The Vanity of Human Wishes:
The Tenth Satire of Juvenal, Imitated

by Samuel Johnson


Edited by Jack Lynch

The text is that of the 1749 edition, but a few errors have been corrected with reference to the Yale Edition, whose editors consulted the manuscript. The notes are my own. I’ve omitted the footnotes referring readers to the verses of Juvenal’s original.

Let Observation with extensive View,
Survey Mankind, from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,
And watch the busy Scenes of crouded Life;
Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate, [5]
O’er spread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate, snares = traps
Where wav’ring Man, betray’d by vent’rous Pride, wav’ring = hesitating
To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;
As treach’rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,
Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good. [10] fancied = imagined
How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice,
Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice, suppliant = begging
How Nations sink, by darling Schemes oppres’d,
When Vengeance listens to the Fool’s Request.
Fate wings with ev’ry Wish th’ afflictive Dart, [15] wings = gives wings; afflictive dart = harmful arrow
Each Gift of Nature, and each Grace of Art,
With fatal Heat impetuous Courage glows, impetuous = careless
With fatal Sweetness Elocution flows, elocution = rhetoric
Impeachment stops the Speaker’s pow’rful Breath,
And restless Fire precipitates on Death. [20] precipitates = hurries
But scarce observ’d the Knowing and the Bold, scarce = barely
Fall in the gen’ral Massacre of Gold;
Wide-wasting Pest! that rages unconfin’d, wasting = killing; pest = plague
And crouds with Crimes the Records of Mankind,
For Gold his Sword the Hireling Ruffian draws, [25] hireling ruffian = mercenary criminal
For Gold the hireling Judge distorts the Laws; hireling = corrupt
Wealth heap’d on Wealth, nor Truth nor Safety buys, nor ... nor = neither ... nor
The Dangers gather as the Treasures rise.
Let Hist’ry tell where rival Kings command,
And dubious Title shakes the madded Land, [30] dubious = doubtful; title = social rank
When Statutes glean the Refuse of the Sword,
How much more safe the Vassal than the Lord,
Low sculks the Hind beneath the Rage of Pow’r, sculks = hides; hind = peasant
And leaves the bonny Traytor in the Tow’r,
Untouch’d his Cottage, and his Slumbers sound, [35]
Tho’ Confiscation’s Vulturs clang around.
The needy Traveller, secure and gay,
Walks the wild Heath, and sings his Toil away.
Does Envy seize thee? crush th’ upbraiding Joy, upbraiding = harmful
Encrease his Riches and his Peace destroy, [40]
New Fears in dire Vicissitude invade, vicissitude = state of change
The rustling Brake alarms, and quiv’ring Shade, brake = bush
Nor Light nor Darkness bring his Pain Relief,
One shews the Plunder, and one hides the Thief. shews = shows
Yet still the gen’ral Cry the Skies assails [45] assails = assaults
And Gain and Grandeur load the tainted Gales; gales = winds
Few know the toiling Statesman’s Fear or Care,
Th’ insidious Rival and the gaping Heir. insidious = sneaky, plotting
Once more, Democritus, arise on Earth,
With chearful Wisdom and instructive Mirth, [50]
See motley Life in modern Trappings dress’d, motley = multicolored; trappings = outfit
And feed with varied Fools th’ eternal Jest:
Thou who couldst laugh where Want enchain’d Caprice, want = poverty; caprice = whims
Toil crush’d Conceit, and Man was of a Piece; conceit = idea; of a piece = the same
Where Wealth unlov’d without a Mourner dy’d; [55]
And scarce a Sycophant was fed by Pride; sycophant = flatterer
Where ne’er was known the Form of mock Debate,
Or seen a new-made Mayor’s unwieldy State;
Where change of Fav’rites made no Change of Laws,
And Senates heard before they judg’d a Cause; [60] cause = case
How wouldst thou shake at Britain’s modish Tribe, modish = in the latest fashion
Dart the quick Taunt, and edge the piercing Gibe? gibe = ridicule
Attentive Truth and Nature to descry, descry = detect
And pierce each Scene with Philosophic Eye.
To thee were solemn Toys or empty Shew, [65] toys = trivia; shew = show
The Robes of Pleasure and the Veils of Woe:
All aid the Farce, and all thy Mirth maintain,
Whose Joys are causeless, or whose Griefs are vain.
Such was the Scorn that fill’d the Sage’s Mind, sage = wise person
Renew’d at ev’ry Glance on Humankind; [70]
How just that Scorn ere yet thy Voice declare,
Search every State, and canvass ev’ry Pray’r. state = situation in life
Unnumber’d Suppliants croud Preferment’s Gate, preferment = political promotion
Athirst for Wealth, and burning to be great; burning = strongly desiring
Delusive Fortune hears th’ incessant Call, [75] delusive = misleading
They mount, they shine, evaporate, and fall.
On ev’ry Stage the Foes of Peace attend,
Hate dogs their Flight, and Insult mocks their End. dogs = hunts
Love ends with Hope, the sinking Statesman’s Door
Pours in the Morning Worshiper no more; [80]
For growing Names the weekly Scribbler lies, scribbler = hack writer
To growing Wealth the Dedicator flies,
From every Room descends the painted Face, painted = wearing cosmetics
That hung the bright Palladium of the Place,
And smoak’d in Kitchens, or in Auctions sold, [85]
To better Features yields the Frame of Gold;
For now no more we trace in ev’ry Line
Heroic Worth, Benevolence Divine:
The Form distorted justifies the Fall,
And Detestation rids th’ indignant Wall. [90] detestation = hatred
But will not Britain hear the last Appeal,
Sign her Foes Doom, or guard her Fav’rites Zeal;
Through Freedom’s Sons no more Remonstrance rings,
Degrading Nobles and controuling Kings;
Our supple Tribes repress their Patriot Throats, [95]
And ask no Questions but the Price of Votes;
With Weekly Libels and Septennial Ale,
Their Wish is full to riot and to rail. rail = ridicule
In full-blown Dignity, see Wolsey stand,
Law in his Voice, and Fortune in his Hand: [100]
To him the Church, the Realm, their Pow’rs consign,
Thro’ him the Rays of regal Bounty shine,
Turn’d by his Nod the Stream of Honour flows, nod = approval
His Smile alone Security bestows:
Still to new Heights his restless Wishes tow’r, [105]
Claim leads to Claim, and Pow’r advances Pow’r;
Till Conquest unresisted ceas’d to please,
And Rights submitted, left him none to seize.
At length his Sov’reign frowns — the Train of State train = followers
Mark the keen Glance, and watch the Sign to hate. [110]
Where-e’er he turns he meets a Stranger’s Eye,
His Suppliants scorn him, and his Followers fly; suppliants = hangers-on
Now drops at once the Pride of aweful State,
The golden Canopy, the glitt’ring Plate,
The regal Palace, the luxurious Board, [115] board = dinner table
The liv’ried Army, and the menial Lord. liv’d = uniformed
With Age, with Cares, with Maladies oppress’d,
He seeks the Refuge of Monastic Rest.
Grief aids Disease, remember’d Folly stings,
And his last Sighs reproach the Faith of Kings. [120]
Speak thou, whose Thoughts at humble Peace repine, repine = worry
Shall Wolsey’s Wealth, with Wolsey’s End be thine?
Or liv’st thou now, with safer Pride content,
The richest Landlord on the Banks of Trent?
For why did Wolsey by the Steeps of Fate, [125]
On weak Foundations raise th’ enormous Weight
Why but to sink beneath Misfortune’s Blow,
With louder Ruin to the Gulphs below?
What gave great Villiers to th’ Assassin’s Knife,
And fixed Disease on Harley’s closing life? [130]
What murder’d Wentworth, and what exil’d Hyde,
By Kings protected and to Kings ally’d?
What but their Wish indulg’d in Courts to shine,
And Pow’r too great to keep or to resign?
