The Poetry Corner

The Satires Of Dr John Donne, Dean Of St Paul's, Versified. Satire IV.

By Alexander Pope

Well, if it be my time to quit the stage, Adieu to all the follies of the age! I die in charity with fool and knave, Secure of peace at least beyond the grave. I've had my purgatory here betimes, And paid for all my satires, all my rhymes. The poet's hell, its tortures, fiends, and flames. To this were trifles, toys, and empty names. With foolish pride my heart was never fired, Nor the vain itch t' admire, or be admired; I hoped for no commission from his Grace; I bought no benefice, I begg'd no place; Had no new verses, nor new suit to show; Yet went to court!--the devil would have it so. But, as the fool that, in reforming days, Would go to mass in jest (as story says) Could not but think, to pay his fine was odd, Since 'twas no form'd design of serving God; So was I punish'd, as if full as proud, As prone to ill, as negligent of good. As deep in debt, without a thought to pay, As vain, as idle, and as false as they Who live at court, for going once that way! Scarce was I enter'd, when, behold! there came A thing which Adam had been posed to name; Noah had refused it lodging in his ark, Where all the race of reptiles might embark: A verier monster than on Afric's shore The sun e'er got, or slimy Nilus bore, Or Sloane or Woodward's wondrous shelves contain, Nay, all that lying travellers can feign. The watch would hardly let him pass at noon, At night, would swear him dropp'd out of the moon. One whom the mob, when next we find or make A Popish plot, shall for a Jesuit take, And the wise justice, starting from his chair, Cry, By your priesthood, tell me what you are? Such was the wight; the apparel on his back, Though coarse, was reverend, and though bare, was black: The suit, if by the fashion one might guess, Was velvet in the youth of good Queen Bess, But mere tuff-taffety what now remain'd; So time, that changes all things, had ordain'd! Our sons shall see it leisurely decay, First turn plain rash, then vanish quite away. This thing has travell'd, speaks each language too, And knows what's fit for every State to do; Of whose best phrase and courtly accent join'd, He forms one tongue, exotic and refined Talkers I've learn'd to bear; Motteux I knew, Henley himself I've heard, and Budgell too. The Doctor's wormwood style, the hash of tongues A pedant makes, the storm of Gonson's lungs, The whole artillery of the terms of war, And (all those plagues in one) the bawling Bar: These I could bear; but not a rogue so civil, Whose tongue will compliment you to the devil; A tongue, that can cheat widows, cancel scores, Make Scots speak treason, cozen subtlest whores, With royal favourites in flattery vie, And Oldmixon and Burnet both outlie. He spies me out; I whisper, Gracious God! What sin of mine could merit such a rod? That all the shot of dulness now must be From this thy blunderbuss discharged on me! Permit (he cries) no stranger to your fame To crave your sentiment, if ----'s your name. What speech esteem you most? 'The King's,' said I. But the best words?--'Oh, sir, the Dictionary.' You miss my aim; I mean the most acute And perfect speaker?--'Onslow, past dispute.' But, sir, of writers? 'Swift, for closer style; But Hoadley,[173] for a period of a mile.' Why, yes, 'tis granted, these indeed may pass: Good common linguists, and so Panurge was; Nay, troth, the Apostles (though perhaps too rough) Had once a pretty gift of tongues enough: Yet these were all poor gentlemen! I dare Affirm, 'twas travel made them what they were. Thus others' talents having nicely shown, He came by sure transition to his own: Till I cried out, You prove yourself so able, Pity you was not druggerman at Babel; For had they found a linguist half so good, I make no question but the tower had stood. 