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Like fabled Tantalus, condemn’d to hear
The precious stream still purling in his ear,
Lip-deep in what he longs for, and yet curst
With prohibition and perpetual thirst ?
No, wrangler-destitute of shame and sense,
The precept that enjoins man abstinence,
Forbids him none but the licentious joy,
Whose fruit, though fair, tempts only to destroy.
Remorse, the fatal egg by pleasure laid
In ev'ry bosom where her nest is made,
Hatch'd by the beains of truth, denies him rest,
And proves a raging scorpion in his breast.
No pleasure ? Are domestic comforts dead ?
Are all the nameless sweets of friendship fled ?
Has time worn out, or fashion put to shame
Good sense, good health, good conscience, and good fame?
All these belong to virtue, and all prove
That virtue has a title to your love.
Have you no touch of pity, that the poor
Stand starved at your inhospitable door ?
Or if yourself, too scantily supplied,
Need help, let honest industry provide.
Earn, if you want ; if you abound, impart :
These both are pleasures to the feeling heart.
No pleasure ? has soine sickly eastern waste
Sent us a wind to parch us at a blast ?
Can British Paradise no scenes afford
To please her sated and indiff'rent lord ?
Are sweet philosophy's enjoyments run
Quite to the lees? And has religion none ?
Brutes capable would tell you 'tis a lie,
And judge you from the kennel and the sty.
Delights like these, ye sensual and profane,
Ye are bid, begg’d, besought, to entertain ;
Call’d to these crystal streams, do ye turn off
Obscene to swill and swallow at a trough ?
Envy the beast then, on whom Heaven bestows
Your pleasures, with no curses in the close.
Pleasure admitted in undue degree
Enslaves the will, nor leaves the judgment free.
'Tis not alone the grape's enticing juice
Unnerves the moral powers, and mars their use ;
Ambition, av’rice, and the lust of fame,
And woman, lovely woman, does the same.
The heart, surrender'd to the ruling power
Of some ungovern’d passion ev'ry hour,
Finds by degrees the truths, that once bore sway,
And all their deep impression, wears away ;
So coin grows smooth, in traffic current pass’d,
Till Cæsar's image is effaced at last.
The breach, though small at first, soon op’ning wide,
In rushes folly with a full-moon tide.
Then welcome errors of whatever size,
To justify it by a thousand lies.
As creeping ivy clings to wood or stone,
And hides the ruin that it feeds upon;
So sophistry cleaves close to and protects
Sin's rotten trunk, concealing its defects.
Mortals, whose pleasures are their only care,
First wish to be imposed on, and then are ;
And, lest the foulsome artifice should fail,
Themselves will hide its coarseness with a veil.
Not more industrious are the just and true,
To give to virtue what is virtue's due
The praise of wisdom, comeliness, and worth,
And call her charms to public notice forth
Than Vice's mean and disingenuous race,
To hide the shocking features of her face.
Her form with dress and lotion they repair ;
Then kiss their idol, and pronounce her fair.
The sacred implement I now employ
Might prove a mischief, or, at best, a toy; .
A trifle, if it move but to amuse;
But, if to wrong the judgment and abuse,
Worse than a poniard in the basest hand,
It stabs at once the morals of a land.
Ye writers of what none with safety reads,
Footing it in the dance that fancy leads ;
Ye novelists, who mar what ye would mend,
Sniv'lling and driv'lling folly without end, .
Whose corresponding misses fill the ream
With sentimental frippery and dream,
Caught in a delicate soft silken net
By some lewd earl, or rakehell baronet ;
Ye pimps, who under virtue's fair pretence,
Steal to the closet of young innocence,
And teach her, inexperienced yet, and green,
To scribble as ye scribbled at fifteen;
Who kindling a combustion of desire,
With some cold moral think to quench the fire ;
Though all your engineering proves in vain,
The dribbling stream ne'er puts it out again :
Oh, that a verse had power, and could command
Far, far away these flesh-flies of the land;
Who fasten without mercy on the fair,
And suck, and leave a craving maggot there!
Howe'er disguised th' inflammatory tale,
And cover'd with a fine-spun specious veil ;
Such writers, and such readers, owe the gust
And relish of their pleasure all to lust.
