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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

John Dryden (1631–1700)

Mac Flecknoe

ALL human things are subject to decay,

And, when Fate summons, monarchs must obey.

This Flecknoe found, who, like Augustus, young

Was call’d to empire and had govern’d long,

In prose and verse was owned without dispute

Through all the realms of Nonsense absolute.

This aged prince, now flourishing in peace,

And blest with issue of a large increase,

Worn out with business, did at length debate

To settle the succession of the state;

And pond’ring which of all his sons was fit

To reign and wage immortal war with wit,

Cried: “’Tis resolved, for Nature pleads that he

Should only rule who most resembles me.

Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,

Mature in dulness from his tender years;

Shadwell alone of all my sons is he

Who stands confirm’d in full stupidity.

The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,

But Shadwell never deviates into sense.

Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,

Strike through and make a lucid interval;

But Shadwell’s genuine night admits no ray,

His rising fogs prevail upon the day.

Besides, his goodly fabric fills the eye

And seems designed for thoughtless majesty,

Thoughtless as monarch oakes that shade the plain,

And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign.

Heywood and Shirley were but types of thee,

Thou last great prophet of tautology.

Even I, a dunce of more renown than they,

Was sent before but to prepare thy way,

And coarsely clad in Norwich drugget came

To teach the nations in thy greater name.

My warbling late, the lute I whilom strung

When to King John of Portugal I sung,

Was but the prelude to that glorious day,

When thou on silver Thames didst cut thy way,

With well-tim’d oars before the royal barge,

Swell’d with the pride of thy celestial charge,

And, big with hymn, commander of an host;

The like was ne’er in Epsom blankets tost.

Methinks I see the new Arion sail,

The lute still trembling underneath thy nail.

At thy well-sharpened thumb from shore to shore

The treble squeaks for fear, the basses roar;

About thy boat the little fishes throng,

As at the morning toast that floats along.

Sometimes, as prince of thy harmonious band,

Thou wieldst thy papers in thy threshing hand.

St. André’s feet ne’er kept more equal time,

Not ev’n the feet of thy own ‘Psyche’s’ rhyme,

Though they in number as in sense excel;

So just, so like tautology, they fell

That, pale with envy, Singleton forswore

The lute and sword which he in triumph bore,

And vowed he ne’er would act Vilerius more.”

Here stopped the good old sire, and wept for joy,

In silent raptures of the hopeful boy.

All arguments, but most his plays persuade

That for anointed dulness he was made.

Close to the walls which fair Augusta bind

(The fair Augusta much to fears inclin’d),

An ancient fabric rais’d to inform the sight

There stood of yore, and Barbican it hight;

A watch-tower once, but now, so fate ordains,

Of all the pile an empty name remains.

Near it a Nursery erects its head,

Where queens are formed and future heroes bred,

Where unfledged actors learn to laugh and cry,

And little Maximins the gods defy.

Great Fletcher never treads in buskins here,

Nor greater Jonson dares in socks appear;

But gentle Simkin just reception finds

Amidst this monument of vanished minds;

Pure clinches the suburbian muse affords,

And Panton waging harmless war with words.

Here Flecknoe, as a place to fame well known,

Ambitiously designed his Shadwell’s throne.

For ancient Dekker prophesied long since

That in this pile should reign a mighty prince,

Born for a scourge of wit and flay of sense,

To whom true dulness should some “Psyches” owe,

But worlds of “Misers” from his pen should flow;

“Humourists” and Hypocrites it should produce,

Whole Raymond families and tribes of Bruce.

Now empress Fame had published the renown

Of Shadwell’s coronation through the town.

Roused by report of fame, the nations meet

From near Bunhill and distant Watling-street.

No Persian carpets spread th’ imperial way,

But scattered limbs of mangled poets lay;

Much Heywood, Shirley, Ogleby there lay,

But loads of Shadwell almost choked the way.

Bilked stationers for yeomen stood prepar’d,

And Herringman was captain of the guard.

The hoary prince in majesty appear’d,

High on a throne of his own labours rear’d.

At his right hand our young Ascanius sat,

Rome’s other hope and pillar of the state.

His brows thick fogs instead of glories grace,

And lambent dulness played around his face.

