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FROM ON RIDICULE
Our mirthful age, to all extremes a prey,
Even courts the lash, and laughs her pains away,
Declining worth imperial wit supplies,
And Momus triumphs, while Astræa flies.
No truth so sacred, banter cannot hit,
No fool so stupid but he aims at wit.
Even those whose breasts ne'er planned one virtuous deed,
Nor raised a thought beyond the earth they tread:
Even those can censure, those can dare deride
A Bacon's avarice, or a Tully's pride;
And sneer at human checks by Nature given.
To curb perfection e'er it rival Heaven:
Nay, chiefly such in these low arts prevail,
Whose want of talents leaves them time to raid.
Born for no end, they worse than useless grow,
(As waters poison, if they cease to flow;)
And pests become, whom kinder fate designed
But harmless expletives of human kind.
See with what zeal th' insidious task they ply!
Where shall the prudent, where the virtuous fly?
Lurk as ye can, if they direct the ray,
The veriest atoms in the sunbeams play.
No venial slip their quick attention 'scapes;
They trace each Proteus through his hundred shapes;
To Mirth's tribunal drag the caitiff train,
Where Mercy sleeps, and Nature pleads in vain.
Here then we fix, and lash without control
These mental pests, and hydras of the soul;
Acquired ill-nature, ever prompt debate,
A zeal for slander, and deliberate hate:
These court contempt, proclaim the public foe,
And each, Ulysses like, should aim the blow.
Yet sure, even here, our motives should be known: Rail we to check his spleen, or ease our own?
Does injured virtue every shaft supply,
Arm the keen tongue, and flush th' erected eye?
Or do we from ourselves ourselves disguise?
And act, perhaps, the villain we chastise?
Hope we to mend him? hopes, alas, how vain!
He feels the lash, not listens to the rein.
'Tis dangerous too, in these licentious times, Howe'er severe the smile, to sport with crimes. Vices when ridiculed, experience says, First lose that horror which they ought to raise, Grow by degrees approved, and almost aim at praise.
[The] fear of man, in his most mirthful mood, May make us hypocrites, but seldom good.
Besides, in men have varying passions made
Such nice confusions, blending light with shade,
That eager zeal to laugh the vice away
May hurt some virtue's intermingling ray.
Then let good-nature every charm exert,
And while it mends it, win th' unfolding heart.
Let moral mirth a face of triumph wear,
Yet smile unconscious of th' extorted tear.
See with what grace instructive satire flows,
Politely keen, in Clio's numbered prose!
That great example should our zeal excite,
And censors learn from Addison to write.
So, in our age, too prone to sport with pain,
Might soft humanity resume her reign;
Pride without rancour feel th' objected fault,
And folly blush, as willing to be taught;
Critics grow mild, life's witty warfare cease,
And true good-nature breathe the balm of peace.
Once I remember well the day,
'Twas ere the blooming sweets of May
Had lost their freshest hues,
When every flower on every hill,
In every vale, had drank its fill
Of sunshine and of dews.
In short, 'twas that sweet season's prime
When Spring gives up the reins of time
To Summer's glowing hand,
And doubting mortals hardly know
By whose command the breezes blow
Which fan the smiling land.
'Twas then, beside a greenwood shade
Which clothed a lawn's aspiring head,
I urged my devious way,
With loitering steps regardless where,
So soft, so genial was the air,
So wondrous bright the day.
And now my eyes with transport rove
O'er all the blue expanse above,
Unbroken by a cloud!
And now beneath delighted pass,
Where winding through the deep-green grass
A full-brimmed river flowed.
I stop, I gaze; in accents rude,
To thee, serenest Solitude,
Bursts forth th' unbidden lay;
'Begone vile world! the learned, the wise,
The great, the busy, I despise,
And pity even the gay.
"These, these are joys alone, I cry, 'Tis here, divine Philosophy,
Thou deign'st to fix thy throne!
Here contemplation points the road
Through nature's charms to nature's God!
These, these are joys alone!
'Adieu, ye vain low-thoughted cares,
Ye human hopes, and human fears,
Ye pleasures and ye pains!'
While thus I spake, o'er all my soul
A philosophic calmness stole,
A stoic stillness reigns.
The tyrant passions all subside,
Fear, anger, pity, shame, and pride,
No more my bosom move;
Yet still I felt, or seemed to feel
A kind of visionary zeal
Of universal love.
When lo! a voice, a voice I hear!
'Twas Reason whispered in my ear
These monitory strains:
'What mean'st thou, man? wouldst thou unbind
The ties which constitute thy kind,
The pleasures and the pains?
"The same Almighty Power unseen,
Who spreads the gay or solemn scene
To contemplation's eye,
Fixed every movement of the soul,
Taught every wish its destined goal,
And quickened every joy.
'He bids the tyrant passions rage,
He bids them war eternal wage,
And combat each his foe:
Till from dissensions concords rise,
And beauties from deformities,
And happiness from woe.
'Art thou not man, and dar'st thou find
A bliss which leans not to mankind?
Presumptuous thought and vain
Each bliss unshared is unenjoyed,
Each power is weak unless employed
Some social good to gain.
'Shall light and shade, and warmth and air,
With those exalted joys compare
Which active virtue feels,
When on she drags, as lawful prize,
Contempt, and Indolence, and Vice,
At her triumphant wheels?
'As rest to labour still succeeds,
To man, whilst virtue's glorious deeds
Employ his toilsome day,
This fair variety of things
Are merely life's refreshing springs,
To sooth him on his way.
'Enthusiast go, unstring thy lyre,
In vain thou sing'st if none admire,
How sweet soe'er the strain.
And is not thy o'erflowing mind,
Unless thou mixest with thy kind,
Benevolent in vain?
'Enthusiast go, try every sense,
If not thy bliss, thy excellence,
Thou yet hast learned to scan;
At least thy wants, thy weakness know,
And see them all uniting show
That man was made for man.'
FROM THE PLEASURES OF IMAGINATION
[THE ESTHETIC AND MORAL INFLUENCE OF NATURE] Fruitless is the attempt, By dull obedience and by creeping toil Obscure, to conquer the severe ascent Of high Parnassus. Nature's kindling breath Must fire the chosen genius; Nature's hand