Imitations of Horace

collection of poems by Alexander Pope

The Imitations of Horace were a collection of poems written by Alexander Pope from 1733 to 1738. They were written in the popular Augustan form of the "imitation" of a classical poet, not so much a translation of his works as an updating with contemporary references. Pope used the model of Horace to satirize life under George II of Great Britain, especially what he regarded as the widespread corruption tainting the country under Prime Minister Robert Walpole's influence and the poor quality of the court's artistic taste. Pope also added a wholly original poem, "An Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot", as an introduction to the "Imitations". It reviews his own literary career and includes the famous portraits of Lord John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey ("Sporus") and Joseph Addison ("Atticus").

‘Tis the first virtue, vices to abhor;
And the first wisdom, to be fool no more.

Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1734), Prologue to Imitations of Horace Edit

  • Shut, shut the door, good John! fatigued, I said;
    Tie up the knocker! say I'm sick, I'm dead.
    • Line 1.
  • Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand,
    They rave, recite, and madden round the land.
    • Line 5.
  • E'en Sunday shines no Sabbath day to me.
    • Line 12.
  • Is there a parson much bemused in beer,
    A maudlin poetess, a rhyming peer,
    A clerk foredoom'd his father's soul to cross,
    Who pens a stanza when he should engross?
    • Line 15.
  • Friend to my life, which did not you prolong,
    The world had wanted many an idle song.
    • Line 27.
  • Obliged by hunger and request of friends.
    • Line 44.
  • Fired that the house rejects him, "'Sdeath! I 'll print it,
    And shame the fools."
    • Line 61.
  • No creature smarts so little as a fool.
    • Line 84.
  • Destroy his fib, or sophistry — in vain!
    The creature's at his dirty work again.
    • Line 91.
  • As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame,
    I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came.
    • Line 127.
  • This long disease, my life.
    • Line 132.
  • Pretty! in amber to observe the forms
    Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms!
    The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare,
    But wonder how the devil they got there.
    • Line 169. Compare: "Whence we see spiders, flies, or ants entombed and preserved forever in amber, a more than royal tomb", Francis Bacon, Historia Vitæ et Mortis; Sylva Sylvarum, Cent. i. Exper. 100.
  • Means not, but blunders round about a meaning;
    And he whose fustian 's so sublimely bad,
    It is not poetry, but prose run mad.
    • Line 186.
  • Were there one whose fires
    True Genius kindles, and fair Fame inspires,
    Blessed with each talent, and each art to please,
    And born to write, converse, and live with ease;
    Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
    Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne.
    • Line 193. Compare: "Nor needs thy juster title the foul guilt / Of Eastern kings, who, to secure their reign, / Must have their brothers, sons, and kindred slain", John Denham,On Mr. John Fletcher's Works; "Poets are sultans, if they had their will; For every author would his brother kill", Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery, Prologues (republished in Dramatic Works, 1739).
  • View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
    And hate for arts that caused himself to rise;
    Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
    And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
    Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
    Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;
    Alike reserved to blame or to commend,
    A tim'rous foe, and a suspicious friend;
    Dreading e'en fools, by flatterers besieged,
    And so obliging that he ne'er obliged;
    Like Cato, give his little Senate laws,
    And sit attentive to his own applause.
    • Line 199. Compare: "When needs he must, yet faintly then he praises; Somewhat the deed, much more the means he raises: So marreth what he makes, and praising most, dispraises", P. Fletcher, The Purple Island, canto vii. Pope also uses the reference, "While Cato gives his little senate laws" in his Prologue to Mr. Addison's Cato (1713), line 23.
  • Who but must laugh, if such a man there be?
    Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?
    • Line 213.
  • "On wings of winds came flying all abroad".
    • Line 218. Compare: "And on the wings of all the winds / Came flying all abroad", Thomas Sternhold, A Metrical Version of Psalm civ.
  • Oh let me live my own, and die so too
    (To live and die is all I have to do)!
    Maintain a poet's dignity and ease,
    And see what friends, and read what books I please.
    • Line 261.
  • Cursed be the verse, how well so e'er it flow, That tends to make one worthy man my foe.
    • Line 283.
  • Let Sporus tremble — "What? that thing of silk,
    Sporus, that mere white curd of ass's milk?
    Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?
    Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"
    • Line 305.
  • Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings,
    This painted child of dirt, that stinks and stings;
    Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys,
    Yet wit ne'er tastes, and beauty ne'er enjoys.
    • Line 309.
  • Eternal smiles his emptiness betray,
    As shallow streams run dimpling all the way.
    • Line 315.
  • Wit that can creep and pride that licks the dust.
    • Line 333.
  • That not in fancy's maze he wander'd long,
    But stoop'd to truth, and moraliz'd his song.
    • Line 340. Compare: "Fierce warres and faithful loves shall moralize my song", Edmund Spenser, Faerie Queene, Introduction, Stanza 1.
  • Unlearned, he knew no schoolman's subtle art,
    No language, but the language of the heart.
    • Line 398.
  • Me let the tender office long engage
    To rock the cradle of reposing age;
    With lenient arts extend a mother's breath,
    Make languor smile, and smooth the bed of death;
    Explore the thought, explain the asking eye,
    And keep awhile one parent from the sky.
    • Line 408.

