1700 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

Samuel Cobb, in Poetae Britannici (1700) 10-11.



Sunk in a Sea of Ignorance we lay,
Till Chaucer rose, and pointed out the Day.
A Joking Bard, whose Antiquated Muse
In mouldy Words could solid Sense produce.
Our English Ennius He, who claim'd his part
In wealthy Nature, tho' unskill'd in Art.
The sparkling Diamond on his Dung-hill shines,
And Golden Fragments glitter in his Lines.
Which Spencer gather'd, for his Learning known,
And by successful Gleanings made his Own.
So careful Bees, on a fair Summers Day,
Hum o'er the Flowers, and suck the Sweets away.
Of Gloriana, and her Knights he sung,
Of Beasts, which from his pregnant Fancy sprung.
O had thy Poet, Britany, rely'd
On Native Strength, and Foreign Aid deny'd,
Had not wild Fairies blasted his design,
Maeonides and Virgil had been Thine!
Their finish'd Poems he exactly view'd,
But Chaucer's Steps Religiously pursu'd.
He cull'd and pick'd, and thought it greater praise
T' adore his Master, than improve his Phrase.
'Twas counted Sin to deviate from his Page;
So Sacred was th' Authority of Age!
The Coin must sure for currant Sterling pass,
Stamp'd with old Chaucer's Venerable Face.
But Johnson found it of a gross Allay,
Melted it down, and flung the Scum away.
He dug pure Silver from a Roman Mine,
And prest his Sacred Image on the Coyn.
We all rejoic'd to see the pillag'd Oar;
Our Tongue inrich'd, which was so poor before.
Fear not, Learn'd Poet, our impartial blame,
Such Thefts as these add lustre to thy Name.
Whether thy labour'd Comedies betray
The Sweat of Terence, in thy glorious way,
Or Catiline plots better in thy Play.
Whether his Crimes more excellently shine,
Whether we hear the Consul's Voice Divine,
And doubt which merits most, Rome's Cicero, or Thine.
All yield, consenting to sustain the Yoke,
And learn the Language which the Victor spoke.
So Macedon's Imperial Heroe threw
His Wings abroad, and Conquer'd as he flew.
Great Johnson's Deeds stand Parallel with His,
Are Noble Thefts, successful Piracies.