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EPISTLE V.

TO

LORD MELCOMBE.

FROM

RICHARD BENTLEY, ESQ.

I've often thought, my Lord, the thing now true,
Said by Lord Bute, but what I've learn'd from you:
We shall lose poetry :" In this alone
Too short-he might have added, “Wit is gone."

How came this prime delight of man thus lessen'd From its full orb down to a thumb-nail crescent ? With me the case admits not of a doubt! The fact is, poesy itself's worn out. To you, my Lord, this notion I submit, Who knew and help'd to make this age of wit, Mix'd with those demi-gods in verse and prose, Congreves, and Addisons, and Garths, and Rowes,. Heroes of giant limb, and high renown, Whose deeds we wonder at, and hide our own; Whom but to copy in their idle fits, Would break the backs of puny modern wits.

Epist. V.

EPISTLES CRITICAL, &c.

69

To set this matter in the clearest light, And be myself th' example while I write, Let us, my Lord, if so it

may avail, And you have patience for a long detail, Give the Earl's sentence a poetic turn; Let it run thus : “ See all Parnassus mourn, “ Mute ev'ry muse, see George's praise unsung, 6. Their laurels scatter'd, and their lyres unstrung, “ Apollo veils with mists his beamy head, “ Nay, Aganippe murmars something sad.” Say, will this stile, my Lord, go down or no, Glib as it did two thousand years ago ? I fancy scarce, and favor'd, if it pass From a raw school-boy in the second class: The reason then why no disgust it drew, Was, that it might be Truth, for aught they knew. Those early ages no mistrust had shewn, Ready their faith, their manners roughly hewn, And while both Reason and Suspicion doz’d, Priest, Poet, Prophet, Patriot, impos’d.

With all that either broach'd, the world content, Believ'd still farther than they could invent, All irrealities came forth reveal'd By pow'rful Fancy into fact congeal’d. Then Poetry had elbow-room enough, And not restrain'd, as now, for want of stuff; The great abyss of Fable open stood, And nothing solid rose above the flood.

A new Religion spreading ev'ry where,
The stock of Poetry fell under par ;
For Oracles grew dumb, as men grew wise,
None saw for those, who saw with their own eyes.
To waste her leaves no more the sybil chooses,
They and her tripod serve for other uses.
No more the Jesuit prompts her what to tell;
For to say Middleton and Fontenelle.

But the new doctrines being found too pure, Some able doctors undertook its cure ; It serv'd no purposes but saving sinners, They added that by which themselves were winners; Ghosts, Devil, Witches, Conjurors, in flocks Came, like a new subscription, to the stocks ; And Poetry, enlarg'd with a new range, Began to shew her head again in Change.

The world grown old, its youthful follies past,
Reason assumes her reign, tho’ late, at last.
By slow degrees, and laboring up the hill,
Step after step, yet seeming to stand still,
She wins her way, wherever she advances ;
Satyr no more, nor Fawn, nor Dryad dances.
The groves, tho' trembling to a natural breeze,
Dismiss their horrors, and shew nought but trees.
Before her, Nonsense, Superstition fly;
We burn no Witch, let her be e'er so dry:

A woman now may live, tho'past her prime,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.

Bankrupt of deities, with all their train,
And set to work without his tools in vain,
Not genius-crampt (but what can genius do
When it's tied down to one and one make two ?)
How can poor Poet stir ? In such a case
We must do something to supply their place.

See, at his beck, all Nouns renouncing sense, Start into

persons

of some consequence.
Proud of new being, tread poetic ground,
And aggregate their attributes around;
These he may use of right, as his own growth,
In all the rest confin'd to sober Truth.

To bless a nation, see Charlotta come, 'Twas Anson, and not Neptune, brought her home. A single Nereid stirr'd not from below, The duce a conch did e'er one Triton blow ; But, in revenge she plough'd her subject main, With every virtue 'tending in her train. Hark, 'tis a people's universal voice, That bless, while they approve their Sov'reign's

choice.

On such a theme, my Lord, might one extend Far as one would, nor strictest Truth offend,

'Twere only proper epithets to find,
To every grace of person and of mind;
With decent dress, and emblem to improve
All that can merit our esteem and love.
But then to Poetry where 's the pretence ?
Locke and Sir Isaac write not plainer sense,
From the first ages down to modern time,
Derive the pleasing stream of verse and rhime,
However vast from its first source it rose,
Th’inverted river dwindles as it flows.

Thus from the lunar hills some other Nile, Swoln with new stores from snows that melt the while, Stretches his current on to fiercer suns, And glads a thousand nations as he suns, Till having reach'd, proud of his long career, Those sands which belt the middle of our sphere, Exhal'd, absorb’d, diverted, dry foot cross'd, And, finger'd into rivulets, is lost.

Fall'n cherub ; Simile! who erst divine,
Cloath'd with transcendant beauty didst outshine
Plain angel Poesy; how art thou lost!
Sunk in Oblivion's pit! from what height toss'd!

Thus to plain Narrative confin'd alone,
Figure, Description, Simile quite gone ;
The whole affair evinc'd which we contend,
The thing has had its day, and there's an end,

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