Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
Prologue on the Opening of the New York Theatre, September 1, 1821
By Charles Sprague (1791–1875)
WHEN mitred Zeal, in wild, unholy days,
Bared his red arm, and bade the fagot blaze,
Our patriot sires the pilgrim sail unfurl’d,
And Freedom pointed to a rival world.
  Where prowl’d the wolf, and where the hunter roved,        5
Faith raised her altars to the God she loved;
Toil, link’d with Art, explored each savage wild,
The lofty forest bow’d, the desert smiled;
The startled Indian o’er the mountains flew,
The wigwam vanish’d, and the village grew;        10
Taste rear’d her domes, fair Science spread her page,
And Wit and Genius gather’d round the stage!
  The Stage!—where Fancy sits, creative queen,
And waves her sceptre o’er life’s mimic scene;
Where young-eyed Wonder comes to feast his sight,        15
And quaff instruction while he drinks delight.—
The Stage!—that threads each labyrinth of the soul,
Wakes laughter’s peal, and bids the tear-drop roll;
That hoots at folly, mocks proud fashion’s slave,
Uncloaks the hypocrite, and brands the knave.        20
  The child of Genius, catering for the Stage,
Rifles the wealth of every clime and age.
He speaks! the sepulchre resigns its prey,
And crimson life runs through the sleeping clay.
The wave, the gibbet, and the battle field,        25
At his command, their festering tenants yield.
Pale, bleeding Love comes weeping from the tomb,
That kindred softness may bewail her doom;
Murder’s dry bones, reclothed, desert the dust,
That after times may own his sentence just;        30
Forgotten Wisdom, freed from death’s embrace,
Reads awful lessons to another race;
And the mad tyrant of some ancient shore,
Here warns a world that he can curse no more.
  May this fair Dome, in classic beauty rear’d,        35
By Worth be honor’d, and by Vice be fear’d.
May chasten’d Wit here bend to Virtue’s cause,
Reflect her image, and repeat her laws;
And Guilt, that slumbers o’er the sacred page,
Hate his own likeness, shadow’d from the Stage.        40
Here let the Guardian of the Drama sit,
In righteous judgment o’er the realms of wit.
Not his the shame, with servile pen to wait
On private friendship, or on private hate;
To flatter fools, or Satire’s javelin dart,        45
Tipp’d with a lie, at proud Ambition’s heart;
His be the nobler task to herald forth
Young, blushing Merit, and neglected Worth;
To brand the page where goodness finds a sneer,
And lash the wretch that breathes the treason here.        50
  Here shall bright Genius wing his eagle flight,
Rich dew-drops shaking from his plumes of light,
Till, high in mental worlds, from vulgar ken
He soars, the wonder and the pride of men.
Cold Censure here to decent Mirth shall bow,        55
And Bigotry unbend his monkish brow;
Here Toil shall pause, his ponderous sledge thrown by,
And Beauty bless each strain with melting eye.
Grief, too, in fiction lost, shall cease to weep,
And all the world’s rude cares be laid to sleep.        60
Each polish’d scene shall Taste and Truth approve,
And the Stage triumph in the people’s love.

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