London: A Poem, in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal

Original Text: 
A Collection of Poems by Several Hands (London: R. Dodsley, 1748). B-10/9141 Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto
3Yet still my calmer thoughts his choice commend,
4I praise the hermit, but regret the friend,
6To breathe in distant fields a purer air,
8Give to St. David one true Briton more.
11There none are swept by sudden fate away,
12But all whom hunger spares, with age decay:
13Here malice, rapine, accident, conspire,
14And now a rabble rages, now a fire;
15Their ambush here relentless ruffians lay,
16And here the fell attorney prowls for prey;
17Here falling houses thunder on your head,
18And here a female atheist talks you dead.
20Of dissipated wealth the small remains,
21On Thames's banks, in silent thought we stood,
22Where Greenwich smiles upon the silver flood:
24We kneel, and kiss the consecrated earth;
25In pleasing dreams the blissful age renew,
26And call Britannia's glories back to view;
30Or English honour grew a standing jest.
31A transient calm the happy scenes bestow,
32And for a moment lull the sense of woe.
33At length awaking, with contemptuous frown,
34Indignant Thales eyes the neighb'ring town.
36Wants ev'n the cheap reward of empty praise;
37In those curs'd walls, devote to vice and gain,
39Since hope but soothes to double my distress,
40And ev'ry moment leaves my little less;
42And life still vig'rous revels in my veins;
43Grant me, kind heaven, to find some happier place,
44Where honesty and sense are no disgrace;
45Some pleasing bank where verdant osiers play,
46Some peaceful vale with nature's paintings gay;
47Where once the harass'd Briton found repose,
48And safe in poverty defied his foes;
49Some secret cell, ye pow'rs, indulgent give.
52To vote a patriot black, a courtier white;
53Explain their country's dear-bought rights away,
54And plead for pirates in the face of day;
55With slavish tenets taint our poison'd youth,
56And lend a lie the confidence of truth.
60And lull to servitude a thoughtless age.
61"Heroes, proceed! What bounds your pride shall hold?
62What check restrain your thirst of pow'r and gold?
63Behold rebellious virtue quite o'erthrown,
64Behold our fame, our wealth, our lives your own.
65    "To such, a groaning nation's spoils are giv'n,
66When public crimes inflame the wrath of Heav'n:
68Who start at theft, and blush at perjury?
69Who scarce forbear, though Britain's court he sing,
70To pluck a titled poet's borrow'd wing;
71A statesman's logic unconvinc'd can hear,
73Despise a fool in half his pension dress'd,
76Can sap the principles, or taint the heart;
77With more address a lover's note convey,
78Or bribe a virgin's innocence away.
79Well may they rise, while I, whose rustic tongue
80Ne'er knew to puzzle right, or varnish wrong,
81Spurn'd as a beggar, dreaded as a spy.
82Live unregarded, unlamented die.
85But thou, should tempting villainy present
87Turn from the glitt'ring bribe thy scornful eye,
88Nor sell for gold, what gold could never buy,
89The peaceful slumber, self-approving day,
90Unsullied fame, and conscience ever gay.
92Mark whom the great caress, who frown on me!
93London! the needy villain's gen'ral home,
95With eager thirst, by folly or by fate,
96Sucks in the dregs of each corrupted state.
97Forgive my transports on a theme like this,
98I cannot bear a French metropolis.
100The land of heroes and of saints survey;
101Nor hope the British lineaments to trace,
102The rustic grandeur, or the surly grace,
103But lost in thoughtless ease, and empty show,
104Behold the warrior dwindled to a beau;
105Sense, freedom, piety, refin'd away,
106Of France the mimic, and of Spain the prey.
109Hiss'd from the stage, or hooted from the court,
110Their air, the dress, their politics import;
112On Britain's fond credulity they prey.
113No gainful trade their industry can 'scape,
115All sciences a fasting monsieur knows,
116And bid him go to hell, to hell he goes.
