Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
Prologues and Epilogues
Prologue and Epilogue to the Second Part of The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards
THEY who write Ill, and they who ne’r durst write,
Turn Critiques out of meer Revenge and Spight:
A Play-house gives ’em Fame; and up there starts,
From a mean Fifth-rate Wit, a Man of Parts.
(So Common Faces on the Stage appear;        5
We take ’em in, and they turn Beauties here.)
Our Authour fears those Critiques as his Fate;
And those he Fears, by consequence, must Hate,
For they the Trafficque of all Wit invade,
As Scriv’ners draw away the Bankers Trade.        10
Howe’re, the Poet’s safe enough to day;
They cannot censure an unfinish’d Play.
But, as when Vizard Masque appears in Pit,
Straight every Man who thinks himself a Wit
Perks up; and, managing his Comb with grace,        15
With his white Wigg sets off his Nut-brown Face;
That done, bears up to th’ prize, and views each Limb,
To know her by her Rigging and her Trimm;
Then, the whole noise of Fops to wagers go,
Pox on her, ’t must be she; and Damm’ee no:        20
Just so, I Prophecy, these Wits to-day
Will blindly guess at our imperfect Play:
With what new Plots our Second Part is fill’d,
Who must be kept alive, and who be kill’d.
And as those Vizard Masques maintain that Fashion,        25
To soothe and tickle sweet Imagination;
So, our dull Poet keeps you on with Masquing;
To make you think there’s something worth your asking:
But when ’tis shown, that which does now delight you
Will prove a Dowdy, with a Face to fright you.        30
They who have best succeeded on the Stage,
Have still conform’d their Genius to their Age.
Thus Jonson did Mechanique humour show
When men were dull, and conversation low.
Then, Comedy was faultless, but ’twas course;        35
Cobbs Tankard was a Jest and Otter’s horse.
And as their Comedy, their Love was mean;
Except, by chance, in some one labour’d Scene,
Which must attone for an ill-written play,
They rose, but at their height could seldome stay.        40
Fame then was cheap, and the first commer sped;
And they have kept it since, by being dead,
But, were they now to write, when Critiques weigh
Each Line, and ev’ry Word, throughout a Play,
None of ’em, no, not Jonson in his height,        45
Could pass, without allowing grains for weight.
Think it not envy, that these truths are told;
Our Poet’s not malicious, though he’s bold.
’Tis not to brand ’em that their faults are shown,
But by their errours to excuse his own.        50
If Love and Honour now are higher rais’d,
’Tis not the Poet, but the Age is prais’d.
Wit’s now ariv’d to a more high degree;
Our native Language more refin’d and free;
Our Ladies and our men now speak more wit        55
In conversation, than those Poets writ.
Then, one of these is, consequently, true;
That what this Poet writes comes short of you,
And imitates you ill (which most he fears)
Or else his writing is not worse than theirs.        60
Yet, though you judge (as sure the Critiques will)
That some before him writ with greater skill,
In this one praise he has their fame surpast,
To please an Age more Gallant than the last.

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