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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From the ‘Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot’

By Alexander Pope (1688–1744)

(See full text.)

WHY did I write? What sin to me unknown

Dipt me in ink,—my parents’ or my own?

As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame,

I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.

I left no calling for this idle trade,

No duty broke, no father disobeyed.

The Muse but served to ease some friend, not wife,

To help me through this long disease, my life,

To second, Arbuthnot! thy art and care,

And teach the being you preserved, to bear.

But why then publish? Granville the polite,

And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write;

Well-natured Garth inflamed with early praise;

And Congreve loved, and Swift endured, my lays;

The courtly Talbot, Somers, Sheffield, read;

Even mitred Rochester would nod the head,

And St. John’s self (great Dryden’s friends before)

With open arms received one poet more.

Happy my studies, when by these approved!

Happier their author, when by these beloved!

From these the world will judge of men and books,

Not from the Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cookes.

Soft were my numbers: who could take offense,

While pure description held the place of sense?

Like gentle Fanny’s was my flowery theme,

A painted mistress or a purling stream.

Yet then did Gildon draw his venal quill:

I wished the man a dinner, and sat still.

Yet then did Dennis rave in furious fret:

I never answered,—I was not in debt.

If want provoked, or madness made them print,

I waged no war with Bedlam or the Mint.

Did some more sober critic come abroad,—

If wrong, I smiled; if right, I kissed the rod.

Pains, reading, study, are their just pretense,

And all they want is spirit, taste, and sense.

Commas and points they set exactly right,

And ’twere a sin to rob them of their mite.

Yet ne’er one sprig of laurel graced these ribalds,

From slashing Bentley down to piddling Tibalds:

Each wight, who reads not, and but scans and spells,

Each word-catcher, that lives on syllables,—

Even such small critics some regard may claim,

Preserved in Milton’s or in Shakespeare’s name.

Pretty! in amber to observe the forms

Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms!

The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare,

But wonder how the devil they got there.

Were others angry, I excused them too:

Well might they rage—I gave them but their due.

A man’s true merit ’tis not hard to find;

But each man’s secret standard in his mind.

That casting-weight pride adds to emptiness,—

This, who can gratify? for who can guess?

The bard whom pilfered pastorals renown,

Who turns a Persian tale for half a crown,

Just writes to make his barrenness appear,

And strains, from hard-bound brains, eight lines a year;

He who, still wanting though he lives on theft,

Steals much, spends little, yet has nothing left;

And he who, now to sense, now nonsense leaning,

Means not, but blunders round about a meaning;

And he whose fustian’s so sublimely bad,

It is not poetry, but prose run mad:

All these, my modest satire bade translate,

And owned that nine such poets made a Tate.

How did they fume, and stamp, and roar, and chafe!

And swear, not Addison himself was safe.

Peace to all such! But were there one whose fires

True genius kindles, and fair fame inspires;

Blest with each talent and each art to please,

And born to write, converse, and live with ease:

Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,

Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne;

View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,

And hate for arts that caused himself to rise;

Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,

And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;

Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,

Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;

Alike reserved to blame or to commend,

A timorous foe and a suspicious friend;

Dreading even fools, by flatterers besieged,

And so obliging that he ne’er obliged;

Like Cato, give his little senate laws,

And sit attentive to his own applause;

While wits and Templars every sentence raise,

And wonder with a foolish face of praise:

Who but must laugh, if such a man there be?

Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?…

Curst be the verse, how well soe’er it flow,

That tends to make one worthy man my foe,

Give virtue scandal, innocence a fear,

Or from the soft-eyed virgin steal a tear.

But he who hurts a harmless neighbor’s peace,

Insults fallen worth or beauty in distress,

Who loves a lie, lame slander helps about,

Who writes a libel, or who copies out:

That fop, whose pride affects a patron’s name,

Yet, absent, wounds an author’s honest fame;

Who can your merit selfishly approve,

And show the sense of it without the love;

Who has the vanity to call you friend,

Yet wants the honor, injured, to defend;

Who tells whate’er you think, whate’er you say,

And if he lie not, must at least betray;

Who to the dean and silver bell can swear,

And sees at canons what was never there;

Who reads, but with a lust to misapply,

Make satire a lampoon, and fiction, lie:

A lash like mine no honest man shall dread,

But all such babbling blockheads in his stead.

