An Epistle To William Hogarth
Amongst the sons of men how few are known
Who dare be just to merit not their own!
Superior virtue and superior sense,
To knaves and fools, will always give offence;
Nay, men of real worth can scarcely bear,
So nice is jealousy, a rival there.
Be wicked as thou wilt; do all that's base;
Proclaim thyself the monster of thy race:
Let vice and folly thy black soul divide;
Be proud with meanness, and be mean with pride.
Deaf to the voice of Faith and Honour, fall
From side to side, yet be of none at all:
Spurn all those charities, those sacred ties,
Which Nature, in her bounty, good as wise,
To work our safety, and ensure her plan,
Contrived to bind and rivet man to man:
Lift against Virtue, Power's oppressive rod;
Betray thy country, and deny thy God;
And, in one general comprehensive line,
To group, which volumes scarcely could define,
Whate'er of sin and dulness can be said,
Join to a Fox's heart a Dashwood's head;
Yet may'st thou pass unnoticed in the throng,
And, free from envy, safely sneak along:
The rigid saint, by whom no mercy's shown
To saints whose lives are better than his own,
Shall spare thy crimes; and Wit, who never once
Forgave a brother, shall forgive a dunce.
But should thy soul, form'd in some luckless hour,
Vile interest scorn, nor madly grasp at power;
Should love of fame, in every noble mind
A brave disease, with love of virtue join'd,
Spur thee to deeds of pith, where courage, tried
In Reason's court, is amply justified:
Or, fond of knowledge, and averse to strife,
Shouldst thou prefer the calmer walk of life;
Shouldst thou, by pale and sickly study led,
Pursue coy Science to the fountain-head;
Virtue thy guide, and public good thy end,
Should every thought to our improvement tend,
To curb the passions, to enlarge the mind,
Purge the sick Weal, and humanise mankind;
Rage in her eye, and malice in her breast,
Redoubled Horror grining on her crest,
Fiercer each snake, and sharper every dart,
Quick from her cell shall maddening Envy start.
Then shalt thou find, but find, alas! too late,
How vain is worth! how short is glory's date!
Then shalt thou find, whilst friends with foes conspire,
To give more proof than virtue would desire,
Thy danger chiefly lies in acting well;
No crime's so great as daring to excel.
Whilst Satire thus, disdaining mean control,
Urged the free dictates of an honest soul,
Candour, who, with the charity of Paul,
Still thinks the best, whene'er she thinks at all,
With the sweet milk of human kindness bless'd,
The furious ardour of my zeal repress'd.
Canst thou, with more than usual warmth she cried,
Thy malice to indulge, and feed thy pride;
Canst thou, severe by nature as thou art,
With all that wondrous rancour in thy heart,
Delight to torture truth ten thousand ways,
To spin detraction forth from themes of praise,
To make Vice sit, for purposes of strife,
And draw the hag much larger than the life,
To make the good seem bad, the bad seem worse,
And represent our nature as our curse?
Doth not humanity condemn that zeal
Which tends to aggravate and not to heal?
Doth not discretion warn thee of disgrace,
And danger, grinning, stare thee in the face,
Loud as the drum, which, spreading terror round,
From emptiness acquires the power of sound?
Doth not the voice of Norton strike thy ear,
And the pale Mansfield chill thy soul with fear?
Dost thou, fond man, believe thyself secure
Because thou'rt honest, and because thou'rt poor?
Dost thou on law and liberty depend?
Turn, turn thy eyes, and view thy injured friend.
Art thou beyond the ruffian gripe of Power,
When Wilkes, prejudged, is sentenced to the Tower?
Dost thou by privilege exemption claim,
When privilege is little more than name?
Or to prerogative (that glorious ground
On which state scoundrels oft have safety found)
Dost thou pretend, and there a sanction find,
Unpunish'd, thus to libel human-kind
When poverty, the poet's constant crime,
Compell'd thee, all unfit, to trade in rhyme,
Had not romantic notions turn'd thy head,
Hadst thou not valued honour more than bread;
Had Interest, pliant Interest, been thy guide,
And had not Prudence been debauch'd by Pride,
In Flattery's stream thou wouldst have dipp'd thy pen,
Applied to great and not to honest men;
Nor should conviction have seduced thy heart
To take the weaker, though the better part.
