A Collection of English Poems, 1660-1800

By Ronald S. Crane | Go to book overview

SAMUEL JOHNSON
(1709-1731-1784)

Prologue Spoken by Mr. Garrick at the Opening of the Theatre in Drury-Lane, 17471

WHEN Learning's Triumph o'er her barb'rous Foes
First rear'd the Stage, immortal SHAKESPEAR rose;
Each Change of many-colour'd Life he draw,
Exhausted Worlds, and then imagin'd new:

Existence saw him spurn her bounded Reign, 5
And panting Time toil'd after him in vain:
His pow'rful Strokes presiding Truth impress'd,
And unresisted Passion storm'd the Breast.

Then JOHNSON came, instructed from the School,

To please in Method, and invent by Rule; 10
His studious Patience, and laborious Art,
By regular Approach essay'd the Heart;
Cold Approbation gave the ling'ring Bays,
For those who durst not censure, scarce cou'd praise.
A Mortal born he met the general Doom, 15
But left, like Egypt's Kings, a lasting Tomb.

The Wits of Charles found easier Ways to Fame,
Nor wish'd for JOHNSON's Art, or SHAKESPEAR's Flame,
Themselves they studied, as they felt, they writ,

Intrigue was Plot, Obscenity was Wit. 20
Vice always found a sympathetick Friend;
They pleas'd their Age, and did not aim to mend.
Yet Bards like these aspir'd to lasting Praise,
And proudly hop'd to pimp in future Days.
Their Cause was gen'ral, their Supports were strong, 25
Their Slaves were willing, and their Reign was long;
Till Shame regain'd the Post that Sense betray'd,
And Virtue call'd Oblivion to her Aid.

Then crush'd by Rules, and weaken'd as refin'd,

For Years the Pow'r of Tragedy declin'd; 30
From Bard, to Bard, the frigid Caution crept,
Till Declamation roar'd, while Passion slept.
Yet still did Virtue deign the Stage to tread,
Philosophy remain'd, though Nature fled.
But forc'd at length her antient Reign to quit, 35
She saw great Faustus lay the Ghost of Wit:

____________________
1
Published in 1747. Text of first edition.

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