Open main menu



[15 continued]

NIGHT II.
ON TIME, DEATH, AND FRIENDSHIP.

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL OF WILMONGTON.


"WHEN the cock crew, he wept"—smote by that eye,
Which looks on me, on all: that power, who bids
This midnight sentinel, with clarion shrill,
Emblem of that which shall awake the dead,
Rouse souls from slumber, into thoughts of Heaven
Shall I too weep? Where then is fortitude?
And, fortitude abandoned, where is man?
I know the terms on which he sees the light;
He that is born, is listed; life is war;
Eternal war with woe. Who bears it best,
Deserves it least.—On other themes I'll dwell.
Lorenzo! let me turn my thoughts on thee,
And thine, on themes may profit; profit there,
Where most thy need. Themes, too, the genuine growth [16]
Of dear Philander's dust. He, thus, though dead,
May still befriend—what themes? Time's wondrous price,
Death, friendship, and Philander's final scene.
So could I touch these themes, as might obtain
Thine ear, nor leave thy heart quite disengaged,
The good deed would delight me; half impress
On my dark cloud an Iris; and from grief
Call glory—dost thou mourn Philander's fate?
I know thou say'st it: Says thy life the same?
He mourns the dead, who lives as they desire.
Where is that thrift, that avarice of time,
(O glorious avarice!) thought of death inspires,
As rumour'd robberies endear our gold?
O time! than gold more sacred; more a load
Than lead, to fools; and fools reputed wise.
What moment granted man without account?
What years are squander'd, wisdom's debt unpaid?
Our wealth in days, all due to that discharge.
Haste, haste, he lies in wait, he's at the door,
Insidious Death! should his strong hand arrest,
No composition sets the prisoner free.
Eternity's inexorable chain
Fast binds; and vengeance claims the full arrear.
How late I shuddered on the brink! how late
Life called for her last refuge in despair!
That time is mine, O Mead! to thee I owe;
Fain would I pay thee with eternity.
But ill my genius answers my desire;
My sickly song is mortal, past thy cure.
Accept the will;—that dies not with my strain.

   For what calls thy disease, Lorenzo? not
For Esculapian, but for moral aid.
Thou think'st it folly to be wise too soon. [17]
Youth is not rich in time, it may be poor;
Part with it as with money, sparing; pay
No moment, but in purchase of its worth;
And what its worth, ask death-beds; they can tell.
Part with it as with life, reluctant; big
With holy hope of nobler time to come;
Time higher aim'd, still nearer the great mark
Of men and angels; virtue more divine.

   Is this our duty, wisdom, glory, gain?
(These heaven benign in vital union binds)
And sport we like the natives of the bough,
When vernal suns inspire? amusement reigns
Man's great demand: to trifle is to live:
And is it then a trifle, too, to die?

   Thou say'st I preach, Lorenzo! 'tis confest.
What, if for once, I preach thee quite awake?
Who wants amusement in the flame of battle?
Is it not treason, to the soul immortal,
Her foes in arms, eternity the prize?
Will toys amuse, when med'cines cannot cure?
When spirits ebb, when life's enchanting scenes
Their lustre lose, and lessen in our sight,
As lands, and cities with their glitt'ring spires,
To the poor shatter'd bark, by sudden storm
Thrown off to sea, and soon to perish there?
Will toys amuse? No: thrones will then be toys,
And earth and skies seem dust upon the scale.

   Redeem we time?—Its loss we dearly buy.
What pleads Lorenzo for his high-priz'd sports?
He pleads time's num'rous blanks; he loudly pleads
The straw-like trifles on life's common stream.
From whom those blanks and trifles, but from thee?
No blank, no trifle, nature made, or meant.
Virtue, or purpos'd virtue, still be thine; [18]
This cancels thy complaint at once, this leaves
In act no trifle, and no blank in time.
This greatens, fills, immortalizes all;
This, the blest art of turning all to gold;
This, the good heart's prerogative to raise
A royal tribute from the poorest hours;
Immense revenue! ev'ry moment pays.
If nothing more than purpose in thy power;
Thy purpose firm, is equal to the deed:
Who does the best his circumstance allows,
Does well, acts nobly; angels could no more.
Our outward act, indeed, admits restraint;
'Tis not in things o'er thought to domineer;
Guard well thy thought; our thoughts are heard in heaven.

