When Athens all the Grecian state did guide,
And Greece gave laws to all the world beside;
Then Sophocles with Socrates did sit,
Supreme in wisdom one, and one in wit:
And wit from wisdom differ'd not in those,
But as 'twas sung in verse, or said in prose.
Then, Oedipus, on crowded theatres,
Drew all admiring eyes and listening ears:
The pleased spectator shouted every line,
The noblest, manliest, and the best design!
And every critic of each learned age,
By this just model has reform'd the stage.
Now, should it fail (as Heaven avert our fear),
Damn it in silence, lest the world should hear.
For were it known this poem did not please,
You might set up for perfect savages:
Your neighbours would not look on you as men,
But think the nation all turn'd Picts again.
Faith, as you manage matters, 'tis not fit
You should suspect yourselves of too much wit:
Drive not the jest too far, but spare this piece;
And, for this once, be not more wise than Greece.
See twice: do not pellmell to damning fall,
Like true-born Britons, who ne'er think at all:
Pray be advised; and though at Mons you won,
On pointed cannon do not always run.
With some respect to ancient wit proceed;
You take the four first councils for your creed.
But, when you lay tradition wholly by,
And on the private spirit alone rely,
You turn fanatics in your poetry.
If, notwithstanding all that we can say,
You needs will have your penn'orths of the play,
And come resolved to damn, because you pay,
Record it, in memorial of the fact,
The first play buried since the woollen act.