TOM, DICK, and WILL, were little known to Fame;--
But to the Ale-house, oftentimes, they came,
It was the custom of these three
To sit up late;
And, o'er the embers of the Ale-house fire,
When steadier customers retire,
The choice Triumviri, d'ye see,
Held a debate.
Held a debate?--On politicks, no doubt.
Not so;--they care'd not who was in,
No, not a pin;--
Nor who was out.
All their discourse on modern Poets ran;
For in the Muses was their sole delight;--
They talk'd of such, and such, and such a man;
Of those who could, and those who could not write.
It cost them very little pains
To count the modern Poets, who had brains.
'Twas a small difficulty;--'twasn't any;
They were so few:
But to cast up the scores of men
Who wield a stump they call a pen,
Lord! they had much to do,--
They were so many!
Buoy'd on a sea of fancy, Genius rises,
And like the rare Leviathan surprises;
But the small fry of scribblers!--tiny souls!
They wriggle thro' the mud in shoals.
It would have raise'd a smile to see the faces
They made, and the ridiculous grimaces,
At many an author, as they overhaul'd him.
They gave no quarter to a calf,
Blown up with puff, and paragraph;
But, if they found him bad, they maul'd him.
On modern Dramatists they fell,
Pounce, vi et armis--tooth and nail--pell mell.
They call'd them Carpenters, and Smugglers;
Filching their incidents from ancient hoards,
And knocking them together, like deal boards:
Who all the town's attention fix,
By making--Plays?--No, Sir, by making tricks.
The Versifiers--Heaven defend us!
They play'd the very devil with their rhymes.
They hope'd Apollo a new set would send us;
And then, invidiously enough,
Place'd modish verse, which they call'd stuff,
Against the writing of the elder times.
To say the truth, a modern versifier
Clap'd cheek by jowl
With Pope, with Dryden, and with Prior,
Would look most scurvily, upon my soul!
For Novels, should their critick hints succeed,
The Misses might fare better when they took 'em;
But it would fare extremely ill, indeed,
With gentle Messieurs Lane and Hookham.
"A Novel, now," says WILL, "is nothing more
Than an old castle,--and a creaking door,--
A distant hovel;--
Clanking of chains--a gallery--a light,--
Old armour--and a phantom all in white,--
And there's a Novel!"
"Scourge me such catch-penny inditers
Out of the land," quoth WILL--rousing in passion--
"And fy upon the readers of such writers,
Who bring them into fashion!"
WILL rose in declamation. "'Tis the bane,"
Says he, "of youth;--'tis the perdition:
It fills a giddy female brain
With vice, romance, lust, terror, pain,--
"Were I Pastor in a boarding-school,
I'd quash such books in toto;--if I couldn't,
Let me but catch one Miss that broke my rule,
I'd flog her soundly; damme if I wouldn't."
WILLIAM, 'tis plain, was getting in a rage;
But, Thomas dryly said,--for he was cool--
"I think no gentleman would mend the age
By flogging Ladies at a Boarding-school."
DICK knock'd the ashes from his pipe,
And said, "Friend WILL,
You give the Novels a fair wipe;
While you, my friend, with passion run 'em down,
They're in the hands of all the town.
"The reason's plain," proceeded DICK,
"And simply thus--
Taste, over-glutted, grows deprave'd, and sick,
And needs a stimulus.
"Time was,--(when honest Fielding writ)--
Tales full of Nature, Character, and Wit,
Were reckon'd most delicious boil'd and roast:
But stomachs are so cloy'd with novel-feeding,
Folks get a vitiated taste in reading,
And want that strong provocative, a Ghost.
"Or, to come nearer,
And put the case a little clearer:--
Mind, just like bodies, suffer enervation,
By too much use;
And sink into a state of relaxation,
With long abuse.
"Now, a Romance, with reading Debauchees,
Rouses their torpid powers when Nature fails;
And all these Legendary Tales
Are, to a worn-out mind, Cantharides.
"But how to cure the evil?" you will say:
"My Recipe is,--laughing it away.
"Lay bare the weak farrago of those men
Who fabricate such visionary schemes,
As if the night-mare rode upon their pen,
And trouble'd all their ink with hideous dreams.
"For instance--when a solemn Ghost stalks in,
And, thro' a mystick tale is busy,
Strip me the Gentleman into his skin--
What is he?
"Truly, ridiculous enough:
Mere trash;--and very childish stuff.
"Draw but a Ghost, or Fiend, of low degree,
And all the bubble's broken!--Let us see."