Epilogue To "The Pilgrim."

A poem by John Dryden

Perhaps the parson[1] stretch'd a point too far,
When with our Theatres he waged a war.
He tells you, that this very moral age
Received the first infection from the stage.
But sure, a banish'd court, with lewdness fraught,
The seeds of open vice, returning, brought.
Thus lodged (as vice by great example thrives)
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:
And, mixing with buffoons and pimps profane,
Tainted the stage, for some small snip of gain.
For they, like harlots under bawds profess'd,
Took all the ungodly pains, and got the least.
Thus did the thriving malady prevail:
The court, its head, the poets but the tail.
The sin was of our native growth, 'tis true;
The scandal of the sin was wholly new.
Misses they were, but modestly conceal'd;
Whitehall the naked Venus first reveal'd,
Who, standing as at Cyprus, in her shrine,
The strumpet was adored with rites divine.
Ere this, if saints had any secret motion,
'Twas chamber-practice all, and close devotion.
I pass the peccadilloes of their time;
Nothing but open lewdness was a crime.
A monarch's blood was venial to the nation,
Compared with one foul act of fornication.
Now, they would silence us, and shut the door,
That let in all the barefaced vice before.
As for reforming us, which some pretend,
That work in England is without an end:
Well may we change, but we shall never mend.
Yet, if you can but bear the present Stage,
We hope much better of the coming age.
What would 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.
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 Oates, and we our Haines.

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