Let Sporus tremble—A.What! that thing of silk?

Sporus, that mere white curd of ass’s milk?

Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?

P.Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings,

This painted child of dirt, that stinks and stings;

Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys,

Yet wit ne’er tastes, and beauty ne’er enjoys:

So well-bred spaniels civilly delight

In mumbling of the game they dare not bite.

Eternal smiles his emptiness betray,

As shallow streams run dimpling all the way.

Whether in florid impotence he speaks,

And as the prompter breathes, the puppet squeaks;

Or at the ear of Eve, familiar toad,

Half froth, half venom, spits himself abroad,

In puns, or politics, or tales, or lies,

Or spite, or smut, or rhymes, or blasphemies:

His wit all see-saw between that and this,

Now high, now low, now master up, now miss,

And he himself one vile antithesis.

Amphibious thing! that acting either part,

The trifling head or the corrupted heart,

Fop at the toilet, flatterer at the board,

Now trips a lady, and now struts a lord.

Eve’s tempter thus the Rabbins have exprest,

A cherub’s face, a reptile all the rest;

Beauty that shocks you, parts that none will trust,

Wit that can creep, and pride that licks the dust.

Not fortune’s worshiper nor fashion’s fool,

Not lucre’s madman nor ambition’s tool,

Not proud nor servile;—be one poet’s praise,

That if he pleased, he pleased by manly ways;

That flattery, even to kings, he held a shame,

And thought a lie in verse or prose the same.

That not in fancy’s maze he wandered long,

But stooped to truth, and moralized his song;

That not for fame, but virtue’s better end,

He stood the furious foe, the timid friend,

The damning critic, half-approving wit,

The coxcomb hit or fearing to be hit;

Laughed at the loss of friends he never had,

The dull, the proud, the wicked, and the mad;

The distant threats of vengeance on his head,

The blow unfelt, the tear he never shed;

The tale revived, the lie so oft o’erthrown,

Th’ imputed trash, and dullness not his own;

The morals blackened when the writings ’scape,

The libeled person and the pictured shape;

Abuse on all he loved, or loved him, spread,

A friend in exile, or a father dead;

The whisper that to greatness still too near,

Perhaps, yet vibrates on his sovereign’s ear;—

Welcome for thee, fair Virtue! all the past;

For thee, fair Virtue! welcome even the last!

A.But why insult the poor, affront the great?

P.A knave’s a knave, to me, in every state:

Alike my scorn if he succeed or fail,

Sporus at court or Japhet in a jail,

A hireling scribbler or a hireling peer,

Knight of the post corrupt, or of the shire;

If on a pillory or near a throne,

He gain his prince’s ear or lose his own.

Of gentle blood (part shed in honor’s cause,

While yet in Britain honor had applause)

Each parent sprung—A.What fortune, pray?—P.Their own,

And better got than Bestia’s from the throne.

Born to no pride, inheriting no strife,

Nor marrying discord in a noble wife,

Stranger to civil and religious rage,

The good man walked innoxious through his age.

Nor courts he saw, no suits would ever try,

Nor dared an oath nor hazarded a lie.

Unlearned, he knew no schoolman’s subtle art,

No language but the language of the heart.

By nature honest, by experience wise,

Healthy by temperance and by exercise;

His life, though long, to sickness past unknown,

His death was instant and without a groan.

Oh, grant me thus to live, and thus to die!

Who sprung from kings shall know less joy than I.

O Friend! may each domestic bliss be thine!

Be no unpleasing melancholy mine:

Me let the tender office long engage

To rock the cradle of reposing age,

With lenient arts extend a mother’s breath,

Make languor smile, and smooth the bed of death,

Explore the thought, explain the asking eye,

And keep awhile one parent from the sky!

On cares like these if length of days attend,

May Heaven, to bless those days, preserve my friend,

Preserve him social, cheerful, and serene,

And just as rich as when he served a Queen.

A.Whether that blessing be denied or given,

Thus far was right; the rest belongs to Heaven.