Hints from Horace was written in 1811 and posthumously published in 1831. Lord Byron, who likely new the Spenserian burlesques better than the Faerie Queene, calls in Spenser as an authority on language: "New words find credit in these latter days, | If neatly grafted on a Gallic phrase; | What Chaucer, Spenser did, we scarce refuse | To Dryden's or to Pope's maturer Muse." Portions of the poem, adapted from the Horace's Epistle to Augustus, had appeared in 1824 and 1830.
Lord Byron to Francis Hodgson: "My poesy is in the hands of its various publishers; but the Hints from Horace (to which I have subjoined some savage lines on Methodism, and ferocious notes on the vanity of the triple Editory of the Edin. Annual Register), my Hints, I say, stand still, and why? — I have not a true friend in the world (but you and Drury) who can construe Horace's Latin or my English well enough to adjust them for the press, or to correct the proofs in a grammatical way" 13 October 1811; in Letters and Journals, ed. Prothero (1898-1901) 2:56.
O. P. Q.: "I shall feel particularly gratified if any of your correspondents, conversant with the literary secrets of the day, can inform me what is become of Lord Byron's suppressed poem, entitled Hints on Horace? What was its immediate object? — and whether any copies remain? An impression was thrown off some years ago by Cawthorn, in Cockspur-street; when, just at the moment of publication, a reconciliation took place, and Hints on Horace was consigned, as far as I can discover at least, to the tomb of all the Capulets. An acquaintance, who has been gratified with a glimpse of it under strict injunctions of secrecy, told me, sometime afterwards, that it was infinitely superior in every respect to English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. No further particulars could be mentioned; but, as everything connected with Lord Byron's muse cannot be otherwise than interesting, further details would be desirable, particularly when the work, as in this instance, is said to possess the most distinguished merit" Monthly Magazine 48 (September 1819) 110.
Thomas Babington Macaulay: "During the twenty years which followed the death of Cowper, the revolution in English poetry was fully consummated. None of the writers of this period, not even Sir Walter Scott, contributed so much to the consummation as Lord Byron. Yet he, Lord Byron, contributed to it unwillingly, and with constant self-reproach and shame. All his tastes and inclinations led him to take part with the school of poetry which was going out, against the school which was coming in. Of Pope himself he spoke with extravagant admiration. He did not venture directly to say that the little man of Twickenham was a greater poet than Shakspeare or Milton. But he hinted pretty clearly that he thought so. Of his contemporaries, scarcely any had so much of his admiration as Mr. Gifford, who, considered as a poet, was merely Pope, without Pope's wit and fancy; and whose satires are decidedly inferior in vigour and poignancy to the very imperfect juvenile performance of Lord Byron himself. He now and then praised Mr. Wordsworth and Mr. Coleridge; but ungraciously, and without cordiality. When he attacked them, he brought his whole soul to the work. Of the most elaborate of Mr. Wordsworth's poems he could find nothing to say, but that it was 'clumsy, and frowsy, and his aversion.' Peter Bell excited his spleen to such a degree, that he apostrophized the shades of Pope and Dryden, and demanded of them whether it were possible that such trash could evade contempt? In his heart, he thought his own Pilgrimage of Harold inferior to his Imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry, — a feeble echo of Pope and Johnson. This insipid performance he repeatedly designed to publish, and was withheld only by the solicitations of his friends" Edinburgh Review 53 (June 1831) 562-63.
W. J. Courthope: "Hints from Horace, an imitation of Horace's Ars Poetica — somewhat resembling Pope's Epistle to Augustus — the original draft of which was written during Byron's absence from England, is a continuation of the same strain of abstract critical preference. So strongly was Byron imbued with the taste for classical style, that in his later years he ranked this comparatively cold composition above Childe Harold and the romantic poems that immediately followed it" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 6:255.
Who would not laugh, if Lawrence, hired to grace
His costly canvas with each flattered face,
Abused his art, till Nature, with a blush,
Saw cits grow Centaurs underneath his brush?
Or, should some limner join, for show or sale,
A Maid of Honour to a Mermaid's tail?
Or low Dubost — as once the world has seen—
Degrade God's creatures in his graphic spleen?
Not all that forced politeness, which defends
Fools in their faults, could gag his grinning friends.
Believe me, Moschus, like that picture seems
The book which, sillier than a sick man's dreams,
Displays a crowd of figures incomplete,
Poetic Nightmares, without head or feet.
Poets and painters, as all artists know,
May shoot a little with a lengthened bow;
We claim this mutual mercy for our task,
And grant in turn the pardon which we ask;
But make not monsters spring from gentle dams—
Birds breed not vipers, tigers nurse not lambs.
A laboured, long Exordium, sometimes tends
(Like patriot speeches) but to paltry ends;
And nonsense in a lofty note goes down,
As Pertness passes with a legal gown:
Thus many a Bard describes in pompous strain
The clear brook babbling through the goodly plain:
The groves of Granta, and her Gothic halls,
King's Coll — Cam's stream — stained windows, and old walls:
Or, in adventurous numbers, neatly aims
To paint a rainbow, or — the river Thames.
