This verse epistle considers the merits of rhyme versus blank verse, and the true meaning of "ease" in writing. Robert Lloyd does not discuss Spenser, but there is a passage on the fashion for archaisms acquired by imitating Milton in school, a passage on the failings of Blackmore's Arthuriads, and reflections of the art of writing epistles. The poem may have first appeared in one of Lloyd's periodicals.
The "friend" is presumably Charles Churchill, whose works were published by Flexney.
Anonymous: "Mr. Wilkes is said to have announced Mr. Churchill's death to a great geniu here in town in the following Laconic Epistle: "Dear Bob, damend hard times! — Churchill is dead; Ll— in the Fleet; and Wilkes little better than a transport for life. — Damned hard times ineed!" London Chronicle (1 December 1764) 528.
Bring paper, Ash, and let me send
My hearty service to my friend.
How pure the paper looks and white!
What pity 'tis that folks will write,
And on the face of candour scrawl
With desperate ink, and heart of gall!
Yet thus it often fares with those
Who, gay and easy in their prose,
Incur ill-nature's ugly crime,
And lay about 'em in their rhyme.
No man more generous, frank and kind,
Of more ingenuous social mind,
Than CHURCHILL, yet tho' CHURCHILL hear,
I will pronounce him too severe,
For, whether scribbled at or not,
He writes no name without a blot.
Yet let me urge one honest plea,
Say, is the Muse in fault or He?
The man, whose genius thirsts for praise,
Who boldly plucks, not waits the bays;
Who drives his rapid car along,
And feels the energy of song;
Writes, from the impulse of the Muse,
What sober reason might refuse.
My Lord, who lives and writes at ease,
(Sure to be pleas'd, as sure to please)
And draws from silver-stand his pen,
To scribble sonnets now and then;
Who writes not what he truly feels,
But rather what he slily steals,
And patches up, in courtly phrase,
The manly sense of better days;
Whose dainty Muse is only kist;
But as his dainty Lordship list,
Who treats her like a Mistress still,
To turn her off, and keep at will;
Knows not the labour, pains, and strife,
Of him who takes the Muse to Wife.
For then the poor good-natur'd man
Must bear his burden as he can;
And if my lady prove a shrew,
What would you have the husband do?
Say, should he thwart her inclination
To work his own, and her vexation?
Or, giving madam all her rein,
Make marriage but a silken chain?
Thus we, who lead poetic lives,
The hen-peck'd culls of vixen wives,
Receive their orders, and obey,
Like husbands in the common way:
And when we write with too much phlegm,
The fault is not in us, but them:
True servants always at command,
We hold the pen, they guide the hand.
Why need I urge so plain a fact
To you who catch me in the act?
And see me, (ere I've said my grace,
That is, put SIR in proper place,
Or with epistolary bow,
Have prefac'd, as I scarce know how.)
You see me, as I said before,
Run up and down a page or more,
Without one word of tribute due
To friendship's altar, and to you.
Accept, then, in or out of time,
My honest thanks, tho' writ in rhyme.
And these once paid (to obligations
Repeated thanks grow stale vexations,
And hurt the liberal donor more
Than all his lavish gifts before)
I skip about, as whim prevails,
Like your own frisky goats in WALES,
And follow where the Muse shall lead,
O'er hedge and ditch, o'er hill or mead.
Well might the Lordly writer praise
The first inventor of Essays,
Where wanton fancy gaily rambles,
Walks, paces, gallops, trots, and ambles;
And all things may be sung or said,
While drowsy Method's gone to bed.
And blest the poet, or the rhymist,
(For surely none of the sublimest)
Who prancing in his easy mode,
Down this epistolary road;
First taught the Muse to play the fool,
A truant from the pedant's school,
And skipping, like a tasteless dunce,
O'er all the UNITIES at once;
(For so we keep but clink and rhyme,
A fig for ACTION, PLACE, and TIME.)
But critics (who still judge by rules,
Transmitted down as guides to fools,
And howsoe'er they prate about 'em,
Drawn from wise folks who writ without 'em)
Will blame this frolic, wild excursion,
Which fancy takes for her diversion,
As inconsistent with the law,
Which keeps the sober Muse in awe,
Who dares not for her life dispense,
With such mechanic chains for sense.
