The Poetry Corner

Prologue To 'The Three Hours After Marriage'

By Alexander Pope

Authors are judged by strange capricious rules; The great ones are thought mad, the small ones fools: Yet sure the best are most severely fated; For fools are only laugh'd at, wits are hated. Blockheads with reason men of sense abhor; But fool 'gainst fool, is barbarous civil war. Why on all authors, then, should critics fall? Since some have writ, and shown no wit at all. Condemn a play of theirs, and they evade it; Cry, 'Damn not us, but damn the French, who made it.' By running goods these graceless owlers gain; Theirs are the rules of France, the plots of Spain; But wit, like wine, from happier climates brought, Dash'd by these rogues, turns English common draught. They pall Molire's and Lopez' sprightly strain, And teach dull harlequins to grin in vain. How shall our author hope a gentler fate, Who dares most impudently not translate? It had been civil, in these ticklish times, To fetch his fools and knaves from foreign climes; Spaniards and French abuse to the world's end, But spare old England, lest you hurt a friend. If any fool is by our satire bit, Let him hiss loud, to show you all he's hit. Poets make characters, as salesmen clothes; We take no measure of your fops and beaux; But here all sizes and all shapes you meet, And fit yourselves, like chaps in Monmouth Street. Gallants, look here! this fool's cap[60] has an air, Goodly and smart, with ears of Issachar. Let no one fool engross it, or confine A common blessing: now 'tis yours, now mine. But poets in all ages had the care To keep this cap for such as will, to wear. Our author has it now (for every wit Of course resign'd it to the next that writ) And thus upon the stage 'tis fairly thrown;[61] Let him that takes it wear it as his own.