You sketch a tree, and so perhaps may shine—
But daub a shipwreck like an alehouse sign;
You plan a vase — it dwindles to a pot;
Then glide down Grub-street — fasting and forgot;
Laughed into Lethe by some quaint Review,
Whose wit is never troublesome till — true.
In fine, to whatsoever you aspire,
Let it at least be simple and entire.
The greater portion of the rhyming tribe
(Give ear, my friend, for thou hast been a scribe)
Are led astray by some peculiar lure.
I labour to be brief — become obscure;
One falls while following Elegance too fast;
Another soars, inflated with Bombast;
Too low a third crawls on, afraid to fly,
He spins his subject to Satiety;
Absurdly varying, he at last engraves
Fish in the woods, and boars beneath the waves!
Unless your care's exact, your judgment nice,
The flight from Folly leads but into Vice;
None are complete, all wanting in some part,
Like certain tailors, limited in art.
For galligaskins Slowshears is your man
But coats must claim another artisan.
Now this to me, I own, seems much the same
As Vulcan's feet to bear Apollo's frame;
Or, with a fair complexion, to expose
Black eyes, black ringlets, but — a bottle nose!
Dear Authors! suit your topics to your strength,
And ponder well your subject, and its length;
Nor lift your load, before you're quite aware
What weight your shoulders will, or will not, bear.
But lucid Order, and Wit's siren voice,
Await the Poet, skilful in his choice;
With native Eloquence he soars along,
Grace in his thoughts, and Music in his song.
Let Judgment teach him wisely to combine
With future parts the now omitted line:
This shall the Author choose, or that reject,
Precise in style, and cautious to select;
Nor slight applause will candid pens afford
To him who furnishes a wanting word.
Then fear not, if 'tis needful, to produce
Some term unknown, or obsolete in use,
(As Pitt has furnished us a word or two,
Which Lexicographers declined to do;)
So you indeed, with care, — (but be content
To take this license rarely) — may invent.
New words find credit in these latter days,
If neatly grafted on a Gallic phrase;
What Chaucer, Spenser did, we scarce refuse
To Dryden's or to Pope's maturer Muse.
If you can add a little, say why not,
As well as William Pitt, and Walter Scott?
Since they, by force of rhyme and force of lungs,
Enriched our Island's ill-united tongues;
'Tis then — and shall be — lawful to present
Reform in writing, as in Parliament.
As forests shed their foliage by degrees,
So fade expressions which in season please;
And we and ours, alas! are due to Fate,
And works and words but dwindle to a date.
Though as a Monarch nods, and Commerce calls,
Impetuous rivers stagnate in canals;
Though swamps subdued, and marshes drained, sustain
The heavy ploughshare and the yellow grain,
And rising ports along the busy shore
Protect the vessel from old Ocean's roar,
All, all, must perish; but, surviving last,
The love of Letters half preserves the past.
True, some decay, yet not a few revive;
Though those shall sink, which now appear to thrive,
As Custom arbitrates, whose shifting sway
Our life and language must alike obey.
The immortal wars which Gods and Angels wage,
Are they not shown in Milton's sacred page?
His strain will teach what numbers best belong
To themes celestial told in Epic song.
The slow, sad stanza will correctly paint
The Lover's anguish, or the Friend's complaint.
But which deserves the Laurel — Rhyme or Blank?
Which holds on Helicon the higher rank?
Let squabbling critics by themselves dispute
This point, as puzzling as a Chancery suit.
Satiric rhyme first sprang from selfish spleen.
You doubt — see Dryden, Pope, St. Patrick's Dean.
Blank verse is now, with one consent, allied
To Tragedy, and rarely quits her side.
Though mad Almanzor rhymed in Dryden's days,
No sing-song Hero rants in modern plays;
Whilst modest Comedy her verse foregoes
For jest and pun in very middling prose.
Not that our Bens or Beaumonts show the worse,
Or lose one point, because they wrote in verse.
But so Thalia pleases to appear,
Poor Virgin! damned some twenty times a year!
Whate'er the scene, let this advice have weight:—
Adapt your language to your Hero's state.
At times Melpomene forgets to groan,
And brisk Thalia takes a serious tone;
Nor unregarded will the act pass by
Where angry Townly "lifts his voice on high."
Again, our Shakespeare limits verse to Kings,
When common prose will serve for common things;
And lively Hal resigns heroic ire,
To "hollaing Hotspur" and his sceptred sire.
'Tis not enough, ye Bards, with all your art,
To polish poems; they must touch the heart:
Where'er the scene be laid, whate'er the song,
Still let it bear the hearer's soul along;
Command your audience or to smile or weep,
Whiche'er may please you — anything but sleep.
The Poet claims our tears; but, by his leave,
Before I shed them, let me see him grieve.
If banished Romeo feigned nor sigh nor tear,
Lulled by his languor, I could sleep or sneer.
Sad words, no doubt, become a serious face,
And men look angry in the proper place.
