Epistles To Mr. Pope. Epistle I.

Concerning the Authors of the Age. 1730.
Whilst you at Twickenham plan the future wood,
Or turn the volumes of the wise and good,
Our senate meets; at parties, parties bawl,
And pamphlets stun the streets, and load the stall;
So rushing tides bring things obscene to light,
Foul wrecks emerge, and dead dogs swim in sight;
The civil torrent foams, the tumult reigns,
And Codrus' prose works up, and Lico's strains.
Lo! what from cellars rise, what rush from high,
Where speculation roosted near the sky;
Letters, essays, sock, buskin, satire, song,
And all the garret thunders on the throng!
O Pope! I burst; nor can, nor will, refrain;
I'll write; let others, in their turn, complain:
Truce, truce, ye Vandals! my tormented ear
Less dreads a pillory than a pamphleteer;
I've heard myself to death; and, plagu'd each hour,
Shan't I return the vengeance in my power?
For who can write the true absurd like me?----
Thy pardon, Codrus! who, I mean, but thee?
Pope! if like mine, or Codrus', were thy style,
The blood of vipers had not stain'd thy file;
Merit less solid, less despite had bred;
They had not bit, and then they had not bled.
Fame is a public mistress, none enjoys,
But, more or less, his rival's peace destroys;
With fame, in just proportion, envy grows;
The man that makes a character, makes foes:
Slight, peevish insects round a genius rise,
As a bright day awakes the world of flies;
With hearty malice, but with feeble wing,
(To show they live) they flutter, and they sting:
But as by depredations wasps proclaim
The fairest fruit, so these the fairest fame.
Shall we not censure all the motley train,
Whether with ale irriguous, or champaign?
Whether they tread the vale of prose, or climb,
And whet their appetites on cliffs of rhyme;
The college sloven, or embroider'd spark;
The purple prelate, or the parish clerk;
The quiet quidnunc, or demanding prig;
The plaintiff tory, or defendant whig;
Rich, poor, male, female, young, old, gay, or sad;
Whether extremely witty, or quite mad;
Profoundly dull, or shallowly polite;
Men that read well, or men that only write;
Whether peers, porters, tailors, tune the reeds,
And measuring words to measuring shapes succeeds;
For bankrupts write, when ruin'd shops are shut,
As maggots crawl from out a perish'd nut.
His hammer this, and that his trowel quits,
And, wanting sense for tradesmen, serve for wits.
By thriving men subsists each other trade;
Of every broken craft a writer's made:
Thus his material, paper, takes its birth
From tatter'd rags of all the stuff on earth.
Hail, fruitful isle! to thee alone belong
Millions of wits, and brokers in old song:
Thee well a land of liberty we name,
Where all are free to scandal and to shame;
Thy sons, by print, may set their hearts at ease,
And be mankind's contempt, whene'er they please;
Like trodden filth, their vile and abject sense
Is unperceiv'd, but when it gives offence:
Their heavy prose our injur'd reason tires;
Their verse immoral kindles loose desires:
Our age they puzzle, and corrupt our prime,
Our sport and pity, punishment and crime.
What glorious motives urge our authors on,
Thus to undo, and thus to be undone?
One loses his estate, and down he sits,
To show (in vain!) he still retains his wits:
Another marries, and his dear proves keen;
He writes as an hypnotic for the spleen:
Some write, confin'd by physic; some, by debt;
Some, for 'tis Sunday; some, because 'tis wet;
Through private pique some do the public right,
And love their king and country out of spite:
Another writes because his father writ,
And proves himself a bastard by his wit.
Has Lico learning, humour, thought profound?
Neither: why write then? He wants twenty pound:
His belly, not his brains, this impulse give;
He'll grow immortal; for he cannot live:
He rubs his awful front, and takes his ream,
With no provision made, but of his theme;
Perhaps a title has his fancy smit,
Or a quaint motto, which he thinks has wit:
He writes, in inspiration puts his trust,
Tho' wrong his thoughts, the gods will make them just;
Genius directly from the gods descends,
And who by labour would distrust his friends?
Thus having reason'd with consummate skill,
In immortality he dips his quill:
And, since blank paper is denied the press,
He mingles the whole alphabet by guess:
In various sets, which various words compose,
Of which, he hopes, mankind the meaning knows.
So sounds spontaneous from the sibyl broke,
Dark to herself the wonders which she spoke;
The priests found out the meaning, if they could;
And nations star'd at what none understood.
Clodio dress'd, danc'd, drank, visited, (the whole
And great concern of an immortal soul!)
Oft have I said, "Awake! exist! and strive
