Happy the bard (though few such bards we find)
Who, ’bove controlment, dares to speak his mind;
Dares, unabash’d, in every place appear,
And nothing fears, but what he ought to fear:
Him Fashion cannot tempt, him abject Need
Cannot compel, him Pride cannot mislead
To be the slave of Greatness, to strike sail
When, sweeping onward with her peacock’s tail,
Quality in full plumage passes by;
He views her with a fix’d, contemptuous eye,
And mocks the puppet, keeps his own due state,
And is above conversing with the great.
Perish those slaves, those minions of the quill,
Who have conspired to seize that sacred hill
Where the Nine Sisters pour a genuine strain,
And sunk the mountain level with the plain;
Who, with mean, private views, and servile art,
No spark of virtue living in their heart,
Have basely turn’d apostates; have debased
Their dignity of office; have disgraced,
Like Eli’s sons, the altars where they stand,
And caused their name to stink through all the land;
Have stoop’d to prostitute their venal pen
For the support of great, but guilty men;
Have made the bard, of their own vile accord,
Inferior to that thing we call a lord.
What is a lord? Doth that plain simple word
Contain some magic spell? As soon as heard,
Like an alarum bell on Night’s dull ear,
Doth it strike louder, and more strong appear
Than other words? Whether we will or no,
Through Reason’s court doth it unquestion’d go
E’en on the mention, and of course transmit
Notions of something excellent; of wit
Pleasing, though keen; of humour free, though chaste;
Of sterling genius, with sound judgment graced;
Of virtue far above temptation’s reach,
And honour, which not malice can impeach?
Believe it not—’twas Nature’s first intent,
Before their rank became their punishment,
They should have pass’d for men, nor blush’d to prize
The blessings she bestow’d; she gave them eyes,
And they could see; she gave them ears—they heard;
The instruments of stirring, and they stirr’d;
Like us, they were design’d to eat, to drink,
To talk, and (every now and then) to think;
Till they, by Pride corrupted, for the sake
Of singularity, disclaim’d that make;
Till they, disdaining Nature’s vulgar mode,
Flew off, and struck into another road,
More fitting Quality, and to our view
Came forth a species altogether new,
Something we had not known, and could not know,
Like nothing of God’s making here below;
Nature exclaim’d with wonder—’Lords are things,
Which, never made by me, were made by kings.’
A lord (nor let the honest and the brave,
The true old noble, with the fool and knave
Here mix his fame; cursed be that thought of mine,
A lord (nor here let Censure rashly call
My just contempt of some, abuse of all,
And, as of late, when Sodom was my theme,
Slander my purpose, and my Muse blaspheme,
Because she stops not, rapid in her song,
To make exceptions as she goes along,
Though well she hopes to find, another year,
A whole minority exceptions here),
A mere, mere lord, with nothing but the name,
Wealth all his worth, and title all his fame,
Lives on another man, himself a blank,
Thankless he lives, or must some grandsire thank
For smuggled honours, and ill-gotten pelf;
A bard owes all to Nature, and himself.
Gods! how my soul is burnt up with disdain,
When I see men, whom Phoebus in his train
Might view with pride, lackey the heels of those
Whom Genius ranks among her greatest foes!
And what’s the cause? Why, these same sons of Scorn,
No thanks to them, were to a title born,
And could not help it; by chance hither sent,
And only deities by accident.
Had Fortune on our getting chanced to shine,
Their birthright honours had been yours or mine,
’Twas a mere random stroke; and should the Throne
Eye thee with favour, proud and lordly grown,
Thou, though a bard, might’st be their fellow yet:
But Felix never can be made a wit.
No, in good faith—that’s one of those few things
Which Fate hath placed beyond the reach of kings:
Bards may be lords, but ’tis not in the cards,
Play how we will, to turn lords into bards.
A bard!—a lord!—why, let them, hand in hand,
Go forth as friends, and travel through the land;
Observe which word the people can digest
Most readily, which goes to market best,
Which gets most credit, whether men will trust
A bard, because they think he may be just,
Or on a lord will chose to risk their gains,
Though privilege in that point still remains.
