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Benjamin Gottlieb
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Benjamin Gottlieb lives in New York City.

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Brian Conn

Brian Conn’s debut novel is called The Fixed Stars: Thirty-Seven Emblems for the Perilous Season.  It is such a singular achievement that I would urge him to never publish another novel again – or at least to do so under a pseudonym – lest the idiosyncratic distinctiveness of his achievement be burdened by associations with and comparisons to his future – and in all likelihood, one would hope, quite distinct – output.  I often think of how sullied Anthony Burgess’ oeuvre has been by A Clockwork Orange – I don’t particularly like the book; undoubtedly, many find that the pall of his most successful novel only heightens the appeal and effectiveness of his other works, imbuing them with unseemly potentials that might not otherwise therein exist – and I do not want this to happen to Conn.


I mentioned, just several clauses ago, that “one would hope” that Conn’s future works be distinct from The Fixed Stars; this is not because the territory that he has explored here has been mined to its fruitfully-mineable extremes.  Quite the opposite: he could continue with such similarly elusive works forever, and it would undoubtedly find him a place – a niche, at the very least – in the twenty-first century literary canon; he could very easily, I imagine, pursue the myriad narrative innovations he has made with his debut for the rest of his life.  I say this merely because The Fixed Stars reads to me as so entirely distinct from anything currently being published that, for entirely selfish reasons, I would not want the uniqueness of the work to become part of a “club,” so to speak, even if it were a club whose sole members were Conn’s other publications.  I imagine that, had I been a canny enough prepubescent to read CivilWarLand in Bad Decline when it was first released, I would have wished the same thing for George Saunders; had I had the wherewithal and unprecedentedly premature birth to speak to Don DeLillo after he published Americana, I would have told him to quit while he was ahead; had I been born before the release of Lydia Davis’ first collection, The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories, I likely would have urged her, too, to give up writing entirely.  But, like Saunders, and like Davis, and like DeLillo, Conn is likely to only further develop and engage with his Weltanschauung, and The Fixed Stars will soon appear merely a spotty blueprint for the more considered and masterly work of his literary maturity.  I look forward with immense impatience to this period, for it is his alone to pursue, and, unless he reins himself into less unique territory, whatever it yields will prove as exploratory and exciting and unforeseeable as Pastoralia and In Persuasion Nation, as Samuel Johnson Is Indignant and The End of the Story, as The Names and White Noise.


What has Conn done to deserve such anxious considerations of his future as a writer?  He has written a remarkable, unique book.  It exists in a largely timeless and placeless environment – references to time and place come not infrequently, but they render the world only more limitless and unfathomable – delineated in a prose style that reads as though in literal translation from some mock-Slavic language.  The narrative – peppered with pronouncements and aphoristic statements that are absent, to the reader, of any easily relatable or fully comprehensible meaning or consequence – proceeds with a fascinating inscrutability comparable to a largely forgotten folk tale for which contemporary Americans can summon little immediate empathy.  The prose is clear and concrete, and everything reads as solemn and forceful; yet the clarity and concreteness only make the world more foreign and incomprehensible, as the reader may find little correlation between the clarity and cohesion of the novel’s world and his or her own.


The world is intensely insular and circumscribed, yet it is difficult to get a precise sense of it, so that, to the reader, it has an opaque expansiveness and breadth that feels entirely distinct from its characters’ experiences of it; we are consistently at odds with the characters’ understandings of the rules of their world, and yet we are able to gather a certain intuitive sense of what fits and what does not.  Occasionally, the narrative ventures into areas and expands certain sections in ways that seem out of place with my intuitive understanding of his world; I would imagine that other readers’ intuitive senses of the limitations of the novel’s space are wider than mine, and that such allowances would seem entirely in order.  Conn does not make any demands on the readers’ understanding of this world; he merely makes inferences, which we can find fitting or out of place. Conn’s responsibility to remain arduously attuned to his intuitive understanding of the world becomes all the more important, then, as does the meticulousness with which he expands it; there is an almost palpable sense that Conn restricts his narrative from his wilder impulses, so as to maintain the intuitive clarity of his structure.


The narrator’s inability, unwillingness, or unconcern in expressing or articulating precisely what is happening and where it is happening, or to cogently convey a deeply involved image – the essential incompatibility between the clarity of the characters’ comprehension of the world and the opacity of the reader’s – ultimately works quite well, uncomfortable though it may be at times.  The reader is invited into this world merely as an observer, albeit a somewhat blinded and deafened one; to gain any sense of this world means relying on senses not usually required – at least not foremost – while reading a novel: one feels as if one must touch and smell what is being given – merely reading it leaves one cold, unmoved, and exasperated, because any standard articulation and evocation – of how things and people interact, of the meaning of their interactions, of the sense of all of this – seem perennially just beyond the capacity of the descriptive passages.


There is much talk of love, particularly in extremes: characters often profess that they love something more than they do or have anything else; but what does this love mean?  What is the sense of this love?  We only get pronouncements; we rarely get articulated meaning.  This creates an emotional divide between the characters and the reader, for we cannot quite empathize with their fears, loves, jealousies, and sadnesses; that two of the final sections are very moving is then entirely unexpected, and it is because, within this unempathic yarn, Conn has fashioned a sneakily subtle method of conveying feeling – it is quite unlikely that, were I to have read these sections earlier or separately from the novel, I would have done so with the same lump in my throat that Conn’s slow, indoctrinatory storytelling method coerced me into having.


He seems to address the discrepancy between meaning to the reader and meaning to the novel's characters early on, speaking to the attempts of representing a road in mosaics: “no two mosaicists could agree what the new road looked like.  Perhaps indeed it was many new roads, a different one for each of us.”  Conn makes the enlivening suggestion that his is merely one interpretation of this world.  It is to me a novel proposition; usually, the worlds of writers of, for lack of a better signifier, speculative fiction are distinctly their own; no one understands the worlds of Philip K. Dick more than Philip K. Dick, and no one can represent the worlds of William Gibson more accurately than William Gibson.  Conn is more inclusive: his representation, he seems to suggest, is merely one of an innumerable many; he has no more mastery over his allegorical world than any realist author does over those in which we all ostensibly live.  It is an invigorating proposal.


There is a certainty not just to the prose but also to the way in which everyone approaches and understands their surroundings – this is a staple of fairy and folk tales: everything is governed by rules that, no matter how seemingly inscrutable or superstitious to the reader, are true and irrefutable within the tale.  There is a fixity to everything that lends the novel a certain intractability.  It is only the presumption that Conn’s telling of this story is a mere one of many that saves it from become somewhat tiresome: this is a world more malleable than the one suggested by the rigidity of the prose.


The numerous stories told within the novel bear structural similarities to those specific to fairy tales, such as foreshadowing and resolution, but Conn refuses to strictly adhere to them, often leaving a tale largely unresolved, or resolving it in a manner not dependent upon any presumed foreshadowing.  They read like last-minute dismissals of, or departures from, the styles to which they are otherwise indebted.  Tropes are used for the purpose of abandoning them.  While this may seem a tired postmodern trick, the progression of the novel, and the characters’ seeming unconcern for any such fairy tale-esque resolution, serves only to further bolster the idea that this is a world comparable to but far from compatible with “ours”: resolution is neither expected nor necessary.  There is an effectively unnerving lack of clear consequence to anything, an unrelenting weightlessness to each part of the novel; even when events are endowed with a consequential flavor, the significance is supplied through a sheer exposition that beguiles far more than it informs.  When the final two chapters of the novel build toward a resolution of sorts, it feels anticlimactic and unnecessary: we have long since abandoned the world of resolution.


It would be difficult to discuss this novel without at the very least addressing its postmodern elements.  Conn takes a nearly Mannerist approach to his telling, but there is a sincerity to his tongue-in-cheek style – indeed, this sincerity is all that allows the work to sustain itself; otherwise its already considerable self-imposed limitations would only further encroach upon the connotative expansiveness of the work, and it would collapse under its own self-conscious cheekiness.  This is not to say that the work is not cheeky: the syntax is of a kind of mongrel fairy talese, and references to “post-late-capitalism” abound.  This latter term beckons the likes of Frederic Jameson and Francis Fukuyama, and in many ways these invocations are the weakest part of the novel: such allusions seem out of place to my increasingly intuitive understanding of it, even while it was precisely these allusions that initially allowed me to feel as though I had gained access to any such understanding.  The term seems designed to create a framework for understanding the novel as a kind of post-postmodernist work, as a take on Robert Coover’s take on fairy tales – a return to the source, in a way, but a return dependent upon discursive postmodern departures.


Is a description of the novel’s plot necessary?  I don’t believe that it is; at the very least, my enjoyment of it was not dependent upon the plot – indeed, many of the more plot-oriented passages were for me the least engaging –, and many of the finest passages – most notably, a simply terrific short “historical” play, which details the events surrounding the marriage of the Commander of the starship Theseus, Duke of Athens to the daughter of the ambassador from Neptune – do little to advance the narrative.  Suffice it to say that there is a plague, an annual celebration of great import to the society, considerable preparation for a pageant, kidnappings, messenger-delivered children, quarantines, efforts on the part of the society's children to accumulating knowledge about their society’s history and culture, and a great much more: people get lost, people get in fights, people have sex in unusually pungent or asensual ways, people grow jealous and suspicious of each other.  The events take place in some distant future, after all that we have taken for granted in some fashion or another leads to the destruction of contemporary civilization.  Wonderfully bizarre aphorisms – “Let peace erupt within you” –, beautifully unexpected descriptions – “The binder of brooms leapt into the room and struck the boar-bristle woman behind the ear with a young pumpkin” – and hilariously stilted dialogue – “'I am only playing a haunting melody in this dell, in order to frighten the children’” – abound, but, after the abundant quirks and whimsies pass and fade into memory, what is left is a singular portrait of an obtuse, alien, and impossibly knowable society. There is a distinctly patriarchal quality to this largely collapsed society, despite certain efforts to place female characters at its forefront; but Conn does not use this to offer any analyses or interpretations of patriarchal societies, as perhaps he shouldn’t – it would read entirely at odds with the style of the rest of the novel, even as it might make it a more comfortable or comforting read.


Conn’s achievement is not so much in his fantastical and stoic fabrications as it is in the unexpected inclusiveness of his telling of them.  The frame of the narrative is so tenuous and its contents so weightless that any story held solely within it seems to evade memory; those that extend beyond the narrative frame – the play, an early passage between two girls on a river, a later passage between two men and a corpse – are indelible in their alternately funny, sweet, and chilling singularity.  The vagueness of this world is charted in concrete terms and phrases, but, between the limited and wonderfully awkward vocabulary and syntax and the incomprehensibly meaningful pomp of everything, Conn lets his readers in to roam and make of it what they will.  This world isn’t Conn’s; he’s just its messenger.


 


The image used for this post is a detail of the cover of The Fixed Stars.  The cover design is by Lou Robinson and the photos are by Dreamstime.com.

“I love reading and I just read this one. So awesome! The other Darwin Escorts read it too and they had positive reviews.”
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Joanna Ruocco

The prose of Joanna Ruocco’s remarkable debut novel The Mothering Coven is so exuberant and thoroughly enlivening in its contagious and cheeky love for the mutability of language’s meanings that its plot often seemed to serve a subsidiary role to its stylistic rollicks; one could read for sound and linguistic play alone – its rhetorical approach to story seemed a narrative unto itself, and one could enjoy and take from this element of the novel as much – indeed, far more than – one could from practically any other published work out there, contemporary or otherwise.  Since reading Ruocco’s new collection of stories, Man’s Companions, I’ve been tempted to return to The Mothering Coven and see whether these two facets – its style and its "substance," that is to say, perhaps erroneously, plot – are quite as easily extricable from each other as the ready fun of the prose alone made it seem to me.  Man’s Companions hews to a several few styles, none of them quite what one could call “Ruocco’s own,” if only in the sense that, unlike in The Mothering Coven, her method seems not so immediately and brazenly unique; where The Mothering Coven at times felt like something of a novel as tone poem, the stories in Man’s Companions all seem a more cogent commingling of form and function, each narrative progressing, informing, and slyly abetting their respective needs.  I now suspect I had missed a great deal of The Mothering Coven’s virtuosity by believing it, in a sense, to be the singularized alloy of two separate products: a wonderful, funny tale, and an exhibit of stunningly confident and unusual writing.  Man’s Companions is something of a corrective to my reading of The Mothering Coven – an entirely unexpected one, as the novel is one of my favorites.  But the short story collection commends Ruocco’s abilities as not merely those of a stylistically inventive writer, but as of a thoroughly capable writer whose stylistic chops are no less honed than her narrative, structural, and emotional ones.


Where The Mothering Coven read to me as a kind of sui generis gem, Man’s Companions offers its readers a considerable breadth of influences to apply to its various styles and subject matters.  The early Lydia Davis seems not unfairly applicable, as does Amy Hempel, not merely for their separately singular abilities to convey a tremendous amount of information and a great emotional range with an economy of text, but also for the alternately insouciant and piercingly human wit with which they do so.  It is this voice that informs the vast majority of the stories in the collection: they are told in the first person and relate the subtleties of its narrator’s quotidian thought processes.  Many conclude with minor profundities or alterations that render the preceding text in a new light, casting the lives of their narrators, with a quick and acute nuance, in entirely new emotional territory.  This becomes something of a structural crutch for Ruocco, and, after a certain point, many of the stories constructed in this way bleed into each other; it took me some time to become convinced that the stories weren’t connected in a less severely obscurantist manner similar to those of The Book of Disquiet or the untranslated Los cuentos de Juana.  “Ugly Ducks,” “Small Sharks,” “Cat,” and “Canary” are perhaps the finest stories within the collection to use this last-sentence-heavy technique, and it’s likely not coincidental that they are also the first four stories of the collection: the style begins to wear after a point, and Ruocco’s stylistic and diegetic expansion later in the collection becomes increasingly welcome, as fine-tuned, effective, and acutely perceptive as each story individually is.