   On all important time, thro' ev'ry age,
Tho' much, and warm, the wise have urg'd; the man
Is yet unborn, who duly weighs an hour.
"I've lost a day"[1]——the prince who nobly cried
Had been an emperor without his crown;
Of Rome? say, rather, lord of human race:
He spoke, as if deputed by mankind.
So should all speak: so reason speaks in all:
From the soft whispers of that God in man,
Why fly to folly, why to phrensy fly,
For rescue from the blessing we possess?
Time the supreme!—Time is eternity;
Pregnant with all eternity can give;
Pregnant with all, that makes archangels smile.
Who murders time, he crushes in the birth
A power ethereal, only not ador'd.

   Ah! how unjust to nature, and himself;
Is thoughtless, thankless, inconsistent man!
Like children babbling nonsense in their sports,
We censure nature for a span too short; [19]
That span too short, we tax as tedious too;
Torture invention, all expedients tire,
To lash the lingering moments into speed,
And whirl us (happy riddance!) from ourselves.
Art, brainless art! our furious charioteer
(For nature's voice unstifled would recall)
Drives headlong tow'rds the precipice of death;
Death, most our dread; death thus more dreadful made
O what a riddle of absurdity!
Leisure is pain; takes off our chariot wheels;
How heavily we drag the load of life!
Blest leisure is our curse; like that of Cain,
It makes us wander; wander earth around
To fly that tyrant, thought. As Atlas groan'd
The world beneath, we groan beneath an hour.
We cry for mercy to the next amusement;
The next amusement mortgages our fields;
Slight inconvenience! prisons hardly frown,
From hateful time if prisons set us free.
Yet when death kindly tenders us relief,
We call him cruel; years to moments shrink,
Ages to years. The telescope is turn'd.
To man's false optics (from his folly false)
Time, in advance, behind him hides his wings,
And seems to creep, decrepit with his age;
Behold him, when past by; what then is seen,
But his broad pinions swifter than the winds?
And all mankind, in contradiction strong,
Rueful, aghast! cry out on his career.

   Leave to thy foes these errors, and these ills;
To nature just, their cause and cure explore.
Not short heaven's bounty, boundless our expense;
No niggard, nature; men are prodigals.
We waste, not use our time; we breathe, not live. [20]
Time wasted is existence, us'd is life.
And bare existence, man, to live ordain'd,
Wrings, and oppresses with enormous weight.
And why? since time was giv'n for use, not waste,
Injoin'd to fly; with tempest, tide, and stars,
To keep his speed, nor ever wait for man;
Time's use was doom'd a pleasure: waste, a pain;
That man might feel his error, if unseen:
And, feeling, fly to labour for his cure;
Not, blund'ring, split on idleness for ease.
Life's cares are comforts; such by heaven design'd;
He that has none, must make them, or be wretched,
Cares are employments; and without employ
The soul is on a rack; the rack of rest,
To souls most adverse; action all their joy.

   Here then, the riddle, mark'd above, unfolds;
Then time turns torment, when man turns a fool.
We rave, we wrestle, with great nature's plan;
We thwart the Deity; and 'tis decreed,
Who thwart his will, shall contradict their own.
Hence our unnatural quarrels with ourselves;
Our thoughts at enmity; our bosom-broils;
We push time from us, and we wish him back;
Lavish of lustrums, and yet fond of life;
Life we think long, and short; death seek, and shun;
Body and soul, like peevish man and wife,
United jar, and yet are loth to part.

   Oh the dark days of vanity! while here,
How tasteless! and how terrible, when gone!
Gone! they ne'er go; when past, they haunt us still;
The spirit walks of ev'ry day deceas'd;
And smiles an angel, or a fury frowns.
Nor death, nor life delight us. If time past,
And time possest, both pain us, what can please? [21]
That which the Deity to please ordain'd,
Time us'd. The man who consecrates his hours
By vigorous effort, and an honest aim,
At once he draws the sting of life and death;
He walks with nature; and her paths are peace.

   Our error's cause and cure are seen: see next
Time's nature, origin, importance, speed;
And thy great gain from urging his career.—
All-sensual man, because untouch'd, unseen,
He looks on time as nothing. Nothing else
Is truly man's; 'tis fortune's.—Time's a god.
Hast thou ne'er heard of Time's omnipotence?
For, or against, what wonders he can do!
And will: to stand blank neuter he disdains.
Not on those terms was time (heaven's stranger!) sent
On his important embassy to man.
Lorenzo! no: on the long-destin'd hour,
From everlasting ages growing ripe,
That memorable hour of wondrous birth,
When the dread sire, on emanation bent,
And big with nature, rising in his might,
Call'd forth creation (for then time was born),
By godhead streaming thro' a thousand worlds;
Not on those terms, from the great days of heaven,
From old eternity's mysterious orb,
Was time cut off, and cast beneath the skies;
The skies, which watch him in his new abode,
Measuring his motions by revolving spheres;
That horologe machinery divine.
Hours, days, and months, and years, his children play,
Like num'rous wings around him, as he flies:
Or, rather, as unequal plumes, they shape
His ample pinions, swift as darted flame,
To gain his goal, to reach his ancient rest, [22]
And join anew eternity his sire;
In his immutability to nest,
When worlds, that count his circles now, unhing'd,
(Fate the loud signal sounding) headlong rush
To timeless night and chaos, whence they rose.

   Why spur the speedy? Why with levities
New wing thy short, short day's too rapid flight?
Know'st thou, or what thou dost, or what is done?
Man flies from time, and time from man; too soon
In sad divorce this double flight must end:
And then, where are we? where, Lorenzo! then
Thy sports? thy pomps?—I grant thee, in a state
Not unambitious; in the ruffled shroud,
Thy Parian tomb's triumphant arch beneath.
Has death his fopperies? Then well may life
Put on her plume, and in her rainbow shine.
Ye well-array'd! ye lilies of our land!
Ye lilies male! who neither toil, nor spin,
(As sister lilies might) if not so wise
As Solomon, more sumptuous to the sight!
Ye delicate! who nothing can support,
Yourselves most insupportable! for whom
The winter rose must blow, the sun put on
A brighter beam in Leo; silky-soft
Favonius breathe still softer, or be chid;
And other worlds send odours, sauce, and song,
And robes, and notions, fram'd in foreign looms!
O ye Lorenzos of our age! who deem
One moment unamus'd, a misery
Not made for feeble man! who call aloud
For ev'ry bawble drivel'd o'er by sense;
For rattles, and conceits of ev'ry cast,
For change of follies, and relays of joy,
To drag your patient through the tedious length [23]
Of a short winter's day—say, sages! say,
Wit's oracles! say, dreamers of gay dreams!
How will you weather an eternal night,
Where such expedients fail?

   O treach'rous conscience! while she seems to sleep
On rose and myrtle, lull'd with siren song;
While she seems, nodding o'er her charge, to drop
On headlong appetite the slacken'd rein,
And give us up to license, unrecall'd,
Unmark'd;—see, from behind her secret stand,
The sly informer minutes ev'ry fault,
And her dread diary with horror fills.
Not the gross act alone employs her pen;
She reconnoitres Fancy's airy band,
A watchful foe! the formidable spy,
List'ning, o'erhears the whispers of our camp:
Our dawning purposes of heart explores,
And steals our embryos of iniquity.
As all-rapacious usurers conceal
Their doomsday-book from all-consuming heirs;
Thus, with indulgence most severe, she treats
Us spendthrifts of inestimable time;
Unnoted, notes each moment misapplied;
In leaves more durable than leaves of brass,
Writes our whole history; which death shall read
In ev'ry pale delinquent's private ear;
And judgment publish; publish to more worlds
Than this; and endless age in groans resound.
Lorenzo, such that sleeper in thy breast!
Such is her slumber; and her vengeance such
For slighted counsel; such thy future peace!
And think'st thou still thou canst be wise too soon?

   But why on time so lavish is my song?
On this great theme kind nature keeps a school, [24]
To teach her sons herself. Each night we die,
Each morn are born anew: Each day, a life!
And shall we kill each day? If trifling- kills;
Sure vice must butcher. O what heaps of slain
Cry out for vengeance on us! Time destroy'd
Is suicide, where more than blood is spilt.
Time flies, death urges, knells call, heaven invites,
Hell threatens: All exerts; in effort, all;
More than creation labours!— labours more?
And is there in creation, what, amidst
This tumult universal, wing'd dispatch;
And ardent energy, supinely yawns?
Man sleeps; and man alone; and man, whose fate,
Fate irreversible, intire, extreme,
Endless, hair-hung, breeze-shaken, o'er the gulf
A moment trembles; drops! and man, for whom
All else is in alarm! Man, the sole cause
Of this surrounding storm! and yet he sleeps,
As the storm rock'd to rest.— Throw years away?
Throw empires, and be blameless. Moments seize;
Heaven's on their wing: A moment we may wish,
When worlds want wealth to buy. Bid day stand still,
Bid him drive back his car, and reimport
The period past, regive the given hour.
Lorenzo, more than miracles we want;
Lorenzo—O for yesterdays to come!

   Such is the language of the man awake;
His ardour such, for what oppresses thee.
And is his ardour vain, Lorenzo? No;
That more than miracle the gods indulge;
To-day is yesterday return'd; return'd
Full power'd to cancel, expiate, raise, adorn,
And reinstate us on the rock of peace.
Let it not share its predecessor's fate; [25]
Nor, like its elder sisters, die a fool.
Shall it evaporate in fume? Fly off
Fuliginous, and stain us deeper still?
Shall we be poorer for the plenty pour'd?
More wretched for the clemencies of heaven?

   Where shall I find him? Angels! tell me where.
You know him: he is near you: point him out:
Shall I see glories beaming from his brow?
Or trace his footsteps by the rising flowers?
Your golden wings, now hov'ring o'er him, shed
Protection; now, are waving in applause
To that blest son of foresight! lord of fate!
That awful independent on to-morrow!
Whose work is done; who triumphs in the past;
Whose yesterdays look backwards with a smile;
Nor, like the Parthian, wound him as they fly;
That common, but opprobrious lot! past hours,
If not by guilt, yet wound us by their flight,
If folly bounds our prospect by the grave,
All feeling of futurity benumb'd;
All god-like passion for eternals quencht;
All relish of realities expir'd;
Renounc'd all correspondence with the skies;
Our freedom chain'd; quite wingless our desire;
In sense dark-prison'd all that ought to soar;
Prone to the centre; crawling in the dust;
Dismounted ev'ry great and glorious aim;
Embruted ev'ry faculty divine;
Heart-buried in the rubbish of the world.
The world, that gulf of souls, immortal souls,
Souls elevate, angelic, wing'd with fire
To reach the distant skies, and triumph there
On thrones, which shall not mourn their masters chang'd, [26]
Tho' we from earth; ethereal, they that fell.
Such veneration due, O man, to man.

   Who venerate themselves, the world despise.
For what, gay friend! is this escutcheon'd world,
Which hangs out death in one eternal night?
A night, that glooms us in the noon-tide ray,
And wraps our thought, at banquets, in the shroud.
Life's little stage is a small eminence,
Inch-high the grave above; that home of man,
Where dwells the multitude: We gaze around;
We read their monuments; we sigh; and while
We sigh, we sink; and are what we deplor'd;
Lamenting, or lamented, all our lot!

   Is death at distance? No: He has been on thee;
And giv'n sure earnest of his final blow.
Those hours that lately smil'd, where are they now?
Pallid to thought, and ghastly! drown'd, all drown'd
In that great deep, which nothing disembogues!
And, dying, they bequeath'd thee small renown.
The rest are on the wing: How fleet their flight!
Already has the fatal train took fire;
A moment, and the world's blown up to thee;
The sun is darkness, and the stars are dust.

   'Tis greatly wise to talk with our past hours;
And ask them, what report they bore to heaven;
And how they might have borne more welcome news.
Their answers form what men experience call;
If wisdom's friend, her best; if not, worst foe.
O reconcile them! kind experience cries,
"There's nothing here, but what as nothing weighs;
The more our joy, the more we know it vain;
And by success are tutor'd to despair."
Nor is it only thus, but must be so.
Who knows not this, tho' gray, is still a child. [27]
Loose then from earth the grasp of fond desire,
Weight anchor, and some happier clime explore.

   Art thou so moor'd thou canst not disengage,
Nor give thy thoughts a ply to future scenes?
Since, by life's passing breath, blown up from earth,
Light, as the summer's dusk, we take in air
A moment's giddy flight, and fall again;
Join the dull mass, increase the trodden soil,
And sleep, till earth herself shall be no more;
Since then (as emmets, their small world o'erthrown)
We, sore-amazed, from out earth's ruins crawl,
And rise to fate extreme of foul or fair,
As man's own choice (controller of the skies!)
As man's despotic will, perhaps one hour,
(O how omnipotent is time!) decrees;
Should not each warning give a strong alarm?
Warning, far less than that of bosom torn
From bosom, bleeding o'er the sacred dead!
Should not each dial strike us as we pass,
Portentous, as the written wall, which struck,
O'er midnight bowls, the proud Assyrian pale,
Ere-while high-flusht, with insolence and wine?
Like that, the dial speaks; and point to thee,
Lorenzo! loth to break thy banquet up:
"O man, thy kingdom is departing from thee;
And, while it lasts, is emptier than my shade."[2]
Its silent language such: Nor need'st thou call
Thy Magi, to decipher what it means.
Know, like the Median, fate is in thy walls:
Dost ask, How? Whence? Belshazzar-like, amaz'd?
Man's make incloses the sure seeds of death;
Life feeds the murderer: Ingrate! he thrives
On her own meal, and then his nurse devours.

   But here, Lorenzo, the delusion lies; [28]
That solar shadow, as it measures life,
It life resembles too: life speeds away
From point to point, tho' seeming to stand still,
The cunning fugitive is swift by stealth:
Too subtle is the movement to be seen;
Yet soon man's hour is up, and we are gone.
Warnings point out our danger; gnomons, time:
As these are useless when the sun is set:
So those, but when more glorious reason shines.
Reason should judge in all; in reason's eye,
That sedentary shadow travels hard.
But such our gravitation to the wrong,
So prone our hearts to whisper what we wish,
'Tis later with the wise than he's aware:
A Wilmington[3] goes slower than the sun:
And all mankind mistake their time of day;
Ev'n age itself. Fresh hopes are hourly sown
In furrow'd brows. So gentle life's descent
We shut our eyes, and think it is a plain.
We take fair days in winter, for the spring;
And turn our blessings into bane. Since oft
Man must compute that age he cannot feel,
He scarce believes he's older for his years.
Thus, at life's latest eve, we keep in store
One disappointment sure, to crown the rest;
The disappointment of a promis'd hour.

   On this, or similar, Philander! thou
Whose mind was moral, as the preacher's tongue;
And strong, to wield all science, worth the name;
How often we talk'd down the summer's sun,
And cool'd our passions by the breezy stream!
How often thaw'd and shorten'd winter's eve,
By conflict kind, that struck out latent truth,
Best found, so sought; to the recluse more coy! [29]
Thoughts disentangle passing o'er the lip;
Clean runs the thread; if not, 'tis thrown away,
Or kept to tie up nonsense for a song;
Song, fashionably fruitless; such as stains
The fancy, and unhallow'd passion fires;
Chiming her saints to Cytherea's fane.

   Know'st thou, Lorenzo! what a friend contains?
As bees mixt nectar draw from fragrant flow'rs,
So men from friendship, wisdom, and delight;
'Twins tied by nature, if they part, they die.
Hast thou no friend to set thy mind abroach?
Good sense will stagnate . Thoughts shut up want air,
And spoil, like bales unopen'd to the sun.
Had thought been all, sweet speech had been denied;
Speech, thought's canal! speech, thought's criterion too!
Thought in the mine, may come forth gold, or dross;
When coin'd in words, we know its real worth.
If sterling, store it for thy future use;
'Twill buy thee benefit; perhaps, renown.
Thought, too, deliver'd, is the more possest;
Teaching, we learn; and giving, we retain
The births of intellect; when dumb, forgot.
Speech ventilates our intellectual fire;
Speech burnishes our mental magazine;
Brightens, for ornament; and whets, for use.
What numbers, sheath'd in erudition, lie,
Plung'd to the hilts in venerable tomes,
And rusted in; who might have borne an edge,
And play'd a sprightly beam, if born to speech;
If born blest heirs of half their mother's tongue!
'Tis thought's exchange, which, like th' alternate push
Of waves conflicting, breaks the learned scum, [30]
And defecates the student's standing pool.

   In contemplation is his proud resource?
'Tis poor, as proud, by converse unsustain'd.
Rude thought runs wild in contemplation's field;
Converse, the menage, breaks it to the bit
Of due restraint; and emulation's spur
Gives graceful energy, by rivals aw'd.
'Tis converse qualifies for solitude;
As exercise, for salutary rest.
By that untutor'd, contemplation raves;
And nature's fool, by wisdom is undone.

   Wisdom, tho' richer than Peruvian mines,
And sweeter than the sweet ambrosial hive,
What is she, but the means of happiness?
That unobtain'd, than folly more a fool;
A melancholy fool, without her bells.
Friendship, the means of wisdom, richly gives
The precious end, which makes our wdsdom wise.
Nature, in zeal for human amity,
Denies, or damps, an undivided joy.
Joy is an import; joy is an exchange;
Joy flies monopolists: it calls for two;
Rich fruit! heaven-planted! never pluckt by one.
Needful auxiliars are our friends, to give
To social man true relish of himself.
Full on ourselves, descending in a line,
Pleasure's bright beam is feeble in delight:
Delight intense, is taken by rebound;
Reverberated pleasures fire the breast.

   Celestial happiness, whene'er she stoops
To visit earth, one shrine the goddess finds,
And one alone, to make her sweet amends
For absent heaven the bosom of a friend;
Where heart meets heart, reciprocally soft, [31]
Each other's pillow to repose divine.
Beware the counterfeit: in passion's flame
Hearts melt, but melt like ice, soon harder froze.
True love strikes root in reason; passion's foe:
Virtue alone entenders us for life:
I wrong her much—entenders us for ever:
Of friendship's fairest fruits, the fruit most fair
Is virtue kindling at a rival fire,
And, emulously, rapid in her race.
O the soft enmity! endearing strife!
This carries friendship to her noon-tide point,
And g'ives the rivet of eternity.

   From friendship, which outlives my former themes,
Glorious survivor of old time and death!
From friendship, thus, that flow'r of heavenly seed,
The wise extract earth's most Hyblean[4] bliss,
Superior wisdom, crown'd with smiling joy.

   But for whom blossoms this Elysian flower?
Abroad they find, who cherish it at home.
Lorenzo! pardon what my love extorts,
An honest love, and not afraid to frown.
Tho' choice of follies fasten on the great,
None clings more obstinate than fancy, fond
That sacred friendship is their easy prey;
Caught by the wafture of a golden lure,
Or fascination of a high-born smile.
Their smiles, the great, and the coquet, throw out
For others' hearts, tenacious of their own;
And we no less of ours, when such the bait.
Ye fortune's cofferers! ye pow'rs of wealth!
Can gold gain friendship? Impudence of hope!
As well mere man an angel might beget.
Love, and love only, is the loan for love.
Lorenzo! pride repress; nor hope to find [32]
A friend, but what has found a friend in thee.
All like the purchase; few the price will pay;
And this makes friends such miracles below.

   What if (since daring on so nice a theme)
I show thee friendship delicate, as dear,
Of tender violations apt to die?
Reverse will wound it; and distrust, destroy.
Deliberate on all things with thy friend.
But since friends grow not thick on ev'ry bough,
Nor ev'ry friend unrotten at the core;
First, on thy friend, delib'rate with thyself;
Pause, ponder, sift; not eager in the choice,
Nor jealous of the chosen; fixing, fix;
Judge before friendship, then confide till death.
Well, for thy friend; but nobler far for thee;
How gallant danger for earth's highest prize!
A friend is worth all hazards we can run.
"Poor is the friendless master of a world:
A world in purchase for a friend is gain."

   So sung he (angels hear that angel sing!
Angels from friendship gather half their joy)
So sung Philander, as his friend went round
In the rich ichor, in the gen'rous blood
Of Bacchus, purple god of joyous wit,
A brow solute, and ever-laughing eye.
He drank long health, and virtue, to his friend;
His friend, who warm'd him more, who more inspir'd.
Friendship's the wine of life; but friendship new
(Not such was his) is neither strong, nor pure.
O! for the bright complexion, cordial warmth,
And elevating spirit, of a friend,
For twenty summers ripening by my side;
All feculence of falsehood long thrown down;
All social virtues rising in his soul; [33]
As crystal clear; and smiling, as they rise!
Here nectar flows; it sparkles in our sight;
Rich to the taste, and genuine from the heart.
High-flavour'd bliss for gods! on earth how rare
On earth how lost!—Philander is no more.

   Think 'st thou the theme intoxicates my song?
Am I too warm? too warm I cannot be.
I lov'd him much; but now I love him more.
Like birds, whose beauties languish, half-conceal'd,
Till, mounted on the wing', their glossy plumes
Expanded shine with azure, green, and gold;
How blessings brighten as they take their flight!
His flight Philander took; his upward flight,
If ever soul ascended. Had he dropt,
(That eagle genius!) O had he let fall
One feather as he flew; I, then, had wrote,
What friends might flatter; prudent foes forbear;
Rivals scarce damn; and Zoilus reprieve.
Yet what I can, I must: it were profane
To quench a glory lighted at the skies,
And cast in shadows his illustrious close.
Strange! the theme most affecting, most sublime
Momentous most to man, should sleep unsung!
And yet it sleeps, by genius unawak'd,
Painim or Christian; to the blush of wit.
Man's highest triumph! man's profoundest fall!
The death-bed of the just! is yet undrawn
By mortal hand; it merits a divine:
Angels should paint it, angels ever there;
There, on a post of honour, and of joy.

   Dare I presume, then? But Philander bids;
And glory tempts, and inclination calls——
Yet am I struck; as struck the soul, beneath
Aerial groves' impenetrable gloom; [34]
Or, in some mighty ruin's solemn shade;
Or, gazing by pale lamps on high-born dust,
In vaults; thin courts of poor unflatter'd kings;
Or, at the midnight altar's hallow'd flame.
It is religion to proceed: I pause,——
And enter, aw'd, the temple of my theme.
Is it his death-bed? No: it is his shrine:
Behold him, there, just rising to a god.

   The chamber where the good man meets his fate,
Is privileg'd beyond the common walk
Of virtuous life, quite in the verge of heaven.
Fly, ye profane! If not, draw near with awe,
Receive the blessing, and adore the chance,
That threw in this Bethesda your disease;
If unrestor'd by this, despair your cure.
For here, resistless demonstration dwells;
A death-bed's a detector of the heart.
Here tir'd dissimulation drops her masque,
Thro' life's grimace, that mistress of the scene!
Here real, and apparent, are the same.
You see the man; you see his hold on heaven;
If sound his virtue; as Philander's, sound.
Heaven waits not the last moment; owns her friends
On this side death; and points them out to men,
A lecture, silent, but of sov'reign pow'r!
To vice, confusion; and to virtue, peace.

   Whatever farce the boastful hero plays,
Virtue alone has majesty in death;
And greater still, the more the tyrant frowns.
Philander! he severely frown'd on thee.
"No warning giv'n! Unceremonious fate!
A sudden rush from life's meridian joy!
A wrench from all we love! from all we are!
A restless bed of pain! a plunge opaque [35]
Beyond conjecture! feeble Nature's dread!
Strong Reason's shudder at the dark unknown:
A sun extinguisht! a just opening grave!
And oh! the last, last, what? (can words express?
Thought reach it?) the last silence of a friend!"
Where are those horrors, that amazement, where,
This hideous group of ills, which singly shock,
Demand from man? I thought him man till now.

   Thro' nature's wreck, thro' vanquisht agonies,
(Like the stars struggling thro' this midnight gloom)
What gleams of joy? what more than human peace?
Where, the frail mortal? the poor abject worm?
No, not in death, the mortal to be found.
His conduct is a legacy for all.
Richer than Mammon's for his single heir.
His comforters he comforts; great in ruin,
With unreluctant grandeur, gives, not yields
His soul sublime; and closes with his fate.

   How our hearts burnt within us at the scene!
Whence this brave bound o'er limits fixt to man
His God sustains him in his final hour!
His final hour brings glory to his God!
Man's glory heaven vouchsafes to call her own.
We gaze, we weep; mixt tears of grief and joy!
Amazement strikes! devotion bursts to flame!
Christians adore! and infidels believe!

   As some tall tow'r, or lofty mountain's brow,
Detains the sun, illustrious from its height;
While rising vapours, and descending shades,
With damps, and darkness, drown the spacious vale;
Undampt by doubt, undarken'd by despair,
Philander, thus, augustly rears his head,
At that black hour, which gen'ral horror sheds [36]
On the low level of th' inglorious throng:
Sweet peace, and heavenly hope, and humble joy,
Divinely beam on his exalted soul;
Destruction gild, and crown him for the skies,
With incommunicable lustre, bright.

NotesEdit

  1. Suetonius, Twelve Cæsars: Titus. According to Suetonius, Titus exclaimed "Diem Perdidi!" (Latin: "I've lost a day!") on recalling that he had not benefited anyone that day.
  2. This is a reference to the story of the writing on the wall, interpreted by Daniel where Belshazzar was told, "Thou art weighed in the balance and art found wanting." Daniel 5.
  3. Belanger, Terry & McKitterick, David, eds. The Correspondence of Robert Dodsley: 1733-1764. Cambridge University Press (2002). P. 494-495 and P. 497 at note 5 specify that this refers to Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington. Dodsley suggested to a publisher that he had made a mistake (which does not appear to be the case as various editions read the same). Dodsley's suggestion was that the line was meant to be "A Wilmington goes slower than a snail/But all mankind mistake their time of day."
  4. Killikelly, Sarah Hutchins. Curious Questions in History, Literature, Art, and Social Life: Designed as A Manual of General Information. Philadelphia: David McKay. (Copyright 1889). Vol II, P. 375. While explaining the origin of Honeymoon, Killikelly notes that "'Hyblean bliss,' a term so frequently used by poets, means 'honeyed bliss,' from Hybla, a town in Sicily famous for its honey."