Yet men are often apt to blame
Those errors they'd be proud to claim,
And if their skill, of pigmy size,
To glorious darings cannot rise,
From critic spleen and pedant phlegm,
Would make all genius creep with them.
Nay, e'en professors of the art,
To prove their wit betray their heart,
And speak against themselves, to show,
What they would hate the world shou'd know.
As when the measur'd couplets curse,
The manacles of Gothic verse,
While the trim bard in easy strains,
Talks much of fetters, clogs, and chains;
He only aims that you should think,
How charmingly he makes them clink.
So have I seen in tragic stride,
The hero of the Mourning Bride,
Sullen and sulky tread the stage,
Till, fixt attention to engage,
He flings his fetter'd arms about,
That all may find ALPHONSO out.
Oft have I heard it said by those,
Who most shou'd blush to be her foes,
That rhyme's impertinent vexation,
Shackles the brave imagination,
Which longs with eager zeal to try
Her trackless path above the sky,
But that the clog upon her feet,
Restrains her flight, and damps her heat.
From BOILEAU down to his translators,
Dull paraphrasts, and imitators,
All rail at metre at the time
They write and owe their sense to rhyme.
Had he so maul'd his gentle foe,
But for that lucky word QUINEAUT?
Or had his strokes been half so fine,
Without that closing name COTIN?
Yet dares He on this very theme,
His own APOLLO to blaspheme,
And talk of wars 'twixt rhyme and sense,
And murders which ensu'd from thence,
As if they both resolv'd to meet,
Like Theban sons, in mutual heat,
Forgetful of the ties of brother,
To maim and massacre each other.
'Tis true, sometimes to costive brains,
A couplet costs exceeding pains;
But where the fancy waits the skill
Of fluent easy dress at will,
The thoughts are oft, like colts which stray
From fertile meads, and lose their way,
Clapt up and fasten'd in the pound
Of measur'd rhyme, and barren sound.
—What are these jarring notes I hear,
Grating harsh discord on my ear!
How shrill, how coarse, th' unsettl'd tone,
Alternate 'twixt a squeak and drone,
Worse than the scrannel pipe of straw,
Or music grinding on a saw!
Will none that horrid fiddle break?
—O spare it for GIARDINI's sake.
'Tis His, and only errs by chance,
Play'd by the hand of ignorance.
From this allusion I infer,
'Tis not the art, but artists err,
And rhyme's a fiddle, sweet indeed,
When touch'd by those who well can lead,
Whose varied notes harmonious flow,
In tones prolong'd from sweeping bow;
But harsh the sounds to ear and mind,
From the poor fidler lame and blind,
Who begs in music at your door,
And thrums Jack Latin o'er and o'er.
Some MILTON-mad (an affectation
Glean'd up from college education)
Approve no verse, but that which flows
In epithetic measur'd prose,
With trim expressions gaily drest
Stol'n, misapply'd, and not confest,
And call it writing in the stile
Of that great HOMER of our isle.
Whilom, what time, eftoons and erst,
(So prose is oftentimes beverst)
Sprinkled with quaint fantastic phrase,
Uncouth to ears of modern days,
Make up the metre, which they call
Blank, CLASSICK BLANK, their All in All.
Can only blank admit sublime?
Go, read and measure DRYDEN's rhyme.
Admire the magic of his song,
See how his numbers roll along,
With ease and strength and varied pause,
Nor cramp'd by sound, nor metre's laws.
Is harmony the gift of rhyme?
Read, if you can, your MILTON's chime;
Where taste, not wantonly severe,
May find the measure, not the ear.
As rhyme, rich rhyme, was DRYDEN's choice,
And blank has MILTON's nobler voice,
I deem it as the subjects lead,
That either measure will succeed.
That rhyme will readily admit
Of fancy, numbers, force and wit;
But tho' each couplet has its strength,
It palls in works of epic length.
