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OF CHRIST-CHURCH, Oxford.
SINCE all the din of war begins to cease,
And Britain's harrass'd sons expect a peace,
Since now her prudent senators design
To change their laurels for the Gallic vine,
To view less horrid scenes of death prepare
The painted terrors of a theatre;
Where Mars still rages in the Poet's lines,
Where the swoln flood still reeks in warlike rhymes,
Where cannons but in loud descriptions roar,
Nor wave in echoes frightful to the shore;
Where the shrill trumpet's clangor charms the ear,
And beauteous circles, without trembling, hear
The loud-mouth'd thunder of a fancied war;
If by an unfeign'd wound some hero dies,
Love shoots the guilty darts from their too murderous
Nigh where, as when on Naseby's fatal plains,
The brazen steed the royal martyr reins,
A convent once (if we may credit Fame,
And still the garden keeps its ancient name)
A convent once there stood, a structure made
To shun the world, where now the world is play'd:
How decently 'twas built, what sins t'atone,
What order fill'd the place, is yet unknown.
Perhaps the spot where now stands Powell's stage,
Where Punch chastises spouse with prompted rage,
Was then some Friar's cell, where all unseen
The pious Father fed his sacred spleen;
Nor Fiends nor Witches then were seen to fly,
While Priests and holy-water were so nigh.
No Lovers there in rhyme rehears'd their moan,
But if a sigh was heard, 'twas penitence alone.
At length the world broke-in, and now the Player
Attracts the Beau, the Critic, and the Fair;
Ev'n in the place which once the Monk possess'd
(Strange shift of scenes!) fat Dominic's the jest.
Sweet is the florish when the curtain draws,
Sweet is the crowded theatre's applause;
Sweet are the strains when billing Lovers parle,
But rough the cat-call and the Critic's snarl.
Rough was the language, unadorn'd the stage,
And mean his hero's dress in Shakspere's age:
No scepter'd Kings in royal robes were seen,
Scarce could her guard defend their tinsel'd Queen,
Scarce could the house contain the listening shoal,
Scarce had the mimic thunder room to roll;
But then wives, subjects, friends, 'tis sung, were true,
And beaux (if such in England were) were few :
Rare were their follies: this the moderns found,
And prudently, since knaves and sots abound,
Since crimes enlarge, and fopperies prevail,
Enlarg'd the stage, which ought to be their flail,
Now soars the theatre, a stately pile,
Itself an emblem of the tragic style,
Firm to its base, yet lofty to the sight,
Lofty, yet each way equal to its height,
Plain as the shepherd-nymph in russet weeds,*
Yet graceful as the actresses it breeds:
Each meanest object props the main design,
Art, Nature, Use, and Ornament combine.
Here wreath'd Apollo with his heavenly lyre
Inflames the Muses with poetic fire,
Their tuneful strains the jocund Muses sing,
And tributary Bards their incense bring;
The God, with pleasing looks and crowns of bays,
Smiles on their labors, and rewards their lays.
Here have I seen (and oh the pleasing sight!) Love, Hate, and Fury, in their truest light; Here, when his crimes in public glar'd, I've seen The blushing letcher curse the babbling scene, Whilst he whom conscious Innocence secures, Unless when Virtue wrongs or scorn endures,
Smiles unconcern'd, as Socrates is said
T' have sat at Athens when the Clouds were play'd.
Sometimes the Tragic Muse destruction breathes,
And strews th' embattled scene with bloodless deaths;
Sometimes a merrier garb the Drama wears,
And every vice and every folly sneers.
His judgment great, and great must be his craft,
That undertakes to make his audience laugh;
'Tis not a natural ninny must be shown,
Expose the coxcomb, not the simpleton.
The barbarous wretch, that toils to ridicule
An honest, harmless, unconceited fool,
As well, with Hamlet in the play, might slave
To prove a villain is an errant knave.
When Shadwell gives his ideot clown a miss,
Gorg'd with the nauseous ass, trae critics hiss,
Hiss, and with reason bid the scribbling nisy,
Go read Quintilian de movendo risu.
Nothing can more provoke a righteous spleen (Like that of Collier) than an impious scene.
In Spain their martyr'd Saints (a sight preposterous)
Kneel on the stage, and sing their Pater Nosters.
This error claims the contrary extreme,
Religion is for plays too great a theme,
A theme that asks a more respected coat,
A tongue that does not only move by rote.
Let those who dare attempt the Tragic Muse, Some standard author for their pattern choose; The man who Nature reconciles with Art, Who knows each pass, each folding of the heart, Who tyrannizes o'er the soul, is he: Such Shakspere was, such Addison will be.
Such Shakspere was indeed; for who can guard His inmost soul, when Shakspere plies it hard? Can he that has a child, an only child, As Hotspur headstrong, and as Faistaff wild, See Bolingbroke in anguish for his son, See the king's sorrows, and forget his own? And can that child behold Lear's good old age, All dropping wet, come frantic on the stage, Or hear that impious pair his daughters play'd, Yet not his own ingratitude upbraid ? He must, he must, 'tis Shakspere reprimands; What guilt so bold his pious pen withstands?
All hail, immortal Bard! thy Muse disarms Each vice, and even when a slattern charms. Thou canst celestial sentiments express, Or necromantic rites in all their horrors dress, So the fam❜d God of Eloquence (who smil'd On thy great birth, and chose thee for his child) In either region's language did excell,
At once th' interpreter of Heaven and Hell.