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An Epistle To William Hogarth.

Charles Churchill 1731 (Westminster) – 1764 (Boulogne-sur-Mer)

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'sheart a Dashwood'shead;
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 Nortonstrike thy ear,
And the pale Mansfieldchill 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'sshade;
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; 0
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 si
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

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Charles Churchill

Lieutenant General Charles Churchill was a British Army General and a Member of Parliament. more…

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    "An Epistle To William Hogarth." Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 26 Sep. 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/54869/an-epistle-to-william-hogarth.>.

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