by John Dryden
Griev'd tho' I am an ancient friend to lose,
I like the solitary seat he chose,
In quiet Cumæ fixing his repose:
Where, far from noisy Rome, secure he lives,
And one more citizen to Sibyl gives;
The road to Bajæ, and that soft recess,
Which all the gods with all their bounty bless.
Tho' I in Prochyta with greater ease
Could live, than in a street of palaces.
What scene so desart, or so full of fright,
As tow'ring houses tumbling in the night,
And Rome on fire beheld by its own blazing light?
But worse than all, the clatt'ring tiles; and worse
Than thousand padders, is the poet's curse;
Rogues that in dog days cannot rhyme forbear:
But without mercy read, and make you hear.
Now while my friend, just ready to depart,
Was packing all his goods in one poor cart;
He stopp'd a little at the Conduit-gate,
Where Numa modeld once the Roman State,
In mighty councils with his nymph retir'd:
Tho now the sacred shades and founts are hir'd
By banish'd Jews, who their whole wealth can lay
In a small basket, on a wisp of hay;
Yet such our avarice is, that every tree
Pays for his head; not sleep itself is free:
Nor place, nor persons, now are sacred held;
From their own grove the Muses are expell'd.
Into this lonely vale our steps we bend,
I and my sullen discontented friend:
The marble caves, and aqueducts we view;
But how adult'rate now, and different from the true!
How much more beauteous had the fountain been,
Embellish'd with her first created green,
Where crystal streams thro' living turf had run,
Contented with an urn of native stone!
Then thus Umbritius (with an angry frown,
And looking back on this degen'rate town):
“Since noble arts in Rome have no support,
And ragged virtue not a friend at court,
No profit rises from th' ungrateful stage,
My poverty encreasing with my age,
'T is time to give my just disdain a vent,
And, cursing, leave so base a government.
Where Dædalus his borrow'd wings laid by,
To that obscure retreat I choose to fly:
While yet few furrows on my face are seen,
While I walk upright, and old age is green,
And Lachesis has somewhat left to spin.
Now, now 't is time to quit this cursed place,
And hide from villains my too honest face:
Here let Arturius live, and such as he;
Such manners will with such a town agree.
Knaves who in full assemblies have the knack
Of turning truth to lies, and white to black;
Can hire large houses, and oppress the poor
By farm'd excise; can cleanse the common shore,
And rent the fishery; can bear the dead;
And teach their eyes dissembled tears to shed:
All this for gain; for gain they sell their very head.
These fellows (see what Fortune's pow'r can do)
Were once the minstrels of a country show:
Follow'd the prizes thro each paltry town,
By trumpet-cheeks and bloated faces known.
But now, grown rich, on drunken holidays,
At their own costs exhibit public plays;
Where, influenc'd by the rabble's bloody will,
With thumbs bent back, they popularly kill.
From thence return'd, their sordid avarice rakes
In excrements again, and hires the jakes.
Why hire they not the town, not ev'rything,
Since such as they have Fortune in a string,
Who, for her pleasure, can her fools advance,
And toss em topmost on the wheel of chance?
What's Rome to me, what bus'ness have I there,
I who can neither lie, nor falsely swear?
Nor praise my patron's undeserving rhymes,
Nor yet comply with him, nor with his times;
Unskill'd in schemes by planets to foreshow,
Like canting rascals, how the wars will go:
I neither will, nor can prognosticate
To the young gaping heir, his father's fate;
Nor in the entrails of a toad have pried,
Nor carried bawdy presents to a bride:
For want of these town virtues, thus, alone,
I go conducted on my way by none:
Like a dead member from the body rent;
Maim'd, and unuseful to the government.
“Who now is lov'd, but he who loves the times,
Conscious of close intrigues, and dipp'd in crimes;
Lab'ring with secrets which his bosom burn,
Yet never must to public light return?
They get reward alone who can betray:
For keeping honest counsels none will pay.
He who can Verres, when he will, accuse,
The purse of Verres may at pleasure use:
But let not all the gold which Tagus hides,
And pays the sea in tributary tides,
Be bribe sufficient to corrupt thy breast,
Or violate with dreams thy peaceful rest.
Great men with jealous eyes the friend behold,
Whose secrecy they purchase with their gold.
