Prologue Spoken At The Opening Of The New House, March 26, 1674 By John Dryden
A plain-built house, after so long a stay,
Will send you half unsatisfied away;
When, fallen from your expected pomp, you find
A bare convenience only is designed.
You, who each day can theatres behold,
Like Nero’s palace, shining all with gold,
Our mean ungilded stage will scorn, we fear,
And, for the homely room, disdain the cheer.
Yet now cheap druggets to a mode are grown,
And a plain suit, since we can make but one,
Is better than to be by tarnished gawdry known.
They, who are by your favours wealthy made,
With mighty sums may carry on the trade;
We, broken bankers, half destroyed by fire,
With our small stock to humble roofs retire;
Pity our loss, while you their pomp admire.
For fame and honour we no longer strive;
We yield in both, and only beg—to live;
Unable to support their vast expense,
Who build and treat with such magnificence,
That, like the ambitious monarchs of the age,
They give the law to our provincial stage.
Great neighbours enviously promote excess,
While they impose their splendour on the less;
But only fools, and they of vast estate,
The extremity of modes will imitate,
The dangling knee-fringe, and the bib-cravat.
Yet if some pride with want may be allowed,
We in our plainness may be justly proud;
Our Royal Master willed it should be so;
Whate ‘er he’s pleased to own, can need no show:
That sacred name gives ornament and grace,
And, like his stamp, makes basest metal pass.
‘Twere folly now a stately pile to raise,
To build a playhouse while you throw down plays;
While scenes, machines, and empty operas reign,
And for the pencil you the pen disdain;
While troops of famished Frenchmen hither drive,
And laugh at those upon whose alms they live:
Old English authors vanish, and give place
To these new conquerors of the Norman race.
More tamely than your fathers you submit;
You’re now grown vassals to them in your wit.
Mark, when they play, how our fine fops advance
The mighty merits of their men of France,
Keep time, cry Ben! and humour the cadence.
Well, please yourselves; but sure ’tis understood,
That French machines have ne’er done England good.
I would not prophesy our house’s fate;
But while vain shows and scenes you overrate,
‘Tis to be feared—
That, as a fire the former house o’erthrew,
Machines and tempests will destroy the new.