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Lady Mary Wortley Montagu


An Epistle from Pope to Lord Bolingbroke


Confess, dear Laelius! pious, just, and wise,
Some self-content does in that bosom rise,
When you reflect, as sure you sometimes must,
What talents Heaven does to thy virtue trust,
While with contempt you view poor humankind,
Weak, wilful, sensual, passionate, and blind.
Amid these errors thou art faultless found,
(The moon takes lustre from the darkness round)
Permit me too, a small attendant star,
To twinkle, though in a more distant sphere;
Small things with great, we poets oft compare.
With admiration all your steps I view,
And almost envy what I can't pursue.
The world must grant (and 'tis no common fame)
My courage and my probity the same.
But you, great Lord, to nobler scenes were born;
Your early youth did Anna's court adorn.
Let Oxford own, let Catalonia tell,
What various victims to your wisdom fell;
Let vows or benefits the vulgar bind,
Such ties can never chain th'intrepid mind.
Recorded be that memorable hour,
When, to elude exasperated pow'r
With blushless front you durst your friend betray,
Advise the whole confed'racy to stay,
While with sly courage you run brisk away.
By a deserted court with joy receiv'd,
Your projects all admir'd, your oaths believ'd;
Some trust obtain'd, of which good use he made,
To gain a pardon where you first betray'd.
But what is pardon to th'aspiring breast?
You should have been first minister at least:
Failing of that, forsaken and depress'd,
Sure any soul but yours had sought for rest!
And mourn'd in shades, far from the public eye,
Successless fraud, and useless infamy.
And here, my lord! let all mankind admire
The efforts bold of unexhausted fire;
You stand the champion of the people's cause,
And bid the mob reform defective laws.
Oh! was your pow'r, like your intention good,
Your native land would stream with civic blood.
I own these glorious schemes I view with pain;
My little mischiefs to myself seem mean,
Such ills are humble though my heart is great,
All I can do is flatter, lie, and cheat;
Yet I may say 'tis plain that you preside
O'er all my morals, and 'tis much my pride
To tread with steps unequal where you guide.
My first subscribers I have first defam'd,
And when detected, never was asham'd;
Rais'd all the storms I could in private life,
Whisper'd the husband to reform the wife;
Outwitted Lintot in his very trade,
And charity with obloquy repaid.
Yet while you preach in prose, I scold in rhymes,
Against th'injustice of flagitious times.
You, learned doctor of the public stage,
Give gilded poison to corrupt the age;
Your poor toad-eater I, around me scatter
My scurril jests, and gaping crowds bespatter.
This may seem envy to the formal fools
Who talk of virtue's bounds and honour's rules;
We, who with piercing eyes look nature through,
We know that all is right in all we do.

Reason's erroneous -- honest instinct right --
Monkeys were made to grin, and fleas to bite.
Using the spite by the Creator given,
We only tread the path that's mark'd by Heaven.
And sure with justice 'tis that we exclaim,
Such wrongs must e'en your modesty inflame;
While blockheads, court-rewards and honours share,
You, poet, patriot, and philosopher,
No bills in pockets, nor no garter wear.
When I see smoking on a booby's board
Fat ortolans and pye of Perigord,
Myself am mov'd to high poetic rage
(The Homer and the Horace of the age),
Puppies who have the insolence to dine
With smiling beauties, and with sparkling wine;
While I retire, plagu'd with an empty purse,
Eat brocoli, and kiss my ancient nurse.
But had we flourish'd when stern Harry reign'd,
Our good designs had been but ill explained;
The axe had cut your solid reas'nings short,
I, in the porter's lodge, been scourg'd at court.
To better times kind Heav'n reserv'd our birth.
Happy for you such coxcombs are on earth!
Mean spirits seek their villainy to hide;
We show our venom'd souls with nobler pride,
And in bold strokes have all man kind defy'd,
Pass'd o'er the bounds that keep mankind in awe,
And laugh'd at justice, liberty, and law.
While our admirers stare with dumb surprise,
Treason and scandal we monopolise.
Yet this remains our most peculiar boast,
You 'scape the block, and I the whipping-post.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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