What but rank folly, for thy curse decreed,
Could into Satire's barren path mislead,
When, open to thy view, before thee lay
Soul-soothing Panegyric's flowery way?
There might the Muse have saunter'd at her ease,
And, pleasing others, learn'd herself to please;
Lords should have listen'd to the sugar'd treat,
And ladies, simpering, own'd it vastly sweet;
Rogues, in thy prudent verse with virtue graced,
Fools mark'd by thee as prodigies of taste,
Must have forbid, pouring preferments down,
Such wit, such truth as thine to quit the gown.
Thy sacred brethren, too, (for they, no less
Than laymen, bring their offerings to success)
Had hail'd thee good if great, and paid the vow
Sincere as that they pay to God, whilst thou
In lawn hadst whisper'd to a sleeping crowd,
As dull as Rochester, and half as proud.
Peace, Candour--wisely hadst thou said, and well,
Could Interest in this breast one moment dwell;
Could she, with prospect of success, oppose
The firm resolves which from conviction rose.
I cannot truckle to a fool of state,
Nor take a favour from the man I hate:
Free leave have others by such means to shine;
I scorn their practice; they may laugh at mine.
But in this charge, forgetful of thyself,
Thou hast assumed the maxims of that elf,
Whom God in wrath, for man's dishonour framed,
Cunning in heaven, amongst us Prudence named,
That servile prudence, which I leave to those
Who dare not be my friends, can't be my foes.
Had I, with cruel and oppressive rhymes,
Pursued and turn'd misfortunes into crimes;
Had I, when Virtue gasping lay and low,
Join'd tyrant Vice, and added woe to woe;
Had I made Modesty in blushes speak,
And drawn the tear down Beauty's sacred cheek;
Had I (damn'd then) in thought debased my lays,
To wound that sex which honour bids me praise;
Had I, from vengeance, by base views betray'd.
In endless night sunk injured Ayliffe's shade;
Had I (which satirists of mighty name,
Renown'd in rhyme, revered for moral fame,
Have done before, whom Justice shall pursue
In future verse) brought forth to public view
A noble friend, and made his foibles known,
Because his worth was greater than my own;
Had I spared those (so Prudence had decreed)
Whom, God so help me at my greatest need!
I ne'er will spare, those vipers to their king
Who smooth their looks, and flatter whilst they sting;
Or had I not taught patriot zeal to boast
Of those who flatter least, but love him most;
Had I thus sinn'd, my stubborn soul should bend
At Candour's voice, and take, as from a friend,
The deep rebuke; myself should be the first
To hate myself, and stamp my Muse accursed.
But shall my arm--forbid it, manly pride!
Forbid it, reason! warring on my side--
For vengeance lifted high, the stroke forbear,
And hang suspended in the desert air,
Or to my trembling side unnerved sink down,
Palsied, forsooth, by Candour's half-made frown?
When Justice bids me on, shall I delay
Because insipid Candour bars my way?
When she, of all alike the puling friend,
Would disappoint my satire's noblest end;
When she to villains would a sanction give,
And shelter those who are not fit to live;
When she would screen the guilty from a blush,
And bids me spare whom Reason bids me crush,
All leagues with Candour proudly I resign;
She cannot be for Honour's turn, nor mine.
Yet come, cold Monitor! half foe, half friend,
Whom Vice can't fear, whom Virtue can't commend;
Come, Candour, by thy dull indifference known,
Thou equal-blooded judge, thou lukewarm drone,
Who, fashion'd without feelings, dost expect
We call that virtue--which we know defect;
Come, and observe the nature of our crimes,
The gross and rank complexion of the times;
Observe it well, and then review my plan,
Praise if you will, or censure if you can.
