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Exhald, ordain'd to swim its destin'd hour
In ambient air, then melt, and disappear.
Earth's days are number'd, nor remote her doom;
As mortal, though less transient, than her sons ;
Yet they dote on her, as the world and they
Were both eternal, solid; thou, a dream.
They dote ! on what? Immortal views apart,
A region of outsides! a land of shadows !
A fruitful field of flowery promises !
A wilderness of joy! perplex'd with doubts,
And sharp with thorns! a troubled ocean, spread
With bold adventurers, their all on board !
No second hope, if here their fortune frowns;
Frown soon it must. Of various rates they sail,
Of ensigns various; all alike in this,
All restless, anxious; tost with hopes, and fears,
In calmest skies; obnoxious all to storm;
And stormy the most general blast of life :
All bound for happiness; yet few provide
The chart of knowledge, pointing where it lies ;
Or virtue's helm, to shape the course design'd:
All, more or less, capricious fate lament,
Now lifted by the tide, and now resorbid,
And further from their wishes than before :
All, more or less, against each other dash,
To mutual hurt, by gusts of passion driven,
And suffering more from folly, than from fate.
Ocean! thou dreadful and tumultuous home Of dangers, at eternal war with man! Death's capital, where most he domineers, With all his chosen terrours frowning round,
(Though lately feasted high at Albion's cost *)
Wide-opening, and loud-roaring still for more !
Too faithful mirror ! how dost thou refleet
The melancholy face of human life!
The strong resemblance tempts me further still :
And, haply, Britain may be deeper struck
By moral truth, in such a mirror seen,
Which Nature holds for ever at her eye.
Self-fatter'd, unexperienc'd, high in hope,
When young, with sanguine cheer and streamers gay,
We cut our cable, launch into the world,
And fondly dream each wind and star our friend;
All, in some darling enterprise embark'd :
But where is he can fathom its extent ?
Amid a multitude of artless hands,
Ruin's sure perquisite ! her lawful prize!
Some steer aright; but the black blast blows hard,
And puffs them wide of hope : with hearts of proof,
Full against wind and tide, some win their way;
And when strong effort has deserv'd the port,
And tugg'd it into view, 't is won! 't is lost !
Though strong their oar, still stronger is their fate:
They strike ; and while they triumph, they expire.
In stress of weather, most; some sink outright;
O'er them, and o'er their names, the billows close ;
To-morrow knows not they were ever born.
Others a short memorial leave behind,
Like a flag floating, when the bark 's ingulf'd;
It floats a moment, and is seen no more :
One Cæsar lives; a thousand are forgoto
How few, beneath auspicious planets born,
(Darlings of Providence! fond Fate's elect!)
With swelling sails make good the promis'd port,
With all their wishes freighted; yet e'en these,
Freighted with all their wishes, soon complain;
Free from misfortune, not from nature free,
They still are men; and when is man secure?
As fatal time, as storm! the rush of years
Beats down their strength; their numberless escapes
In ruin end: and, now, their proud success
But plants new terrours on the victor's brow :
What pain to quit the world, just made their own!
Their nest so deeply down'd, and built so high!
Too low they build, who build beneath the stars.
Woe then apart, (if woe apart can be
From mortal man,) and fortune at our nod,
The gay! rich! great, triumphant! and august!
What are they? - The most happy (strange to say!)
Convince me most of human misery;
What are they? Smiling wretches of to-morrow !
More wretched, then, than e'er their slave can be ;
Their treacherous blessings, at the day of need,
Like other faithless friends, unmask, and sting:
Then, what provoking indigence in wealth!
What aggravated impotence in power!
High titles, then, what insult of their pain !
If that sole anchor, equal to the waves,
Immortal hope ! defies not the rude storm,
Takes comfort from their foaming billows' rage,
And makes a welcome harbour of the tomb.
Is this a sketch of what thy soul admires ? “ But here,” thou say'st, “ the miseries of life
Are huddled in a group. A more distinct
Survey, perhaps, might bring thee better news.”
Look on life's stages : they speak plainer still;
The plainer they, the deeper wilt thou sigh.
Look on thy lovely boy ; in him behold
The best that can befall the best on Earth;
The boy has virtue by his mother's side:
Yes, on Florello look : a father's heart
Is tender, though the man's is made of stone;
The truth, through such a medium seen, may make
Impression deep, and fondness prove thy friend.
Florello, lately cast on this rude coast
A helpless infant; now, a heedless child;
To poor Clarissa's throes, thy care succeeds;
Care full of love, and yet severe as hate !
O'er thy soul's joy how oft thy fondness frowns !
Needful austerities his will restrain ;
As thorns fence-in the tender plant from harm.
As yet, his reason cannot go alone;
But asks a sterner nurse to lead it on.
His little heart is often terrified ;
The blush of morning, in his cheek, turns pale ;
Its pearly dew-drop trembles in his eye ;
His harmless eye! and drowns an angel there.
Ah! what avails his innocence? The task
Enjoin'd must discipline his early powers;
He learns to sigh, ere he is known to sin ;
Guiltless, and sad! a wretch before the fall!
How cruel this ! more cruel to forbear.
Our nature such, with necessary pains,
We purchase prospects of precarious peace :
Though not a father, this might steal a sigh.
Suppose him disciplin'd aright (if not,
T will sink our poor account to poorer still);
Ripe from the tutor, proud of liberty,
He leaps enclosure, bounds into the world !
The world is taken, after ten years' toil,
Like ancient Troy; and all its joys his own.
Alas! the world 's a tutor more severe ;
Its lessons hard, and ill deserve his pains ;
Unteaching all his virtuous nature taught,
Or books (fair virtue's advocates !) inspir'd.
For who receives him into public life?
Men of the world, the terræ-filial breed,
Welcome the modest stranger to their sphere,
(Which glitter'd long, at distance, in his sight,)
And, in their hospitable arms, enclose:
Men, who think nought so strong of the romance,
So rank knight-errant, as a real friend :
Men, that act up to reason's golden rule,
All weakness of affection quite subdued :
Men, that would blush at being thought sincere,
And feign, for glory, the few faults they want ;
That love a lie, where truth would pay as well ;
As if, to them, vice shone her own reward.
Lorenzo ! canst thou bear a shocking sight ? Such, for Florello's sake, 't will now appear : See, the steel'd files of season'd veterans, Train'd to the world, in burnish'd falsehood bright; Deep in the fatal stratagems of peace; All soft sensation, in the throng, rubb'd off; All their keen purpose, in politeness sheath'd ; His friends eternal — during interest; His foes implacable — when worth their while ;