Page images
PDF
EPUB

Well would it be if all the aspirations of youth tended to produce a character deserving similar praise to that contained in the neat and terse tribute by Cowper :

TO MISS C, ON HER BIRTHDAY.
How many, between East and West,
Disgrace their parent earth,
Whose deeds constrain us to detest
The day that gave them birth;
Not so when Stella's natal morn
Revolving months restore,
We can rejoice that she was born,
And wish her born once more.

Or this by Milton :

:

TO A VIRTUOUS YOUNG LADY.

Lady, that in the prime of earliest youth
Wisely hath shunn'd the broad way and the green,
And with those few art eminently seen

That labour up the hill of heavenly truth;
The better part with Mary and with Ruth
Chosen thou hast; and they that overween,
And at thy growing virtues fret their spleen,
No anger find in thee, but pity and ruth.
Thy care is fix'd, and zealously attends
To fill thy odorous lamp with deeds of light,
And hope that reaps not shame. Therefore be sure,
Thou, when the Bridegroom with His feastful
friends

Passes to bliss at the mid-hour of night,

Hast gain'd thy entrance, virgin wise and pure.

The prime epoch of life to the children of fortune is the "coming of age." The best of Ben Jonson's birthday odes is admirable in its moral

counsel to the young heir on arriving at his majority:

ODE TO SIR WILLIAM SIDNEY,* ON HIS

BIRTHDAY.

Now that the hearth is crowned with smiling fire, And some do drink and some do dance,

Some ring,

Some sing,

And all do strive to advance

The gladness higher;

Wherefore should I

Stand silent by,

Who not the least

Both love the cause and authors of the feast?

Give me my cup, but from the Thespian well,
That I may tell to Sidney what

This day

Doth say,

And he may think on that

Which I do tell;

When all the noise

Of these forced joys

Are fled and gone,

And he with his best genius left alone.

This day says, then, the number of glad years
Are justly summed that make you man;

Your vow

Must now

Strive all right ways it can,

T'outstrip your peers:

* Eldest son of Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, and nephew of Sir Philip Sidney.

Since he doth lack
Of going back

Little whose will

Doth urge him to run wrong, or to stand still.

Nor can a little of the common store
Of nobles' virtue show in you;
Your blood,

So good,

And great, must seek for new,

And study more;

Nor weary rest

On what's deceased;
For they that swell

With dust of ancestors in graves do dwell.

"Twill be exacted of you whose son,
Whose nephew, whose grandchild you are;
And men

Will then

Say you have followed far,

When well begun :

Which must be now,

They teach you how.

And he that stays

To live unto to-morrow hath lost two days.

So may you live in honour as in name,
If with this truth you be inspired;

So may
This day

Be more and long desired;

And with the flame

Of love be bright

As with the light

Of bonfires! then

The birthday shines, when logs not burn, but men.

With this we may well contrast

ONE-AND-TWENTY:

A SATIRE, BY DR. JOHNSON.
Long-expected One-and-twenty!
Ling'ring year, at length is flown:
Pride and pleasure, pomp and plenty,
Great Sir John are now your own.

Loosen'd from the minor's tether,
Free to mortgage or to sell,
Wild as wind, and light as feather,
Bid the sons of thrift farewell.

Call the Betseys, Kates, and Jennies,
All the names that banish care;
Lavish of your grandsire's guineas,
Show the spirit of an heir.

All that prey on vice and folly
Joy to see their quarry fly;
There the gamester; light and jolly,
There the lender, grave and sly.

Wealth, my lad, was made to wander,
Let it wander as it will:

Call the jockey, call the pander,

Bid them come and take their fill.

When the bonny blade carouses,
Pockets full and spirits high,
What are acres? what are houses?
Only dirt, or wet, or dry.

Should the guardian, friend, or mother
Tell the woes of wilful waste:
Scorn their counsels, scorn their pother,
You can hang or drown at last.

This lively satirical effusion was recited with great spirit by Dr. Johnson on his death-bed, when he said that he had composed it some years before, on the occasion of a rich, extravagant young gentleman coming of age. He had never repeated it but once before, and had never given but one copy of it. That copy was sent to Mrs. Thrale on the 8th of August, 1780, enclosed in a letter in which Dr. Johnson writes:—

"You have heard in the papers how Sir John Lade is come to age. I have enclosed a short song of congratulation, which you must not show to anybody. I hope you will read it with candour. It is, I believe, one of the author's first essays in that way of writing, and a beginner is always to be treated with tenderness."

Another of Dr. Johnson's birthday effusions was a Greek epigram, sent to Cave, of the Gentleman's Magazine. It was written in honour of the twentyfirst birthday of the learned and pious Miss Carter, for whom Dr. Johnson had a profound and steady friendship extending over fifty years. He told Cave that she ought to be celebrated in as many languages as Louis le Grand.

A very different style of poem Age," is that by Mrs. Hemans:

"On Coming of

TO MY ELDEST BROTHER,

LIEUTENANT IN THE ROYAL WELSH FUSILIERS, ON HIS
COMPLETING HIS TWENTY-FIRST YEAR.

While Hope, the syren fair and gay,
Tells of some future happy day,
Let Pleasure with benignant power,
The empress of the social hour,
Smile on the day to love so dear,
And smile more softly through a tear.

« PreviousContinue »