'Obliging sir! for courts you sure were made: Why then for ever buried in the shade? Spirits like you should see, and should be seen, The king would smile on you--at least the queen.' Ah, gentle sir! you courtiers so cajole us But Tully has it, Nunquam minus solus: And as for courts, forgive me, if I say No lessons now are taught the Spartan way: Though in his pictures lust be full display'd, Few are the converts Aretine has made; And though the court show vice exceeding clear, None should, by my advice, learn virtue there. At this, entranced, he lifts his hands and eyes, Squeaks like a high-stretch'd lutestring, and replies: 'Oh, 'tis the sweetest of all earthly things To gaze on princes, and to talk of kings!' Then, happy man who shows the tombs! said I, He dwells amidst the royal family; He every day, from king to king can walk, Of all our Harries, all our Edwards talk, And get by speaking truth of monarchs dead, What few can of the living-ease and bread. 'Lord, sir, a mere mechanic! strangely low, And coarse of phrase,--your English all are so. How elegant your Frenchmen!' Mine, d'ye mean? I have but one, I hope the fellow's clean. 'Oh! sir, politely so! nay, let me die: Your only wearing is your paduasoy.' Not, sir, my only, I have better still, And this, you see, is but my dishabille. Wild to get loose, his patience I provoke, Mistake, confound, object at all he spoke. But as coarse iron, sharpen'd, mangles more, And itch most hurts when anger'd to a sore; So when you plague a fool, 'tis still the curse, You only make the matter worse and worse. He pass'd it o'er; affects an easy smile At all my peevishness, and turns his style. He asks, 'What news?' I tell him of new plays, New eunuchs, harlequins, and operas. He hears, and as a still with simples in it Between each drop it gives, stays half a minute, Loth to enrich me with too quick replies, By little, and by little, drops his lies. Mere household trash! of birthnights, balls, and shows, More than ten Hollinsheds, or Halls, or Stowes. When the queen frown'd, or smiled, he knows; and what A subtle minister may make of that: Who sins with whom: who got his pension rug, Or quicken'd a reversion by a drug: Whose place is quarter'd out, three parts in four, And whether to a bishop, or a whore: Who, having lost his credit, pawn'd his rent, Is therefore fit to have a government: Who, in the secret, deals in stocks secure, And cheats the unknowing widow and the poor: Who makes a trust or charity a job, And gets an act of parliament to rob: Why turnpikes rise, and now no cit nor clown Can gratis see the country, or the town: Shortly no lad shall chuck, or lady vole, But some excising courtier will have toll. He tells what strumpet places sells for life, What 'squire his lands, what citizen his wife: And last (which proves him wiser still than all) What lady's face is not a whited wall. As one of Woodward's patients, sick, and sore, I puke, I nauseate,--yet he thrusts in more: Trim's Europe's balance, tops the statesman's part. And talks Gazettes and Postboys o'er by heart. Like a big wife at sight of loathsome meat Ready to cast, I yawn, I sigh, and sweat. Then as a licensed spy, whom nothing can Silence or hurt, he libels the great man; Swears every place entail'd for years to come, In sure succession to the day of doom: He names the price for every office paid, And says our wars thrive ill, because delay'd: Nay, hints 'tis by connivance of the court That Spain robs on, and Dunkirk's still a port. Not more amazement seized on Circe's guests, To see themselves fall endlong into beasts, Than mine, to find a subject, staid and wise, Already half turn'd traitor by surprise. I felt the infection slide from him to me, As in the pox, some give it to get free; And quick to swallow me, methought I saw One of our giant statues ope its jaw. In that nice moment, as another lie Stood just a-tilt, the minister came by. To him he flies, and bows, and bows again, Then, close as Umbra, joins the dirty train. Not Fannius' self more impudently near, When half his nose is in his prince's ear. I quaked at heart; and still afraid, to see All the court fill'd with stranger things than he, Ran out as fast, as one that pays his bail, And dreads more actions, hurries from a jail. Bear me, some god! oh quickly bear me hence To wholesome solitude, the nurse of sense, Where Contemplation prunes her ruffled wings, And the free soul looks down to pity kings! There sober thought pursued the amusing theme, Till fancy colour'd it, and form'd a dream. A vision hermits can to Hell transport, And forced ev'n me to see the damn'd at court. Not Dante, dreaming all the infernal state, Beheld such scenes of envy, sin, and hate. Base fear becomes the guilty, not the free; Suits tyrants, plunderers, but suits not me: Shall I, the terror of this sinful town, Care if a liveried lord or smile or frown? Who cannot flatter, and detest who can, Tremble before a noble serving-man? O my fair mistress, Truth! shall I quit thee For huffing, braggart, puff'd nobility? Thou, who since yesterday hast roll'd o'er all The busy, idle blockheads of the ball, Hast thou, O Sun! beheld an emptier sort, Than such as swell this bladder of a court? Now pox on those who show a court in wax! It ought to bring all courtiers on their backs: Such painted puppets! such a varnish'd race Of hollow gewgaws, only dress and face! Such waxen noses, stately staring things No wonder some folks bow, and think them kings. See! where the British youth, engaged no more At Fig's,[174] at White's, with felons, or a whore, Pay their last duty to the court, and come All fresh and fragrant, to the drawing-room; In hues as gay, and odours as divine, As the fair fields they sold to look so fine. 'That's velvet for a king!' the flatterer swears; 'Tis true, for ten days hence 'twill be King Lear's. Our court may justly to our stage give rules, That helps it both to fools' coats and to fools. And why not players strut in courtiers' clothes? For these are actors too, as well as those: Wants reach all states; they beg, but better dress'd, And all is splendid poverty at best. Painted for sight, and essenced for the smell, Like frigates fraught with spice and cochineal, Sail in the ladies: how each pirate eyes So weak a vessel, and so rich a prize! Top-gallant he, and she in all her trim, He boarding her, she striking sail to him: 'Dear Countess! you have charms all hearts to hit!' And, 'Sweet Sir Fopling! you have so much wit!' Such wits and beauties are not praised for nought, For both the beauty and the wit are bought. 'Twould burst ev'n Heraclitus with the spleen, To see those antics, Fopling and Courtin: The Presence seems, with things so richly odd, The mosque of Mahound, or some queer pagod. See them survey their limbs by Durer's rules, Of all beau-kind the best proportion'd fools! Adjust their clothes, and to confession draw Those venial sins, an atom, or a straw; But oh! what terrors must distract the soul Convicted of that mortal crime, a hole; Or should one pound of powder less bespread Those monkey tails that wag behind their head. Thus finish'd, and corrected to a hair, They march, to prate their hour before the fair. So first to preach a white-gloved chaplain goes, With band of lily, and with cheek of rose, Sweeter than Sharon, in immaculate trim, Neatness itself impertinent in him, Let but the ladies smile, and they are blest: Prodigious! how the things protest, protest: Peace, fools! or Gonson will for Papists seize you, If once he catch you at your Jesu! Jesu! Nature made every fop to plague his brother, Just as one beauty mortifies another. But here's the captain that will plague them both, Whose air cries, Arm! whose very look's an oath: The captain's honest, sirs, and that's enough, Though his soul's bullet, and his body buff. He spits fore-right; his haughty chest before, Like battering rams, beats open every door: And with a face as red, and as awry, As Herod's hangdogs in old tapestry, Scarecrow to boys, the breeding woman's curse, Has yet a strange ambition to look worse; Confounds the civil, keeps the rude in awe, Jests like a licensed fool, commands like law. Frighted, I quit the room, but leave it so As men from jails to execution go; For hung with deadly sins[175] I see the wall, And lined with giants deadlier than 'em all: Each man an Ascapart,[176] of strength to toss For quoits, both Temple-bar and Charing-cross. Scared at the grisly forms, I sweat, I fly, And shake all o'er, like a discover'd spy. Courts are too much for wits so weak as mine: Charge them with Heaven's artillery, bold divine! From such alone the great rebukes endure, Whose satire's sacred, and whose rage secure: 'Tis mine to wash a few light stains, but theirs To deluge sin, and drown a court in tears. Howe'er, what's now Apocrypha, my wit, In time to come, may pass for holy writ.