Imitations of Horace (1733–1738) Edit

  • Lord Fanny spins a thousand such a day.
    • Satire I, Book II, line 6.
  • Satire's my weapon, but I'm too discreet
    To run amuck, and tilt at all I meet.
    • Satire I, Book II, line 69.
  • But touch me, and no minister so sore;
    Whoe'er offends at some unlucky time
    Slides into verse, and hitches in a rhyme,
    Sacred to ridicule his whole life long,
    And the sad burden of some merry song.
    • Satire I, Book II, line 76.
  • Bare the mean heart that lurks behind a star.
    • Satire I, Book II, line 110.
  • There St. John mingles with my friendly bowl
    The feast of reason and the flow of soul.
    • Satire I, Book II, line 127.
  • For I, who hold sage Homer's rule the best,
    Welcome the coming, speed the going guest.
    • Satire II, Book II, line 159. This line is repeated in Pope's translation of the Odyssey, Book XV, line 83, with "parting" instead of "going".
  • I've often wished that I had clear,
    For life, six hundred pounds a year;
    A handsome house to lodge a friend,
    A river at my garden's end,
    A terrace walk, and half a rood
    Of land set out to plant a wood.
    • Satire VI, Book II, line 1.
  • Give me again my hollow tree,
    A crust of bread, and liberty.
    • Satire VI, Book II, line 220.
  • A patriot is a fool in ev'ry age.
    • Epilogue to the Satires, Dialogue I, line 41.
  • Laugh then at any but at fools or foes;
    These you but anger, and you mend not those.
    Laugh at your friends, and if your friends are sore,
    So much the better, you may laugh the more.
    • Epilogue to the Satires, Dialogue I, line 53.
  • Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame.
    • Epilogue to the Satires, Dialogue I, line 136.
  • All, all look up with reverential awe
    At crimes that 'scape or triumph o'er the law.
    • Epilogue to the Satires, Dialogue I, line 167.
  • To Berkeley every virtue under heaven.
    • Epilogue to the Satires, Dialogue II, line 73.
  • Never gallop Pegasus to death.
    • Epistle I, Book I, line 14.
  • When the brisk minor pants for twenty-one.
    • Epistle I, Book I, line 38.
  • Not to go back is somewhat to advance,
    And men must walk, at least, before they dance.
    • Epistle I, Book I, line 53.
  • Here, Wisdom calls: "Seek Virtue first, be bold!
    As Gold to Silver, Virtue is to Gold."
    • Epistle I, Book I, line 77.
  • He's armed without that's innocent within.
    • Epistle I, Book I, line 94.
  • Get place and wealth, if possible, with grace;
    If not, by any means get wealth and place.
    • Epistle I, Book I, line 103. Compare: "Get money; still get money, boy, No matter by what means", Ben Jonson, Every Man in his Humour, Act ii, Scene 3.
  • Above all Greek, above all Roman fame.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 26. Compare: "Above any Greek or Roman name", John Dryden, Upon the Death of Lord Hasting, line 76.
  • Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old:
    It is the rust we value, not the gold.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 35.
  • The people's voice is odd,
    It is, and is not, the voice of God.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 89.
  • The mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 108.
  • One simile that solitary shines
    In the dry desert of a thousand lines.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 111.
  • Then marble soften'd into life grew warm,
    And yielding, soft metal flow'd to human form.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 147. Compare: "The canvas glow'd beyond ev'n Nature warm; The pregnant quarry teem'd with human form", Oliver Goldsmith, The Traveller, line 137.
  • Who says in verse what others say in prose.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 202.