When first the College Rolls receive his Name, [135]
The young Enthusiast quits his Ease for Fame; quits = gives up
Resistless burns the fever of Renown, renown = fame
Caught from the strong Contagion of the Gown;
O’er Bodley’s Dome his future Labours spread, Oxford’s Bodleian Library
And Bacon’s Mansion trembles o’er his Head; [140]
Are these thy Views? proceed, illustrious Youth, illustrious = eminent
And Virtue guard thee to the Throne of Truth,
Yet should thy Soul indulge the gen’rous Heat,
Till captive Science yields her last Retreat; science = knowledge
Should Reason guide thee with her brightest Ray, [145]
And pour on misty Doubt resistless Day;
Should no false Kindness lure to loose Delight,
Nor Praise relax, nor Difficulty fright;
Should tempting Novelty thy Cell refrain,
And Sloth’s bland Opiates shed their Fumes in vain; [150] opiates = sedatives
Should Beauty blunt on Fops her fatal Dart, dart = arrow
Nor claim the triumph of a letter’d Heart;
Should no Disease thy torpid Veins invade, torpid = sluggish
Nor Melancholy’s Phantoms haunt thy Shade; melancholy = depression
Yet hope not Life from Grief or Danger free, [155]
Nor think the Doom of Man revers’d for thee:
Deign on the passing World to turn thine Eyes, deign = be willing
And pause awhile from Learning to be wise;
There mark what Ills the Scholar’s Life assail,
Toil, Envy, Want, the Garret, and the Jail. [160] want = poverty; garret = attic
See Nations slowly wise, and meanly just,
To buried Merit raise the tardy Bust. tardy bust = overdue statue
If Dreams yet flatter, once again attend, attend = listen
Hear Lydiat’s Life, and Galileo’s End.
Nor deem, when Learning her lost Prize bestows [165] deem = judge
The glitt’ring Eminence exempt from Foes;
See when the Vulgar ’scape despis’d or aw’d, vulgar = common people
Rebellion’s vengeful Talons seize on Laud.
From meaner Minds, tho’ smaller Fines content meaner = lesser
The plunder’d Palace or sequester’d Rent; [170]
Mark’d out by dangerous Parts he meets the Shock, parts = talents
And fatal Learning leads him to the Block: block = place of execution
Around his Tomb let Art and Genius weep,
But hear his Death, ye Blockheads, hear and sleep.
The festal Blazes, the triumphal Show, [175]
The ravish’d Standard, and the captive Foe,
The Senate’s Thanks, the Gazette’s pompous Tale,
With Force resistless o’er the Brave prevail.
Such Bribes the rapid Greek o’er Asia whirl’d,
For such the steady Romans shook the World; [180]
For such in distant Lands the Britons shine,
And stain with Blood the Danube or the Rhine;
This Pow’r has Praise, that Virtue scarce can warm, scarce = hardly
Till Fame supplies the universal Charm.
Yet Reason frowns on War’s unequal Game, [185]
Where wasted Nations raise a single Name,
And mortgag’d States their Grandsires Wreaths regret
From Age to Age in everlasting Debt;
Wreaths which at last the dear-bought Right convey
To rust on Medals, or on Stones decay. [190]
On what Foundation stands the Warrior’s Pride?
How just his Hopes let Swedish Charles decide;
A Frame of Adamant, a Soul of Fire, adamant = unbreakable stone
No Dangers fright him, and no Labours tire;
O’er Love, o’er Force, extends his wide Domain, [195]
Unconquer’d Lord of Pleasure and of Pain;
No Joys to him pacific Scepters yield,
War sounds the Trump, he rushes to the Field; trump = trumpet
Behold surrounding Kings their Pow’r combine,
And One capitulate, and One resign; [200] capitulate = surrender
Peace courts his Hand, but spread her Charms in vain;
“Think Nothing gain’d, he cries, till nought remain,
“On Moscow’s Walls till Gothic Standards fly, standards = flags
“And all is Mine beneath the Polar Sky.”
The March begins in Military State, [205]
And Nations on his Eye suspended wait;
Stern Famine guards the solitary Coast,
And Winter barricades the Realms of Frost;
He comes, nor Want nor Cold his Course delay;—
Hide, blushing Glory, hide Pultowa’s Day: [210]
The vanquish’d Hero leaves his broken Bands, bands = comrades
And shews his Miseries in distant Lands; shews = shows
Condemn’d a needy Supplicant to wait, supplicant = requester
While Ladies interpose, and Slaves debate.
But did not Chance at length her Error mend? [215]
Did no subverted Empire mark his End? subverted = overthrown
Did rival Monarchs give the fatal Wound?
Or hostile Millions press him to the Ground?
His Fall was destin’d to a barren Strand, strand = shore
A petty Fortress, and a dubious Hand; [220]
He left the Name, at which the World grew pale,
To point a Moral, or adorn a Tale.
All Times their Scenes of pompous Woes afford,
From Persia’s Tyrant to Bavaria’s Lord.