But the muse, eagle-pinion'd, has in view
A quarry more important still than you ;
Down, down the wind she swims, and sails away,
Now stoops upon it, and now grasps the prey.
Petronius! all the Muses weep for thee ; * But ev'ry tear shall scald thy memory : The Graces, too, while virtue at their shrine Lay bleeding under that soft hand of thine, Felt each a mortal stab in her own breast, Abhorr'd the sacrifice, and cursed the priest. Thou polish'd and high-finish'd foe to truth, Graybeard corrupter of our listning youth, To purge and skim away the filth of vice, That, so refined, it might the more entice, Then pour it on the morals of thy son ; To taint his heart, was worthy of thine own. Now, while the poison all high life pervades, Write, if thou canst, one letter from the shades, One, and one only, charged with deep regret, That thy worst part, thy principles, live yet :
One sad epistle thence may cure mankind
Of the plague spread by bundles left behind.
'Tis granted, and no plainer truth appears,
Our most important are our earliest years ;
The mind, impressible and soft, with ease
Imbibes and copies what she hears and sees,
And through life's labyrinth holds fast the clue
That education gives her, false or true.
Plants raised with tenderness are seldom strong;
Man's coltish disposition asks the thong;
And without discipline, the fav’rite child,
Like a neglected forester, runs wild.”
But we, as if good qualities would grow
Spontaneous, take but little pains to sow;
We give some Latin, and a smatch of Greek ;
Teach him to fence and figure twice a-week ;
And having done, we think, the best we can,
Praise his proficiency, and dub him man.
From school to Cam or Isis, and thence home;
And thence, with all convenient speed, to Rome,
With rev’rend tutor, clad in habit lay,
To tease for cash, and quarrel with all day;
With memorandum book for ev'ry town,
And ev'ry post, and where the chaise broke down ; 6
His stock, a few French phrases got by heart,
With much to learn, but nothing to impart;
The youth, obedient to his sire's commands,
Sets off a wand'rer into foreign lands :
Surprised at all they meet, the gosling pair,
With awkward gait, stretch'd neck, and silly stare,
Discover huge cathedrals built with stone,
And steeples tow'ring high much like our own;
But shew peculiar light by many a grin,
At popish practices observed within.
Ere long, some bowing, smirking, smart abbé,
Remarks two loit'rers that have lost their way,
And being always primed with politesse
For men of their appearance and address,
With much compassion undertakes the task,
To tell them more than they have wit to ask ;
Points to inscriptions wheresoe'er they tread,
Such as, when legible, were never read,
But, being canker'd now and half worn out,
Craze antiquarian brains with endless doubt ;
Some heedless hero, or some Cæsar shews —
Defective only in his Roman nose ;
Exhibits elevations, drawings, plans,
Models of Herculanean pots and pans ;
And sells them medals, which, if neither rare
Nor ancient, will be so, preserved with care.
Strange the recital ! from whatever cause
His great improvement and new lights he draws,
The squire, once bashful, is shamefaced no more,
But teems with powers he never felt before :
Whether increased momentum, and the force
With which from clime to clime he sped his course,
As axles sometimes kindle as they go,
Chafed him, and brought dull nature to a glow;
Or whether clearer skies and softer air,
That make Italian flowers so sweet and fair,
Fresh’ning his lazy spirits as he ran,
Unfolded genially and spread the man ;
Returning he proclaims by many a grace,
By shrugs and strange contortions of his face,
How much a dunce, that has been sent to roam,
Excels a dunce that has been kept at home.
Accomplishments have taken virtue's place,
And wisdom falls before exterior grace :
We slight the precious kernel of the stone,
And toil to polish its rough coat alone.
A just deportment, manners graced with ease,
Elegant phrase, and figure form’d to please,
Are qualities, that seem to comprehend
Whatever parents, guardians, schools intend ;
Hence an unfurnish'd and a listless mind,
Though busy, trifling; empty, though refined :
Hence all that interferes, and dares to clash
With indolence and luxury, is trash ;
While learning, once the man's exclusive pride,
Seems verging fast towards the female side.