“I haste to tell thee, nor shall shame oppose,
What confidents our wealthy Romans chose;
And whom I most abhor: to speak my mind,
I hate, in Rome, a Grecian town to find:
To see the scuin of Greece transplanted here,
Receiv'd like gods, is what I cannot bear.
Nor Greeks alone, but Syrians here abound;
Obscene Orontes, diving under ground,
Conveys his wealth to Tiber's hungry shores,
And fattens Italy with foreign whores:
Hether their crooked harps and customs come;
All find receipt in hospitable Rome.
The barbarous harlots crowd the public place:
Go, fools, and purchase an unclean embrace;
The painted miter court, and the more painted face.
Old Romulus, and Father Mars, look down!
Your herdsman primitive, your homely clown
Is turn'd a beau in a loose tawdry gown.
His once unkemb'd and horrid locks, behold
Stilling sweet oil: his neck inchain'd with gold;
Aping the foreigners, in ev'ry dress,
Which, bought at greater cost, becomes him less.
Meantime they wisely leave their native land;
From Sicyon, Samos, and from Alaband,
And Amydon, to Rome they swarm in shoals:
So sweet and easy is the gain from fools.
Poor refugees at first, they purchase here;
And, soon as demzen'd, they domineer;
Grow to the great a flatt'ring servile rout:
Work themselves inward, and their patrons out:
Quick-witted, brazen-fac'd, with fluent tongues,
Patient of labors, and dissembling wrongs.
Riddle me this, and guess him if you can,
Who bears a nation in a single man?
A cook, a conjurer, a rhetorician,
A painter, pedant, a geometrician,
A dancer on the ropes, and a physician.
All things the hungry Greek exactly knows:
And bid him go to heav'n, to heav'n he goes:
In short, no Scythian, Moor, or Thracian born,
But in that town which arms and arts adorn.
Shall he be plac'd above me at the board,
In purple cloth'd, and lolling like a lord?
Shall he before me sign, whom t'other day
A small-craft vessel hither did convey;
Where, stow'd with prunes, and rotten figs, he lay?
How little is the privilege become
Of being born a citizen of Rome!
The Greeks get all by fulsome flatteries;
A most peculiar stroke they have at lies.
They make a wit of their insipid friend;
His blobber lips, and beetle brows commend;
His long crane neck, and narrow shoulders praise---
You'd think they were describing Hercules.
A creaking voice for a clear treble goes;
Tho' harsher than a cock that treads and crows.
We can as grossly praise; but, to our grief,
No flatt'ry but from Grecians gains belief.
Besides these qualities, we must agree
They mimic better on the stage than we:
The wife, the whore, the shepherdess they play,
In such a free, and such a graceful way,
That we believe a very woman shown,
And fancy something underneath the gown.
But not Antiochus, nor Stratocles,
Our ears and ravish'd eyes can only please:
The nation is compos'd of such as these.
All Greece is one comedian: laugh, and they
Return it louder than an ass can bray:
Grieve, and they grieve; if you weep silently,
There seems a silent echo in their eye:
They cannot mourn like you; but they can cry.
Call for a fire, their winter clothes they take:
Begin but you to shiver, and they shake:
In frost and snow, if you complain of heat,
They rub th' unsweating brow, and swear they sweat.
We live not on the square with such as these;
Such are our betters who can better please;
Who day and night are like a looking-glass,
Still ready to reflect their patron's face;
The panegyric hand, and lifted eye,
Prepar'd for some new piece of flattery.
Ev'n nastiness occasions will afford;
They praise a belching, or well-pissing lord.
Besides, there's nothing sacred, nothing free
From bold attempts of their rank lechery.
Thro' the whole family their labors run;
The daughter is debauch'd, the wife is won:
Nor scapes the bridegroom, or the blooming son.
If none they find for their lewd purpose fit,
They with the walls and very floors commit.
They search the secrets of the house, and so
Are worship'd there, and fear'd for what they know.
“And, now we talk of Grecians, cast a view
On what, in schools, their men of morals do;
A rigid Stoic his own pupil slew:
A friend, against a friend, of his own cloth,
Turn'd evidence, and murther'd on his oath.
What room is left for Romans in a town
Where Grecians rule, and cloaks control the gown?
