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ALL human things are subject to decay,
* This is one of the beft, as well as fevereft fatires, ever produced in our language. Mr. Thomas Shadwell is the hero of the piece, and introduced, as if pitched upon, by Flecknoe, to fucceed him in the throne of dullnefs; for Flecknoe was never poet-laureat, as has been ignorantly afferted in Cibber's Lives of the Poets.
Richard Flecknoe, Efq; from whom this poem derives its name, was an Irish priest, who had, according to his own declaration, laid afide the mechanic part of the priesthood. He was well known at court; yet, out of four plays which he wrote, could get only one of them acted, and that was damned. "He has," fays Langbaine, "publifhed fundry works, as he ftiles. them, to continue his name to pofterity, though poffibly an enemy has done that for him, which his own endeavours could never have perfected: for, whatever may become of his own pieces, his name will continue, whilft Mr. Dryden's fatire, called Mac-Flecknoe, fhall remain in vogue."
From this poem Pope took the hint of his Dunciad.
There is a copy of this fatire in manufcript, among the manufcripts in the Archiepifcopal Library at Lambeth Palace; which prefents fome readings, different from the printed copies, that may probably amufe the reader, and perhaps in two or three inftances induce.him to prefer the written text. The MS. is numbered 711. 8. TODD.
This Flecknoe found, who, like Auguftus,
Was call'd to empire, and had govern'd long;
Ver. 1. All human things] Will it be thought an extravagant and exaggerated encomium to fay, that in point of pleafantry, various forts of wit, humour, fatire, both oblique and direct, contempt and indignation, clear diction, and melodious verfification, this poem is perhaps the beft of its kind in any language. Boileau, who spent his life, exhausted his talents, and foured his temper, in profcribing bad poets, has nothing equal to it. It is precifely in the style and manner mentioned by Horace
modò trifti, fæpe jocofo,
Defendente vicem modò Rhetoris atque Poetæ,
It is obvious to obferve that this poem is the parent of the Dunciad, which, with all the labour bestowed upon it, is not equal to its original: Though Dr. Johnfon praifes it, as being more extended in its plan, and more diverfi fied in its incidents. It certainly is more extended in its plan, by attacking fuch a multitude of mean fcribblers, but the attack, by being fo divided, is of lefs force than if confined to one alone. And what plan does Dr. Johnfon mean? does he mean that in four books, in which the subject of electing Tibbald as king of the Dunces was totally altered, and enlarged into an account of the Empire of Dulnefs fpreading over the whole world, instead of vesting it in one monarch; which monarch was alfo unhappily and unfkillfully changed to Cibber inftead of Tibbald. I fhall not repeat what is faid on this fubject in the fifth volume of the laft edition of Pope. As to the incidents being more diverfified, Dr. Johnfon alludes to the introduction of the games, which are defcribed in the most offenfive language, and in images grofs and vulgar. It is difficult to underftand fully the meaning of Pope in the fourth book of the Dunciad. Many fpecies of falfe and trifling ftudies and purfuits are well expofed. But did he really mean to fay, contrary to all experience, that the Empire of Dulnefs was becoming univerfal over all Europe, and that art after art was daily expiring, when every art is every day improving and enlarged? The numbers in Pope's Dunciad, by being very much laboured,
In profe and verfe, was own'd, without difpute,
are become the most hard and inharmonious of any of his works. To make the poem tolerably intelligible, which every day renders more and more neceffary, it has become unavoidable to print it, in a very late edition,with thofe many and long notes given to him by his friends, Swift, Arbuthnot, Cleland, Savage, Warburton, and others, without which the names, families, abodes, and employments of the contemptible fcribblers muft have remained totally unknown. But after all that is here faid of the excellence of Mac Flecknoe, candour and justice oblige us to add, that Shadwell did not in justice deserve the character here given of him, because in many of his plays are characters fupported with true humour and fpirit, and plots fkilfully enough conducted. So that neither Dryden nor Pope were fortunate and just in their respective heroes, as neither Shadwell nor Cibber deserved to be placed in fuch ridiculous and con temptible fituations. Dr. J. WARTON.
Ver. 11. which of all his fons was fit] which of all his fons were fitt. MS.
TODD. immortal wars. MS. TODD.
The reft to fome faint meaning make pretence,
And, fpread in folemn ftate, fupinely reign.
With well-tim'd oars before the royal barge,
Ver. 33. And, coarsely clad in Norwich drugget, came] And coarfely cloath'd in rufty drugget came. MS.
TODD. Ver. 39. With well-tim'd oars] With well-trim'd oars. MS. TODD.
And big with hymn, commander of an host, The like was ne'er in Epsom blankets tost. Methinks I fee the new Arion fail,
The lute still trembling underneath thy nail. At thy well-fharpen'd thumb from fhore to
The trebles fqueak for fear, the bases roar :
And vow'd he ne'er would act Villerius more.'
Ver. 42. The like was ne'er in Epfom blankets toft.] The like in Epfom blanket ne'er was toft. MS. TODD. Ver. 44. The lute ftill trembling] The lute he trembles &c. MS. TODD.
Ver. 53. St. Andre's feet ne'er kept &c.] A French dancingmafter, at this time greatly admired.
Ver. 55. Though they in number as in fenfe excel;] Though they in number as in verfe excel. MS.