Trivia (Gay)/London

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Trivia  (1738) 
London by Samuel Johnson

London is a poem by Samuel Johnson, produced shortly after he moved to London. Written in 1738, it was his first major published work. The poem in 263 lines imitates Juvenal's Third Satire, expressed by the character of Thales as he decides to leave London for Wales. Johnson imitated Juvenal because of his fondness for the Roman poet and he was following a popular 18th-century trend of Augustan poets headed by Alexander Pope that favoured imitations of classical poets, especially for young poets in their first ventures into published verse. Excerpted from London (Samuel Johnson poem) on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

LONDON:

A POEM

IN IMITATION OF THE THIRD SATIRE OF JUVENAL, 1738.

 
"——Quis ineptæ
"Tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus ut teneat se?"

Juv.



Though grief and fondness in my breast rebel
When injur'd Thales bids the town farewell,
Yet still my calmer thoughts his choice commend. . . .
I praise the hermit, but regret the friend;
Who now resolves, from vice and London far,
To breathe in distant fields a purer air;
And, fix'd on Cambria's solitary shore,
Give to St. David one true Briton more.
For who would leave, unbrib'd, Hibernia's land,
Or change the rocks of Scotland for the Strand?
There none are swept by sudden fate away,
But all whom hunger spares, with age decay:

Here, malice, rapine, accident, conspire;
And now a rabble rages, now a fire:
Their ambush here relentless ruffians lay,
And here the fell attorney prowls for prey;
Here falling houses thunder on your head,
And here a female atheist talks you dead.
While Thales waits the wherry that contains
Of dissipated wealth the small remains,
On Thames's banks in silent thought we stood,
Where Greenwich smiles upon the silver flood:
Struck with the seat that gave Eliza birth,
We kneel and kiss the consecrated earth;
In pleasing dreams the blissful age renew,
And call Britannia's glories back to view;
Behold her cross triumphant on the main,
The guard of commerce, and the dread of Spain;
Ere maquerades debauch'd, excise oppress'd,
Or English honour grew a standing jest.
A transient calm the happy scenes bestow,
And for a moment lull the sense of woe.
At length awaking, with contemptuous frown,
Indignant Thales eyes the neighbouring town.

'Since worth,' he cries, 'in these degen'rate days,
Wants e'en the cheap reward of empty praise;
In those curs'd walls, devote to vice and gain,
Since unrewarded Science toils in vain;
Since hope but soothes to double my distress,
And ev'ry moment leaves my little less:—
While yet my steady steps no staff sustains,
And life, still vig'rous, revels in my veins;
Grant me, kind Heaven, to find some happier place,
Where honesty and sense are no disgrace;
Some pleasing bank where verdant osiers play,
Some peaceful vale with Nature's paintings gay,
Where once the harass'd Briton found repose,
And safe in poverty defied his foes:
Some secret cell, ye pow'rs, indulgent give,
Let ——— live here, for ——— has learned to live.
Here let those reign whom pensions can incite
To vote a patriot black, a courtier white;
Explain their country's dear-bought rights away,
And plead for pirates in the face of day;
With slavish tenets taint our poison'd youth,
And lend a lie the confidence of truth.

Let such raise palaces, and manors buy,
Collect a tax, or farm a lottery;
With warbling eunuchs fill a licens'd stage,
And lull to servitude a thoughtless age.
Heroes, proceed! what bounds your pride shall hold?
What check restrain your thirst of power and gold?
Behold rebellious virtue quite o’erthrown;
Behold our fame, our wealth, our lives, your own.
'To such a groaning nation’s spoils are given,
When public crimes inflame the wrath of Heaven:
But what, my friend, what hope remains for me,
Who start at theft, and blush at perjury?
Who scarce forbear, though Britain’s Court he sing,
To pluck a titled poet’s borrow'd wing;
A statesman’s logic unconvinc'd can hear,
And dare to slumber o’er the Gazetteer;
Despise a fool in half his pension dress'd,
And strive in vain to laugh at H—y’s jest?
'Others, with softer smiles, and subtler art,
Can sap the principles, or taint the heart;
With more address a lover’s note convey,
Or bribe a virgin’s innocence away.

