Prologue to a Comedy call'd the Grateful Fair

Prologue to a Comedy call'd the Grateful Fair
by Christopher Smart

The Prologue

In ancient days (as jovial Horace sings)
When laurell'd bards were lawgivers and kings,
Bold was the comic muse, without restraint,
To name the vicious, and the vice to paint;
5Th' enliven'd picture from the canvas flew,
And the strong likeness crowded on the view.
Our author practices more general rules,
He is no niggard of his knaves and fools.
Both small and great, both dull and pert he shews,
10That every gentleman may pick and chuse.
The laws dramatic though he scarcely knows
Of time and place, and all the piteous prose
That pedant Frenchmen snuffle thro' their nose.
Fools!— who prescribe what Homer shou'd have done,
15Like tattling watches, they correct the sun.
Critics, like posts, undoubtedly may shew,
The way to Pindus, but they cannot go.
Whene'er immortal Shakespeare's works are read,
He wins the heart before he strikes the head;
20Swift to the soul the piercing image flies
Swifter than Harriot's wit, or Harriot's eyes;
Swifter than some romantic trav'llers thought,
Swifter than British fire when William fought.
Fancy precedes, and conquers all the mind,
25Deliberating Judgment slowly comes behind;
Comes to the field with blunderbuss and gun,
Like heavy Falstaff, when the work is done;
Fights when the battle's o'er, with wond'rous pain,
By Shrewsbury's clock, and nobly slays the slain.
30The Critic's censures are beneath our care,
We strive to please the generous and the fair;
To their decision we submit our claim,
We write not, speak not, breathe not, but for them.

1747, Cambridge