At double meanings folks seem wondrous sly,
And Sentiment prescribes a pensive eye;
For Nature formed at first the inward man,
And actors copy Nature — when they can.
She bids the beating heart with rapture bound,
Raised to the Stars, or levelled with the ground;
And for Expression's aid, 'tis said, or sung,
She gave our mind's interpreter — the tongue,
Who, worn with use, of late would fain dispense
(At least in theatres) with common sense;
O'erwhelm with sound the Boxes, Gallery, Pit,
And raise a laugh with anything — but Wit.
To skilful writers it will much import,
Whence spring their scenes, from common life or Court;
Whether they seek applause by smile or tear,
To draw a Lying Valet, or a Lear,
A sage, or rakish youngster wild from school,
A wandering Peregrine, or plain John Bull;
All persons please when Nature's voice prevails,
Scottish or Irish, born in Wilts or Wales.
Or follow common fame, or forge a plot;
Who cares if mimic heroes lived or not!
One precept serves to regulate the scene:
Make it appear as if it might have been.
If some Drawcansir you aspire to draw,
Present him raving, and above all law:
If female furies in your scheme are planned,
Macbeth's fierce dame is ready to your hand;
For tears and treachery, for good and evil,
Constance, King Richard, Hamlet, and the Devil!
But if a new design you dare essay,
And freely wander from the beaten way,
True to your characters, till all be past,
Preserve consistency from first to last.
'Tis hard to venture where our betters fail,
Or lend fresh interest to a twice-told tale;
And yet, perchance, 'tis wiser to prefer
A hackneyed plot, than choose a new, and err;
Yet copy not too closely, but record,
More justly, thought for thought than word for word;
Nor trace your Prototype through narrow ways,
But only follow where he merits praise.
For you, young Bard! whom luckless fate may lead
To tremble on the nod of all who read,
Ere your first score of cantos Time unrolls,
Beware — for God's sake, don't begin like Bowles!
"Awake a louder and a loftier strain,"—
And pray, what follows from his boiling brain?—
He sinks to Southey's level in a trice,
Whose Epic Mountains never fail in mice!
Not so of yore awoke your mighty Sire
The tempered warblings of his master-lyre;
Soft as the gentler breathing of the lute,
"Of Man's first disobedience and the fruit"
He speaks, but, as his subject swells along,
Earth, Heaven, and Hades echo with the song.
Still to the "midst of things" he hastens on,
As if we witnessed all already done;
Leaves on his path whatever seems too mean
To raise the subject, or adorn the scene;
Gives, as each page improves upon the sight,
Not smoke from brightness, but from darkness-light;
And truth and fiction with such art compounds,
We know not where to fix their several bounds.
If you would please the Public, deign to hear
What soothes the many-headed monster's ear:
If your heart triumph when the hands of all
Applaud in thunder at the curtain's fall,
Deserve those plaudits — study Nature's page,
And sketch the striking traits of every age;
While varying Man and varying years unfold
Life's little tale, so oft, so vainly told;
Observe his simple childhood's dawning days,
His pranks, his prate, his playmates, and his plays:
Till time at length the mannish tyro weans,
And prurient vice outstrips his tardy teens!
Behold him Freshman! forced no more to groan
O'er Virgil's devilish verses and his own;
Prayers are too tedious, Lectures too abstruse,
He flies from Tavell's frown to "Fordham's Mews;"
(Unlucky Tavell! doomed to daily cares
By pugilistic pupils, and by bears,)
Fines, Tutors, tasks, Conventions threat in vain,
Before hounds, hunters, and Newmarket Plain.
Rough with his elders, with his equals rash,
Civil to sharpers, prodigal of cash;
Constant to nought — save hazard and a whore,
Yet cursing both — for both have made him sore:
Unread (unless since books beguile disease,
The P—x becomes his passage to Degrees);
Fooled, pillaged, dunned, he wastes his terms away,
And unexpelled, perhaps, retires M.A.;
Master of Arts! as hells and clubs proclaim,
Where scarce a blackleg bears a brighter name!
Launched into life, extinct his early fire,
He apes the selfish prudence of his Sire;
Marries for money, chooses friends for rank,
Buys land, and shrewdly trusts not to the Bank;
Sits in the Senate; gets a son and heir;
Sends him to Harrow — for himself was there.
Mute, though he votes, unless when called to cheer,
His son's so sharp — he'll see the dog a Peer!
Manhood declines — Age palsies every limb;
He quits the scene — or else the scene quits him;
Scrapes wealth, o'er each departing penny grieves,
And Avarice seizes all Ambition leaves;
Counts cent per cent, and smiles, or vainly frets,
O'er hoards diminished by young Hopeful's debts;
Weighs well and wisely what to sell or buy,
Complete in all life's lessons — but to die;
Peevish and spiteful, doting, hard to please,
Commending every time, save times like these;
Crazed, querulous, forsaken, half forgot,
Expires unwept — is buried — Let him rot!
