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


Satires, Epistles, and Odes of Horace Imitated. The Second Epistle of the Second Book of Horace

Ludentis speciem dabit, et torquebitur.—HOR.

DEAR COLONEL, Cobham’s and your country’s friend,

You love a verse; take such as I can send.

A Frenchman comes, presents you with his boy,

Bows and begins—‘This lad, sir, is of Blois:

Observe his shape how clean! his locks how curl’d.

My only son, I ’d have him see the world:

His French is pure; his voice too—you shall hear—

Sir, he ’s your slave for twenty pound a year.

Mere wax as yet, you fashion him with ease,

Your barber, cook, upholst’rer; what you please:

A perfect genius at an opera song—

To say too much might do my honour wrong.

Take him with all his virtues on my word;

His whole ambition was to serve a Lord.

But, Sir, to you with what would I not part?

Tho’, faith, I fear, ’t will break his mother’s heart.

Once (and but once) I caught him in a lie,

And then, unwhipp’d, he had the grace to cry:

The fault he has I fairly shall reveal

(Could you o’erlook but that), it is—to steal.’

If, after this, you took the graceless lad,

Could you complain, my friend, he prov’d so bad?

Faith, in such case, if you should prosecute,

I think Sir Godfrey should decide the suit;

Who sent the thief that stole the cash away,

And punish’d him that put it in his way.

Consider then, and judge me in this light;

I told you when I went I could not write;

You said the same; and are you discontent

With laws to which you gave your own assent?

Nay, worse, to ask for verse at such a time!

D’ ye think me good for nothing but to rhyme?

In Anna’s wars a Soldier, poor and old,

Had dearly earn’d a little purse of gold:

Tired in a tedious march, one luckless night

He slept, (poor dog!) and lost it to a doit.

This put the man in such a desp’rate mind,

Between revenge, and grief, and hunger join’d

Against the foe, himself, and all mankind,

He leap’d the trenches, scaled a castle wall,

Tore down a standard, took the fort and all.

‘Prodigious well!’ his great commander cried,

Gave him much praise, and some reward beside.

Next pleas’d His Excellence a town to batter

(Its name I know not, and ’t is no great matter);

‘Go on, my friend (he cried), see yonder walls!

Advance and conquer! go where Glory calls!

More honours, more rewards, attend the brave.’

Don’t you remember what reply he gave?—

‘D’ ye think me, noble Gen’ral, such a sot?

Let him take castles who has ne’er a groat.’

Bred up at home, full early I begun

To read in Greek the wrath of Peleus’ son:

Besides, my father taught me from a lad

The better art, to know the good from bad

(And little sure imported to remove,

To hunt for truth in Maudlin’s learned grove).

But knottier points we knew not half so well,

Deprived us soon of our paternal cell;

And certain laws, by suff’rers thought unjust,

Denied all posts of profit or of trust.

Hopes after hopes of pious papists fail’d,

While mighty William’s thund’ring arm prevail’d;

For right hereditary tax’d and fin’d

He stuck to poverty with peace of mind;

And me, the Muses help’d to undergo it;

Convict a Papist he, and I a Poet.

But (thanks to Homer) since I live and thrive,

Indebted to no prince or peer alive,

Sure I should want the care of ten Monroes,

If I would scribble rather than repose.

Years foll’wing years steal something ev’ry day,

At last they steal us from ourselves away;

In one our frolics, one amusements end,

In one a Mistress drops, in one a Friend.

This subtle thief of life, this paltry time,

What will it leave me if it snatch my rhyme?

If ev’ry wheel of that unwearied mill

That turn’d ten thousand verses, now stands still?

But, after all, what would ye have me do,

When out of twenty I can please not two?

When this Heroics only deigns to praise,

Sharp Satire that, and that Pindaric lays?

One likes the pheasant’s wing, and one the leg;

The vulgar boil, the learned roast an egg:

Hard task to hit the palate of such guests,

When Oldfield loves what Dartineuf detests!

But grant I may relapse, for want of grace,

Again to rhyme, can London be the place?

Who there his muse, or self, or soul attends,

In Crowds, and Courts, Law, Bus’ness, Feasts, and Friends?

My counsel sends to execute a deed:

A poet begs me I will hear him read.

In Palace yard at nine you ’ll find me there—

At ten, for certain, sir, in Bloomsbury-square—

Before the Lords at twelve my cause comes on—

There ’s a rehearsal, Sir, exact at one.—

‘Oh! but a Wit can study in the streets,

And raise his mind above the mob he meets.’

Not quite so well, however, as one ought:

A hackney-coach may chance to spoil a thought,

And then a nodding beam, or pig of lead,

God knows, may hurt the very ablest head.

Have you not seen, at Guildhall’s narrow pass,

Two Aldermen dispute it with an Ass?

And Peers give way, exalted as they are,

Ev’n to their own s-r-v—nce in a car?

Go, lofty Poet, and in such a crowd

Sing thy sonorous verse—but not aloud.

Alas! to grottos and to groves we run,

To ease and silence, ev’ry Muse’s son:

Blackmore himself, for any grand effort

Would drink and doze at Tooting or Earl’s-court.

How shall I rhyme in this eternal roar?

How match the bards whom none e’er match’d before?

The man who, stretch’d in Isis’ calm retreat,

To books and study gives sev’n years complete,

See! strew’d with learned dust, his nightcap on,

He walks an object new beneath the sun!

The boys flock round him, and the people stare:

So stiff, so mute; some Statue you would swear

Stept from its pedestal to take the air!

And here, while town, and court, and city roars,

With Mobs, and Duns, and Soldiers, at their doors,

Shall I, in London, act this idle part,

Composing songs for fools to get by heart?

The Temple late two brother sergeants saw,

Who deem’d each other oracles of law;

With equal talents these congenial souls,

One lull’d th’ Exchequer, and one stunn’d the Rolls;

Each had a gravity would make you split,

And shook his head at Murray as a wit;

’T was, ‘Sir, your law’—and ‘Sir, your eloquence,’

‘Yours, Cowper’s manner’—and ‘Yours, Talbot’s sense.’

Thus we dispose of all poetic merit,

Yours Milton’s genius, and mine Homer’s spirit.

Call Tibbald Shakespeare, and he ’ll swear the Nine,

Dear Cibber! never match’d one ode of thine.

Lord! how we strut thro’ Merlin’s Cave, to see

No poets there but Stephen, you, and me.

Walk with respect behind, while we at ease

Weave laurel crowns, and take what names we please.

‘My dear Tibullus! (if that will not do)

Let me be Horace, and be Ovid you:

Or, I ’m content, allow me Dryden’s strains,

And you shall rise up Otway for your pains.’

Much do I suffer, much, to keep in peace

This jealous, waspish, wronghead, rhyming race;

And much must flatter, if the whim should bite

To court applause by printing what I write:

But let the fit pass o’er; I ’m wise enough

To stop my ears to their confounded stuff.

In vain bad rhymers all mankind reject,

They treat themselves with most profound respect;

’T is to small purpose that you hold your tongue,

Each, prais’d within, is happy all day long:

But how severely with themselves proceed

The men who write such verse as we can read?

Their own strict judges, not a word they spare

That wants or force, or light, or weight, or care;

Howe’er unwillingly it quits its place,

Nay, tho’ at Court (perhaps) it may find grace.

Such they ’ll degrade; and, sometimes in its stead,

In downright charity revive the dead;

Mark where a bold expressive phrase appears,

Bright thro’ the rubbish of some hundred years;

Command old words, that long have slept, to wake,

Words that wise Bacon or brave Raleigh spake;

Or bid the new be English ages hence

(For Use will father what ’s begot by Sense);

Pour the full tide of eloquence along,

Serenely pure, and yet divinely strong,

Rich with the treasures of each foreign tongue;

Prune the luxuriant, the uncouth refine,

But show no mercy to an empty line;

Then polish all with so much life and ease,

You think ’t is Nature, and a knack to please;

But ease in writing flows from Art, not Chance,

As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.

If such the plague and pains to write by rule,

Better (say I) be pleas’d, and play the fool;

Call, if you will, bad rhyming a disease,

It gives men happiness, or leaves them ease.

There lived in primo Georgii (they record)

A worthy member, no small fool, a Lord;

Who, tho’ the House was up, delighted sate,

Heard, noted, answer’d, as in full debate:

In all but this a man of sober life,

Fond of his friend, and civil to his wife;

Not quite a madman tho’ a pasty fell,

And much too wise to walk into a well.

Him the damn’d doctors and his friends immured,

They bled, they cupp’d, they purged; in short they cured;

Whereat the gentleman began to stare—

‘My friends! (he cried) pox take you for your care!

That, from a patriot of distinguish’d note,

Have bled and purged me to a simple vote.’

Well, on the whole, plain prose must be my fate:

Wisdom (curse on it!) will come soon or late.

There is a time when poets will grow dull:

I ’ll ev’n leave verses to the boys at school.

To rules of poetry no more confin’d,

I ’ll learn to smooth and harmonize my mind,

Teach ev’ry thought within its bounds to roll,

And keep the equal measure of the soul.

Soon as I enter at my country door,

My mind resumes the thread it dropt before;

Thoughts which at Hyde-park Corner I forgot,

Meet and rejoin me in the pensive grot:

There all alone, and compliments apart,

I ask these sober questions of my heart:

If, when the more you drink the more you crave,

You tell the doctor; when the more you have

The more you want, why not, with equal ease,

Confess as well your folly as disease?

The heart resolves this matter in a trice,

‘Men only feel the smart, but not the vice.

