1779 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

Thomas Maurice, "To Samuel Johnson, LL.D." Poems (1779) 1-4.



While Britain's lofty bards his thoughts engage,
Will Johnson smile on this ignoble page?
From thee her flame my infant fancy caught,
And kindled at thy page the glowing thought;
Learn'd, by thy light, her steady course to guide,
Tempt the rough shore, and brave the deepening tide.

What equal tribute shall the muse prepare;
What heights of rapid song unusual dare?
But when her hand hath swept the noblest wires,
Above her boldest flights thy praise aspires:
The wise, the virtuous venerate thy name;
This is thy praise, and this the noblest fame.

O truly great! whose generous, active mind
Scorns ev'ry labour but to bless mankind!
Thine the high task a nation to reform,
The rising race with virtuous hopes to warm;
With folly's sons eternal war to wage,
And lash the crimes of an abandon'd age.

Beset with ills, oppress'd by nameless woes,
Superior to their rage, thy genius rose:
Unable these to crush thy great design,
To damp thy piety, thy thoughts confine!
On wealth, and power, thy steadfast soul looks down,
Regardless if the mighty smile or frown.
Guilt is thy foe, guilt open, or conceal'd,
And none are safe whom virtue does not shield:
When in her cause tho draw'st the righteous sword,
It wounds, alike, the peasant and the lord.

By thee refin'd, to full perfection brought,
We rival Greece in language, as in thought;
Genius soars bolder, fancy brighter shines,
And manlier vigour animates our lines.
Let blockheads rail, whose precepts, wisely, teach
To call "obscure," what dullness cannot reach:
Thy labour'd volume claims our noblest praise,
That loftier sense in loftier sound conveys.
How sweet, how strong, the polish'd periods roll,
With thoughts that rouze, transport, convince the soul!
But there are some, the steady foes of worth,
Still prompt to give the embryo falshood birth,
Who strive to blacken thy illustrious name,
By each mean art that dark revenge can frame;
Attack the firmness of an honest heart,
That scorns, alike, the knave's or villain's part;
Faction's base sons, who principle disdain,
Or know no principle, but that of gain?
If such there are, ev'n these thou can'st despise,
Ev'n these thy fix'd integrity defies:
Thy fame shall flourish when their mem'ries rot,
Their rage, their writings, like their names, forgot.

What bold, ambitious hopes, my bosom warm,
Oft as my eyes behold thy honour'd form;
While all the labours of thy life I trace,
Thy glory, and the glory of our race!
Thy mind, retaining still her wonted fires,
With added years increasing strength acquires:
Vig'rous, as when to Juvenal's manly page
Thy muse congenial gave rekindled rage.
But thy ambition boasts a nobler aim,
Than man's applauses, and the bubble, fame;
Anxious to gain, and eager to secure,
That brighter meed to patient virtue sure;
Thine are the joys, that animate the just,
And lift the soul above its kindred dust:
Ev'n here, the dazzling scenes entrance thy sight,
While conscience gives a seraph's pure delight.