Sidebilder
PDF

Enervate and enfeeble, and needs must,
And that a nation shamefully debased
Will be despised and trampled on at last,
Unless sweet penitence her powers renew,
Is truth, if history itself be true.
There is a time, and justice marks the date,
For long-forbearing clemency to wait ;
That hour elapsed, the incurable revolt
Is punished, and down comes the thunder-boit.
If mercy then put by the threatening blow,
Must she perform the same kind office now?
May she ! and if offended heaven be still
Accessible, and prayer prevail, she will.
'Tis not however insolence and noise,
The tempest of tumultuary joys,
Nor is it yet despondence and dismay.
Will win her visits, or engage her stay;
Prayer only, and the penitential tear,
Can call her smiling down, and fix her here.

But when a country-(one that I could name)
In prostitution sinks the sense of shame,
When infamous venality grown bold,
Writes on his bosom, to be let or solid;
When perjury, that heaven-defying vice,
Sells oaths by tale, and at the lowest price,
Stamps God's own name upon a lie just made
To turn a penny in the way of trade;
When avarice starves, and never hides his face
Two or three millions of the human race,
And not a tongue inquires how, where, or when,
Though conscience will have twinges now and then
When profanation of the sacred cause
In all its parts, times, ministry, and laws,
Bespeaks a land once Christian, fallen and lost
In all that wars against that title most;
What follows next, let cities of great name,
And regions long since desolate proclaim :
Nineveh, Babylon, and ancient Rome,
Speak to the present times and times to come,
They cry aloud in every careless ear,
“Stop, while you may, suspend your mad career !
O learn from our example and our fate,-
Learn wisdom and repentance ere too late!”

Not only vice disposes and prepares
The mind that slumbers sweetly in her snares,
To stoop to tyranny's usurped command,
And bend her polished neck beneath his hand.
(A dire effect, by one of nature's laws
Unchangeably connected with its cause,)
But Providence himself will intervene
To throw his dark displeasure o'er the scene
All are his instruments ; each form of war,

What burns at home, or threatens from afar,
Nature in arms, her elements at strife,
The storms that overset the joys of life,
Are but his rods to scourge a guilty land,
And waste it at the bidding of his hand.
He gives the word, and mutiny soon roars
In all her gates, and shakes her distant shores,
The standards of all nations are unfurled,
She has one foe, and that one foe, the world.
And if he doom that people with a frown,
And mark them with the seal of wrath, pressed down,
Obduracy takes place ; callous and tough,
The reprobated race grows judgment-proof;
Earth shakes beneath them, and heaven roars above,
But nothing scares them from the course they love;
To the lascivious pipe and wanton song,
That charm down fear, they frolic it along,
With mad rapidity and unconcern,
Down to the gulf from which is no return,
They trust in navies, and their navies fail,
God's curse can cast away ten thousand sail ;
They trust in armies, and their courage dies;
In wisdom, wealth, in fortune, and in lies;
But all they trust in withers, as it must,
When He commands, in whom they place no trust.
Vengeance at last pours down upon their coast,
A long despised, but now victorious host;
Tyranny sends the chain that must abridge
The noble sweep of all their privilege,
Gives liberty the last, the mortal shock,
Slips the slave's collar on, and snaps the lock.

A. Such lofty strains embellish what you teach,
Mean you to prophesy, or but to preach ?

B. I know the mind that feels indeed the fire The muse imparts, and can command the lyre, Acts with a force, and kindles with a zeal, Whate'er the theme, that others never feel. If human woes her soft attention claim, A tender sympathy pervades the frame, She pours a sensibility divine Along the nerve of every feeling line. But if a deed not tamely to be borne, Fire indignation and a sense of scorn, The strings are swept with such a power, so loud, The storm of music shakes the astonished crowd. So when remote futurity is brought Before the keen inquiry of her thought, A terrible sagacity informs The poet's heart, he looks to distant storms, He hears the thunder ere the tempest lowers, And armed with strength surpassing huinan powers, Seizes events as yet unknown to man,

And darts his soul into the dawning plan.
Hence, in a Roman mouth, the graceful name
Of prophet and of poet was the same ; 1
Hence British poets too the priesthood shared,
And every hallowed Druid was a bard.
But no prophetic fires to me belong,
I play with syllables, and sport in song.

A. At Westminster, where little poets strive
To set a distich upon six and five,
Where discipline helps opening buds of sense,
And makes his pupils proud with silver pence,
I was a poet too ;-but modern taste
Is so refined and delicate and chaste,
That verse, whatever fire the fancy warms,
Without a creamy smoothness has no charms.
Thus, all success depending on an ear,
And thinking I might purchase it too dear,
If sentiment were sacrificed to sound,
And truth cut short to make a period round,
I judged a man of sense could scarce do worse
Than caper in the morris-dance of verse.

B. Thus reputation is a spur to wit,
And some wits flag through fear of losing it.
Give me the line that ploughs its stately course
Like a proud swan, conquering the stream by force ;
That like some cottage beauty strikes the heart,
Quite unindebted to the tricks of art.
When labour and when dulness, club in hand,
Like the two figures of St. Dunstan's stand,
Beating alternately, in measured time,
The clockwork tintinnabulum of rhyme,
Exact and regular the sounds will be
But such mere quarter-strokes are not for me.

From him who rears a poem lank and long,
To him who strains his all into a song,
Perhaps some bonny Caledonian air,
All birks and braes, though he was never there ;
Or having whelped a prologue with great pains,
Feels himself spent, and fumbles for his brains ;
A prologue interdashed with many a stroke,
An art contrived to advertise a joke,
So that the jest is clearly to be seen,
Not in the words-but in the gap between ;
Manner is all in all, whate'er is writ,
The substitute for genius, sense, and wit.

To dally much with subjects mean and low,
Proves that the mind is weak, or makes it so.
Neglected talents rust into decay,
And every effort ends in push-pin play ;
The man that means success, should soar above

1 'Twas certainly prophetic that the name Of prophet and of poet is the same. -Sir John Denham

A soldier's feather, or a lady's glove,
Else summoning the Muse to such a theme
The fruit of all her labour is whipt-cream.
As if an eagle flew aloft, and then-
Stooped from his highest pitch to pounce a wren.
As if the poet purposing to wed,
Should carve himself a wife in gingerbread.

Ages elapsed ere Homer's lamp appeared,
And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard ;
To carry nature lengths unknown before,
To give a Milton birth, asked ages more.
Thus genius rose and set at ordered times,
And shot a day-spring into distant climes,
Ennobling every region that he chose,
He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose,
And tedious years of Gothic darkness past,
Emerged all splendour in our isle at last.
Thus lovely Halcyons dive into the main,
Then show far off their shining plumes again,

A. Is genius only found in epic lays ?
Prove this, and forfeit all pretence to praise.
Make their heroic powers your own at once,
Or candidly confess yourself a dunce.

B. These were the chief ; each interval of night Was graced with many an undulating light; In less illustrious bards his beauty shone A meteor or a star ; in these, the sun.

The nightingale may claim the topmost bough,
While the poor grasshopper must chirp below.
Like him unnoticed, I, and such as I,
Spread little wings, and rather skip than fly;
Perched on the meagre produce of the land,
An ell or two of prospect we command,
But never peep beyond the thorny bound,
Or oaken fence, that hems the paddock rourd.

In Eden ere yet innocence of heart
Had faded, poetry was not an art ;
Language above all teaching, or if taught,
Only by gratitude and glowing thought,
Elegant as simplicity, and warm
As ecstasy, unmanacled by form,
Not prompted, as in our degenerate days,
By low ambition and the thirst of praise,
Was natural as is the flowing stream,
And yet magnificent, a God the theme.
That theme on earth exhausted, though above
'Tis found as everlasting as his love,
Man lavished all his thoughts on human things,
The feats of heroes and the wrath of kings,
But still while virtue kindled his delight,
The song was moral, and so far was right.
'Twas thus till luxury seduced the mind

To joys less innocent, as less refined,
Then genius danced a bacchanal, he crowned
The brimming goblet, seized the thyrsus, bound
His brows with ivy, rushed into the field
Of wild imagination, and there reeled
The victim of his own lascivious fires,
And dizzy with delight, profaned the sacred wires.

Anacreon, Horace, played in Greece and Rome
This bedlam part; and others nearer home.
When Cromwell fought for power, and while he reigned
The proud protector of the power he gained,
Religion harsh, intolerant, austere,
Parents of manners like herself severe,
Drew a rough copy of the Christian face
Without the smile, the sweetness, or the grace ;
The dark and sullen humour of the time
Judged every effort of the Muse a crime;
Verse in the finest mould of fancy cast,
Was lumber in an age so void of taste :
But when the second Charles assumed the sway,
And arts revived beneath a softer day,
Then like a bow long forced into a curve,
The mind released from too constrained a nerve,
Flew to its first position with a spring
That made the vaulted roofs of pleasure ring.
His court, the dissolute and hateful school
Of wantonness, where vice was taught by rule,
Swarmed with a scribbling herd as deep inlaid
With brutal lust as ever Circe made.
From these a long succession, in the rage
Of rank obscenity debauched their age,
Nor ceased, till ever anxious to redress
The abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
The Muse instructed a well nurtured train
Of abler votaries to cleanse the stain,
And claim the palm for purity of song,
That lewdness had usurped and worn so long.
Then decent pleasantry and sterling sense
That neither gave nor would endure offence,
Whipped out of sight with satire just and keen,
The puppy pack that had defiled the scene.

In front of these came Addison. In him
Humour in holiday and sightly trim,
Sublimity and attic taste combined,
To polish, furnish, and delight the mind.
Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
In verse well disciplined, complete, compact,
Gave virtue and morality a grace
That quite eclipsing pleasure's painted face,
Levied a tax of wonder and applause,
Even on the fools that trampled on their laws.
But he, (his musical finesse was such,

« ForrigeFortsett »