1758 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Dodsley

Anonymous, "An Epistle to Mr. Dodsley" London Magazine 27 (October 1758) 534-36.



Of all the maladies that taint the mind,
Which first infect, and latest leave mankind,
Oh Dodsley, tell me which you deem most strong?
I'll answer for you; "'tis the rage of song."
As in the grove the magpye's clam'rous note
Drowns the sweet swellings of each softer throat,
So when a Mason sweeps the learned lyre,
Some dunce will twang his Jew's-harp jarring wire.
The bell-man, bird of night, whose deadly rhyme,
Murders each martyr's saint a second time,
As well may hope to gain the crown of bays,
As these foul croakers of poetic lays,
Who arm'd compleat, in folly's sordid lead,
At Gray or Shenstone shake the scornful head.
Observe yon sons of ink, a mottley crew,
How lank their carcase! how pale their hue!
Nature in anger threw them forth a pen,
The worst of writers, as the worst of men;
Oh how they rave! and Garrick soon shall know,
What 'tis to struggle with a mighty foe;
Soon shall the victim to their wrath submit,
This vile usurper o'er the realms of Wit.
I question mild, pray how did he offend?
I knew him once, he was indeed my friend;
Tho' bless'd with all the pow'rs of ev'ry age,
The Roscius and Oesopus of the stage,
Yet milder joys, and not improving less,
I've often tasted in his calm recess.
Sir, he refus'd my farce from very spite,
I know he's jealous that I sometimes write,
Did he indeed? Oh that's a heinous crime!
Damn on, damn on, thou furious child of rhyme.
Wou'd paultry poets deal alone in praise,
Some wealthy blockhead might reward their lays,
Vauxhall and Ranelagh their goods might take,
And pay their labours with a pint and cake;
Embalm'd in music (as in amber flies)
By adventitious help the insects rise;
Notes lend their nonsense wings, and up they soar,
Who, unassisted, crawl'd like worms before.
Blame not the town, the town has wit and taste,
Whim may prevail awhile, but sense will last,
While ev'ry disappointed son of rhyme,
Cries wit is sunk in farce and pantomime.
When our gay Charles was to his realms restor'd,
A bard was found in ev'ry knight and lord.
Some rose to merit, but, alas! how few,
The rest a flimzy, gingling, worthless crew;
Those gaudy tulips in the beds of wit,
Impos'd on judgment, and the fancy hit.
Then Milton lay unnoted and unread;
The mountain thrown upon the giant's head,
In vain wou'd whelm him, so he strides along,
And distant nations catch the pow'rful song,
Tho' rebel, libeller, or what you will,
His works have flourish'd, and shall flourish still.
Desert will spread, and burst thro' all restraint,
For worth is worth in sinner or in saint.
Applause extorted from a partial pit,
May show a poet's int'rest, not his wit;
His ends are crown'd if money be his aim,
Kings grant us honours, but th' immortals, fame.
High on Parnassus top her laurels grow,
A base-born sort in clusters rise below,
And oft the bard, too hasty to succeed,
Mistakes th' aetherial plant, and plucks the weed.
Split in a fork the learned hill appears,
Apollo has his commoners and peers;
Here the great dead of old and modern times,
Mix in sweet converse and repeat their rhymes,
Th' attending critics on their masters wait,
Display their glories and augment their state.
An humbler race the second hill admits,
The seat of bardlings, sonnetteers, and wits;
No laurel here will spring, but fragrant flow'rs
Twine in rich knots round Amaranthine bow'rs;
No trees but shrubs adorn the nice parterre,
And all is neat, and elegant and fair.
Mark but that ditch, how broad and yet how low,
Around it thistles, and sharp brambles grow,
Whose muddy streams a nauseous vapour send,
Here the dull bard and critic both descend.
Zoilus in vain his answer here would wreak,
None understand him, for his scolds in Greek;
Here Ogilby his mighty forehead laves,
And Gildon souses in the dirty waves;
Insipid Tate drinks deeply of the tide,
And lordly Grim — cuddles at his side;
Laborious Blackmore bound like Tityus, groans,
And Dennis, dreadful vulture! picks his bones:
There I espy'd, — but let me check the strain,
The living dead, 'tis madness to arraign.
