1720 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Congreve

Elizabeth Tollet, "To Mr. Congreve, on his Plays and Poems" 1720 ca.; Nichols, Select Collection of Poems (1780-82) 6:63-66.



Congreve! the justest glory of our age!
The whole Menander of the English stage!
Thy comic Muse, in each complete design,
Does manly sense and sprightly wit combine.
And sure the Theatre was meant a school,
To lash the vicious, and expose the fool;
The wilful fool, whose wit is always shewn
To hit another's fault and miss his own,
Laughs at himself, when by thy skill exprest,
And always in his neighbour finds the jest.
A fame from vulgar characters to raise
Is every Poet's labour, and his praise:
They, fearful, coast; while you forsake the shore,
And undiscover'd worlds of wit explore,
Enrich the scene with characters unknown,
There plant your colonies, and fix your throne.
Let Maskwell's treacheries, and Touchwood's rage,
Let rugged Ben, and Foresight's timorous age,
And Heartwell's sullen passion, grace the stage:
Then let half-criticks veil their idle spite,
For he knows best to rail, who worst can write.
Let juster satire now employ the pen,
To tax the vicious on the world's great scene;
There the Reformer's praise the Poet shares,
And boldly lashes whom the Zealot spares.

Ye British Fair! could your bright eyes refuse
A pitying tear to grace his tragic Muse?
Can generous Osmyn sigh beneath his chain,
Or the distress'd Almeria weep in vain?
A kindly pity every breast must move,
For injur'd Virtue, or for suffering Love.
The Nymphs adorn Pastora's sacred tomb,
And mourn the lov'd Amynta's short-liv'd bloom:
The Learn'd admire the Poet, when he flies
To trace the Theban swan amid the skies;
When he translates, still faithful to the sense,
He copies, and improves each excellence.
Or when he teaches how the rich and great,
And all but deathless Wit, must yield to Fate;
Or when he sings the courser's rapid speed,
Or Virtue's loftier praise, and nobler deed;
Each various grace embellishes his song,
As Horace easy, and as Pindar strong;
Pindar, who long like oracles ador'd
In reverend darkness, now to light restor'd,
Shall stamp thy current wit, and seal thy fame's record.