« PreviousContinue »
MY DEAR Mecenas: in this noisy time,
When party.chorus drowns the song of rhyme,
When the wide strife of busy patriots, prone
To push their country's welfare, and their own,
So stuns, that lyres the loudest to our ears
Would murmur softly as the hymning spheres,
What hope has mine, the faintest of the irain,
To wake and win a hearing for its strain?
But thou wilt list, however rude my skill
Above the strife we'll hold communion still:
Watch undisturbed the raving crowd the while,
And smile, where shame forbids us not to smile.
From the high watch-tower of thine elbow.chair,
Survey the land -- behold the conflict there:
The same as ever in free states abides:
Two broad divisions take contending sides,
The Ins and OUTS — for such their titles still,
Disguise, miscall them as their holders will.
The Outs combine the spoils of power to gain,
The Ins are leagued as firmly to retain.
Assailants those, defenders ihese we find :
They sound their war-cries, and the battle's joined.
The Ins besieged the 'vantage ground maintain --
They must be ousted ere their foes can gain ;
But with assailants glows a hope, a zeal,
An active spur, their rivals never feel.
The Ins, their hot besiegers to annoy,
Proclaim them plunderers, banded to destroy:
The Outs declare the land about 10 sink,
Law, justice, freedom on destruction's brink;
Our wealth, wives, fire-sides, children, all at stake;
Shakes with the din the land -- so let it shake:
'Tis scene for laughter rather than for fear;
Such blustering tempest sweeps the sky more clear.
'Tis like the strife of Law's fierce brotherhood,
Whose fruit is truth, the nation's heartiest food.
Now patriots swarm : oh, happy, happy land !
Such hosts of brave defenders to command.
They err who hold that dangers chiefly breed
Spontaneous patriots at their country's need;
For most we find the precious crop increase,
When sleeps the nation in the arms of peace.
Thronged e'er, as now, such numbers ready-made,
Their darling country — and themselves -- to aid ?
Speak Muse! -- how now!- response I vainly seek :
The jade so titters that she cannot speak.
'T were well indeed did partisan excess
Beyond fair courtesy no farther press;
But the low arts now growing into use,
Demand severe chastisement of the Muse.
Parties are courtiers to the people-king -
Each seeks the shelter of the sovereign's wing -
Should one win favor by a fawning bow,
His foe supplants him by a stoop more low;
Both hope to find by flatt'ry's readier clue,
The grace alone to honest service due.
No fouler maxim 'scaped the devil's lair
Than this, that 'all in politics is fair:'
That men in crowds may stoop to deeds of shame,
Which singly done, would blast the lairest fame :
Lone bearis, that quake by spectral shame assailed,
When backed by numbers, muet the ghost unquailed.
As if disgrace that would alone appal
By others shared were no disgrace at all :
Fierce partisans with this unholy cry,
Rush to the tight and every weapon ply -
No means too base that win the victory:
Uphold for office to the giddy mass
The most obsequious of the servile class;
From crawling creatures choose their candidate,
Since worms for gudgeons are the surest bail.
And slanderous charges of curruption wide,
Reckless of truth, they hurl from side to side;
With taunts so filthy ihat they soji alike
The lips that cast them with the heads they strike.
Peace to all such!- the muse disdains her wrath
To waste on reptiles that beset her path.
But were there some whose lofty shining name
Their country blazons on her lists of fame,
With honor pure, with genius like the sun
That warms and quickens all it shines upon,
Whom our proud hearts when civil tempests chafe,
As beacons hail, and feel the state is sate ;
Should such, ambitious blindly of disgrace,
Sioop from their height to seek or hold to place,
And yielding country at a party's call,
Grant to the half what should be given to all,*
And plunging reckless in the muddy tide,
Rush on our pily who were once our pride -
No matter whither, so themselves but ride;
Slaves, by their myriad masters' will assigned
Tasks most revolung to the lofty mind;
To quit the bench, the senate, for the field,
For sell the arms of eloquence to wield;
Blushing, to vauni their merits through ihe land,
And sue for praises which they should command :
The friends of peace --- the faines of strile to light:
The people's guides - to lead them from the right:
To rouse the passions which they should allay,
To cloud the visions they should light with day:
And, hardest service for a generous foe,
To hide all merit which their rivals show :
Neglecting country often in her need,
Before a rival's measure shall succeed.