A bard!—a lord!—let Reason take her scales,
And fairly weigh those words, see which prevails,
Which in the balance lightly kicks the beam,
And which, by sinking, we the victor deem.
’Tis done, and Hermes, by command of Jove,
Summons a synod in the sacred grove,
Gods throng with gods to take their chairs on high,
And sit in state, the senate of the sky,
Whilst, in a kind of parliament below,
Men stare at those above, and want to know
What they’re transacting: Reason takes her stand
Just in the midst, a balance in her hand,
Which o’er and o’er she tries, and finds it true:
From either side, conducted full in view,
A man comes forth, of figure strange and queer;
We now and then see something like them here.
But Nature kindly had made up in length
What she in breadth denied; erect and proud,
A head and shoulders taller than the crowd,
He deem’d them pigmies all; loose hung his skin
O’er his bare bones; his face so very thin,
So very narrow, and so much beat out,
That physiognomists have made a doubt,
Proportion lost, expression quite forgot,
Whether it could be call’d a face or not;
At end of it, howe’er, unbless’d with beard,
Some twenty fathom length of chin appear’d;
With legs, which we might well conceive that Fate
Meant only to support a spider’s weight,
Firmly he strove to tread, and with a stride,
Which show’d at once his weakness and his pride,
Shaking himself to pieces, seem’d to cry,
’Observe, good people, how I shake the sky.’
In his right hand a paper did he hold,
On which, at large, in characters of gold,
Distinct, and plain for those who run to see,
This, with an air of scorn, he from afar
Twirl’d into Reason’s scales, and on that bar,
Which from his soul he hated, yet admired,
Quick turn’d his back, and, as he came, retired.
The judge to all around his name declared;
Each goddess titter’d, each god laugh’d, Jove stared,
And the whole people cried, with one accord,
’Good Heaven bless us all, is that a Lord!’
Whom Nature built on quite a different plan;
A bear, whom, from the moment he was born,
His dam despised, and left unlick’d in scorn;
A Babel, which, the power of Art outdone,
She could not finish when she had begun;
An utter Chaos, out of which no might,
But that of God, could strike one spark of light.
Broad were his shoulders, and from blade to blade
A H—— might at full length have laid;
Vast were his bones, his muscles twisted strong;
His face was short, but broader than ’twas long;
His features, though by Nature they were large,
Contentment had contrived to overcharge,
And bury meaning, save that we might spy
Sense lowering on the penthouse of his eye;
His arms were two twin oaks; his legs so stout
That they might bear a Mansion-house about;
Nor were they, look but at his body there,
Design’d by Fate a much less weight to bear.
O’er a brown cassock, which had once been black,
Which hung in tatters on his brawny back,
A sight most strange, and awkward to behold,
He threw a covering of blue and gold.
Just at that time of life, when man, by rule,
The fop laid down, takes up the graver fool,
He started up a fop, and, fond of show,
Look’d like another Hercules turn’d beau,
A subject met with only now and then,
Much fitter for the pencil than the pen;
Hogarth would draw him (Envy must allow)
With such accoutrements, with such a form,
Much like a porpoise just before a storm,
Onward he roll’d; a laugh prevail’d around;
E’en Jove was seen to simper; at the sound
(Nor was the cause unknown, for from his youth
Himself he studied by the glass of Truth)
He joined their mirth; nor shall the gods condemn,
If, whilst they laugh at him, he laugh’d at them.
Judge Reason view’d him with an eye of grace,
Look’d through his soul, and quite forgot his face,
And, from his hand received, with fair regard
Placed in her other scale the name of Bard.