117    "Ah! what avails it, that, from slav'ry far,
118I drew the breath of life in English air;
119Was early taught a Briton's right to prize,
122And flattery subdues when arms are vain?
124The supple Gaul was born a parasite:
125Still to his int'rest true, where'er he goes,
126Wit, brav'ry, worth, his lavish tongue bestows;
127In ev'ry face a thousand graces shine,
128From ev'ry tongue flows harmony divine.
130Strain out with fault'ring diffidence a lie,
131And gain a kick for awkward flattery.
132    "Besides, with justice, this discerning age
133Admires their wond'rous talents for the stage:
135Who play from morn to night a borrow'd part;
136Practis'd their master's notions to embrace,
137Repeat his maxims, and reflect his face;
138With ev'ry wild absurdity comply,
139And view each object with another's eye;
140To shake with laughter ere the jest they hear,
141To pour at will the counterfeited tear,
142And as their patron hints the cold or heat,
143To shake in dog-days, in December sweat.
145Can surly virtue hope to fix a friend?
146Slaves that with serious impudence beguile,
147And lie without a blush, without a smile;
148Exalt each trifle, ev'ry vice adore,
149Your taste in snuff, your judgment in a whore;
152    "For arts like these preferr'd, admir'd, caress'd,
153They first invade your table, then your breast;
155Watch the weak hour, and ransack all the heart;
156Then soon your ill-plac'd confidence repay,
157Commence your lords, and govern or betray.
159All crimes are safe, but hated poverty.
160This, only this, the rigid law pursues,
161This, only this, provokes the snarling muse;
162The sober trader at a tatter'd cloak,
163Wakes from his dream, and labours for a joke;
164With brisker air the silken courtiers gaze,
165And turn the varied taunt a thousand ways.
167Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest;
168Fate never wounds more deep the gen'rous heart,
169Than when a blockhead's insult points the dart.
171No pathless waste, or undiscover'd shore;
172No secret island in the boundless main?
174Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore,
175And bear oppression's insolence no more.
176    "This mournful truth is ev'rywhere confess'd,
178But here more slow, where all are slaves to gold,
179Where looks are merchandise, and smiles are sold;
180Where won by bribes, by flatt'ries implor'd,
182    "But hark! th' affrighted crowd's tumultuous cries
183Roll through the streets, and thunder to the skies;
184Rais'd from some pleasing dream of wealth and pow'r,
185Some pompous palace, or some blissful bow'r,
186Aghast you start, and scarce with aching sight
187Sustain the th' approaching fire's tremendous light;
188Swift from pursuing horrors take your way,
189And leave your little ALL to flames a prey;
191For where can starving merit find a home?
192In vain your mournful narrative disclose,
193While all neglect, and most insult your woes.
195And spread his flaming palace on the ground,
196Swift o'er the land the dismal rumour flies,
197And public mournings pacify the skies;
198The laureate tribe in servile verse relate,
199How virtue wars with persecuting fate;
201Refund the plunder of the beggar'd land.
202See! while he builds, the gaudy vassals come,
205And raise his treasures higher than before.
206Now bless'd with all the baubles of the great,
207The polish'd marble, and the shining plate,
209And hopes from angry Heav'n another fire.
212There might'st thou find some elegant retreat,
214And stretch thy prospects o'er the smiling land,
215For less than rent the dungeons of the Strand;
216There prune thy walks, support thy drooping flow'rs,
217Direct thy rivulets, and twine thy bow'rs;
218And, while thy beds a cheap repast afford,
219Despise the dainties of a venal lord:
220There ev'ry bush with nature's music rings,
222On all thy hours security shall smile,
223And bless thine evening walk and morning toil.
225And sign your will before you sup from home.
227Who sleeps on brambles till he kills his man;
228Some frolick drunkard, reeling from a feast,
229Provokes a broil, and stabs you for a jest.
231Lords of the street, and terrors of the way;
232Flush'd as they are with folly, youth, and wine,
233Their prudent insults to the poor confine;
235And shun the shining train, and golden coach.
