Johnson’s poem London (1738)

  •  Quis ineptae
    Tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus ut teneat se ?
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(The Royal Collection c 2000 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II)
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Tho’grief and fondness in my breast rebel,
When injur’d 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, unbrib’d, 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 banks, 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 consacrated 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 awaking, with contemptuous frown,
Indignant Thales eyes the neighb’ring town.

* Queen Elizabeth was born at Greenwich


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A masquerade
(Museum of London)
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Since worth, he cries, in these degen’rate days,
Wants ev’n the cheap reward of empty praise ;
In those curs’d walls, devote to vice and gain,
Since unrewarded science toils in vain ;
Since hope but sooths to double my distress,
And ev’ry moment leaves my little less ;
While yet my steddy steps no staff sustains,
And life still vig’rous revels in my veins ;
Grant me, kind heaven, to find some happier place,
Where honesty and sense are no disgrace ;
The cheated nation’s happy fav’rites,see !
Mark whom the great caress, who frown on me !
London ! the needy villain’s gen’ral home,
The common shore 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.
…with justice, this discerning age
Admires their wond’rous talents for the stage :
Well may they venture on the mimick’s art,
Who play from morn to night a borrow’d part ;
Practis’d their master’s notions to embrace,
Repeat his maxims, and reflect his face ;
With ev’ry wild absurdity comply,
And view each 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.


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Hogarth, Night
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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 frolick drunkard, reeling from a feast,
Provokes a broil, and stabs you for a jest.
Yet ev’n 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 flambeau’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 murd’rer 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 k----g.

*Tyburn was the place of execution until 1783 ; Marble Arch is near the site.

** “Ways and means”: a term in the House of Commons for method of raising money.