Reproof: A Satire.

Tobias Smollett

Howe'er I turn, or wheresoe'er I tread,
This giddy world still rattles round my head!
I pant for silence e'en in this retreat-
Good Heaven! what demon thunders at the gate?
In vain you strive, in this sequester'd nook,
To shroud you from an injured friend's rebuke.
An injured friend! who challenges the name?
If you, what title justifies the claim?
Did e'er your heart o'er my affliction grieve,
Your interest prop me, or your praise relieve?
Or could my wants my soul so far subdue,
That in distress she crawl'd for aid to you?
But let us grant the indulgence e'er so strong;
Display without reserve the imagined wrong:
Among your kindred have I kindled strife,
Deflower'd your daughter, or debauch'd your wife;
Traduced your credit, bubbled you at game;
Or soil'd with infamous reproach your name?
No: but your cynic vanity (you'll own)
Exposed my private counsel to the town.
Such fair advice 'twere pity sure to lose:
I grant I printed it for public use.
Yes, season'd with your own remarks between,
Inflamed with so much virulence of spleen
That the mild town (to give the devil his due)
Ascribed the whole performance to a Jew.
Jews, Turks, or Pagans-hallow'd be the mouth
That teems with moral zeal and dauntless truth!
Prove that my partial strain adopts one lie,
No penitent more mortified than I;
Not e'en the wretch in shackles doom'd to groan,
Beneath the inhuman scoffs of Williamson.
Hold-let us see this boasted self-denial-
The vanquish'd knight has triumph'd in his trial.
What then?
Your own sarcastic verse unsay,
That brands him as a trembling runaway.
With all my soul;-the imputed charge rehearse;
I'll own my error and expunge my verse.
Come, come, howe'er the day was lost or won,
The world allows the race was fairly run.
But, lest the truth too naked should appear,
A robe of fable shall the goddess wear:
When sheep were subject to the lion's reign,
E'er man acquired dominion o'er the plain,
Voracious wolves, fierce rushing from the rocks,
Devour'd without control the unguarded flocks;
The sufferers, crowding round the royal cave,
Their monarch's pity and protection crave:
Not that they wanted valour, force, or arms,
To shield their lambs from danger and alarms;
A thousand rams, the champions of the fold,
In strength of horn and patriot virtue bold,
Engaged in firm association stood,
Their lives devoted to the public good:
A warlike chieftain was their sole request,
To marshal, guide, instruct, and rule the rest.
Their prayer was heard, and, by consent of all,
A courtier ape appointed general.
He went, he led; arranged the battle stood,
The savage foe came pouring like a flood;
Then Pug, aghast, fled swifter than the wind,
Nor deign'd in threescore miles to look behind,
While every band fled orders bleat in vain,
And fall in slaughter'd heaps upon the plain.
The scared baboon, (to cut the matter short)
With all his speed, could not outrun report;
And, to appease the clamours of the nation,
'Twas fit his case should stand examination.
The board was named-each worthy took his place,
All senior members of the horned race;
The wedder, goat, ram, elk, and ox were there,
And a grave hoary stag possess'd the chair.
The inquiry past, each in his turn began
The culprit's conduct variously to scan.
At length the sage uprear'd his awful crest,
And, pausing, thus his fellow chiefs address'd:
'If age, that from this head its honours stole,
Hath not impair'd the functions of my soul,
But sacred wisdom, with experience bought,
While this weak frame decays, matures my thought,
The important issue of this grand debate
May furnish precedent for your own fate,
Should ever fortune call you to repel
The shaggy foe, so desperate and fell.
'Tis plain, you say, his excellence Sir Ape
From the dire field accomplish'd an escape;
Alas! our fellow subjects ne'er had bled,
If every ram that fell like him had fled;
Certes, those sheep were rather mad than brave,
Which scorn'd the example their wise leader gave.
Let us then every vulgar hint disdain,
And from our brother's laurel wash the stain.'
The admiring court applauds the president,
And Pug was clear'd by general consent.
There needs no magic to divine your scope,
Mark'd, as you are, a flagrant misanthrope:
Sworn foe to good and bad, to great and small,
Thy rankling pen produces nought but gall:
Let virtue struggle, or let glory shine,
Thy verse affords not one approving line.
Hail, sacred themes! the Muse's chief delight!
Oh, bring the darling objects to my sight!
My breast with elevated thought shall glow,
My fancy brighten, and my numbers flow!
The Aonian grove with rapture would I tread,
To crop unfading wreaths for William's head,
But that my strain, unheard amidst the throng,
