SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709–84)
London: A Poem in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal (1738)

Quis ineptæ
Tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus ut teneat se?
—Juvenal.

Though grief and fondness in my breast rebel
When injured Thales bids the town farewell,
Yet still my calmer thoughts his choice commend;
I praise the hermit, but regret the friend;
Resolved, at length, from vice and London far,
To breathe in distant fields a purer air,
And, fix’d on Cambria’s solitary shore,
Give to St David one true Briton more.

For who would leave, unbribed, Hibernia’s land,
Or change the rocks of Scotland for the Strand
There none are swept by sudden fate away,
But all whom hunger spares, with age decay:
Here malice, rapine, accident, conspire,
And now a rabble rages, now a fire;
Their ambush here relentless ruffians lay
And here the fell attorney prowls for prey;
Here falling houses thunder on your head,
And here a female atheist talks you dead.

While Thales waits the wherry that contains
Of dissipated wealth the small remains,
On Thames’s bank in silent thought we stood,
Where Greenwich smiles upon the silver flood;
Struck with the seat that gave Eliza birth,
We kneel and kiss the consecrated earth;
In pleasing dreams the blissful age renew,
And call Britannia’s glories back to view;
Behold her cross triumphant on the main,
The guard of commerce, and the dread of Spain;
Ere masquerades debauch’d, excise oppress’d,
Or English honour grew a standing jest.

A transient calm the happy scenes bestow,
And for a moment lull the sense of woe.
At length awaiting, with contemptuous frown,
Indignant Thales eyes the neighbouring town.
Since worth, he cries, in these degenerate days,
Wants e’en the cheap reward of empty praise;
In those cursed walls, devote to vice and gain,
Since unrewarded science toils in vain;
Since hope but soothes to double my distress,
And every moment leaves my little less;
While yet my steady steps no staff sustains,
And life, still vigorous, revels in my veins,
Grant me, kind Heaven! to find some happier place,
Where honesty and sense are lie disgrace;
Some pleasing bank, where verdant osiers play,
Some peaceful vale, with Nature’s paintings gay,
Where once the harass’d Briton found repose,
And, safe in poverty, defied his foes:
Some secret cell, ye Powers indulgent give;
Let—live here, for—has learn’d to live.
Here let those reign whom pensions can incite
To vote a patriot black, a courtier white;
Explain their country’s dear-bought rights away,
And plead for pirates in the face of day;
With slavish tenets taint our Poison’d youth,
And lend a lie the confidence of truth.
Let such raise palaces, and manors buy,
Collect a tax, or farm a lottery;
With warbling eunuchs fill our silenced stage,
And lull to servitude a thoughtless age.
Heroes, proceed! what bounds your pride shall hold?
What cheek restrain your thirst of power and gold?
Behold rebellious virtue quite o’erthrown;
Behold our fame, our wealth, our lives your own!

To such the plunder of a land is given,
When public crimes inflame the wrath of Heaven.
But what, my friend, what hope remains for me,
Who start at theft, and blush at perjury,
Who scarce forbear, though Britain’s court he sing,
To pluck a titled Poet’s borrow’d wing;
A statesman’s logic unconvinced can hear,
And dare to slumber o’er the Gazetteer;
Despise a foolin half his pension dress’d,
And strive in vain to laugh at Clodio’s jest?

Others, with softer smiles, and subtler art
Can sap the principles, or taint the heart;
With more address a lover’s note convey,
Or bribe a virgin’s innocence away.
Well may they rise, while I, whose rustic tongue
Ne’er knew to puzzle right, or varnish wrong,
Spurn’d as a beggar, dreaded as a spy,
Live unregarded, unlamented die.

For what but social guilt the friend endears ?
Who shares Orgilio’s crimes, his fortune shares.
But thou, should tempting villany present
All Marlborouoh hoarded, or all Villiers spent,
Turn from the glittering bribe thy scornful eye,
Nor sell for gold what gold could never buy—
The peaceful slumber, self-approving day,
Unsullied fame, and conscience ever gay.

