1801 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. John Wolcot

Alexander Thomson, in The British Parnassus, at the Close of the Eighteenth Century (1801) 52-55.



And have you not PINDAR, that wonderful PETER,
Unparallell'd master of ludicrous metre;
From whose fanciful brain, inexhaustibly strong,
Such torrents have gush'd of Satirical Song?
Whether he, as at first, your Academy enters,
And offers his jeering advice to the Painters;
Or with Ridicule's caustic attempts to reduce
The egotist tumours of BOZZY and BRUCE;
Or, by boiling proof taught, with SIR JOSEPH BANKS sees,
How wide the distinction 'twixt Lobsters and Fleas;
Or by means of the slender Machine of a Louse,
With murmurs and rage fills a certain Great house,
Or presages MACARTNEY'S disgrace and disaster,
At the Court of great CHINA'S imperial Master;
Or, beyond all the rest, with unparallell'd glee,
The royal Visitors gives us to see,
In their progress so sage through WHITBREAD'S Brewery.

You said, and I mean not to prove you a liar,
That FONTAINE in his Tales, was not much above PRIOR;
But PETER'S the man, who in arch, comic vein,
And dryness of humour, surpasses FONTAINE;
Nor with so rare a talent his eulogy ends,
But through all composition's wide circle extends.
How rich is that exquisite grace which belongs
To his tender effusions, and amorous songs!
How few are those strains which in Pathos surpass
His mournful lament for the death of his Ass!
What Ode of its size so much fancy displays,
As that which the GLOW-WORM so sweetly pourtrays!
Or who but a dull and insensible Vandal,
Admires not the lofty address to his Candle?
I deem, that since SHAKSPEARE you have not possess'd
Such a Bard, by the whole of the Muses caress'd;
A writer like PINDAR, whose versatile wit,
Such opposite subjects can equally fit,
And who clothes in the same easy mantle of Rhyme,
Both the lowest of Fun and the highest sublime:
But these talents, alas upon themes of a day,
Too often by far have been quite thrown away.
Awake thou great Spirit, and cave meaner things,
With such perishing objects as Painters and Kings;
Learn at last, for the sake of true Poetry's cause,
To despise present profit, and present applause;
Let Int'rest no more, with its grovelling force,
Be the Pole-star that guides thy poetical course;
But before Age arrive to extinguish thy fire,
Let some noble subject resound from thy Lyre;
Nor foolishly trust, for thy whole reputation,
To structures thus built on a sandy foundation,
Which will soon stand in need of complete Annotation.