Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Prologue on the Opening of the Philadelphia Theatre, December 1, 1822
By Charles Sprague (1791–1875)
 
  WHEN learning slumber’d in the convent’s shade,
And holy craft the groping nations sway’d,
By dulness banned, the Muses wander’d long,
Each lyre neglected, and forgot each song;
Till Heaven’s bright halo wreathed the Drama’s dome,        5
And great Apollo call’d the pilgrims home.
Then their glad harps, that charm’d old Greece, they swept,
Their altars throng’d, and joy’s high sabbath kept.
Young Genius there his glorious banners rear’d,
To float forever loved, forever fear’d.        10
The cowl’s device, the cloister’s legend known,
Old Superstition tumbled from his throne;
Back to his cell the king of gloom retired,
The buskin triumph’d, and the world admired!
  Since that proud hour, through each unfetter’d age,        15
The sons of light have cluster’d round the stage.
From Fiction’s realms her richest spoils they bring,
And Pleasure’s walls with Rapture’s echoes ring.
Here hermit Wisdom lays his mantle down,
To win with smiles the heart that fears his frown;        20
In mirth’s gay robe he talks to wondering youth,
And Grandeur listens to the voice of Truth.
Beauty, with bounding heart and tingling ear,
Melts at the tale to love and feeling dear;
Their sacred bowers the sons of learning quit,        25
To rove with fancy, and to feast with wit;
All come to gaze, the valiant and the vain,
Virtue’s bright troop, and Fashion’s glittering train.
Here Labor rests, pale Grief forgets her wo,
And Vice, whose mildew breath taints all below,        30
Even Vice looks on!—For this the Stage was rear’d,
To scourge the fiend, so cherish’d, scorn’d and fear’d
Not tied alone to poverty’s cold walls,
He dwells with pomp, treads plenty’s marble halls;
Proudly he sits where senate-sages meet,        35
Gravely he dooms in judgment’s awful seat;
God’s lovely temple shall behold him there,
With eye upturn’d, and aspect false as fair;
Even at the altar’s very horns he stands,
And breaks and blesses with polluted hands.        40
Then hither let the unblushing villain roam,
Satire shall knot its whip and strike it home.
The stage one groan from his dark soul shall draw,
That mocks religion, and that laughs at law!
  To grace the stage, the bard’s careering mind        45
Seeks other worlds, and leaves his own behind:
He lures from air its bright, unprison’d forms,
Breaks through the tomb, and death’s dull region storms.
O’er ruin’d realms he pours creative day,
And slumbering kings his mighty voice obey.        50
From its damp shroud the long-laid spirit walks,
And round the murderer’s bed in vengeance stalks.
Poor maniac beauty brings her cypress wreath,
Her smile a moon-beam o’er a blasted heath;
Round some cold grave she comes, sweet flowers to strew,        55
And lost to reason, still to love is true.
Hate shuts his soul when dove-eyed Mercy pleads,
Power lifts the axe, and Truth’s bold servant bleeds;
Remorse drops anguish from his burning eyes,
Feels hell’s eternal worm, and, shuddering, dies.        60
War’s trophied minion, too, forsakes the dust,
Grasps his worn shield, and waves his sword of rust,
Springs to the slaughter at the trumpet’s call,
Again to conquer, or again to fall.
  With heads to censure, yet with souls to feel,        65
Friends of the Stage! receive our frank appeal.
No suppliant lay we frame; acquit your trust;
The Drama guard; be gentle, but be just!
Within her courts, unbribed, unslumbering, stand,
Scourge lawless Wit, and leaden Dulness brand;        70
Lash pert Pretence, but bashful Merit spare,
His firstlings hail, and speak the trembler fair;
Yet shall he cast his cloud, and proudly claim
The loftiest station and the brightest fame.
So from his perch, through seas of golden light,        75
Our mountain eagle takes his glorious flight;
To heaven the monarch bird exulting springs,
And shakes the night-fog from his mighty wings.
Bards all our own shall yet enchant their age,
And pour redeeming splendor o’er the Stage.        80
For them, for you, Truth hoards a nobler theme,
Than ever bless’d young Fancy’s sweetest dream.
Bold hearts shall kindle, and bright eyes shall gaze,
When genius wakes the tale of other days,
Sheds life’s own lustre o’er each holy deed        85
Of Him who planted, and of Him who freed!
  And now, Fair Pile, thou chaste and glorious shrine,
Our fondest wish, our warmest smile be thine;
The home of genius and the court of taste,
In beauty raised, be thou by beauty graced.        90
Within thy walls may Wit’s adorers throng,
To drink the magic of the poet’s song:
Within thy walls may youth and goodness draw
From every scene a lecture or a law.
So bright the fane, be priest and offering pure,        95
And friends shall bless, and bigot foes endure:
Long, long be spared to echo truths sublime,
And lift thy pillars through the storms of time.
 
 
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