Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
Prologues and Epilogues
Prologue and Epilogue to the University of Oxford
Spoken by MR. HART at the acting of the Silent Woman,

WHAT 1 Greece, when learning flourish’d, onely knew,
(Athenian Judges,) you this day renew.
Here too are Annual Rites to Pallas done,
And here Poetique prizes lost or won.
Methinks I see you crown’d with Olives sit,        5
And strike a sacred Horrour from the Pit.
A Day of Doom is this of your Decree,
Where even the Best are but by Mercy free:
A Day which none but Johnson durst have wish’d to see.
Here they who long have known the usefull Stage        10
Come to be taught themselves to teach the Age.
As your Commissioners our Poets go,
To cultivate the Virtue which you sow;
In your Lycaeum first themselves refin’d,
And delegated thence to Humane kind.        15
But as Embassadours, when long from home,
For new Instructions to their Princes come;
So Poets who your Precepts have forgot,
Return, and beg they may be better taught:
Follies and Faults else-where by them are shown.        20
But by your Manners they correct their own.
Th’ illiterate Writer, Emperique like, applies
To Minds diseas’d, unsafe, chance Remedies:
The Learn’d in Schools, where Knowledge first began,
Studies with Care th’ Anatomy of Man;        25
Sees Vertue, Vice, and Passions in their Cause,
And Fame from Science, not from Fortune, draws.
So Poetry, which is in Oxford made
An Art, in London onely is a Trade.
There haughty Dunces, whose unlearned Pen        30
Could ne’er spell Grammar, would be reading Men.
Such build their Poems the Lucretian way;
So many Huddled Atoms make a Play,
And if they hit in Order by some Chance,
They call that Nature which is Ignorance.        35
To such a Fame let mere Town-Wits aspire,
And their gay Nonsense their own Citts admire.
Our Poet, could he find Forgiveness here,
Would wish it rather than a Plaudit there.
He owns no Crown from those Prætorian Bands,        40
But knows that Right is in this Senates Hands.
Not impudent enough to hope your Praise,
Low at the Muses Feet, his Wreath he lays,
And, where he took it up, resigns his Bays.
Kings make their Poets whom themselves think fit.        45
But ’tis your Suffrage makes Authentique Wit.
Spoken by MR. HART.

No poor Dutch Peasant, wing’d with all his Fear,
Flies with more haste, when the French Arms draw near,
Than we with our Poetique Train come down.
For Refuge hither from th’ infected Town;        50
Heaven for our Sins this Summer has thought fit
To visit us with all the Plagues of Wit.
  A French Troop first swept all things in its way;
But those hot Monsieurs were too quick to stay;
Yet, to our Cost, in that short time, we find        55
They left their Itch of Novelty behind.
  Th’ Italian Merry-Andrews took their place,
And quite debauch’d the Stage with lewd Grimace:
Instead of Wit and Humours, your Delight
Was there to see two Hobby-horses fight,        60
Stout Scaramoucha with Rush Lance rode in,
And ran a Tilt at Centaure Arlequin.
For Love you heard how amorous Asses bray’d,
And Cats in Gutters gave their Serenade.
Nature was out of Countenance, and each Day        65
Some new-born Monster shewn you for a Play.
  But when all fail’d, to strike the Stage quite dumb,
Those wicked Engines, call’d Machines, are come.
Thunder and Lightning now for Wit are play’d.
And shortly Scenes in Lapland will be lay’d:        70
Art Magique is for Poetry profest,
And Cats and Dogs, and each obscener Beast
To which Ægyptian Dotards once did bow,
Upon our English Stage are worshipp’d now.
Witchcraft reigns there, and raises to Renown        75
Macbeth, the Simon Magus 2 of the town.
Fletcher’s despis’d, your Johnson out of Fashion,
And Wit the onely Drug in all the Nation.
In this low Ebb our Wares to you are shown,
By you those Staple Authours Worth is known;        80
For Wit’s a Manufacture of your own.
When you, who only can, their scenes have prais’d,
We’ll boldly back, and say their Price is rais’d.
Note 1. 1673. Printed in 1684, again in 1692. [back]
Note 2. the Simon] and Simon 1692, and most editors. Christie wrongly ascribes the error to Broughton. [back]

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