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November 19, 1729.
HE time of the election of Poet Laureate being now at hand, it may be proper to give fome account of the rites and ceremonies anciently used at that folemnity, and only difcontinued through the neglect and degeneracy of later times. These we have extracted from an hiftorian of undoubted credit, a reverend bishop, the learned Paulus Jovius; and are the fame that were practised under the Pontificate of Leo X. the great restorer of learning.
As we now fee an age and a court, that for the encouragement of poetry rivals, if not exceeds, that of this famous Pope, we cannot but wish a restoration of all its honours to poefy; the rather, fince there are fo many parallel circumstances in the perfon who was then honoured with the laurel, and in him, who (in all probability) is now to wear it.
I shall translate my author exactly as I find it in the 82d chapter of his Elogia Vir. Doct. He begins with the character of the Poet himself, who was the original and father of all Laureates, and called Camillo. He was a plain countryman of Apulia (whether a shepherd or thresher is not material). This man (fays Jovius) "excited by the fame of the great encouragement given. "to Poets at Court, and the high honour in which they "were held, came to the city, bringing with him a
"ftrange kind of lyre in his hand, and at least some
twenty thousand of verfes. All the wits and criticks of "the court flocked about him, delighted to see a clown, "with a ruddy, hale complexion, and in his own long "hair, fo top-full of poetry; and at the first fight of " him all agreed he was born to be Poet Laureate*. “He had a most hearty welcome in an island of the "river Tiber (an agreeable place, not unlike our Rich
mond), where he was firft made to eat and drink plentifully, and to repeat his verses to every body. "Then they adorned him with a new and elegant gar
land, compofed of vine leaves, laurel, and braffica "(a fort of cabbage) fo compofed, fays my author, em
blematically, Ut tam falfe quam lepide ejus temulentia, braficae remedio cohibenda, notaretur. He was then "faluted by common confent with the title of archi"poëta, or arch-poet, in the ftyle of thofe days, in 6.6 ours, Poet Laureate. This honour the poor man re"ceived with the moft fenfible demonstrations of joy, "his eyes drunk with tears and gladness +. Next, the "publick acclamation was expreffed in a canticle, which "is tranfmitted to us, as follows:
Salve, brafficea virens corona,
All hail, archpoet, without peer!
"From hence he was conducted in pomp to the Capiteľ " of Rome, mounted on an elephant, through the "fhouts of the populace, where the ceremony ended.”.
* Apulus praepingui vultu alacer, et prolixe comatus, omnino dignus fefta laurea videretur.
+ Menantibus prae gaudio oculis.
The hiftorian tells us further, "That at his intro"duction to Leo, he not only poured forth verses in"numerable, like a torrent, but also fung them with open mouth. Nor was he only once introduced, or on ftated days (like our Laureates), but made a companion "to his mafter, and entertained as one of the inftru"ments of his most elegant pleasures. When the prince
was at table, the poet had his place at the win"dow. When the prince had half* eaten his meat, " he gave with his own hands the reft to the poet. "When the poet drank, it was out of the prince's own flaggon, infomuch (fays the historian) that, through fo great good eating and drinking, he " contracted a moft terrible gout. Sorry I am to relate what follows, but that I cannot leave my reader's curiofity unsatisfied in the catastrophe of this extraordinary man. To use my author's words, which are remarkable, mortuo Leone, profligatifque poëtis, &c.. "When Leo died, and poets were no more," (for I would not understand profligatis literally, as if poetsthen were profligate) this unhappy Laureate was forthwith reduced to return to his country, where, oppreffed with old age and want, he miferably perished in a common hofpital.
We fee from this fad conclufion (which may be of example to the poets of our time) that it were happier to meet with no encouragement at all, to remain at the plough, or other lawful occupation, than to be elevated above their condition, and taken out of the com-mon, means of life, without a furer fupport than the temporary, or, at best, mortal favours of the great. It was doubtless for this confideration, that when the Royal Bounty was lately extended to a rural genius,: care was taken to fettle it upon him for life. And it
hath been the practice of our Princes, never to remove from the flation of Poet Laureate any man, who hath once been chofen, though never so much greater Geniufes might arife in his time. A noble inftance, how much the charity of our monarchs hath exceeded their love of fame.
To come now to the intent of this paper. We have here the whole ancient ceremonial of the Laureate. In the first place, the crown is to be mixed with vineleaves, as the vine is the plant of Bacchus, and full as effential to the honour, as the butt of fack to the falary.
Secondly, the braffica must be made use of as a qualifier of the former. It feems the cabbage was anciently accounted a remedy for drunkenness; a power the French now ascribe to the onion, and ftyle a foup made of it, Soupe d'Yvrogne. I would recommend a large mixture of the braffica, if Mr. DENNIS be chofen; but if Mr. TIBBALD, it is not so neceffary, unlefs the cabbage be fuppofed to fignify the fame thing with refpect to poets as to taylors, viz. ftealing. I fhould judge it not amifs to add another plant to this garland, to wit, ivy: Not only as it anciently belonged to poets in general, but as it is emblematical of the three virtues of a courtpoet in particular; it is creeping, dirty, and dangling.
In the next place, a canticle must be composed and fung in laud and praife of the new poet. If Mr. CIBBER be laureated, it is my opinion no man can write this but himself: And no man, I am fure, can fing it fo affectingly. But what this canticle fhould be, either in his or the other candidate's cafe, I fhall not pretend to determine.
Thirdly, there ought to be a publick fhow, or entry of the poet To settle the order or proceffion of which, Mr. ANSTIS and Mr. DENNIS ought to have a confer
ence. I apprehend here two difficulties: one, of procuring an elephant; the other of teaching the poet to ride him: Therefore I should imagine the next animal in fize or dignity would do beft: either a mule or a large afs; particularly if that noble one could be had, whose portraiture makes fo great an ornament of the Dunciad, and which (unless I am mifinformed) is yet in the park of a nobleman near this city: Unless Mr. CIBBER be the man; who may, with great propriety and beauty, ride on a dragon, if he goes by land; or if he chuse the water, upon one of his own fwans from Cæfar in Egypt.
We have spoken fufficiently of the ceremony; let us now speak of the qualifications and privileges of the Laureate. First, we see he must be able to make verfes extempore, and to pour forth innumerable, if required. In this I doubt Mr. TIBBALD. Secondly, he ought to fing, and intrepidly, patulo ore: Here I confefs the excellency of Mr. CIBBER. Thirdly, he ought to carry a lyre about with him: If a large one be thought too cumbersome, a small one may be contrived to hang. about the neck, like an order; and be very much a grace to the perfon. Fourthly, he ought to have a good ftomach, to eat and drink whatever his betters think fit; and therefore it is in this high office as in many others, no puny constitution can discharge it. I do not think CIBBER or TIBBALD here fo happy: but rather a ftanch, vigorous, feafoned, and dry old gentleman, whom I have in my eye.
I could also wish, at this juncture, fuch a perfon as is truly jealous of the honour and dignity of poetry; no joker, or trifler; but a bard in good earneft; nay, not amifs, if a critick, and the better if a little obftinate. For when we confider what great privileges have been lost from this office (as we fee from the forecited authentick