Oh! sad decline - oh! fatal barter base!
When Freedom's champions honor yield for place:
What doom to sullied greatness shall we deal ?
Enough reproach !- they need it not who feel.
The muse forbears, when conscience' self shall scourge
With lash more sure than satire's skill can urge :
To such, defeat can scarcely add a sting,
And triumph's tide flows bilier from its spring.
Time was, the highway up to public fame
By honest hearis was travelled without shame;
But who would now a road so miry tread,
To win dishonoring laurels for his head?
For me, Mecanas, if the choice were mine,
Albeit unfit in such career to shine,
Albeit too glad to win the humblest fame,
I would not seek what must be sought through shame.
** And to party give up what was meant for maukind.'-GOLDSMITH.
If I must sell my freeman's right of speech,
Nor hold a thought save what my masters teach;
For grudging votes play beggar where I can,
And stoop to all that misbecomes a man;
If I musi balk my rival in the race,
By every artifice uncourteous, base;
Conceal the good, exaggerate the ill,
And though convinced keep unconverted still;
If I must, losing, pour on him that beat
Slanders most coarse, for ruffians only meet ;
Or, winning, vainly boasting of my crown,
With scoff unmanly foully tread him down ;
And, more than all, if I must basely part
With every stay that props the manly heart,
Respect, pride, conscience, justice, honesty,
And though a freeman be no longer free;
If such the route the dupe of fame must stray,
Oh! lead me, Heaven! some safe, inglorious way;
Yes! better linger in my lowly sphere,
Than purchase honors at a price so dear;
Yes! better rest an humble son of rhyme,
With spurring wish, but halting power to climb;
With dogging critics yelping at my heels,
And all the pangs the poet dreams he feels :
Not wholly cheerless, while a page is free
Where I, Mecænas, may commune with thee.
Where, though the loud world haply scorns to hear,
A friendly few still lend a willing ear:
Oh! sure the bard not wholly chants in vain
That finds one worthy listener for his strain.
Adieu ! my friend ; although my anxious mind
Much to condemn, and more to pity find,
I am no croaker, for I feel too sure
New habits will prevail, and times more pure :
Deem we the last, whatever tempests wear,
That of our brave republic would despair.
Yes! though her frame should tremble to its base
With the rude struggle of the game for place,
Though the mad waves clash eager to o'erwhelm,
Still would I hope, while Freedom kept the helm!
Our fathers' blood still courses in our veins,
Our fathers' banner streams above our plains :
Let but a foeman's footstep print the sand,
I know one thrill would quiver through the land;
I know the ranks now face to face that brawl,
Would, opening sudden at the trumpet's call,
Wheel to the foe with undivided front,
Blent on the instant for the battle's brunt.
And our proud stars, that sleep in silver haze,
When peace o'erpowers them with her moonlight blaze,
In war's eclipse would kindle on the eye,
And cheer the nations as in days gone by!
Cuaries, you must go with me to Mrs. Brown's to-night.' • Me! Why, Ellen, you
know *That you have never been to a party before,'I suppose. So much the more reason why you should go now. Here you are, eighteen years old, and half through college. It's bigh time to make a beginning.'
• I do n't know what under heaven I should do there.' • What all the other young men do; talk to the ladies.' 'I'm afraid I could n't do much that way. To tell you the truth, I have n't 'small talk' enough to go to a party.'
• Vastly complimentary! But suppose you pull down your towering intellect a little, and condescend to lay aside your books for one night, and mingle with us ordinary mortals, on a footing of equality. It won't do you any serious injury.'
• But, Ellen, I have no invitation.'
• Because, Mrs. Brown did not know that you were here. If she had heard of your arrival in town, she would certainly have sent you one. Don't you remember she gave you a general invitation last wivter?'