But from the Drama let me not digress,
Nor spare my precepts, though they please you less.
Though Woman weep, and hardest hearts are stirred,
When what is done is rather seen than heard,
Yet many deeds preserved in History's page
Are better told than acted on the stage;
The ear sustains what shocks the timid eye,
And Horror thus subsides to Sympathy,
True Briton all beside, I here am French—
Bloodshed 'tis surely better to retrench:
The gladiatorial gore we teach to flow
In tragic scenes disgusts though but in show;
We hate the carnage while we see the trick,
And find small sympathy in being sick.
Not on the stage the regicide Macbeth
Appals an audience with a Monarch's death;
To gaze when sable Hubert threats to sear
Young Arthur's eyes, can ours or Nature bear?
A haltered heroine Johnson sought to slay—
We saved Irene, but half damned the play,
And (Heaven be praised!) our tolerating times
Stint Metamorphoses to Pantomimes;
And Lewis' self, with all his sprites, would quake
To change Earl Osmond's negro to a snake!
Because, in scenes exciting joy or grief,
We loathe the action which exceeds belief:
And yet, God knows! what may not authors do,
Whose Postscripts prate of dyeing "heroines blue"?
Above all things, Dan Poet, if you can,
Eke out your acts, I pray, with mortal man,
Nor call a ghost, unless some cursed scrape
Must open ten trap-doors for your escape.
Of all the monstrous things I'd fain forbid,
I loathe an Opera worse than Dennis did;
Where good and evil persons, right or wrong,
Rage, love, and aught but moralise — in song.
Hail, last memorial of our foreign friends,
Which Gaul allows, and still Hesperia lends!
Napoleon's edicts no embargo lay
On whores — spies — singers — wisely shipped away.
Our giant Capital, whose squares are spread
Where rustics earned, and now may beg, their bread,
In all iniquity is grown so nice,
It scorns amusements which are not of price.
Hence the pert shopkeeper, whose throbbing ear
Aches with orchestras which he pays to hear,
Whom shame, not sympathy, forbids to snore,
His anguish doubling by his own "encore;"
Squeezed in "Fop's Alley," jostled by the beaux,
Teased with his hat, and trembling for his toes;
Scarce wrestles through the night, nor tastes of ease,
Till the dropped curtain gives a glad release:
Why this, and more, he suffers-can ye guess?—
Because it costs him dear, and makes him dress!
So prosper eunuchs from Etruscan schools;
Give us but fiddlers, and they're sure of fools!
Ere scenes were played by many a reverend clerk,
(What harm, if David danced before the ark?)
In Christmas revels, simple country folks
Were pleased with morrice-mumm'ry and coarse jokes.
Improving years, with things no longer known,
Produced blithe Punch and merry Madame Joan,
Who still frisk on with feats so lewdly low,
'Tis strange Benvolio suffers such a show;
Suppressing peer! to whom each voice gives place,
Oaths, boxing, begging — all, save rout and race.
Farce followed Comedy, and reached her prime,
In ever-laughing Foote's fantastic time:
Mad wag! who pardoned none, nor spared the best,
And turned some very serious things to jest.
Nor Church nor State escaped his public sneers,
Arms nor the Gown — Priests — Lawyers — Volunteers:
"Alas, poor Yorick!" now for ever mute!
Whoever loves a laugh must sigh for Foote.
We smile, perforce, when histrionic scenes
Ape the swoln dialogue of Kings and Queens,
When "Crononhotonthologos must die,"
And Arthur struts in mimic majesty.
Moschus! with whom once more I hope to sit,
And smile at folly, if we can't at wit;
Yes, Friend! for thee I'll quit my cynic cell,
And bear Swift's motto, "Vive la bagatelle!"
Which charmed our days in each Aegean clime,
As oft at home, with revelry and rhyme.
Then may Euphrosyne, who sped the past,
Soothe thy Life's scenes, nor leave thee in the last;
But find in thine — like pagan Plato's bed,
Some merry Manuscript of Mimes, when dead.
Now to the Drama let us bend our eyes,
Where fettered by whig Walpole low she lies;
Corruption foiled her, for she feared her glance;
Decorum left her for an Opera dance!
Yet Chesterfield, whose polished pen inveighs
'Gainst laughter, fought for freedom to our Plays;
Unchecked by Megrims of patrician brains,
And damning Dulness of Lord Chamberlains.
Repeal that act! again let Humour roam
Wild o'er the stage — we've time for tears at home;
Let Archer plant the horns on Sullen's brows,
And Estifania gull her "Copper" spouse;
The moral's scant — but that may be excused,
Men go not to be lectured, but amused.
He whom our plays dispose to Good or Ill
Must wear a head in want of Willis' skill;
Aye, but Macheath's example — psha! — no more!
It formed no thieves — the thief was formed before;
And spite of puritans and Collier's curse,
Plays make mankind no better, and no worse.
Then spare our stage, ye methodistic men!
Nor burn damned Drury if it rise again.
But why to brain-scorched bigots thus appeal?
Can heavenly Mercy dwell with earthly Zeal?