For birth! nor think to loiter is to live!"
As oft I overheard the demon say,
Who daily met the loit'rer in his way,
"I'll meet thee, youth, at White's:" the youth replies,
"I'll meet thee there," and falls his sacrifice;
His fortune squander'd, leaves his virtue bare
To ev'ry bribe, and blind to ev'ry snare:
Clodio for bread his indolence must quit,
Or turn a soldier, or commence a wit.
Such heroes have we! all, but life, they stake;
How must Spain tremble, and the German shake!
Such writers have we! all, but sense, they print;
Ev'n George's praise is dated from the mint.
In arms contemptible, in arts profane,
Such swords, such pens, disgrace a monarch's reign.
Reform your lives before you thus aspire,
And steal (for you can steal) celestial fire.
O the just contrast! O the beauteous strife!
'Twixt their cool writings, and pindaric life:
They write with phlegm, but then they live with fire;
They cheat the lender, and their works the buyer.
I reverence misfortune, not deride;
I pity poverty, but laugh at pride:
For who so sad, but must some mirth confess
At gay Castruchio's miscellaneous dress?
Though there's but one of the dull works he wrote,
There's ten editions of his old lac'd coat.
These, nature's commoners, who want a home,
Claim the wide world for their majestic dome;
They make a private study of the street;
And, looking full on every man they meet,
Run souse against his chaps; who stands amaz'd
To find they did not see, but only gaz'd.
How must these bards be rapt into the skies!
you need not read, you feel their ecstasies.
Will they persist? 'Tis Madness; Lintot, run,
See them confin'd--"O that's already done."
Most, as by leases, by the works they print,
Have took, for life, possession of the mint.
If you mistake, and pity these poor men,
est Ulubris, they cry, and write again.
Such wits their nuisance manfully expose,
And then pronounce just judges learning's foes;
O frail conclusion; the reverse is true;
If foes to learning, they'd be friends to you:
Treat them, ye judges! with an honest scorn,
And weed the cockle from the generous corn:
There's true good nature in your disrepect;
In justice to the good, the bad neglect:
For immortality, if hardships plead,
It is not theirs who write, but ours who read.
But, O! what wisdom can convince a fool,
But that 'tis dulness to conceive him dull?
'Tis sad experience takes the censor's part,
Conviction, not from reason, but from smart.
a virgin author, recent from the press,
The sheets yet wet, applauds his great success;
Surveys them, reads them, takes their charms to bed,
Those in his hand, and glory in his head;
'Tis joy too great; a fever of delight!
His heart beats thick, nor close his eyes all night:
But rising the next morn to clasp his fame,
He finds that without sleeping he could dream:
So sparks, they say, take goddesses to bed,
And find next day the devil in their stead.
In vain advertisements the town o'erspread;
They're epitaphs, and the work is dead.
Who press for fame, but small recruits will raise;
'Tis volunteers alone can give the bays.
A famous author visits a great man,
Of his immortal work displays the plan,
And says, "Sir, I'm your friend; all fears dismiss;
Your glory, and my own, shall live by this;
Your power is fixt, your fame thro' time convey'd,
And Britain Europe's queen--if I am paid."
A statesman has his answer in a trice:
"Sir, such a genius is beyond all price;
What man can pay for this?"--Away he turns;
His work is folded, and his bosom burns:
His patron he will patronize no more;
But rushes like a tempest out of door.
Lost is the patriot, and extinct his name!
Out comes the piece, another, and the same;
For A, his magic pen evokes an O,
And turns the tide of Europe on the foe:
He rams his quill with scandal, and with scoff;
But 'tis so very foul, it wont go off:
Dreadful his thunders, while unprinted, roar;
But when once publish'd, they are heard no more.
Thus distant bugbears fright, but, nearer draw,
The block's a block, and turns to mirth your awe.
Can those oblige, whose heads and hearts are such?
No; every party's tainted by their touch.
Infected persons fly each public place;
And none, or enemies alone, embrace:
To the foul fiend their every passion's sold:
They love, and hate, extempore, for gold:
What image of their fury can we form?
Dulness and rage, a puddle in a storm.
Rest they in peace? If you are pleas'd to buy,
To swell your sails, like Lapland winds, they fly:
Write they with rage? The tempest quickly flags;
A state Ulysses tames 'em with his bags;
Let him be what he will, Turk, Pagan, Jew:
For Christian ministers of state are few.
Behind the curtain lurks the fountain head,
That pours his politics through pipes of lead,