I first read this collection about two months ago; before beginning to reconsider the work for review, I read it again, and found, not entirely unsurprisingly, that I had forgotten many of the stories that fall into this structural camp, or that I had conflated several.  The stories prove themselves tremendously ripe for rereading: they are so unassumingly complete that new elements and possibilities emerge with each reading.  They are also, particularly when read alone and out of order, great fun.  I had largely forgotten ever having read “White Horses” come my second reading; and, upon my second reading – in which I read it separately from the others –, I wondered how forgetting such a funny and observant and subtly imaginative story was possible.  The same goes for such marvels as “Flying Monkeys,” “Hart,” and, especially, “Unicorns.”


The reason, I imagine, is that they come in such a quick flurry of other like-minded and stylistically similar – if uniformly perceptive and poignant – stories, and that this renders them artificially interchangeable.  The brevity and unpretentious ease of each story makes one feel as though it is entirely possible to breeze through the collection; and it is, but doing so would ensure missing out on a lot.  These last-sentence-heavy stories largely hew to the kind of first person narrative story released under a title with a profusion of personal pronouns.  The collection is a slow progression, with several hiccups, from this style into other, singularly represented ones.  “Represented” seems off-putting, as if these stories were mere pastiche; but each story manages to recall others stylistically while forging an unexpected emotional and narrative path of its own.  This is what makes Man’s Companion’s such a revelation: one would imagine, after The Mothering Coven, that Ruocco’s interests were predominantly in the purely verbal; the “corrective” quality of this collection is its proof that her interests are far more inclusive and wide-reaching, that she has a rare ability to fashion wholly believable characters quite quickly and that her understanding of their emotional states is paramount to her.  As the collection progresses, the usage of the style of the first stories gradually wanes, reappearing only to upend the conventions initially laid down.  And it is the stories that are not told in this style that have stayed with me most, and that I enjoyed most during both readings.  “Endangered Species” and “White Buffalo” are to me the most effective stories in the collection; they are two of the best stories I have read in a long time.  And they could hardly be more distinct from each other, the former a hilarious, obscured account of record-taking and naming, the latter a broad and painfully funny story of the numerous quotidian problems that beset, to varying degrees, a school and its teachers and administrators.  I have read both countless times; I cannot tire of their quiet ingenuity and the fascinated receptiveness Ruocco grants her variously adumbrated and expansive worlds.


Because of the uneven stylistic mixture of the stories within Man’s Companions, the collection feels somewhat cobbled together from the author’s tremendous output; the stories are uniformly wonderful, but their order and form lends them a facility that ultimately does the collection more harm than good: each story demands to be read separately from the others, as a singular entity, but they are arranged with an informality that makes it easy to casually read one after a casual other.  That so many focus on characters of varying degrees of obsessiveness, indecision, anxiety, self-consciousness, and idealizing wonder – it would seem important to note that they are largely female, particularly given the implications of the title of the collection, but this implication is as far as Ruocco's exploration of the relationship of women to men goes; furthermore, the female characters are not specifically feminine or primarily representative of notions of femininity; I could relate to many of them more than most male characters of any works in recent memory likely has only to do with the deftness with which Ruocco has created each person – only further lends the stories a conceptual cohesion that I believe just distracts from the collection's strongest qualities: the acuity of its prose, characterizations, and rendering of emotion.  But it seems like senseless grousing to focus on such things: we are lucky to have a writer like Ruocco elucidating, examining, and celebrating so much for us, and we are quite fortunate to now have another book that attests to her wide abilities.  I cannot wait to read The Mothering Coven again; I imagine it will be as if it were the first time.


 


The image used for this review is a detail of Birds, by Robert Hodgin.  It is used for the cover of Man's Companions.

“Nice one! I love it! You should try writing a novel. :) Escorts in Sydney will be surely reading it. :)”
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“Nice! Keep going. I think you just need to brush up on your organization of thoughts. :)”
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Kim Gek Lin Short
Tarpaulin Sky

Kim Gek Lin Short has written a beguiling and entirely enthralling collection of related prose poems; it is so unusual and provocative in its subtle oddities that I wonder how aware she is of what she’s done.  This is always a good sign.  It is what you think when you read a story by George Saunders, or see a film by David Lynch, or flip through a comic by R. Crumb: how did this person know he could do this?  And how did he summon the courage, or merely the unconcern, to trust that others would not dismiss their work for whatever it first, and less interestingly, appears to be?


The collection, released by the exceptional Tarpaulin Sky, is entitled The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits.  It is composed of three distinct parts; the first, upon first reading, may seem the most conventional: it sets up the narrative, even as it watches it spin delirious circles around itself, upsetting its own logic; the second upends this somewhat as it allows the reader to delve into the mysteriously edited and footnoted datebook – a datebook that gives the collection the first half of its title – by one of the two protagonists, Harlan; and the third compiles “selections” from the datebook of the other protagonist, Toland.  These component sections add up to nothing cohesive or in any rational sense coherent, although one should not be surprised to find one’s heart aching with the progression of each: an internal logic – of the kind that makes distinct emotions seem urgently connected, of the kind that can make one feel manically persuaded without quite understanding why – makes the initially loose weave of these disparate parts increasingly tighten, and with each constriction, even as the relationships between its characters become more fluid and less comprehensible, a breathtaking sadness takes hold of the work.


This reaction came as an utter surprise to me.  The first thing that struck me upon beginning The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits was how bad the writing was; this is because I didn’t yet know what Short was up to.  I still don’t, perhaps – but what is clear is that the essence of her writing exists far beyond the immediacy of her prose, so far beyond technique and style that to say that The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits is more than the sum of its parts would be an utter trivialization – The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits is something entirely different than the sum of its parts; the two don’t seem to operate on the same planet as each other.  The only problem with the work is its title, much in that it runs counter to the work's cumulative essence: The Bugging Watch refers to the second of its three sections, while Other Exhibits refers to the first, and perhaps the third; it is unusually literal for the work – the title is literally the sum of its parts, or at least two of them; the work is anything but, neither quite more nor less – and it creates an artificial disunion around a work that feels otherwise authentically disunified.


To return to the "badness" of the writing, as it initially struck me: the prose reads as if it were in literal translation from a syntactically erratic language, moving direct and indirect objects around their respective verbs with tireless and inconstant abandon.  This initially read to me as the somewhat embarrassing result of an equation that marshaled poetry to a realm of willful obliqueness; each misplaced modifier and tangled predicate seemed to me only a result of this obscurantist approach.  But as the emotional and ontological states of the characters withdrew from their initial state of clarity – beneath the obscured prose of the first section lay a perfectly comprehensible narrative; the characters seemed to live in a near-mythical place of folkloric invention and pure, ready emotions that, in all but their descriptive thrust, remained largely foreign to my comprehension; the reader is made plainly aware of how much and how often they feel great, consequential things, but I was unable, at this early point in the work, to quite feel anything with the characters: their ready emotions were not communicated through empathic prose; rather, the depth of these feelings, in response to encounters and realizations of obtuse and unarticulated meaning, is made apparent solely through the evident import the characters give them – this approach increasingly made sense; indeed, it is what makes the book so worthwhile and notable.  It is also what makes it so brave: one could easily dismiss the work on the basis of its tiresome prose antics, but it is precisely through these that it expands into the unique, ethereal work that it is.


As the work proceeds, its world expands; soon we are introduced to a director, followed by Toland’s father and then her mother.  In its final pages, the words “smurflike” and “Superman” appear; nowhere previously in the collection did it seem that Smurfs or Superman had any room to exist.  It is in Short’s ingenious hands that these aberrations, rather than merely betraying the previously established – if amorphous – form and world of the collection, instead illuminate the profound incomprehensibility of human and emotional interactions.  The first part of the work seemed to establish a place entirely distinct from what we may believe to be a world relatable to one's own; it seemed an affected fairy tale, something like Grimm Brothers fan fiction.  As the collection progresses, it is not merely references to Denver and 1412 Humboldt Street – a GoogleMapable place; one wonders what significance it has to Short – that make this world more recognizable – Denver and 1412 Humboldt Street don’t need any professed, observable “reality” in order to exist, after all – it is the increasing and increasingly incomprehensible expansiveness of the world.  Even as we are dealing in rebirths and multiple existences, and even as its characters take on animal-, bug-, and doll-like characteristics, this becomes a most familiar place, one that is nonetheless immensely difficult to articulate: it is the world as we strive to understand it and make it understood; it is how we try to understand ourselves and those we love, and how we think we will be happy.  With each new character, with each new unexpected word choice, the world becomes larger and infinitely more lonely; it becomes a world not of fairy tales but of people, and little is more incomprehensible and unknown, and full of love, yearning, and sadness, than the innermost thoughts and desires of people.


 


The image used for this post is a detail of the cover art for The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits, by Daniel Rhodes.

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Tinkers

It seems a fairly uncontroversial claim to make that, during the nigh-interminable four weeks between the announcement of this year's Pulitzer Prize winners and last week's second edition of the recipient of its award for Fiction, Tinkers was the most widely sought-after new book in the United States.  Bookstores across New York were flooded by back orders for the first edition, which had mostly sold out before the Pulitzers were even announced; seventy holds had been placed on the novel in the Brooklyn Public Library, meaning that it would take me a little over four years to ever get hold of a library copy of it.  There was also, with the excitement over such a small book by such a small publisher receiving such a grand prize, a deep puzzlement.  The Pulitzers, like any major award, is largely defined by its relationship with the heavy-hitters in its respective fields: no matter how good any work may be, the thinking seems to go, a work must still be buffered by the prominence of its publisher in order to receive such a major notice.  Why, then, and how, did the Pulitzer judges even notice this tiny little thing?  The Pulitzers for Letters, Drama, and Music are typically an award about which those who work within the fields of its recipient categories love to grouse, comfortable in the knowledge that the philistines on its juries are merely incapable of making better informed, more artistically adventurous decisions; its juries, the thought goes, appeal to populist sentiments, and this is why so much smaller work goes unnoticed.  When something that few have even heard of, like Tinkers, wins, it causes many to become uneasy.


Last week, the second edition was released, and I was one of a great many to pick up a copy.  I have begun reading it, but haven't made it terribly far yet, certainly not far enough yet to form any concrete opinion of it.  The prose is often wonderful, but occasionally it reads quite awkwardly; the dialogue meanders with clichés of how elderly people and their distracted grandchildren speak; and the whole thing seems lugubriously burdened by the pall of the death of its protagonist, George Washington Crosby, with the number of days before his death mentioned upon each new introduction to him.  The intention, I imagine, is to give his remaining life added thrust, to add heft and urgency to the thoughts of a man whose proximity to death is so consistently referred to; instead, it obscures any of his ostensible sentience, it makes him doubly dead – in his proximity to death and in his existence so deeply cast in the shadow of his oncoming death.  Paul Harding, the author of Tinkers, must then try all the more to bring this character to life: he must make Crosby live in spite of, or even in indifference to, his death, not because of it.  Harding seems to take it for granted that his death makes any meaningfulness within his life all the more desirable; he doesn't pay much heed to enlivening Crosby beyond whatever the reader, in the urgent desire to lend this man life before he loses it, brings to him.


I am eager to have my opinion considerably changed the more I read it, and I would love to hear what others who have read the novel think of it.

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Triple Canopy

Earlier this week, the wonderful Triple Canopy announced the recipients of its first round of commissions.  As would be expected from such a curious and consistently invigorating enterprise as Triple Canopy, the projects all sound invariably fascinating; the full list of recipients may be found here.


From this early point – a point so early in the projects' developments that it is entirely unfair to begin making any such judgments –, several stand out as particularly intriguing, whether because of the projects themselves or the track histories of their respective creators.  Anna Lundh's is emblematic of both.  2009 marked something of what must have been a banner year for the artist; at the very least, it was then that I found out about her, when her work proved consistently among the most memorable of the staggering five New York exhibitions that she participated in.  The one sentence description on Triple Canopy's Commissions page sums up her proposal: "An investigation into a 'vision of a vision': Karl-Birger Blomdahl's unfinished computer opera, inspired by Hannes Alfvén's 1966 novel The Tale of the Big Computer."  Much of Lundh's work is about uncovering or retracing nearly forgotten or effaced moments of the past: in last year's terrific exhibition, Avant-Guide to NYC – Rediscovering Absence, Lundh's contribution, Front-time Recordings, recreated the movements that Barbro Östlihn – like Blomdahl, a now deceased Swedish artist – made around New York, the city to which she immigrated in 1961.  It was a uniquely compelling and touching portrait of the movements of an artist who lived just beneath the avant-garde radar of her time: it was not so much an effort, as one would expect, to recover the work of a forgotten artist as it was an effort to bring back to some palpable approximation of life the artist herself; the aching humanity and canny tribute to the cult of the artist that gave this project its power made it quite distinct from other work of similar pursuits.  Her Triple Canopy commissioned project bears a superficially similar premise, but one can surely expect something utterly different from Lundh, whose curiosity, as it was on display in New York last year, never seems to allow her to retread previously explored territory.


Graham T. Beck has written many acutely funny and perceptive articles for such esteemed places as The New York TimesMcSweeney's, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, frieze, and Art In America, among others.  His summary of Christie's' recent record-breaking sale of Picasso's Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust) was one of the most pungent to come out in its frenzied wake: the price is explicable, he explains, "for the same reason that my whiskey chocolate chili never wins the annual firehouse cook off: popularity, whether measured in US dollars or cayenne-smudged secret ballots, has everything to do with the lowest common denominator."  His project for Triple Canopy, "a survey of FS-595, the official color palette of the United States," is such a forehead-slappingly obvious great idea that he now bears the burden of making his project live up to its extraordinary potential; fortunately, one has every reason to believe that he is capable of doing this.


