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The Muse alone unequal dealt her rage,
And graced with noblest pomp her earliest stage.
Preserved through time, the speaking scenes impart
Each changeful wish of Phædra's tortured heart :
Or paint the curse that mark'd the Theban’s 1 reign,
A bed incestuous, and a father slain.
With kind concern our pitying eyes o'erflow,
Trace the sad tale, and own another's woe.
To Rome removed, with wit secure to please,
The comic sisters kept their native ease :
With jealous fear declining Greece beheld
Her own Menander's art almost excell’d;
But every Muse essay'd to raise in vain
Some labour'd rival of her tragic strain ;
Ilyssus' laurels, though transferr'd with toil,
Droop'd their fair leaves, nor knew th’ unfriendly soil.
As Arts expired, resistless Dulness rose ;
Goths, priests, or Vandals,—all were Learning's foes.
Till Julius ? first recall'd each exiled maid,
And Cosmo own'd them in th' Etrurian shade :
Then, deeply skill'd in love's engaging theme,
The soft Provençal pass'd to Arno's stream :
With graceful ease the wanton lyre he strung,
Sweet flow'd the lays—but love was all he sung.
The gay description could not fail to move;
For, led by Nature, all are friends to love.
But Heaven, still various in its works, decreed
The perfect boast of time should last succeed
The beauteous union must appear at length,
Of Tuscan fancy and Athenian strength :
One greater Muse Eliza's reign adorn,
And even a Shakspeare to her fame be born!
Yet ah! so bright her morning's opening ray,
In vain our Britain hoped an equal day!
No second growth the western isle could bear,
At once exhausted with too rich a year.
Too nicely Jonson knew the critic's part;
Nature in him was almost lost in art.
Of softer mould, the gentle Fletcher came,
The next in order, as the next in name;
With pleased attention 'midst his scenes we find
Each glowing thought that warms the female mind; 60
Each melting sigh, and every tender tear;
The lover's wishes, and the virgin's fear.
His every strain 1 the Smiles and Graces own;
But stronger Shakspeare felt for man alone :
Drawn by his pen, our ruder passions stand
Th’ unrivall’d picture of his early hand.
With gradual steps, and slow, exacter France
Saw Art's fair empire o'er her shores advance :
By length of toil a bright perfection knew,
Correctly bold, and just in all she drew :
Till late Corneille, with Lucan's 3 spirit fired,
Breathed the free strain, as Rome and he inspired :
And classic judgment gain’d to sweet Racine
The temperate strength of Maro's 4 chaster line.
But wilder far the British laurel spread,
And wreaths less artful crown our poet's head.
Yet he alone to every scene could give
Th' historian's truth, and bid the manners live.
1. His every strain :' their characters are thus distinguished by Mr Dryden. -- ? «With gradual steps :' about the time of Shakspeare, the poet Hardy was in great repute in France. He wrote, according to Fontenelle, six hundred plays. The French poets after him applied themselves in general to the correct improvement of the stage, which was almost totally disregarded by those of our own country, Johnson excepted. — 3 Lucan: 'the favourite author of the elder Corneille. - * • Maro : ' Virgil.
Waked at his call I view, with glad surprise,
Majestic forms of mighty monarchs rise.
There Henry's trumpets spread their loud alarms,
And laurellid Conquest waits her hero's arms.
Here gentler Edward claims a pitying sigh,
Scarce born to honours, and so soon to die!
Yet shall thy throne, unhappy infant, bring
No beam of comfort to the guilty king :
The time shall comel when Glo'ster's heart shall bleed
In life's last hours, with horror of the deed;
When dreary visions shall at last present
Thy vengeful image in the midnight tent:
Thy hand unseen the secret death shall bear,
Blunt the weak sword, and break th' oppressive spear!
Where'er we turn, by Fancy charm’d, we find
Some sweet illusion of the cheated mind.
Oft, wild of wing, she calls the soul to rove
With humbler Nature, in the rural grove;
Where swains contented own the quiet scene,
And twilight fairies tread the circled green :
Dress’d by her hand, the woods and valleys smile,
And Spring diffusive decks th’ enchanted isle.
O more than all in powerful genius blest,
Come, take thine empire o'er the willing breast !
Whate'er the wounds this youthful heart shall feel,
Thy songs support me, and thy morals heal !
There every thought the poet's warmth may raise,
There native music dwells in all the lays.
Oh, might some verse with happiest skill persuade
Expressive Picture to adopt thine aid !
What wondrous draughts might rise from every page!
What other Raphaels charm a distant age !
1. The time shall come :'-
• Tempus erit Turno, magno cum optaverit emptum
Intactum pallanta,' &c.
Methinks even now I view some free design, Where breathing Nature lives in
Chaste and subdued, the modest lights decay,
Steal into shades, and mildly melt away.
- And see, where Anthony, 1 in tears approved,
Guards the pale relics of the chief he loved :
O'er the cold corse the warrior seems to bend,
Deep sunk in grief, and mourns his murder'd friend !
Still as they press, he calls on all around,
Lifts the torn robe, and points the bleeding wound. 120
But who is he, 2 whose brows exalted bear
A wrath impatient, and a fiercer air ?
Awake to all that injured worth can feel,
On his own Rome he turns th' avenging steel ;
Yet shall not war's insatiate fury fall
(So Heaven ordains it) on the destined wall.
See the fond mother, 'midst the plaintive train,
Hung on his knees, and prostrate on the plain !
Touch'd to the soul, in vain he strives to hide
The son's affection in the Roman's pride :
O'er all the man conflicting passions rise ;
Rage grasps the sword, while Pity melts the eyes.
Thus, generous critic, as thy bard inspires,
The sister arts shall nurse their drooping fires ;
Each from his scenes her stores alternate bring,
Blend the fair tints, or wake the vocal string :
Those Sibyl-leaves, the sport of every wind
(For poets ever were a careless kind),
By thee disposed, no farther toil demand,
But, just to Nature, own thy forming hand.
So spread o'er Greece, th' harmonious whole unknown, Even Homer's numbers charm’d by parts alone.
Their own Ulysses scarce had wander'd more,
By winds and waters cast on every shore :
When raised by Fate, some former Hanmer join'd
Each beauteous image of the boundless mind;
And bade, like thee, his Athens ever claim
A fond alliance with the Poet's name.
OXFORD, December 3, 1743.
SUNG BY GUIDERUS AND ARVIRAGUS OVER FIDELE,
SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD.
1 To fair Fidele's grassy tomb
Soft maids and village hinds shall bring
Each opening sweet, of earliest bloom,
And rifle all the breathing Spring.
2 No wailing ghost shall dare appear,
To vex with shrieks this quiet grove;
But shepherd lads assemble here,
And melting virgins own their love.
3 No wither'd witch shall here be seen,
No goblins lead their nightly crew;
The female fays shall haunt the green,
And dress thy grave with pearly dew!
4 The redbreast oft at evening hours
Shall kindly lend his little aid,
With hoary moss, and gather'd flowers,
To deck the ground where thou art laid.