For times of fire and faggot let them hope!
Times dear alike to puritan or Pope.
As pious Calvin saw Servetus blaze,
So would new sects on newer victims gaze.
E'en now the songs of Solyma begin;
Faith cants, perplexed apologist of Sin!
While the Lord's servant chastens whom he loves,
And Simeon kicks, where Baxter only "shoves."
Whom Nature guides, so writes, that every dunce,
Enraptured, thinks to do the same at once;
But after inky thumbs and bitten nails,
And twenty scattered quires, the coxcomb fails.
Let Pastoral be dumb; for who can hope
To match the youthful eclogues of our Pope?
Yet his and Philips' faults, of different kind,
For Art too rude, for Nature too refined,
Instruct how hard the medium 'tis to hit
'Twixt too much polish and too coarse a wit.
A vulgar scribbler, certes, stands disgraced
In this nice age, when all aspire to taste;
The dirty language, and the noisome jest,
Which pleased in Swift of yore, we now detest;
Proscribed not only in the world polite,
But even too nasty for a City Knight!
Peace to Swift's faults! his wit hath made them pass,
Unmatched by all, save matchless Hudibras!
Whose author is perhaps the first we meet,
Who from our couplet lopped two final feet;
Nor less in merit than the longer line,
This measure moves a favourite of the Nine.
Though at first view eight feet may seem in vain
Formed, save in Ode, to bear a serious strain,
Yet Scott has shown our wondering isle of late
This measure shrinks not from a theme of weight,
And, varied skilfully, surpasses far
Heroic rhyme, but most in Love and War,
Whose fluctuations, tender or sublime,
Are curbed too much by long-recurring rhyme.
But many a skilful judge abhors to see,
What few admire — irregularity.
This some vouchsafe to pardon; but 'tis hard
When such a word contents a British Bard.
And must the Bard his glowing thoughts confine,
Lest Censure hover o'er some faulty line?
Remove whate'er a critic may suspect,
To gain the paltry suffrage of "Correct"?
Or prune the spirit of each daring phrase,
To fly from Error, not to merit Praise?
Ye, who seek finished models, never cease,
By day and night, to read the works of Greece.
But our good Fathers never bent their brains
To heathen Greek, content with native strains.
The few who read a page, or used a pen,
Were satisfied with Chaucer and old Ben;
The jokes and numbers suited to their taste
Were quaint and careless, anything but chaste;
Yet, whether right or wrong the ancient rules,
It will not do to call our Fathers fools!
Though you and I, who eruditely know
To separate the elegant and low,
Can also, when a hobbling line appears,
Detect with fingers — in default of ears.
In sooth I do not know, or greatly care
To learn, who our first English strollers were;
Or if, till roofs received the vagrant art,
Our Muse, like that of Thespis, kept a cart;
But this is certain, since our Shakespeare's days,
There's pomp enough — if little else — in plays;
Nor will Melpomene ascend her Throne
Without high heels, white plume, and Bristol stone.
Old Comedies still meet with much applause,
Though too licentious for dramatic laws;
At least, we moderns, wisely, 'tis confest,
Curtail, or silence, the lascivious jest.
Whate'er their follies, and their faults beside,
Our enterprising Bards pass nought untried;
Nor do they merit slight applause who choose
An English subject for an English Muse,
And leave to minds which never dare invent
French flippancy and German sentiment.
Where is that living language which could claim
Poetic more, as philosophic, fame,
If all our Bards, more patient of delay,
Would stop, like Pope, to polish by the way?
Lords of the quill, whose critical assaults
O'erthrow whole quartos with their quires of faults,
Who soon detect, and mark where'er we fail,
And prove our marble with too nice a nail!
Democritus himself was not so bad;
He only thought — but you would make us — mad!
But truth to say, most rhymers rarely guard
Against that ridicule they deem so hard;
In person negligent, they wear, from sloth,
Beards of a week, and nails of annual growth;
Reside in garrets, fly from those they meet,
And walk in alleys rather than the street.
With little rhyme, less reason, if you please,
The name of Poet may be got with ease,
So that not tuns of helleboric juice
Shall ever turn your head to any use;
Write but like Wordsworth — live beside a lake,
And keep your bushy locks a year from Blake;
Then print your book, once more return to town,
And boys shall hunt your Bardship up and down.
Am I not wise, if such some poets' plight,
To purge in spring — like Bayes — before I write?
If this precaution softened not my bile,
I know no scribbler with a madder style;
But since (perhaps my feelings are too nice)
I cannot purchase Fame at such a price,
I'll labour gratis as a grinders' wheel,
And, blunt myself, give edge to other's steel,
Nor write at all, unless to teach the art
To those rehearsing for the Poet's part;
From Horace show the pleasing paths of song,
And from my own example — what is wrong.
Though modern practice sometimes differs quite,
'Tis just as well to think before you write;
Let every book that suits your theme be read,
So shall you trace it to the fountain-head.