Which far and near ejaculate, and spout
O'er tea and coffee, poison to the rout:
But when they have bespatter'd all they may,
The statesman throws his filthy squirts away!
With golden forceps, these, another takes,
And state elixirs of the vipers makes.
The richest statesman wants wherewith to pay
A servile sycophant, if well they weigh
How much it costs the wretch to be so base;
Nor can the greatest powers enough disgrace,
Enough chastise, such prostitute applause,
If well they weigh how much it stains their cause.
But are our writers ever in the wrong?
Does virtue ne'er seduce the venal tongue?
Yes; if well brib'd, for virtue's self they fight;
Still in the wrong, tho' champions for the right:
Whoe'er their crimes for interest only quit,
Sin on in virtue, and good deeds commit.
Nought but inconstancy Britannia meets,
And broken faith in their abandon'd sheets;
From the same hand how various is the page!
What civil war their brother pamphlets wage!
Tracts battle tracts, self-contradictions glare;
Say, is this lunacy?--I wish it were.
If such our writers, startled at the sight,
Felons may bless their stars they cannot write!
How justly Proteus' transmigrations fit
The monstrous changes of a modern wit!
Now, such a gentle stream of eloquence
As seldom rises to the verge of sense;
Now, by mad rage, transform'd into a flame,
Which yet fit engines, well applied, can tame;
Now, on immodest trash, the swine obscene,
Invites the town to sup at Drury Lane;
A dreadful lion, now he roars at power,
Which sends him to his brothers at the Tower;
He's now a serpent, and his double tongue
Salutes, nay licks, the feet of those he stung;
What knot can bind him, his evasion such?
One knot he well deserves, which might do much.
The flood, flame, swine, the lion, and the snake,
Those fivefold monsters, modern authors make:
The snake reigns most; snakes, Pliny says, are bred
When the brain's perish'd in a human head.
Ye grov'ling, trodden, whipt, stript, turncoat things,
Made up of venom, volumes, stains, and stings!
Thrown from the tree of knowledge, like you, curst
To scribble in the dust, was snake the first.
What if the figure should in fact prove true!
It did in Elkenah, why not in you?
Poor Elkenah, all other changes past,
For bread in Smithfield dragons hist at last,
Spit streams of fire to make the butchers gape,
And found his manners suited to his shape:
Such is the fate of talents misapplied;
So liv'd your prototype; and so he died.
Th' abandon'd manners of our writing train
May tempt mankind to think religion vain;
But in their fate, their habit, and their mien,
That gods there are is eminently seen:
Heaven stands absolv'd by vengeance on their pen,
And marks the murderers of fame from men:
Through meagre jaws they draw their venal breath,
As ghastly as their brothers in Macbeth:
Their feet through faithless leather meet the dirt,
And oftener chang'd their principles than shirt.
The transient vestments of these frugal men,
Hastens to paper for our mirth again:
Too soon (O merry melancholy fate!)
They beg in rhyme, and warble through a grate:
The man lampoon'd forgets it at the sight;
The friend through pity gives, the foe through spite;
And though full conscious of his injur'd purse,
Lintot relents, nor Curll can wish them worse.
So fare the men, who writers dare commence
Without their patent, probity, and sense.
From these, their politics our quidnuncs seek,
And Saturday's the learning of the week:
These labouring wits, like paviours, mend our ways,
With heavy, huge, repeated, flat essays;
Ram their coarse nonsense down, though ne'er so dull;
And hem at every thump upon your skull:
These staunch bred writing hounds begin the cry,
And honest folly echoes to the lie.
O how I laugh, when I a blockhead see,
Thanking a villain for his probity;
Who stretches out a most respectful ear,
With snares for woodcocks in his holy leer:
It tickles thro' my soul to hear the cock's
Sincere encomium on his friend the fox,
Sole patron of his liberties and rights!
While graceless Reynard listens--till he bites.
As when the trumpet sounds, th' o'erloaded state
Discharges all her poor and profligate;
Crimes of all kinds dishonour'd weapons wield,
And prisons pour their filth into the field;
Thus nature's refuse, and the dregs of men,
Compose the black militia of the pen.
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

Modified on March 29, 2023

12:27 min read

Quick analysis:

Scheme Text too long
Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 13,416
Words 2,413
Stanzas 2
Stanza Lengths 1, 310

Edward Young

Edward Young, LVO is the current Deputy Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II. more…

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