"Keep Up Appearances"

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 525

Context: Those who have never heard of Charles Churchill will be amazed to learn that his volume of poetical works contains more than 450 pages. The son of a minister and himself intended for the Church he spoiled his chances for a scholarship at Cambridge by an early marriage. Life became difficult. Finally he tried writing poetry to provide an income, and especially to help the political career of his friend in Parliament, John Wilkes (1727–1797). The appearance of his Rosciad brought criticisms of his "ingenious and cruel satire." Most people attributed its authorship to a trio of Robert Lloyd, the dramatist George Colman the Elder, and Bonnell Thornton. So in the second edition Churchill put his name onto the title page and wrote "The Apology," that started a lasting quarrel with Tobias Smollett, author of an article about it in the Critical Review. Then, still apologetic, Churchill addressed another poem to Lloyd, accused of writing the first one. It was of a different style. The income of the Rosciad had lessened restraints put by poverty upon an obscure man. Another reason for taking up his pen again was a poem called "Day," written by an army doctor, John Armstrong (1709–1779), stationed with the forces in Germany. Its manuscript reached John Wilkes, with a request that it be corrected and printed. Churchill imagined himself its target, though he had not been writing long enough to be known, and promptly wrote an answer. It was published in January, 1762, a year after the appearance of "Day." Critics did not think highly of it. Its morality was far removed from that of a Christian, and the careless diction was unworthy of the author of the Rosciad. He begins it, "When foes insult, and prudent friends dispense,/ In pity's strain, the worst of insolence"; then the poet pays his tribute to his friend Lloyd. In the course of the poem, Churchill brings out his own enmity with Smollet who, because he was a surgeon's mate at the siege of Cartagena in 1741, thought he could set himself up as a physician at Bath. Churchill says he himself leads the sort of life that suits him best. He prefers night life. Punning, he declares: "We, our friends, our foes, ourselves, survey,/ And see by NIGHT what fools we are by DAY." He refuses to court those who appear great. He is "too proud to flatter, too sincere to lie,/ Too plain to please, too honest to be great." Then he quotes an ironic tutor "more read in men than books," a "crafty man, demurely sly," who gives this satirical advice to his favorite pupil:

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Would'st thou, my son, be wise and virtuous deem'd,
By all mankind a prodigy esteem'd?
Be this thy rule; be what people prudent call;
PRUDENCE, almighty PRUDENCE gives thee all.
Keep up appearances; there lies the test,
The world will give thee credit for the rest.
Outward be fair, however foul within;
Sin if thou wilt, but then in secret sin.
This maxim's into common favor grown.
Vice is no longer vice unless 'tis known.
Virtue indeed may barefac'd take the field,
But vice is virtue, when 'tis well conceal'd.

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