The Poetry Corner

The Second Epistle Of The Second Book Of Horace.

By Alexander Pope

'Ludentis speciem dabit, et torquebitur.' --HOR. Dear Colonel,[155] Cobham's and your country's friend! You love a verse, take such as I can send. A Frenchman comes, presents you with his boy, Bows and begins--'The lad, sir, is of Blois:[156] Observe his shape how clean! his locks how curl'd! My only son;--I'd have him see the world: His French is pure: his voice, too, you shall hear. Sir, he's your slave, for twenty pound a-year. Mere wax as yet, you fashion him with ease, Your barber, cook, upholsterer, what you please: A perfect genius at an opera song-- To say too much, might do my honour wrong. Take him with all his virtues, on my word; His whole ambition was to serve a lord; But, sir, to you, with what would I not part? Though, faith! I fear, 'twill break his mother's heart. Once (and but once) I caught him in a lie, And then, unwhipp'd, he had the grace to cry; The fault he has I fairly shall reveal, (Could you o'erlook but that) it is to steal.' If, after this, you took the graceless lad, Could you complain, my friend, he proved so bad? Faith, in such case, if you should prosecute, I think Sir Godfrey[157] should decide the suit; Who sent the thief that stole the cash away, And punish'd him that put it in his way. Consider then, and judge me in this light; I told you when I went, I could not write; You said the same; and are you discontent With laws, to which you gave your own assent? Nay worse, to ask for verse at such a time! D' ye think me good for nothing but to rhyme? In Anna's wars, a soldier, poor and old, Had dearly earn'd a little purse of gold: Tired with a tedious march, one luckless night, He slept, poor dog! and lost it to a doit. This put the man in such a desperate mind, Between revenge, and grief, and hunger join'd, Against the foe, himself, and all mankind, He leap'd the trenches, scaled a castle-wall, Tore down a standard, took the fort and all. 'Prodigious well!' his great commander cried, Gave him much praise, and some reward beside. Next, pleased his excellence a town to batter; (Its name I know not, and it's no great matter) 'Go on, my friend,' (he cried) 'see yonder walls! Advance and conquer! go where glory calls! More honours, more rewards attend the brave.' Don't you remember what reply he gave? 'D' ye think me, noble general, such a sot? Let him take castles who has ne'er a groat.' Bred up at home, full early I begun To read in Greek the wrath of Peleus' son. Besides, my father taught me from a lad, The better art to know the good from bad: (And little sure imported to remove, To hunt for truth in Maudlin's learned grove.) But knottier points we knew not half so well, Deprived us soon of our paternal cell; And certain laws, by sufferers thought unjust. Denied all posts of profit or of trust: Hopes after hopes of pious Papists fail'd, While mighty William's thundering arm prevail'd. For right hereditary tax'd and fined, He stuck to poverty with peace of mind; And me, the Muses help'd to undergo it: Convict a Papist he, and I a poet. But (thanks to Homer) since I live and thrive. Indebted to no prince or peer alive, Sure I should want the care of ten Monroes,[158] If I would scribble, rather than repose. Years following years, steal something every day, At last they steal us from ourselves away; In one our frolics, one amusements end, In one a mistress drops, in one a friend: This subtle thief of life, this paltry time, What will it leave me, if it snatch my rhyme? If every wheel of that unwearied mill That turn'd ten thousand verses, now stands still? But, after all, what would you have me do? When out of twenty I can please not two; When this heroics only deigns to praise, Sharp satire that, and that Pindaric lays? One likes the pheasant's wing, and one the leg; The vulgar boil, the learned roast an egg; Hard task! to hit the palate of such guests, When Oldfield loves, what Dartineuf[159] detests. But grant I may relapse, for want of grace, Again to rhyme; can London be the place? Who there his Muse, or self, or soul attends, In crowds, and courts, law, business, feasts, and friends? My counsel sends to execute a deed: A poet begs me I will hear him read: In Palace-yard at nine you'll find me there-- At ten for certain, sir, in Bloomsbury Square-- Before the Lords at twelve my cause comes on-- There's a rehearsal, sir, exact at one.-- 'Oh, but a wit can study in the streets, And raise his mind above the mob he meets.' Not quite so well, however, as one ought; A hackney-coach may chance to spoil a thought: And then a nodding beam, or pig of lead, God knows, may hurt the very ablest head. Have you not seen, at Guildhall's narrow pass, Two aldermen dispute it with an ass? And peers give way, exalted as they are, Even to their own s-r-v--nce in a car? Go, lofty poet! and in such a crowd, Sing thy sonorous verse--but not aloud. Alas! to grottos and to groves we run, To ease and silence, every Muse's son: Blackmore himself, for any grand effort, Would drink and doze at Tooting or Earl's Court.[160] How shall I rhyme in this eternal roar? How match the bards whom none e'er match'd before? The man, who, stretch'd in Isis' calm retreat, To books and study gives seven years complete, See! strew'd with learned dust, his nightcap on, He walks, an object new beneath the sun! The boys flock round him, and the people stare: So stiff, so mute! some statue, you would swear, Stepp'd from its pedestal to take the air! And here, while town, and court, and city roars, With mobs, and duns, and soldiers, at their doors: Shall I, in London, act this idle part? Composing songs,[161] for fools to get by heart? The Temple late two brother sergeants saw, Who deem'd each other oracles of law; With equal talents, these congenial souls, One lull'd th' Exchequer, and one stunn'd the Rolls; Each had a gravity would make you split, And shook his head at Murray, as a wit. ''Twas, sir, your law'--and 'Sir, your eloquence,' 'Yours, Cowper's manner--and yours, Talbot's sense.' Thus we dispose of all poetic merit, Yours Milton's genius, and mine Homer's spirit. Call Tibbald Shakspeare, and he'll swear the Nine, Dear Cibber! never match'd one ode of thine. Lord! how we strut through Merlin's cave, to see No poets there, but, Stephen,[162] you, and me. Walk with respect behind, while we at ease Weave laurel crowns, and take what names we please. 'My dear Tibullus!' if that will not do, 'Let me be Horace, and be Ovid you:' Or 'I'm content, allow me Dryden's strains, And you shall rise up Otway for your pains.' Much do I suffer, much, to keep in peace This jealous, waspish, wrong-head, rhyming race; And much must flatter, if the whim should bite To court applause by printing what I write: But let the fit pass o'er, I'm wise enough To stop my ears to their confounded stuff. In vain bad rhymers all mankind reject, They treat themselves with most profound respect; 'Tis to small purpose that you hold your tongue, Each, praised within, is happy all day long, But how severely with themselves proceed The men, who write such verse as we can read? Their own strict judges, not a word they spare That wants, or force, or light, or weight, or care, Howe'er unwillingly it quits its place, Nay though at court (perhaps) it may find grace: Such they'll degrade; and sometimes, in its stead, In downright charity revive the dead; Mark where a bold expressive phrase appears, Bright through the rubbish of some hundred years; Command old words, that long have slept, to wake, Words that wise Bacon or brave Raleigh spake; Or bid the new be English, ages hence, (For use will father what's begot by sense) Pour the full tide of eloquence along, Serenely pure, and yet divinely strong, Rich with the treasures of each foreign tongue; Prune the luxuriant, the uncouth refine, But show no mercy to an empty line: Then polish all, with so much life and ease, You think 'tis nature, and a knack to please: But ease in writing flows from art, not chance; As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. If such the plague and pains to write by rule, Better (say I) be pleased, and play the fool; Call, if you will, bad rhyming a disease, It gives men happiness, or leaves them ease. There lived in primo Georgii (they record) A worthy member, no small fool, a lord; Who, though the House was up, delighted sat, Heard, noted, answer'd, as in full debate: In all but this, a man of sober life, Fond of his friend, and civil to his wife; Not quite a madman, though a pasty fell, And much too wise to walk into a well. Him, the damn'd doctors and his friends immured, They bled, they cupp'd, they purged; in short, they cured: Whereat the gentleman began to stare-- 'My friends!' he cried, 'pox take you for your care! That from a patriot of distinguish'd note, Have bled and purged me to a simple vote.' Well, on the whole, plain prose must be my fate: Wisdom (curse on it!) will come soon or late. There is a time when poets will grow dull: I'll e'en leave verses to the boys at school: To rules of poetry no more confined, I learn to smooth and harmonise my mind, Teach every thought within its bounds to roll, And keep the equal measure of the soul. Soon as I enter at my country door, My mind resumes the thread it dropped before; Thoughts, which at Hyde-park-corner I forgot, Meet, and rejoin me, in the pensive grot, There all alone, and compliments apart, I ask these sober questions of my heart: If, when the more you drink, the more you crave, You tell the doctor; when the more you have, The more you want, why not with equal ease Confess as well your folly, as disease? The heart resolves this matter in a trice, 'Men only feel the smart, but not the vice.' When golden