Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
Prologue to the Comedy of A Word to the Wise
By Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)
THIS night presents a play which public rage,
Or right, or wrong, once hooted from the stage,
From zeal or malice now no more we dread,
For English vengeance wars not with the dead.
A generous foe regards with pitying eye        5
The man whom fate has laid where all must lie.
  To wit reviving from its author’s dust
Be kind, ye judges, or at least be just.
For no renewed hostilities invade
Th’ oblivious grave’s inviolable shade.        10
Let one great payment every claim appease,
And him, who cannot hurt, allow to please,
To please by scenes unconscious of offence,
By harmless merriment, or useful sense,
Where aught of bright or fair the piece displays,        15
Approve it only—’tis too late to praise.
If want of skill or want of care appear,
Forbear to hiss—the poet cannot hear.
By all like him must praise and blame be found
At best a fleeting gleam, or empty sound.        20
Yet then shall calm reflection bless the night,
When liberal pity dignified delight;
When pleasure fir’d her torch at virtue’s flame,
And mirth was bounty with an humbler name.

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