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John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
 
Prologues and Epilogues
Prologue and Epilogue on the Occasion of a Representation for Dryden’s Benefit, March 25, 1700
 
PROLOGUE.
HOW 1 wretched is the Fate of those who write!
Brought muzl’d to the Stage, for fear they bite;
Where, like Tom Dove, they stand the Common Foe,
Lugg’d by the Critique, Baited by the Beau.
Yet, worse, their Brother Poets damn the Play,        5
And Roar the loudest, tho’ they never pay.
The Fops are proud of Scandal, for they cry,
At every lewd, low Character,—That’s I.
He who writes Letters to himself wou’d Swear,
The World forgot him if he was not there.        10
What shou’d a Poet do? ’Tis hard for One
To pleasure all the Fools that wou’d be shown:
And yet not Two in Ten will pass the Town.
Most Coxcombs are not of the Laughing kind;
More goes to make a Fop, than Fops can find.        15
Quack Maurus, tho’ he never took Degrees
In either of our Universities,
Yet to be shown by some kind Wit he looks,
Because he plai’d the Fool, and writ Three Books.
But if he wou’d be worth a Poet’s Pen,        20
He must be more a Fool, and write again:
For all the former Fustian stuff he wrote
Was Dead-born Doggrel, or is quite forgot;
His Man of Uz, stript of his Hebrew Robe,
Is just the Proverb, and As poor as Job.        25
One would have thought he could no longer Jog;
But Arthur was a level, Job’s a Bog.
There, tho’ he crept, yet still he kept in sight;
But here, he founders in, and sinks down-right.
Had he prepar’d us, and been dull by Rule,        30
Tobit had first been turned to Ridicule;
But our bold Britton, without Fear or Awe,
O’er-leaps at once the whole Apocrypha;
Invades the Psalms with Rhymes, and leaves no room
For any Vandal Hopkins yet to come.        35
  But when, if, after all, this Godly Geer
Is not so Senceless as it would appear?
Our Mountebank has laid a deeper Train;
His Cant, like Merry Andrew’s Noble Vein,
Cat-call’s the Sects to draw ’em in again.        40
At leisure Hours in Epique Song he deals,
Writes to the rumbling of his Coaches Wheels;
Prescribes in hast, and seldom kills by rule,
But rides Triumphant between Stool and Stool.
Well, let him go; ’tis yet too early day        45
To get himself a Place in Farce or Play;
We know not by what Name we should Arraign him,
For no one Category can contain him;
A Pedant, canting Preacher, and a Quack,
Are load enough to break one Asses Back:        50
At last, grown wanton, he presum’d to write,
Traduc’d Two Kings, their kindness to requite;
One made the Doctor, and one dubb’d the Knight.
 
EPILOGUE
Perhaps the Parson stretch’d a point too far,
When with our Theatres he wag’d a War.        55
He tells you, that this very Moral Age
Receiv’d the first Infection from the Stage;
But sure, a banisht Court, with Lewdness fraught,
The Seeds of open Vice returning brought.
Thus lodg’d, (as Vice by great Example thrives,)        60
It first debauch’d the Daughters and the Wives.
London, a fruitful Soil, yet never bore
So plentiful a Crop of Horns before.
The Poets, who must live by Courts or starve,
Were proud, so good a Government to serve;        65
And, mixing with Buffoons and Pimps profain,
Tainted the Stage for some small Snip of Gain;
For they, like Harlots, under Bawds profess ’t,
Took all the ungodly pains, and got the least.
Thus did the thriving Malady prevail;        70
The Court it’s Head, the Poets but the Tail.
The Sin was of our Native Growth, ’tis true;
The Scandall of the Sin was wholly new.
Misses there were, but modestly conceal’d;
White-hall the naked Venus first reveal’d,        75
Who standing as at Cyprus in her Shrine,
The Strumpet was ador’d with Rites Divine.
E’re this, if Saints had any Secret Motion,
’Twas Chamber Practice all, and Close Devotion.
I pass the Peccadillo’s of their time;        80
Nothing but open Lewdness was a Crime.
A Monarch’s Blood was venial to the Nation,
Compar’d with one foul Act of Fornication.
Now, they wou’d Silence us, and shut the Door
That let in all the barefac’d Vice before.        85
As for reforming us, which some pretend,
That Work in England is without an end;
Well we may change, but we shall never mend.
Yet, if you can but bear the present Stage,
We hope much better of the coming Age.        90
What wou’d you say, if we should first begin
To Stop the Trade of Love behind the Scene:
Where Actresses make bold with married Men?
For while abroad so prodigal the Dolt is,
Poor Spouse at Home as ragged as a Colt is.        95
In short, we’ll grow as Moral as we can,
Save, here and there, a Woman or a Man;
But neither you, nor we, with all our pains,
Can make clean work; there will be some Remains,
While you have still your Oats, and we our Hains.        100
 
Note 1. Text of 1700. [back]
 
 
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