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TO MR CONGREVE.
WRITTEN IN NOVEMBER 1699.
[As the following verses are of a consolatory turn, they would
seem to have been written after the representation of Congreve's second play, the Double Dealer, which was acted in 1693-4, and appears, from some passages in the dedication, to have been less favourably treated by the critics than the Old Bachelor. Swift's attachment to Congreve continued sincerely ardent, even after politics had severed them. His intercession with the Lord. Treasurer was the means of Congrere's retaining his offices under the Tory administration. See Vol. II. p. 283.]
Thrice, with a prophet's voice, and prophet's
pow'r, The Muse was called in a poetic hour, And insolently thrice, the slighted maid Dared to suspend her unregarded aid; Then with that grief we form in spirits divine, Pleads for her own neglect, and thus reproaches
mine: Once highly honour'd! false is the pretence You make to truth, retreat, and innocence ! Who, to pollute my shades, bring'st with thee down The most ungen'rous vices of the town; Ne'er sprung a youth from out this isle before I once esteem'd, and lov’d, and favour'd more,
Nor ever maid endured such courtlike scorn,
Thus did the muse severe unkindly blame
mine; For, youth, believe, to you unseen, is fix'd A mighty gulf, unpassable betwixt.
Nor tax the goddess of a mean design To praise your parts by publishing of mine; That be my thought when some large bulky writ Shows in the front the ambition of my wit; There to surmount what bears me up, and sing Like the victorious wren perch'd on the eagle's
wing;* This could I do, and proudly o'er him tower, Were my desires but heighten'd to my power.
* This absurd simile was transferred by Colley Cibber to the linnet, in the notable lines,
Perch'd on the eagle's towering wing,
Godlike the force of my young Congreve's bays, Soft'ning the Muse's thunder into praise ; Sent to assist an old unvanquish'd pride That looks with scorn on half mankind beside; A pride that well suspends, poor mortals' fate, Gets between them and my resentment's weight, Stands in the gap 'twixt me and wretched men, Tavert th' impending judgments of my pen.
Thus I look down with mercy on the age, By hopes my Congreve will reform the stage : For never did poetic mind before Produce a richer vein, or cleaner ore; The bullion stamp'd in your refining mind Serves by retail to furnish half mankind. With indignation I behold your wit Forced on me, crack'd, and clipp'd, and counterfeit, By vile pretenders, who a stock maintain Froin broken scraps and filings of your brain. Through native dross your share is hardly known, And by short views mistook for all their own; So small the gain those from your wit do reap, Who blend it into folly's larger heap, Like the sun's scatter'd beams which loosely pass, When some rough hand breaks the assembling glass.
Yet want your critics no just cause to rail, Since knaves are ne'er obliged for what they steal. These pad on wit's high road, and suits maintain With those they rob, by what their trade does gain. Thus censure seems that fiery froth which breeds O'er the sun's face, and from his heat proceeds, Crusts o'er the day, shadowing its partent beam, As ancient nature's modern masters dream
li This bids some curious praters here below Call Titan sick, because their sight is so; And well, methinks, does this allusion fit To scribblers, and the god of light and wit;
Those who by wild delusions entertain
What northern hive pour'd out these foes to wit? Whence came these Goths to overrun the pit ?*
* In the original dedication to the Double Dealer, as published in 1694, there are some very wrathful and contemptuous passages respecting the critics, which Congreve's 'better judgment omitted, or softened, in subsequent editions. Swift appears to have caught the tone of his friend from such a tirade as the following :
" And give me leave, without any flattery to you or vanity in myself, to tell my illiterate critics, as an answer to their impo. tent objections, that they have found fault with that which has been pleasing to you. This play, in relation to my concern for its reputation, succeeded before it was acted ; for, through your early patronage, it had an audience of several persons of the first rank both in wit and quality ; and their allowance of it was a consequence of your approbation. Therefore, if I really wish it might have had a more popular reception, it is not at all in conside ration of myself, but because I wish well, and would gladly contribute to the benefit of the stage, and diversion of the town. They were (not long since) so kind to a very imperfect comedy of mine, that I thought myself justly indebted to them all my en. deavours for an entertainment that might merit some little of that applause which they were so lavish of when I thought I had no title to it." But I find they are to be treated cheaply, and I have been at an unnecessary expence.
56 I have, since the acting of this play, hearkened after the ob. jections which have been made to it: for I was conscious where a true critic might have put me upon my defence. I was prepared for their attack, and am pretty confident I could have vindicated some parts, and excused others; and where there were any plain miscarriages, I would most îngenuously have confessed them. But I have not heard any thing said sufficient to provoke an answer, Some little snarling and back biting there has been, but I don't
blush the shameful birth to hear Of those you so ignobly stoop to fear; For, ill to them, long have I travell’d since, Round all the circles of impertinence, Search'd in the nest where every worm did lie Before it grew a city butterfly ; I'm sure I found them other kind of things Than those with backs of silk and golden wings A search, no doubt, as curious and as wise As virtuosoes in dissecting flies: For, could you think? the fiercest foes you dread, And court in prologues, all are country bred; Bred in my scene, and for the poet's sins Adjourn'd from tops and grammar to the inns; Those beds of dung, where schoolboys sprout up
Haply you judge these lines severely writ
know one well-mouth'd cur that has opened at all.”-Congreve's Dedication to the Right Honourable Charles Montague, prefixed to his Double Dealer. London, 1694.