
Fancy and art in gay Petronius please,
The scholar’s learning, with the courtier’s ease.
In grave Quintilian’s copious work we find
The justest rules, and clearest method join’d;
Thus useful arms in magazines we place,
All rang’d in order, and dispos’d with grace,
But less to please the eye, than arm the hand,
Still fit for use, and ready at command.
Thee, bold Longinus! all the Nine inspire,
And bless their critic with a poet’s fire.
An ardent judge, who zealous in his trust,
With warmth gives sentence, yet is always just;
Whose own example strengthens all his laws;
And is himself that great sublime he draws.
Thus long succeeding critics justly reign’d,
Licence repress’d, and useful laws ordain’d;
Learning and Rome alike in empire grew,
And arts still follow’d where her eagles flew;
From the same foes, at last, both felt their doom,
And the same age saw learning fall, and Rome.
With tyranny, then superstition join’d,
As that the body, this enslav’d the mind;
Much was believ’d, but little understood,
And to be dull was constru’d to be good;
A second deluge learning thus o’er-run,
And the monks finish’d what the Goths begun.
At length Erasmus, that great, injur’d name,
(The glory of the priesthood, and the shame!)
Stemm’d the wild torrent of a barb’rous age,
And drove those holy Vandals off the stage.
But see! each Muse, in Leo’s golden days,
Starts from her trance, and trims her wither’d bays!
Rome’s ancient genius, o’er its ruins spread,
Shakes off the dust, and rears his rev’rend head!
Then sculpture and her sister-arts revive;
Stones leap’d to form, and rocks began to live;
With sweeter notes each rising temple rung;
A Raphael painted, and a Vida sung.
Immortal Vida! on whose honour’d brow
The poet’s bays and critic’s ivy grow:
Cremona now shall ever boast thy name,
As next in place to Mantua, next in fame!
But soon by impious arms from Latium chas’d,
Their ancient bounds the banished Muses pass’d;
Thence arts o’er all the northern world advance;
But critic-learning flourish’d most in France.
The rules a nation born to serve, obeys,
And Boileau still in right of Horace sways.
But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despis’d,
And kept unconquer’d, and uncivilis’d,
Fierce for the liberties of wit, and bold,
We still defied the Romans, as of old.
Yet some there were, among the sounder few
Of those who less presum’d, and better knew,
Who durst assert the juster ancient cause,
And here restor’d wit’s fundamental laws.
Such was the Muse, whose rules and practice tell
“Nature’s chief master-piece is writing well.”
Such was Roscommon—not more learn’d than good,
With manners gen’rous as his noble blood;
To him the wit of Greece and Rome was known,
And ev’ry author’s merit, but his own.
Such late was Walsh—the Muse’s judge and friend,
Who justly knew to blame or to commend;
To failings mild, but zealous for desert;
The clearest head, and the sincerest heart.
This humble praise, lamented shade! receive,
This praise at least a grateful Muse may give:
The Muse, whose early voice you taught to sing,
Prescrib’d her heights, and prun’d her tender wing,
(Her guide now lost) no more attempts to rise,
But in low numbers short excursions tries:
Content, if hence th’ unlearn’d their wants may view,
The learn’d reflect on what before they knew:
Careless of censure, nor too fond of fame,
Still pleas’d to praise, yet not afraid to blame,
Averse alike to flatter, or offend,
Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend.
Reading: The Rape of the Lock
What dire offence from am’rous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
I sing — This verse to CARYL, Muse! is due:
This, ev’n Belinda may vouchsafe to view:
Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,
If She inspire, and He approve my lays.
Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel
A well-bred Lord t’ assault a gentle Belle?
Oh say what stranger cause, yet unexplor’d,
Cou’d make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
In tasks so bold, can little men engage,
And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty Rage?
Sol thro’ white curtains shot a tim’rous ray,
And ope’d those eyes that must eclipse the day:
Now lap-dogs give themselves the rousing shake,
And sleepless lovers, just at twelve, awake:
Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knock’d the ground,
And the press’d watch return’d a silver sound.
Belinda still her downy pillow prest,
Her guardian SYLPH prolong’d the balmy rest:
‘Twas he had summon’d to her silent bed
The morning-dream that hover’d o’er her head.
A Youth more glitt’ring than a Birth-night Beau,
(That ev’n in slumber caus’d her cheek to glow)
Seem’d to her ear his winning lips to lay,
And thus in whispers said, or seem’d to say.
Fairest of mortals, thou distinguish’d care
Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air!
If e’er one Vision touch’d thy infant thought,
Of all the Nurse and all the Priest have taught;
Of airy Elves by moonlight shadows seen,
The silver token, and the circled green,
Or virgins visited by Angel pow’rs,
With golden crowns and wreaths of heav’nly flow’rs;
Hear and believe! thy own importance know,
Nor bound thy narrow views to things below.