237And hope the balmy blessings of repose:
238Cruel with guilt, and daring with despair,
239The midnight murd'rer bursts the faithless bar;
240Invades the sacred hour of silent rest,
241And plants, unseen, a dagger in your breast.
243With hemp the gallows and the fleet supply.
244Propose your schemes, ye senatorian band,
246Lest ropes be wanting in the tempting spring,
249Could half the nation's criminals contain;
250Fair justice then, without constraint ador'd,
253Blest age! but ah! how diff'rent from our own!
255The tide retiring, calls me from the land:
257Thou fly'st for refuge to the wilds of Kent;
258And tir'd like me with follies and with crimes,
260Then shall thy friend, nor thou refuse his aid,
261Still foe to vice, forsake his Cambrian shade;
262In virtue's cause once more exert his rage,
263Thy satire point, and animate thy page."


1] Eighteenth-century literary criticism recognized three types of translation from other languages, principally from Greek and Latin: "metaphrase" (word-for-word translation; what we would call a crib or trot); "paraphrase" (a version that reads well in English, a literary translation), and "imitation." An imitation follows the structure and patterns of thought of the original, but updates the content to the time of the imitation; if the original author were to write his poem here and now, this is what he would write. Thus Johnson substitutes London for Juvenal's Rome, and Frenchmen for Juvenal's contemptible but culturally dominant Greeks. In the 1730s, the leading exponent of imitation was Alexander Pope, whose "Imitations of Horace" used the Latin poet's satires to attack the administration of Sir Robert Walpole, the same target that Johnson scarifies less subtly in this poem. Johnson's 263-line poem is considerably shorter than Juvenal's 322-line original. Some of what Juvenal describes is not applicable to modern London; Johnson selects what suits his purpose and ignores the rest. In one instance, however, the account of Orgilio's recovery from a disastrous fire (194-209), Johnson later admitted that this episode was not appropriate to eighteenth-century England.The poem was first published anonymously in London in 1738. Ten years later Johnson made minor revisions to the text for publication in Dodsley's Collection of Poems. The present text is based on the revised version of 1748. In both versions Johnson printed passages from Juvenal at the foot of the page to show how closely he was imitating the Latin. These passages are usually, but not invariably, keyed to the beginning of a verse paragraph. Since such footnotes are impractical in the format of RPO, line references to Johnson's quotations from Juvenal's poem are given in the notes in square brackets, as "[Juvenal 1-3]." Johnson does not always quote complete lines. In four places he ends a brief quotation with "&c." to indicate that some following lines are relevant; these signs are reproduced here.In the 1738 and 1748 texts Johnson provided one explanatory note, to line 23. Years later he wrote some notes on a copy of the poem, which were printed in editions published after his death. They are reported here (lines 54, 59, 72, 173, 194, 245).Parallel texts (Latin and English translation) of Juvenal's poem (with notes) are available on-line at In book form, the new edition in parallel Latin and English texts in the Loeb Classical Library, Juvenal and Persius, edited and translated by Susanna Morton Braund (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2004), is recommended.The standard modern edition of Johnson's poems is the sixth volume of the Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Poems, edited by E. L. McAdam, Jr., with George Milne (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1964).[Juvenal 1-3]. Back to Line
2] There is a persistent tradition that Thales represents Johnson's friend the poet Richard Savage, who was compelled by adverse circumstances to leave London and reside in Wales, but Johnson himself insisted that he did not know Savage at the time he wrote the poem, and that the resemblance was coincidental. In Juvenal, the departing friend is called Umbricius; Johnson enhances the authority of his speaker by giving him the name of the great astronomer and sage of ancient Greece. Back to Line
5] [Juvenal 5-9]. Back to Line
7] Cambria is Wales, of which St. David is the patron saint. In Juvenal, the poet's friend departs for Cumae, near Naples in southern Italy, the home of the Cumaean sibyl (prophetess). Back to Line
