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Year chases year, decay pursues decay,
Still drops some joy from with'ring life away;
New forms arise, and diff'rent views engage,
Superfluous lags the vet'ran on the stage,
Till pitying nature signs the last release,
And bids afflicted worth retire to peace.
But few there are whom hours like these await,
Who set unclouded in the gulfs of fate.
From Lydia's monarch should the search descend,
By Solon caution'd to regard his end,
In life's last scene what prodigies surprise,
Fears of the brave, and follies of the wise!
From Marlb'rough's eyes the streams of dotage flow,
And Swift expires a driv❜ller and a show.
"The teeming mother, anxious for her race,
Begs for each birth the fortune of a face;
Yet Vane could tell what ills from beauty spring;
And Sedley curs'd the form that pleas'd a king.
Ye nymphs of rosy lips and radiant ́eyes,
Whom pleasure keeps too busy to be wise;
Whom joys with soft varieties invite,
By day the frolick, and the dance by night;
Who frown with vanity, who smile with art,
And ask the latest fashion of the heart;
What care, what rules, your heedless charms shall save,
Each nymph your rival, and each youth your slave?
Against your fame with fondness hate combines,
The rival batters, and the lover mines.
With distant voice neglected virtue calls,
Less heard and less, the faint remonstrance falls;
Tir'd with contempt, she quits the slipp❜ry reign,
And pride and prudence take her seat in vain.
In crowd at once, where none the pass defend,
The harmless freedom, and the private friend.
The guardians yield, by force superiour ply'd :
To int'rest, prudence; and to flatt'ry, pride.
Here beauty falls, betray'd, despis'd, distress'd,
And hissing infamy proclaims the rest.
'Where then shall hope and fear their objects find? Must dull suspense corrupt the stagnant mind?
Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?
Must no dislike alarm, no wishes rise,
No cries invoke the mercies of the skies?
Inquirer, cease; petitions yet remain
Which heav'n may hear; nor deem religion vain.
Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
But leave to heav'n the measure and the choice.
Safe in his pow'r, whose eyes discern afar
The secret ambush of a specious pray'r;
Implore his aid, in his decisions rest,
Secure, whate'er he gives, he gives the best.
Yet, when the sense of sacred presence fires,
And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
Obedient passions, and a will resign'd;
For love, which scarce collective man can fill;
For patience, sov'reign o'er transmuted ill;
For faith, that, panting for a happier seat,
Counts death kind nature's signal of retreat:
These goods for man the laws of heav'n ordain ;
These goods he grants, who grants the pow'r to gain;
With these celestial wisdom calms the mind,
And makes the happiness she does not find.
SPOKEN BY MR. GARRICK, AT THE OPENING OF THE
THEATRE-ROYAL, DRURY LANE, 1747.
WHEN learning's triumph o'er her barb'rous foes
First rear'd the stage, immortal Shakespeare rose;
Each change of many-colour'd life he drew,
Exhausted worlds, and then imagin'd new:
Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign,
And panting time toil'd after him in vain :
His pow'rful strokes presiding truth impress'd,
And unresisted passion storm'd the breast.
Then Jonson came, instructed from the school
To please in method, and invent by rule;
His studious patience and laborious art,
By regular approach, assail'd the heart:
Cold approbation gave the ling'ring bays;
For those, who durst not censure, scarce could praise : A mortal born, he met the gen'ral doom,
But left, like Egypt's kings, a lasting tomb.
The wits of Charles found easier ways to fame,
Nor wish'd for Jonson's art, or Shakespeare's flame:
Themselves they studied, as they felt, they writ;
Intrigue was plot, obscenity was wit;
Vice always found a sympathetick friend;
They pleas'd their age, and did not aim to mend.
Yet bards, like these, aspir'd to lasting praise,
And proudly hop'd to pimp in future days.
Their cause was gen'ral, their supports were strong;
Their slaves were willing, and their reign was long:
Till shame regain'd the post that sense betray'd,
And virtue call'd oblivion to her aid.
Then, crush'd by rules, and weaken'd, as refin'd, For years the pow'r of tragedy declin'd;
From bard to bard the frigid caution crept,
Till declamation roar'd, while passion slept;
Yet still did virtue deign the stage to tread,
Philosophy remain'd, though nature fled.
But forced, at length, her ancient reign to quit,
She saw great Faustus lay the ghost of wit;
Exulting folly hail'd the joyful day,
And pantomime and song confirm'd her sway.
But who the coming changes can presage,
And mark the future periods of the stage?
Perhaps, if skill could distant times explore,
New Behns, new Durfeys, yet remain in store;
Perhaps, where Lear has rav'd, and Hamlet dy'd,
On flying cars new sorcerers may ride:
Perhaps, (for who can guess th' effects of chance?)
Here Hunt' may box, or Mahomet may dance.
Hard is his lot that, here by fortune plac'd,
Must watch the wild vicissitudes of taste;
With ev'ry meteor of caprice must play,
And chase the new-blown bubbles of the day.
Ah! let not censure term our fate our choice,
The stage but echoes back the publick voice;
The drama's laws the drama's patrons give,
For we that live to please, must please to live.
Then prompt no more the follies you decry,
As tyrants doom their tools of guilt to die;
yours, this night, to bid the reign commence Of rescued nature and reviving sense;
To chase the charms of sound, the pomp of show,
For useful mirth and salutary woe;
Bid scenick virtue form the rising age,
And truth diffuse her radiance from the stage.
Hunt, a famous boxer on the stage; Mahomet, a ropedancer, who had exhibited at Covent garden theatre the winter before, said to be a Turk.
THE history of this tragedy's composition is interesting, as affording dates to distinguish Johnson's literary progress. It was begun, and considerably advanced, while he kept a school at Edial, near Lichfield, in 1736. In the following year, when he relinquished the task of a schoolmaster, so little congenial with his mind and disposition, and resolved to seek his fortunes in the metropolis, Irene was carried along with him as a foundation for -his success. Mr. Walmsley, one of his early friends, recommended him, and his fellow-adventurer, Garrick, to the notice and protection of Colson, the mathematician. Unless Mrs. Piozzi is correct, in rescuing the character of Colson from any identity with that of Gelidus, in the Rambler, Johnson entertained no lively recollection of his first patron's kindness. He was ever warm in expressions of gratitude for favours, conferred on him in his season of want and obscurity; and from his deep silence here, we may conclude, that the recluse mathematician did not evince much sympathy with the distresses of the young candidate for dramatic fame. Be this, however, as it may, Johnson, shortly after this introduction, took lodgings at Greenwich, to proceed with his Irene in quiet and retirement, but soon returned to Lichfield, to complete it. The same year that saw these successive disappointments, witnessed also Johnson's return to London, with his tragedy completed, and its rejection by Fleetwood, the patentee, at that time, of Drury lane theatre. Twelve years elapsed, before it was acted, and, after many alterations by his pupil and companion, Garrick, who was then manager of the
a Rambler, No. 24, and note.