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The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 1/An Occasional Prologue

AN OCCASIONAL PROLOGUE,

DELIVERED BY THE AUTHOR PREVIOUS TO THE PERFORMANCE OF "THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE" AT A PRIVATE THEATRE.[1]

Since the refinement of this polish'd age
Has swept immoral raillery from the stage;
Since taste has now expung'd licentious wit,
Which stamp'd disgrace on all an author writ;
Since, now, to please with purer scenes we seek,
Nor dare to call the blush from Beauty's cheek;
Oh! let the modest Muse some pity claim,
And meet indulgence—though she find not fame.
Still, not for her alone, we wish respect,[2]
Others appear more conscious of defect:
To-night no vet'ran Roscii you behold,
In all the arts of scenic action old;
No Cooke, no Kemble, can salute you here,
No Siddons draw the sympathetic tear;
To-night you throng to witness the début
Of embryo Actors, to the Drama new:
Here, then, our almost unfledg'd wings we try;
Clip not owr pinions, ere the birds can fly:
Failing in this our first attempt to soar,
Drooping, alas! we fall to rise no more.
Not one poor trembler, only, fear betrays,
Who hopes, yet almost dreads to meet your praise;
But all our Dramatis Personæ wait,
In fond suspense this crisis of their fate.
No venal views our progress can retard,
Your generous plaudits are our sole reward;
For these, each Hero all his power displays,[3]
Each timid Heroine shrinks before your gaze:
Surely the last will some protection find?[4]
None, to the softer sex, can prove unkind:
While Youth and Beauty form the female shield,[5]
The sternest Censor to the fair must yield.[6]
Yet, should our feeble efforts nought avail,
Should, after all, our best endeavours fail;
Still, let some mercy in your bosoms live,
And, if you can't applaud, at least forgive.

  1. ["I enacted Penruddock, in The Wheel of Fortune, and Tristram Fickle, in the farce of The Weathercock, for three nights, in some private theatricals at Southwell, in 1806, with great applause. The occasional prologue for our volunteer play was also of my composition."—Diary; Life, p. 38. The prologue was written by him, between stages, on his way from Harrogate. On getting into the carriage at Chesterfield, he said to his companion, "Now, Pigot, I'll spin a prologue for our play;" and before they reached Mansfield he had completed his task,—interrupting only once his rhyming reverie, to ask the proper pronunciation of the French word début; and, on being told it, exclaiming, "Aye, that will do for rhyme to 'new.'"—Life, p. 39. "The Prologue was spoken by G. Wylde, Esq."—Note by Miss E. Pigot.]
  2. But not for her alone.—[4to]
  3. For them each Hero.—[4to]
  4. Surely these last.—[4to]
  5. Whilst Youth.—[4to. P. on V. Occasions.]
  6. The sternest critic.—[4to]