9] [Juvenal 5-9] Hibernia: Ireland. Back to Line
10] the Strand: a busy street in London, not far from Johnson's house. Back to Line
19] [Juvenal 10-11] The wherry Thales is waiting for is a rowing boat that will ferry him to a sea-going vessel. Back to Line
23] As Johnson notes in 1738 and 1755, Queen Elizabeth I was born at Greenwich, on the south bank of the Thames just below the city of London. Her name recalls the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Back to Line
27] her cross: the large red cross of the White Ensign, flown by the Royal Navy. Back to Line
28] In the 1730s, popular opinion in England was extremely hostile to Spain, because of commercial rivalry in the Caribbean. Attacks on British shipping by Spanish coast guards were particularly resented, and Walpole's unwillingness to avenge them by going to war was a principal grievance of his political opponents. In 1739 he was compelled to declare war against Spain. Back to Line
29] masquerades: masked balls were popular in fashionable society, but widely condemned as incitements to immorality; excise: Walpole's efforts to reform the system of duties on various goods were depicted as oppressive by his political opponents. Back to Line
35] [Juvenal 21-26]. Back to Line
38] science: knowledge and learning in general, an activity pursued for its own sake. Back to Line
41] [Juvenal 27-28]. Back to Line
50] [Juvenal 29-30]. The blanks may be filled with the name of anyone who has learned, as Thales proudly has not, to live in the depraved London that symbolizes national vice and shame. Back to Line
51] Walpole was accused, not without reason, of having corrupted public life by putting Members of Parliament on the government payroll through appointments to sinecures or the award of pensions. "Patriots" were opponents of Walpole, "courtiers" were those who voted for Walpole, the King's chief minister. Johnson notes that Spanish attacks on British interests were defended in the houses of Parliament (54). Back to Line
57] [Juvenal 31-32; 36]. Back to Line
58] farm a lottery: undertake to manage the government-sponsored lottery for an agreed amount, and keep the difference between that amount and the sum actually raised. Back to Line
59] The "warbling eunuchs" are the Italian castrati singers of the opera house, an entertainment greatly patronized by George II, and excepted in 1737 from the restrictions of the Licensing Act, which reduced the number of London theatres to two and required all plays to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain's office, thus eliminating theatrical satire on Walpole's government. The 1737 text reads "our silenc'd stage." Back to Line
67] [Juvenal 41-42]. Back to Line
72] The Daily Gazetteer, "the paper which at that time contained apologies for the Court" (Johnson's note). Back to Line
74] H----y's: John "Orator" Henley (1692-1759), a clergyman who set up his own proprietary place of worship and drew large crowds with his unconventional preaching, which often included coarse jokes. He was paid by Walpole to edit a pro-government paper. Back to Line
75] [Juvenal 45-47]. Back to Line
83] [Juvenal 49; 53-54]. Back to Line
84] Orgilio: from the French orgueil, pride; an imaginary character exemplifying any successful racketeer; he re-appears at l. 194. Back to Line
86] John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722) had a reputation for avarice; George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham (1628-87), squandered a vast fortune. Back to Line
91] [Juvenal 58-59]. Back to Line
94] common shore: the shared sewer in which the corrupt cities of continental Europe dispose of their refuse. Back to Line
99] [Juvenal 67-68] Edward III (1327-77), initiator of the Hundred Years War against France, and highly successful commander in this enterprise; the victories of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) were particularly important. Back to Line
107] at home: i.e., in France. Back to Line
108] Judicial executions in England were by hanging, in France by breaking on the wheel. Back to Line
111] [Juvenal 73-74]. Back to Line
114] [Juvenal 77-78]. Back to Line
120] lisp: here, to speak like a young child; Henry V (1413-22), won several victories in his campaigns in France, most notably at Agincourt (1415). Back to Line
121] gull'd: deluded. Back to Line
123] [Juvenal 86-87]. Back to Line
129] [Juvenal 92-93]. Back to Line
