The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 17/Fragment of a Satire


IF meagre Gildon draws his venal quill,
I wish the man a dinner, and sit still:
If dreadful Dennis raves in furious fret,
I'll answer Dennis, when I am in debt.
'Tis hunger, and not malice, makes them print;
And who'll wage war with Bedlam or the Mint?
Should some more sober criticks come abroad,
If wrong, I smile; if right, I kiss the rod.
Pains, reading, study, are their just pretence;
And all they want is spirit, taste, and sense.
Commas and points they set exactly right;
And 'twere a sin to rob them of their mite:
Yet ne'er one sprig of laurel grac'd those ribalds,
From slashing Bentley down to piddling Tibalds,
Who thinks he reads when he but scans and spells;
A word-catcher that lives on syllables.
Yet e'en this creature may some notice claim,
Wrapt round and sanctified with Shakspeare's name.
Pretty! in amber to observe the forms
Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms!
The thing, we know, is neither rich nor rare;
And wonder how the devil it got there.
Are others angry? I excuse them too:
Well may they rage; I gave them but their due.
Each man's true merit 'tis not hard to find;
But each man's secret standard in his mind,
That casting-weight pride adds to emptiness,
This who can gratify? for who can guess?
The wretch[2], whom pilfer'd pastorals renown,
Who turns a Persian tale for half a crown,
Just writes to make his barrenness appear,
And strains from hardbound brains six lines a year;
In sense still wanting, tho' he lives on theft,
Steals much, spends little, yet has nothing left.
Johnson[3], who now to sense, now nonsense leaning,
Means not, but blunders round about a meaning:
And he, whose fustian's so sublimely bad,
It is not poetry but prose run mad[4]:
Should modest Satire bid all these translate,
And own that nine such poets make a Tate;
How would they fume, and stamp, and roar, and chafe!
How would they swear not Congreve's self was safe!
Peace to all such! but were there one whose fires
Apollo kindled, and fair fame inspires:
Blest with each talent and each art to please,
And born to write, converse, and live with ease:
Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne;
View him with scornful, yet with fearful eyes,
And hate for arts that caus'd himself to rise;
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering teach the rest to sneer:
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;
Alike reserv'd to blame, or to commend,
A tim'rous foe, and a suspicious friend:
Dreading e'en fools, by flatterers besieg'd,
And so obliging, that he ne'er oblig'd;
Who, if two wits on rival themes contest,
Approves of each, but likes the worst the best;
Like Cato, gives his little senate laws,
And sits attentive to his own applause;
While wits and templars ev'ry sentence raise,
And wonder with a foolish face of praise —
What pity, Heaven! if such a man there be;
Who would not weep, if Addison were he!

  1. Inserted since, with alterations, in Mr. Pope's Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, being the prologue to the Satires, vol. ii of Pope's Works.
  2. Philips.
  3. Author of the Victim, and Cobler of Preston,
  4. Verse of Dr. Ev.