I was not altogether convinced by this logic; but my cousin was determined to take no excuse. Finding escape impossible, I resigued myself to my fate, and went to Stewart's for a pair of white kids.
Parties and balls have always been my especial detestation. I have often wondered why they were invented; and after many profound cogitations on the subject, could only find these two reasons; first to enable ladies and gentlemen of fashion to kill time ; and secondly, lo afford a sort of market, where young woinen may be shown off to the best advantage, and young men most readily entangled in the snares of Cupid and Hymen. Now, touching the first of these motives, I never find the hours bang beavy on my hands. 'Ars longa, vita brevis.' Art is long and time is fleeting,' as Longfellow translates it; and I have always quite as much to do as I can conveniently inanage. With respect io the second, I h: ve never been matrimonially inclined; and least of all just now, when it requires all my energies to support my single self. Heaven knows what I should do with a wife and two or three small. But I am digressing. Suffice it to say, I bave po earthly motive to go to parties of any kind, except it should be the supper; and that, to use a common but expressive phrase, 'do n't pay.' But I write of a time when I was younger. I had not then seen the folly' of the thing; and I consented in despite of my better judgment.
The eveutful hour of my first appearance' drew nigh. I arrayed myself for the nonce in a full-dress suit, with pumps and silk stockings. I abominate
pumps. They seem to have been invented on purpose to cripple the wearer. If they are tight, you are kept in continual torment; if loose, they threaten to slip off every moment;
and you are forced to maneuvre about in them like a cat shod with walnuts. The man who first introduced dress-boots, deserves to be enrolled among the benefactors of the human race. But at this time, they were not generally worn; so I crammed my feet, as I have said, into a pair of pumps. Having performed my ablutions with the most scrupulous care, and ascertained, by divers surveys, that I was
comme il faut in every respect, I emptied about half the contents of a bottle of Cologne upon my white 'kerchief, took a moderate draught out of the same, (I mean the bottle,) by way of inspiring myself with a little Dutch courage, and then drawing on my new gloves, I sallied forth.
Now behold us, myself and cousin, descending from the dressing. room to Mrs. Brown's well-filled parlor. I heartily wished myself safe home again ; for in spite of the Cologne, I felt a sort of all-overishness which, as the novel-writers say, 'can be more easily imagined than described. It was not modesty, nor bashfulness : these are commodities with which I was never overstocked. I could even then, at an examination, rattle off an extempore translation of a passage which I bad never before seen, with such rapidity as to puzzle the professor completely; or hold a half-bour's altercation in the recitation-room with the tutor, on the proper reading of a line in Homer; and since that time, I have delivered lectures, addressed political meetings, called on very particular friends to borrow money; and performed various other acts, which require an extra quantity of brass. It was the sense of utter unfitness for my present situation, of being completely ineptus, as the old Romans used to call it; it was the consciousness of being as much out of my element as a shad would be on the top of a church steeple. I hate to be a cipher any where : here I was the veriest of ciphers.
We had exchanged the usual civilities with our hostess ; my cousin was surrounded by a group of beaux, and I stood still and silent, without the slightest idea of what was to be done next. A young man approached in a claret-colored coat, yellow gloves, and blue cravat. He was one of those cousins or nephews who are always at hand, on such occasions, to make themselves generally useful.' Mrs. Brown introduced him: we bowed and shook hands, after the most approved fashion. • Do you
dance, Mr. Cebe?' • Yees, that is - I believe I know how.'
* Let me bave the pleasure of introducing you to a young lady,' quoth he; and taking possession of my unresisting arm, he dragged me through the crowd, half across the room, and presently came to a sudden halt in front of a Miss, apparently some fifteen years old.
Miss Cleveland, allow me to have the pleasure of introducing to you Mr. Cebe.'
Good evening, Miss Cleveland,' said I, executing a bow with all the grace I could muster. Off shot my evil genius in the yellow gloves, leaving me sub cultro.
Miss Cleveland murmured something in reply which I did not hear; then she looked down at her feet very sentimentally, and prebently the little foot moved' à la Eve Effingham. Prenez garde! I am getting on dangerous ground. The amiable Mr. Effingham may