Whilst Vice presumptuous lords it as in sport,
And Piety is only known at court;
Whilst wretched Liberty expiring lies,
Beneath the fatal burthen of Excise;
Whilst nobles act, without one touch of shame,
What men of humble rank would blush to name;
Whilst Honour's placed in highest point of view,
Worshipp'd by those who Justice never knew;
Whilst bubbles of distinction waste in play
The hours of rest, and blunder through the day;
With dice and cards opprobrious vigils keep,
Then turn to ruin empires in their sleep;
Whilst fathers, by relentless passion led,
Doom worthy injured sons to beg their bread,
Merely with ill-got, ill-saved, wealth to grace,
An alien, abject, poor, proud, upstart race!
Whilst Martin flatters only to betray,
And Webb gives up his dirty soul for pay,
Whilst titles serve to hush a villain's fears;
Whilst peers are agents made, and agents peers;
Whilst base betrayers are themselves betray'd,
And makers ruin'd by the thing they made;
Whilst C----, false to God and man, for gold,
Like the old traitor who a Saviour sold,
To shame his master, friend, and father gives;
Whilst Bute remains in power, whilst Holland lives;--
Can Satire want a subject, where Disdain,
By Virtue fired, may point her sharpest strain,
Where, clothed with thunder, Truth may roll along,
And Candour justify the rage of song?
Such things! such men before thee! such an age!
Where Rancour, great as thine, may glut her rage,
And sicken e'en to surfeit; where the pride
Of Satire, pouring down in fullest tide,
May spread wide vengeance round, yet all the while
Justice behold the ruin with a smile;
Whilst I, thy foe misdeem'd, cannot condemn,
Nor disapprove that rage I wish to stem,
Wilt thou, degenerate and corrupted, choose
To soil the credit of thy haughty Muse?
With fallacy, most infamous, to stain
Her truth, and render all her anger vain?
When I beheld thee, incorrect, but bold,
A various comment on the stage unfold;
When players on players before thy satire fell,
And poor Reviews conspired thy wrath to swell;
When states and statesmen next became thy care,
And only kings were safe if thou wast there,
Thy every word I weigh'd in judgment's scale,
And in thy every word found truth prevail;
Why dost thou now to falsehood meanly fly?
Not even Candour can forgive a lie.
Bad as men are, why should thy frantic rhymes
Traffic in slander, and invent new crimes?--
Crimes which, existing only in thy mind,
Weak spleen brings forth to blacken all mankind.
By pleasing hopes we lure the human heart
To practise virtue and improve in art;
To thwart these ends (which, proud of honest fame,
A noble Muse would cherish and inflame)
Thy drudge contrives, and in our full career
Sicklies our hopes with the pale hue of fear;
Tells us that all our labours are in vain;
That what we seek, we never can obtain;
That, dead to virtue, lost to Nature's plan,
Envy possesses the whole race of man;
That worth is criminal, and danger lies,
Danger extreme, in being good and wise.
'Tis a rank falsehood; search the world around,
There cannot be so vile a monster found,
Not one so vile, on whom suspicions fall
Of that gross guilt which you impute to all.
Approved by those who disobey her laws,
Virtue from Vice itself extorts applause:
Her very foes bear witness to her state;
They will not love her, but they cannot hate.
Hate Virtue for herself! with spite pursue
Merit for Merit's sake! might this be true,
I would renounce my nature with disdain,
And with the beasts that perish graze the plain;
Might this be true,--had we so far fill'd up
The measure of our crimes, and from the cup
Of guilt so deeply drank, as not to find,
Thirsting for sin, one drop, one dreg behind;
Quick ruin must involve this flaming ball,
And Providence in justice crush us all.
None but the damn'd, and amongst them the worst,
Those who for double guilt are doubly cursed,
Can be so lost; nor can the worst of all
At once into such deep damnation fall;
By painful slow degrees they reach this crime,
Which e'en in hell must be a work of time.
