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Sir, though (I thank God for it) I do hate Perfectly all this town; yet there's one state In all ill things, so excellently best, That hate towards them, breeds pity towards the rest.
Ver. 1. Yes; thank my stars!] Two noblemen of taste and learning, the Duke of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Oxford, desired Pope to melt down and cast anew, the weighty bullion of Dr. Donne's Satires; who had degraded and deformed a vast fund of sterling wit and strong sense, by the most harsh and uncouth diction. Pope succeeded in giving harmony to a writer, more rough and rugged than even any of his age, and who profited so little by the example Spenser had set, of a most musical and mellifluous versification; far beyond the versification of Fairfax, who is frequently mentioned as the greatest improver of the harmony of our language. The Satires of Hall, written in very smooth and pleasing numbers, preceded those of Donne many years; for his Virgidemiarum were published, in six books, in the year 1597: in which he calls himself the very first English Satirist. This, however, was not true in fact; for Sir Thomas Wyatt, of Allington Castle in Kent, the friend and favourite of Henry VIII. and, as was suggested, of Ann Boleyn, was our first writer of Satire worth notice. But it was not in his numbers only that Donne was reprehensible. He abounds in false thoughts, in far-sought sentiments, in forced unnatural conceits. He was the first corrupter of Cowley. Dryden was the first who called him a metaphysical poet. He had a considerable share of learning, and though he entered late into orders, yet he was esteemed a good divine. James I. was so earnest to prefer him in the church, that he even refused the Earl of Somerset, his favourite, the request he earnestly
Yes; thank my stars! as early as I knew
made, of giving Donne an office in the council. In the entertaining account of that conversation, which Ben Jonson is said to have held with Mr. Drummond, of Hawthornden in Scotland, in the year 1619, containing his judgments of the English Poets, he speaks thus of Donne (who was his intimate friend, and had frequently addressed him in various poems :) “Donne was originally a poet; his grandfather, on the mother's side, was Heywood the epigrammatist; but for not being understood, he would perish. He esteemed him the first poet in the world for some things; his Verses of the Lost Ochadine, he had by heart; and that passage of the Calm, “That dust and feather did not stir, all was so quiet.” He affirmed, that Donne wrote all his best pieces before he was twenty five years of age. The conceit of Donne's transformation,
or metempsychosis, was, that he sought the soul of that apple which Eve pulled, and hereafter made it the soul of a bitch, then of a shewolf, and so of a woman; his general purpose was to have brought it into all the bodies of the heretics, from the soul of Cain, and at last left it in the body of Calvin. He only wrote one sheet of this; and since he was made Doctor, repented heartily, and resolved to destroy all his poems. He told Donne, that his Anni. versary was profane; that if it had been written on the Virgin Mary, it had been tolerable; to which Donne answered, That he described the idea of a woman, and not as she was.”
Though Poetry, indeed, be such a sin,
One (like a wretch, which at barre judg’d as dead, Yet prompts him which stands next, and cannot
read, And saves his life) gives Idiot Actors means, (Starving himself,) to live by's labour'd scenes. As in some Organs, Puppits dance above, And bellows pant below, which them do move. One would move love by rhymes; but witchcraft's
charms Bring not now their old fears, nor their old harms : Rams and slings now are silly battery, Pistolets are the best artillery. And they who write to Lords, rewards to get, Are they not like singers at doors for meat? And they who write, because all write, have still That 'scuse for writing, and for writing ill.
But he is worst, who beggarly doth chaw Others wits fruits, and in his ravenous maw
Donne was one of our Poets who wrote elegantly in Latin; as did Ben Jonson, Cowley, Milton, Addison, and Gray. In Donne's Introduction to his Witty Catalogue of Imaginary Books (which Swift has imitated before the Tale of a Tub), there is a passage so minutely applicable to the present times, that I am tempted to transcribe it : “ Ævum sortiti sumus, quo plane indoctis nihil
I grant that Poetry's a crying sin ; It brought (no doubt) th’ Excise and Army in : Catch'd like the Plague, or Love, the Lord knows
But that the cure is starving, all allow.
10 Yet like the Papist's, is the Poet's state, Poor and disarm’d, and hardly worth your
hate ! Here a lean Bard, whose wit could never give Himself a dinner, makes an Actor live: The Thief condemn'd, in law already dead, 15 So prompts, and saves a rogue who cannot read. Thus as the pipes of Some carv'd Organ move, The gilded puppets dance and mount above. Heav'd by the breath, th' inspiring bellows blow: Th’inspiring bellows lie and pant below. 20
One sings the Fair ; but songs no longer move; No rat is rhym'd to death, nor maid to love : In love's, in nature's spite, the siege they hold, And scorn the flesh, the dev'l, and all but gold.
These write to Lords, some mean reward to get, As needy beggars sing at doors for meat. 26 Those write because all write, and so have still Excuse for writing, and for writing ill.
Wretched indeed! but far more wretched yet Is he who makes his meal on others' wit:
turpius, plene doctis nihil rarius. Tam omnes in literis aliquid sciunt, tam nemo omnia. Media igitur plerumque itur via, et ad evitandam ignorantiæ turpitudinem, et legendi fastidium.” Mr. Moore has lately answered Donne's Paradox on Self-Murder, vol. 2. p. 2. 41.
Ver. 27. Those write] The Original required little alteration.
Rankly digested, doth these things out-spue,
. to out-usure Jews,
But these punish themselves. The insolence Of Coscus, only, breeds my just offence, Whom time (which rots all, and makes botches pox, And plodding on, must make a calf an ox) Hath made a Lawyer ; which (alas) of late; But scarce a Poet: jollier of this state,
Ver. 38. Irishmen out-swear ;] The Original says,
out-swear the Letanie,” improved by the Imitator into a just stroke of Satire. Dr. Donne's is a low allusion to a licentious quibble used at that time by the enemies of the English Liturgy: who, disliking the frequent invocations in the Letanie, called them the taking God's Name in vain, which is the Scripture periphrasis for swearing. W.
Ver. 43. Of whose strange crimes] Such as Sanchez de Matrimonio has minutely enumerated and described. Such Canonists deserved this animadversion. In Pascal's fine Provincial Letters are also some strange and striking examples.
Ver. 44. In what Commandment's large contents they dwell.] The Original is more humorous :
“In which Commandment's large receit they dwell.”