Well may they rise: while I, whose rustic tongue
Ne’er knew to puzzle right, or varnish wrong;
Spurn'd as a beggar, dreaded as a spy,
Live unregarded, unlamented die.
For what but social guilt the friend endears?—
Who shares Orgilio's crimes, his fortune shares.
But thou, should tempting villainy present
All Marlborough hoarded, or all Villiers spent,
Turn from the glitt'ring bribe thy scornful eye,
Nor sell for gold, what gold could never buy—
The peaceful slumber, self-approving day,
Unsullied fame, and conscience ever gay.
'The cheated nation’s happy fav’rites, see!
Mark whom the great caress, who frown on me!
London, the needy villain’s gen'ral home,
The common-sewer of Paris and of Rome;
With eager thirst, by folly or by fate,
Sucks in the dregs of each corrupted state.
Forgive my transports on a theme like this,
I cannot bear a French metropolis.
Illustrious Edward, from the realms of day,
The land of heroes and of saints survey;

Nor hope the British lineaments to trace,
The rustic grandeur, or the surly grace:
But, lost in thoughtless ease and empty show,
Behold the warrior dwindled to a beau;
Sense, freedom, piety, refin'd away—
Of France the mimic, and of Spain the prey.
'All that at home no more can beg or steal,
Or like a gibbet better than a wheel;
Hiss'd from the stage, or hooted from the court,
Their air, their dress, their politics import;
Obsequious, artful, voluble and gay,
On Britain’s fond credulity they prey.
No gainful trade their industry can ’scape:
They sing, they dance, clean shoes, or cure a clap.
All sciences a fasting monsieur knows;
And bid him go to hell, to hell he goes.
Ah! what avails it, that, from slav'ry far,
I drew the breath of life in English air;
Was early taught a Briton’s right to prize,
And lisp the tale of Henry’s victories;
If the gull'd conqueror receives the chain,
And flattery subdues when arms are vain?

'Studious to please, and ready to submit,
The subtle Gaul was born a parasite:
Still to his int'rest true, where’er he goes,
Wit, brav'ry, worth, his lavish tongue bestows;
In ev'ry face a thousand graces shine,
From ev'ry tongue flows harmony divine.
These arts in vain our rugged natives try,
Strain out, with fault'ring diffidence, a lie,
And gain a kick for awkward flattery.
'Besides, with justice, this discerning age
Admires their wond'rous talents for the stage.—
Well may they venture on the mimic’s art,
Who play from morn to night a borrow'd part;
Practis'd their master’s notions to embrace;
Repeat his maxims, and reflect his face;
With ev'ry wild absurdity comply,
And view each object with another’s eye:
To shake with laughter e'er the jest they hear,
To pour at will the counterfeited tear;
And as their patron hints the cold or heat,
To shake in dog-days, in December sweat.

'How, when competitors like these contend,
Can surly virtue hope to fix a friend?
Slaves that with serious impudence beguile,
And lie without a blush, without a smile;
Exalt each trifle, ev'ry vice adore,
Your taste in snuff, your judgment in a whore;
Can Balbo’s eloquence applaud, and swear
He gropes his breeches with a monarch’s air.
'For arts like these preferr'd, admir'd, caress’d,
They first invade your table, then your breast;
Explore your secrets with insidious art,
Watch the weak hour, and ransack all the heart;
Then soon your ill-plac'd confidence repay,
Commence your lords, and govern or betray.
'By numbers here, from shame or censure free,
All crimes are safe, but hated poverty.
This, only this, the rigid law pursues;
This, only this, provokes the snarling muse.
The sober trader at a tatter'd cloak,
Wakes from his dream, and labours for a joke;