Some Diphilus, or some Protogenes,
Look sharply out, our senators to seize:
Engross 'em wholly, by their native art,
And fear no rivals in their bubble's heart:
One drop of poison in my patron's ear,
One slight suggestion of a senseless fear,
Infus'd with cunning, serves to ruin me;
Disgrac'd and banish'd from the family.
In vain forgotten services I boast;
My long dependence in an hour is lost:
Look round the world, what country will appear,
Where friends are left with greater ease than here?
At Rome (nor think me partial to the poor)
All offices of ours are out of door:
In vain we rise, and to their levees run;
My lord himself is up, before, and gone;
The prætor bids his lictors mend their pace,
Lest his colleague outstrip him in the race;
The childless matrons are, long since, awake,
And for affronts the tardy visits take.
“'Tis frequent, here, to see a freeborn son
On the left hand of a rich hireling run;
Because the wealthy rogue can throw away,
For half a brace of bouts, a tribune's pay:
But you, poor sinner, tho you love the vice
And like the whore, demur upon the price;
And, frighted with the wicked sum, forbear
To lend a hand, and help her from the chair.
“Produce a witness of unblemish'd life,
Holy as Numa, or as Numa's wife,
Or him who bid th' unhallow'd flames retire,
And snatch'd the trembling goddess from the fire;
The question is not put, how far extends
His piety, but what he yearly spends:
Quick, to the bus'ness; how he lives and eats;
How largely gives; how splendidly he treats;
How many thousand acres feed his sheep;
What are his rents; what servants does he keep?
Th' account is soon cast up; the judges rate
Our credit in the court by our estate.
Swear by our gods, or those the Greeks adore,
Thou art as sure forsworn, as thou art poor;
The poor must gain their bread by perjury;
And even the gods, that other means deny,
In conscience must absolve 'em, when they lie.
“Add, that the rich have still a gibe in store;
And will be monstrous witty on the poor:
For the torn surtout and the tatter'd vest,
The wretch and all his wardrobe are a jest;
The greasy gown, sullied with often turning,
Gives a good hint, to say: ‘The man's in mourning:'
Or if the shoe be ripp'd, or patches put:
‘He's wounded! see the plaster on his foot.'
Want is the scorn of ev'ry wealthy fool;
And wit in rags is turn'd to ridicule.
“‘Pack hence, and from the cover'd benches rise,'
The master of the ceremonies cries,
This is no place for you, whose small estate
Is not the value of the settled rate;
The sons of happy punks, the pander's heir,
Are privileg'd to sit in triumph there,
To clap the first, and rule the theater.
Up to the galleries, for shame, retreat;
For, by the Roscian law, the poor can claim no seat.'
Who ever brought to his rich daughter's bed
The man that poll'd but twelvepence for his head?
Who ever nam'd a poor man for his heir,
Or call'd him to assist the judging chair?
The poor were wise, who, by the rich oppress'd,
Withdrew, and sought a sacred place of rest.
Once they did well, to free themselves from scron;
But had done better never to return.
Rarely they rise by virtue's aid, who lie
Plung'd in the depth of helpless poverty.
“At Rome 't is worse; where houserent by the year
And servants' bellies cost so dev'lish dear;
And tavern bills run high for hungry cheer.
To drink or eat in earthenware we scorn.
Which cheaply country cupboards does adorn;
And coarse blue hoods on holidays are worn.
Some distant parts of Italy are known,
Where none, but only dead men, wear a gown;
On theaters of turf, in homely state,
Old plays they act, old feasts they celebrate;
The same rude song returns upon the crowd,
And, by tradition, is for wit allow'd.
The mimic yearly gives the same delights;
And in the mother's arms the clownish infant frights.
Their habits (undistinguish'd by degree)
Are plain, alike; the same simplicity,
Both on the stage, and in the pit, you see
In his white cloak the magistrate appears;
The country bumpkin the same liv'ry wears.
But here, attir'd beyond our purse we go,
For useless ornament and flaunting show:
We take on trust, in purple robes to shine;
And poor, are yet ambitious to be fine.
This is a common vice, tho all things here
Are sold, and sold unconscionably dear.
What will you give that Cossus may but view
Your face, and in the crowd distinguish you;
May take your incense like a gracious god,
And answer only with a civil nod?