When golden angels cease to cure the evil,

You give all royal witchcraft to the devil:

When servile Chaplains cry, that birth and place

Endue a Peer with Honour, Truth, and Grace,

Look in that breast, most dirty D[uke]! be fair,

Say, can you find out one such lodger there?

Yet still, not heeding what your heart can teach,

You go to church to hear these flatt’rers preach.

Indeed, could wealth bestow or Wit or Merit,

A grain of Courage, or a spark of Spirit,

The wisest man might blush, I must agree,

If D[evonshire] lov’d sixpence more than he.

If there be truth in law, and use can give

A property, that ’s yours on which you live.

Delightful Abs-court, if its fields afford

Their fruits to you, confesses you its lord:

All Worldly’s hens, nay, partridge, sold to town,

His venison too, a guinea makes your own:

He bought at thousands what with better wit

You purchase as you want, and bit by bit:

Now, or long since, what diff’rence will be found?

You pay a penny, and he paid a pound.

Heathcote himself, and such large-acred men,

Lords of fat E’sham, or of Lincoln Fen,

Buy every stick of wood that lends them heat,

Buy every pullet they afford to eat;

Yet these are wights who fondly call their own

Half that the Devil o’erlooks from Lincoln town.

The laws of God, as well as of the land,

Abhor a perpetuity should stand:

Estates have wings, and hang in Fortune’s power,

Loose on the point of ev’ry wav’ring hour,

Ready by force, or of your own accord,

By sale, at least by death, to change their lord.

Man? and for ever? Wretch! what wouldst thou have?

Heir urges heir, like wave impelling wave.

All vast possessions (just the same the case

Whether you call them Villa, Park, or Chase),

Alas, my BATHURST! what will they avail?

Join Cotswood hills to Saperton’s fair dale;

Let rising granaries and temples here,

There mingled farms and pyramids, appear;

Link towns to towns with avenues of oak,

Enclose whole towns in walls; ’t is all a joke!

Inexorable death shall level all,

And trees, and stones, and farms, and farmer fall.

Gold, silver, ivory, vases sculptured high,

Paint, marble, gems, and robes of Persian dye,

There are who have not—and, thank Heav’n, there are

Who, if they have not, think not worth their care.

Talk what you will of Taste, my friend, you ’ll find

Two of a face as soon as of a mind.

Why, of two brothers, rich and restless one

Ploughs, burns, manures, and toils from sun to sun,

The other slights, for women, sports, and wines,

All Townshend’s turnips, and all Grosvenor’s mines:

Why one, like Bubb, with pay and scorn content,

Bows and votes on in Court and Parliament;

One, driv’n by strong benevolence of soul,

Shall fly, like Oglethorpe, from pole to pole;

Is known alone to that directing Power

Who forms the genius in the natal hour;

That God of Nature, who, within us still,

Inclines our action, not constrains our will;

Various of temper, as of face or frame,

Each individual: His great end the same.

Yes, Sir, how small soever be my heap,

A part I will enjoy as well as keep.

My heir may sigh, and think it want of grace

A man so poor would live without a place;

But sure no statute in his favour says,

How free or frugal I shall pass my days;

I who at some times spend, at others spare,

Divided between carelessness and care.

’T is one thing, madly to disperse my store;

Another, not to heed to treasure more;

Glad, like a boy, to snatch the first good day,

And pleas’d, if sordid want be far away.

What is ’t to me (a passenger, God wot)

Whether my vessel be first-rate or not?

The ship itself may make a better figure,

But I that sail, am neither less nor bigger.

I neither strut with ev’ry fav’ring breath,

Nor strive with all the tempest in my teeth;

In Power, Wit, Figure, Virtue, Fortune, placed

Behind the foremost, and before the last.

‘But why all this of Av’rice? I have none.’

I wish you joy, sir, of a tyrant gone:

But does no other lord it at this hour,

As wild and mad? the avarice of Pow’r?

Does neither Rage inflame nor Fear appall?

Not the black fear of Death, that saddens all?

With terrors round, can Reason hold her throne,

Despise the known, nor tremble at th’ unknown?

Survey both worlds, intrepid and entire,

In spite of witches, devils, dreams, and fire?

Pleas’d to look forward, pleas’d to look behind,

And count each birthday with a grateful mind?

Has life no sourness, drawn so near its end?

Canst thou endure a foe, forgive a friend?

Has age but melted the rough parts away,

As winter fruits grow mild ere they decay?

Or will you think, my friend! your bus’ness done,

When of a hundred thorns you pull out one?

Learn to live well, or fairly make your will;

You ’ve play’d and lov’d, and ate and drank, your fill.

Walk sober off, before a sprightlier age

Comes titt’ring on, and shoves you from the stage;

Leave such to trifle with more grace and ease,

Whom Folly pleases, and whose follies please.