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The unfledg'd raven and the lion's whelp
Plead not in vain for pity on the pangs
Of hunger unassuag'd, has interpos’d,
Not seldom, his avenging arm, to smite
Th' injurious trampler upon nature's law,
That claims forbearance even for a brute.
He hates the hardness of a Balaam's heart;
And, prophet as he was, he might not strike
The blameless animal, without rebuke,
On which he rode. Her opportune offence
Sav’d him, or th' unrelenting seer had died.
He sees that human equity is slack
To interfere, though in so just a cause;
And makes the task his own. Inspiring dumb
And helpless victims with a sense so keen
Of inj’ry, with such knowledge of their strength,
And such sagacity to take revenge,
That oft the beast has seem'd to judge the man.
An ancient, not a legendary tale,
By one of sound intelligence rehears'd,
(If such who plead for Providence may seem In modern eyes) shall make the doctrine clear.
Where England, stretch'd towards the setting
Narrow and long, o'erlooks the western wave,
Dwelt young Misagathus; a scorner he
Of God and goodness, atheist in ostent,
Vicious in act, in temper savage-fierce.
He journey'd; and his chance was as he went
To join a trav’ller, of far diffo rent note-
Evander, fam’d for piety, for years
Deserving honour, but for wisdom more.
Fame had not left the venerable man
A stranger to the manners of the youth,
Whose face, too, was familiar to his view.
Their way was on the margin of the land,
O'er the green summit of the rocks, whose base
Beats back the roaring surge, scarce heard so high.
The charity that warm’d his heart was moy'd
At sight of the man-monster.
With a smile Gentle, and affable, and full of grace, As fearful of offending whom he wish'd Much to persuade, he plied his ear with truths Not harshly thunder'd forth or rudely press’d, But, like his purpose, gracious, kind, and sweet. “ And dost thou dream,” th' impenetrable man Exclaim'd, “ that me the lullabies of age,
“ And fantasies of dotards, such as thou,
“ Can cheat, or move a moment's fear in me?
“ Mark now the proof I give thee, that the brave “ Need no such aids as superstition lends “ To steel their hearts against the dread of death.” He spoke, and to the precipice at hand Push'd with a madman's fury. Fancy shrinks, And the blood thrills and curdles, at the thought Of such a gulph as he design’d his grave. But, though the felon on his back could dare The dreadful leap, more rational, his steed Declin'd the death, and wheeling swiftly round,
Or e'er his hoof had press’d the crumbling verge,
Baffled his rider, sav'd against his will!
The frenzy of the brain may be redress’d
By med’cine well applied, but without grace
The heart's insanity admits no cure.
Enrag'd the more, by what might have reform’d
His horrible intent, again he sought
Destruction, with a zeal to be destroy'd,
With sounding whip, and rowels died in blood.
But still in vain. The Providence, that meant
A longer date to the far nobler beast,
Spar’d yet again th' ignobler, for his sake.
And now, his prowess prov’d, and his sincere
Incurable obduracy evinc'd,
His rage grew cool; and, pleas’d perhaps t' have
So cheaply the renown of that attempt,
With looks of some complacence he resum'd
His road, deriding much the blank amaze
Of good Evander, still where he was left
Fixt motionless, and petrified with dread.
So on they far'd. Discourse on other themes
Ensuing, seem'd t'obliterate the past;
And, tamer far for so much fury shown,
(As is the course of rash and fiery men)
The rude companion smil'd, as if transform’d.
But 'twas a transient calm. A storm was near,
An unsuspected storm. His hour was come.
The impious challenger of Pow'r divine
Was now to learn that Heav'n, tho'slow to wrath,
Is never with impunity defied.
His horse, as he had caught his master's mood,
Snorting, and starting into sudden rage,
Unbidden, and not now to be control'd,
Rush'd to the cliff, and, having reach'd it, stood.
At once the shock unseated him: he flew
Sheer o'er the craggy barrier; and, immers'd Deep in the flood, found, when he sought it not,
The death he had desery'd-and died alone!
So God wrought double justice; made the fool