angels cease to cure the evil, You give all royal witchcraft to the devil: When servile chaplains[163] cry, that birth and place Indue a peer with honour, truth, and grace, Look in that breast, most dirty D----! be fair, Say, can you find out one such lodger there? Yet still, not heeding what your heart can teach, You go to church to hear these flatterers preach. Indeed, could wealth bestow or wit or merit, A grain of courage, or a spark of spirit, The wisest man might blush, I must agree, If D---- loved sixpence more than he. If there be truth in law, and use can give A property, that's yours on which you live. Delightful Abbs Court,[164] if its fields afford Their fruits to you, confesses you its lord: All Worldly's hens, nay, partridge, sold to town, His ven'son, too, a guinea makes your own: He bought at thousands, what with better wit You purchase as you want, and bit by bit; Now, or long since, what difference will be found? You pay a penny, and he paid a pound. Heathcote himself, and such large-acred men, Lords of fat Ev'sham, or of Lincoln fen, Buy every stick of wood that lends them heat, Buy every pullet they afford to eat. Yet these are wights who fondly call their own Half that the devil o'erlooks from Lincoln town. The laws of God, as well as of the land, Abhor a perpetuity should stand: Estates have wings, and hang in fortune's power Loose on the point of every wavering hour, Ready, by force, or of your own accord, By sale, at least by death, to change their lord. Man? and for ever? wretch! what wouldst thou have? Heir urges heir, like wave impelling wave. All vast possessions (just the same the case Whether you call them villa, park, or chase) Alas, my Bathurst! what will they avail! Join Cotswood hills to Saperton's fair dale, Let rising granaries and temples here, There mingled farms and pyramids appear, Link towns to towns with avenues of oak, Enclose whole downs in walls,--'tis all a joke! Inexorable death shall level all, And trees, and stones, and farms, and farmer fall. Gold, silver, ivory, vases sculptured high, Paint, marble, gems, and robes of Persian dye, There are who have not--and, thank Heaven, there are, Who, if they have not, think not worth their care. Talk what you will of taste, my friend, you'll find, Two of a face, as soon as of a mind. Why, of two brothers, rich and restless one Ploughs, burns, manures, and toils from sun to sun; The other slights, for women, sports, and wines, All Townshend's turnips,[165] and all Grosvenor's mines: Why one like Bu----,[166] with pay and scorn content, Bows and votes on, in court and parliament; One, driven by strong benevolence of soul, Shall fly, like Oglethorpe,[167] from pole to pole: Is known alone to that Directing Power, Who forms the genius in the natal hour; That God of Nature, who, within us still, Inclines our action, not constrains our will; Various of temper, as of face or frame, Each individual: His great end the same. Yes, sir, how small soever be my heap, A part I will enjoy, as well as keep. My heir may sigh, and think it want of grace A man so poor would live without a place: But sure no statute in his favour says, How free, or frugal, I shall pass my days: I, who at some times spend, at others spare, Divided between carelessness and care. 'Tis one thing madly to disperse my store: Another, not to heed to treasure more; Glad, like a boy, to snatch the first good day, And pleased, if sordid want be far away. What is't to me (a passenger, God wot!) Whether my vessel be first-rate or not? The ship itself may make a better figure, But I that sail am neither less nor bigger. I neither strut with every favouring breath, Nor strive with all the tempest in my teeth. In power, wit, figure, virtue, fortune, placed Behind the foremost, and before the last. 'But why all this of avarice? I have none.' I wish you joy, sir, of a tyrant gone; But does no other lord it at this hour, As wild and mad--the avarice of power? Does neither rage inflame, nor fear appal? Not the black fear of death, that saddens all? With terrors round, can reason hold her throne, Despise the known, nor tremble at the unknown? Survey both worlds, intrepid and entire, In spite of witches, devils, dreams, and fire? Pleased to look forward, pleased to look behind, And count each birthday with a grateful mind? Has life no sourness, drawn so near its end? Canst thou endure a foe, forgive a friend? Has age but melted the rough parts away, As winter-fruits grow mild ere they decay? Or will you think, my friend, your business done, When, of a hundred thorns, you pull out one? Learn to live well, or fairly make your will; You've play'd, and loved, and eat, and drank your fill: Walk sober off, before a sprightlier age Comes tittering on, and shoves you from the stage: Leave such to trifle with more grace and ease, Whom folly pleases, and whose follies please.