Robert Fergusson

To Sir John Fielding, on His Attempts to Suppress «The Beggar’s Opera»

Beneath what cheerful region of the sky
Shall Wit, shall Humour, and the Muses fly?
For our’s, a cold, inhospitable clime,
Refuses quarter to the muse and rhime.
If on her brows an envy’d laurel springs,
They shake its foliage, crop her growing wings,
That with the Plumes of virtue wisely soar,
And all the follies of the age explore;
But should old Grub her rankest venom pour,
And ev’ry virtue with a vice deflow’r,
Her verse is sacred, Justices agree;
Even Justice Fielding signs the wise decree.

Let fortune-dealers, wise predictors! tell
From what bright planet Justice Fielding fell;
Augusta trembles at the awful name;
The darling tongue of liberty is tame,
Basely confin’d by him in Newgate chains,
Nor dare exclaim how harshly Fielding reigns.

In days when every Mercer has his scale,
To tell what pieces lack, how few prevail,
I wonder not the low-born menial trade,
By partial justice has aside been laid:
For she gives no discount for virtue worn,
Her aged joints are without mercy torn.

In vain, O Gay! thy muse explor’d the way
Of yore to banish the Italian lay,
Gave homely numbers sweet, tho’ warmly strong;
The British chorus blest the happy song:
Thy manly voice and Albion’s then were heard,
Felt by her sons, and by her sons rever’d:
Eunuchs, not men, now bear aloft the palm,
And o’er our senses pour lethargic balm.

The stage the truest mirror is of life;
Our passions there revolve in active strife;
Each character is there display’d to view;
Each hates his own, tho’ well assur’d ‘tis true.
No marvel then, that all the world should own,
In Peachum’s treach’ry Justice Fielding’s known;
Since thieves so common are, and Justice you
Thieves to the gallows for reward pursue.
Had Gay by writing rous’d the stealing trade,
You’d been less active to suppress your bread;
For, trust me, when a robber loses ground,
You lose your living with your forty pound.

’Twas woman first that snatch’d the luring bait,
The tempter taught her to transgress and eat;
Tho’ wrong the deed, her quick compunction told;
She banish’d Adam from an age of gold.

When women now transgress fair virtue’s rules,
Men are their pupils, and the stews their schools;
From simple whoredom greater sins began
To shoot, to bloom, to center all in man;
Footpads on Hounslow flourish here today,
The next old Tyburn sweeps them all away;
For woman’s falls, the cause of every wrong!
Men robb’d and murder’d, thieves at Tyburn strung.
In panting breasts to raise the fond alarm,
Make females in the cause of virtue warm,
Gay has compar’d them to the summer flow’r,
The boast and glory of an idle hour;
When cropp’d it falls, shrinks, withers, and decays,
And to oblivion dark consigns its days.

Hath this a power to win the female heart
Back from its vice, from virtue ne’er to part;
If so the wayward virgin will restore,
And murders, rapes, and plunders be no more.

These were the lays of him who virtue knew,
Rever’d her dictates, and practis’d them too;
No idle theorist in her stainless ways,
He gave the parent Goddess all his days.

Queensbury! his best and earliest friend,
All that his wit or learning could commend;
Best of patrons! the Muse’s only pride!
Still in her pageant shalt thou first preside;
No idle pomp that riches can procure,
Sprung at a start, and faded in an hour,
But pageant, lasting as the uncropp’d bay,
That verdant triumphs with the Muse of Gay.

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