SUPPOSED TO HAVE BEEN SPOKEN AT THE THEATRE ROYAL, WHILE THE FRENCH COMEDIANS WERE ACTING BY SUBSCRIPTION.
If, yet regardful of your native land,
Old Shakespeare's tongue you deign to understand,
Lo, from the blissful bowers where Heaven rewards
Instructive sages and unblemish'd bards,
I come, the ancient founder of the stage,
Intent to learn, in this discerning age,
What form of wit your fancies have embraced,
And whither tends your elegance of taste;
That thus at length our homely toils you spurn,
That thus to foreign scenes you proudly turn,
That from my brow the laurel wreath you claim
To crown the rivals of your country's fame.
What, though the footsteps of my devious Muse
The measured walks of Grecian art refuse?
Or though the frankness of my hardy style
Mock the nice touches of the critic's file?
Yet, what my age and climate held to view,
Impartial I survey'd, and fearless drew.
And say, ye skilful in the human heart,
Who know to prize a poet's noblest part,
What age, what clime could e'er an ampler field
For lofty thought, for daring fancy, yield?
I saw this England break the shameful bands
Forged for the souls of men by sacred hands:
I saw each groaning realm her aid implore;
Her sons the heroes of each warlike shore:
Her naval standard (the dire Spaniard's bane)
Obey'd through all the circuit of the main.
Then too, great Commerce, for a late found world,
Around your coast her eager sails unfurl'd:
New hopes, new passions, thence the bosom fired;
New plans, new arts, the genius thence inspired;
Thence every scene, which private fortune knows,
In stronger life, with bolder spirit, rose.
Disgraced I this full prospect which I drew?
My colours languid, or my strokes untrue?
Have not your sages, warriors, swains, and kings,
Confess'd the living draught of men and things?
What other bard in any clime appears
Alike the master of your smiles and tears?
Yet have I deign'd your audience to entice
With wretched bribes to luxury and vice?
Or have my various scenes a purpose known
Which freedom, virtue, glory, might not own?
Such from the first was my dramatic plan;
It should be yours to crown what I began:
And now that England spurns her gothic chain,
And equal laws and social science reign,
I thought, 'Now surely shall my zealous eyes
View nobler bards and juster critics rise,
Intent with learned labour to refine
The copious ore of Albion's native mine,
Our stately Muse more graceful airs to teach,
And form her tongue to more attractive speech,
Till rival nations listen at her feet,
And own her polish'd as they own'd her great.'
But do you thus my favorite hopes fulfil?
Is France at last the standard of your skill?
Alas, for you! that so betray a mind
Of art unconscious and to beauty blind.
Say; does her language your ambition raise,
Her barren, trivial, unharmonious phrase,
Which fetters eloquence to scantiest bounds,
And maims the cadence of poetic sounds?
Say; does your humble admiration choose
The gentle prattle of her Comic Muse,
While wits, plain-dealers, fops, and fools appear,
Charged to say nought but what the king may hear?
Or rather melt your sympathizing hearts
Won by her tragic scene's romantic arts,
Where old and young declaim on soft desire,
And heroes never, but for love, expire?
No. Though the charms of novelty, a while,
Perhaps too fondly win your thoughtless smile,
Yet not for you design'd indulgent Fate
The modes or manners of the Bourbon state.
And ill your minds my partial judgment reads,
And many an augury my hope misleads,
If the fair minds of yonder blooming train
To their light courtship would an audience deign,
Or those chaste matrons a Parisian wife
Choose for the model of domestic life;
Or if one youth of all that generous band,
The strength and splendour of their native land,
Would yield this portion of his country's fame,
And quit old Freedom's patrimonial claim,
With lying smiles, Oppression's pomp to see,
And judge of glory by a king's decree.
O bless'd at home with justly envied laws,
O long the chiefs of Europe's general cause,
Whom Heaven hath chosen at each dangerous hour
To check the inroads of barbaric power,
The rights of trampled nations to reclaim,
And guard the social world from bonds and shame:
Oh, let not Luxury's fantastic charms
Thus give the lie to your heroic arms:
Nor for the ornaments of life embrace
Dishonest lessons from that vaunting race,
Whom Fate's dread laws (for, in eternal Fate
Despotic Rule was heir to Freedom's hate),
Whom in each warlike, each commercial part,
In civil counsel, and in pleasing art,
The judges of earth predestined for your foes,
And made it fame and virtue to oppose.