Then, (for she did as judges ought to do,
She nothing of the case beforehand knew,
Nor wish’d to know; she never stretch’d the laws,
Nor, basely to anticipate a cause,
Compell’d solicitors, no longer free,
To show those briefs she had no right to see)
Then she with equal hand her scales held out,
Nor did the cause one moment hang in doubt;
She held her scales out fair to public view,
The Lord, as sparks fly upwards, upwards flew,
More light than air, deceitful in the weight;
The Bard, preponderating, kept his state;
Reason approved, and with a voice, whose sound
Shook earth, shook heaven, on the clearest ground
Pronouncing for the Bards a full decree,
Cried—’Those must honour them, who honour me;
They from this present day, where’er I reign,
In their own right, precedence shall obtain;
Merit rules here: be it enough that Birth
Intoxicates, and sways the fools of earth.’
Nor think that here, in hatred to a lord,
I’ve forged a tale, or alter’d a record;
Search when you will, (I am not now in sport)
You’ll find it register’d in Reason’s court.
Nor think that Envy here hath strung my lyre,
That I depreciate what I most admire,
And look on titles with an eye of scorn,
Because I was not to a title born.
By Him that made me, I am much more proud,
More inly satisfied to have a crowd
Point at me as I pass, and cry—’That’s he—
A poor but honest bard, who dares be free
Amidst corruption,’ than to have a train
Of flickering levee slaves, to make me vain
Of things I ought to blush for; to run, fly,
And live but in the motion of my eye;
When I am less than man, my faults to adore,
And make me think that I am something more.
Recall past times, bring back the days of old,
When the great noble bore his honours bold,
And in the face of peril, when he dared
Things which his legal bastard, if declared,
Might well discredit; faithful to his trust,
In the extremest points of justice, just,
Well knowing all, and loved by all he knew,
True to his king, and to his country true;
Honest at court, above the baits of gain,
Plain in his dress, and in his manners plain;
Moderate in wealth, generous, but not profuse,
Well worthy riches, for he knew their use;
Possessing much, and yet deserving more,
Deserving those high honours which he wore
With ease to all, and in return gain’d fame
Which all men paid, because he did not claim.
When the grim war was placed in dread array,
Fierce as the lion roaring for his prey,
Or lioness of royal whelps foredone;
In peace, as mild as the departing sun,
A general blessing wheresoe’er he turn’d,
Patron of learning, nor himself unlearn’d;
Ever awake at Pity’s tender call,
A father of the poor, a friend to all;
Recall such times, and from the grave bring back
A worth like this, my heart shall bend, or crack,
My stubborn pride give way, my tongue proclaim,
And every Muse conspire to swell his fame,
Till Envy shall to him that praise allow
Which she cannot deny to Temple now.
This justice claims, nor shall the bard forget,
Delighted with the task, to pay that debt,
To pay it like a man, and in his lays,
Sounding such worth, prove his own right to praise.
But let not pride and prejudice misdeem,
And think that empty titles are my theme;
Titles, with me, are vain, and nothing worth;
I reverence virtue, but I laugh at birth.
Give me a lord that’s honest, frank, and brave,
I am his friend, but cannot be his slave;
Though none, indeed, but blockheads would pretend
To make a slave, where they may make a friend;
I love his virtues, and will make them known,
Confess his rank, but can’t forget my own.
Give me a lord, who, to a title born,
Boasts nothing else, I’ll pay him scorn with scorn.
What! shall my pride (and pride is virtue here)
Tamely make way if such a wretch appear?
Shall I uncover’d stand, and bend my knee
To such a shadow of nobility,
A shred, a remnant? he might rot unknown
For any real merit of his own,
And never had come forth to public note
Had he not worn, by chance, his father’s coat.
Is treason to the majesty of bards.
By Nature form’d (when, for her honour’s sake,
She something more than common strove to make,
When, overlooking each minute defect,
And all too eager to be quite correct,
In her full heat and vigour she impress’d
Her stamp most strongly on the favour’d breast)
The bard, (nor think too lightly that I mean
Those little, piddling witlings, who o’erween
Of their small parts, the Murphys of the stage,
The Masons and the Whiteheads of the age,
Who all in raptures their own works rehearse,
And drawl out measured prose, which they call verse)
The real bard, whom native genius fires,
Whom every maid of Castaly inspires,
Let him consider wherefore he was meant,
Let him but answer Nature’s great intent,
And fairly weigh himself with other men,
Would ne’er debase the glories of his pen,
Would in full state, like a true monarch, live,
Nor bate one inch of his prerogative.
(Wingate may in the season be a peer,
Though now, against his will, of figures sick,
He’s forced to diet on arithmetic,
E’en whilst he envies every Jew he meets,
Who cries old clothes to sell about the streets)
Methinks (his mind with future honours big,
His Tyburn bob turn’d to a dress’d bag wig)
I hear him cry—’What doth this jargon mean?
Was ever such a damn’d dull blockhead seen?
Hath got into, and turn’d the fellow’s brain:
To Bethlem with him—give him whips and straw—
I’m very sensible he’s mad in law.
A saucy groom, who trades in reason, thus
To set himself upon a par with us;
If this _here’s_ suffered, and if that _there_ fool,
May, when he pleases, send us all to school,
Why, then our only business is outright
To take our caps, and bid the world good night.
I’ve kept a bard myself this twenty years,
But nothing of this kind in him appears;
He, like a thorough true-bred spaniel, licks
The hand which cuffs him, and the foot which kicks;
He fetches and he carries, blacks my shoes,
Nor thinks it a discredit to his Muse;
A creature of the right chameleon hue,
He wears my colours, yellow or true blue,
Just as I wear them: ’tis all one to him
Whether I change through conscience, or through whim.
Now this is something like; on such a plan
A bard may find a friend in a great man;
But this proud coxcomb—zounds, I thought that all
Injurious thought! accursed be the tongue
On which the vile insinuation hung,
The heart where ’twas engender’d; cursed be those,
Those bards, who not themselves alone expose,
But me, but all, and make the very name
By which they’re call’d a standing mark of shame.
Talk not of custom—’tis the coward’s plea,
Current with fools, but passes not with me;
An old stale trick, which Guilt hath often tried
By numbers to o’erpower the better side.
Why tell me then that from the birth of Rhyme,
No matter when, down to the present time,
As by the original decree of Fate,
Bards have protection sought amongst the great;
Conscious of weakness, have applied to them
As vines to elms, and, twining round their stem,
Flourish’d on high; to gain this wish’d support
E’en Virgil to Maecenas paid his court?
As to the custom, ’tis a point agreed,
But ’twas a foolish diffidence, not need,
From which it rose; had bards but truly known
That strength, which is most properly their own,
Without a lord, unpropp’d they might have stood,
And overtopp’d those giants of the wood.
But why, when present times my care engage,
Must I go back to the Augustan age?
Why, anxious for the living, am I led
Into the mansions of the ancient dead?
Can they find patrons nowhere but at Rome,
And must I seek Maecenas in the tomb?
Name but a Wingate, twenty fools of note
Start up, and from report Maecenas quote;
Under his colours lords are proud to fight,
Forgetting that Maecenas was a knight:
They mention him, as if to use his name
Was, in some measure, to partake his fame,
Though Virgil, was he living, in the street
Might rot for them, or perish in the Fleet.
See how they redden, and the charge disclaim—
Virgil, and in the Fleet!—forbid it, Shame!
Hence, ye vain boasters! to the Fleet repair,
And ask, with blushes ask, if Lloyd is there!
Patrons in days of yore were men of sense,
Were men of taste, and had a fair pretence
To rule in letters—some of them were heard
To read off-hand, and never spell a word;
Some of them, too, to such a monstrous height
Was learning risen, for themselves could write,
And kept their secretaries, as the great
Do many other foolish things, for state.
Our patrons are of quite a different strain,
With neither sense nor taste; against the grain
They patronise for Fashion’s sake—no more—
And keep a bard, just as they keep a whore.
Melcombe (on such occasions I am loth
To name the dead) was a rare proof of both.
Some of them would be puzzled e’en to read,
Nor could deserve their clergy by their creed;
Others can write, but such a Pagan hand,
Would order into keeping at first sight.
