To say, this comedy pleased long ago,
Is not enough to make it pass you now.
Yet, gentlemen, your ancestors had wit;
When few men censured, and when fewer writ.
And Jonson, of those few the best, chose this
As the best model of his masterpiece.
Subtle was got by our Albumazar,
That Alchymist by this Astrologer;
Here he was fashion'd, and we may suppose
He liked the fashion well, who wore the clothes.
But Ben made nobly his what he did mould;
What was another's lead becomes his gold:
Like an unrighteous conqueror he reigns,
Yet rules that well which he unjustly gains.
By this our age such authors does afford,
As make whole plays, and yet scarce write one word:
Who, in his anarchy of wit, rob all,
And what's their plunder, their possession call:
Who, like bold padders, scorn by night to prey,
But rob by sunshine, in the face of day:
Nay, scarce the common ceremony use
Of, Stand, sir, and deliver up your Muse;
But knock the Poet down, and, with a grace,
Mount Pegasus before the owner's face.
Faith, if you have such country Toms abroad,
'Tis time for all true men to leave that road.
Yet it were modest, could it but be said,
They strip the living, but these rob the dead;
Dare with the mummies of the Muses play,
And make love to them the Egyptian way;
Or, as a rhyming author would have said,
Join the dead living to the living dead.
Such men in poetry may claim some part:
They have the licence, though they want the art;
And might, where theft was praised, for Laureates stand,--
Poets, not of the head, but of the hand.
They make the benefits of others' studying,
Much like the meals of politic Jack-Pudding,
Whose dish to challenge no man has the courage;
'Tis all his own, when once he has spit in the porridge.
But, gentlemen, you're all concern'd in this;
You are in fault for what they do amiss:
For they their thefts still undiscover'd think,
And durst not steal unless you please to wink.
Perhaps you may award, by your decree,
They should refund; but that can never be.
For should your letters of reprisal seal,
These men write that which no man else would steal.