Some secret truths, from learned pride conceal’d,
To Maids alone and Children are reveal’d:
What tho’ no credit doubting Wits may give?
The Fair and Innocent shall still believe.
Know then, unnumber’d Spirits round thee fly,
The light Militia of the lower sky:
These, tho’ unseen, are ever on the wing,
Hang o’er the Box, and hover round the Ring.
Think what an Equipage thou hast in Air,
And view with scorn two Pages and a Chair.
As now your own, our beings were of old,
And once inclos’d in Woman’s beauteous mold;
Thence, by a soft transition, we repair
From earthly Vehicles to these of air.
Think not, when Woman’s transient breath is fled,
That all her vanities at once are dead;
Succeeding vanities she still regards,
And tho’ she plays no more, o’erlooks the cards.
Her joy in gilded Chariots, when alive,
And love of Ombre, after death survive.
For when the Fair in all their pride expire,
To their first Elements the Souls retire:
The Sprites of fiery Termagants in Flame
Mount up, and take a Salamander’s name.
Soft yielding minds to Water glide away,
And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental Tea.
The graver Prude sinks downward to a Gnome,
In search of mischief still on Earth to roam.
The light Coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair,
And sport and flutter in the fields of Air.
Know farther yet; whoever fair and chaste
Rejects mankind, is by some Sylph embrac’d:
For Spirits, freed from mortal laws, with ease
Assume what sexes and what shapes they please.
What guards the purity of melting Maids,
In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades,
Safe from the treach’rous friend, the daring spark,
The glance by day, the whisper in the dark,
When kind occasion prompts their warm desires,
When music softens, and when dancing fires?
‘Tis but their Sylph, the wise Celestials know,
Though Honour is the word with Men below.
Some nymphs there are, too conscious of their face,
For life predestin’d to the Gnomes embrace.
These swell their prospects and exalt their pride,
When offers are disdain’d, and love deny’d:
Then gay Ideas croud the vacant brain,
While Peers and Dukes, and all their sweeping train,
And Garters, Stars, and Coronets appear,
And in soft sounds, YOUR GRACE salutes their ear.
‘Tis these that early taint the female soul,
Instruct the eyes of young Coquettes to roll,
Teach Infant-cheeks a bidden blush to know,
And little hearts to flutter at a Beau.
Oft, when the world imagine women stray,
The Sylphs through mistic mazes guide their way,
Thro’ all the giddy circle they pursue,
And old impertinence expel by new.
What tender maid but must a victim fall
To one man’s treat, but for another’s ball?
When Florio speaks, what virgin could withstand,
If gentle Damon did not squeeze her hand?
With varying vanities, from ev’ry part,
They shift the moving Toyshop of their heart;
Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive,
Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive.
This erring mortals Levity may call,
Oh blind to truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.
Of these am I, who thy protection claim,
A watchful sprite, and Ariel is my name.
Late, as I rang’d the crystal wilds of air,
In the clear Mirror of thy ruling Star
I saw, alas! some dread event impend,
E’er to the main this morning sun descend.
But heav’n reveals not what, or how, or where:
Warn’d by thy Sylph, oh pious maid, beware!
This to disclose is all thy guardian can.
Beware of all, but most beware of Man!
He said; when Shock, who thought she slept too long,
Leap’d up, and wak’d his mistress with his tongue.
‘Twas then, Belinda, if report say true,
Thy eyes first open’d on a Billet-doux;
Wounds, Charms, and Ardours, were no sooner read,
But all the vision vanish’d from thy head.
And now, unveil’d, the Toilet stands display’d,
Each silver Vase in mystic order laid.
First, rob’d in white, the Nymph intent adores
With head uncover’d, the Cosmetic pow’rs.
A heav’nly Image in the glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears;
Th’ inferior Priestess, at her altar’s side,
Trembling, begins the sacred rites of Pride.
Unnumber’d treasures ope at once, and here
The various off’rings of the world appear;
From each she nicely culls with curious toil,
And decks the Goddess with the glitt’ring spoil.
This casket India’s glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.
The tortoise here and elephant unite,
Transform’d to combs, the speckled, and the white.
Here files of pins extend their shining rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.
Now awful Beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms,
Repairs her smiles, awakens ev’ry grace,
And calls forth all the wonders of her face;
Sees by degrees a purer blush arise,
And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes.
The busy Sylphs surround their darling care,
These set the head, and those divide the hair,
Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown;
And Betty’s prais’d for labours not her own.
Not with more glories, in th’ etherial plain,
The Sun first rises o’er the purpled main,
Than, issuing forth, the rival of his beams
Lanch’d on the bosom of the silver Thames.