  • What will a child learn sooner than a song?
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 205.
  • Waller was smooth; but Dryden taught to join
    The varying verse, the full resounding line,
    The long majestic march, and energy divine.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 267.
  • Ev'n copius Dryden wanted, or forgot,
    The last and greatest art — the art to blot.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 280.
  • Who pants for glory finds but short repose:
    A breath revives him, or a breath o'erthrows.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 300. Compare: "A breath can make them as a breath has made", Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, line 54.
  • There still remains, to mortify a wit,
    The many-headed monster of the pit.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 304. Compare: "Many-headed multitude", Philip Sidney, Defence of Poesy, Book ii.
  • We poets are (upon a poet's word)
    Of all mankind the creatures most absurd;
    The season when to come, and when to go,
    To sing, or cease to sing, we never know.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 358.
  • Praise undeserv'd is scandal in disguise.
    • Epistle I, Book II, line 413. This line is from a poem entitled "To the Celebrated Beauties of the British Court", given in Bell's "Fugitive Poetry", vol. III. p. 118. Compare the following epigram from "The Grove", London, 1721: "When one good line did much my wonder raise, / In Br—st's work, I stood resolved to praise, / And had, but that the modest author cries, / 'Praise undeserved is scandal in disguise'". On a certain line of Mr. Br——, Author of a Copy of Verses called the British Beauties.
  • Years following years steal something every day;
    At last they steal us from ourselves away.
    • Epistle II, Book II, line 72.
  • The vulgar boil, the learned roast, an egg.
    • Epistle II, Book II, line 85.
  • Words that wise Bacon or brave Raleigh spoke.
    • Epistle II, Book II, line 168.
  • Call, if you will, bad rhyming a disease,
    It gives men happiness, or leaves them ease.
    • Epistle II, Book II, line 182.
  • Learn to live well, or fairly make your Will;
    You've play'd, and lov'd, and eat, and drank your fill:
    Walk sober off; before a sprightlier Age
    Comes titt'ring on, and shoves you from the stage:
    Leave such to trifle with more grace and ease,
    Whom Folly pleases, and whose Follies please.
    • Epistle II, Book II, lines 322-327.
  • The worst of madmen is a saint run mad.
    • Epistle VI, Book I, line 27.
  • Grac'd as thou art with all the power of words,
    So known, so honour'd at the House of Lords.
    • Epistle VI. Book I. To. Mr. Murray. Compare: "Persuasion tips his tongue whene'er he talks, And he has chambers in King's Bench walks", Colley Cibber, parodying Pope's lines.
  • ‘Tis the first virtue, vices to abhor;
    And the first wisdom, to be fool no more.

About Edit

  • The Imitations of Horace seem to have been written as relaxations of his [Pope's] genius. This employment became his favourite by its facility; the plan was ready to his hand, and nothing was required but to accommodate as he could the sentiments of an old author to recent facts or familiar images; but what is easy is seldom excellent: such imitations cannot give pleasure to common readers. The man of learning may be sometimes surprised and delighted by an unexpected parallel; but the comparison requires knowledge of the original, which will likewise often detect strained applications. Between Roman images and English manners there will be an irreconcileable dissimilitude, and the work will be generally uncouth and party-coloured; neither original nor translated, neither ancient nor modern.