British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan

By George Henry Nettleton; Arthur Eillicot Case | Go to book overview

PROLOGUE

BY MR. POPE

SPOKEN BY MR. WILKS1

To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius and to mend the heart,
To make mankind in conscious virtue bold,
Live o'er each scene and be what they behold; --

For this the tragic muse first trod the stage, 5
Commanding tears to stream through every age; Tyrants no more their savage nature kept,
And foes to virtue wondered how they wept.
Our author shuns by vulgar springs to move
The hero's glory or the virgin's love; 10
In pitying love, we but our weakness show, And wild ambition well deserves its woe.
Here tears shall flow from a more gen'rous cause,
Such tears as patriots shed for dying laws.
He bids your breasts with ancient ardor rise, 15
And calls forth Roman drops from British eyes. Virtue confessed in human shape he draws,
What Plato thought, and godlike Cato was:
No common object to your sight displays,
But -- what with pleasure heav'n itself 'surveys -- 20
A brave man straggling in the storms of fate, And greatly falling with a falling state!
While Cato gives his little senate laws,2
What bosom beats not in his country's cause?
Who sees him act, but envies ev'ry deed? 25
Who hears him groan, and does not wish to bleed? Ev'n when proud Caesar, 'midst triumphal cars,
The spoils of nations, and the pomp of wars,
Ignobly vain and impotently great,
Showed Rome her Cato's figure drawn in state; 30
As her dead father's rev'rend image past,
The pomp was darkened and the day o'ercast,
The triumph ceased -- tears gushed from every eye,
The world's great victor past unheeded by;
Her last good man dejected Rome adored, 35
And honored Cæsar's less than Cato's sword.
Britons, attend: be worth like this approved,
And show you have the virtue to be moved.
With honest scorn the first famed Cato viewed
Rome learning arts from Greece, whom she subdued. 40
Our scene precariously subsists too long
On French translation and Italian song.
Dare to have sense yourselves; assert the stage,
Be justly warmed with your own native rage.
Such plays alone should please a British ear, 45
As Cato's self had not disdained to hear.

____________________
1
In the part of Juba.
2
Pope repeated this line, slightly altered in form, in his famous portrait of Atticus ( Addison), Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnol, l. 209.

-479-

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