Fair Nymphs, and well-drest Youths around her shone,
But ev’ry eye was fix’d on her alone.
On her white breast a sparkling Cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore.
Her lively looks a sprightly mind disclose,
Quick as her eyes, and as unfix’d as those:
Favours to none, to all she smiles extends;
Oft she rejects, but never once offends.
Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,
And, like the sun, they shine on all alike.
Yet graceful ease, and sweetness void of pride,
Might hide her faults, if Belles had faults to hide:
If to her share some female errors fall,
Look on her face, and you’ll forget ’em all.
This Nymph, to the destruction of mankind,
Nourish’d two Locks, which graceful hung behind
In equal curls, and well conspir’d to deck
With shining ringlets the smooth iv’ry neck:
Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains,
And mighty hearts are held in slender chains.
With hairy sprindges we the birds betray,
Slight lines of hair surprize the finny prey,
Fair tresses man’s imperial race insnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair.
Th’ advent’rous Baron the bright locks admir’d;
He saw, he wish’d, and to the prize aspir’d.
Resolv’d to win, he meditates the way,
By force to ravish, or by fraud betray;
For when success a Lover’s toil attends,
Few ask, if fraud or force attain’d his ends.
For this, e’er Phoebus rose, he had implor’d
Propitious heav’n, and ev’ry pow’r ador’d,
But chiefly Love — to Love an Altar built,
Of twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt.
There lay three garters, half a pair of gloves;
And all the trophies of his former loves;
With tender billet-doux he lights the pyre,
And breathes three am’rous sighs to raise the fire.
Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent eyes
Soon to obtain, and long possess the prize;
The Pow’rs gave ear, and granted half his pray’r,
The rest, the winds dispers’d in empty air.
But now secure the painted Vessel glides,
The sun-beams trembling on the floating tides:
While melting music steals upon the sky,
And soften’d sounds along the waters die;
Smooth flow the waves, the Zephyrs gently play,
Belinda smil’d, and all the world was gay.
All but the Sylph — with careful thoughts opprest,
Th’ impending woe sat heavy on his breast.
He summons strait his Denizens of air;
The lucid squadrons round the sails repair:
Soft o’er the shrouds aerial whispers breathe,
That seem’d but Zephyrs to the train beneath.
Some to the sun their insect-wings unfold,
Waft on the breeze, or sink in clouds of gold;
Transparent forms, too fine for mortal sight,
Their fluid bodies half dissolv’d in light,
Loose to the wind their airy garments flew,
Thin glitt’ring textures of the filmy dew,
Dipt in the richest tincture of the skies,
Where light disports in ever-mingling dyes,
While ev’ry beam new transient colours flings,
Colours that change whene’er they wave their wings.
Amid the circle, on the gilded mast,
Superior by the head, was Ariel plac’d;
His purple pinions op’ning to the sun,
He rais’d his azure wand, and thus begun.
Ye Sylphs and Sylphids, to your chief give ear,
Fays, Fairies, Genii, Elves, and Demons hear!
Ye know the spheres, and various tasks assign’d
By laws eternal to th’ aerial kind.
Some in the fields of purest Ether play,
And bask and whiten in the blaze of day.
Some guide the course of wand’ring orbs on high,
Or roll the planets through the boundless sky.
Some less refin’d, beneath the moon’s pale light
Pursue the stars that shoot athwart the night,
Or suck the mists in grosser air below,
Or dip their pinions in the painted bow,
Or brew fierce tempests on the wintry main,
Or o’er the glebe distill the kindly rain.
Others on earth o’er human race preside,
Watch all their ways, and all their actions guide:
Of these the chief the care of Nations own,
And guard with Arms divine the British Throne.
Our humbler province is to tend the Fair;
Not a less pleasing, tho’ less glorious care:
To save the powder from too rude a gale,
Nor let th’ imprison’d essences exhale;
To draw fresh colours from the vernal flow’rs;
To steal from Rainbows e’er they drop in show’rs
A brighter wash; to curl their waving hairs,
Assist their blushes, and inspire their airs;
Nay oft, in dreams, invention we bestow,
To change a Flounce, or add a Furbelow.
This day, black Omens threat the brightest Fair
That e’er deserv’d a watchful spirit’s care;
Some dire disaster, or by force, or slight;
But what, or where, the fates have wrapt in night.
Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law,
Or some frail China jar receive a flaw;
Or stain her honour, or her new brocade;
Forget her pray’rs, or miss a masquerade;
Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball;
Or whether Heav’n has doom’d that Shock must fall.
Haste then, ye spirits! to your charge repair:
The flutt’ring fan be Zephyretta’s care;
The drops to thee, Brillante, we consign;
And, Momentilla, let the watch be thine;
Do thou, Crispissa, tend her fav’rite Lock;
Ariel himself shall be the guard of Shock.
