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Who pass, repass, advance, and glide away;
Hosts raised by fear, and phantoms of a day:
Astrologers, that future fates foreshow,
Projectors, quacks, and lawyers not a few;
And priests, and party zealots, numerous bands,
With home-born lies, or tales from foreign lands;
Each talk'd aloud, or in some secret place,
And wild impatience stared in every face.
The flying rumours gather'd as they roll'd,
Scarce any tale was sooner heard than told;
And all who told it added something new,
And all who heard it made enlargements too ;
In every ear it spread, on every tongue it grew.
Thus flying east and west, and north and south,
News travell’d with increase from mouth to mouth.
So from a spark, that kindled first by chance,
With gathering force the quickening flames advance;
Till to the clouds their curling heads aspire,
And towers and temples sink in floods of fire.
When thus ripe lies are to perfection sprung,
Full grown, and fit to grace a mortal tongue,
Through thousand vents, impatient, forth they flow,
And rush in millions on the world below,
Fame sits aloft, and points them out their course,
Their date determines, and prescribes their force :
Some to remain, and some to perish soon;
Or wane and wax alternate with the moon.
Around, a thousand winged wonders fly,
Borne by the trumpet's blast, and scatter'd through
There, at one passage,
oft you might survey
A lie and truth contending for the way;
And long 'twas doubtful, though so closely pent,
Which first should issue through the narrow vent.
At last agreed, together out they fly,
Inseparable now the truth and lie;
The strict companions are for ever join'd,
And this or that unmix’d, no mortal e'er shall find.
While thus I stood, intent to see and hear, One came, methought, and whisper'd in my ear:
What could thus high thy rash ambition raise? Art thou, fond youth, a candidate for praise ?'
• 'Tis true,' said I; 'not void of hopes I came; For who so fond as youthful bards of Fame? But few, alas ! the casual blessing boast, So hard to gain, so easy to be lost. How vain that second life in others' breath, The estate which wits inherit after death! Ease, health, and life, for this they must resign, (Unsure the tenure, but how vast the fine !) The great man's curse, without the gains, endure, Be envied, wretched, and be flatter'd, poor; All luckless wits their enemies profess'd, And all successful, jealous friends at best: Nor Fame I slight, nor for her favours call; She comes unlook'd-for, if she comes at all. But if the purchase cost so dear a price As soothing folly, or exalting vice, Oh ! if the muse must flatter lawless sway, And follow still where fortune leads the way; Or if no basis bear my rising name, But the fallen ruins of another's fame; Then, teach me, Heaven! to scorn the guilty bays, Drive from my breast that wretched lust of praise : Unblemish'd let me live, or die unknown; Oh, grant an honest fame, or grant me none !
JANUARY AND MAY;
THE MERCHANT'S TALE.
THERE lived in Lombardy, as authors write,
In days of old, a wise and worthy knight,
of gentle manners, as of generous race,
Bless'd with much sense, more riches, and some grace;
Yet, led astray by Venus' soft delights,
He scarce could rule some idle appetites :
For long ago, let priests say what they could,
Weak sinful laymen were but flesh and blood.
But in due time, when sixty years were o'er,
He vow'd to lead this vicious life no more :
Whether pure holiness inspired his mind,
Or dotage turn'd his brain, is hard to find:
But his high courage prick'd him forth to wed,
And try the pleasures of a lawful bed.
This was his nightly dream, his daily care,
And to the heavenly powers his constant prayer,
Once ere he died, to taste the blissful life
Of a kind husband and a loving wife.
These thoughts he fortified with reasons still,
(For none want reasons to confirm their will.)
Grave authors say, and witty poets sing,
That honest wedlock is a glorious thing :
But depth of judgment most in him appears,
Who wisely weds in his maturer years.
Then let him choose a damsel young and fair,
To bless his age, and bring a worthy heir:
To soothe his cares, and, free from noise and strife,
Conduct him gently to the verge of life.
Let sinful bachelors their woes deplore,
Full well they merit all they feel, and more :
Unawed by precepts human or divine,
Like birds and beasts promiscuously they join :
Nor know to make the present blessing last,
To hope the future, or esteem the past :
But vainly boast the joys they never tried,
And find divulged the secrets they would hide.
The married man may bear his yoke with ease;
Secure at once himself and Heaven to please ;
And pass bis inoffensive hours away,
In bliss all night, and innocence all day :
Though fortune change, his constant spouse remains, Augments his joys, or mitigates his pains.
But what so pure, which envious tongues will spare ?
Some wicked wits have libell'd all the fair.
With matchless impudence they style a wife
The dear-bought curse, and lawful plague of life;
A bosom-serpent, a domestic evil,
A night-invasion, and a mid-day devil.
Let not the wise these slanderous words regard,
But curse the bones of every lying bard.
All other goods by fortune's hand are given ;
A wife is the peculiar gift of Heaven.
Vain fortune's favours, never at a stay,
Likę empty shadows, pass, and glide away;
One solid comfort, our eternal wife,
Abundantly supplies us all our life :
This blessing lasts (if those who try say true)
As long as heart can wish—and longer too.
Our grandsire Adam, ere of Eve possessid,
Alone, and e'en in Paradise unbless'd,
With mournful looks the blissful scenes survey'd;
And wander'd in the solitary shade:
The Maker saw, took pity, and bestow'd
oman, the last, the best reserved of God.
A wife! ah gentle deities, ean he That has a wife, e'er feel adversity ? Would men but follow what the sex advise, All things would prosper, all the world grow wise. 'Twas by Rebecca's aid that Jacob won His father's blessing from an elder son: Abusive Nabal owed his forfeit life To the wise conduct of a prudent wife : Heroic Judith, as old Hebrews show, Preserved the Jews, and slew the Assyrian foe : At Esther's suit, the persecuting sword Was sheathed, and Israel lived to bless the Lord.
These weighty motives, January the sage Maturely ponder'd in his riper age;
And, charm'd with virtuous joys and sober life,
Would try that Christian comfort, call'd a wise.
His friends were summon'd on a point so nice,
To pass their judgment, and to give advice;
But fix'd before, and well resolved was he ;
(As men that ask advice are wont to be.)
My friends,' he cried, (and cast a mournful look
Around the room, and sigh'd before he spoke :)
• Beneath the weight of threescore years I bend,
And worn with cares and hastening to my end;
How I have lived, alas ! you know too well,
In worldly follies, which I blush to tell;
But gracious Heaven has ope'd my eyes at last,
With due regret I view my vices past,
And, as the precept of the Church decrees,
Will take a wife, and live in holy ease.
But, since by counsel all things should be done,
And many heads are wiser still than one;
Choose you for me, who best shall be content
When my desire 's approved by your consent.
One caution yet is needful to be told, To guide your choice; this wife must not be old There goes a saying, and 'twas shrewdly said, Old fish at table, but young flesh in bed. My soul abhors the tasteless, dry embrace Of a stale virgin with a winter face : In that cold season Love but treats his guest With bean-straw, and tough forage at the best. No crafty widows shall approach my bed ; Those are too wise for bachelors to wed i As subtle clerks, by many schools are made, Twice-married dames are mistresses of the trade; But young and tender virgins, ruled with ease, We form like wax, and mould them as we please.
“Conceive me, sirs, nor take my sense amiss ; 'Tis what concerns my soul's eternal bliss : Since if I found no pleasure in my spouse, As flesh is frail, and who (God help me) knows?