1. TO Sir Thomas Hanmer.
WHILE, own'd by You, with Smiles the Muſe ſurveys,
Th' expected Triumph of her ſweeteſt Lays:
While, ſtretch'd at Eaſe, ſhe boaſts your Guardian Aid,
Secure, and happy in her ſylvan Shade:
Excuſe her Fears, who ſcarce a Verſe beſtows,
In juſt Remembrance of the Debt ſhe owes;
With conſcious Awe ſhe hears the Critic's Fame,
And bluſhing hides her Wreath at Shakeſpear's Name.
Long ſlighted Fancy, with a Mother's Care,
Wept o'er his Works, and felt the laſt Deſpair.
Torn from her Head, ſhe ſaw the Roſes fall,
By all deſerted, tho' admir'd by all.
" And oh! ſhe cry'd, ſhall Science ſtill reſign
" Whate'er is Nature's, and whate'er is mine?
" Shall Taſte and Art, but ſhew a cold Regard,
" And ſcornful Pride reject th' unletter'd Bard?
" Ye myrtled Nymphs, who own my gentle Reign,
" Tune the ſweet Lyre, and grace my airy Train!
" If, where ye rove, your ſearching Eyes have known
" One perfect Mind, which Judgment calls its own:
" There ev'ry Breaſt its fondeſt Hopes muſt bond,
" And ev'ry Muſe with Tears await her Friend.
'Twas then fair Iſis from her Stream aroſe,
In kind Compaſſion of her Siſter's Woes.
'Twas then ſhe promis'd to the mourning Maid
Th' immortal Honours, which thy Hands have paid:
" My beſt-lov'd Son (ſhe ſaid) ſhall yet reſtore
" Thy ruin'd Sweets, and Fancy weep no more.
Each riſing Art by ſlow Gradation moves,
Toil builds on Toil, and Age on Age improves.
The Muſe alone unequal dealt her Rage,
And grac'd with nobleſt Pomp her earlieſt Stage.
Preſerv'd thro' Time, the ſpeaking Scenes impart
Each changeful Wiſh of Phaedra's tortur'd Heart:
Or paint the Curſe, that mark'd the ‡
A Bed inceſtuous, and a Father ſlain.
Line after Line, our pitying Eyes o'erflow,
Trace the ſad Tale, and own another's Woe.
To Rome remov'd, with equal Pow'r to pleaſe,
The Comic Siſters kept their native Eaſe.
With jealous Fear declining Greece beheld
Her own Menander's Art almoſt excell'd!
But ev'ry Muſe eſſay'd to raiſe in vain.
Some labour'd Rival of her Tragic Strain;
Iliſſus' Laurels, tho' transferr'd with Toil,
Droop'd their fair Leaves, nor knew th' unfriendly Soil.
When Rome herſelf, her envy'd Glories dead,
No more Imperial, ſtoop'd her conquer'd Head:
Luxuriant Florence choſe a ſofter Theme,
While all was Peace, by Arno's ſilver Stream.
With ſweeter Notes th' Etrurian Vales complain'd,
And Arts reviving told—a Coſmo reign'd.
Their wanton Lyres the Bards of Provence ſtrung,
Sweet flow'd the Lays, but Love was all they ſung.
The gay Deſcription could not fail to move,
For, led by Nature, all are Friends to Love.
But Heav'n, ſtill riſing in its Works, decreed
The perfect Boaſt of Time ſhould laſt ſucceed.
The beauteous Union muſt appear at length,
Of Tuſcan Fancy, and Athenian Strength:
One greater Muſe Eliza's Reign adorn,
And ev'n a Shakeſpear to her Fame be born!
Yet ah! ſo bright her Morning's op'ning Ray,
In vain our Britain hop'd an equal Day!
No ſecond Growth the Weſtern Iſle could bear,
At once exhauſted with too rich a Year.
Too nicely Johnſon knew the Critic's Part;
Nature in him was almoſt loſt in Art.
Of ſofter Mold the gentle Fletcher came,
The next in Order, as the next in Name.
With pleas'd Attention 'midſt his Scenes we find
Each glowing Thought, that warms the Female Mind;
Each melting Sigh, and ev'ry tender Tear,
The Lover's Wiſhes and the Virgin's Fear.
ev'ry Strain the Loves and Graces own;
But ſtronger Shakeſpear felt for Man alone:
Drawn by his Pen, our ruder Paſſions ſtand
Th' unrivall'd Picture of his early Hand.
With gradual Steps, and ſlow, exacter France
Saw Art's fair Empire o'er her Shores advance:
By length of Toil, a bright Perfection knew,
Correctly bold, and juſt in all ſhe drew.
Till late Corneille
from Epick †
The full Expreſſion, and the Roman Thought;
And claſſic Judgment gain'd to ſweet Racine
The temp'rate Strength of Maro's chaſter Line.
But wilder far the Britiſh Laurel ſpread,
And Wreaths leſs artful crown our Poet's Head.
Yet He alone to ev'ry Scene could give
Th' Hiſtorian's Truth, and bid the Manners live.
Wak'd at his Call I view, with glad Surprize,
Majeſtic Forms of mighty Monarchs riſe.
There Henry's Trumpets ſpread their loud Alarms,
And laurel'd Conqueſt waits her Hero's Arms.
Here gentler Edward claims a pitying Sigh,
Scarce born to Honours, and ſo ſoon to die!
Yet ſhall thy Throne, unhappy Infant, bring
No Beam of Comfort to the guilty King?
Time ſhall come, when Glo'ſter
's Heart ſhall bleed
In Life's laſt Hours, with Horror of the Deed:
When dreary Viſions ſhall at laſt preſent
Thy vengeful Image, in the midnight Tent:
Thy Hand unſeen the ſecret Death ſhall bear,
Blunt the weak Sword, and break th' oppreſſive Spear.
Where'er we turn, by Fancy charm'd, we find
Some ſweet Illuſion of the cheated Mind.
Oft, wild of Wing, ſhe calls the Soul to rove
With humbler Nature, in the rural Grove;
Where Swains contented own the quiet Scene,
And twilight Fairies tread the circled Green:
Dreſt by her Hand, the Woods and Vallies ſmile,
And Spring diffuſive decks th' enchanted Iſle.
O bleſt in all that Genius gives to charm,
Whoſe Morals mend us, and whoſe Paſſions warm!
Oft let my Youth attend thy various Page,
Where rich Invention rules th' unbounded Stage.
There ev'ry Scene the Poet's Warmth may raiſe,
And melting Muſic find the ſofteſt Lays.
O might the Muſe with equal Eaſe perſuade,
Expreſſive Picture, to adopt thine Aid!
Some pow'rful Raphael ſhou'd again appear,
And Arts conſenting fix their Empire here.
Methinks ev'n now I view ſome fair Deſign,
Where breathing Nature lives in ev'ry Line:
Chaſte, and ſubdu'd, the modeſt Colours lie,
In fair Proportion to th' approving Eye—
And ſee, where †
In fixt Diſtreſs, and ſpreads his pleading Hands!
O'er the pale Corſe the Warrior ſeems to bend,
Deep ſunk in Grief, and mourns his murther'd Friend!
Still as they preſs, he calls on all around,
Lifts the torn Robe, and points the bleeding Wound.
who is he, whoſe Brows exalted bear
A Rage impatient, and a fiercer Air?
Ev'n now, his Thoughts with eager Vengeance doom
The laſt ſad Ruin of ungrateful Rome.
Till, ſlow-advancing o'er the tented Plain,
In ſable Weeds, appear the Kindred-train:
The frantic Mother leads their wild Deſpair,
Beats her ſwoln Breaſt, and rends her ſilver Hair.
And ſee he yields!—the Tears unbidden ſtart,
And conſcious Nature claims th' unwilling Heart!
O'er all the Man conflicting Paſſions riſe,
Rage graſps the Sword, while Pity melts the Eyes.
Thus, gen'rous Critic, as thy Bard inſpires,
The Siſter Arts ſhall nurſe their drooping Fires;
Each from his Scenes her Stores alternate bring,
Spread the fair Tints, or wake the vocal String:
Thoſe Sibyl-Leaves, the Sport of ev'ry Wind,
(For Poets ever were a careleſs Kind)
By thee diſpos'd, no farther Toil demand,
But, juſt to Nature, own thy forming Hand.
So ſpread o'er Greece, th' harmonious Whole unknown,
Ev'n Homer's Numbers charm'd by Parts alone.
Their own Ulyſſes ſcarce had wander'd more,
By Winds and Waters caſt on ev'ry Shore:
When, rais'd by Fate, ſome former Hanmer join'd
Each beauteous Image of the tuneful Mind:
And bad, like Thee, his Athens ever claim,
A fond Alliance, with the Poet's Name.
Oxford, Dec. 3. 1743.