To please our patrons, in this vicious age,
We make our entrance by the fav'rite page;
Shave his first down, and when he polls his hair,
The consecrated locks to temples bear;
Pay tributary cracknels, which he sells,
And, with our offerings, help to raise his vails.
“Who fears, in country towns, a house's fall,
Or to be caught betwixt a riven wall?
But we inhabit a weak city, here;
Which buttresses and props but scarcely bear:
And 't is the village mason's daily calling,
To keep the world's metropolis from falling,
To cleanse the gutters, and the chinks to close,
And, for one night, secure his lord's repose.
At Cumæ we can sleep, quite round the year,
Nor falls, nor fires, nor nightly dangers fear;
While rolling flames from Roman turrets fly,
And the pale citizens for buckets cry.
Thy neighbor has remov'd his wretched store,
(Few hands will rid the lumber of the poor;)
Thy own third story smokes, while thou, supine,
Art drench'd in fumes of undigested wine.
For if the lowest floors already burn,
Cocklofts and garrets soon will take the turn,
Where thy tame pigeons next the tiles were bred,
Which, in their nests unsafe, are timely fled.
“Codrus had but one bed, so short to boot,
That his short wife's short legs hung dangling out;
His cupboard's head six earthen pitchers grac'd,
Beneath 'em was his trusty tankard plac'd;
And, to support this noble plate, there lay
A bending Chiron cast from honest clay;
His few Greek books a rotten chest contain'd,
Whose covers much of moldiness complain'd:
Where mice and rats devour'd poetic bread,
And with heroic verse luxuriously were fed.
'T is true, poor Codrus nothing had to boast,
And yet poor Codrus all that nothing lost;
Begg'd naked thro' the streets of wealthy Rome;
And found not one to feed, or take him home.
“But if the palace of Arturius burn,
The nobles change their clothes, the matrons mourn;
The city prætor will no pleadings hear;
The very name of fire we hate and fear,
And look aghast, as if the Gauls were here.
While yet it burns, th' officious nation flies,
Some to condole, and some to bring supplies:
One sends him marble to rebuild; and one
White naked statues of the Parian stone,
The work of Polyclete, that seem to live;
While others images for altars give;
One books and screens, and Pallas to the breast;
Another bags of gold; and he gives best.
Childless Arturius, vastly rich before,
Thus by his losses multiplies his store;
Suspected for accomplice to the fire,
That burnt his palace but to build it higher.
“But, could you be content to bid adieu
To the dear playhouse, and the players too;
Sweet country seats are purchas'd ev'rywhere,
With lands and gardens, at less price than here
You hire a darksome doghole by the year:
A small convenience, decently prepar'd,
A shallow well, that rises in your yard,
That spreads his easy crystal streams around,
And waters all the pretty spot of ground.
There, love the fork, thy garden cultivate,
And give thy frugal friends a Pythagorean treat;
'Tis somewhat to be lord of some small ground,
In which a lizard may, at least, turn round.
"'Tis frequent here, for want of sleep, to die,
Which fumes of undigested feasts deny,
And, with imperfect heat, in languid stomachs fry.
What house secure from noise the poor can keep,
When even the rich can scarce afford to sleep?
So dear it costs to purchase rest in Rome,
And hence the sources of diseases come.
The drover, who his fellow-drover meets
In narrow passages of winding streets;
The wagoners, that curse their standing teams,
Would wake even drowsy Drusus from his dreams.
And yet the wealthy will not brook delay,
But sweep above our heads, and make their way,
In lofty litters borne, and read and write,
Or sleep at ease, the shutters make it night;
Yet still he reaches first the public place.
The press before him stops the client's pace;
The crowd that follows crush his panting sides,
And trip his heels; he walks not, but he rides.
One elbows him, one jostles in the shole,
A rafter breaks his head, or chairman's pole;
Stockinged with loads of fat town-dirt he goes,
And some rogue-soldier, with his hobnailed shoes,
Indents his legs behind in bloody rows.
See, with what smoke our doles we celebrate:
A hundred guests, invited, walk in state;
A hundred hungry slaves, with their Dutch kitchens, wait.