To fifty chosen Sylphs, of special note,
We trust th’ important charge, the Petticoat:
Oft have we known that seven-fold fence to fail,
Tho’ stiff with hoops, and arm’d with ribs of whale;
Form a strong line about the silver bound,
And guard the wide circumference around.
Whatever spirit, careless of his charge,
His post neglects, or leaves the fair at large,
Shall feel sharp vengeance soon o’ertake his sins,
Be stop’d in vials, or transfix’d with pins;
Or plung’d in lakes of bitter washes lie,
Or wedg’d whole ages in a bodkin’s eye:
Gums and Pomatums shall his flight restrain,
While clog’d he beats his silken wings in vain;
Or Allum stypticks with contracting pow’r
Shrink his thin essence like a rivel’d flow’r:
Or, as Ixion fix’d, the wretch shall feel
The giddy motion of the whirling Mill,
In fumes of burning Chocolate shall glow,
And tremble at the sea that froths below!
He spoke; the spirits from the sails descend;
Some, orb in orb, around the nymph extend;
Some thrid the mazy ringlets of her hair;
Some hang upon the pendants of her ear;
With beating hearts the dire event they wait,
Anxious, and trembling for the birth of Fate.
Close by those meads, for ever crown’d with flow’rs,
Where Thames with pride surveys his rising tow’rs,
There stands a structure of majestic frame,
Which from the neighb’ring Hampton takes its name.
Here Britain’s statesmen oft the fall foredoom
Of foreign Tyrants, and of Nymphs at home;
Here thou, great ANNA! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take — and sometimes Tea.
Hither the Heroes and the Nymphs resort,
To taste a while the pleasures of a Court;
In various talk th’instructive hours they past,
Who gave the ball, or paid the visit last;
One speaks the glory of the British Queen,
And one describes a charming Indian screen;
A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes;
At ev’ry word a reputation dies.
Snuff, or the fan, supply each pause of chat,
With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.
Mean while, declining from the noon of day,
The sun obliquely shoots his burning ray;
The hungry Judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that Jury-men may dine;
The merchant from th’ Exchange returns in peace,
And the long labours of the Toilet cease.
Belinda now, whom thirst of fame invites,
Burns to encounter two advent’rous Knights,
At Ombre singly to decide their doom;
And swells her breast with conquests yet to come.
Straight the three bands prepare in arms to join,
Each band the number of the sacred Nine.
Soon as she spreads her hand, th’ aerial guard
Descend, and sit on each important card:
First Ariel perch’d upon a Matadore,
Then each, according to the rank they bore;
For Sylphs, yet mindful of their ancient race,
Are, as when women, wondrous fond of place.
Behold, four Kings, in majesty rever’d,
With hoary whiskers and a forky beard;
And four fair Queens whose hands sustain a flow’r,
Th’ expressive emblem of their softer pow’r;
Four Knaves in garbs succinct, a trusty band,
Caps on their heads, and halberts in their hand;
And party-colour’d troops, a shining train,
Draw forth to combat on the velvet plain.
The skilful Nymph reviews her force with care:
Let Spades be trumps! she said, and trumps they were.
Now move to war her sable Matadores,
In show like leaders of the swarthy Moors.
Spadillio first, unconquerable Lord!
Led off two captive trumps, and swept the board.
As many more Manillio forc’d to yield,
And march’d a victor from the verdant field.
Him Basto follow’d, but his fate more hard
Gain’d but one trump and one Plebeian card.
With his broad sabre next, a chief in years,
The hoary Majesty of Spades appears,
Puts forth one manly leg, to sight reveal’d,
The rest, his many-colour’d robe conceal’d.
The rebel Knave, who dares his prince engage,
Proves the just victim of his royal rage.
Ev’n mighty Pam, that Kings and Queens o’erthrew,
And mow’d down armies in the fights of Lu,
Sad chance of war! now destitute of aid,
Falls undistinguish’d by the victor Spade!
Thus far both armies to Belinda yield;
Now to the Baron fate inclines the field.
His warlike Amazon her host invades,
Th’ imperial consort of the crown of Spades.
The Club’s black Tyrant first her victim dy’d,
Spite of his haughty mien, and barb’rous pride:
What boots the regal circle on his head,
His giant limbs, in state unwieldly spread;
That long behind he trails his pompous robe,
And, of all monarchs, only grasps the globe?
The Baron now his Diamonds pours apace;
Th’ embroider’d King who shows but half his face,
And his refulgent Queen, with pow’rs combin’d,
Of broken troops an easy conquest find.
Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, in wild disorder seen,
With throngs promiscuous strow the level green.