He who has learned the duty which he owes
To friends and country, and to pardon foes;
Who models his deportment as may best
Accord with Brother, Sire, or Stranger-guest;
Who takes our Laws and Worship as they are,
Nor roars reform for Senate, Church, and Bar;
In practice, rather than loud precept, wise,
Bids not his tongue, but heart, philosophize:
Such is the man the Poet should rehearse,
As joint exemplar of his life and verse.
Sometimes a sprightly wit, and tale well told,
Without much grace, or weight, or art, will hold
A longer empire o'er the public mind
Than sounding trifles, empty, though refined.
Unhappy Greece! thy sons of ancient days
The Muse may celebrate with perfect praise,
Whose generous children narrowed not their hearts
With Commerce, given alone to Arms and Arts.
Our boys (save those whom public schools compel
To "Long and Short" before they're taught to spell)
From frugal fathers soon imbibe by rote,
"A penny saved, my lad, 's a penny got."
Babe of a city birth! from sixpence take
The third, how much will the remainder make?—
"A groat." — "Ah, bravo! Dick hath done the sum!
He'll swell my fifty thousand to a Plum."
They whose young souls receive this rust betimes,
'Tis clear, are fit for anything but rhymes;
And Locke will tell you, that the father's right
Who hides all verses from his children's sight;
For Poets (says this Sage, and many more,)
Make sad mechanics with their lyric lore:
And Delphi now, however rich of old,
Discovers little silver, and less gold,
Because Parnassus, though a Mount divine,
Is poor as Irus, or an Irish mine.
Two objects always should the Poet move,
Or one or both, — to please or to improve.
Whate'er you teach, be brief, if you design
For our remembrance your didactic line;
Redundance places Memory on the rack,
For brains may be o'erloaded, like the back.
Fiction does best when taught to look like Truth,
And fairy fables bubble none but youth:
Expect no credit for too wondrous tales,
Since Jonas only springs alive from Whales!
Young men with aught but Elegance dispense;
Maturer years require a little Sense.
To end at once: — that Bard for all is fit
Who mingles well instruction with his wit;
For him Reviews shall smile; for him o'erflow
The patronage of Paternoster-row;
His book, with Longman's liberal aid, shall pass
(Who ne'er despises books that bring him brass);
Through three long weeks the taste of London lead,
And cross St. George's Channel and the Tweed.
But every thing has faults, nor is't unknown
That harps and fiddles often lose their tone,
And wayward voices, at their owner's call,
With all his best endeavours, only squall;
Dogs blink their covey, flints withhold the spark,
And double-barrels (damn them!) miss their mark.
Where frequent beauties strike the reader's view,
We must not quarrel for a blot or two;
But pardon equally to books or men,
The slips of Human Nature, and the Pen.
Yet if an author, spite of foe or friend,
Despises all advice too much to mend,
But ever twangs the same discordant string,
Give him no quarter, howsoe'er he sing.
Let Havard's fate o'ertake him, who, for once,
Produced a play too dashing for a dunce:
At first none deemed it his; but when his name
Announced the fact — what then? — it lost its fame.
Though all deplore when Milton deigns to doze,
In a long work 'tis fair to steal repose.
As Pictures, so shall Poems be; some stand
The critic eye, and please when near at hand;
But others at a distance strike the sight;
This seeks the shade, but that demands the light,
Nor dreads the connoisseur's fastidious view,
But, ten times scrutinised, is ten times new.
Parnassian pilgrims! ye whom chance, or choice,
Hath led to listen to the Muse's voice,
Receive this counsel, and be timely wise;
Few reach the Summit which before you lies.
Our Church and State, our Courts and Camps, concede
Reward to very moderate heads indeed!
In these plain common sense will travel far;
All are not Erskines who mislead the Bar:
But Poesy between the best and worst
No medium knows; you must be last or first;
For middling Poets' miserable volumes
Are damned alike by Gods, and Men, and Columns.
Again, my Jeffrey — as that sound inspires,
How wakes my bosom to its wonted fires!
Fires, such as gentle Caledonians feel
When Southrons writhe upon their critic wheel,
Or mild Eclectics, when some, worse than Turks,
Would rob poor Faith to decorate "Good Works."
Such are the genial feelings thou canst claim—
My Falcon flies not at ignoble game.
Mightiest of all Dunedin's beasts of chase!
For thee my Pegasus would mend his pace.
Arise, my Jeffrey! or my inkless pen
Shall never blunt its edge on meaner men;
Till thee or thine mine evil eye discerns,
"Alas! I cannot strike at wretched kernes."
Inhuman Saxon! wilt thou then resign
A Muse and heart by choice so wholly thine?
Dear d—d contemner of my schoolboy songs,
Hast thou no vengeance for my Manhood's wrongs?
If unprovoked thou once could bid me bleed,
Hast thou no weapon for my daring deed?
What! not a word! — and am I then so low?
Wilt thou forbear, who never spared a foe?
Hast thou no wrath, or wish to give it vent?
No wit for Nobles, Dunces by descent?
No jest on "minors," quibbles on a name,
Nor one facetious paragraph of blame?
Is it for this on Ilion I have stood,
And though of Homer less than Holyrood?
On shore of Euxine or Aegean sea,
My hate, untravelled, fondly turned to thee.
Ah! let me cease! in vain my bosom burns,
From Corydon unkind Alexis turns:
Thy rhymes are vain; thy Jeffrey then forego,
Nor woo that anger which he will not show.
What then? — Edina starves some lanker son,
To write an article thou canst not shun;
Some less fastidious Scotchman shall be found,
As bold in Billingsgate, though less renowned.
As if at table some discordant dish,
Should shock our optics, such as frogs for fish;
As oil in lieu of butter men decry,
And poppies please not in a modern pie;
If all such mixtures then be half a crime,
We must have Excellence to relish rhyme.
Mere roast and boiled no Epicure invites;
Thus Poetry disgusts, or else delights.
Who shoot not flying rarely touch a gun:
Will he who swims not to the river run?
And men unpractised in exchanging knocks
Must go to Jackson ere they dare to box.
Whate'er the weapon, cudgel, fist, or foil,
None reach expertness without years of toil;
But fifty dunces can, with perfect ease,
Tag twenty thousand couplets, when they please.
Why not? — shall I, thus qualified to sit
For rotten boroughs, never show my wit?
Shall I, whose fathers with the "Quorum" sate,
And lived in freedom on a fair estate;
Who left me heir, with stables, kennels, packs,
To all their income, and to-twice its tax;
Whose form and pedigree have scarce a fault,
Shall I, I say, suppress my Attic Salt?
Thus think "the Mob of Gentlemen;" but you,
Besides all this, must have some Genius too.
Be this your sober judgment, and a rule,
And print not piping hot from Southey's school,
Who (ere another Thalaba appears),
I trust, will spare us for at least nine years.
And hark'ye, Southey! pray — but don't be vexed—
Burn all your last three works — and half the next.
But why this vain advice? once published, books
Can never be recalled — from pastry-cooks!
Though "Madoc," with "Pucelle," instead of Punk,
May travel back to Quito — on a trunk!
Orpheus, we learn from Ovid and Lempriere,
Led all wild beasts but Women by the ear;
And had he fiddled at the present hour,
We'd seen the Lions waltzing in the Tower;
And old Amphion, such were minstrels then,
Had built St. Paul's without the aid of Wren.
Verse too was Justice, and the Bards of Greece
Did more than constables to keep the peace;
Abolished cuckoldom with much applause,
Called county meetings, and enforced the laws,
Cut down crown influence with reforming scythes,
And served the Church — without demanding tithes;
And hence, throughout all Hellas and the East,
Each Poet was a Prophet and a Priest,
Whose old-established Board of Joint Controls
Included kingdoms in the cure of souls.
Next rose the martial Homer, Epic's prince,
And Fighting's been in fashion ever since;
And old Tyrtaeus, when the Spartans warred,
(A limping leader, but a lofty bard)
Though walled Ithome had resisted long,
Reduced the fortress by the force of song.
When Oracles prevailed, in times of old,
In song alone Apollo's will was told.
Then if your verse is what all verse should be,
And Gods were not ashamed on't, why should we?
The Muse, like mortal females, may be wooed;
In turns she'll seem a Paphian, or a prude;
Fierce as a bride when first she feels affright,
Mild as the same upon the second night;
Wild as the wife of Alderman or Peer,
Now for His Grace, and now a grenadier!
Her eyes beseem, her heart belies, her zone—
Ice in a crowd-and Lava when alone.
If Verse be studied with some show of Art,
Kind Nature always will perform her part;
Though without Genius, and a native vein
Of wit, we loathe an artificial strain,
Yet Art and Nature joined will win the prize,
Unless they act like us and our allies.
The youth who trains to ride, or run a race,
Must bear privations with unruffled face,
Be called to labour when he thinks to dine,
And, harder still, leave wenching and his wine.
Ladies who sing, at least who sing at sight,
Have followed Music through her farthest flight;
But rhymers tell you neither more nor less,
"I've got a pretty poem for the Press;"
And that's enough; then write and print so fast;—
If Satan take the hindmost, who'd be last?
They storm the Types, they publish, one and all,
They leap the counter, and they leave the stall.
Provincial Maidens, men of high command,
Yea! Baronets have inked the bloody hand!
Cash cannot quell them; Pollio played this prank,
(Then Phoebus first found credit in a Bank!)
Not all the living only, but the dead,
Fool on, as fluent as an Orpheus' Head;
Damned all their days, they posthumously thrive,
Dug up from dust, though buried when alive!
Reviews record this epidemic crime,
Those Books of Martyrs to the rage for rhyme.
Alas! woe worth the scribbler! often seen
In Morning Post, or Monthly Magazine.
There lurk his earlier lays; but soon, hot pressed,
Behold a Quarto! — Tarts must tell the rest.
Then leave, ye wise, the Lyre's precarious chords
To muse-mad baronets, or madder lords,
Or country Crispins, now grown somewhat stale,
Twin Doric minstrels, drunk with Doric ale!
Hark to those notes, narcotically soft!
The Cobbler-Laureats sing to Capel Lofft!
Till, lo! that modern Midas, as he hears,
Adds an ell growth to his egregious ears!
There lives one Druid, who prepares in time
'Gainst future feuds his poor revenge of rhyme;
Racks his dull Memory, and his duller Muse,
To publish faults which Friendship should excuse.
If Friendship's nothing, Self-regard might teach
More polished usage of his parts of speech.
But what is shame, or what is aught to him?
He vents his spleen, or gratifies his whim.
Some fancied slight has roused his lurking hate,
Some folly crossed, some jest, or some debate;
Up to his den Sir Scribbler hies, and soon
The gathered gall is voided in Lampoon.
Perhaps at some pert speech you've dared to frown,
Perhaps your Poem may have pleased the Town:
If so, alas! 'tis nature in the man—
May Heaven forgive you, for he never can!
Then be it so; and may his withering Bays
Bloom fresh in satire, though they fade in praise
While his lost songs no more shall steep and stink
The dullest, fattest weeds on Lethe's brink,
But springing upwards from the sluggish mould,
Be (what they never were before) be — sold!
Should some rich Bard (but such a monster now,
In modern Physics, we can scarce allow),
Should some pretending scribbler of the Court,
Some rhyming Peer — there's plenty of the sort—
All but one poor dependent priest withdrawn,
(Ah! too regardless of his Chaplain's yawn!)
Condemn the unlucky Curate to recite
Their last dramatic work by candle-light,
How would the preacher turn each rueful leaf,
Dull as his sermons, but not half so brief!
Yet, since 'tis promised at the Rector's death,
He'll risk no living for a little breath.
Then spouts and foams, and cries at every line,
(The Lord forgive him!) "Bravo! Grand! Divine!"
Hoarse with those praises (which, by Flatt'ry fed,
Dependence barters for her bitter bread),
He strides and stamps along with creaking boot;
Till the floor echoes his emphatic foot,
Then sits again, then rolls his pious eye,
As when the dying vicar will not die!
Nor feels, forsooth, emotion at his heart;—
But all Dissemblers overact their part.
Ye, who aspire to "build the lofty rhyme,"
Believe not all who laud your false "sublime;"
But if some friend shall hear your work, and say,
"Expunge that stanza, lop that line away,"
And, after fruitless efforts, you return
Without amendment, and he answers, "Burn!"
That instant throw your paper in the fire,
Ask not his thoughts, or follow his desire;
But (if true Bard!) you scorn to condescend,
And will not alter what you can't defend,
If you will breed this Bastard of your Brains,
We'll have no words — I've only lost my pains.
Yet, if you only prize your favourite thought,
As critics kindly do, and authors ought;
If your cool friend annoy you now and then,
And cross whole pages with his plaguy pen;
No matter, throw your ornaments aside,—
Better let him than all the world deride.
Give light to passages too much in shade,
Nor let a doubt obscure one verse you've made;
Your friend's a "Johnson," not to leave one word,
However trifling, which may seem absurd;
Such erring trifles lead to serious ills,
And furnish food for critics, or their quills.
As the Scotch fiddle, with its touching tune,
Or the sad influence of the angry Moon,
All men avoid bad writers' ready tongues,
As yawning waiters fly Fitzscribble's lungs;
Yet on he mouths — ten minutes — tedious each
As Prelate's homily, or placeman's speech;
Long as the last years of a lingering lease,
When Riot pauses until Rents increase.
While such a minstrel, muttering fustian, strays
O'er hedge and ditch, through unfrequented ways,
If by some chance he walks into a well,
And shouts for succour with stentorian yell,
"A rope! help, Christians, as ye hope for grace!"
Nor woman, man, nor child will stir a pace;
For there his carcass he might freely fling,
From frenzy, or the humour of the thing.
Though this has happened to more Bards than one;
I'll tell you Budgell's story, — and have done.
Budgell, a rogue and rhymester, for no good,
(Unless his case be much misunderstood)
When teased with creditors' continual claims,
"To die like Cato," leapt into the Thames!
And therefore be it lawful through the town
For any Bard to poison, hang, or drown.
Who saves the intended Suicide receives
Small thanks from him who loathes the life he leaves;
And, sooth to say, mad poets must not lose
The Glory of that death they freely choose.
Nor is it certain that some sorts of verse
Prick not the Poet's conscience as a curse;
Dosed with vile drams on Sunday he was found,
Or got a child on consecrated ground!
And hence is haunted with a rhyming rage—
Feared like a bear just bursting from his cage.
If free, all fly his versifying fit,
Fatal at once to Simpleton or Wit:
But him, unhappy! whom he seizes, — him
He flays with Recitation limb by limb;
Probes to the quick where'er he makes his breach,
And gorges like a Lawyer — or a Leech.
[Poetical Works, ed. Coleridge (1898-1904) 1:428-50]