Prologue To "The Pilgrim." By Beaumont And Fletcher.

A poem by John Dryden


How wretched is the fate of those who write!
Brought muzzled to the stage, for fear they bite.
Where, like Tom Dove, they stand the common foe;
Lugg'd by the critic, baited by the beau.
Yet worse, their brother poets damn the play,
And roar the loudest, though they never pay.
The fops are proud of scandal, for they cry,
At every lewd, low character,--That's I.
He who writes letters to himself would swear,
The world forgot him, if he was not there.
What should a poet do? 'Tis hard for one
To pleasure all the fools that would be shown:
And yet not two in ten will pass the town.
Most coxcombs are not of the laughing kind;
More goes to make a fop, than fops can find.

Quack Maurus,[1] though he never took degrees
In either of our universities,
Yet to be shown by some kind wit he looks,
Because he play'd the fool, and writ three books.
But, if he would be worth a Poet's pen,
He must be more a fool, and write again:
For all the former fustian stuff he wrote
Was dead-born doggerel, or is quite forgot:
His man of Uz, stript of his Hebrew robe,
Is just the proverb, and as poor as Job.
One would have thought he could no longer jog;
But Arthur was a level, Job's a bog.
There, though he crept, yet still he kept in sight;
But here, he founders in, and sinks down right,
Had he prepared us, and been dull by rule,
Tobit had first been turn'd to ridicule:
But our bold Briton, without fear or awe,
O'erleaps at once the whole Apocrypha;
Invades the Psalms with rhymes, and leaves no room
For any Vandal Hopkins yet to come.

But when if, after all, this godly gear
Is not so senseless as it would appear;
Our mountebank has laid a deeper train,
His cant, like Merry-Andrew's noble vein,
Cat-calls the sects to draw them in again.
At leisure hours, in epic song he deals,
Writes to the rumbling of his coach's wheels,
Prescribes in haste, and seldom kills by rule,
But rides triumphant between stool and stool.

Well, let him go; 'tis yet too early day,
To get himself a place in farce or play.
We know not by what name we should arraign him,
For no one category can contain him;
A pedant, canting preacher, and a quack,
Are load enough to break one ass's back:
At last, grown wanton, he presumed to write,
Traduced two kings, their kindness to requite;
One made the doctor, and one dubb'd the knight.

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