These bays be thine; and, tho' not form'd to shine
Clear as thy colour, faultless as thy line,
Yet shall the Muse essay, in humble verse,
Thy merits, lovely Painting! to rehearse.
As when the demon of the winter storm
Robs each sweet flow'ret of its beauteous form,
The Spirit of the stream, in crystal wave,
Sleeps whilst the chilling blasts above him rave,
Till the Sun spreads his animating fires,
And sullen Darkness from the scene retires,
Then mountain-nymphs discard their robes of snow,
And in green mantles smile in roseate glow,
And rivers, loosen'd from their icy chain,
Spread joy and richness thro' the verdant plain,
Thus, in those climes where skies are ever fair,
Each infant Science breath'd a genial air,
Climes where the Earth her stores to all resign'd,
Nor left one selfish passion to the mind;
On her green lap the swain reclin'd his head,
And found his banquet where he found his bed.
Then Painting grew, and from the shades of flow'rs[A]
There first essay'd her imitative pow'rs,
When, urg'd by plunder, with the torrent's might,
Nerv'd by the storm, and harden'd in the fight,
A race barbarian left their forests wild,
And sought the spot where Love and Learning smil'd.
By Taste unsoften'd, these relentless droves
Burst, fair Italia! thro' thy sacred groves,
Laid ev'ry flow'r of Art and Fancy waste,
And pour'd a winter o'er the realms of Taste,
Each Science trembled at the ruffian sound,
Forsook her shades, and fled her classic ground;
The lofty column prostrate in the dust,
Defac'd the arch, o'erthrown the matchless bust;
The shatter'd fresco animates no more,
And ruthless winds thro' clefted temples roar!
Florence beheld the scene with sad surprise,
And bade the prostrate pile in grandeur rise.
Then, oh! thou truly "Father of the Art[B]!"
'Twas thine superior vigour to impart;
Illustrious Cimabue! it was thine
To soar beyond Example's bounded line,
And, as the Heav'n-directed sceptre's shock,
Produc'd full torrents from the flinty rock,
So streams of taste obey'd thy pencil's call,
And Nature seem'd to start from out the wall.
Hail, beauteous art! oh! that in equal lay
Could but my Muse thy various pow'rs convey!
'Tis thine with silent eloquence to shew
Passion's strong image, Beauty's rapt'rous glow,
To soothe the parted lover's anxious care,
Who owns thee fairest of thy sisters fair;
When waves divide him, still thro' thee to trace
The dear resemblance of that cherish'd face,
Which he so oft with trembling lips has prest,
So often gaz'd upon, so often blest!
Thine too it is to seek the verdant plains
Where Peace resides, where Rustic Beauty reigns;
Or bid the torrent on thy canvass roar,
Or calmly spread the yellow winding shore;
Or show, from some vast cliff's extremest verge,
The frail bark combating the angry surge.
Oft too on some lone turret wilt thou stand,
To trace the fury of th' embattled band,
To darken with the clouds of death the skies,
And bid the scenes of blood and havoc rise!
Such, and far more, thy pow'rs, bless'd art! to thee
Inferior far descriptive Poesy;
And tho' sweet Music, when she strikes the strings,
When thro' the grove with seraph-voice she sings,
The soul, enraptur'd with the thrilling stream,
Would hail the Maid of Harmony supreme!
Yet, while her dulcet sounds enchant, they die;}
So shooting stare illume the midnight sky, }
And, as we wonder, vanish from the eye. }
But when resistless Death, in mournful hour,
Withdraws the drooping painter's mimic pow'r,
Improv'd by time, his works still charm the sight,
And thro' successive ages yield delight
Greece early bade the painter's pencil trace
Each form with force; to force she added grace:
For this her Zeuxis she a garland wove,
For[C] that Apelles won her grateful love.
Chiefly she called on Painting's magic powers
To deck the guardians of her lofty tow'rs;
Here[D] Jove in lightning show'd his awful mien.
There Venus with her doves was smiling seen!
Till ruthless Time, with unabating flight,
O'er Grecian grandeur flung the shades of night
Long did they settle o'er the darken'd world.
Till Raphael's hand the sable curtain furl'd;
A pious calm, an elevated grace,
Then on the canvass mark'd th' Apostle's face;
Devout applauses ev'ry feature drew,
E'en[E] such as graceful Sculpture never knew.
In nearer times, and on a neighb'ring shore,
Painting but feebly shone, obscur'd by pow'r.
See Rubens' soul indignantly advance,
Press'd by the pride and vanity of France;
Behold, [F] in fulsome allegory spread,
The gaudy iris o'er the victor's head!
See Genius, deaf to Nature's nobler call,
Waste all its strength upon the banner'd hall!
E'en now, tho' Gallia, in her blood-stain'd car,
Spreads over Europe all the woes of war,
Still with consummate craft she tries to prove
How much the peaceful charms engage her love:
Treasures of art in lengthen'd gall'ries glow,
And[G] Europe's plunder Europe's plund'rers show!
Yet of her living artists few can claim
Half the mix'd praise that waits on David's fame.
Thrice happy Britain! in thy favour'd isle
The sister Arts in health and beauty smile!
Tho' no Imperial Gall'ries grace thy shores,
Tho' wealth the public bounty seldom pours,
Yet private taste rewards thy painter's toil,
And bids his genius grace his native soil.
Bless'd country! here thy artists can supply
Abundant charms to fix th' admiring eye:
In furtive splendour ne'er art thou array'd,
No plunder'd country mourns thy ruthless blade,
Sees its transported treasures torn away,
To grace a fierce ambitious Tyrant's sway.
Long in this isle, where Freedom finds repose,
Whilst, raving round her, loud the tempest blows,
Oh! long befriended, may the Arts excel,
And bless the sacred spot they love so well!