Cease, then, thy guilty rage, thou wayward son,
With the foul gall of Discontent o'errun;
List to my voice,--be honest, if you can,
Nor slander Nature in her favourite, man.
But if thy spirit, resolute in ill,
Once having err'd, persists in error still,
Go on at large, no longer worth my care,
And freely vent those blasphemies in air,
Which I would stamp as false, though on the tongue
Of angels the injurious slander hung.
Duped by thy vanity (that cunning elf
Who snares the coxcomb to deceive himself),
Or blinded by thy rage, didst thou believe
That we too, coolly, would ourselves deceive?
That we, as sterling, falsehood would admit,
Because 'twas season'd with some little wit?
When fiction rises pleasing to the eye,
Men will believe, because they love the lie;
But Truth herself, if clouded with a frown,
Must have some solemn proof to pass her down.
Hast thou, maintaining that which must disgrace
And bring into contempt the human race,
Hast thou, or canst thou, in Truth's sacred court,
To save thy credit, and thy cause support,
Produce one proof, make out one real ground,
On which so great, so gross a charge to found?
Nay, dost thou know one man (let that appear,
From wilful falsehood I'll proclaim thee clear),
One man so lost, to nature so untrue,
From whom this general charge thy rashness drew?
On this foundation shalt thou stand or fall--
Prove that in one which you have charged on all.
Reason determines, and it must be done;
'Mongst men, or past, or present, name me one.
Hogarth,--I take thee, Candour, at thy word,
Accept thy proffer'd terms, and will be heard;
Thee have I heard with virulence declaim,
Nothing retain'd of Candour but the name;
By thee have I been charged in angry strains
With that mean falsehood which my soul disdains--
Hogarth, stand forth;--Nay, hang not thus aloof--
Now, Candour, now thou shalt receive such proof,
Such damning proof, that henceforth thou shalt fear
To tax my wrath, and own my conduct clear;--
Hogarth, stand forth--I dare thee to be tried
In that great court where Conscience must preside;
At that most solemn bar hold up thy hand;
Think before whom, on what account, you stand;
Speak, but consider well;--from first to last
Review thy life, weigh every action past;
Nay, you shall have no reason to complain--
Take longer time, and view them o'er again.
Canst thou remember from thy earliest youth,
And as thy God must judge thee, speak the truth,
A single instance where, self laid aside,
And Justice taking place of Fear and Pride,
Thou with an equal eye didst Genius view,
And give to Merit what was Merit's due?
Genius and Merit are a sure offence,
And thy soul sickens at the name of sense.
Is any one so foolish to succeed?
On Envy's altar he is doom'd to bleed.
Hogarth, a guilty pleasure in his eyes,
The place of executioner supplies:
See how he gloats, enjoys the sacred feast,
And proves himself by cruelty a priest!
Whilst the weak artist, to thy whims a slave,
Would bury all those powers which Nature gave;
Would suffer blank concealment to obscure
Those rays thy jealousy could not endure;
To feed thy vanity would rust unknown,
And to secure thy credit, blast his own,
In Hogarth he was sure to find a friend;
He could not fear, and therefore might commend.
But when his spirit, roused by honest shame,
Shook off that lethargy, and soar'd to fame;
When, with the pride of man, resolved and strong,
He scorn'd those fears which did his honour wrong,
And, on himself determined to rely,
Brought forth his labours to the public eye,
No friend in thee could such a rebel know;
He had desert, and Hogarth was his foe.
Souls of a timorous cast, of petty name
In Envy's court, not yet quite dead to shame,
May some remorse, some qualms of conscience feel,
And suffer honour to abate their zeal;
But the man truly and completely great,
Allows no rule of action but his hate;
Through every bar he bravely breaks his way,
Passion his principle, and parts his prey.
Mediums in vice and virtue speak a mind
Within the pale of temperance confined;
The daring spirit scorns her narrow schemes,
And, good or bad, is always in extremes.