Claire Barliant, whose art writing I am unfamiliar with but am now quite eager to read more of, has proposed another fascinating project.  The Commissions page describes it thus: "Revisiting Mankato, which in 1862 was the site of the largest mass execution to occur in US history, and questioning the value of manufactured memory."  Pivotal and largely forgotten moments of US history are always welcome for artistic and scholarly rediscovery, as are explorations of memory; and, judging at least from Barliant's observational skills as made apparent in her short, perceptive essay on Louise Bourgeois – she is an artist about whom one may often tire of reading, as rarely does anyone find anything strikingly novel and perceptive to discuss in her work; but Barliant's approach to her singular and largely un-dissected mystique feels entirely new; it is available here –, she seems well-suited to the task.


The two other projects that caught my eye fall on either end of premise vs. artist's track history spectrum.  In the former camp is James Thomas and Megan O'Hara's proposal: "On its fortieth anniversary, revisiting NASA's Tektite project, the sci-fi-inspired underwater habitat that provided America with a fleeting vision of technologically oriented utopia."  This sentence is grammatically incorrect in at least two ways, but no matter: the project sounds thrillingly fun.  A quick Wikipedia search for the Tektite project provides a much abridged, notably less sexy account of the program, so I can't wait to see what their proposal unearths and how it incorporates the "technologically oriented utopia" angle.  On the other end of the spectrum is Eve Sussman's proposal for whiteonwhite, described as "a dual-stream thriller randomized in real time; an experimental film noir."  Sussman's work is reliable for the searching breadth of its thought and the enchantment of its aesthetic, and I very much look forward to following her into this new project.


The image is a permutation of Wrong Place, Right Time, a poster by José León Cerrillo, created for the Triple Canopy commissions.

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Eloisa to Abelard

In these deep solitudes and awful cells, Where heav'nly-pensive contemplation dwells, And ever-musing melancholy reigns; What means this tumult in a vestal's veins? Why rove my thoughts beyond this last retreat? Why feels my heart its long-forgotten heat? Yet, yet I love! — From Abelard it came, And Eloisa yet must kiss the name. Dear fatal name! rest ever unreveal'd, Nor pass these lips in holy silence seal'd. Hide it, my heart, within that close disguise, Where mix'd with God's, his lov'd idea lies: O write it not, my hand — the name appears Already written — wash it out, my tears! In vain lost Eloisa weeps and prays, Her heart still dictates, and her hand obeys. Relentless walls! whose darksome round contains Repentant sighs, and voluntary pains: Ye rugged rocks! which holy knees have worn; Ye grots and caverns shagg'd with horrid thorn! Shrines! where their vigils pale-ey'd virgins keep, And pitying saints, whose statues learn to weep! Though cold like you, unmov'd, and silent grown, I have not yet forgot myself to stone. All is not Heav'n's while Abelard has part, Still rebel nature holds out half my heart; Nor pray'rs nor fasts its stubborn pulse restrain, Nor tears, for ages, taught to flow in vain. Soon as thy letters trembling I unclose, That well-known name awakens all my woes. Oh name for ever sad! for ever dear! Still breath'd in sighs, still usher'd with a tear. I tremble too, where'er my own I find, Some dire misfortune follows close behind. Line after line my gushing eyes o'erflow, Led through a sad variety of woe: Now warm in love, now with'ring in thy bloom, Lost in a convent's solitary gloom! There stern religion quench'd th' unwilling flame, There died the best of passions, love and fame. Yet write, oh write me all, that I may join Griefs to thy griefs, and echo sighs to thine. Nor foes nor fortune take this pow'r away; And is my Abelard less kind than they? Tears still are mine, and those I need not spare, Love but demands what else were shed in pray'r; No happier task these faded eyes pursue; To read and weep is all they now can do. Then share thy pain, allow that sad relief; Ah, more than share it! give me all thy grief. Heav'n first taught letters for some wretch's aid, Some banish'd lover, or some captive maid; They live, they speak, they breathe what love inspires, Warm from the soul, and faithful to its fires, The virgin's wish without her fears impart, Excuse the blush, and pour out all the heart, Speed the soft intercourse from soul to soul, And waft a sigh from Indus to the Pole. Thou know'st how guiltless first I met thy flame, When Love approach'd me under Friendship's name; My fancy form'd thee of angelic kind, Some emanation of th' all-beauteous Mind. Those smiling eyes, attemp'ring ev'ry day, Shone sweetly lambent with celestial day. Guiltless I gaz'd; heav'n listen'd while you sung; And truths divine came mended from that tongue. From lips like those what precept fail'd to move? Too soon they taught me 'twas no sin to love. Back through the paths of pleasing sense I ran, Nor wish'd an Angel whom I lov'd a Man. Dim and remote the joys of saints I see; Nor envy them, that heav'n I lose for thee. How oft, when press'd to marriage, have I said, Curse on all laws but those which love has made! Love, free as air, at sight of human ties, Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies, Let wealth, let honour, wait the wedded dame, August her deed, and sacred be her fame; Before true passion all those views remove, Fame, wealth, and honour! what are you to Love? The jealous God, when we profane his fires, Those restless passions in revenge inspires; And bids them make mistaken mortals groan, Who seek in love for aught but love alone. Should at my feet the world's great master fall, Himself, his throne, his world, I'd scorn 'em all: Not Caesar's empress would I deign to prove; No, make me mistress to the man I love; If there be yet another name more free, More fond than mistress, make me that to thee! Oh happy state! when souls each other draw, When love is liberty, and nature, law: All then is full, possessing, and possess'd, No craving void left aching in the breast: Ev'n thought meets thought, ere from the lips it part, And each warm wish springs mutual from the heart. This sure is bliss (if bliss on earth there be) And once the lot of Abelard and me. Alas, how chang'd! what sudden horrors rise! A naked lover bound and bleeding lies! Where, where was Eloise? her voice, her hand, Her poniard, had oppos'd the dire command. Barbarian, stay! that bloody stroke restrain; The crime was common, common be the pain. I can no more; by shame, by rage suppress'd, Let tears, and burning blushes speak the rest. Canst thou forget that sad, that solemn day, When victims at yon altar's foot we lay? Canst thou forget what tears that moment fell, When, warm in youth, I bade the world farewell? As with cold lips I kiss'd the sacred veil, The shrines all trembl'd, and the lamps grew pale: Heav'n scarce believ'd the conquest it survey'd, And saints with wonder heard the vows I made. Yet then, to those dread altars as I drew, Not on the Cross my eyes were fix'd, but you: Not grace, or zeal, love only was my call, And if I lose thy love, I lose my all. Come! with thy looks, thy words, relieve my woe; Those still at least are left thee to bestow. Still on that breast enamour'd let me lie, Still drink delicious poison from thy eye, Pant on thy lip, and to thy heart be press'd; Give all thou canst — and let me dream the rest. Ah no! instruct me other joys to prize, With other beauties charm my partial eyes, Full in my view set all the bright abode, And make my soul quit Abelard for God. Ah, think at least thy flock deserves thy care, Plants of thy hand, and children of thy pray'r. From the false world in early youth they fled, By thee to mountains, wilds, and deserts led. You rais'd these hallow'd walls; the desert smil'd, And Paradise was open'd in the wild. No weeping orphan saw his father's stores Our shrines irradiate, or emblaze the floors; No silver saints, by dying misers giv'n, Here brib'd the rage of ill-requited heav'n: But such plain roofs as piety could raise, And only vocal with the Maker's praise. In these lone walls (their days eternal bound) These moss-grown domes with spiry turrets crown'd, Where awful arches make a noonday night, And the dim windows shed a solemn light; Thy eyes diffus'd a reconciling ray, And gleams of glory brighten'd all the day. But now no face divine contentment wears, 'Tis all blank sadness, or continual tears. See how the force of others' pray'rs I try, (O pious fraud of am'rous charity!) But why should I on others' pray'rs depend? Come thou, my father, brother, husband, friend! Ah let thy handmaid, sister, daughter move, And all those tender names in one, thy love! The darksome pines that o'er yon rocks reclin'd Wave high, and murmur to the hollow wind, The wand'ring streams that shine between the hills, The grots that echo to the tinkling rills, The dying gales that pant upon the trees, The lakes that quiver to the curling breeze; No more these scenes my meditation aid, Or lull to rest the visionary maid. But o'er the twilight groves and dusky caves, Long-sounding aisles, and intermingled graves, Black Melancholy sits, and round her throws A death-like silence, and a dread repose: Her gloomy presence saddens all the scene, Shades ev'ry flow'r, and darkens ev'ry green, Deepens the murmur of the falling floods, And breathes a browner horror on the woods. Yet here for ever, ever must I stay; Sad proof how well a lover can obey! Death, only death, can break the lasting chain; And here, ev'n then, shall my cold dust remain, Here all its frailties, all its flames resign, And wait till 'tis no sin to mix with thine. Ah wretch! believ'd the spouse of God in vain, Confess'd within the slave of love and man. Assist me, Heav'n! but whence arose that pray'r? Sprung it from piety, or from despair? Ev'n here, where frozen chastity retires, Love finds an altar for forbidden fires. I ought to grieve, but cannot what I ought; I mourn the lover, not lament the fault; I view my crime, but kindle at the view, Repent old pleasures, and solicit new; Now turn'd to Heav'n, I weep my past offence, Now think of thee, and curse my innocence. Of all affliction taught a lover yet, 'Tis sure the hardest science to forget! How shall I lose the sin, yet keep the sense, And love th' offender, yet detest th' offence? How the dear object from the crime remove, Or how distinguish penitence from love? Unequal task! a passion to resign, For hearts so touch'd, so pierc'd, so lost as mine. Ere such a soul regains its peaceful state, How often must it love, how often hate! How often hope, despair, resent, regret, Conceal, disdain — do all things but forget. But let Heav'n seize it, all at once 'tis fir'd; Not touch'd, but rapt; not waken'd, but inspir'd! Oh come! oh teach me nature to subdue, Renounce my love, my life, myself — and you. Fill my fond heart with God alone, for he Alone can rival, can succeed to thee. How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd; Labour and rest, that equal periods keep; "Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;" Desires compos'd, affections ever ev'n, Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav'n. Grace shines around her with serenest beams, And whisp'ring angels prompt her golden dreams. For her th' unfading rose of Eden blooms, And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes, For her the Spouse prepares the bridal ring, For her white virgins hymeneals sing, To sounds of heav'nly harps she dies away, And melts in visions of eternal day. Far other dreams my erring soul employ, Far other raptures, of unholy joy: When at the close of each sad, sorrowing day, Fancy restores what vengeance snatch'd away, Then conscience sleeps, and leaving nature free, All my loose soul unbounded springs to thee. Oh curs'd, dear horrors of all-conscious night! How glowing guilt exalts the keen delight! Provoking Daemons all restraint remove, And stir within me every source of love. I hear thee, view thee, gaze o'er all thy charms, And round thy phantom glue my clasping arms. I wake — no more I hear, no more I view, The phantom flies me, as unkind as you. I call aloud; it hears not what I say; I stretch my empty arms; it glides away. To dream once more I close my willing eyes; Ye soft illusions, dear deceits, arise! Alas, no more — methinks we wand'ring go Through dreary wastes, and weep each other's woe, Where round some mould'ring tower pale ivy creeps, And low-brow'd rocks hang nodding o'er the deeps. Sudden you mount, you beckon from the skies; Clouds interpose, waves roar, and winds arise. I shriek, start up, the same sad prospect find, And wake to all the griefs I left behind. For thee the fates, severely kind, ordain A cool suspense from pleasure and from pain; Thy life a long, dead calm of fix'd repose; No pulse that riots, and no blood that glows. Still as the sea, ere winds were taught to blow, Or moving spirit bade the waters flow; Soft as the slumbers of a saint forgiv'n, And mild as opening gleams of promis'd heav'n. Come, Abelard! for what hast thou to dread? The torch of Venus burns not for the dead. Nature stands check'd; Religion disapproves; Ev'n thou art cold — yet Eloisa loves. Ah hopeless, lasting flames! like those that burn To light the dead, and warm th' unfruitful urn. What scenes appear where'er I turn my view? The dear ideas, where I fly, pursue, Rise in the grove, before the altar rise, Stain all my soul, and wanton in my eyes. I waste the matin lamp in sighs for thee, Thy image steals between my God and me, Thy voice I seem in ev'ry hymn to hear, With ev'ry bead I drop too soft a tear. When from the censer clouds of fragrance roll, And swelling organs lift the rising soul, One thought of thee puts all the pomp to flight, Priests, tapers, temples, swim before my sight: In seas of flame my plunging soul is drown'd, While altars blaze, and angels tremble round. While prostrate here in humble grief I lie, Kind, virtuous drops just gath'ring in my eye, While praying, trembling, in the dust I roll, And dawning grace is op'ning on my soul: Come, if thou dar'st, all charming as thou art! Oppose thyself to Heav'n; dispute my heart; Come, with one glance of those deluding eyes Blot out each bright idea of the skies; Take back that grace, those sorrows, and those tears; Take back my fruitless penitence and pray'rs; Snatch me, just mounting, from the blest abode; Assist the fiends, and tear me from my God! No, fly me, fly me, far as pole from pole; Rise Alps between us! and whole oceans roll! Ah, come not, write not, think not once of me, Nor share one pang of all I felt for thee. Thy oaths I quit, thy memory resign; Forget, renounce me, hate whate'er was mine. Fair eyes, and tempting looks (which yet I view!) Long lov'd, ador'd ideas, all adieu! Oh Grace serene! oh virtue heav'nly fair! Divine oblivion of low-thoughted care! Fresh blooming hope, gay daughter of the sky! And faith, our early immortality! Enter, each mild, each amicable guest; Receive, and wrap me in eternal rest! See in her cell sad Eloisa spread, Propp'd on some tomb, a neighbour of the dead. In each low wind methinks a spirit calls, And more than echoes talk along the walls. Here, as I watch'd the dying lamps around, From yonder shrine I heard a hollow sound. "Come, sister, come!" (it said, or seem'd to say) "Thy place is here, sad sister, come away! Once like thyself, I trembled, wept, and pray'd, Love's victim then, though now a sainted maid: But all is calm in this eternal sleep; Here grief forgets to groan, and love to weep, Ev'n superstition loses ev'ry fear: For God, not man, absolves our frailties here." I come, I come! prepare your roseate bow'rs, Celestial palms, and ever-blooming flow'rs. Thither, where sinners may have rest, I go, Where flames refin'd in breasts seraphic glow: Thou, Abelard! the last sad office pay, And smooth my passage to the realms of day; See my lips tremble, and my eye-balls roll, Suck my last breath, and catch my flying soul! Ah no — in sacred vestments may'st thou stand, The hallow'd taper trembling in thy hand, Present the cross before my lifted eye, Teach me at once, and learn of me to die. Ah then, thy once-lov'd Eloisa see! It will be then no crime to gaze on me. See from my cheek the transient roses fly! See the last sparkle languish in my eye! Till ev'ry motion, pulse, and breath be o'er; And ev'n my Abelard be lov'd no more. O Death all-eloquent! you only prove What dust we dote on, when 'tis man we love. Then too, when fate shall thy fair frame destroy, (That cause of all my guilt, and all my joy) In trance ecstatic may thy pangs be drown'd, Bright clouds descend, and angels watch thee round, From op'ning skies may streaming glories shine, And saints embrace thee with a love like mine. May one kind grave unite each hapless name, And graft my love immortal on thy fame! Then, ages hence, when all my woes are o'er, When this rebellious heart shall beat no more; If ever chance two wand'ring lovers brings To Paraclete's white walls and silver springs, O'er the pale marble shall they join their heads, And drink the falling tears each other sheds; Then sadly say, with mutual pity mov'd, "Oh may we never love as these have lov'd!" From the full choir when loud Hosannas rise, And swell the pomp of dreadful sacrifice, Amid that scene if some relenting eye Glance on the stone where our cold relics lie, Devotion's self shall steal a thought from Heav'n, One human tear shall drop and be forgiv'n. And sure, if fate some future bard shall join In sad similitude of griefs to mine, Condemn'd whole years in absence to deplore, And image charms he must behold no more; Such if there be, who loves so long, so well; Let him our sad, our tender story tell; The well-sung woes will soothe my pensive ghost; He best can paint 'em, who shall feel 'em most.

