1779 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Hugh Downman

Philo-Musa, "To Dr. Downman, occasioned by reading Lucius Junius Brutus" Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (31 May 1779).



"Strange, that we authors cannot write
But meddling critics will presume
Our faults in Classic Court t' indite,
And try by laws of Greece and Rome!

"What pray you in the Devil's name
Have we to do with antique rules?
We moderns aim not thus at fame,
Ours are the wider modern schools.

"These with new titles vamp old things;
And when we Tragedy essay,
Her charge if Criticism brings,
Presto! behold th' historic lay!"

As if a title could excuse
Each decent unity foregone,
Pardon the laughing crying muse,
And tardy drama creeping on;

The low, familiar, vulgar chat,
Which hearing, elegance would doze,
The metre, inharmonious, flat,
Aptly compar'd to measure'd prose.

Yes, these objections will be valid,
And many others we may start,
Which tho' the authors' cheeks turn pallid,
To censure, is the critics' part.

Your drinking scene now, for example,
Perhaps might please a grosser age,
But scarce a line affords a sample
To suit a chaster, purer stage.

Your hero Brutus is a bruiser,
And well can box we all allow;
"'Tis nature this, so don't abuse her,
For pedants art I disavow."

Aruns in horse-flesh is a dealer,
In painting he may vie with Stubbs,
His speech tho' favours of the Nailer,
"Knaves, slaves, hinds, villains, unlick'd cubs."

A rape too introduced — Oh rare!
Ye libertines, prick up your ears!
What cannot daring poets dare!
For chorus, lo! a dance of bears!

"Brutus that traitor, fool, and knave,"
This Moses brings from drunken Vicar,
Sure not a Prince this message gave,
If so, his skull was trebly thicker.

Voltaire, if he was living now,
Would read these pages with delight,
And in extatic rapture vow,
"None like th' advent'rous English write.

"This Poets' taste and mine conspire,
Oh! may it be my happy fate
That such a genuine muse of fire
My colder dramas may translate!

"So shall I shine in British dress,
So shall I charm each British soul;
Now oft I fail, I must confess,
But then shall reach perfection's goal."