Still write the bard from Ludgate's cloister'd cell,
Still scrawl the half-form'd thing that cannot spell,
Still let the patriot weightier matters treat,
And pay the debts of Britain from the Fleet;
Or let the felon, scorch'd by Phoebus' ire,
Chaunt forth his lay, and, like the swan expire.
'Tis not my task their follies to accuse,
Seize them, Grand Magazines, and learn'd Reviews;
They're lawful prize, condemn them, or acquit,
At th' oyers and the terminers of wit.
'Tis held a truth by most of Grub-street's sons,
(Who count their merit only by their duns)
That wealth or titles dry the Muses spring,
Thus boys blind bulfinches to make them sing.
Then happy bard, who lives intrench'd in dirt,
Almost a Virgil, if he want a shirt,
Ne'er be my lot to travel thus to fame,
In thirst and hunger, labouring for a name;
Much happier he, whose stars afford relief,
From solid pudding, and substantial beef.
Yet oft we see, for all their senseless brags,
Learning in lace, and ignorance in rags.
Taylor, by turns, employ'd the oar and quill,
Remember'd only to be laugh'd at still;
While Buckingham conducts each Muse and grace,
As famous by his labours as his race.
Then say, thou midwife of the teeming brain,
Who know'st to judge, as well as print the strain,
Speak I not truth? With me the diff'rence scan,
Betwixt the poet, and the rhyming man.
One, like the mettled courser snuffs the wind,
Mounts into air, and leaves dull earth behind;
Scales the sun's orb, and in the bless'd abodes,
Quaffs the rich bowl, presented by the gods;
That, like a hackney'd jade, her vigour gone,
Holds thro' deep roads, her journey blund'ring on;
In vain you urge her, with the spur or whip,
For if she change her pace, 'tis but to trip.
Such wretched caitiffs never shall be read,
Nor mark the page with Tully's awful head:
No, let them flutter on th' ignoble rail,
Gaz'd at by mobs, the sport of ev'ry gale;
Or, safe from weather, be the sheets releas'd,
To singe fat capons at a city feast.
As for myself, I own the very truth,
I caught th' infection from my earliest youth,
These idle pleasures still my soul engage,
Verse is the rattle of my riper age;
This rolls, more smooth, my peaceful hours away,
This gilds the darkness of a wint'ry day;
To graver tasks my willing mind impells,
As horses travel better for their bells.
Yet hence no claim to merit I pursue,
You say 'tis trifling, and I own it too;
Confess the like, ye senseless garretteers,
And I'll forgive, and you may wear your ears;
But reputations, when you seek to wound,
Tho' vain you strive, it proves your mind unsound;
On borrow'd wings, if you attempt your flight,
And boldly father what your betters write;
By feign'd subscriptions, if you cheat the town,
And print proposals but to get a crown;
Then let me tell you, only chang'd in name,
The bard and pick-pocket are just the same.
Ne'er, oh! my Dodsley, may your heart submit,
To nurse these smugglers in the trade of wit;
Far nobler ends, your gen'rous press pursues,
Rise Warton's hence, and Johnson's manly muse:
Vain were the patriot's toil, the hero's strife,
'Tis yours to wake each action into life:
Hence sacred silence shoots her beams from far,
Rolls nature's wheel, and counts each wand'ring star.
'Tis yours thro' earth to spread the awful name,
Rouse the cold dead, and imp the wings of fame;
To trace those rules, by which a Phidias' hand
Bids yielding marble live, and charm a land:
From Raphael's art, what new creations rise,
From Jones's toil, what structures seek the skies.
Such glorious studies fire th' enraptur'd mind,
Quell sordid views, and harmonize mankind;
Her harpye talons, rapine whets no more,
Unmask'd deceit flies howling from our shore.
No more corruption saps a falling state,
And envy owns a PITT is truly great.
Tho' greater tasks demand you, yet we know
Not always Phoebus bends his golden bow;
To trifles oft the fire of wit descends,
And laughs unguarded, when among his friends;
These harmless pastimes, sometimes have the pow'r,
To smooth the ruffled front, and please an hour.
At Bath, or Scar'brough, they for wit may pass,
And give some pause to the revolving glass;
Prevent the bett, arrest the fatal dice,
And if not teach us virtue, curb a vice.
So when your care descends to meaner things,
Than toils of sages, and than acts of kings;
When softer subjects ask a lighter air,
A bubbling fountain, or a lady's hair;
You'll find me glad to aid our new designs,
And, as a proof, accept these trifling lines.