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THE TASK. BOOK IV.

THE

WINTER EVENING.

ARGUMENT.

The post comes in. The newspaper is read. The world contemplated at a distance. Address to winter. The rural amusements of a winter evening compared with the fashionable ones. Address to evening. A brown study. Fall of snow in the evening. The waggoner. A poor family piece. The rural thief. Public houses. The multitude of them censured. The farmer's daughter: what she was—what she is. The simplicity of country manners almost lost. Causes of the change. Desertion of the country by the rich. Neglect of Magistrates. The militia principally in fault. The new recruit and his transformation. Keflection on bodies corporate. The love of rural objects natural to all, and never to be totally extinguished.

THE TASK BOOK IV.

THE WINTER EVENING.

Hark! 'tis the twanging liorn o'er yonder bridge.
That with its wearisome but needful length
Bestrides the wintry flood, in which the moon
Sees her unwrinkled face reflected bright;—
He comes, the herald of a noisy world,
With spatter'd boots, strapp'd waist, and frozen

locks;
News from all nations lumbering at his back.
True to his charge, the close pack'd load behind,
Yet careless what he brings, his one concern
Is to conduct it to the destined inn;
And, having dropp'd the expected bag, pass on.
He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch,
Cold and yet cheerful: messenger of grief
Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to some;
To him indifferent whether grief or joy.
Houses in ashes, and the fall of stocks,
Births, deaths, and marriages, epistles wet
With tears, that trickled down the writer's cheeks
Fast as the periods from his fluent quill,
Or charged with amorous sighs of absent swains,

VOL. II. 8

Or nymphs responsive, equally affect
His horse and him, unconscious of them all.
But O the important budget! usher'd in
With such heart-shaking music, who can say
What are its tidings? have our troops awaked?
Or do they still, as if with opium drugg'd,
Snore to the murmurs of the Atlantic wave?
Is India free? and does she wear her plumed
And jewel'd turban with a smile of peace,
Or do we grind her still? The grand debate,
The popular harangue, the tart reply,
The logic, and the wisdom, and the wit,
And the loud laugh—I long to know them all;
I burn to set the imprison'd wranglers free,
And give them voice and utterance once again.
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And while the bubbling and loud hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
Not such his evening, who with shining face
Sweats in the crowded theatre, and, squeezed
And bored with elbow points through both his sides,
Outscolds the ranting actor on the stage:
Nor his, who patient stands till his feet throb,
And his head thumps, to feed upon the breath
Of patriots, bursting with heroic rage,
Or placemen, all tranquillity and smiles.
This folio of four pages, happy work!

Which not e'en critics criticize; that holds

Inquisitive attention, while I read,

Fast bound in chains of silence, which the fair,

Though eloquent themselves, yet fear to break;

What is it but a map of busy life,

Its fluctuations, and its vast concerns?

Here runs the mountainous and craggy ridge

That tempts Ambition. On the summit see

The seals of office glitter in his eyes;

He climbs, he pants, he grasps them! At his heels,

Close at his heels, a demagogue ascends,

And with a dexterous jerk soon twists him down,

And wins them, but to lose them in his turn.

Here rills of oily eloquence in soft

Meanders lubricate the course they take;

The modest speaker is ashamed and grieved

To engross a moment's notice; and yet begs,

Begs a propitious ear for his poor thoughts,

However trivial all that he conceives.

Sweet bashfulness! it claims at least this praise;

The dearth of information and good sense,

That it foretells us, always comes to pass.

Cataracts of declamation thunder here;

There forests of no meaning spread the page,

In which all comprehension wanders lost;

While fields of pleasantry amuse us there

With merry descants on a nation's woes.

The rest appears a wilderness of strange

But gay confusion; roses for the cheeks,

And lilies for the brows of faded age,

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