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It were needless to recount the several methods of tyranny and destruction, which your governor is pleased to practise upon this occasion. His inveterate malice is such to the writings of our age, that of several thousands produced yearly from this renowned city, before the next revolution of the sun, there is not one to be heard of: unhappy infants ! many of them barbarously destroyed, before they have so much as learnt their mother tongue to beg for pity. Some he stifles in their cradles; others he frights into convulsions, whereof they suddenly die: some he flays alive; others he tears limb from limb. Great numbers are offered to Moloch; and the rest, tainted by his breath, die of a languishing consumption.
But the concern I have most at heart, is for our corporation of poets; from whom I am preparing a petition to your highness, to be subscribed with the names of one hundred thirty-six of the first rate; but whose immortal productions are never likely to reach your eyes, though each of them is now an humble and an earnest appellant for the laurel, and has large comely volumes ready to shew, for a support to his pretensions. The never-dying works of these illustrious persons, your governor, sir, has devoted to unavoidable death; and your highness is to be made believe, that our age has never arrived at the honour to produce one single poet.
We confess Immortality to be a great and powerful goddess; but in vain we offer up to her our devotions and our sacrifices, if your highness's governor, who has usurped the priesthood, must, by an unparalleled ambition and avarice, wholly intercept and devour them.
To affirm that our age is altogether unlearned, and devoid of writers in any kind, seems to be an
assertion so bold and so false, that I have been some time thinking, the contrary may almost be proved by uncontrollable demonstration. It is true, indeed, that although their numbers be vast, and their productions numerous in proportion, yet are they hurried so hastily off the scene, that they escape our memory, and elude our sight. When I first thought of this address, I had prepared a copious list of titles to present your highness, as an undisputed argument for what I affirm. The originals were posted fresh upon all gates and corners of streets; but, returning in a very few hours to take a review, they were all torn down, and fresh ones in their places. I enquired after them among readers and booksellers; but I enquired in vain; the memorial of them was lost among men; their place was no more to be found : and I was laughed to scorn for a clown and a pedant, without all taste and refinement, little versed in the course of present affairs, and that knew nothing of what had passed in the best companies of court and town. So that I can only avow in general to your highness, that we do abound in learning and wit; but to fix upon particulars, is a task too slippery for my slender abilities. If I should venture in a windy day to affirm to your highness, that there is a large cloud near the horizon, in the form of a bear; another in the zenith, with the head of an ass; a third to the westward, with claws like a dragon; and your highness should in a few minutes think fit to examine the truth, it is certain they would all be changed in figure and position; new ones would arise, and all we could agree upon would be, that clouds there were, but that I was grossly mistaken in the zoography and topography of them.
But your governor perhaps may still insist, and
put the question,—What is then become of those immense bales of paper, which must needs have been employed in such numbers of books ? can these also be wholly annihilate, and so of a sudden, as I pretend ? What shall I say in return of so invidious an objection ? it ill befits the distance between your highness and me, to send you
for ocular conviction to a jakes, or an oven; to the windows of a bawdy-house, or to a sordid lantern. Books, like men their authors, have no more than one way of coming into the world, but there are ten thousand to go out of it, and return no more.
I profess to your highness, in the integrity of my heart, that what I am going to say is literally true this minute I am writing : what revolutions may happen before it shall be ready for your perusal, I can by no means warrant: however, I beg you to accept it as a specimen of our learning, our politeness, and our wit. I do therefore affirm, upon the word of a sincere man, that there is now actually in being a certain poet, called John Dryden, whose translation of Virgil was lately printed in a large folio, well bound, and, if diligent search were made, for aught I know, is yet to be seen. There is another, called Nahum Tate, who is ready to make oath, that he has caused many reams of verse to be published, whereof both himself and his bookseller, (if lawfully required, can still produce authentic copies, and therefore wonders why the world is pleased to make such a secret of it. There is a third, known by the name of Tom Durfey, a poet of a vast comprehension, a universal genius, and most profound learning. There are also one Mr Rymer, and one Mr Dennis, most profound critics. There is a person styled Dr Bentley, who has written near 'a thousand pages of immense erudition, giving a full and true account of a certain squabble, of wonderful importance, between himself and a bookseller : * he is a writer of infinite wit and humour; no man rallies with a better grace, and in more sprightly turns. Farther, I avow to your highness, that with these eyes I have beheld the person of William Wotton, B.D., who has written a good sizeable volume against a friend of your governor, † (from whom, alas ! he must therefore look for little favour,) in a most gentlemanly style, adorned with the utmost politeness and civility; replete with discoveries equally valuable for their novelty and use; and embellished with traits of wit, so poignant and so apposite, that he is a worthy yokemate to his forementioned friend.
Why should I go upon farther particulars, which might fill a volume with the just eulogies of my contemporary brethren ? I shall bequeath this piece of justice to a larger work, wherein I intend to write a character of the present set of wits in our nation : their persons I shall describe particularly and at length, their genius and understandings in miniature.
In the mean time, I do here make bold to present your highness with a faithful abstract drawn from the universal body of all arts and sciences, intended wholly for your service and instruction: nor do I doubt in the least, but your highness will peruse it as carefully, and make as consider
* Bentley, in his controversy with lord Orrery upon the genuineness of Phalaris's Epistles, has given, in a preface, a long account of his dialogues with a bookseller about the loan and restitution of a MS.
+ Sir William Temple, with whom Wotton was then engaged in the controversy concerning ancient and modern learning.
able improvements, as other young princes have already done, by the many volumes of late years written for a help to their studies.
That your highness may advance in wisdom and virtue, as well as years, and at last outshine all your royal ancestors, shall be the daily prayer of,
Your Highness's Dec. 1697.
Most devoted, &c.
* There were innumerable books printed for the use of the dauphin of France.