The cheated nation’s happy favourites see!
Mark whom the great caress, who frown on me!
London, the needy villain’s general home,
The common-sewer of Paris and of Rome,
With eager thirst, by folly or by fate,
Sucks in the dregs of each corrupted state.
Forgive my transports on a theme like this—
I cannot bear a French metropolis.

Illustrious Edward! from the realms of day,
The land of heroes and of saints survey;
Nor hope the British lineaments to trace,
The rustic grandeur, or the surly grace;
But lost in thoughtless ease and empty show,
Behold the warrior dwindled to a beau;
Sense, freedom, piety, refin’d away,
Of France the mimic, and of Spain the prey!

All that at home no more can beg or steal,
Or like a gibbet better than a wheel;
Hiss’d from the stage, or hooted from the court,
Their air, their dress, their politics import;
Obsequious, artful, voluble, and gay,
On Britain’s fond credulity they prey.
No gainful trade their industry can ’scape.
They sing, they dance, clean shoes, or cure a clap:
All sciences a fasting Monsieur knows,
And bid him go to hell, to hell he goes.
Ah! what avails it that, from slavery far,
I drew the breath of life in English air;
Was early taught a Briton’s right to prize,
And lisp the tale of Henry’s victories;
If the gull’d conqueror receives the chain,
And flattery prevails, when arms are vain?

Studious to please, and ready to submit,
The supple Gaul was born a parasite:
Still to his interest true where’er he goes,
Wit, bravery, worth, his lavish tongue bestows;
In every face a thousand graces shine,
From every tongue flows harmony divine.
These arts in vain our rugged natives try,
Strain out, with faltering diffidence, a lie,
And get a kick for awkward flattery.

Besides, with justice, this discerning age
Admires their wondrous talents for the stage:
Well may they venture on the mimic’s art,
Who play from morn to night a borrow’d part;
Practised their master’s notions to embrace,
Repeat his maxims, and reflect his face;
With every wild absurdity comply,
And view its object with another’s eye;
To shake with laughter ere the jest they hear,
To pour at will the counterfeited tear;
And as their patron hints the cold or heat,
To shake in dog-days, in December sweat.

How, when competitors like these contend,
Can surly Virtue hope to fix a friend?
Slaves that with serious impudence beguile,
And lie without a blush, without a smile,
Exalt each trifle, every vice adore,
Your taste in snuf, your judgment in a whore,
Can Balbo’s eloquence applaud, and swear
He gropes his breeches with a monarch’s air.

For arts like these preferr’d, admired, caress’d,
They first invade your table, then your breast
Explore your secrets witli insidious art,
Watch the weak hour, and ransack all the heart
Then soon your ill-placed confidence repay,
Commence your lords, and govern or betray.

By numbers here from shame and censure free,
All crimes are safe, but hated poverty.
This, only this, the rigid law pursues,
This, only this, provokes the snarling Muse;
The sober trader, at a tatter’d cloak,
Wakes from his dream, and labours for a joke;
With brisker air the silken courtiers gaze,
And turn the various taunt a thousand ways.
Of all the griefs that harass the distress’d,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest;
Fate never wounds more deep the generous heart,
Than when a blockhead’s insult points the dart.

Has Heaven reserved, in pity to the poor,
No pathless waste or undiscover’d shore
No secret island in the boundless main;
No peaceful desert yet unclaim’d by Spain?
Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore,
And bear Oppression’s insolence no more.
This mournful truth is every where confess’d,
SLOW RISES WORTH, BY POVERTY DEPRESS’D:
But here more slow, where all are slaves to gold,
Where looks are merchandise, and smiles are sold
Where, won by bribes, by Batteries implored,
The groom retails the favours of his lord.

