The Law of Lombardy/Prologue
PROLOGUE to the LAW of LOMBARDY,
Written by the AUTHOR.
Spoken by Mr. FARREN.
HARD is the task, in modern days to choose,
Congenial subjects for the tragic muse:
The historian's page, the fertile epic store,
Were known, and ransack’d centuries before:
Like luscious gardens, unenclos'd they lay,
To ev'ry saunt'ring bard an easy prey.
The enter’d, and, as taste impell'd, they fed
On Homer some, and some on Hollingshead.
From loftiest numbers, or from humblest prose,
At each conspir’d, the artless structures rose.
Thus one great labour of their work was o'er,
They found a fable, and they sought no more.
Careless were they of action, place, or time,
Whose only toil was dialogue and rhyme.
“Rules which the rigid Sragyrite devis'd,
“Our fathers knew not, or, if known, despis'd.
Whilst side by side, were mingled in the scene,
A laughing rustic, and a weepinh queen.
Space was obedient to the boundless piece,
That op'd in Mexico, and clos'd in Greece.
Then thick with plots the crowded tale was sown,
'Till the divided bosom felt for none;
“They fear’d no censures of a frowning pit,
“That judg'd as loosely as the authors writ.”
But we, who posted in time's tardy rear,
Before a learn'd tribunal now appear;
With anxious art a lable must design,
Where probability, and interest join:
Where time, and place, and action, all agree
To violate no sacred unity.
And thus each candid critic must confess
The labour greater, and indulgence less;
When such the task, the wonder is to meet,
Not many pieces bad, but one complete.
Nor let presumptious poets fondly claim
From rules exemption, by great Shakespeare's name;
Though comets move with wild excentric force,
Yet humbler planets keep their stated course.
But now, a bard, who touch'd your hearts before,
Again salutes you from a neighbouring shore.
Fir'd by the applause you gave his early lays,
He stands again a candidate for praise;
Nor from your former favour dares foresee
To worthles strains a partial destiny.
But if his virgin palm was fairly won,
And this next course with equal vigour’s run,
Now join to bind his fresher laurels on.
He fears no jaundic'd rival's envious breath,
The hands which twin'd, shall still preserve the wreath.