Thus when dispers’d a routed army runs,
Of Asia’s troops, and Afric’s sable sons,
With like confusion different nations fly,
Of various habit, and of various dye,
The pierc’d battalions disunited fall,
In heaps on heaps; one fate o’erwhelms them all.
The Knave of Diamonds tries his wily arts,
And wins (oh shameful chance!) the Queen of Hearts.
At this, the blood the Virgin’s cheek forsook,
A livid paleness spreads o’er all her look;
She sees, and trembles at th’ approaching ill,
Just in the jaws of ruin, and Codille.
And now (as oft in some distemper’d State)
On one nice Trick depends the gen’ral fate.
An Ace of Hearts steps forth: The King unseen
Lurk’d in her hand, and mourn’d his captive Queen:
He springs to vengeance with an eager pace,
And falls like thunder on the prostrate Ace.
The nymph exulting fills with shouts the sky;
The walls, the woods, and long canals reply.
Oh thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate,
Too soon dejected, and too soon elate.
Sudden, these honours shall be snatch’d away,
And curs’d for ever this victorious day.
For lo! the board with cups and spoons is crown’d,
The berries crackle, and the mill turns round;
On shining Altars of Japan they raise
The silver lamp; the fiery spirits blaze:
From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide,
While China’s earth receives the smoaking tide:
At once they gratify their scent and taste,
And frequent cups prolong the rich repast.
Straight hover round the Fair her airy band;
Some, as she sipp’d, the fuming liquor fann’d,
Some o’er her lap their careful plumes display’d,
Trembling, and conscious of the rich brocade.
Coffee, (which makes the politician wise,
And see thro’ all things with his half-shut eyes)
Sent up in vapours to the Baron’s brain
New Stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain.
Ah cease, rash youth! desist e’er ’tis too late,
Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla’s Fate!
Chang’d to a bird, and sent to flit in air,
She dearly pays for Nisus’ injur’d hair!
But when to Mischief mortals bend their will,
How soon they find fit Instruments of ill?
Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting grace
A two-edg’d weapon from her shining case;
So Ladies in Romance assist their Knight,
Present the spear, and arm him for the fight.
He takes the gift with rev’rence, and extends
The little engine on his finger’s ends;
This just behind Belinda’s neck he spread,
As o’er the fragrant steams she bends her head.
Swift to the Lock a thousand Sprites repair,
A thousand wings, by turns, blow back the hair;
And thrice they twitch’d the diamond in her ear;
Thrice she look’d back, and thrice the foe drew near.
Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought
The close recesses of the Virgin’s thought:
As on the nosegay in her breast reclin’d,
He watch’d th’ ideas rising in her mind,
Sudden he view’d, in spite of all her art,
An earthly Lover lurking at her heart.
Amaz’d, confus’d, he found his pow’r expir’d,
Resign’d to fate, and with a sigh retir’d.
The Peer now spreads the glitt’ring Forfex wide,
T’ inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.
Ev’n then, before the fatal engine clos’d,
A wretched Sylph too fondly interpos’d;
Fate urg’d the sheers, and cut the Sylph in twain,
(But airy substance soon unites again)
The meeting points the sacred hair dissever
From the fair head, for ever, and for ever!
Then flash’d the living light’ning from her eyes,
And screams of horror rend th’ affrighted skies.
Not louder shrieks to pitying heav’n are cast,
When husbands or when lapdogs breathe their last;
Or when rich China vessels fall’n from high,
In glitt’ring dust, and painted fragments lie!
Let wreaths of triumph now my temples twine,
(The Victor cry’d) the glorious prize is mine!
While fish in streams, or birds delight in air,
Or in a coach and six the British Fair,
As long as Atalantis shall be read,
Or the small pillow grace a Lady’s bed,
While visits shall be paid on solemn days,
When num’rous wax-lights in bright order blaze,
While nymphs take treats, or assignations give,
So long my honour, name, and praise shall live!
What Time wou’d spare, from Steel receives its date,
And monuments, like men, submit to fate!
Steel could the labour of the Gods destroy,
And strike to dust th’ imperial tow’rs of Troy;
Steel could the works of mortal pride confound,
And hew triumphal arches to the ground.
What wonder then, fair nymph! thy hairs shou’d feel
The conqu’ring force of unresisted Steel?
But anxious cares the pensive nymph oppress’d,
And secret passions labour’d in her breast.
Not youthful kings in battle seiz’d alive,
Not scornful virgins who their charms survive,
Not ardent lovers robb’d of all their bliss,
Not ancient ladies when refus’d a kiss,
Not tyrants fierce that unrepenting die,
Not Cynthia when her manteau’s pinn’d awry,
E’er felt such rage, resentment, and despair,
As thou, sad Virgin! for thy ravish’d Hair.
For, that sad moment, when the Sylphs withdrew,
And Ariel weeping from Belinda flew,
Umbriel, a dusky, melancholy sprite,
As ever sully’d the fair face of light,
Down to the central earth, his proper scene,
Repair’d to search the gloomy Cave of Spleen.
Swift on his sooty pinions flits the Gnome,
And in a vapour reach’d the dismal dome.
No chearful breeze this sullen region knows,
The dreaded East is all the wind that blows.
Here in a grotto, shelter’d close from air,
And screen’d in shades from day’s detested glare,
She sighs for ever on her pensive bed,
Pain at her side, and Megrim at her head.
Two handmaids wait the throne: alike in place,
But diff’ring far in figure and in face.
Here stood Ill-nature like an ancient maid,
Her wrinkled form in black and white array’d!
With store of pray’rs, for mornings, nights, and noons,
Her hand is fill’d; her bosom with lampoons.
There Affectation with a sickly mien,
Shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen,
Practis’d to lisp, and hang the head aside,
Faints into airs and languishes with pride,
On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe,
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness, and for show.
The fair-ones feel such maladies as these,
When each new night-dress gives a new disease.
A constant Vapour o’er the palace flies;
Strange phantoms rising as the mists arise;
Dreadful as hermit’s dreams in haunted shades,
Or bright, as visions of expiring maids.
Now glaring fiends, and snakes on rolling spires,
Pale spectres, gaping tombs, and purple fires:
Now lakes of liquid gold, Elysian scenes,
And crystal domes, and Angels in machines.
Unnumber’d throngs, on ev’ry side are seen,
Of bodies chang’d to various forms by Spleen.
Here living Tea-pots stand, one arm held out,
One bent; the handle this, and that the spout:
A Pipkin there, like Homer’s Tripod walks;
Here sighs a Jar, and there a Goose-pye talks;
Men prove with child, as pow’rful fancy works,
And maids turn’d bottles, call aloud for corks.
Safe past the Gnome thro’ this fantastic band,
A branch of healing Spleenwort in his hand.
Then thus address’d the pow’r — Hail wayward Queen!
Who rule the sex to fifty from fifteen:
Parent of vapours and of female wit,
Who give th’ hysteric, or poetic fit,
On various tempers act by various ways,
Make some take physic, others scribble plays;
Who cause the proud their visits to delay,
And send the godly in a pet to pray.
A Nymph there is, that all thy pow’r disdains,
And thousands more in equal mirth maintains.
But oh! if e’er thy Gnome could spoil a grace,
Or raise a pimple on a beauteous face,
Like Citron-waters matrons cheeks inflame,
Or change complexions at a losing game;
If e’er with airy horns I planted heads,
Or rumpled petticoats, or tumbled beds,
Or caus’d suspicion when no soul was rude,
Or discompos’d the head-dress of a Prude,
Or e’er to costive lap-dog gave disease,
Which not the tears of brightest eyes could ease:
Hear me, and touch Belinda with chagrin,
That single act gives half the world the spleen.
The Goddess with a discontented air
Seems to reject him, tho’ she grants his pray’r.
A wond’rous Bag with both her hands she binds,
Like that where once Ulysses held the winds;
There she collects the force of female lungs,
Sighs, sobs, and passions, and the war of tongues.
A Vial next she fills with fainting fears,
Soft sorrows, melting griefs, and flowing tears.
The Gnome rejoicing bears her gifts away,
Spreads his black wings, and slowly mounts to day.
Sunk in Thalestris’ arms the nymph he found,
Her eyes dejected and her hair unbound.
Full o’er their heads the swelling bag he rent,
And all the Furies issued at the vent.
Belinda burns with more than mortal ire,
And fierce Thalestris fans the rising fire.
O wretched maid! she spread her hands, and cry’d,
(While Hampton’s echoes, Wretched maid! reply’d)
Was it for this you took such constant care
The bodkin, comb, and essence to prepare?
For this your Locks in paper durance bound,
For this with tort’ring irons wreath’d around?
For this with fillets strain’d your tender head,
And bravely bore the double loads of lead?
Gods! shall the ravisher display your hair,
While the Fops envy, and the Ladies stare!
Honour forbid! at whose unrival’d shrine
Ease, pleasure, virtue, all our sex resign.
Methinks already I your tears survey,
Already hear the horrid things they say,
Already see you a degraded toast,
And all your honour in a whisper lost!
How shall I, then, your helpless fame defend?
‘Twill then be infamy to seem your friend!
And shall this prize, th’ inestimable prize,
Expos’d through crystal to the gazing eyes,
And heighten’d by the diamond’s circling rays,
On that rapacious hand for ever blaze?
Sooner shall grass in Hyde-park Circus grow,
And wits take lodgings in the sound of Bow;
Sooner let earth, air, sea, to Chaos fall,
Men, monkeys, lap-dogs, parrots, perish all!
