Tell me, ye prim adepts in Scandal’s school,
Who rail by precept, and detract by rule,
Lives there no character, so tried, so known,
So deck’d with grace, and so unlike your own,
That even you assist her fame to raise,
Approve by envy, and by silence praise!
Attend!—a model shall attract your view—
Daughters of calumny, I summon you!
You shall decide if this a portrait prove,
Or fond creation of the Muse and Love.
Attend, ye virgin critics, shrewd and sage,
Ye matron censors of this childish age,
Whose peering eye and wrinkled front declare
A fix’d antipathy to young and fair;
By cunning, cautious; or by nature, cold,—
In maiden madness, virulently bold;—
Attend, ye skill’d to coin the precious tale,
Creating proof, where innuendos fail!
Whose practised memories, cruelly exact,
Omit no circumstance, except the fact!—
Attend, all ye who boast,—or old or young,—
The living libel of a slanderous tongue!
So shall my theme, as far contrasted be,
As saints by fiends or hymns by calumny.
Come, gentle Amoret (for ’neath that name
In worthier verse is sung thy beauty’s fame),
Come—for but thee who seeks the Muse? and while
Celestial blushes check thy conscious smile.
With timid grace and hesitating eye,
The perfect model which I boast supply:—
Vain Muse! couldst thou the humblest sketch create
Of her, or slightest charm couldst imitate—
Could thy blest strain in kindred colours trace
The faintest wonder of her form and face—
Poets would study the immortal line,
And Reynolds own his art subdued by thine;
That art, which well might added lustre give
To nature’s best and heaven’s superlative:
On Granby’s cheek might bid new glories rise.
Or point a purer beam from Devon’s eyes!
Hard is the task to shape that beauty’s praise,
Whose judgment scorns the homage flattery pays?
But praising Amoret we cannot err,
No tongue o’ervalues Heaven, or flatters her!
Yet she by fate’s perverseness—she alone
Would doubt our truth, nor deem such praise her own!
Adorning fashion, unadorn’d by dress,
Simple from taste, and not from carelessness;
Discreet in gesture, in deportment mild,
Not stiff with prudence, nor uncouthly wild:
No state has Amoret; no studied mien;
She frowns no goddess, and she moves no queen,
The softer charm that in her manner lies
Is framed to captivate, yet not surprise;
It justly suits the expression of her face,—
’Tis less than dignity, and more than grace!
On her pure cheek the native hue is such,
That, form’d by Heaven to be admired so much,
The hand divine, with a less partial care,
Might well have fix’d a fainter crimson there,
And bade the gentle inmate of her breast—
Inshrined Modesty—supply the rest.
But who the peril of her lips shall paint?
Strip them of smiles—still, still all words are faint!
But moving Love himself appears to teach
Their action, though denied to rule her speech;
And thou who seest her speak, and dost not hear,
Mourn not her distant accents ’scape thine ear;
Viewing those lips, thou still may’st make pretence
To judge of what she says, and swear ’tis sense:
Clothed with such grace, with such expression fraught,
They move in meaning, and they pause in thought!
But dost thou farther watch, with charm’d surprise,
The mild irresolution of her eyes,
Curious to mark how frequent they repose,
In brief eclipse and momentary close—
Ah! seest thou not an ambush’d Cupid there,
Too tim’rous of his charge, with jealous care
Veils and unveils those beams of heavenly light,
Too full, too fatal else, for mortal sight?
Nor yet, such pleasing vengeance fond to meet,
In pard’ning dimples hope a safe retreat.
What though her peaceful breast should ne’er allow
Subduing frowns to arm her altered brow,
By Love, I swear, and by his gentle wiles,
More fatal still the mercy of her smiles!
Thus lovely, thus adorn’d, possessing all
Of bright or fair that can to woman fall,
The height of vanity might well be thought
Prerogative in her, and Nature’s fault.
Yet gentle Amoret, in mind supreme
As well as charms, rejects the vainer theme;
And, half mistrustful of her beauty’s store,
She barbs with wit those darts too keen before:—
Read in all knowledge that her sex should reach,
Though Greville, or the Muse, should deign to teach,
Fond to improve, nor timorous to discern
How far it is a woman’s grace to learn;
In Millar’s dialect she would not prove
Apollo’s priestess, but Apollo’s love,
Graced by those signs which truth delights to own,
The timid blush, and mild submitted tone:
Whate’er she says, though sense appear throughout,
Displays the tender hue of female doubt;
Deck’d with that charm, how lovely wit appears,
How graceful science, when that robe she wears!
Such too her talents, and her bent of mind,
As speak a sprightly heart by thought refined:
A taste for mirth, by contemplation school’d,
A turn for ridicule, by candour ruled,
A scorn of folly, which she tries to hide;
An awe of talent, which she owns with pride!
Peace, idle Muse! no more thy strain prolong,
But yield a theme, thy warmest praises wrong;
Just to her merit, though thou canst not raise
Thy feeble verse, behold th’ acknowledged praise
Has spread conviction through the envious train,
And cast a fatal gloom o’er Scandal’s reign!
And lo! each pallid hag, with blister’d tongue,
Mutters assent to all thy zeal has sung–
Owns all the colours just–the outline true;
Thee my inspirer, and my model–CREWE!
Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). A Portrait. 1777. (Addressed to Mrs Crewe, with the Comedy of The School for Scandal)