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With all the guilt of impotence in view,
Griev'd for past sins, but yet committing new ;
Whate'er the wits may say, or wise may think,
Am fooling every way with pen and ink.
When all who wish me best, begin t' advise,
That being witty, is not being wise; That if the voice of int'rest might be heard, For one who wears a gown,-would be preferr'd'— Incorrigibly deaf, I feign a yawn; And mock their just conclusions, ere they're drawn,
If to my practice, they oppos'd my theme; And pointed, how I swam against the stream: With all the rancor of a bard in rage,
I'd quote 'em half the writers of the age;
Who in a wrath of verse, with all their might
Write on, howe'er unqualify'd to write.
You ask me, Sir, why thus by phantoms aw'd,
No kind occasion tempts the Muse abroad?
Why, when retirement sooths this idle art,
To fame regardless sleeps the youthful heart?
'Twould wrong your judgment, should I fairly say Distrust or weakness caus'd the cold delay: Hint the small diff'rence, till we touch the lyre, 'Twixt real genius and too strong desire; The human slips, or seeming slips pretend, That rouze the critic, but escape the friend; Nay which, though dreadful when the foe pursues, You and smile, and still provoke the Muse.
Yet, spite of all you think, or kindly feign,
My hand will tremble while it grasps the pen.
For not in this, like other arts, we try
Our light excursions in a summer sky,
No casual flights the dangerous trade admits,
But wits, once authors, are for ever wits.
The fool in prose, like earth's unwieldy son,
May oft rise vig'rous, though he's oft o'erthrown;
One dangerous crisis marks our rise or fall,
By all we're courted, or we're shun'd by all.
Will it avail, that unmatur'd by years,
My easy numbers pleas'd your partial ears,
If now condemn'd, my riper lays must bear
The wise man's censure, and the vain man's sneer!
Or, still more hard, ev'n where he 's valu'd most,
The man must suffer, if the poet's lost;
For wanting wit, be totally undone,
And barr'd all arts, for having fail'd in one.
When fears like these his serious thoughts engage,
No bugbear phantom curbs the poet's rage;
'Tis powerful reason holds the streighten'd rein,
While flutt'ring fancy to the distant plain
Sends a long look, and spreads her wings in vain.
But grant, for once, th' officious Muse has shed
Her gentlest influence on his infant head,
Let fears lie vanquish'd, and resounding Fame
Give to the bellowing blast the poet's name.
And see! distinguish'd from the crowd he moves,
Each finger marks him, and each eye approves !
Secure, as halcyons brooding o'er the deep,
The waves roll gently, and the thunders sleep,
Obsequious nature binds the tempest's wings,
And pleas'd attention listens whilst he sings!
O blissful state, O more than human joy!
What shafts can reach him, or what cares annoy?
What cares, my friend? why all that man can know,
Oppress'd with real or with fancy'd woe.
Rude to the world, like earth's first lord expell'd,
To climes unknown, from Eden's safer field;
No more eternal springs around him breathe,
Black air scowls o'er him, deadly damps beneath;
Now must he learn, misguided youth, to bear
Each varying season of the poet's year:
Flatt'ry's full beam, detraction's wintry store,
The frowns of fortune, or the pride of pow'r.
His acts, his words, his thoughts no more his own,
Each folly blazon'd, and each frailty known.
Is he reserv'd ?-his sense is so refin'd,
It ne'er descends to trifle with mankind.
Open and free?—they find the secret cause
Is vanity; He courts the world's applause.
Nay, though he speak not, something still is seen,
Each change of face betrays a fault within.
If grave, 'tis spleen; he smiles but to deride;
And downright aukwardness in him is pride.
Thus must he steer through fame's uncertain seas,
Now sunk by censure, and now puff'd by praise;
Contempt with envy strangely mix'd endure, Fear'd where caress'd, and jealous though secure.
One fatal rock on which good authors split
Is thinking all mankind must like their wit;
And the grand business of the world stand still
To listen to the dictates of their quill.
Hurt if they fail, and yet how few succeed!
What's born in leisure men of leisure read;
And half of those have some peculiar whim
Their test of sense, and read but to condemn.
Besides, on parties now our fame depends, And frowns or smiles, as these are foes or friends. Wit, judgment, nature join; you strive in vain; 'Tis keen invective stamps the current strain. Fix'd to one side, like Homer's gods, we fight, These always wrong, and those for ever right. And would you choose to see your friend, resign'd Each conscious tie which guides the virtuous mind, Embroil'd in factions, hurl with dreadful skill The random vengeance of his desp’rate quill ? 'Gainst pride in man with equal pride declaim, And hide ill-nature under virtue's name? Or deeply vers'd in flattery's wily ways, Flow in full reams of undistinguish'd praise ? To vice's grave, or folly's bust bequeath The blushing trophy, and indignant wreath ? Like Egypt's priests, bid endless temples rise, And people with earth's pests th' offended skies?