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A book (to please us at a tender age
'Tis called a book, though but a single page)
Presents the prayer the Saviour deigned to teach,
Which children use, and parsons—when they preach.
Lisping our syllables, we scramble next,
Through moral narrative, or sacred text,
And learn with wonder how this world began,
Who made, who marred, and who has ransomed man;
Points, which unless the Scripture made them plain,
The wisest heads might agitate in vain.
0 thou, whom borne on fancy's eager wing
1 pleased remember, and while memory yet
Whose humorous vein, strong sense, and simple style,
May teach the gayest, make the gravest smile,
Witty, and well employed, and like thy Lord
Speaking in parables his slighted word,—
I name thee not, lest so despised a name
Should move a sneer at thy deserved fame,
Yet even in transitory life's late day
That mingles all my brown with sober gray,
Revere the man, whose Pilgrim marks the road
And guides the Progress of the soul to God.
'Twere well with most, if books that could engage
Their childhood, pleased them at a riper age;
The man approving what had charmed the boy,
Would die at last in comfort, peace, and joy,
And not with curses on his art who stole
The gem of truth from his unguarded soul.
The stamp of artless piety impressed
By kind tuition on his yielding breast,
The youth now bearded, and yet pert and raw,
Regards with scorn, though once received with awe.
And warped into the labyrinth of lies
That babblers, called philosophers, devise,
Blasphemes his creed as founded on a plan
Replete with dreams, unworthy of a man.
Touch but his nature in its ailing part,
Assert the native evil of his heart,
His pride resents the charge, although the proof1
Rise in his forehead, and seem rank enough;
Point to the cure, describe a Saviour's cross
As God's expedient to retrieve his loss,
The young apostate sickens at the view,
And hates it with the malice of a Jew.
How weak the barrier of mere nature proves
She longs to yield, no sooner wooed than won.
Try now the merits of this blest exchange
Of modest truth for wit's eccentric range.
Time was, he closed as he began the day
With decent duty, not ashamed to pray;
The practice was a bond upon his heart,
A pledge he gave for a consistent part,
Nor could he dare presumptuously displease
A power confessed so lately on his knees.
But now, farewell all legendary tales,
The shadows fly, philosophy prevails,
Prayer to the winds and caution to the waves,
Religion makes the free by nature slaves,
Priests have invented, and the world admired
What knavish priests promulgate as inspired,
Till reason, now no longer overawed,
Resumes her powers, and spurns the clumsy fraud,
And common sense diffusing real day,
The meteor of the gospel dies away.
Such rhapsodies our shrewd discerning youth
Learn from expert inquirers after truth,
Whose only care, might truth presume to speak,
Is not to find what they profess to seek.
And thus well tutored only while we share
A mother's lectures and a nurse's care,
And taught at schools much mythologic stuff,1
But sound religion sparingly enough,
Our early notices of truth disgraced
Soon lose their credit, and are all effaced.
Would you your son should be a sot or dunce, Lascivious, headstrong, or all these at once, That in good time, the stripling's finished taste For loose expense and fashionable waste Should prove your ruin, and his own at last, Train him in public with a mob of boys, Childish in mischief only and in noise, Else of a mannish growth, and five in ten In infidelity and lewdness, men. There shall he learn, ere sixteen winters old, That authors are most useful, pawned or sold, That pedantry is all that schools impart, But taverns teach the knowledge of the heart; There waiter Uick with Bacchanalian lays Shall win his heart and have his drunken praise, His counsellor and bosom friend shall prove, And some street-pacing harlot his first love. Schools, unless discipline were doubly strong,
1 The author begs leave to explain ; sensible that without such knowledge, neither the ancient poets nor historians can be tasted or indeed understood, he does not mean to censure the pains that are taken to instruct a school-boy in the religion of the heathen, but merely that neglect of Christian culture which leaves him shamefully ignorant of his own.
Detain their adolescent charge too long.
The management of Tiro's of eighteen
Is difficult, their punishment obscene.
The stout tall captain, whose superior size
The minor heroes view with envious eyes,
Becomes their pattern, upon whom they fix
Their whole attention, and ape all his tricks.
His pride that scorns to obey or to submit,
With them is courage, his effrontery wit;
His wild excursions, window-breaking feats,
Robbery of gardens, quarrels in the streets,
His hair-breadth 'scapes, and all his daring schemes,
Transport them and are made their favourite themes.
In little bosoms such achievements strike
A kindred spark, they burn to do the like.
Thus half accomplished, ere he yet begin
To show the peeping down upon his chin,
And as maturity of years comes on
Made just the adept that you designed your son,
To insure the perseverance of his course,
And give your monstrous project all its force,
Send him to college. If he there be tamed,
Or in one article of vice reclaimed,
Where no regard of ordinances is shown,
Or looked for now, the fault must be his own.
Some sneaking virtue lurks in him no doubt,
Where neither strumpet's charms nor drinking-bout,
Nor gambling practices can find it out.
Such youths of spirit, and that spirit too,
Ye nurseries of our boys, we owe to you.
Though from ourselves the mischief more proceeds,
For public schools 'tis public folly feeds.
The slaves of custom and established mode,
With pack-horse constancy we keep the road
Crooked or straight, through quags or thorny dells,
True to the jingling of our leader's bells.
To follow foolish precedents, and wink
With both our eyes, is easier than to think,
And such an age as ours baulks no expense
Except of caution and of common sense;
Else, sure, notorious fact and proof so plain
Would turn our steps into a wiser train.
I blame not those who with what care they can
O'erwatch the numerous and unruly clan
Or if I blame, 'tis only that they dare
Promise a work of which they must despair.
Have ye, ye sage intendants of the whole,
An ubiquarian presence and control,
Elisha's eye, that when Gehazi strayed
Went with him, and saw all the game he played?
Yes, ye are conscious; and on all the shelves
Your pupils strike upon, have struck yourselves.
Or if by nature sober, ye had then,
Boys as ye were, the gravity of men,
Ye knew at least, by constant proofs addressed
To ears and eyes, the vices of the rest.
But ye connive at what ye cannot cure,
And evils not to be endured, endure,
Lest power exerted, but without success,
Should make the little ye retain still less.
Ye once were justly famed for bringing forth
Undoubted scholarship and genuine worth,
And in the firmament of fame still shines
A glory bright as that of all the signs,
Of poets raised by you, and statesmen and divines.
Peace to them all, those brilliant times are fled,
And no such lights are kindling in their stead.
Our striplings shine indeed, but with such rays
As set the midnight riot in a blaze,
And seem, if judged by their expressive looks,
Deeper in none than in their surgeon's books.
Say, Muse, (for education made the song,
Be it a weakness, it deserves some praise,
. . .. . 1 -. . P
That they must soon leam Latin, and to box;
The great indeed, by titles, riches, birth,