Man's practice duly weigh'd, through every age
On the same plan hath Envy form'd her rage,
'Gainst those whom fortune hath our rivals made,
In way of science, and in way of trade:
Stung with mean jealousy she arms her spite,
First works, then views their ruin with delight.
Our Hogarth here a grand improver shines,
And nobly on the general plan refines;
He like himself o'erleaps the servile bound;
Worth is his mark, wherever worth is found.
Should painters only his vast wrath suffice?
Genius in every walk is lawful prize:
'Tis a gross insult to his o'ergrown state;
His love to merit is to feel his hate.
When Wilkes, our countryman, our common friend,
Arose, his king, his country to defend;
When tools of power he bared to public view,
And from their holes the sneaking cowards drew;
When Rancour found it far beyond her reach
To soil his honour, and his truth impeach;
What could induce thee, at a time and place
Where manly foes had blush'd to show their face,
To make that effort which must damn thy name,
And sink thee deep, deep in thy grave with shame?
Did virtue move thee? No; 'twas pride, rank pride,
And if thou hadst not done it, thou hadst died.
Malice (who, disappointed of her end,
Whether to work the bane of foe or friend,
Preys on herself, and, driven to the stake,
Gives Virtue that revenge she scorns to take)
Had kill'd thee, tottering on life's utmost verge,
Had Wilkes and Liberty escaped thy scourge.
When that Great Charter, which our fathers bought
With their best blood, was into question brought;
When, big with ruin, o'er each English head
Vile Slavery hung suspended by a thread;
When Liberty, all trembling and aghast,
Fear'd for the future, knowing what was past;
When every breast was chill'd with deep despair,
Till Reason pointed out that Pratt was there;--
Lurking, most ruffian-like, behind the screen,
So placed all things to see, himself unseen,
Virtue, with due contempt, saw Hogarth stand,
The murderous pencil in his palsied hand.
What was the cause of Liberty to him,
Or what was Honour? let them sink or swim,
So he may gratify, without control,
The mean resentments of his selfish soul;
Let Freedom perish, if, to Freedom true,
In the same ruin Wilkes may perish too.
With all the symptoms of assured decay,
With age and sickness pinch'd and worn away,
Pale quivering lips, lank cheeks, and faltering tongue,
The spirits out of tune, the nerves unstrung,
Thy body shrivell'd up, thy dim eyes sunk
Within their sockets deep, thy weak hams shrunk,
The body's weight unable to sustain,
The stream of life scarce trembling through the vein,
More than half kill'd by honest truths which fell,
Through thy own fault, from men who wish'd thee well--
Canst thou, e'en thus, thy thoughts to vengeance give,
And, dead to all things else, to malice live?
Hence, dotard, to thy closet; shut thee in;
By deep repentance wash away thy sin;
From haunts of men to shame and sorrow fly,
And, on the verge of death, learn how to die!
Vain exhortation! wash the Ethiop white,
Discharge the leopard's spots, turn day to night,
Control the course of Nature, bid the deep
Hush at thy pigmy voice her waves to sleep--
Perform things passing strange, yet own thy art
Too weak to work a change in such a heart;
That Envy, which was woven in the frame
At first, will to the last remain the same.
Reason may droop, may die; but Envy's rage
Improves by time, and gathers strength from age.
Some, and not few, vain triflers with the pen,
Unread, unpractised in the ways of men,
Tell us that Envy, who, with giant stride,
Stalks through the vale of life by Virtue's side,
Retreats when she hath drawn her latest breath,
And calmly hears her praises after death.
To such observers Hogarth gives the lie;
Worth may be hearsed, but Envy cannot die;
Within the mansion of his gloomy breast,
A mansion suited well to such a guest,
Immortal, unimpair'd, she rears her head,
And damns alike the living and the dead.
Oft have I known thee, Hogarth, weak and vain,
Thyself the idol of thy awkward strain,
Through the dull measure of a summer's day,
In phrase most vile, prate long, long hours away,
Whilst friends with friends, all gaping sit, and gaze,
To hear a Hogarth babble Hogarth's praise.