With brisker air the silken courtiers gaze,
And turn the varied taunt a thousand ways.
Of all the griefs that harass the distressed,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest;
Fate never wounds more deep the gen'rous heart,
Than when a blockhead’s insult points the dart.
'Has Heaven reserved, in pity to the poor,
No pathless waste, or undiscover'd shore?
No secret island in the boundless main?
No peaceful desert yet unclaimed by Spain?
Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore,
And bear Oppression’s insolence no more.
This mournful truth is everywhere confess'd,
Slow rises worth, by poverty depress'd:
But here more slow, where all are slaves to gold,
Where looks are merchandise, and smiles are sold;
Where won by bribes, by flatteries implor'd,
The groom retails the favours of his lord.
But, hark! th’ affrighted crowd’s tumultuous cries
Roll through the streets, and thunder to the skies:
Rais'd from some pleasing dream of wealth and pow'r,
Some pompous palace, or some blissful bow'r,

Aghast you start, and scarce with aching sight
Sustain th’ approaching fire’s tremendous light;
Swift from pursuing horrors take your way,
And leave your little all to flames a prey;
Then through the world a wretched vagrant roam—
For where can starving merit find a home?
In vain your mournful narrative disclose,
While all neglect, and most insult your woes,
Should Heaven’s just bolts, Orgilio’s wealth confound,
And spread his flaming palace on the ground,
Swift o’er the land the dismal rumour flies,
And public mournings pacify the skies:
The laureate tribe in servile verse relate,
How virtue wars with persecuting fate;
With well-feigned gratitude the pensioned band
Refund the plunder of the beggar'd land.
See! while he builds, the gaudy vassals come,
And crowd with sudden wealth the rising dome;
The price of boroughs and of souls restore,
And raise his treasures higher than before:
Now blessed with all the baubles of the great,
The polish'd marble, and the shining plate,

Orgilio sees the golden pile aspire,
And hopes from angry Heav’n another fire.
'Couldst thou resign the Park and play content,
For the fair banks of Severn or of Trent;
There might’st thou find some elegant retreat,
Some hireling senator’s deserted seat,
And stretch thy prospects o’er the smiling land,
For less than rent the dungeons of the Strand;
There prune thy walks, support thy drooping flow’rs,
Direct thy rivulets, and twine thy bow’rs;
And, while thy grounds a cheap repast afford,
Despise the dainties of a venal lord:
There ev'ry bush with nature’s music rings,
There ev'ry breeze bears health upon its wings;
On all thy hours security shall smile,
And bless thine evening walk and morning toil.
'Prepare for death, if here at night you roam,
And sign your will before you sup from home.
Some fiery fop, with new commission vain,
Who sleeps on brambles till he kills his man;
Some frolic drunkard, reeling from a feast,
Provokes a broil, and stabs you for a jest.

Yet e'en these heroes, mischievously gay,
Lords of the street, and terrors of the way,
Flush'd as they are with folly, youth and wine,
Their prudent insults to the poor confine;
Afar they mark the flambeau’s bright approach,
And shun the shining train, and golden coach,
'In vain, these dangers past, your doors you close,
And hope the balmy blessings of repose:
Cruel with guilt, and daring with despair,
The midnight murd'rer bursts the faithless bar;
Invades the sacred hour of silent rest,
And plants, unseen, a dagger in your breast.
'Scarce can our fields, such crowds at Tyburn die,
With hemp the gallows and the fleet supply.
Propose your schemes, ye senatorian band,
Whose ways and means support the sinking land;
Lest ropes be wanting in the tempting spring,
To rig another convoy for the king.[1]
'A single gaol, in Alfred’s golden reign,
Could half the nation’s criminals contain:

Fair Justice then, without constraint ador'd,
Held high the steady scale, but sheath'd the sword;
No spies were paid, no special juries known:
Blest age! but, ah! how diff'rent from our own!. . . .
Much could I add——But see, the boat at hand;
The tide, retiring, calls me from the land:
Farewell!—When youth, and health, and fortune spent,
Thou fly'st for refuge to the wilds of Kent;
And tir'd, like me, with follies and with crimes,
In angry numbers warn'st succeeding times,
Then shall thy friend, nor thou refuse his aid,
Still foe to vice, forsake his Cambrian shade;
In Virtue's cause once more exert his rage,
Thy satire point, and animate thy page.'


the end.

  1. The nation was discontented at the visits made by George II. to Hanover.