She said; then raging to Sir Plume repairs,
And bids her beau demand the precious hairs:
(Sir Plume, of amber snuff-box justly vain,
And the nice conduct of a clouded cane)
With earnest eyes, and round unthinking face,
He first the snuff-box open’d, then the case,
And thus broke out — “My Lord, why, what the devil?
Z — ds! damn the lock! ‘fore Gad, you must be civil!
Plague on’t! ’tis past a jest — nay prithee, pox!
Give her the hair” — he spoke, and rapp’d his box.
It grieves me much (reply’d the Peer again)
Who speaks so well should ever speak in vain.
But by this Lock, this sacred Lock I swear,
(Which never more shall join its parted hair;
Which never more its honours shall renew,
Clip’d from the lovely head where late it grew),
That while my nostrils draw the vital air,
This hand which won it, shall for ever wear.
He spoke, and speaking, in proud triumph spread
The long-contended honours of her head.
But Umbriel, hateful Gnome! forbears not so;
He breaks the Vial whence the sorrows flow.
Then see! the nymph in beauteous grief appears,
Her eyes half-languishing, half-drown’d in tears;
On her heav’d bosom hung her drooping head,
Which, with a sigh, she rais’d; and thus she said.
For ever curs’d be this detested day,
Which snatch’d my best, my fav’rite curl away!
Happy! ah ten times happy had I been,
If Hampton-Court these eyes had never seen!
Yet am not I the first mistaken maid,
By love of Courts to num’rous ills betray’d.
Oh had I rather un-admir’d, remain’d
In some lone Isle, or distant Northern land;
Where the gilt Chariot never marks the way,
Where none learn Ombre, none e’er taste Bohea!
There kept my charms conceal’d from mortal eye,
Like roses, that in desarts bloom and die.
What mov’d my mind with youthful Lords to roam?
O had I stay’d, and said my pray’rs at home!
‘Twas this, the morning omens seem’d to tell;
Thrice from my trembling hand the patch-box fell;
The tott’ring China shook without a wind,
Nay Poll sate mute, and Shock was most unkind!
A Sylph too warn’d me of the threats of fate,
In mystic visions, now believ’d too late!
See the poor remnants of these slighted hairs!
My hands shall rend what ev’n thy rapine spares:
These in two sable ringlets taught to break,
Once gave new beauties to the snowy neck;
The sister-lock now sits uncouth, alone,
And in its fellow’s fate foresees its own;
Uncurl’d it hangs, the fatal sheers demands,
And tempts, once more, thy sacrilegious hands.
Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize
Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!
She said: the pitying audience melt in tears.
But Fate and Jove had stopp’d the Baron’s ears.
In vain Thalestris with reproach assails,
For who can move when fair Belinda fails?
Not half so fix’d the Trojan could remain,
While Anna begg’d and Dido rage’d in vain.
Then grave Clarissa graceful wav’d her fan;
Silence ensu’d, and thus the nymph began.
Say why are Beauties prais’d and honour’d most,
The wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?
Why deck’d with all that land and sea afford,
Why Angels call’d, and Angel-like ador’d?
Why round our coaches croud the white-glov’d Beaus,
Why bows the side-box from its inmost rows?
How vain are all these glories, all our pains,
Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains:
That men may say, when we the front-box grace,
Behold the first in virtue, as in face!
Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm’d the small-pox, or chas’d old-age away;
Who would not scorn what houswife’s cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use?
To patch, nay ogle, might become a Saint,
Nor could it sure be such a sin to paint.
But since, alas! frail beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since Locks will turn to grey;
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man, must die a maid;
What then remains but well our pow’r to use,
And keep good-humour still whate’er we lose?
And trust me, dear! good-humour can prevail,
When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.
So spoke the Dame, but no applause ensu’d;
Belinda frown’d, Thalestris call’d her Prude.
To arms, to arms! the fierce Virago cries,
And swift as lightning to the combat flies.
All side in parties, and begin th’ attack;
Fans clap, silks russle, and tough whalebones crack;
Heroes’ and Heroines’ shouts confus’dly rise,
And base, and treble voices strike the skies.
No common weapons in their hands are found,
Like Gods they fight, nor dread a mortal wound.
So when bold Homer makes the Gods engage,
And heav’nly breasts with human passions rage;
‘Gainst Pallas, Mars; Latona, Hermes arms;
And all Olympus rings with loud alarms:
Jove’s thunder roars, heav’n trembles all around;
Blue Neptune storms, the bellowing deeps resound;
Earth shakes her nodding tow’rs, the ground gives way,
And the pale ghosts start at the flash of day!