But if athwart thee Interruption came,
And mention'd with respect some ancient's name,
Some ancient's name who, in the days of yore,
The crown of Art with greatest honour wore,
How have I seen thy coward cheek turn pale,
And blank confusion seize thy mangled tale!
How hath thy jealousy to madness grown,
And deem'd his praise injurious to thy own!
Then without mercy did thy wrath make way,
And arts and artists all became thy prey;
Then didst thou trample on establish'd rules,
And proudly levell'd all the ancient schools;
Condemn'd those works, with praise through ages graced,
Which you had never seen, or could not taste;
But would mankind have true perfection shown,
It must be found in labours of my own:
I dare to challenge, in one single piece,
The united force of Italy and Greece.
Thy eager hand the curtain then undrew,
And brought the boasted masterpiece to view.
Spare thy remarks--say not a single word--
The picture seen, why is the painter heard?
Call not up shame and anger in our cheeks;
Without a comment Sigismunda speaks.
Poor Sigismunda! what a fate is thine!
Dryden, the great high-priest of all the Nine,
Revived thy name, gave what a Muse could give,
And in his numbers bade thy memory live;
Gave thee those soft sensations which might move
And warm the coldest anchorite to love;
Gave thee that virtue, which could curb desire,
Refine and consecrate love's headstrong fire;
Gave thee those griefs, which made the Stoic feel,
And call'd compassion forth from hearts of steel;
Gave thee that firmness, which our sex may shame,
And make man bow to woman's juster claim;
So that our tears, which from compassion flow,
Seem to debase thy dignity of woe.
But, oh, how much unlike! how fallen! how changed!
How much from Nature and herself estranged!
How totally deprived of all the powers
To show her feelings, and awaken ours,
Doth Sigismunda now devoted stand,
The helpless victim of a dauber's hand!
But why, my Hogarth, such a progress made,
So rare a pattern for the sign-post trade,
In the full force and whirlwind of thy pride,
Why was heroic painting laid aside?
Why is it not resumed? thy friends at court,
Men all in place and power, crave thy support;
Be grateful then for once, and through the field
Of politics thy epic pencil wield;
Maintain the cause, which they, good lack! avow,
And would maintain too, but they know not how.
Through every pannel let thy virtue tell
How Bute prevail'd, how Pitt and Temple fell;
How England's sons (whom they conspired to bless.
Against our will, with insolent success)
Approve their fall, and with addresses run--
How got, God knows--to hail the Scottish sun;
Point out our fame in war, when vengeance, hurl'd
From the strong arm of Justice, shook the world;
Thine, and thy country's honour to increase,
Point out the honours of succeeding peace;
Our moderation, Christian-like, display,
Show what we got, and what we gave away;
In colours, dull and heavy as the tale,
Let a state-chaos through the whole prevail.
But, of events regardless, whilst the Muse,
Perhaps with too much heat, her theme pursues;
Whilst her quick spirits rouse at Freedom's call,
And every drop of blood is turn'd to gall;
Whilst a dear country, and an injured friend,
Urge my strong anger to the bitterest end;
Whilst honest trophies to Revenge are raised,
Let not one real virtue pass unpraised;
Justice with equal course bids Satire flow,
And loves the virtue of her greatest foe.
Oh! that I here could that rare virtue mean,
Which scorns the rule of envy, pride, and spleen,
Which springs not from the labour'd works of art,
But hath its rise from Nature in the heart;
Which in itself with happiness is crown'd,
And spreads with joy the blessing all around!
But truth forbids, and in these simple lays,
Contented with a different kind of praise,
Must Hogarth stand; that praise which Genius gives,
In which to latest time the artist lives,
But not the man; which, rightly understood,
May make us great, but cannot make us good:
That praise be Hogarth's; freely let him wear
The wreath which Genius wove, and planted there:
Foe as I am, should Envy tear it down,
Myself would labour to replace the crown.