Must yield to Lockman's ode, and Hambury's song.
Nor would the enamour'd Muse neglect to pay
To Stanhope's worth the tributary lay,
The soul unstain'd, the sense sublime to paint,
A people's patron, pride, and ornament,
Did not his virtues eternised remain
The boasted theme of Pope's immortal strain.
Not e'en the pleasing task is left to raise
A grateful monument to Barnard's praise,
Else should the venerable patriot stand
The unshaken pillar of a sinking land.
The gladdening prospect let me still pursue,
And bring fair Virtue's triumph to the view;
Alike to me, by fortune blest or not,
From soaring Cobham to the melting Scot.
But, lo! a swarm of harpies intervene,
To ravage, mangle, and pollute the scene!
Gorged with our plunder, yet still gaunt for spoil,
Rapacious Gideon fastens on our isle;
Insatiate Lascelles, and the fiend Vaneck,
Rise on our ruins, and enjoy the wreck;
While griping Jasper glories in his prize,
Wrung from the widow's tears and orphan's cries.
Relapsed again! strange tendency to rail!
I fear'd this meekness would not long prevail.
You deem it rancour, then? Look round and see
What vices flourish still unpruned by me:
Corruption, roll'd in a triumphant car,
Displays his burnish'd front and glittering star,
Nor heeds the public scorn, or transient curse,
Unknown alike to honour and remorse.
Behold the leering belle, caress'd by all,
Adorn each private feast and public ball,
Where peers attentive listen and adore,
And not one matron shuns the titled whore.
At Peter's obsequies I sung no dirge;
Nor has my satire yet supplied a scourge
For the vile tribes of usurers and bites,
Who sneak at Jonathan's, and swear at White's.
Each low pursuit, and slighter folly, bred
Within the selfish heart and hollow head,
Thrives uncontroll'd, and blossoms o'er the land,
Nor feels the rigour of my chastening hand.
While Codrus shivers o'er his bags of gold,
By famine wither'd, and benumb'd by cold,
I mark his haggard eyes with frenzy roll,
And feast upon the terrors of his soul;
The wrecks of war, the perils of the deep,
That curse with hideous dreams the caitiff's sleep;
Insolvent debtors, thieves, and civil strife,
Which daily persecute his wretched life,
With all the horrors of prophetic dread,
That rack his bosom while the mail is read.
Safe from the road, untainted by the school,
A judge by birth, by destiny a fool,
While the young lordling struts in native pride,
His party-colour'd tutor by his side,
Pleased, let me own the pious mother's care,
Who to the brawny sire commits her heir.
Fraught with the spirit of a Gothic monk,
Let Rich, with dulness and devotion drunk,
Enjoy the peal so barbarous and loud,
While his brain spews new monsters to the crowd;
I see with joy the vaticide deplore
A hell-denouncing priest and ... whore;
Let every polish'd dame and genial lord,
Employ the social chair and venal board;
Debauch'd from sense, let doubtful meanings run,
The vague conundrum, and the prurient pun,
While the vain fop, with apish grin, regards
The giggling minx half-choked behind her cards:
These, and a thousand idle pranks, I deem
The motley spawn of Ignorance and Whim.
Let Pride conceive, and Folly propagate,
The fashion still adopts the spurious brat:
Nothing so strange that fashion cannot tame;
By this, dishonour ceases to be shame:
This weans from blushes lewd Tyrawley's face,
Gives Hawley praise, and Ingoldsby disgrace,
From Mead to Thomson shifts the palm at once,
A meddling, prating, blundering, busy dunce!
And may, should taste a little more decline,
Transform the nation to a herd of swine.
The fatal period hastens on apace.
Nor will thy verse the obscene event disgrace;
Thy flowers of poetry, that smell so strong,
The keenest appetites have loathed the song,
Condemn'd by Clark, Banks, Barrowby, and Chitty,
And all the crop-ear'd critics of the city:
While sagely neutral sits thy silent friend,
Alike averse to censure or commend.
Peace to the gentle soul that could deny
His invocated voice to fill the cry!
And let me still the sentiment disdain
Of him who never speaks but to arraign,
The sneering son of Calumny and Scorn,
Whom neither arts, nor sense, nor soul adorn;
Or his, who, to maintain a critic's rank,
Though conscious of his own internal blank,
His want of taste unwilling to betray,
'Twixt sense and nonsense hesitates all day,
With brow contracted hears each passage read,
And often hums, and shakes his empty head,
Until some oracle adored pronounce
The passive bard a poet or a dunce;
Then in loud clamour echoes back the word,
'Tis bold, insipid-soaring, or absurd.
These, and the unnumber'd shoals of smaller fry,
That nibble round, I pity and defy.

Last updated January 14, 2019