Those who stand fairest to the public view
Take to themselves the praise to others due,
They rob the very spital, and make free
With those, alas! who’ve least to spare. We see
—— hath not had a word to say,
Patrons, in days of yore, like patrons now,
Expected that the bard should make his bow
At coming in, and every now and then
Hint to the world that they were more than men;
But, like the patrons of the present day,
They never bilk’d the poet of his pay.
Virgil loved rural ease, and, far from harm,
Maecenas fix’d him in a neat, snug farm,
Where he might, free from trouble, pass his days
In his own way, and pay his rent in praise.
Horace loved wine, and, through his friend at court,
Could buy it off the quay in every port:
Horace loved mirth, Maecenas loved it too;
Nor in those moments paid the least regard
To which was minister, and which was bard.
Not so our patrons—grave as grave can be,
They know themselves, they keep up dignity;
Bards are a forward race, nor is it fit
That men of fortune rank with men of wit:
Wit, if familiar made, will find her strength—
’Tis best to keep her weak, and at arm’s length.
’Tis well enough for bards, if patrons give,
From hand to mouth, the scanty means to live.
Such is their language, and their practice such;
They promise little, and they give not much.
Let the weak bard, with prostituted strain,
Praise that proud Scot whom all good men disdain;
What’s his reward? Why, his own fame undone,
He may obtain a patent for the run
Of his lord’s kitchen, and have ample time,
With offal fed, to court the cook in rhyme;
Or (if he strives true patriots to disgrace)
May at the second table get a place;
With somewhat greater slaves allow’d to dine,
And play at crambo o’er his gill of wine.
And are there bards, who, on creation’s file,
Stand rank’d as men, who breathe in this fair isle
The air of freedom, with so little gall,
So low a spirit, prostrate thus to fall
Before these idols, and without a groan
Bear wrongs might call forth murmurs from a stone?
Better, and much more noble, to abjure
The sight of men, and in some cave, secure
From all the outrages of Pride, to feast
On Nature’s salads, and be free at least.
Better, (though that, to say the truth, is worse
Than almost any other modern curse)
Discard all sense, divorce the thankless Muse,
Critics commence, and write in the Reviews;
No fool can fail, where Langhorne can succeed.
But (not to make a brave and honest pride
Try those means first, she must disdain when tried)
There are a thousand ways, a thousand arts,
By which, and fairly, men of real parts
May gain a living, gain what Nature craves;
Let those, who pine for more, live, and be slaves.
Our real wants in a small compass lie,
But lawless appetite, with eager eye,
Kept in a constant fever, more requires,
And we are burnt up with our own desires.
Hence our dependence, hence our slavery springs;
Bards, if contented, are as great as kings.
Ourselves are to ourselves the cause of ill;
We may be independent, if we will.
The man who suits his spirit to his state
Stands on an equal footing with the great;
Moguls themselves are not more rich, and he
Who rules the English nation, not more free.
Chains were not forged more durable and strong
For bards than others, but they’ve worn them long,
And therefore wear them still; they’ve quite forgot
What Freedom is, and therefore prize her not.
Could they, though in their sleep, could they but know
The blessings which from Independence flow;
Could they but have a short and transient gleam
Of Liberty, though ’twas but in a dream,
They would no more in bondage bend their knee,
But, once made freemen, would be always free.
The Muse, if she one moment freedom gains,
Can nevermore submit to sing in chains.
Bred in a cage, far from the feather’d throng,
The bird repays his keeper with his song;
But if some playful child sets wide the door,
Abroad he flies, and thinks of home no more,
With love of liberty begins to burn,
And rather starves than to his cage return.
Hail, Independence!—by true reason taught,
How few have known, and prized thee as they ought!
Some give thee up for riot; some, like boys,
Resign thee, in their childish moods, for toys;
Ambition some, some avarice, misleads,
And in both cases Independence bleeds.
Abroad, in quest of thee, how many roam,
Nor know they had thee in their reach at home;
Some, though about their paths, their beds about,
Have never had the sense to find thee out:
Others, who know of what they are possess’d,
Like fearful misers, lock thee in a chest,
Nor have the resolution to produce,
In these bad times, and bring thee forth for use.