In gay Hostility, and barb’rous Pride, [225]
With half Mankind embattled at his Side,
Great Xerxes comes to seize the certain Prey,
And starves exhausted Regions in his Way;
Attendant Flatt’ry counts his Myriads o’er,
Till counted Myriads sooth his Pride no more; [230]
Fresh Praise is try’d till Madness fires his Mind,
The Waves he lashes, and enchains the Wind;
New Pow’rs are claim’d, new Pow’rs are still bestowed,
Till rude Resistance lops the spreading God; lops = cuts down
The daring Greeks deride the Martial Shew, [235] martial shew = warlike display
And heap their Vallies with the gaudy Foe;
Th’ insulted Sea with humbler Thoughts he gains,
A single Skiff to speed his Flight remains; skiff = boat
Th’ incumber’d Oar scarce leaves the dreaded Coast
Through purple Billows and a floating Host. [240]
The bold Bavarian, in a luckless Hour,
Tries the dread Summits of Cesarean Pow’r,
With unexpected Legions bursts away,
And sees defenceless Realms receive his Sway; sway = rulership
Short Sway! fair Austria spreads her mournful Charms, [255]
The Queen, the Beauty, sets the World in Arms;
From Hill to Hill the Beacons rousing Blaze
Spreads wide the Hope of Plunder and of Praise;
The fierce Croatian, and the wild Hussar, Hussar = Hungarian cavalryman
And all the Sons of Ravage croud the War; [250]
The baffled Prince in Honour’s flatt’ring Bloom
Of hasty Greatness finds the fatal Doom,
His foes Derision, and his Subjects Blame,
And steals to Death from Anguish and from Shame.
Enlarge my Life with Multitude of Days, [255]
In Health, in Sickness, thus the Suppliant prays; suppliant = requester
Hides from himself his State, and shuns to know, shuns = avoids
That Life protracted is protracted Woe. protracted = extended
Time hovers o’er, impatient to destroy,
And shuts up all the Passages of Joy: [260]
In vain their Gifts the bounteous Seasons pour,
The Fruit autumnal, and the Vernal Flow’r, vernal = spring
With listless Eyes the Dotard views the Store, dotard = old idiot
He views, and wonders that they please no more;
Now pall the tastless Meats, and joyless Wines, [265] pall = become bland
And Luxury with Sighs her Slave resigns.
Approach, ye Minstrels, try the soothing Strain,
And yield the tuneful Lenitives of Pain: lenitives = relievers
No Sounds alas would touch th’ impervious Ear,
Though dancing Mountains witness’d Orpheus near; [270]
Nor Lute nor Lyre his feeble Pow’rs attend,
Nor sweeter Musick of a virtuous Friend,
But everlasting Dictates croud his Tongue, dictates = orders
Perversely grave, or positively wrong.
The still returning Tale, and ling’ring Jest, [275]
Perplex the fawning Niece and pamper’d Guest,
While growing Hopes scarce awe the gath’ring Sneer,
And scarce a Legacy can bribe to hear;
The watchful Guests still hint the last Offence,
The Daughter’s Petulance, the Son’s Expence, [280]
Improve his heady Rage with treach’rous Skill, improve = increase
And mould his Passions till they make his Will.
Unnumber’d Maladies each Joint invade,
Lay Siege to Life and press the dire Blockade;
But unextinguish’d Av’rice still remains, [285] av’rice = greed
And dreaded Losses aggravate his Pains; aggravate = worsen
He turns, with anxious Heart and cripled Hands,
His Bonds of Debt, and Mortgages of Lands;
Or views his Coffers with suspicious Eyes, coffers = chests of money
Unlocks his Gold, and counts it till he dies. [290]
But grant, the Virtues of a temp’rate Prime prime = peak years of life
Bless with an Age exempt from Scorn or Crime;
An Age that melts in unperceiv’d Decay,
And glides in modest Innocence away;
Whose peaceful Day Benevolence endears, [295]
Whose Night congratulating Conscience cheers;
The gen’ral Fav’rite as the gen’ral Friend: gen’ral = widespread
Such Age there is, and who could wish its end?
Yet ev’n on this her Load Misfortune flings,
To press the weary Minutes flagging Wings: [300] flagging = growing tired
New Sorrow rises as the Day returns,
A Sister sickens, or a Daughter mourns.
Now Kindred Merit fills the sable Bier, sable = black; bier = hearse
Now lacerated Friendship claims a Tear.
Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay, [305]
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away;
New Forms arise, and diff’rent Views engage,
Superfluous lags the Vet’ran on the Stage, superfluous = unnecessary
Till pitying Nature signs the last Release,
And bids afflicted Worth retire to Peace. [310]
But few there are whom Hours like these await,
Who set unclouded in the Gulphs of fate.
From Lydia’s monarch should the Search descend,
By Solon caution’d to regard his End, regard = consider
In Life’s last Scene what Prodigies surprise, [315] prodigies = wonders
Fears of the Brave, and Follies of the Wise?
From Marlb’rough’s Eyes the Streams of Dotage flow, dotage = senility
And Swift expires a Driv’ler and a Show.
The teeming Mother, anxious for her Race, teeming = pregnant
Begs for each Birth the Fortune of a Face: [320]
Yet Vane could tell what Ills from Beauty spring;
And Sedley curs’d the Form that pleas’d a King.
Ye Nymphs of rosy Lips and radiant Eyes,
Whom Pleasure keeps too busy to be wise,
Whom Joys with soft Varieties invite [325]
By Day the Frolick, and the Dance by Night,
Who frown with Vanity, who smile with Art,
And ask the latest Fashion of the Heart,
What Care, what Rules your heedless Charms shall save,
Each Nymph your Rival, and each Youth your Slave? [330]
An envious Breast with certain Mischief glows,
And Slaves, the Maxim tells, are always Foes. maxim = saying
Against your Fame with Fondness Hate combines,
The Rival batters, and the Lover mines.
With distant Voice neglected Virtue calls, [335]
Less heard, and less the faint Remonstrance falls;
Tir’d with Contempt, she quits the slipp’ry Reign,
And Pride and Prudence take her Seat in vain.
In croud at once, where none the Pass defend,
The harmless Freedom, and the private Friend. [340]
The Guardians yield, by Force superior ply’d;
By Int’rest, Prudence; and by Flatt’ry, Pride.
Here Beauty falls betray’d, despis’d, distress’d,
And hissing Infamy proclaims the rest. infamy = disgrace
Where then shall Hope and Fear their Objects find? [345]
Must dull Suspence corrupt the stagnant Mind?
Must helpless Man, in Ignorance sedate, sedate = undisturbed
Swim darkling down the Current of his Fate? darkling = in the dar
Must no Dislike alarm, no Wishes rise,
No Cries attempt the Mercies of the Skies? [350]
Enquirer, cease, Petitions yet remain,
Which Heav’n may hear, nor deem Religion vain. nor = and don’t
Still raise for Good the supplicating Voice, supplicating = requesting
But leave to Heav’n the Measure and the Choice.
Safe in his Pow’r, whose Eyes discern afar [355]
The secret Ambush of a specious Pray’r. specious = seeming proper
Implore his Aid, in his Decisions rest,
Secure whate’er he gives, he gives the best.
Yet with the Sense of sacred Presence prest,
When strong Devotion fills thy glowing Brest, [360]
Pour forth thy Fervours for a healthful Mind,
Obedient Passions, and a Will resign’d;
For Love, which scarce collective Man can fill;
For Patience sov’reign o’er transmuted Ill;
For Faith, that panting for a happier Seat, [365] seat = situation
Thinks Death kind Nature’s Signal of Retreat:
These Goods for Man the Laws of Heav’n ordain,
These Goods he grants, who grants the Pow’r to gain;
With these celestial Wisdom calms the Mind,
And makes the Happiness she does not find. [370],


China to Peru
Coleridge wasn’t impressed with this opening couplet, and paraphrased it as “Let observation with extensive observation observe mankind extensively.”
Bonny Traitor in the Tow’r
A reference to four Scottish lords — Kilmarnock, Balmerino, Lovat, and Cromarty — who were imprisoned for supporting the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, when “Bonnie Prince Charlie” led an invasion of England. In the revised version of this poem, published in 1755, Johnson changed “bonny” to “wealthy.”
A Greek philosopher of the fifth century B.C. famous for laughing at the follies of the world. In The Anatomy of Melancholy, one of Johnson’s favorite books, the author, Robert Burton, called himself "Democritus Junior."
Morning Worshiper
An allusion to those who attended “levees,” defined in the Dictionary as “The concourse of those who croud round a man of power in a morning.” Those eager to ingratiate themselves with the powerful would be in their bedchambers when they woke up.
A symbol of protection, named after Pallas Athene, whose statue protected Troy.