134] [Juvenal 100-01, &c.]. The principal London theatres regularly featured French dancers as members of their companies, and a French dramatic company played in a smaller London theatre throughout the 1734-35 season, attracting some patronage from the Royal Family, but French performers did not dominate the London theatre as this passage implies. Juvenal's complaint at this point is that Greek performers are the leading players in the Roman theatre. This is one point where tension arises between following Juvenal and accurately describing the London scene. Back to Line
144] [Juvenal 104-07]. Back to Line
150] Balbo: from the Latin for stammering; an imaginary character whose name conveys his incompetence as a speaker. Back to Line
151] gropes: in the obsolete sense of "grasp," "take hold"; Balbo's oratorical stance is standing with his hands on his thighs; with a monarch's air: George II's favoured method of showing displeasure at court was to turn his back on the offender while drawing the rear flaps of his coat aside to show his backside. This was known as "rumping." Back to Line
154] [Juvenal 113]. Back to Line
158] [Juvenal 147-48, &c.]. All crimes are so numerous that they provoke neither shame nor censure; the only crime now is to be poor. Back to Line
166] [Juvenal 152-153]. Back to Line
170] [Juvenal 162-63]. Back to Line
173] Johnson notes that in 1738 it was said that Spain laid claim to to some of the British colonies in America. Back to Line
177] [Juvenal 164-66; 183-84; 189]. Back to Line
181] groom: a servant of any kind, not necessarily one who looks after horses. Back to Line
190] [Juvenal 209-11]. Back to Line
194] [Juvenal 212-13]. Johnson notes that one reader "justly remarked" that this passage might be true of ancient Rome, but is not true of life in eighteenth-century London. Back to Line
200] [Juvenal 215-16, &c.; 220]. Back to Line
203] dome: massive building. Back to Line
204] The price of boroughs: the cost of bribing electors in parliamentary elections. Back to Line
208] [Juvenal 220-21]. Back to Line
210] [Juvenal 223-26; 228-29]. Back to Line
211] English rivers far from London; the Trent flows through Lichfield, where Johnson's family lived. Back to Line
213] hireling senator: a Member of Parliament who has been put on the government payroll to secure his vote. Back to Line
221] See Malachi 4: 2. Back to Line
224] [Juvenal 272-74]. here: London. Back to Line
226] [Juvenal 278-80]. A fop who has just purchased a commission in the army, and now cannot rest until he kills a man in a duel to prove his valour. Back to Line
230] [Juvenal 282-85]. Back to Line
234] flambeau: torch; the rich and powerful rode by night in coaches accompanied by numerous servants and linkboys with torches to light the way. Back to Line
236] [Juvenal 302-03, &c.]. Back to Line
242] [Juvenal 310-11] Tyburn: the place of execution on the outskirts of London (near the site of the modern Marble Arch). Back to Line
245] Ways-and-means bills were votes of money for government purposes; Johnson in a note calls "Ways and Means" a "cant [political jargon] term in the House of Commons for methods of raising money." Back to Line
247] George II of Great Britain was also the Prince-Elector of Hanover in Germany, where he liked to spend his summers; these absences were unpopular in England. Back to Line
248] [Juvenal 312-14]. Alfred the Great, king of Wessex (871-899), codified the laws and improved the administration of justice; legend held that virtually all crime had ceased throughout his realm. Back to Line
251] In 1738, this line read: "Sustain'd the balance, but resign'd the sword;" Johnson's only significant change in the 1748 text was to substitute: "Held high the steady scale, but deep'd the sword". The reason for the change appears to be that "resign" went too far; Justice may not make use of her sword, but should not give it up altogether. The word "deep'd," however, hardly makes sense. In their edition, McAdam and Milne conjecture that Johnson wrote "drop'd," (i.e., lowered), which does make sense and could well have been misread by the printer; their emendation is adopted here. Back to Line
252] A statute of 1731 had made it possible for either party to a lawsuit to demand a special jury; opponents of the government believed this was a device to win verdicts. Back to Line
254] [Juvenal 315-16]. Back to Line
256] [Juvenal 318-22]. Back to Line
259] numbers: verse. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
John D. Baird
RPO Edition: