260. Sketch in Verse, inscribed to the Right Hon. C. J. Fox by Robert Burns
HOW wisdom and Folly meet, mix, and unite, How Virtue and Vice blend their black and their white, How Genius, th’ illustrious father of fiction, Confounds rule and law, reconciles contradiction, I sing: If these mortals, the critics, should bustle, I care not, not I—let the Critics go whistle!
But now for a Patron whose name and whose glory, At once may illustrate and honour my story.
Thou first of our orators, first of our wits; Yet whose parts and acquirements seem just lucky hits; With knowledge so vast, and with judgment so strong, No man with the half of ’em e’er could go wrong; With passions so potent, and fancies so bright, No man with the half of ’em e’er could go right; A sorry, poor, misbegot son of the Muses, For using thy name, offers fifty excuses. Good L—d, what is Man! for as simple he looks, Do but try to develop his hooks and his crooks; With his depths and his shallows, his good and his evil, All in all he’s a problem must puzzle the devil.
On his one ruling passion Sir Pope hugely labours, That, like th’ old Hebrew walking-switch, eats up its neighbours: Mankind are his show-box—a friend, would you know him? Pull the string, Ruling Passion the picture will show him, What pity, in rearing so beauteous a system, One trifling particular, Truth, should have miss’d him; For, spite of his fine theoretic positions, Mankind is a science defies definitions.
Some sort all our qualities each to its tribe, And think human nature they truly describe; Have you found this, or t’other? There’s more in the wind; As by one drunken fellow his comrades you’ll find. But such is the flaw, or the depth of the plan, In the make of that wonderful creature called Man, No two virtues, whatever relation they claim. Nor even two different shades of the same, Though like as was ever twin brother to brother, Possessing the one shall imply you’ve the other.
But truce with abstraction, and truce with a Muse Whose rhymes you’ll perhaps, Sir, ne’er deign to peruse: Will you leave your justings, your jars, and your quarrels, Contending with Billy for proud-nodding laurels? My much-honour’d Patron, believe your poor poet, Your courage, much more than your prudence, you show it: In vain with Squire Billy for laurels you struggle: He’ll have them by fair trade, if not, he will smuggle: Not cabinets even of kings would conceal ’em, He’d up the back stairs, and by G—, he would steal ’em, Then feats like Squire Billy’s you ne’er can achieve ’em; It is not, out-do him—the task is, out-thieve him!