For who can bear to read or hear,
Tho' not offensive to the ear,
The mighty BLACKMORE gravely sing
Of ARTHUR PRINCE, and ARTHUR KING,
Heroic poems without number,
Long, lifeless, leaden, lulling lumber;
Nor pity such laborious toil,
And loss of midnight time and oil?
Yet glibly runs each jingling line,
Smoother, perhaps, than yours or mine,
But still, (tho' peace be to the dead,)
The dull, dull poems weigh down lead.
So have I seen upon the road,
A waggon of a mountain's load,
Broad-wheel'd, and drawn by horses eight,
Pair'd like great folks who strut in state:
While the gay steeds, as proud as strong,
Drag the slow tottering weight along,
Each as the steep ascent he climbs,
Moves to his bells, and walks in chimes.
The Muses dwelt on OVID's tongue,
For OVID never said, but sung,
And POPE (for POPE affects the same)
In numbers lisp'd, for numbers came.
Thus, in historic page I've read
Of some queen's daughter, fairy-bred,
Who could not either cough or spit,
Without some precious slow of wit,
While her fair lips were as a spout,
To tumble pearls and diamonds out.
Yet, tho' dame nature may bestow
This knack of verse, and jingling flow:
(And thousands have that impulse felt,
With whom the Muses never dwelt)
Tho' it may save the lab'ring brain
From many a thought-perplexing pain,
And while the rhyme presents itself,
Leaves BYSSHE untouch'd upon the shelf;
Yet more demands the critic ear,
Than the two catch-words in the rear,
Which stand like watchmen in the close,
To keep the verse from being prose.
But when reflexion has refin'd
This boist'rous bias of the mind,
When harmony enriches sense,
And borrows stronger charms from thence,
When genius steers by judgment's laws,
When proper cadence, varied pause
Shew nature's strength combin'd with art,
And thro' the ear possess the heart;
Then numbers come, and all before
Is bab, dab, scab — mere rhymes — no more.
Some boast, which none could e'er impart,
A secret principle of art,
Which gives a melody to rhyme
Unknown to Bards in antient time.
And BOILEAU leaves it as a rule
To all who enter PHOEBUS' school,
To make the metre strong and fine,
Poets write first your second line.
'Tis folly all — No poet flows
In tuneful verse, who thinks in prose;
And all the mighty secret here
Lies in the niceness of the ear.
E'en in this measure, when the muse,
With genuine ease, her way pursues,
Tho' she affect to hide her skill,
And walks the town in deshabille,
Something peculiar will be seen
Of air, or grace, in shape or mien,
Which will, tho' carelesly display'd,
Distinguish MADAM from her maid.
Here, by the way of critic sample,
I give the precept and example.
Four feet, you know, in ev'ry line
Is PRIOR's measure, and is mine;
Yet Taste wou'd ne'er forgive the crime
To talk of mine with PRIOR's rhyme.
Yet, take it on a Poet's word,
There are who foolishly have err'd,
And marr'd their proper reputation,
By sticking close to imitation.
A double rhyme is often sought
At strange expence of time and thought;
And tho' sometimes a lucky hit
May give a zest to BUTLER's wit;
Whatever makes the measure halt
Is beauty seldom, oft a fault.
For when we see the wit and pains,
The twisting of the stubborn brains,
To cramp the sense within the bound
Of some queer double treble sound.
Hard is the Muse's travail, and 'tis plain
'Tis pinion'd sense, and EASE in PAIN;
'Tis like a foot that's wrapt about
With flannel in the racking gout.
But here, methinks, 'tis more than time
To wave both simile and rhyme;
For while, as pen and Muses please,
I talk so much of ease and ease,
Tho' the words mention'd o'er and o'er,
I scarce have thought of yours before.
'Tis true, when writing to one's friend,
'Tis a rare science when to end,
As 'tis with wits a common sin
To want th' attention to begin.
So, Sir, (at last indeed) adieu,
Believe me, as you'll find me, true;
And if henceforth, at any time,
APOLLO whispers you in rhyme,
Or Lady Fancy should dispose
Your mind to sally out in prose,
I shall receive, with hallow'd awe,
The Muse's mail from FLEXNEY's draw.