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TH’ adultress! what a theme for
verse! What provocation to th' indignant heart That feels for injur'd love! but I disdain The nauseous task to paint her as she is, Cruel, abandon'd, glorying in her shame! No:-let her pass, and, chariotted along In guilty splendour, shake the public ways; The frequency of crimes has wash'd them white! And verse of mine shall never brand the wretch, Whom matrons now, of character unsmircl’d, And chaste themselves, are not asham'd to own. Virtue and vice had bound'ries in old time, Not to be pass’d: and she, that had renounc'd Iler sex's honour, was renounc'd herself By all that priz'd it; not for prud'ry's sake, But dignity's, resentful of the wrong. "Twas hard, perhaps, on here and there a waif, Desirous to return, and not receiv'd;
But was an wholesome rigour in the main,
And taught th’ unblemish'd to preserve with care
That purity, whose loss was loss of all.
Men, too, were nice in honour in those days,
And judg'd offenders well. Then he that sharp'd,
And pocketted a prize by fraud obtain'd,
Was mark'd and shunn'd as odious. He that sold
llis country, or was slack when she requir'd
His ev'ry nerve in action and at stretch,
Paid, with the blood that he had basely spar'd,
The price of his default. But now-yes, now
We are become so candid and so fair,
So lib'ral in construction, and so rich
In Christian charity, (good-natur'd age!)
That they are safe, sinners of either sex,
" Transgress what laws they may. Well dress'd,
Well equipag’d, is ticket good enough
To pass us readily through ev'ry door.
I SEE that all are wand'rers, gone astray
Each in his own delusions; they are lost
In chase of fancied happiness, still woo'd
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.
And add two thirds of the remaining 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 th' eye of noon,
their season, and be seen no more.
The rest are sober dreamers, grave and wise,
And pregnant with discov’ries 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 conceald. 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
To the sharp peak of her sublimest height,
And tell us whence the stars; why some are fix'd,
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 th' 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 pow'r who swears
That he will judge the earth, and call the fool
To a sharp reck’ning that has liv'd in vain;
And when I weigh this seeming wisdom well,
And prove it in th’infallible result
So hollow and so false. I feel
heart Dissolve in pity, and account the learn’d, If this be learning, most of all deceiv’d. Great crimes alarm the conscience, but it sleeps While thoughtful man is plausibly amus'd. Defend me, therefore, common sense, say I, From reveries so airy, from the toil Of dropping buckets into empty wells, And growing old in drawing nothing up!