A deadly accurate attack on the pretensions of academic verse ("imitating imitation") occasioned by the pretentious volumes Oxford and Cambridge issued to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Wales in 1762. These polyglot anthologies made use of the exotic types of which the university presses were so proud — hence: "Some copy with prodigious skill | The figures of a buttery-bill, | Which, with great folks of erudition, | Shall pass for Coptic or Phoenician." The conclusion of the poem is devoted to ridiculing Scotland and the Bute administration. The poem is not signed.
The North Briton: "In one of these seats of learning the muses are looked on with an evil eye, and in both persons are from situation compelled to write, who are chilled by age, who either were never acquainted with poetry at all, or have for many years bid adieu to it. Hence, and for some other reasons, which our reader's penetration will naturally suggest to him, this poetical tribute is scarcely worth the acceptance of the prince, and reflects but little credit on that respectable body by whom it is presented. To remedy this is the design of the present poem, in which the colleges may learn once more the rules of verses, may see and rectify former mistakes, and make their next offering worthy the acceptance of that great personage whom they mean to congratulate. In spite of some severity which our poet shews in the following performance, we must think his observations generally just; but there is one thing, which he hath not taken notice of, undoubtedly calculated to give every lover of literature true pleasure. In these collections we often see the names of NOBLES affixed to particular copies, and from thence may rest assured either that they have not forgotten to write, or, if they have, are unwilling that the world should know it" (30 October 1762) 68-69.
Robert Anderson: "The expences necessary to support the character of a man of the town exceeding the income of a man of wit, he was induced to engage in publications that promised to produce profit rather than praise. Among these was the St. James Magazine, a periodical work, begun 1763, and which was soon discontinued, for want of encouragement, though far superior to most other publications of the kind" British Poets (1795) 10:615.
Robert Southey: "The Poetry Professors. An unlucky second sight in contempt of Scotch poets" Common-Place Book (1849-51) 4:340.
For another poem on this theme, see John Taylor, A Music Speech at Cambridge (1730) in Nichols, Select Collection of Poems (1780-82) 8:163-69.
OLD ENGLAND has not lost her pray'r,
And GEORGE, (thank heav'n!) has got an heir.
A royal babe, a PRINCE of WALES.
—Poets! I pity all your nails—
What reams of paper will be spoil'd!
What graduses be daily soil'd
By inky fingers, greasy thumbs,
Hunting the word that never comes!
Now Academics pump their wits,
And lash in vain their lazy tits;
In vain they whip, and slash, and spur,
The callous jades will never stir;
Nor can they reach Parnassus' hill,
Try every method which they will.
Nay, should the tits get on for once,
Each rider is so grave a dunce,
That, as I've heard good judges say,
'Tis ten to one they'd lose their way;
Tho' not one wit bestrides the back
Of useful drudge, ycleped hack,
But fine bred things of mettled blood,
Pick'd from Apollo's royal stud.
Greek, Roman, nay Arabian steeds,
Or those our mother country breeds;
Some ride ye in, and ride ye out,
And to come home go round about,
Nor on the green swerd, nor the road,
And that I think they call an ODE.
Some take the pleasant country air,
And smack their whips and drive a pair,
Each horse with bells which clink and chime,
And so they march — and that is rhime.
Some copy with prodigious skill
The figures of a buttery-bill,
Which, with great folks of erudition,
Shall pass for Coptic or Phoenician.
While some, as patriot love prevails,
To compliment a prince of Wales,
Salute the royal babe in Welsh,
And send forth gutturals like a belch.
What pretty things imagination
Will fritter out in adulation!
The Pagan Gods shall visit earth,
To triumph in a Christian's birth,
While classic poets, pure and chaste,
Of trim and academic TASTE,
Shall lug them in by head and shoulders,
To be or speakers, or beholders.
MARS shall present him with a lance,
To humble Spain and conquer France;
The GRACES, buxom, blith, and gay,
Shall at his cradle dance the Hay;
And VENUS, with her train of LOVES,
Shall bring a thousand pair of doves
To bill, to coo, to whine, to squeak,
Through all the dialects of Greek.
How many swains of classic breed,
Shall deftly tune their oaten reed,
And bring their Doric nymphs to town,
To sing their measures up and down,
In notes alternate clear and sweet,
Like Ballad-singers in a street.
While those who grasp at reputation,
From imitating imitation,
Shall hunt each cranny, nook, and creek,
For precious fragments in the Greek,
And rob the spital, and the waste,
For sense, and sentiment, and taste.
What Latin hodge-podge, Grecian hash,
With Hebrew roots, and English trash,
Shall academic cooks produce
For present show and future use!
FELLOWS! who've soak'd away their knowledge,
In sleepy residence at college;
Whose lives are like a stagnant pool,
Muddy and placid, dull and cool;
Mere drinking, eating; eating, drinking;
With no impertinence of thinking;
Who lack no farther erudition,
Than just to set an imposition
To cramp, demolish, and dispirit,
Each true begotten child of merit;
Censors, who, in the day's broad dight,
Punish the vice they act at night;
Whose charity with self begins,
Nor covers others venial sins;
But that their feet may safely tread,
Take up hypocrisy instead,
As knowing that must always hide
A multitude of sins beside;
Whose rusty wit is at a stand,
Without a freshman at their hand;
(Whose service must of course create
The just return of sev'n-fold hate)
Lord! that such good and useful men
Should ever turn to books agen.
