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An Epistle to Mr. Southerne

Bold is the Muse to leave her humble Cell,
And sing to thee, who know'st to sing so well:
Thee! who to Britain still preserv'st the Crown,
And mak'st her rival Athens in Renown.
Cou'd Sophocles behold in mournful State,
The weeping Graces on Imoinda wait;

Or hear thy Isabella's moving Moan,
Distress'd and lost for Vices not her own;
If Envy cou'd permit, he'd sure agree
To write by Nature were to copy thee:
So full, so fair thy Images are shown,
He by thy Pencil might improve his own.

There was an Age, (its Memory will last!)
Before Italian Airs debauch'd our Taste;
In which the sable Muse with Hopes and Fears,
Fill'd every Breast, and ev'ry Eye with Tears.
But where's that Art, which all our Passions rais'd,
And mov'd the Springs of Nature as it pleas'd?
Our Poets only practise on the Pit,
With florid Lines, and trifling Turns of Wit.
Howe'er 'tis well the present Times can boast,
The Race of Charles's Reign not wholly lost.
Thy Scenes, immortal in their Worth, shall stand
Among the chosen Classics of our Land:

And whilst our Sons are by Tradition taught,
How Barry spoke what Thou and Otway wrote,
They'll think it praise to relish, and repeat,
And own thy Works inimitably great.

Shakespear, the Genius of our Isle, whose Mind
(The universal Mirror of Mankind)
Express'd all Images, enrich'd the Stage,
But sometimes stoop'd to please a barb'rous Age.
When his immortal Bays began to grow,
Rude was the Language, and the Humour low.
He, like the God of Day, was always bright,
But rolling in its Course, his Orb of Light
Was sully'd, and obscur'd, tho' soaring high,
With Spots contracted from the nether Sky.
But whither is th' adventrous Muse betray'd?
Forgive her Rashness, venerable Shade! 50
May Spring with Purple Flow'rs perfume thy Urn,
And Avon with his Greens thy Grave adorn:

Be all thy Faults, whatever Faults there be,
Imputed to the Times, and not to thee.

Some Scions shot from this immortal Root,
Their tops much lower, and less fair the Fruit.
Johnson, the Tribute of my Verse might claim,
Had he not strove to blemish Shakespear's Name.
But, like the radiant Twins that gild the Sphere,
Fletcher and Beaumont next in Pomp appear:
The first a fruitful Vine, in bloomy Pride,
Had been by Superfluity destroy'd;
But that his Friend, judiciously severe,
Prun'd the luxuriant Boughs with artful Care:
On various sounding Harps the Muses play'd,
And sung, and quaff'd their Nectar in the Shade.

Few Moderns in the Lists with these may stand,
For in those Days were Giants in the Land:

Suffice it now by Lineal Right to claim,
And bow with Filial Awe to Shakespear's Fame;
The second Honours are a glorious Name.
Achilles dead, they found no equal Lord,
To wear his Armour, and to wield his Sword.

An Age most odious and accurs'd ensu'd,
Discolour'd with a pious Monarch's Blood:
Whose Fall when first the Tragick Virgin saw,
She fled, and left her Province to the Law.
Her Merry Sister still persu'd the Game,
Her Garb was alter'd, but her Gifts the same.
She first reform'd the Muscles of her Face,
And learnt the solemn Scrue, for Signs of Grace;
Then circumcis'd her Locks, and form'd her Tone,
By humming to a Tabor, and a Drone:
Her Eyes she disciplin'd precisely right,
Both when to wink, and how to turn the white;
Thus banish'd from the Stage, she gravely next
Assum'd a Cloak, and quibbl'd o'er a Text.

But when by Miracles of Mercy shown,
Much-suff'ring Charles regain'd his Father's Throne;
When Peace and Plenty overflow'd the Land,
She strait pull'd off her Sattin Cap, and Band:
Bade Wycherly be bold in her Defence,
With pointed Wit, and Energy of Sense:
Etherege and Sidley join'd him in her Cause,
And all deserv'd, and all receiv'd Applause.

Restor'd with less Success, the Tragic Muse,
Had quite forgot her Style by long Disuse:
She taught her Maximins to rant in Rhime,
Mistaking ratling Nonsense for sublime;
'Till witty Buckingham reform'd her Taste,
1 And sneering sham'd her into Sense at last.
But now relaps'd, she dwindles to a Song,
And weakly warbles on an Eunuch's Tongue;
And with her Minstrelsie may still remain,
'Till Southerne court her to be great again.

Perhaps the Beauties of thy Spartan Dame,
Who (long defrauded of the publick Fame)
Shall, with superior Majesty avow'd,
Shine like a Goddess breaking from a Cloud,
Once more may re-instate her on the Stage,
Her Action graceful, and divine her Rage.

Arts have their Empires, and, like other Stat
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:10 min read

Elijah Fenton

Elijah Fenton was an English poet, biographer and translator. more…

All Elijah Fenton poems | Elijah Fenton Books

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