Parliament passed the Grand Remonstrance in 1641, requiring that Charles I’s advisers had to be approved by the Parliament.
Septennial Ale
Johnson defines septennial as “Happening once in seven years,” and quotes this couplet in his Dictionary, attributing it to “Anonym.” It alludes to the feasts held before elections, when the candidates would hope to bribe their constituents with food and drink. According to a law of 1716, a parliamentary election had to be held at least every seven years.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1475?–1530), Henry VIII’s closest advisor, who eventually became too powerful and was arrested and convicted of treason.
Richest Landlord
In the revised edition of 1755, “wisest justice.”
George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, one of James I’s favorites, who was murdered in 1628.
Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford. He led the Tory party under Queen Anne, and was impeached in 1714. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for two years beginning in 1715. He spent his final years in bad health.
Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, who was “protected” by Charles I. He was eventually impeached and executed in 1641.
Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. He was banished from England in 1667, and spent the rest of his life in France. He was “to Kings ally’d” because his daughter married the Duke of York in 1660; he later became James II.
“The long habit of a man dedicated to acts of peace, as divinity, medicine, law“ (Johnson).
Bacon’s . . . head
The medieval philosopher Roger Bacon was said to live on the bridge over the Thames to the south of Oxford. Johnson adds a footnote: "There is a tradition, that the study of friar Bacon, built on an arch over the bridge, will fall, when a man greater than Bacon shall pass under it."
Toil, Envy, Want, the Garret, and the Jail
In 1755, after Johnson had published his Dictionary, he revised this line. He spent much of his time wrangling with his would-be patron, the Earl of Chesterfield, who offered almost no support; he therefore turned the line into a dig at Chesterfield. As Boswell notes, “After experiencing the uneasiness which Lord Chesterfield’s fallacious patronage made him feel, he dismissed the word garret from the sad group”; the line then read, “Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail.”
The tardy Bust
Johnson is probably thinking of the bust of Milton placed in Westminster Abbey in 1737, sixty-three years after Milton’s death.
Thomas Lydiat (1572–1646), scholar at Oxford. Though regarded as one of the greatest scholars of his day, he died in poverty.
The great astronomer was forced by the Inquisition to recant his theories. He spent his last years under house arrest.
William Laud (1573–1645), Archbishop of Canterbury. The Long Parliament had him executed for his support of the king.
Rapid Greek
Alexander the Great.
In distant . . . Rhine
A reference to the Duke of Marlborough, whose campaigns in Austria and Bavaria led to the Battle of Blenheim in Bavaria.
Swedish Charles
Charles XII of Sweden (1682–1718), who conquered Denmark, Saxony, and Poland, but was eventually defeated by the Russians. In the early 1740s Johnson considered writing a play about Charles.
One capitulate, and One resign
References to two of Charles XII’s enemies, Frederick IV of Denmark (defeated in 1700) and Augustus II of Poland (deposed in 1704).
Charles XII was defeated by Peter the Great at Poltava, Ukraine, in 1709.
Dubious Hand
It was rumored that Charles was killed by his aide-de-camp.
Xerxes, the king of Persia, invaded Greece and was defeated at Salamis in 480 B.C.
Th’ incumber’d Oar . . . floating Host
Johnson said this was his favorite couplet in all his poetry.
Bold Bavarian
Charles Albert (1697-1745), Elector of Bavaria. He hoped to lead the Holy Roman Empire.
The Queen, the Beauty
Maria Theresa (1717–80), Archduchess of Austria.
Lydia’s monarch
Croesus, the sixth-century B.C. king of Lydia. Solon told him that no living man could be happy, and warned him that the very rich would face a bad end. He was defeated by Cyrus.
From Marlb’rough’s Eyes . . . Show
John Churchill (1650–1722), the Duke of Marlborough, was a great military hero; he suffered two strokes in 1716, and was paralyzed until his death in 1722. Jonathan Swift suffered various ailments late in life, and was believed to have been insane; the story is told that his servants used to accept a fee to show the senile writer to the curious.
Anne Vane (1705–36), mistress of Frederick, Prince of Wales.
Sir Charles Sedley. His daughter, Catherine Sedley (1657–1717), was the mistress of the Duke of York (later James II), who made her Countess of Dorchester in 1686. Sir Charles resented the match so intensely that he supported the Glorious Revolution to overthrow James.
An envious Breast . . . always Foes
This couplet was omitted from the revised version of 1755.