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ALL human things are subject to decay,
And, when Fate summons, monarchs must obey.
This Flecnoe found, who, like Augustus, young
Was call'd to empire, and had govern'd long;
In prose and verse was own'd, without dispute,
Through all the realms of Nonsense, absolute.
This aged prince, now flourishing in peace,
And blest with issue of a large increase,
Worn out with business, did at length debate
To settle the succession of the state;
And pondering which of all his sons was fit
To reign, and wage immortal war with wit,
Cried-" "Tis resolv'd; for Nature pleads that he
Should only rule that most resembles me.
Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
Mature in dulness from his tender years;
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
Who stands confirm'd in full stupidity:
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,
Strike through, and make a lucid interval;
Flecnoe was an Irishman by birth, and a Roman Catholic priest by profession; but not so utterly contemptible, in some of his poetical essays, as Dryden chose to consider him.
+ Shadwell was educated for the law, but became a voluminous dramatic writer, and the selected butt of Dryden's Varronian satire.
But Shadwell's genuine night admits no ray,
His rising fogs prevail upon the day.
Besides, his goodly fabric fills the eye,
And seems design'd for thoughtless majesty:
Thoughtless as monarch-oaks that shade the plain,
And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign.
Heywood and Shirley were but types of thee,
Thou last great prophet of Tautology!
Ev'n I, a dunce of more renown than they,
Was sent before but to prepare thy way;
And, coarsely clad in Norwich drugget, came
To teach the nations in thy greater name.
My warbling lute, (the lute I whilom strung,
When to King John of Portugal I sung,)
Was but the prelude to that glorious day,
When thou on silver Thames didst cut thy way,
With well-tim'd oars before the royal barge,
Swell'd with the pride of thy celestial charge;
And big with hymn, commander of an host,—
The like was ne'er in Epsom blankets tost.
Methinks I see the new Arion sail,
The lute still trembling underneath thy nail.
At thy well-sharpen'd thumb from shore to shore
The Trebles squeak for fear, the Basses roar:
Echoes from Pissing-Alley Shadwell call,
And Shadwell they resound from Aston-Hall.
About thy boat the little fishes throng,
As at the morning toast that floats along.
Sometimes, as prince of thy harmonious band,
Thou wield'st thy papers in thy threshing hand :
St. André's feet ne'er kept more equal time,*
Not ev❜n the feet of thy own Psyche's rhyme;t
*St. Andre was a fashionable dancing-master.
† Psyche was an opera, imitated from Moliere by Shadwell."
Though they in number as in sense excel;
So just, so like tautology, they fell,
That, pale with envy, Singleton* forswore
The lute and sword, which he in triumph bore,
And vow'd he ne'er would act Villerius more."
Here stop'd the good old sire, and wept for joy, In silent raptures of the hopeful boy. All arguments, but most his plays, persuade, That for anointed Dulness he was made.
Close to the walls which fair Augusta bind,
(The fair Augusta much to fears inclin❜d)
An ancient fabric, rais'd to' inform the sight,
There stood of yore, and Barbican it hight;
A watch-tower once; but now, so Fate ordains,
Of all the pile an empty name remains:
From its old ruins brothel-houses rise,
Scenes of lewd loves, and of polluted joys,
Where their vast courts the mother-strumpets keep,
And, undisturb'd by watch, in silence sleep.†
Near these a nursery erects its head,
Where queens are form'd, and future heroes bred;
Where unfledg'd actors learn to laugh and cry,
Where infant punks their tender voices try,‡,
And little Maximins the gods defy.
Great Fletcher never treads in buskins here,
Nor greater Jonson dares in socks appear;
But gentle Simkin§ just reception finds
Amidst this monument of vanish'd minds:
* Singleton was a musical performer of some eminence. He personated Villerius in D'Avenant's Siege of Rhodes. + Parodies on these lines of Cowley, (Davideis. Book I.) Where their vast courts the mother waters keep, And, undisturb'd by moons, in silence sleep. -Where unfledg'd tempests lie,
And infant Winds their tender voices try.
The character of a cobler.
Pure clinches the suburban muse affords,
And Panton,* waging harmless war with words.
Here Flecnoe, as a place to fame well known,
Ambitiously design'd his Shadwell's throne:
For ancient Deckert prophesied long since,
That in this pile should reign a mighty prince,
Born for a scourge of wit, and flail of sense:
To whom true Dulness should some Psyches owe,
But worlds of misers from his pen should flow;
Humorists and hypocrites it should produce,
Whole Raymond families, and tribes of Bruce.‡
Now Empress Fame had published the renown
Of Shadwell's coronation through the Town.
Rous'd by report of fame, the nations meet,
From near Bunhill and distant Watling-street.
No Persian carpets spread the' imperial way,
But scatter'd limbs of mangled poets lay;
From dusty shops neglected authors come,
Martyrs of pies, and relics of the bum.
Much Heywood, Shirley, Ogleby,§ there lay,
But loads of Shadwell almost chok'd the way.
Bilk'd stationers for yeomen stood prepar'd,
And Herringman was captain of the guard.
The hoary prince in majesty appear'd,
High on a throne of his own labours rear'd:
A noted punster.
+ Decker is here unsuitably coupled with Shadwell, for he displayed a variety of literary talent, and some tragic powers. Shir. ley had still superior claims to exemption.
Raymond is a character in the Humorists; Bruce, in the Vir
§ Ogleby translated Homer, Virgil, and Esop's Fables; and wrote three epic poems.
Herringman was a great publisher of poems and plays in Dryden's time.
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 play'd 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 plac❜d a mighty mug of potent ale;
'Love's Kingdom' to his right he did convey,*
At once his sceptre, and his rule of sway; [young,
Whose righteous lore the prince had practis'd
And from whose loins recorded Psyche sprung.
His temples, last, with poppies were o’erspread,
That nodding seem'd 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 Tiber'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.
"Heavens bless my son! from Ireland let him reign
To far Barbadoes on the watery main'; .
* 'Love's Kingdom,' a pastoral tragi-comedy, was written by Flecnoe.