Huge pans the wretches on their heads must bear,
Which scarce gigantic Corbulo could rear;
Yet they must walk upright beneath the load,
Nay run, and, running, blow the sparkling flames abroad.
Their coats, from botching newly brought, are torn.
Unwieldy timber-trees, in wagons borne,
Stretched at their length, beyond their carriage lie,
That nod, and threaten ruin from on high;
For, should their axle break, its overthrow
Would crush, and pound to dust, the crowd below;
Nor friends their friends, nor sires their sons could know;
Nor limbs, nor bones, nor carcase, would remain,
But a mashed heap, a hotchpotch of the slain;
One vast destruction; not the soul alone,
But bodies, like the soul, invisible are flown.
Meantime, unknowing of their fellow's fate,
The servants wash the platter, scour the plate,
Then blow the fire, with puffing cheeks, and lay
The rubbers, and the bathing-sheets display,
And oil them first; and each is handy in his way.
But he, for whom this busy care they take,
Poor ghost! is wandering by the Stygian lake;
Affrighted with the ferryman's grim face,
New to the horrors of that uncouth place,
His passage begs, with unregarded prayer,
And wants two farthings to discharge his fare.
Return we to the dangers of the night. —
And, first, behold our houses' dreadful height;
From whence come broken potsherds tumbling down,
And leaky ware from garret-windows thrown;
Well may they break our heads, that mark the flinty stone.
'Tis want of sense to sup abroad too late,
Unless thou first hast settled thy estate;
As many fates attend thy steps to meet,
As there are waking windows in the street.
Bless the good Gods, and think thy chance is rare,
To have a piss-pot only for thy share.
The scouring drunkard, if he does not fight
Before his bed-time, takes no rest that night;
Passing the tedious hours in greater pain
Than stern Achilles, when his friend was slain;
'Tis so ridiculous, but so true withal,
A bully cannot sleep without a brawl.
Yet, though his youthful blood be fired with wine,
He wants not wit the danger to decline;
Is cautious to avoid the coach and six,
And on the lacqueys will no quarrel fix.
His train of flambeaux, and embroidered coat,
May privilege my lord to walk secure on foot;
But me, who must by moonlight homeward bend,
Or lighted only with a candle's end,
Poor me he fights, if that be fighting, where
He only cudgels, and I only bear.
He stands, and bids me stand; I must abide,
For he's the stronger, and is drunk beside.
"Where did you whet your knife to-night?" he cries,
"And shred the leeks that in your stomach rise?
Whose windy beans have stuft your guts, and where
Have your black thumbs been dipt in vinegar?
With what companion-cobbler have you fed,
On old ox-cheeks, or he-goat's tougher head?
What, are you dumb? Quick, with your answer, quick,
Before my foot salutes you with a kick.
Say, in what nasty cellar, under ground,
Or what church-porch, your rogueship may be found?" —
Answer, or answer not, 'tis all the same,
He lays me on, and makes me bear the blame.
Before the bar for beating him you come;
This is a poor man's liberty in Rome.
You beg his pardon; happy to retreat
With some remaining teeth, to chew your meat.
Nor is this all; for when, retired, you think
To sleep securely, when the candles wink,
When every door with iron chains is barred,
And roaring taverns are no longer heard;
The ruffian robbers, by no justice awed,
And unpaid cut-throat soldiers, are abroad;
Those venal souls, who, hardened in each ill,
To save complaints and prosecution, kill.
Chased from their woods and bogs, the padders come
To this vast city, as their native home,
To live at ease, and safely skulk in Rome.
The forge in fetters only is employed;
Our iron mines exhausted and destroyed
In shackles; for these villains scarce allow
Goads for the teams, and ploughshares for the plough.
Oh, happy ages of our ancestors,
Beneath the kings and tribunitial powers!
One jail did all their criminals restrain,
Which now the walls of Rome can scarce contain.
More I could say, more causes I could show
For my departure, but the sun is low;
The wagoner grows weary of my stay,
And whips his horses forwards on their way.
Farewell! and when, like me, o'erwhelmed with care,
You to your own Aquinum shall repair,
To take a mouthful of sweet country air,
Be mindful of your friend; and send me word,
What joys your fountains and cool shades afford.
Then, to assist your satires, I will come,
And add new venom when you write of Rome.
Last updated March 26, 2023