Yet matter must be gravely plann'd,
And syllables on fingers scann'd,
And racking pangs rend lab'ring head,
Till lady Muse is brought to-bed:
What hunting, changing, toiling, sweating,
To bring the useful epithet in!
Where the cramps measure kindly shows
It will be verse, but should be prose.
So, when its neither light nor dark,
To 'prentice spruce, or lawyer's clerk,
The nymph, who takes her nightly stand
At some sly corner in the Strand,
Plump in the chest, tight in the boddice,
Seems to the eye a perfect goddess;
But canvass'd more minutely o'er,
Turns out an old, stale, batter'd whore.
Yet must these sons of GOWNED EASE,
Proud of the plumage of Degrees,
Forsake their APATHY a while,
To figure in the Roman stile,
And offer incense at the shrine
Of LATIN POETRY Divine.
Upon a throne the goddess sits,
Surrounded by her bulky wits;
FABRICIUS, COOPER, CALEPINE,
AINSWORTHIUS, FABER, CONSTANTINE;
And he, who like DODONA spoke,
DE SACRA QUERCU, HOLYOAKE;
These are her counsellors of state,
Men of much words, and wits of weight;
Here GRADUS, full of phrases clever,
Lord of her treasury for ever,
With liberal hand his bounty deals;
SIR CENTO KEEPER of the Seals.
Next to the person of the queen,
Old madam PROSODY is seen;
Talking incessant, altho' dumb,
Upon her fingers to her thumb.
And all around are portraits hung
Of heroes in the Latin Tongue;
Italian, English, German, French,
Who most laboriously entrench
In deep parade of language dead,
What would not in their own be read,
Without impeachment of that TASTE,
Which LATIN IDIOM turns to chaste.
SANTOLIUS here, whose flippant joke,
Sought refuge in a Roman cloak:
With dull COMMIRIUS at his side,
In all the pomp of jesuit pride.
MENAGE, the pedant figur'd there,
A trifler with a solemn air:
And there in loose, unseemly view,
The graceless, easy LOVELING too.
'Tis here grave poets urge their claim,
For some thin blast of tiny fame;
Here bind their temples drunk with praise,
With half a sprig of wither'd bays.
O poet, if that honour'd name
Befits such idle childish aim;
If VIRGIL ask thy sacred care,
If HORACE charm thee, oh forbear
To spoil with sacrilegious hand,
The glories of the CLASSIC land:
Nor sow thy dowlas on the SATTIN,
Of their pure uncorrupted Latin.
Better be native in thy verse,—
What is FINGAL but genuine Erse?
Which all sublime sonorous flows,
Like HERVEY'S thoughts in drunken prose.
Hail, SCOTLAND, hail, to thee belong
All pow'rs, but most the pow'rs of song;
Whether the rude unpolish'd Erse
Stalk in the buckram prose or Verse,
Or bonny RAMSAY please thee mo',
Who sang sae sweetly aw his woe.
If ought (and say who knows so well)
The second sighted Muse can tell,
Thy happy LAIRDS shall laugh and sing,
When ENGLAND'S GENIUS droops his wing.
So shall thy soil new wealth disclose,
So thy own THISTLE choak the ROSE.
But what comes here? Methinks I see
A walking university.
See how they press to cross the TWEED,
And strain their limbs with eager speed!
While SCOTLAND, from her fertile shore,
Cries, On my foes, return no more.
Hither they haste with willing mind,
Nor cast one longing look behind;
On ten-toe carriage to salute,
The k—g, and q—n, and EARL OF BUTE.
No more the gallant Northern sons
Spout forth their strings of Latin puns;
Nor course all languages to frame,
The quibble suited to their name;
As when their ancestors be-vers'd,
That glorious STUART, JAMES the FIRST.
But with that elocution's GRACE,
That oratorial flashy Lace,
Which the fam'd Irish TOMMY PUFF,
Would sow on sentimental stuff;
Twang with a sweet pronunciation,
The flow'rs of bold imagination.
MACPHERSON leads the flaming van,
LAIRD of the new Fingalian clan;
While JACKY HOME brings up the rear,
With new-got pension neat and clear
Three hundred English pounds a year.
While sister PEG, our ancient Friend,
Sends MAC'S and DONLD'S without end;
TO GEORGE awhile they tune their lays,
Then all their choral voices raise,
To heap their panegyric wit on
Th' illustrious chief, and our NORTH BRITON.
Hail to the THANE, whose patriot skill
Can break all nations to his will;
Master of sciences and arts,
MAECENAS to all men of parts;
Whose fost'ring hand, and ready wit,
Shall find us all in places fit;
So shall thy friends no longer roam,
But change to meet a settled home.
Hail mighty THANE, for SCOTLAND born,
To fill her almost empty horn:
Hail to thy ancient glorious stem,
NOT THEY from Kings, BUT KINGS FROM THEM.