Triumphant Umbriel on a sconce’s height
Clap’d his glad wings, and sate to view the fight:
Prop’d on their bodkin spears, the Sprites survey
The growing combat, or assist the fray.
While thro’ the press enrag’d Thalestris flies,
And scatters deaths around from both her eyes,
A Beau and Witling perish’d in the throng,
One dy’d in metaphor, and one in song.
“O cruel nymph! a living death I bear,”
Cry’d Dapperwit, and sunk beside his chair.
A mournful glance Sir Fopling upwards cast,
“Those eyes are made so killing” — was his last.
Thus on Maeander’s flow’ry margin lies
Th’ expiring Swan, and as he sings he dies.
When bold Sir Plume had drawn Clarissa down,
Chloe stepp’d in, and kill’d him with a frown;
She smil’d to see the doughty hero slain,
But, at her smile, the Beau reviv’d again.
Now Jove suspends his golden scales in air,
Weighs the Men’s wits against the Lady’s hair;
The doubtful beam long nods from side to side;
At length the wits mount up, the hairs subside.
See fierce Belinda on the Baron flies,
With more than usual lightning in her eyes:
Nor fear’d the Chief th’ unequal fight to try,
Who sought no more than on his foe to die.
But this bold Lord with manly strength endu’d,
She with one finger and a thumb subdu’d:
Just where the breath of life his nostrils drew,
A charge of Snuff the wily virgin threw;
The Gnomes direct, to ev’ry atom just,
The pungent grains of titillating dust.
Sudden, with starting tears each eye o’erflows,
And the high dome re-echoes to his nose.
Now meet thy fate, incens’d Belinda cry’d,
And drew a deadly bodkin from her side.
(The same, his ancient personage to deck,
Her great great grandsire wore about his neck,
In three seal-rings; which after, melted down,
Form’d a vast buckle for his widow’s gown:
Her infant grandame’s whistle next it grew,
The bells she jingled, and the whistle blew;
Then in a bodkin grac’d her mother’s hairs,
Which long she wore, and now Belinda wears.)
Boast not my fall (he cry’d) insulting foe!
Thou by some other shalt be laid as low.
Nor think, to die dejects my lofty mind:
All that I dread is leaving you behind!
Rather than so, ah let me still survive,
And burn in Cupid’s flames, — but burn alive.
Restore the Lock! she cries; and all around
Restore the Lock! the vaulted roofs rebound.
Not fierce Othello in so loud a strain!
Roar’d for the handkerchief that caus’d his pain.
But see how oft ambitious aims are cross’d,
And chiefs contend ’till all the prize is lost!
The Lock, obtain’d with guilt, and kept with pain,
In ev’ry place is sought, but sought in vain:
With such a prize no mortal must be blest,
So heav’n decrees! with heav’n who can contest?
Some thought it mounted to the Lunar sphere,
Since all things lost on earth are treasur’d there.
There Heros’ wits are kept in pond’rous vases;
And Beaux in snuff-boxes and tweezer-cases.
There broken vows, and death-bed alms are found;
And lover’s hearts with ends of ribband bound,
The courtier’s promises, and sick man’s pray’rs,
The smiles of harlots, and the tears of heirs,
Cages for gnats, and chains to yoak a flea,
Dry’d butterflies, and tomes of casuistry.
But trust the Muse — she saw it upward rise,
Tho’ mark’d by none but quick, poetic eyes:
(So Rome’s great founder to the heav’ns withdrew,
To Proculus alone confess’d in view)
A sudden Star, it shot through liquid air,
And drew behind a radiant trail of hair.
Not Berenice’s Locks first rose so bright,
The heav’ns bespangling with dishevel’d light.
The Sylphs behold it kindling as it flies,
And pleas’d pursue its progress through the skies.
This the Beau monde shall from the Mall survey,
And hail with music its propitious ray.
This the blest Lover shall for Venus take,
And send up vows from Rosamonda’s lake.
This Partridge soon shall view in cloudless skies,
When next he looks through Galilaeo’s eyes;
And hence th’ egregious wizard shall foredoom
The fate of Louis, and the fall of Rome.
Then cease, bright Nymph! to mourn thy ravish’d hair,
Which adds new glory to the shining sphere!
Not all the tresses that fair head can boast,
Shall draw such envy as the Lock you lost.
For after all the murders of your eye,
When, after millions slain, yourself shall die;
When those fair suns shall set, as set they must,
And all those tresses shall be laid in dust;
This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to fame,
And ‘midst the stars inscribe Belinda’s name.
Reading: An Essay on Man
Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot
(Cicero, De Re Publica VI.23)[“… you will not any longer attend to the vulgar mob’s gossip nor put your trust in human rewards for your deeds; virtue, through her own charms, should lead you to true glory. Let what others say about you be their concern; whatever it is, they will say it anyway.”]