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An Epistle to Mr. Southerne

Bold is the Muse to leave her humble Cell,
 And sing to thee, who know'st to sing so well:
 Thee! who to  Britain still preserv'st the Crown,
 And mak'st her rival  Athens in Renown.
 Cou'd  Sophocles behold in mournful State,
 The weeping  Graces on  Imoinda wait;

 Or hear thy  Isabella's moving Moan,
 Distress'd and lost for Vices not her own;
 If Envy cou'd permit, he'd sure agree
 To write by Nature were to copy thee:
 So full, so fair thy Images are shown,
 He by thy Pencil might improve his own.

 There was an Age, (its Memory will last!)
 Before  Italian Airs debauch'd our Taste;
 In which the sable Muse with Hopes and Fears,
 Fill'd every Breast, and ev'ry Eye with Tears.
 But where's that Art, which all our Passions rais'd,
 And mov'd the Springs of Nature as it pleas'd?
 Our Poets only practise on the Pit,
 With florid Lines, and trifling Turns of Wit.
 Howe'er 'tis well the present Times can boast,
 The Race of  Charles's Reign not wholly lost.
 Thy Scenes, immortal in their Worth, shall stand
 Among the chosen Classics of our Land:

 And whilst our Sons are by Tradition taught,
 How  Barry spoke what Thou and  Otway wrote,
 They'll think it praise to relish, and repeat,
 And own thy Works inimitably great.

 Shakespear, the Genius of our Isle, whose Mind
 (The universal Mirror of Mankind)
 Express'd all Images, enrich'd the Stage,
 But sometimes stoop'd to please a barb'rous Age.
 When his immortal Bays began to grow,
 Rude was the Language, and the Humour low.
 He, like the God of Day, was always bright,
 But rolling in its Course, his Orb of Light
 Was sully'd, and obscur'd, tho' soaring high,
 With Spots contracted from the nether Sky.
 But whither is th' adventrous Muse betray'd?
 Forgive her Rashness, venerable Shade! 50    
 May Spring with Purple Flow'rs perfume thy Urn,
 And  Avon with his Greens thy Grave adorn:

 Be all thy Faults, whatever Faults there be,
 Imputed to the Times, and not to thee.

 Some Scions shot from this immortal Root,
 Their tops much lower, and less fair the Fruit.
 Johnson, the Tribute of my Verse might claim,
 Had he not strove to blemish  Shakespear's Name.
 But, like the radiant Twins that gild the Sphere,
 Fletcher and  Beaumont next in Pomp appear:
 The first a fruitful Vine, in bloomy Pride,
 Had been by Superfluity destroy'd;
 But that his Friend, judiciously severe,
 Prun'd the luxuriant Boughs with artful Care:
 On various sounding Harps the Muses play'd,
 And sung, and quaff'd their  Nectar in the Shade.

 Few Moderns in the Lists with these may stand,
 For in those Days were Giants in the Land:

 Suffice it now by Lineal Right to claim,
 And bow with Filial Awe to  Shakespear's Fame;
 The second Honours are a glorious Name.
 Achilles dead, they found no equal Lord,
 To wear his Armour, and to wield his Sword.

 An Age most odious and accurs'd ensu'd,
 Discolour'd with a pious Monarch's Blood:
 Whose Fall when first the Tragick Virgin saw,
 She fled, and left her Province to the Law.
 Her Merry Sister still persu'd the Game,
 Her Garb was alter'd, but her Gifts the same.
 She first reform'd the Muscles of her Face,
 And learnt the solemn Scrue, for Signs of Grace;
 Then circumcis'd her Locks, and form'd her Tone,
 By humming to a Tabor, and a Drone:
 Her Eyes she disciplin'd precisely right,
 Both when to wink, and how to turn the white;
 Thus banish'd from the Stage, she gravely next
 Assum'd a Cloak, and quibbl'd o'er a Text.

 But when by Miracles of Mercy shown,
 Much-suff'ring  Charles regain'd his Father's Throne;
 When Peace and Plenty overflow'd the Land,
 She strait pull'd off her Sattin Cap, and Band:
 Bade  Wycherly be bold in her Defence,
 With pointed Wit, and Energy of Sense:
 Etherege and  Sidley join'd him in her Cause,
 And all deserv'd, and all receiv'd Applause.

 Restor'd with less Success, the Tragic Muse,
 Had quite forgot her Style by long Disuse:
 She taught her  Maximins to rant in Rhime,
 Mistaking ratling Nonsense for sublime;
 'Till witty  Buckingham reform'd her Taste,
1 And sneering sham'd her into Sense at last.
 But now relaps'd, she dwindles to a Song,
 And weakly warbles on an  Eunuch's Tongue;
 And with her Minstrelsie may still remain,
 'Till  Southerne court her to be great again.

 Perhaps the Beauties of thy  Spartan Dame,
 Who (long defrauded of the publick Fame)
 Shall, with superior Majesty avow'd,
 Shine like a Goddess breaking from a Cloud,
 Once more may re-instate her on the Stage,
 Her Action graceful, and divine her Rage.

 Arts have their Empires, and, like other States,
 Their Rise and Fall are govern'd by the Fates.
 They, when their Period's measur'd out by Time,
 Transplant their Laurels to another Clime.
 The  Grecian Muse once fill'd with loud Alarms,
 The Court of Heav'n, and clad the Gods in Arms:
 The Trumpet silent, humbly she essay'd
 The  Doric Reed, and sung beneath the Shade;
 Extoll'd a frugal Life, and taught the Swains
 T' observe the Seasons, and manure the Plains:
 Sometimes in warbled Hymns she pay'd her Vow,
 Or wove  Olympic Wreaths for  Theron's Brow;

 Sometimes on flow'ry Beds she lay supine,
 And gave her Thoughts a Loose to Love and Wine;
 Or in her sable Stole, and Buskins dress'd,
 Shew'd Vice enthron'd, and virtuous Kings oppress'd.
 The Nymph still fair, however past her Bloom,
 From  Greece at length was led in Chains to  Rome:
 Whilst Wars abroad, and civil Discord reign'd,
  Silent the beauteous Captive long remain'd:
 That Interval employ'd her timely Care,
 To Study, and refine the Language there.
 She views with Anguish on the  Roman Stage
 The  Grecian Beauties weep, the Warriors rage:
 But most those Scenes delight th' immortal Maid,
 Which  Scipio had revis'd, and  Roscius Play'd.
 Thence to the Pleadings of the Gown she goes,