« PreviousContinue »
And chaste themselves, are not ashamed to own.
Virtue and vice had boundaries in old time
Not to be pass'd; and she that had renounced
Her sex's honour, was renounced herself
By all that prized it; not for prudery's sake,
But dignity's, resentful of the wrong.
'Twas hard perhaps on here and there a waif
Desirous to return and not received;
But was an wholesome rigour in the main,
And taught the unblemish'd to preserve with care
That purity, whose loss was loss of all.
Men too were nice in honour in those days,
And judged offenders well. And he that sharp'd,
And pocketed a prize by fraud obtain'd,
Was mark'd and shunn'd as odious. He that sold
His country, or was slack when she required
His every nerve in action and at stretch,
Paid with the blood that he had basely spared
The price of his default. But now, yes, now,
We are become so candid and so fair,
So liberal in construction, and so rich
Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.
In christian charity, a good-natured age!
That they are safe, sinners of either sex,
Transgress what laws they may. Well dress'd, well bred,
Well equipaged, is ticket good enough
To pass us readily through every door.
Hypocrisy, detest her as we may,
(And no man's hatred ever wrong'd her yet,)
May claim this merit still, that she admits
The worth of what she mimics with such care,
And thus gives virtue indirect applause;
But she has burnt her mask not needed here,
Where vice has such allowance, that her shifts
And specious semblances have lost their use.
I was a stricken deer that left the herd
Long since; with many an arrow deep infixt
My panting side was charged when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by one who had himself
Been hurt by the archers. In his side he bore
And in his hands and feet the cruel scars.
With gentle force soliciting the darts
He drew them forth, and heal'd and bade me live.
Since then, with few associates, in remote
And silent woods I wander, far from those
My former partners of the peopled scene,
With few associates, and not wishing more.
Here much I ruminate, as much I may,
With other views of men and manners now
Than once, and others of a life to come.
I see that all are wanderers, gone astray,
Each in his own delusions; they are lost
In chase of fancied happiness, still wooed
And never won. Dream after dream ensues,
And still they dream that they shall still succeed,
And still are disappointed; rings the world
With the vain stir. I sum up half mankind,
And add two-thirds of the remainder half,
And find the total of their hopes and fears
Dreams, empty dreams. The million flit as gay
As if created only, like the fly
That spreads his motley wings in the
To sport their season and be seen no more.
The rest are sober dreamers, grave and wise,
And pregnant with discoveries new and rare.
Some write a narrative of wars and feats
Of heroes little known, and call the rant
An history; describe the man, of whom
His own coevals took but little note,
And paint his person, character and views,
As they had known him from his mother's womb.
They disentangle from the puzzled skein
In which obscurity has wrapp'd them up,
The threads of politic and shrewd design
That ran through all his purposes, and charge
His mind with meanings that he never had,
Or having, kept conceal'd. Some drill and bore
The solid earth, and from the strata there
Extract a register, by which we learn
That He who made it and reveal'd its date
To Moses, was mistaken in its age.
Some more acute and more industrious still
Contrive creation; travel nature up
Rochefoucauld. Maxim vii.
These leave the sense their learning to display,
And these explain the meaning quite away.
Pope. Essay on Crit. 116.
5 Then came Domitian, dragging in Suetonius: There is no greater pest, said he, than that generation of scribbling rogues the historians, when they have vented the humour and caprice of their own brains, that forsooth must be called-" the Life of such an Emperor."-Quevedo. Vision vii.
6 Great actions, the lustre of which dazzles us, are by politicians represented as the effects of deep designs, whereas they are commonly the effects of caprice and passion.
To the sharp peak of her sublimest height,
And tell us whence the stars; why some are fixt,
And planetary some; what gave them first
Rotation, from what fountain flow'd their light.
Great contest follows, and much learned dust
Involves the combatants, each claiming truth,
And truth disclaiming both'. And thus they spend
The little wick of life's poor shallow lamp,
In playing tricks with nature, giving laws
To distant worlds and trifling in their own.
Is 't not a pity now that tickling rheums
Should ever tease the lungs and blear the sight
Of oracles like these? Great pity too,
That having wielded the elements, and built
A thousand systems, each in his own way,
They should go out in fume and be forgot?
Ah! what is life thus spent? and what are they
But frantic who thus spend it? all for smoke,-
Eternity for bubbles, proves at last
A senseless bargain. When I see such games
Play'd by the creatures of a Power who swears
He his fabric of the heavens
Hath left to their disputes, perhaps to move
His laughter at their quaint opinions wide
Hereafter, when they come to model heaven
And calculate the stars, how they will wield
The mighty frame, how build, unbuild, contrive,
To save appearances.
Par. Lost, viii. 76,
• What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy :
Who buys a minute's worth to wail a week,
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
Shakespeare. Tarq. and Luc. st. 31.
That he will judge the earth, and call the fool9
To a sharp reckoning that has lived in vain ;
And when I weigh this seeming wisdom well
it in the infallible result
So hollow and so false,-I feel my heart
Dissolve in pity, and account the learn'd,
If this be learning, most of all deceived.
Great crimes alarm the conscience, but she sleeps 185
While thoughtful man is plausibly amused.
Defend me therefore common sense, say I,
From reveries so airy, from the toil
Of dropping buckets into empty wells 10,
And growing old in drawing nothing up!
'Twere well, says one sage erudite, profound,
Terribly arch'd and aquiline his nose,
And overbuilt with most impending brows,
'Twere well could you permit the world to live
As the world pleases. What's the world to you?—
Much. I was born of woman, and drew milk
As sweet as charity from human breasts.
I think, articulate, I laugh and weep
And exercise all functions of a man.
How then should I and any man that lives
Be strangers to each other"? Pierce my vein,
Take of the crimson stream meandering there
9 Go, teach eternal Wisdom how to rule, Then drop into thyself, and be a fool.
Pope. Essay on Man, ii. 29.
10 Nor vainly buys what Gildon sells, Poetic buckets for dry wells.
11 Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.