Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN ESSAY UPON SATIRE, by JOHN SHEFFIELD

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AN ESSAY UPON SATIRE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: How dull and how insensible a beast
Last Line: Learn to write well, or not to write at all.
Alternate Author Name(s): Buckingham & Normandy, 1st Duke Of

How dull and how insensible a beast
Is man, who yet would lord it o'er the rest!
Philosophers and poets vainly strove
In ev'ry age the lumpish mass to move,
But those were pedants when compared with these
Who knew not only to instruct but please.
Poets alone found that delightful way
Mysterious morals gently to convey
In charming numbers, so that as men grew
Pleased with their poems, they grew wiser too.
Satire has always shined amongst the rest,
And is the boldest way, if not the best,
To tell men freely of their foulest faults,
To laugh at their vain deeds and vainer thoughts.
In satire too the wise took diff'rent ways,
Though each deserving its peculiar praise:
Some did all follies with just sharpness blame,
While others laughed and scorned them into shame;
But of these two the last succeeded best,
As men aim rightest when they shoot in jest.
Yet if we may presume to blame our guides
And censure those who censured all besides,
In other things they justly are preferred;
In this alone methinks the ancients erred.
Against the grossest follies they declaim;
Hard they pursue, but hunt ignoble game.
Nothing is easier than such blots to hit,
And 'tis the talent of each vulgar wit;
Besides, 'tis labor lost, for who would preach
Morals to Armstrong, or dull Aston teach?
'Tis being devout at play, wise at a ball,
Or bringing wit and friendship to Whitehall.
But with sharp eyes those nicer faults to find
Which lie obscurely in the wisest mind,
That little speck which all the rest does spoil,
To wash off that would be a noble toil
Beyond the loose-writ libels of the age,
Or the forced scenes of our declining stage.
Above all censure too, each little wit
Will be so glad to see the greater hit,
Who judging better, though concerned the most,
Of such correction will have cause to boast.
In such a satire all would seek a share,
And ev'ry fool will fancy he is there.
Old storytellers, too, must pine and die
To see their antiquated wit laid by,
Like her who missed her name in a lampoon
And grieved to see herself decayed so soon.
No common coxcomb must be mentioned here,
Nor the dull trains of dancing sparks appear,
Nor flutt'ring officers who never fight,
Of such a wretched rabble who would write?
Much less half-wits, that's more against our rules;
For they are fops, the others are but fools.
Who would not be as silly as Dunbar,
Or dull as Monmouth, rather than Sir Carr?
The cunning courtier should be slighted, too,
Who with dull knav'ry makes so much ado,
Till the shrewd fool, by thriving so too fast,
Like Aesop's fox, becomes a prey at last,
Nor shall the royal mistresses be named,
Too ugly and too easy to be blamed;
With whom each rhyming fool keeps such a pother,
They are as common that way as the other.
Yet saunt'ring Charles, between his beastly brace,
Meets with dissembling still in either place,
Affected humor or a painted face.
In loyal libels we have often told him
How one has jilted him, the other sold him;
How that affects to laugh and this to weep;
But who can rail so long as he can keep?
Was ever prince by two at once misled,
False, foolish, old, ill natured and ill-bred?
Earnely and Ailesbury with all that race
Of busy blockheads shall have here no place;
At council set as foils on Danby's score
To make that great false jewel shine the more,
Who all the while was thought exceeding wise
Only for taking pains and telling lies.
But there's no meddling with such nauseous men,
Their very names have tired my lazy pen;
'Tis time to quit their company and choose
Some fitter subject for a sharper muse.
First, let's behold the merriest man alive
Against his careless genius vainly strive;
Quit his dear ease some deep design to lay
'Gainst a set time, and then forget the day.
Yet he will laugh at his best friends and be
Just as good company as Nokes or Lee.
But when he aims at reason or at rule
He turns himself the best in ridicule;
Let him at business ne'er so earnest sit,
Show him but mirth, and bait that mirth with wit,
That shadow of a jest shall be enjoyed
Though he left all mankind to be destroyed:
So cat transformed sat gravely and demure
Till mouse appeared and thought himself secure;
But soon the lady had him in her eye
And from her friends did just as oddly fly.
Reaching above our nature does no good,
We must fall back to our own flesh and blood.
As by our little Machiavel we find
(That nimblest creature of the busy kind)
His limbs are crippled and his body shakes,
Yet his hard mind, which all this bustle makes,
No pity of his poor companion takes.
What gravity can hold from laughing out
To see that drag his feeble legs about
Like hounds ill coupled; Jowler lugs him still
Through hedges, ditches, and through all that's ill.
'Twere crime in any man but him alone
To use his body so, though 'tis his own;
Yet this false comfort never gives him o'er,
That whilst he creeps his vig'rous thoughts can soar.
Alas! that soaring to those few that know
Is but a busy grov'ling here below.
So men in raptures think they mount the sky,
Whilst on the ground th' entranced wretches lie;
So modern fops have fancied they should fly,
Whilst 'tis their heads alone are in the air,
And for the most part building castles there
As the new earl, with parts deserving praise
And wit enough to laugh at his own ways,
Yet loses all soft days and sensual nights,
Kind nature checks, and kinder fortune slights;
Striving against his quiet all he can,
For the fine notion of a busy man;
And what is that at best but one whose mind
Is made to tire himself and all mankind?
To Ireland he would go --faith, let him reign,
For if some odd fantastic lord would fain
Carry my trunks and all my drudg'ry do,
I'll not pay only, I'll admire him too.
But is there any other beast that lives
Who his own harm so wittily contrives?
Will any dog that hath his teeth and stones
Refinedly leave his bitches and his bones
To turn a wheel and bark to be employed
