The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 1/Soliloquy of a Bard in the Country

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'Twas now the noon of night, and all was still,
Except a hapless Rhymer and his quill.
In vain he calls each Muse in order down,
Like other females, these will sometimes frown;
He frets, he fumes, and ceasing to invoke
The Nine, in anguish'd accents thus he spoke:
Ah what avails it thus to waste my time,
To roll in Epic, or to rave in Rhyme?
What worth is some few partial readers' praise,
If ancient Virgins croaking censures raise?
Where few attend, 'tis useless to indite;
Where few can read, 'tis folly sure to write;
Where none but girls and striplings dare admire,
And Critics rise in every country Squire—
But yet this last my candid Muse admits,
When Peers are Poets, Squires may well be Wits;
When schoolboys vent their amorous flames in verse,
Matrons may sure their characters asperse;
And if a little parson joins the train,
And echos back his Patron's voice again—
Though not delighted, yet I must forgive,
Parsons as well as other folks must live:—
From rage he rails not, rather say from dread,
He does not speak for Virtue, but for bread;
And this we know is in his Patron's giving,
For Parsons cannot eat without a Living,
The Matron knows I love the Sex too well,
Even unprovoked aggression to repel.
What though from private pique her anger grew,
And bade her blast a heart she never knew?
What though, she said, for one light heedless line,
That Wilmot's[2] verse was far more pure than mine!
In wars like these, I neither fight nor fly,
When dames accuse 'tis bootless to deny;
Her's be the harvest of the martial field,
I can't attack, where Beauty forms the shield.
But when a pert Physician loudly cries,
Who hunts for scandal, and who lives by lies,
A walking register of daily news,
Train'd to invent, and skilful to abuse—
For arts like these at bounteous tables fed,
When S—— condemns a book he never read.
Declaring with a coxcomb's native air,
The moral's shocking, though the rhymes are fair.
Ah! must he rise unpunish'd from the feast,
Nor lash'd by vengeance into truth at least?
Such lenity were more than Man's indeed!
Those who condemn, should surely deign to read.
Yet must I spare—nor thus my pen degrade,
I quite forgot that scandal was his trade.
For food and raiment thus the coxcomb rails,
For those who fear his physic, like his tales.
Why should his harmless censure seem offence?
Still let him eat, although at my expense,
And join the herd to Sense and Truth unknown,
Who dare not call their very thoughts their own,
And share with these applause, a godlike bribe,
In short, do anything, except prescribe:
For though in garb of Galen he appears,
His practice is not equal to his years.
Without improvement since he first began,
A young Physician, though an ancient Man—
Now let me cease—Physician, Parson, Dame,
Still urge your task, and if you can, defame.
The humble offerings of my Muse destroy,
And crush, oh! noble conquest! crush a Boy.
What though some silly girls have lov'd the strain,
And kindly bade me tune my Lyre again;
What though some feeling, or some partial few,
Nay, Men of Taste and Reputation too,
Have deign'd to praise the firstlings of my Muse—
If you your sanction to the theme refuse,
If you your great protection still withdraw,
Whose Praise is Glory, and whose Voice is law!
Soon must I fall an unresisting foe,
A hapless victim yielding to the blow.—
Thus Pope by Curl and Dennis was destroyed,
Thus Gray and Mason yield to furious Loyd;[3]
From Dryden, Milbourne[4] tears the palm away,
And thus I fall, though meaner far than they.
As in the field of combat, side by side,
A Fabius and some noble Roman died.

Dec. 1806.

  1. [From an autograph MS. at Newstead, now for the first time printed.]
  2. [John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680). His Poems were published in the year of his death.]
  3. [Robert Lloyd (1733-1764). The following lines occur in the first of two odes to Obscurity and Oblivion—parodies of the odes of Gray and Mason:—

    "Heard ye the din of modern rhymers bray?
    It was cool M——n and warm G——y,
    Involv'd in tenfold smoke."]

  4. [The Rev. Luke Milbourne (died 1720) published, in 1698, his Notes on Dryden's Virgil, containing a venomous attack on Dryden. They are alluded to in The Dunciad, and also by Dr. Johnson, who wrote (Life of Dryden), "His outrages seem to be the ebullitions of a mind agitated by stronger resentment than bad poetry can excite."]