But hark! the affrighted crowd’s tumultuous cries
Roll through the streets, and thunder to the skies:
Raised from some pleasing dream of wealth and power,
Some pompous palace, or some blissful bower,
Aghast you start, and scarce with aching, sight
Sustain the approaching fire’s tremendous light;
Swift from pursuing horrors take your way,
And leave your little ALL to flames a prey;
Then through the world a wretched vagrant roam,
For where can starving merit find a home?
In vain your mournful narrative disclose,
While all neglect, and most insult your woes.
Should Heaven’s just bolts Orgilio’s wealth confound,
And spread his flaming palace on the ground,
Swift o’er the land the dismal rumour flies,
And public mournings pacify the skies;
The laureate tribe in venal verse relate,
How Virtue Wars with persecuting Fate
With well-feign’d gratitude the pension’d band
Refund the plunder of the beggar’d land.
See! while he builds, the gaudy vassals come,
And crowd with sudden wealth the rising dome;
The price of boroughs and of souls restore,
And raise his treasures higher than before:
Now bless’d with all the baubles of the great,
The polish’d marble, and the shining plate,
Orgilio sees the golden pile aspire,
And hopes from angry Heaven another fire.

Could’st thou resign the park and play, content,
For the fair banks of Severn or of Trent,
There might’st thou find some elegant retreat,
Some hireling senator’s deserted seat;
And stretch thy prospects o’er the smiling land,
For less than rent the dungeons of the Strand;
There prune thy walks, support thy drooping flowers,
Direct thy rivulets, and twine thy bowers;
And, while thy grounds a cheap repast afford,
Despise the dainties of a venal lord:
There every bush with Nature’s music rings,
There every breeze bears health upon its wings;
On all thy hours Security shall smile,
And bless thine evening walk and morning toil.

Prepare for death, if here at night you roam,
And sign your will before you sup from home.
Some fiery fop, with new commission vain,
Who sleeps on brambles till he kills his man;
Some frolic drunkard, reeling from a feast,
Provokes a broil, and stabs you for a jest.
Yet e’en these heroes, mischievously gay,
Lords of the street, and terrors of the way;
Flush’d as they are with folly, youth, and wine,
Their prudent insults to the poor confine;
Afar they mark the flambeaux’s bright approach,
And shun the shining train, and golden coach.

In vain, these dangers past, your doors you close,
And hope the balmy blessings of repose:
Cruel with guilt, and daring with despair,
The midnight murderer bursts the faithless bar;
Invades the sacred hour of silent rest,
And leaves, unseen, a dagger in your breast.

Scarce can our fields, such crowds at Tyburn die,
With hemp the gallows and the fleet supply.
Propose your schemes, ye senatorian band!
Whose ways and means support the sinking land,
Lest ropes be wanting in the tempting spring
To rig another convoy for the king.
A single jail, in Alfred’s golden reign,
Could half the nation’s criminals contain;
Fair Justice then, without constraint adored,
Held high the steady scale, but sheathed the sword;
No spies were paid, no special juries known,
Blest age! but, ah! how different from our own!

Much could I add—but see the boat at hand,
The tide retiring, calls me from the land:
Farewell!—When, youth, and health, and fortune spent
Thou fliest for refuge to the wilds of Kent;
And, tired like me with follies and with crimes,
In angry numbers warn’st succeeding times,
Then shall thy friend, nor thou refuse his aid,
Still foe to vice, forsake his Cambrian shade;
In Virtue’s cause once more exert his rage,
Thy satire point, and animate thy page.

  • Thales: the poet, Richard Savage (1697?–1743), who intended to retire to Wales about this time, and who did so soon after
  • Eliza: Queen Elizabeth I
  • pirates: the piracies of the Spaniards were openly defended in Parliament
  • Gazetteer: the government paper of the day
  • the king: there was a great deal of comment at the time about the expense and constitutional danger incurred by the King (who was also Elector of Hanover) by his frequent visits to Hanover

Last modified, 16-Jan-2002 .
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