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Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Poems: 1713–17

Prologue to the ‘Three Hours after Marriage’

  • Three Hours after Marriage was a dull and unsuccessful farce produced in January, 1717, at the Drury Lane Theatre. Though it was attributed to the joint authorship of Pope, Gay, and Arbuthnot, direct proof is lacking not only of Pope’s share in the play, but of his authorship of the Prologue. Of the latter fact, at least, we have, however, indirect evidence in Pope’s resentment of the ridicule cast by Cibber, in a topical impromptu, upon the play; the incident which first roused Pope’s enmity for Cibber, which resulted in his eventually displacing Theobald as the central figure in The Dunciad.

  • AUTHORS are judged by strange capricious rules,

    The great ones are thought mad, the small ones fools:

    Yet sure the best are most severely fated;

    For Fools are only laugh’d at, Wits are hated.

    Blockheads with reason men of sense abhor;

    But fool ’gainst fool, is barb’rous civil war.

    Why on all Authors then should Critics fall?

    Since some have writ, and shown no wit at all.

    Condemn a play of theirs, and they evade it;

    Cry, ‘Damn not us, but damn the French, who made it.’

    By running goods these graceless Owlers gain;

    Theirs are the rules of France, the plots of Spain:

    But wit, like wine, from happier climates brought,

    Dash’d by these rogues, turns English common draught.

    They pall Molière’s and Lopez’ sprightly strain,

    And teach dull Harlequins to grin in vain.

    How shall our Author hope a gentler fate,

    Who dares most impudently not translate?

    It had been civil, in these ticklish times,

    To fetch his fools and knaves from foreign climes.

    Spaniards and French abuse to the world’s end,

    But spare old England, lest you hurt a friend.

    If any fool is by our satire bit,

    Let him hiss loud, to show you all he ’s hit.

    Poets make characters, as salesmen clothes;

    We take no measure of your Fops and Beaux;

    But here all sizes and all shapes you meet,

    And fit yourselves like chaps in Monmouth Street.

    Gallants, look here! this Foolscap has an air

    Goodly and smart, with ears of Issachar.

    Let no one fool engross it, or confine

    A common blessing! now ’t is yours, now mine.

    But poets in all ages had the care

    To keep this cap for such as will, to wear.

    Our Author has it now (for every Wit

    Of course resign’d it to the next that writ)

    And thus upon the stage ’t is fairly thrown;

    Let him that takes it wear it as his own.