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O sacred weapon ! left for truth's defence, Sole dread of folly, vice, and insolence! To all but heaven-directed hands denied, The muse may give thee, but the Gods must guide. Reverent I touch thee! but with honest zeal ; To rouse the watchmen of the public weal, To virtue's work provoke the tardy Hall, And goad the prelate slumbering in his stall. Ye tinsel insects! whom a court maintains, 220 That counts your beauties only by your stains,
Ver. 211. Yet touch'd and shamed by ridicule alone.] The passions are given us to awake and support virtue. But they frequently betray their trust, and go over to the interests of vice. Ridicule, when employed in the cause of virtue, shames and brings them back to their duty. Hence the use and importance of satire.
Warburton. Ver. 219. And goad the prelate slumbering in his stall.] The good Eusebius, in his Evangelical Preparation, draws a long parallel between the ox and the Christian priesthood. Hence the dignified clergy, out of mere humility, have ever since called their thrones by the name of stalls. To which a great prelate of Winchester, one W. Edinton, modestly alluding, has rendered his name immortal by this ecclesiastical aphorism, who would otherwise have been forgotten; Canterbury is the higher rack, but Winchester is the better manger. By which, however, it appears that he was not one of those here condemned, who slumber in their stalls.
Scriblerus. Ver. 220. Ye insects !--The Muse's wing shall brush you all away;] This it did very effectually; and the memory of them had been now forgotten, had not the Poet's charity, for a while, protracted their miserable being. There is now in his library, at Mr. Allen's, a complete collection of all the horrid libels written and published against him :
“ The tale revived, the lie so oft o'erthrown,
your cobwebs o'er the eye of day! The Muse's wing shall brush you
away ; All his Grace preaches, all his Lordship sings, All that makes saints of queens, and gods of kings. All, all but truth, drops dead-born from the press, Like the last Gazette, or the last address.
The morals blackened, when the writings 'scape,
The libelled person, and the pictured shape." These he had bound up in several volumes, according to their various sizes, from folios down to duodecimos; and to each of them bath affixed this motto out of the book of Job:
Behold, my desire is, that mine adversary should write a book. Surely I should take it upon my shoulder, and bind il as a crown to Ch. xxxi. ver. 35, 36.
Warburton. Ver. 220. Ye tinsel insects !] Poets have frequently been partymen, ancient as well as modern. Euripides was of Alcibiades's faction, for war; Aristophanes, for peace. Hence arose their mutual animosity. The Inferno of Dante is as much a political poem as the Absalom and Achitophel of Dryden. The Æneid is also of this kind; and so is the Pharsalia of Lucan, and the Henriade of Voltaire.
Warton. Ver. 222. cobwebs] Weak and slight sophistry against virtue and honour. Thin colours over vice, as unable to hide the light of truth, as cobwebs to shade the sun.
Pope. Ver. 223. The Muse's wing shall brush you all away;] An exquisite verse, of which Mr. Gray has made excellent use in his Ode on Spring :
“ Brush'd by the hand of rough mischance,
Wakefield. Ver. 225. gods of kings.] When James the First had once bespeeched his parliament, Bishop Williams, Keeper of the Great Seal, added that, after his Majesty's DIVINUM ET IMMORTALE DICTUM, he would not dure mortale aliquid addere. On which Wilson, the historian, observes - This is not inserted to shew the PREGNANCY and GENIUS of the man, but the temper of the times.
When black ambition stains a public cause,
,230 Nor Boileau turn the feather to a star.
Not so, when diadem'd with rays divine, Touch'd with the flame that breaks from Virtue's
shrine, Her priestess Muse forbids the good to die, And opes the temple of eternity.
Ver. 228. When black ambition, &c.] The case of Cromwell in the civil war of England; and (Ver. 229.) of Louis XIV. in his conquest of the Low Countries.
Pope. Ver. 230. Not Waller's wreath] “Such a series of verses," says Dr. Johnson, “as the Panegyric on Cromwell, had hardly appeared before in the English language." I cannot forbear adding, that I am surprized Waller should never name Milton, who was of the same party, and which he had so many opportunities of doing in his works.' But Waller was not of Milton's school.
Warton. Ver. 231. Nor Boileau turn the feather to a star.] See his Ode on Namur ; where (to use his own words) “Il a fait un astre de la plume blanche que le Roi porte ordinairement à son chapeau, et qui est en effet une espèce de comete, fatale à nos ennemis."
After Ver. 227 in the MS.
With that which follow'd Julius to the skies.
There, other trophies deck the truly brave;
Prior burlesqued this Ode with infinite pleasantry and humour. And the same may be said of Prior's Epistle to Boileau. Louis XIV., who had a personal regard for Prior, did not, we may well imagine, know that he had ridiculed his favourite Poet. Another French flatterer read to Malherbe some fulsome verses, in which he had represented France as moving out of its place to receive the King. “Though this," said the honest Malherbe, in time, yet I protest I do not remember it.”
Warton, Ver. 235. And opes] From Milton's Comus, ver. 14. “ That opes the palace of eternity."
Warton. Ver. 237. Anstis] The chief herald at arms. It is the custom at the funeral of great peers, to cast into the grave the broken staves and ensigns of honour.
Pope. Ver. 238. Far olher stars than *** und *** wear] That is, Kent and Grafton. The next line wants explanation. I have some notion Lord Mordington kept a gaming-house.
Bennet, Ver. 239. STAIR;] John Dalrymple, Earl of Stair, Knight of the Thistle, served in all the wars under the Duke of Marlborough; and afterwards as ambassador to France.
Pope. Ver. 240, 241. Hough — Digby,] Dr. John Hough, Bishop of Worcester; and the Lord Digby. The one an assertor of the Church of England, in opposition to the false measures of King James II. The other as firmly attached to the cause of that King. Both acting out of principle, and equally men of honour and virtue.
Pope. Ver. 240. (Such as on Hougu's unsullied mitre shine,] Dr. John Hough, successively Bishop of Oxford, Lichfield, and Worcester, was born in 1655, and died May 8, 1743, at the very
advanced age of ninety-two, after an episcopacy of fifty-three years.
Let envy howl, while heaven's whole chorus sings,
Yes, the last pen for freedom let me draw, When truth stands trembling on the edge of law; Here, last of Britons ! let your names be read : 250 Are none, none living ? let me praise the dead, And for that cause which made your fathers shine, Fall by the votes of their degenerate line.
Ver. 240. on Hough's unsullied] In the fifty-seventh Persian Letter, is an elegant and well written eulogium on this excellent prelate, by Lord Lyttelton. These Letters have been too much depreciated and neglected.
Warton. Ver. 253. of their degenerate line.] Such was the language at that time, used by our author and his friends and associates. Lord Chesterfield ends the account of his friend Hammond, author of the Love Elegies, with these words : “ He looked back, with a kind of religious awe and delight, upon those glorious and happy times of Greece and Rome, when wisdom, virtue, and liberty formed the only triumvirates; in these sentiments he lived, and would have lived, even in these times; in these sentiments he died; but in these times too, ut non erepta a diis immortalibus vita, sed donata, mors videatur.”
In every age, and in every nation, there is a constant progression of manners; “ For the manners of a people seldom stand still, but are either POLISHING or SPOILING."
Ver. 255. In the MS.
Quit, quit these themes and write Essays on Man.