A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public

IT IS a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes. I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation. But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of professed beggars; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them as those who demand our charity in the streets. As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation. It is true, a child just dropped from its dam may be supported by her milk for a solar year, with little other nourishment; at most not above the value of 2s., which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall on the contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands. There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us! sacrificing the poor innocent babes I doubt more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast. The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thousand couples who are able to maintain their own children, although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the kingdom; but this being granted, there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only remains one hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born. The question therefore is, how this number shall be reared and provided for, which, as I have already said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; we neither build houses (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land: they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing, till they arrive at six years old, except where they are of towardly parts, although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier, during which time, they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers, as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the county of Cavan, who protested to me that he never knew above one or two instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art. I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no salable commodity; and even when they come to this age they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half-a-crown at most on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriment and rags having been at least four times that value. I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection. I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout. I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine; and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter. I have reckoned upon a medium that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, increaseth to 28 pounds. I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children. Infant's flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolific diet, there are more children born in Roman Catholic countries about nine months after Lent than at any other season; therefore, reckoning a year after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of popish infants is at least three to one in this kingdom: and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of papists among us. I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar's child (in which list I reckon all cottagers, laborers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend or his own family to dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his tenants; the mother will have eight shillings net profit, and be fit for work till she produces another child. Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flay the carcass; the skin of which artificially dressed will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen. As to our city of Dublin, shambles may be appointed for this purpose in the most convenient parts of it, and butchers we may be assured will not be wanting; although I rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs. A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I highly esteem, was lately pleased in discoursing on this matter to offer a refinement upon my scheme. He said that many gentlemen of this kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he conceived that the want of venison might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads and maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age nor under twelve; so great a number of both sexes in every country being now ready to starve for want of work and service; and these to be disposed of by their parents, if alive, or otherwise by their nearest relations. But with due deference to so excellent a friend and so deserving a patriot, I cannot be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the males, my American acquaintance assured me, from frequent experience, that their flesh was generally tough and lean, like that of our schoolboys by continual exercise, and their taste disagreeable; and to fatten them would not answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I think, with humble submission be a loss to the public, because they soon would become breeders themselves; and besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice (although indeed very unjustly), as a little bordering upon cruelty; which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, however so well intended. But in order to justify my friend, he confessed that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Psalmanazar, a native of the island Formosa, who came from thence to London above twenty years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality as a prime dainty; and that in his time the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty's prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court, in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at playhouse and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay for, the kingdom would not be the worse. Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known that they are every day dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young laborers, they are now in as hopeful a condition; they cannot get work, and consequently pine away for want of nourishment, to a degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labor, they have not strength to perform it; and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come. I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance. For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the number of papists, with whom we are yearly overrun, being the principal breeders of the nation as well as our most dangerous enemies; and who stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver the kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their advantage by the absence of so many good protestants, who have chosen rather to leave their country than stay at home and pay tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate. Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law may be made liable to distress and help to pay their landlord's rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money a thing unknown. Thirdly, Whereas the maintenance of an hundred thousand children, from two years old and upward, cannot be computed at less than ten shillings a-piece per annum, the nation's stock will be thereby increased fifty thousand pounds per annum, beside the profit of a new dish introduced to the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom who have any refinement in taste. And the money will circulate among ourselves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture. Fourthly, The constant breeders, beside the gain of eight shillings sterling per annum by the sale of their children, will be rid of the charge of maintaining them after the first year. Fifthly, This food would likewise bring great custom to taverns; where the vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best receipts for dressing it to perfection, and consequently have their houses frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating: and a skilful cook, who understands how to oblige his guests, will contrive to make it as expensive as they please. Sixthly, This would be a great inducement to marriage, which all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards or enforced by laws and penalties. It would increase the care and tenderness of mothers toward their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes, provided in some sort by the public, to their annual profit instead of expense. We should see an honest emulation among the married women, which of them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would become as fond of their wives during the time of their pregnancy as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, their sows when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage. Many other advantages might be enumerated. For instance, the addition of some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barreled beef, the propagation of swine's flesh, and improvement in the art of making good bacon, so much wanted among us by the great destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables; which are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a well-grown, fat, yearling child, which roasted whole will make a considerable figure at a lord mayor's feast or any other public entertainment. But this and many others I omit, being studious of brevity. Supposing that one thousand families in this city, would be constant customers for Infant's Flesh, besides others who might have it at merry meetings, particularly at weddings and christenings, I compute that Dublin would take off annually about twenty thousand carcasses, and the rest of the Kingdom (where probably they will be sold somewhat cheaper) the remaining eighty thousand. I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged, that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the Kingdom. This I freely own, and 'twas indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire the reader will observe, that I calculate my remedy for this one individual kingdom of Ireland, and for no other that ever was, is, or I think, ever can be upon Earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: of using neither clothes, nor household furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: of learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: of quitting our animosities, and factions, nor act any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: of teaching our landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it. Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, till he hath at least some glimpse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice. But as to my self, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England. For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of too tender a consistence, to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it. After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points. First, as things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for an hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly, there being a round million of creatures in human figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock would leave them in debt two millions of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession to the bulk of farmers, cottagers, and laborers, with their wives and children who are beggars in effect: I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold as to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food, at a year old in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes as they have since gone through by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor clothes to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of entailing the like or greater miseries upon their breed for ever. I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing.

To Penshurst

Thou art not, PENSHURST, built to envious show Of touch, or marble ; nor canst boast a row Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold : Thou hast no lantern whereof tales are told, Or stair, or courts ; but stand'st an ancient pile, And these grudged at, art reverenced the while. Thou joy'st in better marks, of soil, of air, Of wood, of water ; therein thou art fair. Thou hast thy walks for health as well as sport : Thy mount, to which th'Dryads do resort, Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made, Beneath the broad beech, and the chestnut shade ; That taller tree, which of a nut was set, At his great birth, where all the Muses met, There, in the writhed bark, are cut the names Of many a sylvan taken with his flames ; And thence the ruddy satyrs oft provoke The lighter fauns to reach thy Lady's Oak. Thy copse too, named of Gamage, thou hast there, That never fails to serve thee seasoned deer When thou wouldst feast, or exercise thy friends. The lower land, that to the river bends, Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine, and calves do feed ; The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed. Each bank doth yield thee conies ; and the tops Fertile of wood, Ashore and Sidneys copp's, To crown thy open table, doth provide The purpled pheasant with the speckled side : The painted partridge lies in ev'ry field, And for thy mess is willing to be killed. And if the high-swoln Medway fail thy dish, Thou hast thy ponds, that pay thee tribute fish, Fat aged carps that run into thy net, And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat, As loth the second draught or cast to stay, Officiously at first themselves betray. Bright eels that emulate them, and leap on land Before the fisher, or into his hand. Then hath thy orchard fruit, thy garden flowers, Fresh as the air, and new as are the hours. The early cherry, with the later plum, Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come ; The blushing apricot, and woolly peach Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach. And though thy walls be of the country stone, They're reared with no man's ruin, no man's groan ; There's none that dwell about them wish them down ; But all come in, the farmer and the clown, And no one empty-handed, to salute Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit. Some bring a capon, some a rural cake, Some nuts, some apples ; some that think they make The better cheeses, bring them ; or else send By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend This way to husbands ; and whose baskets bear An emblem of themselves in plum or pear. But what can this (more than express their love) Add to thy free provisions, far above The need of such? whose liberal board doth flow With all that hospitality doth know ! Where comes no guest but is allowed to eat, Without his fear, and of thy lord's own meat : Where the same beer and bread, and self-same wine, That is his lordship's, shall be also mine. And I not fain to sit (as some this day, At great men's tables) and yet dine away. Here no man tells my cups ; nor standing by, A waiter, doth my gluttony envy : But gives me what I call, and lets me eat, He knows below he shall find plenty of meat ; Thy tables hoard not up for the next day, Nor, when I take my lodging, need I pray For fire, or lights, or livery ; all is there ; As if thou then wert mine, or I reigned here : There's nothing I can wish, for which I stay. That found King JAMES, when hunting late, this way With his brave son the Prince ; they saw thy fires Shine bright on every hearth, as the desires Of thy Penates had been set on flame To entertain them ; or the country came, With all their zeal, to warm their welcome here. What (great, I will not say, but)sudden cheer Didst thou then make'em ! and what praise was heaped On thy good lady then ! who therein reaped The just reward of her high huswifery ; To have her linen, plate, and all things nigh, When she was far ; and not a room, but drest, As if it had expected such a guest ! These, Penshurst, are thy praise, and yet not all. Thy lady's noble, fruitful, chaste withal. His children thy great lord may call his own ; A fortune, in this age, but rarely known. They are, and have been taught religion ; thence Their gentler spirits have sucked innocence. Each morn and even, they are taught to pray, With the whole household, and may, every day, Read in their virtuous parents' noble parts The mysteries of manners, arms, and arts. Now, Penshurst, they that will proportion thee With other edifices, when they see Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else, May say their lords have built, but thy lord dwells.

The Rape of the Lock

Canto I What dire offence from am'rous causes springs, What mighty contests rise from trivial things, I sing — This verse to Caryl, Muse! is due: This, ev'n Belinda may vouchsafe to view: Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, If She inspire, and He approve my lays. Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel A well-bred Lord t' assault a gentle Belle? O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor'd, Could make a gentle Belle reject a Lord? In tasks so bold, can little men engage, And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty Rage? Sol thro' white curtains shot a tim'rous ray, And oped those eyes that must eclipse the day: Now lap-dogs give themselves the rousing shake, And sleepless lovers, just at twelve, awake: Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knock'd the ground, And the press'd watch return'd a silver sound. Belinda still her downy pillow prest, Her guardian Sylph prolong'd the balmy rest: 'Twas He had summon'd to her silent bed The morning-dream that hover'd o'er her head; A Youth more glitt'ring than a Birth-night Beau, (That ev'n in slumber caus'd her cheek to glow) Seem'd to her ear his winning lips to lay, And thus in whispers said, or seem'd to say. Fairest of mortals, thou distinguish'd care Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air! If e'er one vision touch.'d thy infant thought, Of all the Nurse and all the Priest have taught; Of airy Elves by moonlight shadows seen, The silver token, and the circled green, Or virgins visited by Angel-pow'rs, With golden crowns and wreaths of heav'nly flow'rs; Hear and believe! thy own importance know, Nor bound thy narrow views to things below. Some secret truths, from learned pride conceal'd, To Maids alone and Children are reveal'd: What tho' no credit doubting Wits may give? The Fair and Innocent shall still believe. Know, then, unnumber'd Spirits round thee fly, The light Militia of the lower sky: These, tho' unseen, are ever on the wing, Hang o'er the Box, and hover round the Ring. Think what an equipage thou hast in Air, And view with scorn two Pages and a Chair. As now your own, our beings were of old, And once inclos'd in Woman's beauteous mould; Thence, by a soft transition, we repair From earthly Vehicles to these of air. Think not, when Woman's transient breath is fled That all her vanities at once are dead; Succeeding vanities she still regards, And tho' she plays no more, o'erlooks the cards. Her joy in gilded Chariots, when alive, And love of Ombre, after death survive. For when the Fair in all their pride expire, To their first Elements their Souls retire: The Sprites of fiery Termagants in Flame Mount up, and take a Salamander's name. Soft yielding minds to Water glide away, And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental Tea. The graver Prude sinks downward to a Gnome, In search of mischief still on Earth to roam. The light Coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair, And sport and flutter in the fields of Air. "Know further yet; whoever fair and chaste Rejects mankind, is by some Sylph embrac'd: For Spirits, freed from mortal laws, with ease Assume what sexes and what shapes they please. What guards the purity of melting Maids, In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades, Safe from the treach'rous friend, the daring spark, The glance by day, the whisper in the dark, When kind occasion prompts their warm desires, When music softens, and when dancing fires? 'Tis but their Sylph, the wise Celestials know, Tho' Honour is the word with Men below. Some nymphs there are, too conscious of their face, For life predestin'd to the Gnomes' embrace. These swell their prospects and exalt their pride, When offers are disdain'd, and love deny'd: Then gay Ideas crowd the vacant brain, While Peers, and Dukes, and all their sweeping train, And Garters, Stars, and Coronets appear, And in soft sounds, Your Grace salutes their ear. 'T is these that early taint the female soul, Instruct the eyes of young Coquettes to roll, Teach Infant-cheeks a bidden blush to know, And little hearts to flutter at a Beau. Oft, when the world imagine women stray, The Sylphs thro' mystic mazes guide their way, Thro' all the giddy circle they pursue, And old impertinence expel by new. What tender maid but must a victim fall To one man's treat, but for another's ball? When Florio speaks what virgin could withstand, If gentle Damon did not squeeze her hand? With varying vanities, from ev'ry part, They shift the moving Toyshop of their heart; Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive, Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive. This erring mortals Levity may call; Oh blind to truth! the Sylphs contrive it all. Of these am I, who thy protection claim, A watchful sprite, and Ariel is my name. Late, as I rang'd the crystal wilds of air, In the clear Mirror of thy ruling Star I saw, alas! some dread event impend, Ere to the main this morning sun descend, But heav'n reveals not what, or how, or where: Warn'd by the Sylph, oh pious maid, beware! This to disclose is all thy guardian can: Beware of all, but most beware of Man!" He said; when Shock, who thought she slept too long, Leap'd up, and wak'd his mistress with his tongue. 'T was then, Belinda, if report say true, Thy eyes first open'd on a Billet-doux; Wounds, Charms, and Ardors were no sooner read, But all the Vision vanish'd from thy head. And now, unveil'd, the Toilet stands display'd, Each silver Vase in mystic order laid. First, rob'd in white, the Nymph intent adores, With head uncover'd, the Cosmetic pow'rs. A heav'nly image in the glass appears, To that she bends, to that her eyes she rears; Th' inferior Priestess, at her altar's side, Trembling begins the sacred rites of Pride. Unnumber'd treasures ope at once, and here The various off'rings of the world appear; From each she nicely culls with curious toil, And decks the Goddess with the glitt'ring spoil. This casket India's glowing gems unlocks, And all Arabia breathes from yonder box. The Tortoise here and Elephant unite, Transformed to combs, the speckled, and the white. Here files of pins extend their shining rows, Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux. Now awful Beauty puts on all its arms; The fair each moment rises in her charms, Repairs her smiles, awakens ev'ry grace, And calls forth all the wonders of her face; Sees by degrees a purer blush arise, And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes. The busy Sylphs surround their darling care, These set the head, and those divide the hair, Some fold the sleeve, whilst others plait the gown: And Betty's prais'd for labours not her own. Canto II Not with more glories, in th' etherial plain, The Sun first rises o'er the purpled main, Than, issuing forth, the rival of his beams Launch'd on the bosom of the silver Thames. Fair Nymphs, and well-drest Youths around her shone. But ev'ry eye was fix'd on her alone. On her white breast a sparkling Cross she wore, Which Jews might kiss, and Infidels adore. Her lively looks a sprightly mind disclose, Quick as her eyes, and as unfix'd as those: Favours to none, to all she smiles extends; Oft she rejects, but never once offends. Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike, And, like the sun, they shine on all alike. Yet graceful ease, and sweetness void of pride, Might hide her faults, if Belles had faults to hide: If to her share some female errors fall, Look on her face, and you'll forget 'em all. This Nymph, to the destruction of mankind, Nourish'd two Locks, which graceful hung behind In equal curls, and well conspir'd to deck With shining ringlets the smooth iv'ry neck. Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains, And mighty hearts are held in slender chains. With hairy springes we the birds betray, Slight lines of hair surprise the finny prey, Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare, And beauty draws us with a single hair. Th' advent'rous Baron the bright locks admir'd; He saw, he wish'd, and to the prize aspir'd. Resolv'd to win, he meditates the way, By force to ravish, or by fraud betray; For when success a Lover's toil attends, Few ask, if fraud or force attain'd his ends. For this, ere Phœbus rose, he had implor'd Propitious heav'n, and ev'ry pow'r ador'd, But chiefly Love — to Love an Altar built, Of twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt. There lay three garters, half a pair of gloves; And all the trophies of his former loves; With tender Billet-doux he lights the pyre, And breathes three am'rous sighs to raise the fire. Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent eyes Soon to obtain, and long possess the prize: The pow'rs gave ear, and granted half his pray'r, The rest, the winds dispers'd in empty air. But now secure the painted vessel glides, The sun-beams trembling on the floating tides: While melting music steals upon the sky, And soften'd sounds along the waters die; Smooth flow the waves, the Zephyrs gently play, Belinda smil'd, and all the world was gay. All but the Sylph — with careful thoughts opprest, Th' impending woe sat heavy on his breast. He summons strait his Denizens of air; The lucid squadrons round the sails repair: Soft o'er the shrouds aërial whispers breathe, That seem'd but Zephyrs to the train beneath. Some to the sun their insect-wings unfold, Waft on the breeze, or sink in clouds of gold; Transparent forms, too fine for mortal sight, Their fluid bodies half dissolv'd in light, Loose to the wind their airy garments flew, Thin glitt'ring textures of the filmy dew, Dipt in the richest tincture of the skies, Where light disports in ever-mingling dyes, While ev'ry beam new transient colours flings, Colours that change whene'er they wave their wings. Amid the circle, on the gilded mast, Superior by the head, was Ariel plac'd; His purple pinions op'ning to the sun, He rais'd his azure wand, and thus begun. Ye Sylphs and Sylphids, to your chief give ear! Fays, Fairies, Genii, Elves, and Dæmons, hear! Ye know the spheres and various tasks assign'd By laws eternal to th' aërial kind. Some in the fields of purest Æther play, And bask and whiten in the blaze of day. Some guide the course of wand'ring orbs on high, Or roll the planets thro' the boundless sky. Some less refin'd, beneath the moon's pale light Pursue the stars that shoot athwart the night, Or suck the mists in grosser air below, Or dip their pinions in the painted bow, Or brew fierce tempests on the wintry main, Or o'er the glebe distil the kindly rain. Others on earth o'er human race preside, Watch all their ways, and all their actions guide: Of these the chief the care of Nations own, And guard with Arms divine the British Throne. Our humbler province is to tend the Fair, Not a less pleasing, tho' less glorious care; To save the powder from too rude a gale, Nor let th' imprison'd-essences exhale; To draw fresh colours from the vernal flow'rs; To steal from rainbows e'er they drop in show'rs A brighter wash; to curl their waving hairs, Assist their blushes, and inspire their airs; Nay oft, in dreams, invention we bestow, To change a Flounce, or add a Furbelow. This day, black Omens threat the brightest Fair, That e'er deserv'd a watchful spirit's care; Some dire disaster, or by force, or slight; But what, or where, the fates have wrapt in night. Whether the nymph shall break Diana's law, Or some frail China jar receive a flaw; Or stain her honour or her new brocade; Forget her pray'rs, or miss a masquerade; Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball; Or whether Heav'n has doom'd that Shock must fall. Haste, then, ye spirits! to your charge repair: The flutt'ring fan be Zephyretta's care; The drops to thee, Brillante, we consign; And, Momentilla, let the watch be thine; Do thou, Crispissa, tend her fav'rite Lock; Ariel himself shall be the guard of Shock. To fifty chosen Sylphs, of special note, We trust th' important charge, the Petticoat: Oft have we known that seven-fold fence to fail, Tho' stiff with hoops, and arm'd with ribs of whale; Form a strong line about the silver bound, And guard the wide circumference around. Whatever spirit, careless of his charge, His post neglects, or leaves the fair at large, Shall feel sharp vengeance soon o'ertake his sins, Be stopp'd in vials, or transfix'd with pins; Or plung'd in lakes of bitter washes lie, Or wedg'd whole ages in a bodkin's eye: Gums and Pomatums shall his flight restrain, While clogg'd he beats his silken wings in vain; Or Alum styptics with contracting pow'r Shrink his thin essence like a rivel'd flow'r: Or, as Ixion fix'd, the wretch shall feel The giddy motion of the whirling Mill, In fumes of burning Chocolate shall glow, And tremble at the sea that froths below! He spoke; the spirits from the sails descend; Some, orb in orb, around the nymph extend; Some thrid the mazy ringlets of her hair; Some hang upon the pendants of her ear: With beating hearts the dire event they wait, Anxious, and trembling for the birth of Fate. Canto III Close by those meads, for ever crown'd with flow'rs, Where Thames with pride surveys his rising tow'rs, There stands a structure of majestic frame, Which from the neighb'ring Hampton takes its name. Here Britain's statesmen oft the fall foredoom Of foreign Tyrants and of Nymphs at home; Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey. Dost sometimes counsel take — and sometimes Tea. Hither the heroes and the nymphs resort, To taste awhile the pleasures of a Court; In various talk th' instructive hours they past, Who gave the ball, or paid the visit last; One speaks the glory of the British Queen, And one describes a charming Indian screen; A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes; At ev'ry word a reputation dies. Snuff, or the fan, supply each pause of chat, With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that. Mean while, declining from the noon of day, The sun obliquely shoots his burning ray; The hungry Judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang that jury-men may dine; The merchant from th' Exchange returns in peace, And the long labours of the Toilet cease. Belinda now, whom thirst of fame invites, Burns to encounter two advent'rous Knights, At Ombre singly to decide their doom; And swells her breast with conquests yet to come. Straight the three bands prepare in arms to join, Each band the number of the sacred nine. Soon as she spreads her hand, th' aërial guard Descend, and sit on each important card: First Ariel perch'd upon a Matadore, Then each, according to the rank they bore; For Sylphs, yet mindful of their ancient race, Are, as when women, wondrous fond of place. Behold, four Kings in majesty rever'd, With hoary whiskers and a forky beard; And four fair Queens whose hands sustain a flow'r, Th' expressive emblem of their softer pow'r; Four Knaves in garbs succinct, a trusty band, Caps on their heads, and halberts in their hand; And particolour'd troops, a shining train, Draw forth to combat on the velvet plain. The skilful Nymph reviews her force with care: Let Spades be trumps! she said, and trumps they were. Now move to war her sable Matadores, In show like leaders of the swarthy Moors. Spadillio first, unconquerable Lord! Led off two captive trumps, and swept the board. As many more Manillio forc'd to yield, And march'd a victor from the verdant field. Him Basto follow'd, but his fate more hard Gain'd but one trump and one Plebeian card. With his broad sabre next, a chief in years, The hoary Majesty of Spades appears, Puts forth one manly leg, to sight reveal'd, The rest, his many-colour'd robe conceal'd. The rebel Knave, who dares his prince engage, Proves the just victim of his royal rage. Ev'n mighty Pam, that Kings and Queens o'erthrew And mow'd down armies in the fights of Lu, Sad chance of war! now destitute of aid, Falls undistinguish'd by the victor spade! Thus far both armies to Belinda yield; Now to the Baron fate inclines the field. His warlike Amazon her host invades, Th' imperial consort of the crown of Spades. The Club's black Tyrant first her victim dy'd, Spite of his haughty mien, and barb'rous pride: What boots the regal circle on his head, His giant limbs, in state unwieldy spread; That long behind he trails his pompous robe, And, of all monarchs, only grasps the globe? The Baron now his Diamonds pours apace; Th' embroider'd King who shows but half his face, And his refulgent Queen, with pow'rs combin'd Of broken troops an easy conquest find. Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, in wild disorder seen, With throngs promiscuous strow the level green. Thus when dispers'd a routed army runs, Of Asia's troops, and Afric's sable sons, With like confusion different nations fly, Of various habit, and of various dye, The pierc'd battalions dis-united fall, In heaps on heaps; one fate o'erwhelms them all. The Knave of Diamonds tries his wily arts, And wins (oh shameful chance!) the Queen of Hearts. At this, the blood the virgin's cheek forsook, A livid paleness spreads o'er all her look; She sees, and trembles at th' approaching ill, Just in the jaws of ruin, and Codille. And now (as oft in some distemper'd State) On one nice Trick depends the gen'ral fate. An Ace of Hearts steps forth: The King unseen Lurk'd in her hand, and mourn'd his captive Queen: He springs to Vengeance with an eager pace, And falls like thunder on the prostrate Ace. The nymph exulting fills with shouts the sky; The walls, the woods, and long canals reply. Oh thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate, Too soon dejected, and too soon elate. Sudden, these honours shall be snatch'd away, And curs'd for ever this victorious day. For lo! the board with cups and spoons is crown'd, The berries crackle, and the mill turns round; On shining Altars of Japan they raise The silver lamp; the fiery spirits blaze: From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide, While China's earth receives the smoking tide: At once they gratify their scent and taste, And frequent cups prolong the rich repast. Straight hover round the Fair her airy band; Some, as she sipp'd, the fuming liquor fann'd, Some o'er her lap their careful plumes display'd, Trembling, and conscious of the rich brocade. Coffee, (which makes the politician wise, And see thro' all things with his half-shut eyes) Sent up in vapours to the Baron's brain New Stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain. Ah cease, rash youth! desist ere't is too late, Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla's Fate! Chang'd to a bird, and sent to flit in air, She dearly pays for Nisus' injur'd hair! But when to mischief mortals bend their will, How soon they find fit instruments of ill! Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting grace A two-edg'd weapon from her shining case: So Ladies in Romance assist their Knight, Present the spear, and arm him for the fight. He takes the gift with rev'rence, and extends The little engine on his fingers' ends; This just behind Belinda's neck he spread, As o'er the fragrant steams she bends her head. Swift to the Lock a thousand Sprites repair, A thousand wings, by turns, blow back the hair; And thrice they twitch'd the diamond in her ear; Thrice she look'd back, and thrice the foe drew near. Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought The close recesses of the Virgin's thought; As on the nosegay in her breast reclin'd, He watch'd th' Ideas rising in her mind, Sudden he view'd, in spite of all her art, An earthly Lover lurking at her heart. Amaz'd, confus'd, he found his pow'r expir'd, Resign'd to fate, and with a sigh retir'd. The Peer now spreads the glitt'ring Forfex wide, T' inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide. Ev'n then, before the fatal engine clos'd, A wretched Sylph too fondly interpos'd; Fate urg'd the shears, and cut the Sylph in twain, (But airy substance soon unites again) The meeting points the sacred hair dissever From the fair head, for ever, and for ever! Then flash'd the living lightning from her eyes, And screams of horror rend th' affrighted skies. Not louder shrieks to pitying heav'n are cast, When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last; Or when rich China vessels fall'n from high, In glitt'ring dust and painted fragments lie! Let wreaths of triumph now my temples twine (The victor cry'd) the glorious Prize is mine! While fish in streams, or birds delight in air, Or in a coach and six the British Fair, As long as Atalantis shall be read, Or the small pillow grace a Lady's bed, While visits shall be paid on solemn days, When num'rous wax-lights in bright order blaze, While nymphs take treats, or assignations give, So long my honour, name, and praise shall live! What Time would spare, from Steel receives its date, And monuments, like men, submit to fate! Steel could the labour of the Gods destroy, And strike to dust th' imperial tow'rs of Troy; Steel could the works of mortal pride confound, And hew triumphal arches to the ground. What wonder then, fair nymph! thy hairs should feel, The conqu'ring force of unresisted steel? Canto IV But anxious cares the pensive nymph oppress'd, And secret passions labour'd in her breast. Not youthful kings in battle seiz'd alive, Not scornful virgins who their charms survive, Not ardent lovers robb'd of all their bliss, Not ancient ladies when refus'd a kiss, Not tyrants fierce that unrepenting die, Not Cynthia when her manteau's pinn'd awry, E'er felt such rage, resentment, and despair, As thou, sad Virgin! for thy ravish'd Hair. For, that sad moment, when the Sylphs withdrew And Ariel weeping from Belinda flew, Umbriel, a dusky, melancholy sprite, As ever sully'd the fair face of light, Down to the central earth, his proper scene, Repair'd to search the gloomy Cave of Spleen. Swift on his sooty pinions flits the Gnome, And in a vapour reach'd the dismal dome. No cheerful breeze this sullen region knows, The dreaded East is all the wind that blows. Here in a grotto, shelter'd close from air, And screen'd in shades from day's detested glare, She sighs for ever on her pensive bed, Pain at her side, and Megrim at her head. Two handmaids wait the throne: alike in place, But diff'ring far in figure and in face. Here stood Ill-nature like an ancient maid, Her wrinkled form in black and white array'd; With store of pray'rs, for mornings, nights, and noons, Her hand is fill'd; her bosom with lampoons. There Affectation, with a sickly mien, Shows in her cheek the roses of eighteen, Practis'd to lisp, and hang the head aside. Faints into airs, and languishes with pride, On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe, Wrapt in a gown, for sickness, and for show. The fair ones feel such maladies as these, When each new night-dress gives a new disease. A constant Vapour o'er the palace flies; Strange phantoms rising as the mists arise; Dreadful, as hermit's dreams in haunted shades, Or bright, as visions of expiring maids. Now glaring fiends, and snakes on rolling spires, Pale spectres, gaping tombs, and purple fires: Now lakes of liquid gold, Elysian scenes, And crystal domes, and angels in machines. Unnumber'd throngs on every side are seen, Of bodies chang'd to various forms by Spleen. Here living Tea-pots stand, one arm held out, One bent; the handle this, and that the spout: A Pipkin there, like Homer's Tripod walks; Here sighs a Jar, and there a Goose-pie talks; Men prove with child, as pow'rful fancy works, And maids turn'd bottles, call aloud for corks. Safe past the Gnome thro' this fantastic band, A branch of healing Spleenwort in his hand. Then thus address'd the pow'r: "Hail, wayward Queen! Who rule the sex to fifty from fifteen: Parent of vapours and of female wit, Who give th' hysteric, or poetic fit, On various tempers act by various ways, Make some take physic, others scribble plays; Who cause the proud their visits to delay, And send the godly in a pet to pray. A nymph there is, that all thy pow'r disdains, And thousands more in equal mirth maintains. But oh! if e'er thy Gnome could spoil a grace, Or raise a pimple on a beauteous face, Like Citron-waters matrons cheeks inflame, Or change complexions at a losing game; If e'er with airy horns I planted heads, Or rumpled petticoats, or tumbled beds, Or caus'd suspicion when no soul was rude, Or discompos'd the head-dress of a Prude, Or e'er to costive lap-dog gave disease, Which not the tears of brightest eyes could ease: Hear me, and touch Belinda with chagrin, That single act gives half the world the spleen." The Goddess with a discontented air Seems to reject him, tho' she grants his pray'r. A wond'rous Bag with both her hands she binds, Like that where once Ulysses held the winds; There she collects the force of female lungs, Sighs, sobs, and passions, and the war of tongues. A Vial next she fills with fainting fears, Soft sorrows, melting griefs, and flowing tears. The Gnome rejoicing bears her gifts away, Spreads his black wings, and slowly mounts to day. Sunk in Thalestris' arms the nymph he found, Her eyes dejected and her hair unbound. Full o'er their heads the swelling bag he rent, And all the Furies issu'd at the vent. Belinda burns with more than mortal ire, And fierce Thalestris fans the rising fire. "O wretched maid!" she spread her hands, and cry'd, (While Hampton's echoes, "Wretched maid!" reply'd) "Was it for this you took such constant care The bodkin, comb, and essence to prepare? For this your locks in paper durance bound, For this with tort'ring irons wreath'd around? For this with fillets strain'd your tender head, And bravely bore the double loads of lead? Gods! shall the ravisher display your hair, While the Fops envy, and the Ladies stare! Honour forbid! at whose unrivall'd shrine Ease, pleasure, virtue, all our sex resign. Methinks already I your tears survey, Already hear the horrid things they say, Already see you a degraded toast, And all your honour in a whisper lost! How shall I, then, your helpless fame defend? 'T will then be infamy to seem your friend! And shall this prize, th' inestimable prize, Expos'd thro' crystal to the gazing eyes, And heighten'd by the diamond's circling rays, On that rapacious hand for ever blaze? Sooner shall grass in Hyde-park Circus grow, And wits take lodgings in the sound of Bow; Sooner let earth, air, sea, to Chaos fall, Men, monkeys, lap-dogs, parrots, perish all!" She said; then raging to Sir Plume repairs, And bids her Beau demand the precious hairs; (Sir Plume of amber snuff-box justly vain, And the nice conduct of a clouded cane) With earnest eyes, and round unthinking face, He first the snuff-box open'd, then the case, And thus broke out — "My Lord, why, what the devil? "Z — ds! damn the lock! 'fore Gad, you must be civil! Plague on't!'t is past a jest — nay prithee, pox! Give her the hair" — he spoke, and rapp'd his box. "It grieves me much" (reply'd the Peer again) "Who speaks so well should ever speak in vain. But by this Lock, this sacred Lock I swear, (Which never more shall join its parted hair; Which never more its honours shall renew, Clipp'd from the lovely head where late it grew) That while my nostrils draw the vital air, This hand, which won it, shall for ever wear." He spoke, and speaking, in proud triumph spread The long-contended honours of her head. But Umbriel, hateful Gnome! forbears not so; He breaks the Vial whence the sorrows flow. Then see! the nymph in beauteous grief appears, Her eyes half-languishing, half-drown'd in tears; On her heav'd bosom hung her drooping head, Which, with a sigh, she rais'd; and thus she said. "For ever curs'd be this detested day, Which snatch'd my best, my fav'rite curl away! Happy! ah ten times happy had I been, If Hampton-Court these eyes had never seen! Yet am not I the first mistaken maid, By love of Courts to num'rous ills betray'd. Oh had I rather un-admir'd remain'd In some lone isle, or distant Northern land; Where the gilt Chariot never marks the way, Where none learn Ombre, none e'er taste Bohea! There kept my charms conceal'd from mortal eye, Like roses, that in deserts bloom and die. What mov'd my mind with youthful Lords to roam? Oh had I stay'd, and said my pray'rs at home! 'T was this, the morning omens seem'd to tell, Thrice from my trembling hand the patch-box fell; The tott'ring China shook without a wind. Nay, Poll sat mute, and Shock was most unkind! A Sylph too warn'd me of the threats of fate, In mystic visions, now believ'd too late! See the poor remnants of these slighted hairs! My hands shall rend what ev'n thy rapine spares: These in two sable ringlets taught to break, Once gave new beauties to the snowy neck; The sister-lock now sits uncouth, alone, And in its fellow's fate foresees its own; Uncurl'd it hangs, the fatal shears demands, And tempts once more thy sacrilegious hands. Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!" Canto V She said: the pitying audience melt in tears. But Fate and Jove had stopp'd the Baron's ears. In vain Thalestris with reproach assails, For who can move when fair Belinda fails? Not half so fix'd the Trojan could remain, While Anna begg'd and Dido rag'd in vain. Then grave Clarissa graceful wav'd her fan; Silence ensu'd, and thus the nymph began. "Say why are Beauties prais'd and honour'd most, The wise man's passion, and the vain man's toast? Why deck'd with all that land and sea afford, Why Angels call'd, and Angel-like ador'd? Why round our coaches crowd the white-glov'd Beaux, Why bows the side-box from its inmost rows; How vain are all these glories, all our pains, Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains: That men may say, when we the front-box grace: 'Behold the first in virtue as in face!' Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day, Charm'd the small-pox, or chas'd old-age away; Who would not scorn what housewife's cares produce, Or who would learn one earthly thing of use? To patch, nay ogle, might become a Saint, Nor could it sure be such a sin to paint. But since, alas! frail beauty must decay, Curl'd or uncurl'd, since Locks will turn to grey; Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade, And she who scorns a man, must die a maid; What then remains but well our pow'r to use, And keep good-humour still whate'er we lose? And trust me, dear! good-humour can prevail, When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail. Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll; Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul." So spoke the Dame, but no applause ensu'd; Belinda frown'd, Thalestris call'd her Prude. "To arms, to arms!" the fierce Virago cries, And swift as lightning to the combat flies. All side in parties, and begin th' attack; Fans clap, silks rustle, and tough whalebones crack; Heroes' and Heroines' shouts confus'dly rise, And bass, and treble voices strike the skies. No common weapons in their hands are found, Like Gods they fight, nor dread a mortal wound. So when bold Homer makes the Gods engage, And heav'nly breasts with human passions rage; 'Gainst Pallas, Mars; Latona, Hermes arms; And all Olympus rings with loud alarms: Jove's thunder roars, heav'n trembles all around, Blue Neptune storms, the bellowing deeps resound: Earth shakes her nodding tow'rs, the ground gives way. And the pale ghosts start at the flash of day! Triumphant Umbriel on a sconce's height Clapp'd his glad wings, and sate to view the fight: Propp'd on the bodkin spears, the Sprites survey The growing combat, or assist the fray. While thro' the press enrag'd Thalestris flies, And scatters death around from both her eyes, A Beau and Witling perish'd in the throng, One died in metaphor, and one in song. "O cruel nymph! a living death I bear," Cry'd Dapperwit, and sunk beside his chair. A mournful glance Sir Fopling upwards cast, "Those eyes are made so killing" — was his last. Thus on Mæander's flow'ry margin lies Th' expiring Swan, and as he sings he dies. When bold Sir Plume had drawn Clarissa down, Chloe stepp'd in, and kill'd him with a frown; She smil'd to see the doughty hero slain, But, at her smile, the Beau reviv'd again. Now Jove suspends his golden scales in air, Weighs the Men's wits against the Lady's hair; The doubtful beam long nods from side to side; At length the wits mount up, the hairs subside. See, fierce Belinda on the Baron flies, With more than usual lightning in her eyes: Nor fear'd the Chief th' unequal fight to try, Who sought no more than on his foe to die. But this bold Lord with manly strength endu'd, She with one finger and a thumb subdu'd: Just where the breath of life his nostrils drew, A charge of Snuff the wily virgin threw; The Gnomes direct, to ev'ry atom just, The pungent grains of titillating dust. Sudden, with starting tears each eye o'erflows, And the high dome re-echoes to his nose. Now meet thy fate, incens'd Belinda cry'd, And drew a deadly bodkin from her side. (The same, his ancient personage to deck, Her great great grandsire wore about his neck, In three seal-rings; which after, melted down, Form'd a vast buckle for his widow's gown: Her infant grandame's whistle next it grew, The bells she jingled, and the whistle blew; Then in a bodkin grac'd her mother's hairs, Which long she wore, and now Belinda wears.) "Boast not my fall" (he cry'd) "insulting foe! Thou by some other shalt be laid as low, Nor think, to die dejects my lofty mind: All that I dread is leaving you behind! Rather than so, ah let me still survive, And burn in Cupid's flames — but burn alive." "Restore the Lock!" she cries; and all around "Restore the Lock!" the vaulted roofs rebound. Not fierce Othello in so loud a strain Roar'd for the handkerchief that caus'd his pain. But see how oft ambitious aims are cross'd, And chiefs contend 'till all the prize is lost! The Lock, obtain'd with guilt, and kept with pain, In ev'ry place is sought, but sought in vain: With such a prize no mortal must be blest, So heav'n decrees! with heav'n who can contest? Some thought it mounted to the Lunar sphere, Since all things lost on earth are treasur'd there. There Hero's wits are kept in pond'rous vases, And beau's in snuff-boxes and tweezer-cases. There broken vows and death-bed alms are found, And lovers' hearts with ends of riband bound, The courtier's promises, and sick man's pray'rs, The smiles of harlots, and the tears of heirs, Cages for gnats, and chains to yoke a flea, Dry'd butterflies, and tomes of casuistry. But trust the Muse — she saw it upward rise, Tho' mark'd by none but quick, poetic eyes: (So Rome's great founder to the heav'ns withdrew, To Proculus alone confess'd in view) A sudden Star, it shot thro' liquid air, And drew behind a radiant trail of hair. Not Berenice's Locks first rose so bright, The heav'ns bespangling with dishevell'd light. The Sylphs behold it kindling as it flies, And pleas'd pursue its progress thro' the skies. This the Beau monde shall from the Mall survey, And hail with music its propitious ray. This the blest Lover shall for Venus take, And send up vows from Rosamonda's lake. This Partridge soon shall view in cloudless skies, When next he looks thro' Galileo's eyes; And hence th' egregious wizard shall foredoom The fate of Louis, and the fall of Rome. Then cease, bright Nymph! to mourn thy ravish'd hair, Which adds new glory to the shining sphere! Not all the tresses that fair head can boast, Shall draw such envy as the Lock you lost. For, after all the murders of your eye, When, after millions slain, yourself shall die: When those fair suns shall set, as set they must, And all those tresses shall be laid in dust, This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to fame, And 'midst the stars inscribe Belinda's name.

An Essay on Criticism

'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill Appear in writing or in judging ill; But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' offence To tire our patience, than mislead our sense. Some few in that, but numbers err in this, Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss; A fool might once himself alone expose, Now one in verse makes many more in prose. 'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none Go just alike, yet each believes his own. In Poets as true genius is but rare, True Taste as seldom is the Critic's share; Both must alike from Heav'n derive their light, These born to judge, as well as those to write. Let such teach others who themselves excel, And censure freely who have written well. Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true, But are not Critics to their judgment too? Yet if we look more closely, we shall find Most have the seeds of judgment in their mind: Nature affords at least a glimm'ring light; The lines, tho' touch'd but faintly, are drawn right. (But as the slightest sketch, if justly trac'd, (Is by ill-colouring but the more disgrac'd, (So by false learning is good sense defac'd: Some are bewilder'd in the maze of schools, And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools. In search of wit these lose their common sense, And then turn Critics in their own defence: Each burns alike, who can, or cannot write, Or with a Rival's, or an Eunuch's spite. All fools have still an itching to deride, And fain would be upon the laughing side. If Mævius scribble in Apollo's spite, There are who judge still worse than he can write. Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past, Turn'd Critics next, and prov'd plain fools at last. Some neither can for Wits nor Critics pass, As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass. Those half-learn'd witlings, num'rous in our isle, As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile; Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call, Their generation's so equivocal: To tell 'em, would a hundred tongues require, Or one vain wit's, that might a hundred tire. But you who seek to give and merit fame, And justly bear a Critic's noble name, Be sure yourself and your own reach to know, How far your genius, taste, and learning go; Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, And mark that point where sense and dulness meet. Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit, And wisely curb'd proud man's pretending wit. As on the land while here the ocean gains, In other parts it leaves wide sandy plains; Thus in the soul while memory prevails, The solid pow'r of understanding fails; Where beams of warm imagination play, The memory's soft figures melt away. One science only will one genius fit; So vast is art, so narrow human wit: Not only bounded to peculiar arts, But oft in those confin'd to single parts. Like kings we lose the conquests gain'd before, By vain ambition still to make them more; Each might his sev'ral province well command, Would all but stoop to what they understand. First follow Nature, and your judgment frame By her just standard, which is still the same: Unerring Nature, still divinely bright, One clear, unchang'd, and universal light, Life, force, and beauty, must to all impart, At once the source, and end, and test of Art. Art from that fund each just supply provides, Works without show, and without pomp presides: In some fair body thus th' informing soul With spirits feeds, with vigour fills the whole, Each motion guides, and ev'ry nerve sustains; Itself unseen, but in th' effects, remains. Some, to whom Heav'n in wit has been profuse, Want as much more, to turn it to its use; For wit and judgment often are at strife, Tho' meant each other's aid, like man and wife. 'T is more to guide, than spur the Muse's steed; Restrain his fury, than provoke his speed; The winged courser, like a gen'rous horse, Shows most true mettle when you check his course. Those Rules of old discovered, not devis'd, Are Nature still, but Nature methodiz'd; Nature, like liberty, is but restrain'd By the same laws which first herself ordain'd. Hear how learn'd Greece her useful rules indites, When to repress, and when indulge our flights: High on Parnassus' top her sons she show'd, And pointed out those arduous paths they trod; Held from afar, aloft, th' immortal prize, And urg'd the rest by equal steps to rise. Just precepts thus from great examples giv'n, She drew from them what they deriv'd from Heav'n. The gen'rous Critic fann'd the Poet's fire, And taught the world with reason to admire. Then Criticism the Muse's handmaid prov'd, To dress her charms, and make her more belov'd: But following wits from that intention stray'd, Who could not win the mistress, woo'd the maid; Against the Poets their own arms they turn'd, Sure to hate most the men from whom they learn'd. So modern 'Pothecaries, taught the art By Doctor's bills to play the Doctor's part, Bold in the practice of mistaken rules, Prescribe, apply, and call their masters fools. Some on the leaves of ancient authors prey, Nor time nor moths e'er spoil'd so much as they. Some drily plain, without invention's aid, Write dull receipts how poems may be made. These leave the sense, their learning to display, And those explain the meaning quite away. You then whose judgment the right course would steer, Know well each Ancient's proper character; His fable, subject, scope in ev'ry page; Religion, Country, genius of his Age: Without all these at once before your eyes, Cavil you may, but never criticize. Be Homer's works your study and delight, Read them by day, and meditate by night; Thence form your judgment, thence your maxims bring, And trace the Muses upward to their spring. Still with itself compar'd, his text peruse; And let your comment be the Mantuan Muse. When first young Maro in his boundless mind A work t' outlast immortal Rome design'd, Perhaps he seem'd above the critic's law, And but from Nature's fountains scorn'd to draw: But when t' examine ev'ry part he came, Nature and Homer were, he found, the same. Convinc'd, amaz'd, he checks the bold design; And rules as strict his labour'd work confine, As if the Stagirite o'erlook'd each line. Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem; To copy nature is to copy them. Some beauties yet no Precepts can declare, For there's a happiness as well as care. Music resembles Poetry, in each Are nameless graces which no methods teach, And which a master-hand alone can reach. If, where the rules not far enough extend, (Since rules were made but to promote their end) Some lucky Licence answer to the full Th' intent propos'd, that Licence is a rule. Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take, May boldly deviate from the common track; From vulgar bounds with brave disorder part, And snatch a grace beyond the reach of art, Which without passing thro' the judgment, gains The heart, and all its end at once attains. In prospects thus, some objects please our eyes, Which out of nature's common order rise, The shapeless rock, or hanging precipice. Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend, And rise to faults true Critics dare not mend. But tho' the Ancients thus their rules invade, (As Kings dispense with laws themselves have made) Moderns, beware! or if you must offend Against the precept, ne'er transgress its End; Let it be seldom, and compell'd by need; And have, at least, their precedent to plead. The Critic else proceeds without remorse, Seizes your fame, and puts his laws in force. I know there are, to whose presumptuous thoughts Those freer beauties, ev'n in them, seem faults. Some figures monstrous and mis-shap'd appear, Consider'd singly, or beheld too near, Which, but proportion'd to their light, or place, Due distance reconciles to form and grace. A prudent chief not always must display His pow'rs in equal ranks, and fair array. But with th' occasion and the place comply, Conceal his force, nay seem sometimes to fly. Those oft are stratagems which error seem, Nor is it Homer nods, but we that dream. Still green with bays each ancient Altar stands, Above the reach of sacrilegious hands; Secure from Flames, from Envy's fiercer rage, Destructive War, and all-involving Age. See, from each clime the learn'd their incense bring! Hear, in all tongues consenting Pæans ring! In praise so just let ev'ry voice be join'd, And fill the gen'ral chorus of mankind. Hail, Bards triumphant! born in happier days; Immortal heirs of universal praise! Whose honours with increase of ages grow, As streams roll down, enlarging as they flow; Nations unborn your mighty names shall sound, And worlds applaud that must not yet be found! Oh may some spark of your celestial fire, The last, the meanest of your sons inspire, (That on weak wings, from far, pursues your flights; Glows while he reads, but trembles as he writes) To teach vain Wits a science little known, T' admire superior sense, and doubt their own! Of all the Causes which conspire to blind Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind, What the weak head with strongest bias rules, Is Pride, the never-failing voice of fools. Whatever nature has in worth denied, She gives in large recruits of needful pride; For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find What wants in blood and spirits, swell'd with wind: Pride, where wit fails, steps in to our defence, And fills up all the mighty Void of sense. If once right reason drives that cloud away, Truth breaks upon us with resistless day. Trust not yourself; but your defects to know, Make use of ev'ry friend — and ev'ry foe. A little learning is a dang'rous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring. There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again. Fir'd at first sight with what the Muse imparts, In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts, While from the bounded level of our mind Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind; But more advanc'd, behold with strange surprise New distant scenes of endless science rise! So pleas'd at first the tow'ring Alps we try, Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky, Th' eternal snows appear already past, And the first clouds and mountains seem the last; But, those attain'd, we tremble to survey The growing labours of the lengthen'd way, Th' increasing prospect tires our wand'ring eyes, Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise! A perfect Judge will read each work of Wit With the same spirit that its author writ: Survey the Whole, nor seek slight faults to find Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind; Nor lose, for that malignant dull delight, The gen'rous pleasure to be charm'd with Wit. But in such lays as neither ebb, nor flow, Correctly cold, and regularly low, That shunning faults, one quiet tenour keep, We cannot blame indeed — but we may sleep. In wit, as nature, what affects our hearts Is not th' exactness of peculiar parts; 'Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call, But the joint force and full result of all. Thus when we view some well-proportion'd dome, (The world's just wonder, and ev'n thine, O Rome!) No single parts unequally surprize, All comes united to th' admiring eyes; No monstrous height, or breadth, or length appear; The Whole at once is bold, and regular. Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see, Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. In every work regard the writer's End, Since none can compass more than they intend; And if the means be just, the conduct true, Applause, in spight of trivial faults, is due; As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit, T' avoid great errors, must the less commit: Neglect the rules each verbal Critic lays, For not to know some trifles, is a praise. Most Critics, fond of some subservient art, Still make the Whole depend upon a Part: They talk of principles, but notions prize, And all to one lov'd Folly sacrifice. Once on a time, La Mancha's Knight, they say, A certain bard encount'ring on the way, Discours'd in terms as just, with looks as sage, As e'er could Dennis of the Grecian stage; Concluding all were desp'rate sots and fools, Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules. Our Author, happy in a judge so nice, Produc'd his Play, and begg'd the Knight's advice; Made him observe the subject, and the plot, The manners, passions, unities; what not? All which, exact to rule, were brought about, Were but a Combat in the lists left out. "What! leave the Combat out?" exclaims the Knight; Yes, or we must renounce the Stagirite. "Not so, by Heav'n" (he answers in a rage), "Knights, squires, and steeds, must enter on the stage." So vast a throng the stage can ne'er contain. "Then build a new, or act it in a plain." Thus Critics, of less judgment than caprice, Curious not knowing, not exact but nice, Form short Ideas; and offend in arts (As most in manners) by a love to parts. Some to Conceit alone their taste confine, And glitt'ring thoughts struck out at ev'ry line; Pleas'd with a work where nothing's just or fit; One glaring Chaos and wild heap of wit. Poets like painters, thus, unskill'd to trace The naked nature and the living grace, With gold and jewels cover ev'ry part, And hide with ornaments their want of art. True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd, What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd; Something, whose truth convinc'd at sight we find, That gives us back the image of our mind. As shades more sweetly recommend the light, So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit. For works may have more wit than does 'em good, As bodies perish thro' excess of blood. Others for Language all their care express, And value books, as women men, for Dress: Their praise is still — the Style is excellent: The Sense, they humbly take upon content. Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found, False Eloquence, like the prismatic glass, Its gaudy colours spreads on ev'ry place; The face of Nature we no more survey, All glares alike, without distinction gay: But true expression, like th' unchanging Sun, Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon, It gilds all objects, but it alters none. Expression is the dress of thought, and still Appears more decent, as more suitable; A vile conceit in pompous words express'd, Is like a clown in regal purple dress'd: For diff'rent styles with diff'rent subjects sort, As several garbs with country, town, and court. Some by old words to fame have made pretence, Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense; Such labour'd nothings, in so strange a style, Amaze th' unlearn'd, and make the learned smile. (Unlucky, as Fungoso in the play, (These sparks with awkward vanity display (What the fine gentleman wore yesterday; And but so mimic ancient wits at best, As apes our grandsires, in their doublets drest. In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold; Alike fantastic, if too new, or old: Be not the first by whom the new are try'd, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside. But most by Numbers judge a Poet's song; And smooth or rough, with them is right or wrong: In the bright Muse though thousand charms conspire, Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire; (Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear, (Not mend their minds; as some to Church repair, (Not for the doctrine, but the music there. These equal syllables alone require, Tho' oft the ear the open vowe's tire; While expletives their feeble aid do join; And ten low words oft creep in one dull line: While they ring round the same unvary'd chimes, With sure returns of still expected rhymes; Where-e'er you find "the cooling western breeze," In the next line, it "whispers through the trees:" If crystal streams "with pleasing murmurs creep," The reader's threaten'd (not in vain) with "sleep:" Then, at the last and only couplet fraught With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, A needless Alexandrine ends the song That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along. Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, and know What's roundly smooth or languishingly slow; And praise the easy vigour of a line, Where Denham's strength, and Waller's sweetness join. True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. 'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence, The sound must seem an Echo to the sense: Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; But when loud surges lash the sounding shore, The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar: When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw, The line too labours, and the words move slow; Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain, Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main. Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprize, And bid alternate passions fall and rise! While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove Now burns with glory, and then melts with love, Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow, Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow: Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found, And the world's victor stood subdu'd by Sound! The pow'r of Music all our hearts allow, And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now. Avoid Extremes; and shun the fault of such, Who still are pleas'd too little or too much. At ev'ry trifle scorn to take offence, That always shows great pride, or little sense; Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best, Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest. Yet let not each gay Turn thy rapture move; For fools admire, but men of sense approve: As things seem large which we thro' mists descry, Dulness is ever apt to magnify. Some foreign writers, some our own despise; The Ancients only, or the Moderns prize. Thus Wit, like Faith, by each man is apply'd To one small sect, and all are damn'd beside. Meanly they seek the blessing to confine, And force that sun but on a part to shine, Which not alone the southern wit sublimes, But ripens spirits in cold northern climes; Which from the first has shone on ages past, Enlights the present, and shall warm the last; Tho' each may feel increases and decays, And see now clearer and now darker days. Regard not then if Wit be old or new, But blame the false, and value still the true. Some ne'er advance a Judgment of their own, But catch the spreading notion of the Town; They reason and conclude by precedent, And own stale nonsense which they ne'er invent. Some judge of author's names, not works, and then Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men. Of all this servile herd the worst is he That in proud dulness joins with Quality, A constant Critic at the great man's board, To fetch and carry nonsense for my Lord. What woful stuff this madrigal would be, In some starv'd hackney sonneteer, or me? But let a Lord once own the happy lines, How the wit brightens! how the style refines! Before his sacred name flies ev'ry fault, And each exalted stanza teems with thought! The Vulgar thus through Imitation err; As oft the Learn'd by being singular; So much they scorn the crowd, that if the throng By chance go right, they purposely go wrong; So Schismatics the plain believers quit, And are but damn'd for having too much wit. Some praise at morning what they blame at night; But always think the last opinion right. A Muse by these is like a mistress us'd, This hour she's idoliz'd, the next abus'd; While their weak heads like towns unfortify'd, 'Twixt sense and nonsense daily change their side. Ask them the cause; they're wiser still, they say; And still to-morrow's wiser than to-day. We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow, Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so. Once School-divines this zealous isle o'er-spread; Who knew most Sentences, was deepest read; Faith, Gospel, all, seem'd made to be disputed, And none had sense enough to be confuted: Scotists and Thomists, now, in peace remain, Amidst their kindred cobwebs in Duck-lane. If Faith itself has diff'rent dresses worn, What wonder modes in Wit should take their turn? Oft', leaving what is natural and fit, The current folly proves the ready wit; And authors think their reputation safe, Which lives as long as fools are pleas'd to laugh. Some valuing those of their own side or mind, Still make themselves the measure of mankind: Fondly we think we honour merit then, When we but praise ourselves in other men. Parties in Wit attend on those of State, And public faction doubles private hate. Pride, Malice, Folly, against Dryden rose, In various shapes of Parsons, Critics, Beaus; But sense surviv'd, when merry jests were past; For rising merit will buoy up at last. Might he return, and bless once more our eyes, New Blackmores and new Milbourns must arise: Nay should great Homer lift his awful head, Zoilus again would start up from the dead. Envy will merit, as its shade, pursue; But like a shadow, proves the substance true; For envy'd Wit, like Sol eclips'd, makes known Th' opposing body's grossness, not its own, When first that sun too pow'rful beams displays, It draws up vapours which obscure its rays; But ev'n those clouds at last adorn its way, Reflect new glories, and augment the day. Be thou the first true merit to befriend; His praise is lost, who stays, till all commend. Short is the date, alas, of modern rhymes, And 'tis but just to let them live betimes. No longer now that golden age appears, When Patriarch-wits surviv'd a thousand years: Now length of Fame (our second life) is lost, And bare threescore is all ev'n that can boast; Our sons their fathers' failing language see, And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be. So when the faithful pencil has design'd Some bright Idea of the master's mind, Where a new world leaps out at his command, And ready Nature waits upon his hand; When the ripe colours soften and unite, And sweetly melt into just shade and light; When mellowing years their full perfection give, And each bold figure just begins to live, The treach'rous colours the fair art betray, And all the bright creation fades away! Unhappy Wit, like most mistaken things, Atones not for that envy which it brings. In youth alone its empty praise we boast, But soon the short-liv'd vanity is lost: Like some fair flow'r the early spring supplies. That gaily blooms, but ev'n in blooming dies. What is this Wit, which must our cares employ? The owner's wife, that other men enjoy; Then most our trouble still when most admir'd, And still the more we give, the more requir'd; Whose fame with pains we guard, but lose with ease, Sure some to vex, but never all to please; 'Tis what the vicious fear, the virtuous shun, By fools't is hated, and by knaves undone! If Wit so much from Ign'rance undergo, Ah let not Learning too commence its foe! Of old, those met rewards who could excel, And such were prais'd who but endeavour'd well: Tho' triumphs were to gen'rals only due, Crowns were reserv'd to grace the soldiers too, Now, they who reach Parnassus' lofty crown, Employ their pains to spurn some others down; And while self-love each jealous writer rules, Contending wits become the sport of fools: But still the worst with most regret commend, For each ill Author is as bad a Friend. To what base ends, and by what abject ways, Are mortals urg'd thro' sacred lust of praise! Ah ne'er so dire a thirst of glory boast, Nor in the Critic let the Man be lost. Good-nature and good-sense must ever join; To err is human, to forgive, divine. But if in noble minds some dregs remain Not yet purg'd off, of spleen and sour disdain; Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes, Nor fear a dearth in these flagitious times. No pardon vile Obscenity should find, Tho' wit and art conspire to move your mind; But Dulness with Obscenity must prove As shameful sure as Impotence in love. In the fat age of pleasure wealth and ease Sprung the rank weed, and thriv'd with large increase: When love was all an easy Monarch's care; Seldom at council, never in a war: Jilts rul'd the state, and statesmen farces writ; Nay wits had pensions, and young Lords had wit: The Fair sate panting at a Courtier's play, And not a Mask went unimprov'd away: The modest fan was lifted up no more, And Virgins smil'd at what they blush'd before. The following licence of a Foreign reign Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain; Then unbelieving priests reform'd the nation, And taught more pleasant methods of salvation; Where Heav'n's free subjects might their rights dispute, Lest God himself should seem too absolute: Pulpits their sacred satire learn'd to spare, And Vice admir'd to find a flatt'rer there! Encourag'd thus, Wit's Titans brav'd the skies, And the press groan'd with licens'd blasphemies. These monsters, Critics! with your darts engage, Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage! Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice, Will needs mistake an author into vice; All seems infected that th' infected spy, As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye. Learn then what Morals Critics ought to show, For't is but half a Judge's task, to know. 'Tis not enough, taste, judgment, learning, join; In all you speak, let truth and candour shine: That not alone what to your sense is due All may allow; but seek your friendship too. Be silent always when you doubt your sense; And speak, tho' sure, with seeming diffidence: Some positive, persisting fops we know, Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so; But you, with pleasure own your errors past, And make each day a Critic on the last. 'T is not enough, your counsel still be true; Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do; Men must be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown propos'd as things forgot. Without Good Breeding, truth is disapprov'd; That only makes superior sense belov'd. Be niggards of advice on no pretence; For the worst avarice is that of sense. With mean complacence ne'er betray your trust, Nor be so civil as to prove unjust. Fear not the anger of the wise to raise; Those best can bear reproof, who merit praise. 'T were well might critics still this freedom take, But Appius reddens at each word you speak, And stares, tremendous, with a threat'ning eye, Like some fierce Tyrant in old tapestry. Fear most to tax an Honourable fool, Whose right it is, uncensur'd, to be dull; Such, without wit, are Poets when they please, As without learning they can take Degrees. Leave dang'rous truths to unsuccessful Satires, And flattery to fulsome Dedicators, Whom, when they praise, the world believes no more, Than when they promise to give scribbling o'er. 'T is best sometimes your censure to restrain, And charitably let the dull be vain: Your silence there is better than your spite, For who can rail so long as they can write? Still humming on, their drowsy course they keep, And lash'd so long, like tops, are lash'd asleep. False steps but help them to renew the race, As, after stumbling, Jades will mend their pace. What crowds of these, impenitently bold, In sounds and jingling syllables grown old, Still run on Poets, in a raging vein, Ev'n to the dregs and squeezings of the brain, Strain out the last dull droppings of their sense, And rhyme with all the rage of Impotence. Such shameless Bards we have; and yet't is true, There are as mad abandon'd Critics too. The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, With loads of learned lumber in his head, With his own tongue still edifies his ears, And always list'ning to himself appears. All books he reads, and all he reads assails. From Dryden's Fables down to Durfey's Tales. With him, most authors steal their works, or buy; Garth did not write his own Dispensary. Name a new Play, and he's the Poet's friend, Nay show'd his faults — but when would Poets mend? No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd, Nor is Paul's church more safe than Paul's churchyard: Nay, fly to Altars; there they'll talk you dead: For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread. (Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks, (It still looks home, and short excursions makes; (But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks, And never shock'd, and never turn'd aside, Bursts out, resistless, with a thund'ring tide. But where's the man, who counsel can bestow, Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know? Unbiass'd, or by favour, or by spite; Not dully prepossess'd, nor blindly right; Tho' learn'd, well-bred; and tho' well-bred, sincere, Modestly bold, and humanly severe: Who to a friend his faults can freely show, And gladly praise the merit of a foe? Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfin'd; A knowledge both of books and human kind: Gen'rous converse; a soul exempt from pride; And love to praise, with reason on his side? Such once were Critics; such the happy few, Athens and Rome in better ages knew. The mighty Stagirite first left the shore, Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore: He steer'd securely, and discover'd far, Led by the light of the Mæonian Star. Poets, a race long unconfin'd, and free, Still fond and proud of savage liberty, Receiv'd his laws; and stood convinc'd 't was fit, Who conquer'd Nature, should preside o'er Wit. Horace still charms with graceful negligence, And without method talks us into sense, Will, like a friend, familiarly convey The truest notions in the easiest way. He, who supreme in judgment, as in wit, Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ, Yet judg'd with coolness, tho' he sung with fire; His Precepts teach but what his works inspire. Our Critics take a contrary extreme, They judge with fury, but they write with fle'me: Nor suffers Horace more in wrong Translations By Wits, than Critics in as wrong Quotations. See Dionysius Homer's thoughts refine, And call new beauties forth from ev'ry line! Fancy and art in gay Petronius please, The scholar's learning, with the courtier's ease. In grave Quintilian's copious work, we find The justest rules, and clearest method join'd: Thus useful arms in magazines we place, All rang'd in order, and dispos'd with grace, But less to please the eye, than arm the hand, Still fit for use, and ready at command. Thee, bold Longinus! all the Nine inspire, And bless their Critic with a Poet's fire. An ardent Judge, who zealous in his trust, With warmth gives sentence, yet is always just; Whose own example strengthens all his laws; And is himself that great Sublime he draws. Thus long succeeding Critics justly reign'd, Licence repress'd, and useful laws ordain'd. Learning and Rome alike in empire grew; And Arts still follow'd where her Eagles flew; From the same foes, at last, both felt their doom, And the same age saw Learning fall, and Rome. With Tyranny, then Superstition join'd, As that the body, this enslav'd the mind; Much was believ'd, but little understood, And to be dull was constru'd to be good; A second deluge Learning thus o'er-run, And the Monks finish'd what the Goths begun. At length Erasmus, that great injur'd name, (The glory of the Priesthood, and the shame!) Stemm'd the wild torrent of a barb'rous age, And drove those holy Vandals off the stage. But see! each Muse, in Leo's golden days, Starts from her trance, and trims her wither'd bays, Rome's ancient Genius, o'er its ruins spread, Shakes off the dust, and rears his rev'rend head. Then Sculpture and her sister-arts revive; Stones leap'd to form, and rocks began to live; With sweeter notes each rising Temple rung; A Raphael painted, and a Vida sung. Immortal Vida: on whose honour'd brow The Poet's bays and Critic's ivy grow: Cremona now shal ever boast thy name, As next in place to Mantua, next in fame! But soon by impious arms from Latium chas'd, Their ancient bounds the banish'd Muses pass'd; Thence Arts o'er all the northern world advance, But Critic-learning flourish'd most in France: The rules a nation, born to serve, obeys; And Boileau still in right of Horace sways. But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despis'd, And kept unconquer'd, and unciviliz'd; Fierce for the liberties of wit, and bold, We still defy'd the Romans, as of old. Yet some there were, among the sounder few Of those who less presum'd, and better knew, Who durst assert the juster ancient cause, And here restor'd Wit's fundamental laws. Such was the Muse, whose rules and practice tell, "Nature's chief Master-piece is writing well." Such was Roscommon, not more learn'd than good, With manners gen'rous as his noble blood; To him the wit of Greece and Rome was known, And ev'ry author's merit, but his own. Such late was Walsh — the Muse's judge and friend, Who justly knew to blame or to commend; To failings mild, but zealous for desert; The clearest head, and the sincerest heart. This humble praise, lamented shade! receive, This praise at least a grateful Muse may give: The Muse, whose early voice you taught to sing, Prescrib'd her heights, and prun'd her tender wing, (Her guide now lost) no more attempts to rise, But in low numbers short excursions tries: Content, if hence th' unlearn'd their wants may view, The learn'd reflect on what before they knew: Careless of censure, nor too fond of fame; Still pleas'd to praise, yet not afraid to blame, Averse alike to flatter, or offend; Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend.

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