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Footing it in the dance that Fancy leads;
Ye novelists, who mar what ye would mend,
Snivelling and drivelling 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 rake-hell 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 you 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:
O 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 the 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 every 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 listening 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 favourite 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 reverend tutor, clad in habit lay,
To tease for cash, and quarrel with all day;
With memorandum-book for every town,
And every post, and where the chaise broke down;
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 wanderer into foreign lands.
Surprised at all they meet, the gosling pair,
With awkward gait, stretch'd neck, and silly stare,
Discover huge cathédrals built with stone,
And steeples towering high, much like our own;
shew peculiar light by many a grin At Popish practices observed within.
Ere long some bowing, smirking, smart abbé
Remarks two loiterers 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 headless hero, or some Cæsar shews-
Defective only in his Roman nose;
Exhibits elevations, drawings, plans,
Models of Herculaneum 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,
Freshening 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.
Learning itself, received into a mind
By nature weak, or viciously inclined,
Serves but to lead philosophers astray,
Where children would with ease discern the way.
And of all arts sagacious dupes invent,
To cheat themselves and gain the world's assent,
The worst is–Scripture warp'd from its intent.
The carriage bowls along, and all are pleased
If Tom be sober, and the wheels well greased ;
But if the rogue be gone a cup too far,
Left out his linchpin, or forgot his tar,
It suffers interruption and delay,
And meets with hindrance in the smoothest way.
When some hypothesis absurd and vain
Has fill’d with all its fumes a critic's brain,
The text that sorts not with his darling whim,
Though plain to others, is obscure to him.
The will made subject to a lawless force,
All is irregular, and out of course;
And Judgment drunk, and bribed to lose his way,
Winks hard, and talks of darkness at noonday.
A critic on the sacred book should be
Candid and learn'd, dispassionate and free;
Free from the wayward bias bigots feel,
From fancy's influence, and intemperate zeal ;
But above all (or let the wretch refrain,
Nor touch the page he cannot but profane),
Free from the domineering power of lust ;
A lewd interpreter is never just.
How shall I speak thee, or thy power address,
Thou god of our idolatry, the Press ?
By thee religion, liberty, and laws,
Exert their influence and advance their cause :
By thee worse plagues than Pharaoh's land befell,
Diffused, make Earth the vestibule of Hell ;
Thou fountain, at which drink the good and wise,
Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies;
Like Eden's dread probationary tree,
Knowledge of good and evil is from thee!
And daily, more enamour'd of the cheat,
Kneels, and asks Heaven to bless the dear deceit.
So one, whose story serves at least to shew
Men loved their own productions long ago,
Woo'd an unfeeling statue for his wife,
Norrested till the gods had given it life.
If some mere i. suck the sugar'd fib,
One that still needs his leading-string and bib,
And praise his genius, he is soon repaid
In praise applied to the same part—his head;
For 'tis a rule that holds for ever true,
Grant me discernment, and I grant it you.
Patient of contradiction as a child,
Affable, humble, diffident, and mild;
Such was Sir Isaac, and such Boyle and Locke;
Your blunderer is as sturdy as a rock.
The creature is so sure to kick and bite,
A muleteer's the man to set him right.
First Appetite enlists him Truth's sworn foe,
Then obstinate Self-will confirms him so.
Tell him he wanders: that his error leads
To fatal ills; that, though the path he treads
Beflowery, and he see no cause of fear,
Death and the pains of hell attend him there:
In vain; the slave of arrogance and pride,
He has no hearing on the prudent side.
His still refuted quirks he still repeats;
New raised objections with new quibbles meets;
Till, sinking in the quicksand he defends,
He dies disputing, and the contest ends—
But not the mischiefs; they, still left behind,
Like thistle-seeds, are sown by every wind.
Thus men go wrong with an ingenious skill;
Bend the straight rule to their own crooked will;
And, with a clear and shining lamp supplied,
First put it out, then take it for a guide.
Halting on crutches of unequal size,
Qne leg by truth o one by lies,
They sidle to the goal with awkward pace,
Secure of nothing—but to lose the race.
Faults in the life breed errors in the brain,
And these reciprocally those again.
The mind and conduct mutually imprint
And stamp their image in each other's mint;
Each, sire and dam of an infernal race,
Begetting and conceiving all that's base.
None sends his arrow to the mark in view,
Whose hand is feeble, or his aim untrue.
For though, ere yet the shaft is on the wing,
Or when it first forsakes the elastic string,
It err but little from the intended line,
It falls at last far wide of his design;
So he who seeks a mansion in the sky,
Must watch his purpose with a steadfast eye;