As Hannibal did to the altars come,

Sworn by his sire a mortal foe to Rome

So Shadwell swore, nor should his vow be vain,

That he till death true dulness would maintain,

And, in his father’s right and realms defence,

Ne’er to have peace with wit or truce with sense.

The king himself the sacred unction made,

As king by office and as priest by trade.

In his sinister hand, instead of ball,

He plac’d a mighty mug of potent ale;

“Love’s Kingdom” to his right he did convey,

At once his sceptre and his rule of sway;

Whose righteous lore the prince had practis’d young,

And from whose loins recorded “Psyche” sprung.

His temples, last, with poppies were o’erspread,

That nodding seemed to consecrate his head.

Just at that point of time, if fame not lye,

On his left hand twelve reverend owls did fly.

So Romulus, ’tis sung, by Tiber’s brook,

Presage of sway from twice six vultures took.

The admiring throng loud acclamations make,

And omens of his future empire take.

The sire then shook the honours of his head,

And from his brows damps of oblivion shed

Full on the filial dulness. Long he stood,

Repelling from his breast the raging God;

At length burst out in this prophetic mood:

“Heavens bless my son! From Ireland let him reign

To far Barbadoes on the western main;

Of his dominion may no end be known,

And greater than his father’s be his throne;

Beyond ‘Love’s Kingdom’ let him stretch his pen!”

He paus’d, and all the people cried “Amen.”

Then thus continued he: “My son, advance

Still in new impudence, new ignorance.

Success let others teach; learn thou from me

Pangs without birth and fruitless industry.

Let ‘Virtuoso’s’ in five years be writ,

Yet not one thought accuse thy toil of wit.

Let gentle George in triumph tread the stage,

Make Dorimant betray, and Loveit rage;

Let Cully, Cockwood, Fopling, charm the pit,

And in their folly show the writers’ wit.

Yet still the fools shall stand in thy defence,

And justify their author’s want of sense.

Let ’em be all by thy own model made

Of dulness, and desire no foreign aid,

That they to future ages may be known,

Not copies drawn, but issue of thy own.

Nay, let thy men of wit, too, be the same,

All full of thee, and differing but in name.

But let no alien Sedley interpose

To lard with wit thy hungry Epsom prose.

And when false flowers of rhetoric thou wouldst cull,

Trust nature, do not labour to be dull;

But write thy best and top, and in each line

Sir Formal’s oratory will be thine.

Sir Formal, though unfought, attends thy quill,

And does thy northern dedications fill.

Nor let false friends seduce thy name to fame,

By arrogating Jonson’s hostile name;

Let Father Flecknoe fire thy mind with praise,

And uncle Ogleby thy envy raise.

Thou art my blood, where Jonson has no part;

What share have we in nature or in art?

Where did his wit on learning fix a brand,

And rail at arts he did not understand?

When made he love in Prince Nicander’s vein,

Or swept the dust in Psyche’s humble strain?

Where did his muse from Fletcher scenes purloin,

As thou whole Etheridge dost transfuse to thine?

But so transfused as oil on waters flow,

His always floats above, thine sinks below.

This is thy province, this thy wondrous way,

New humours to invent for each new play;

This is that boasted bias of thy mind,

By which one way to dulness ’tis inclined,

Which makes thy writings lean on one side still,

And in all changes that way bends thy will.

Nor let thy mountain belly make pretence

Of likeness; thine’s a tympany of sense.

A tun of man in thy large bulk is writ,

But sure thou’rt but a kilderkin of wit.

Like mine, thy gentle numbers feebly creep;

Thy tragic Muse gives smiles, thy comic, sleep.

With whate’er gall thou setst thyself to write,

Thy inoffensive satyrs never bite.

In thy felonious heart though venom lies,

It does not touch thy Irish pen, and dies.

Thy genius calls thee not to purchase fame

In keen Iambics, but mild Anagram.

Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command

Some peaceful province in Acrostic land.

There thou mayst wings display and altars raise,

And torture one poor word ten thousand ways;

Or, if thou wouldst thy diff’rent talents suit,

Set thy own songs, and sing them to thy lute.”

He said, but his last words were scarcely heard,

For Bruce and Longville had a trap prepared,

And down they sent the yet declaiming bard.

Sinking, he left his drugget robe behind,

Borne upwards by a subterranean wind.

The mantle fell to the young prophet’s part,

With double portion of his father’s art.