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The Poet's design, in this divine Satire, is, to represent the various
wishes and desires of mankind, and to set out the folly of them. He runs through all the several heads, of riches, honours, eloquence, fame for martial achievements, long life, and beau'y; and gives instances in each, how frequently they have proved the ruin of those that owned them. He concludes, therefore, that, since we generally choose so ill for ourselves, we should do better to leave it to the gods to make the choice for us. All we can safely ask of heaven, lies within a very small compass---it is but health of body and mind; and if we have these, it is not much matter what we want besides; for we have already enough to make us happy.
Look round the habitable world, how few
Know their own good, or, knowing it, pursue.
How void of reason are our hopes and fears !
What in the conduct of our life appears
So well designed, so luckily begun,
But when we have our wish, we wish undone?
Whole houses, of their whole desires possest,
Are often ruined at their own request.
In wars and peace things hurtful we require,
When made obnoxious to our own desire.
With laurels some have fatally been crowned;
Some, who the depths of eloquence have found,
In that unnavigable stream were drowned.
The brawny fool, who did his vigour boast,
In that presuming confidence was lost;
But more have been by avarice opprest,
And heaps of money crowded in the chest :
Unwieldy sums of wealth, which higher mount
Than files of marshalled figures can account;
To which the stores of Cræsus, in the scale,
Would look like little dolphins, when they sail
In the vast shadow of the British whale.
For this, in Nero's arbitrary time,
When virtue was a guilt, and wealth a crime,
A troop of cut-throat guards were sent to seize
The rich men's goods, and gut their palaces:
The mob, commissioned by the government,
Are seldom to an empty garret sent.
The fearful passenger, who travels late,
Charged with the carriage of a paltry plate,
Shakes at the moonshine shadow of a rush,
And sees a red-coat rise from every bush;
The beggar sings, even when he sees the place
Beset with thieves, and never mends his pace.
Of all the vows, the first and chief request
Of each, is—to be richer than the rest :
And yet no doubts the poor man's draught controul,
He dreads no poison in his homely bowl;
Then fear the deadly drug, when gems divine
Enchase the cup, and sparkle in the wine.
Will you not now the pair of sages praise,
Who the same end pursued by several ways?
One pitied, one contemned, the woeful times;
One laughed at follies, one lamented crimes.
Laughter is easy; but the wonder lies,
What stores of brine supplied the weeper's eyes.
Democritus could feed his spleen, and shake
His sides and shoulders, till he felt them ache;
Though in his country town no lictors were,
Nor rods, nor axe, nor tribune, did appear;
Nor all the foj:pish gravity of show,
Which cunning magistrates on crowds bestow.
What had he done, had he beheld on high
Our prætor seated in mock majesty;
His chariot rolling o'er the dusty place,
While, with dumb pride, and a set formal face,
He moves, in the dull ceremonial track,
With Jove's embroidered coat upon his back!
A suit of hangings had not more opprest
His shoulders, than that long laborious vest;
A heavy gewgaw, called a crown, that spread
About his temples, drowned his narrow head,
And would have crushed it with the massy freight,
But that a sweating slave sustained the weight;
A slave, in the same chariot seen to ride,
To mortify the mighty madman's pride.
Add now the imperial eagle, raised on high,
With golden beak, the mark of majesty;
Trumpets before, and on the left and right
A cavalcade of nobles, all in white;
In their own natures false and flattering tribes,
But made his friends by places and by bribes.
In his own age, Democritus could find Sufficient cause to laugh at human kind : Learn from so great a wit; a land of bogs, With ditches fenced, a heaven fat with fogs,
May form a spirit fit to sway the state,
And make the neighbouring monarchs fear their fate.
He laughs at all the vulgar cares and fears;
At their vain triumphs, and their vainer tears:
An equal temper in his mind he found,
When fortune flattered him, and when she frowned.
'Tis plain, from hence, that what our yows request
Are hurtful things, or useless at the best.
Some ask for envied power; which public hate Pursues, and hurries headlong to their fate: Down
the titles; and the statue crowned,
Is by base hands in the next river drowned.
The guiltless horses, and the chariot wheel,
The same effects of vulgar fury feel;
The smith prepares his hammer for the stroke,
While the lung'd bellows hissing fire provoke.
Sejanus, almost first of Roman names, *
The great Sejanus crackles in the flames:
Formed in the forge, the pliant brass is laid
On anvils; and of head and limbs are made,
Pans, cans, and piss-pots, a whole kitchen trade.
Adorn your doors with laurels; and a bull,
Milk white, and large, lead to the Capitol ;
Sejanus with a rope is dragged along,
The sport and laughter of the giddy throng!
Good Lord! they cry, what Ethiop lips he has ;
How foul a snout, and what a hanging face !
By heaven, I never could endure his sight!
how came his monstrous crimes to light?
Sejanus was Tiberius's first favourite ; and, while he continued so, had the highest marks of honour bestowed on him. Statues and triumphal chariots were every where erected to him. But, as soon as he fell into disgrace with the emperor, these were all immediately dismounted ; and the senate and common people insulted over him as meanly as they had fawned on him before,
What is the charge, and who the evidence,
(The saviour of the nation and the prince?)
Nothing of this; but our old Cæsar sent
A noisy letter to his parliament.
Nay, sirs, if Cæsar writ, I ask no more ;
He's guilty, and the question's out of door.
How goes the mob? (for that's a mighty thing,)
When the king's trump, the mob are for the king:
They follow fortune, and the common cry
Is still against the rogue condemned to die.
But the same very mob, that rascal crowd,
Had cried Sejanus, with a shout as loud,
Had his designs (by fortune's favour blest)
Succeeded, and the prince's age opprest.
But long, long since, the times have changed their
The people grown degenerate and base;
Not suffered now the freedom of their choice
To make their magistrates, and sell their voice.
Our wise forefathers, great by sea and land,
Had once the power and absolute command;
All offices of trust themselves disposed;
Raised whom they pleased, and whom they pleased
But we, who give our native rights away,
And our enslaved posterity betray,
Are now reduced to beg an alms, and go
On holidays to see a puppet-show.
There was a damned design, cries one, no doubt,
For warrants are already issued out:
I met Brutidius in a mortal fright,
He's dipt for certain, and plays least in sight;
I fear the rage of our offended prince,
Who thinks the senate slack in his defence.
Come, let us haste, our loyal zeal to show,
spurn the wretched corpse of Cæsar's foe: