Tales of instruction: in verse and prose/The Hermit



Yet, O my ſoul, thy riſing murmurs ſtay,
Nor dare th' all-wife Diſpoſer to arraign,
Or againſt his ſupreme decree
With impious grief complain.

FAR in a wild, unknown to public view
From youth to age a rev'rend Hermit grew;
The moſs his bed, the cave his humble cell
His food the fruits, his drink the chryſtal well:
Remote from man, with God he paſs’d his days,
Pray'r all his bus’neſs, all his pleaſure praiſe
A life ſo ſacred, ſuch ſerene ſepoſe,
Seem'd heav'n itſelſ, 'till one ſuggeſtion roſe
That vice ſhould triumph, virtue vice obey
This ſprung ſome doubt of providence's ſway
His hopes no more a certain proſpect boaſt
And all the tenure of his ſoul is loſt.
So, when a ſmooth expanſe receives impreſt,
Calm nature's image on its wat’ry breaſt,
Down bend the banks, the trees depending grow,
And ſkies beneath with anſw'ring colours glow:
But if a ſtone the gentle ſea divide,
Swift ruffling circles curl on ev'ry ſide,
And glimm'ring fragments of a broken ſun,
Banks, trees, and ſkies, in thick diſorder run.
To clear this doubt, to know the world by ſight,
To find if books, or ſwains report it right,
For yet by ſwains alone the world he knew,
Whoſe feet came wand'ring o'er the nightly dew
He quits his cell; the pilgrim-ſtaff he bore,
And fix'd the ſcallop in his hat before.
Then with the ſun a riſing journey went,
Sedate to think, and watching each event.
The morn was waſted in the pathleſs graſs,
And long and loneſome was the wild to paſs:
But when the ſouthern ſun had warm'd the day,
A youth came poſting o'er a croſſing way;
His raiment decent, his complexion fair;
And ſoft in graceful ringlets wav'd his hair.
Then near approaching, Father, hail! he cry'd;
And, Hail! my ſon, the rev'rend ſire reply'd:
Words follow'd words, from queſtion anſwer flow'd,
And talk of various kind deceiv'd the road:
Till each with other pleas'd, and loth to part,
While in their age they differ, join in heart.
Thus ſtands an aged elm, in ivy bound;
Thus youthful ivy claſps the elm around.
Now ſunk the ſun, the cloſing hour of day
Came onward, mantl’d o’er with ſober grey
Nature in ſilence bid the world repoſe:
When near the road a ſtately palace roſe.
There by the moon thro’ ranks of trees they paſs,
Whoſe verdure crown'd their ſloping ſide of graſs.
It chanc'd, the noble maſter of the dome,
Still made his houſe the wand'ring ſtranger' home:
Yet ſtill the kindneſs from a thirſt of praiſe
Prov'd the vain flouriſh of expenſive eaſe.
The pair arrive: The liv'ry'd ſervants wait
Their Lord receives them at the pompous gate.
The table groans with coſtly piles of food,
And all is more than hoſpitably good.
Then led to reſt, the day's long toil they drown,
Deep funk in ſleep, and ſilk, and heaps of down.
At length 'tis morn, and at the dawn of day,
Along the wide canals the Zephyrs play:
Freſh o'er the gay parterres the breezes creep
And ſhake the neighb'ring wood to baniſh ſlеер.
Up riſe the gueſts, obedient to the call;
An early banquet deck'd the ſplended hall
Rich luſcious wine a golden goblet grac'd,
Which the kind maſter forc'd the gueſts to taſte.
Then, pleas'd and thankful, from the porch they go;
And, but the landlord, none had cauſe of wo:
His cup was vaniſh'd; for in ſecret guiſe
The younger gueſt purloin'd the glitt'ring prize.
As one who 'spies a ſerpent in his way,
Gliſtning and baſking in the ſummer-ray,
Diſorder'd ſtops to ſhun the danger near,
Then walks with faintneſs on, and looks with fear:
So ſeem'd the fire, when, far upon the road,
The ſhining ſpoil his wiley partner ſhow'd.
He ſtopt with ſilence, walk'd with tremb-ling heart,
And much he wiſh'd, but durſt not aſk to part:
Murm'ring be lifts his eyes, & thinks it hard,
That gen'rous actions meet a baſe reward.

While thus they paſs, the ſun his glory ſhrouds,
The changing ſkies hang out their ſable clouds;
A ſound in air preſag'd approaching rain,
And beaſts to covert ſcud acroſs the plain.
Warn'd by the ſigns, the wand'ring pair retreat,
To ſeek for ſhelter at a neighb'ring ſeat.
'Twas built with turrets, on a riſing ground,
And ſtrong, and large, and unimprov'd around;
It's owner's temper, tim'rous and ſevere,
Unkind and gripping, caus'd a deſart there
As near the Miſer's heavy doors they drew
Fierce riſing guſts with ſudden fury blew;
The nimble light'ning mixt with ſhow'rs began,
And o'er their heads loud rolling thunder ran.
Here long they knock, but knock or call in vain,
Driv'n by the wind, and batter'd by the rain
At length ſome pity warm'd the maſter's breaſt,
('Twas then his threſhold firſt receiv'd a gueſt)
Slow creaking turns the door with jealous care,
And half he welcomes in the ſhiv'ring pair:
One frugal faggot lights the naked walls,
And nature's fervour thro' their limbs recalls,
Bread of the coarſeſt ſort, with eager wine,
(Each hardly granted) ſerv'd them both to dine,
And when the tempeſt firſt appear'd to ceaſe
A ready warning bid them part in peace.
With ſtill remark the pond'ring hermit view'd,
In one ſo rich, a life ſo poor and rude;
And why ſhould ſuch (within himſelf he cry'd)
Lock the loſt wealth, a thouſand want beſide?
But what new marks of wonder ſoon took place,
In ev'ry ſettling feature of his face,
when from his veſt the young companion bore
That cup the gen'rous landlord own'd before,
And paid profuſely with the precious bowl
The ſtinted kindneſs of this churliſh ſoul!
But now the clouds in airy tumult fly,
The ſun emerging opes an azure ſky;
A freſher green the ſmelling leaves diſplay,
And glitt'ring as they tremble, chear the day ;
The weather courts them from the retreat,
And the glad maſter bolts the wary gate.
While hence they walk, the pilgrim's boſom wrought
With all the travail of uncertain thought.
His partner's acts without their cauſe appear;
Twas there a vice, and ſeem'd a madneſs here:
Deteſting that, and pitying this, he goes,
Loſt and confounded with the various ſhows.

Now night's dim fhades again involve the ſky
Again the wand'rers want a place to lie,
Again they ſearch, and find a lodging nigh;

The ſoil improv'd around, the manſion neat,
And neither poorly low, nor idly great:
It ſeem'd to ſpeak its maſter's turn of mind;
Content, and not for praiſe, but virtue kind.
Hither the walkers turn with weary feet:
Then bleſs the manſion, & the maſter greet:
Their greeting fair beſtow'd, with modeſt guiſe,
The courteous maſter hears, and thus replies:
"Without a vain, without a grudging heart,
"To him who gives us all, I yield a part;
"From him you come, for him accept it here,
"A frank & ſober, more than coſtly chear."
He ſpoke, and bid the welcome table ſpread
Then talk'd of virtue till the time of bed;
When the grave houſhold round his hall repair,
Warn’d by a bell, and cloſe the hours with pray'r.
At length the world, renew'd by calm repoſe,
Was ſtrong for toil, the dappled morn aroſe.
Before the pilgrims part, the younger crept
Near the clos'd cradle, where an infant ſlept,
And writh'd his neck; the landlord's little pride,
O ſtrange return! grew black, and gafp'd, and dy'd.
Horror of horrors! what! his only ſon!
How look'd our hermit when the fact was done!
Not hell, tho' hell's black jaws in ſunder part,
And breathe blue fire, could more aſſault his heart.
Confus'd, & ſtruck with ſilence at the deed,
He flies, but trembling fails to fly with ſpeed.
His ſteps the youth purſues. The country lay
Perplex'd with roads; a ſervant ſhew'd the way:
A river croſs'd the path; the paſſage o'er
Was nice to find; the ſervant trode before.
Long arms of oaks an open bridge ſupply'd,
And deep the waves beneath the bending glide.
The youth, who ſeem'd to watch a time to ſin,
Approach'd the careleſs guide, and thruſt him in.
Plunging he falls, and riſing lifts his head,
Then flaſhing turns, and ſinks among the dead.
Wild, ſparkling rage inflames the father's eyes;
He burſt the bands of fear, and madly cries,
Deteſted wretch——but ſcarce his ſpeech began,
When the ſtrange partner ſeem'd no longer man;
His youthful face grew more ſerenely ſweet;
His robe turn'd white, and flow'd upon his feet;
Fair rounds of radiant points inveſt his hair,
Celeſtial odours breathe thro' purpled air;
And wings, whofe colours glitter'd on the day,
Wide at his back their gradual plumes diſplay
The form etherial burſts upon his ſight,
And moves in all the majeſty of light.
Tho' loud at firſt the pilgrim's paſſion grew,
Sudden he gaz'd, and wiſt not what to do;
Surprize in ſecret chains his words ſuſpends,
And in a calm his ſettling temper ends.
But ſilence here the beauteous angel broke,
(The voice of muſic raviſh'd as he ſpoke.)
Thy pray'r, thy praiſe, thy life to vice unknown,
In ſweet memorial riſe before the throne.
Theſe charms ſucceſs in our bright region find,
And force an angel down to calm thy mind;
For this commiſſion'd, I forſook the ſky—
Nay ceaſe to kneel,—thy fellow-ſervant I:
Then know the truth of government divine,
And let theſe ſcruples be no longer thine.
The Maker juſtly claims that world he made,
In this the right of providence is laid:
Its ſacred majeſty thro' all depends,
On uſing ſecond means to work his ends:
'Tis thus, withdrawn in ſtate from human eye,
Thepower exerts his attributes on high;
Your actions uſes, nor controuls your will,
And bids the doubting ſons of men be ſtill.
What ſtrange events can ſtrike with more ſurprize,
Than thoſe which lately ſtruck thy wondring eyes?
Yet, taught by theſe, confeſs th' Almighty juſt,
And where you can't unriddle, learn to truſt!

The great, vain man, who far'd on coſtly food,
Whoſe life was too luxurious to be good;
Who made his iv'ry ſtands with goblets ſhine,
And forc'd his gueſts to morning-draughts of wine;
Has, with the cup, the graceleſs cuſtom loſt,
And ſtill he welcomes, but with leſs of coſt.
The mean, ſuſpicious wretch, whoſe bolted door
Ne'er mov'd in duty to the wandring poor:
With him I left the cup, to teach his mind,
That heav'n can bleſs, if mortals will be kind.
Conſcious of wanting worth, he views the bowl,
And feels compaſſion touch his grateful ſoul.
Thus artiſts melt the ſullen ore of lead,
With heaping coals of fire upon its head;
In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow,
And looſe from droſs, the ſilver runs below.
Long had our pious friend in virtue trode,
But now the child half wean'd his heart from God;
(Child of his age) for him he liv'd in pain,
And measſur'd back his ſteps to earth again.
To what exceſſes had his dotage run?
But God, to ſave the father, took the ſon.
To all, but thee, in fits he ſeem'd to go,
(And 'twas my miniſtry to deal the blow.)
The poor fond parent, humbled in the duſt,
Now owns in tears the puniſhment was juſt.
But how had all his fortune felt a wreck,
Had that falſe ſervant ſped in ſafety back?
This night his treaſur'd heaps he meant to ſteal!
And what a fund of charity would fail!

Thus heav'n inſtructs thy mind; this trial o'er,
Depart in peace, reſign, and ſin no more.

On ſounding pinions here the youth withdrew:
The ſage ſtood wondring as the ſeraph flew.
Thus look'd Eliſha, when, to mount on high,
His maſter took the chariot of the ſky:
The fiery pomp aſcending left the view;
The prophet gaz'd and wiſh'd to follow too.
The bending hermit here a pray'r begun,
Lord, as in heaven, on earth thy will be done:
Then gladly turning, fought his ancient place,
And paſs'd a life of piety and peace.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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