Hail, Independence!—though thy name’s scarce known,
Though thou, alas! art out of fashion grown,
Though all despise thee, I will not despise,
Nor live one moment longer than I prize
Thy presence, and enjoy: by angry Fate
Bow’d down, and almost crush’d, thou cam’st, though late,
Thou cam’st upon me, like a second birth,
And made me know what life was truly worth.
Hail, Independence!—never may my cot,
Till I forget thee, be by thee forgot:
Thither, oh! thither, oftentimes repair;
All thoughts but what arise from joy give o’er,
Peace dwells within, and law shall guard the door.
O’erweening Bard! Law guard thy door! What law?
The law of England. To control and awe
Those saucy hopes, to strike that spirit dumb,
Behold, in state, Administration come!
Why, let her come, in all her terrors too;
I dare to suffer all she dares to do.
I know her malice well, and know her pride,
I know her strength, but will not change my side.
This melting mass of flesh she may control
With iron ribs—she cannot chain my soul.
No—to the last resolved her worst to bear,
I’m still at large, and independent there.
Where is this minister? where is the band
Of ready slaves, who at his elbow stand
To hear, and to perform his wicked will?
Why, for the first time, are they slow to ill?
When some grand act ’gainst law is to be done,
Doth —— sleep; doth blood-hound —— run
To L——, and worry those small deer,
When he might do more precious mischief here?
Doth Webb turn tail? doth he refuse to draw
Illegal warrants, and to call them law?
Doth ——, at Guildford kick’d, from Guildford run,
With that cold lump of unbaked dough, his son,
And, his more honest rival Ketch to cheat,
Purchase a burial-place where three ways meet?
Believe it not; —— is —— still,
And never sleeps, when he should wake to ill:
—— doth lesser mischiefs by the by,
The great ones till the term in _petto_ lie:
—— lives, and, to the strictest justice true,
Scorns to defraud the hangman of his due.
O my poor Country!—weak, and overpower’d
By thine own sons—ate to the bone—devour’d
By vipers, which, in thine own entrails bred,
Prey on thy life, and with thy blood are fed,
With unavailing grief thy wrongs I see,
And, for myself not feeling, feel for thee.
I grieve, but can’t despair—for, lo! at hand
Freedom presents a choice, but faithful band
Of loyal patriots; men who greatly dare
In such a noble cause; men fit to bear
The weight of empires; Fortune, Rank, and Sense,
Virtue and Knowledge, leagued with Eloquence,
March in their ranks; Freedom from file to file
Darts her delighted eye, and with a smile
Approves her honest sons, whilst down her cheek,
As ’twere by stealth, (her heart too full to speak)
One tear in silence creeps, one honest tear,
O ye brave few, in whom we still may find
A love of virtue, freedom, and mankind!
Go forth—in majesty of woe array’d,
See at your feet your Country kneels for aid,
And, (many of her children traitors grown)
Kneels to those sons she still can call her own;
Seeming to breathe her last in every breath,
She kneels for freedom, or she begs for death—
Fly, then, each duteous son, each English chief,
And to your drooping parent bring relief.
Go forth—nor let the siren voice of Ease
Tempt ye to sleep, whilst tempests swell the seas;
Go forth—nor let Hypocrisy, whose tongue
With many a fair, false, fatal art is hung,
Like Bethel’s fawning prophet, cross your way,
When your great errand brooks not of delay;
Nor let vain Fear, who cries to all she meets,
Trembling and pale, ’A lion in the streets,’
Damp your free spirits; let not threats affright,
Nor bribes corrupt, nor flatteries delight:
Be as one man—concord success ensures—
There’s not an English heart but what is yours.
Go forth—and Virtue, ever in your sight,
Shall be your guide by day, your guard by night—
Go forth—the champions of your native land,
And may the battle prosper in your hand—
It may, it must—ye cannot be withstood—
Be your hearts honest, as your cause is good!