While Venus is by rival dogs enjoyed?
Yet this fond man, to get a statesman's name,
Forfeits his friends, his freedom, and his fame.
Though satire nicely writ no humor stings
But theirs who merit praise in other things,
Yet we must needs this one exception make,
And break one rule for Polytropos' sake,
Who was too much despised to be accused,
And therefore scarce deserves to be abused;
Raised only by his mercenary tongue
For railing smoothly and for reas'ning wrong:
As boys on holidays let loose to play
Lay waggish traps for girls who pass that way,
Then shout to see in dirt and deep distress
Some silly chit in her flow'red foolish dress;
So have I mighty satisfaction found
To see his tinseled reasons on the ground;
To see the florid fool despised (and know it)
By some who scarce have words enough to show it
(For sense sits silent and condemns for weaker
The finer, nay sometimes the wittier, speaker).
But 'tis prodigious so much eloquence
Should be acquired by such a little sense;
For words and wit did anciently agree,
And Tully was no fool though this man be.
At bar abusive, at the bench unable,
Knave on the woolsack, fop at council table,
These are the grievances: such fools as would
Be rather wise than honest, great than good.
Another kind of wits must be made known,
Whose harmless errors hurt themselves alone:
Excess of luxury they think can please,
And laziness call loving of their ease.
To live dissolved in pleasure still they feign,
Though their whole life's but intermitting pain;
So much of surfeit, headache, claps are seen,
We scarce perceive the little time between.
Well-meaning men who make this gross mistake,
And pleasure lose only for pleasure's sake;
Each pleasure hath its price, and when we pay
So much of pain we squander life away.
Thus Dorset, purring like a thoughtful cat,
Married (but wiser Puss ne'er thought of that)
And first he worried her with railing rhyme,
Like Pembroke's mastiff at his kindest time;
Then, for one night, sold all his slavish life
T' a teeming widow but a barren wife.
Swelled by contact of such a fulsome toad,
He lugged about the matrimonial load,
Till fortune, blindly kind as well as he,
Hath ill restored him to his liberty,
Which he will use in his old sneaking way,
Drinking all night and dozing all the day;
Dull as Ned Howard, whom his brisker time
Had famed for dulness in malicious rhyme.
Mulgrave had much ado to 'scape the snare,
Though learned in those ill arts that cheat the fair:
For, after all his vulgar marriage mocks,
With beauty dazzled, Numps was in the stocks.
Deluded parents dried their weeping eyes
To see him catch his Tartar for his prize;
Th' impatient town waited the wished-for change,
And cuckolds smiled in hopes of a revenge;
Till Petworth plot made us with sorrow see
As his estate his person too was free.
Him no soft thoughts, no gratitude could move;
To gold he fled from beauty and from love,
Yet failing there he keeps his freedom still,
Forced to live happily against his will.
'Tis not his fault if too much wealth and pow'r
Break not his boasted quiet ev'ry hour.
And little Sid, for simile renowned,
Pleasure hath always sought but never found:
Though all his thoughts on wine and woman fall,
His are so bad, sure, he ne'er thinks at all.
The flesh he lives upon is rank and strong,
His meat and mistresses are kept too long;
But sure we all mistake this pious man,
Who mortifies his person all he can:
What we uncharitably take for sin,
Are only rules of this odd Capuchin;
For never hermit under grave pretense
Has lived more contrary to common sense,
And 'tis a miracle, we may suppose,
No nastiness offends his skillful nose
Which from all stinks can with peculiar art
Extract perfume, and essence from a fart.
Expecting supper is his great delight,
He toils all day but to be drunk at night;
Then o'er his cups this chirping nightbird sits
Till he takes Hewitt and Jack Howe for wits.
Rochester I despise for his mere want of wit
(Though thought to have a tail and cloven feet)
For while he mischief means to all mankind,
Himself alone the ill effect does find,
And so like witches justly suffers shame,
Whose harmless malice is so much the same.
False are his words, affected as his wit,
So often he does aim, so seldom hit;
To ev'ry face he cringes whilst he speaks,
But when the back is turned the head he breaks.
Mean in each motion, lewd in ev'ry limb,
Manners themselves are mischievous in him;
A proof that chance alone makes ev'ry creature,
A very Killigrew without good nature.
For what a Bessus hath he always lived,
And his own kicking notably contrived?
For there's the folly that's still mixed with fear:
Cowards more blows than any hero bear,
Of fighting sparks some may their pleasure say,
But 'tis a bolder thing to run away.
The world may well forgive him all his ill,
For ev'ry fault does prove his penance still;
Falsely he falls into some dang'rous noose,
And then as meanly labors to get loose;
A life so infamous it's better quitting,
Spent in base injuring and low submitting.
I'd like to have left out his poetry,
Forgot almost by all as well as me:
Sometimes he hath some humor, never wit,
And if it ever (very rarely) hit,
'Tis under so much nasty rubbish laid,
To find it out's the cinder-woman's trade,
Who for the wretched remnants of a fire,
Must toil all day in ashes and in mire.
So lewdly dull his idle works appear,
The wretched text deserves no comment here,
Where one poor thought's sometimes left all alone
For a whole page of dulness to atone.
'Mongst forty bad's one tolerable line,
Without expression, fancy, or design.
How vain a thing is man and how unwise
E'en he who would himself the most despise!
I, who so wise and humble seem to be,
Now my own vanity and pride can see.
Whilst the world's nonsense is so sharply shown,
We pull down others but to raise our own:
That we may angels seem we paint them elves,
And are but satyrs to set up ourselves.
I, who have all this while been finding fault
E'en with my masters who first satire taught,
And did by that describe the task so hard
It seems stupendous and above reward,
Now labor with unequal force so climb
That lofty hill unreached by former time.
'Tis just that I should to the bottom fall:
Learn to write well, or not to write at all.

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