Prologue To Sophonisba; Spoken At Oxford, 1680 By John Dryden
Thespis, the first professor of our art,
At country wakes, sung ballads from a cart.
To prove this true, if Latin be no trespass,
Dicitur et plaustris vexisse poemata Thespis.
But Æschylus, says Horace in some page,
Was the first mountebank that trod the stage:
Yet Athens never knew your learned sport,
Of tossing poets in a tennis-court.
But ’tis the talent of our English nation,
Still to be plotting some new reformation;
And few years hence, if anarchy goes on,
Jack Presbyter shall here erect his throne,
Knock out a tub with preaching once a day,
And every prayer be longer than a play.
Then all your heathen wits shall go to pot,
For disbelieving of a Popish Plot;
Nor should we scape the sentence, to depart,
Even in our first original, a cart;
Your poets shall be used like infidels,
And worst, the author of the Oxford bells;
No zealous brother there would want a stone,
To maul us cardinals, and pelt Pope Joan.
Religion, learning, wit, would be supprest,
Rags of the whore, and trappings of the beast;
Scot, Suarez, Tom of Aquin, must go down,
As chief supporters of the triple crown;
And Aristotle’s for destruction ripe;
Some say, he called the soul an organ-pipe,
Which, by some little help of derivation,
Shall then be proved a pipe of inspiration.