Page images
PDF
EPUB

The inglorious feat, and clamorous in praise
Of the poor brute, seems wisely to suppose
The honours of his matchless horse his own.
But many a crime deem'd innocent on earth
Is register'd in heaven, and these, no doubt,
Have each their record, with a curse annex'd.
Man may dismiss compassion from his heart,
But God will never. When he charged the Jew
To assist his foe's down-fallen beast to rise,
And when the bush-exploring boy that seized
The young, to let the parent bird go free,
Proved he not plainly that his meaner works
Are yet his care, and have an interest all,
All, in the universal Father's love?
On Noah, and in him on all mankind
The charter was conferr'd by which we hold
The flesh of animals in fee, and claim
O'er all we feed on, power of life and death.
But read the instrument, and mark it well.
The oppression of a tyrannous controul
Can find no warrant there. Feed then, and yield
Thanks for thy food. Carnivorous through sin
Feed on the slain, but spare the living brute.
The Governor of all, himself to all
So bountiful, in whose attentive ear
The unfledged raven and the lion's whelp
Plead not in vain for pity on the pangs
Of hunger unassuaged, has interposed,
Not seldom, his avenging arm, to smite
The injurious trampler upon nature's law
That claims forbearance even for a brute.
He hates the hardness of a Balaam's heart;
And.prophet as he was, he might not strike

440

445

450

455

460

465

The blameless animal, without rebuke,
On which he rode: her opportune offence
Saved him, or the unrelenting seer had died.
He sees that human equity is slack
To interfere, though in so just a cause
And makes the task his own; inspiring dumb
And helpless victims with a sense so keen
Of injury, with such knowledge of their strength,
And such sagacity to take revenge,

That oft the beast has seem'd to judge the man.
An ancient, not a legendary tale,

By one of sound intelligence rehearsed,
(If such, who plead for Providence, may seem
In modern eyes,) shall make the doctrine clear.
Where England stretch'd towards the setting sun
Narrow and long, o'erlooks the western wave,
Dwelt young Misagathus; a scorner he
Of God and goodness, atheist in ostent,
Vicious in act, in temper savage-fierce.
He journey'd, and his chance was as he went,
To join a traveller of far different note,
Evander, famed for piety, for years
Deserving honour, but for wisdom more.
Fame had not left the venerable man
A stranger to the manners of the youth,
Whose face too was familiar to his view.
Their way was on the margin of the land,
O'er the green summit of the rocks whose base
Beats back the roaring surge 16 scarce heard so high.
The charity that warm'd his heart was moved

>

16

The murmuring surge,

That on the unnumber'd idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high.
King Lear, iv. 6.

470

475

480

485

490

495

At sight of the man-monster. With a smile
Gentle, and affable, and full of grace,
As fearful of offending whom he wish'd
Much to persuade, he plied his ear with truths
Not harshly thunder'd forth or rudely press'd,
But like his purpose, gracious, kind, and sweet.
And dost thou dream, the impenetrable man
Exclaim'd, that me, the lullabies of age
And fantasies of dotards such as thou
Can cheat, or move a moment's fear in me?
Mark now the proof I give thee, that the brave
Need no such aids as superstition lends
To steel their hearts against the dread of death!
He spoke, and to the precipice at hand
Push'd with a madman's fury. Fancy shrinks
And the blood thrills and curdles at the thought
Of such a gulf as he design'd his grave.
But though the felon on his back could dare
The dreadful leap, more rational his steed
Declined the death, and wheeling swiftly round
Or ere his hoof had press'd the crumbling verge,
Baffled his rider, saved against his will.
The frenzy of the brain may be redress'd
By medicine well applied, but without grace
The heart's insanity admits no cure.
Enraged the more by what might have reform'd
His horrible intent, again he sought
Destruction with a zeal to be destroyed,
With sounding whip and rowels dyed in blood.
But still in vain. The providence that meant
A longer date to the far nobler beast,
Spared yet again the ignobler for his sake.

500

505

510

515

520

525

530

And now, his prowess proved, and his sincere

Incurable obduracy evinced,

His rage grew cool; and pleased perhaps to have earn'd
So cheaply the renown of that attempt,

With looks of some complacence he resumed
His road, deriding much the blank amaze
Of good Evander, still where he was left
Fixt motionless, and petrified with dread.
So on they fared; discourse on other themes
Ensuing, seem'd to obliterate the past,
And tamer far for so much fury shown,
(As is the course of rash and fiery men,)
The rude companion smiled as if transform'd.
But 'twas a transient calm. A storm was near,
An unsuspected storm. His hour was come.
The impious challenger of power divine

Was now to learn, that Heaven though slow to wrath,
Is never with impunity defied.

His horse, as he had caught his master's mood,
Snorting, and starting into sudden rage,
Unbidden, and not now to be controul'd,

Rush'd to the cliff, and having reach'd it, stood.
At once the shock unseated him. He flew
Sheer o'er the craggy barrier, and immersed
Deep in the flood, found, when he sought it not,
The death he had deserved, and died alone.
So God wrought double justice; made the fool
The victim of his own tremendous choice,
And taught a brute the way to safe revenge.
I would not enter on my list of friends
(Though graced with polish'd manners and fine sense
Yet wanting sensibility,) the man

560

535

540

545

550

555

Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.
An inadvertent step may crush the snail
That crawls at evening in the public path,
But he that has humanity, forewarned,
Will tread aside, and let the reptile live.
The creeping vermin, loathsome to the sight,
And charged perhaps with venom, that intrudes
A visitor unwelcome into scenes

Sacred to neatness and repose, the alcove,
The chamber, or refectory, may die ".
A necessary act incurs no blame.

Not so when held within their proper bounds
And guiltless of offence, they range the air,
Or take their pastime in the spacious field.
There they are privileged; and he that hunts
Or harms them there, is guilty of a wrong,
Disturbs the economy of nature's realm,
Who when she form'd, design'd them an abode.
The sum is this: if man's convenience, health,
Or safety interfere, his rights and claims
Are paramount, and must extinguish theirs.
Else they are all-the meanest things that are,
As free to live and to enjoy that life,
As God was free to form them at the first,

17

Other creature here

Beast, bird, insect, or worm, durst enter none.
Par. Lost, iv. 703.

Chase from all my bounds

Each thing impure or noxious. Enter in,
O stranger, undismay'd. Nor bat, nor toad
Here lurks.
Akenside. Inscrip. for a Grotto.

565

570

575

580

585

« PreviousContinue »