Verses humbly address'd to Sir Thomas Hanmer: On his edition of Shakespear's works. By a gentleman of Oxford.
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.
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 ‡ Theban's Reign,
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!
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.
His ‡ 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.
[Page 8] Till late Corneille from Epick † Lucan brought
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?
The ‡ Time shall come, when Glo'ster's Heart shall bleed
In Life's last Hours, with Horror of the Deed:
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.
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 † Antony lamenting stands
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.
But ‡ who is he, whose Brows exalted bear
A Rage impatient, and a fiercer Air?
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.