In walks of humour, in that cast of style,
Which, probing to the quick, yet makes us smile;
In comedy, his natural road to fame,--
Nor let me call it by a meaner name,
Where a beginning, middle, and an end,
Are aptly join'd; where parts on parts depend,
Each made for each, as bodies for their soul,
So as to form one true and perfect whole;
Where a plain story to the eye is told,
Which we conceive the moment we behold,--
Hogarth unrivall'd stands, and shall engage
Unrivall'd praise to the most distant age.
How couldst thou, then, to shame perversely run,
And tread that path which Nature bade thee shun?
Why did ambition overleap her rules,
And thy vast parts become the sport of fools?
By different methods different men excel;
But where is he who can do all things well?
Humour thy province, for some monstrous crime
Pride struck thee with the frenzy of sublime;
But, when the work was finish'd, could thy mind
So partial be, and to herself so blind,
What with contempt all view'd, to view with awe,
Nor see those faults which every blockhead saw?
Blush, thou vain man! and if desire of fame,
Founded on real art, thy thoughts inflame,
To quick destruction Sigismunda give,
And let her memory die, that thine may live.
But should fond Candour, for her mercy sake,
With pity view, and pardon this mistake;
Or should Oblivion, to thy wish most kind,
Wipe off that stain, nor leave one trace behind;
Of arts despised, of artists, by thy frown
Awed from just hopes, of rising worth kept down,
Of all thy meanness through this mortal race,
Canst thou the living memory erase?
Or shall not vengeance follow to the grave,
And give back just that measure which you gave?
With so much merit, and so much success,
With so much power to curse, so much to bless,
Would he have been man's friend, instead of foe,
Hogarth had been a little god below.
Why, then, like savage giants, famed of old,
Of whom in Scripture story we are told,
Dost thou in cruelty that strength employ,
Which Nature meant to save, not to destroy?
Why dost thou, all in horrid pomp array'd,
Sit grinning o'er the ruins thou hast made?
Most rank ill-nature must applaud thy art,
But even Candour must condemn thy heart.
For me, who, warm and zealous for my friend,
In spite of railing thousands, will commend;
And no less warm and zealous 'gainst my foes,
Spite of commending thousands, will oppose,
I dare thy worst, with scorn behold thy rage,
But with an eye of pity view thy age;
Thy feeble age, in which, as in a glass,
We see how men to dissolution pass.
Thou wretched being, whom, on Reason's plan,
So changed, so lost, I cannot call a man,
What could persuade thee, at this time of life,
To launch afresh into the sea of strife?
Better for thee, scarce crawling on the earth,
Almost as much a child as at thy birth,
To have resign'd in peace thy parting breath,
And sunk unnoticed in the arms of Death.
Why would thy gray, gray hairs resentment brave,
Thus to go down with sorrow to the grave?
Now, by my soul! it makes me blush to know,
My spirit could descend to such a foe:
Whatever cause the vengeance might provoke,
It seems rank cowardice to give the stroke.
Sure 'tis a curse which angry fates impose,
To mortify man's arrogance, that those
Who're fashion'd of some better sort of clay,
Much sooner than the common herd decay.
What bitter pangs must humbled Genius feel,
In their last hours to view a Swift and Steele!
How must ill-boding horrors fill her breast,
When she beholds men mark'd above the rest
For qualities most dear, plunged from that height,
And sunk, deep sunk, in second childhood's night!
Are men, indeed, such things? and are the best
More subject to this evil than the rest,
To drivel out whole years of idiot breath,
And sit the monuments of living death?
Oh, galling circumstance to human pride!
Abasing thought, but not to be denied!
With curious art the brain, too finely wrought,
Preys on herself, and is destroy'd by thought.
Constant attention wears the active mind,
Blots out her powers, and leaves a blank behind.
But let not youth, to insolence allied,
In heat of blood, in full career of pride,
Possess'd of genius, with unhallow'd rage
Mock the infirmities of reverend age:
The greatest genius to this fate may bow;
Reynolds, in time, may be like Hogarth now.
Charles Churchill's Other Poems
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