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At his right hand our young Ascanius sate,
Rome's other hope, and pillar of the state;
His brows thick fogs, instead of glories, grace,
And lambent dulness played around his face.
As Hannibal did to the altars come,
Swore by his sire, a mortal foe to Rome,
So Shadwell swore, nor should his vow be vain,
That he till death true dulness would maintain;
And, in his father's right, and realm's defence,
Ne'er to have peace with wit, nor truce with sense.
The king himself the sacred unction made,
As king by office, and as priest by trade.
In his sinister hand, instead of ball,
He placed a mighty mug of potent ale;
"Love's kingdom"* to his right he did convey,
At once his sceptre, and his rule of sway;
Whose righteous lore the prince had practised young,
And from whose loins recorded Psyche sprung.
His temples, last, with poppies were o'erspread, †
That nodding seemed to consecrate his head.
Just at the point of time, if fame not lie,
On his left hand twelve reverend owls did fly ;-
So Romulus, 'tis sung, by Tyber's brook,
Presage of sway from twice six vultures took.
The admiring throng loud acclamations make,
And omens of his future empire take.
The sire then shook the honours of his head,
And from his brows damps of oblivion shed
Full on the filial dulness: long he stood,
Repelling from his breast the raging god;
At length burst out in this prophetic mood:-
* A play of Flecknoe's so called. See Note XII. Perhaps in allusion to Shadwell's frequent use of opium, as well as to his dulness.
Heavens bless my son! from Ireland let him reign,
To far Barbadoes on the western main;
Of his dominion may no end be known,
And greater than his father's be his throne;
Beyond love's kingdom let him stretch his pen!-
He paused, and all the people cried, Amen.
Then thus continued he: My son, advance
Still in new impudence, new ignorance.
Success let others teach, learn thou from me
Pangs without birth, and fruitless industry.
Let Virtuosos in five years be writ,
Yet not one thought accuse thy toil of wit.*
Let gentle George in triumph tread the stage,
Make Dorimant betray, and Loveit rage;
Let Cully, Cockwood, Fopling, charm the pit, †
And in their folly show the writer's wit;
Yet still thy fools shall stand in thy defence,
And justify their author's want of sense.
Let them be all by thy own model made
Of dulness, and desire no foreign aid;
That they to future ages may be known,
Not copies drawn, but issue of thy own;
Nay, let thy men of wit too be the same,
All full of thee, and differing but in name;
But let no alien Sedley interpose,
To lard with wit thy hungry Epsom prose. ‡
And when false flowers of rhetoric thou would'st cull,
Trust nature; do not labour to be dull,
But write thy best, and top; and, in each line,
Sir Formal's oratory will be thine:
Sir Formal, though unsought, attends thy quill,
And does thy northern dedications fill. §
Nor let false friends seduce thy mind to fame,
By arrogating Jonson's hostile name;
Let father Flecknoe fire thy mind with praise,
And uncle Ogleby thy envy raise.
Thou art my blood, where Jonson has no part:
What share have we in nature, or in art?
Where did his wit on learning fix a brand,
And rail at arts he did not understand?
Where made he love in Prince Nicander's vein,
Or swept the dust in Psyche's humble strain?
Where sold he bargains, "whip-stitch, kiss my arse," |
Promised a play, and dwindled to a farce?
When did his muse from Fletcher scenes purloin,
As thou whole Etheridge dost transfuse to thine?
But so transfused, as oil and waters flow,
His always floats above, thine sinks below.
This is thy province, this thy wonderous way,
New humours to invent for each new play:
This is that boasted bias of thy mind,
By which one way to dulness 'tis inclined;
Which makes thy writings lean on one side still,
And, in all changes, that way bends thy will,
Nor let thy mountain-belly make pretence
Of likeness; thine's a tympany of sense.
A tun of man in thy large bulk is writ,
But sure thou'rt but a kilderkin of wit.
This elegant phrase is the current catch-word of Sir Samuel Hearty in the "Virtuoso," described in the dramatis persona as 66 a brisk, amorous, adventurous, unfortunate coxcomb; one that, by the help of humorous, nonsensical bye-words, takes himself to be a great wit."
† Alluding, probably, to the following vaunt of Shadwell, in the Dedication to the "Virtuoso:" "Four of the humours are entirely new; and, without vanity, I may say, I ne'er produced a comedy that had not some natural humour in it not represented before, and I hope I never shall."
Like mine, thy gentle numbers feebly creep;
Thy tragic muse gives smiles, thy comic sleep.
With whate'er gall thou sett'st thyself to write,
Thy inoffensive satires never bite;
In thy felonious heart though venom lies,
It does but touch thy Irish pen, and dies.
Thy genius call thee not to purchase fame
In keen iambics, but mild anagram.
Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command,
Some peaceful province in Acrostic land.
There thou may'st wings display, and altars raise,
And torture one poor word ten thousand ways;
Or, if thou would'st thy different talents suit,
Set thy own songs, and sing them to thy lute.-
He said: but his last words were scarcely heard;
For Bruce and Longvil had a trap prepared,
And down they sent the yet declaiming bard. †
Sinking he left his drugget robe behind,
Borne upwards by a subterranean wind.
The mantle fell to the young prophet's part,
With double portion of his father's art.
+ Bruce and Longvil are fine gentlemen in Shadwell's comedy of the "Virtuoso ;" who, during a florid speech of Sir Formal Trifle, contrive to get rid of the orator, by letting go a trap-door, upon which he had placed himself during his declamation.
This Flecknoe found.-P. 433.
Richard Flecknoe, the unfortunate bard whom our author has damned to everlasting fame, was by birth an Irishman, and by profession a Roman Catholic priest. Marvel, who seems to have known him at Rome, describes his person as meagre in the extreme, and his itch for scribbling as incessant. The poem, in which Marvel depicts him, is in the old taste of extravagant burlesque, and the lines are as rugged as Flecknoe could himself have produced. It contains, however, some witty and some humorous description, and the reader may be pleased to see a specimen :
Flecknoe, an English Priest at Rome.
Obliged by frequent visits of this man,
Whom, as a priest, poet, musician,
I for some branch of Melchizedec took,
Though he derives himself from my Lord Brooke,
I sought his lodging, which is at the sign
Of the sad Pelican, subject divine
For poetry. There, three stair-cases high,
Which signifies his triple property,
I found at last a chamber, as 'twas said,
But seemed a coffin set on the stair's head,
Not higher than seven, nor larger than three feet;
There neither was a ceiling, nor a sheet,
Save that the ingenious door did, as you come,
Turn in, and show to wainscot half the room;
Yet of his state no man could have complained,
There being no bed where he entertained;
And though within this cell so narrow pent,