Poetical Works of John Oldham/To the Memory of my dear Friend, Mr. Charles Morwent
TO THE MEMORY OF MY DEAR FRIEND, MR. CHARLES MORWENT.
Ostendunt terris hunc tantùm fata, neo ultrà,
Ease sinunt. Virg.
With due proportion thy too cruel fate;
Could I some happy miracle bring forth,
Great as my wishes and thy greater worth,
All Helicon should soon be thine,
And pay a tribute to thy shrine.
The learnèd sisters all transformed should be,
No longer nine, but one Melpomene:
Each should into a Niobe relent,
At once thy mourner and thy monument:
Each should become
Like the famed Memnon's speaking tomb,
To sing thy well-tuned praise;
Nor should we fear their being dumb,
Thou still wouldst make them vocal with thy rays.
Or waft away my soul in sobbing airs!
Were I all eyes,
To flow in liquid elegies;
That every limb might grieve.
And dying sorrow still retrieve;
My life should be but one long mourning day.
And like moist vapours melt in tears away.
I'd soon dissolve in one great sigh,
And upwards fly,
Glad so to be exhaled to heaven and thee:
A sigh which might well-nigh reverse thy death,
And hope to animate thee with new breath;
Powerful as that which heretofore did give
A soul to well-formed clay, and made it live.
Tells heaven did ne'er display
Such happiness to bless the world with stay.
Death in thy fall betrayed her utmost spite,
And showed her shafts most times are levelled at the white.
She saw thy blooming ripeness time prevent;
She saw, and envious grew, and straight her arrow sent:
So buds appearing ere the frosts are past,
Nipped by some unkind blast,
Wither in penance for their forward haste.
Thus have I seen a morn so bright,
So decked with all the robes of light,
As if it scorned to think of night,
Which a rude storm ere noon did shroud,
And buried all its early glories in a cloud.
The day in funeral blackness mourned,
And all to sighs, and all to tears it turned.
Or fate blaspheme?
We should thy full ripe virtues wrong,
To think thee young.
Fate, when she did thy vigorous growth behold.
And all thy forward glories told,
Forgot thy tale of years, and thought thee old.
The brisk endowments of thy mind,
Scorning in the bud to be confined.
Out-ran thy age, and left slow time behind;
Which made thee reach maturity so soon,
And, at first dawn, present a full spread noon.
So thy perfections with thy soul agree,
Both knew no non-age, knew no infancy.
Thus the first pattern of our race began
His life in middle-age, at 's birth a perfect man.
As calls at once for wonder and for praise.
Thy prudent conduct had so learnt to measure
The different whiles of toil and leisure,
No time did action want, no action wanted pleasure.
Thy busy industry could time dilate,
And stretch the thread of fate:
Thy careful thrift could only boast the power
To lengthen minutes, and extend an hour.
No single sand could e'er slip by
Without its wonder, sweet as high:
And every teeming moment still brought forth
A thousand rarities of worth.
While some no other cause for life can give,
But a dull habitude to live:
Thou scornedst such laziness while here beneath,
And livedst that time which others only breathe.
How so small room could hold such excellence.
Nature was proud when she contrived thy frame,
In thee she laboured for a name:
Hence 'twas she lavished all her store,
As if she meant hereafter to be poor,
And, like a bankrupt, run o' th' score.
Her curious hand here drew in straits, and joined
All the perfections lodged in human kind;
Teaching her numerous gifts to lie
Cramped in a short epitome.
So stars contracted in a diamond shine,
And jewels in a narrow point confine
The riches of an Indian mine.
Thus subtle artists can
Draw nature's larger self within a span:
A small frame holds the world, earth, heavens and all
Shrunk to the scant dimensions of a ball.
But some uncommon excellence foretell,
Like stars, did all constellate here,
And met together in one sphere.
Thy judgment, wit and memory conspired
To make themselves and thee admired;
And could thy growing height a longer stay have known,
Thou hadst all other glories, and thyself out-done.
While some to knowledge by degrees arrive,
Through tedious industry improved,
Thine scorned by such pedantic rules to thrive,
But swift as that of angels moved,
And made us think it was intuitive.
Thy pregnant mind ne'er struggled in its birth,
But quick, and while it did conceive, brought forth;
The gentle throes of thy prolific brain
Were all unstrained, and without pain.
Thus when great Jove the Queen of Wisdom bare,
So easy and so mild his travails were.
As gems are thickest in rugged quarries sown.
Good nature, and good parts, so shared thy mind,
A muse and grace were so combined,
'Twas hard to guess which with most lustre shined.
A genius did thy whole comportment act,
Whose charming complaisance did so attract,
As every heart attacked.
Such a soft air thy well-tuned sweetness swayed,
As told thy soul of harmony was made;
All rude affections that disturbers be,
That mar or disunite society,
Were foreigners to thee.
Love only in their stead took up its rest;
Nature made that thy constant guest,
And seemed to form no other passion for thy breast.
And thee to the whole universe a friend.
Those who were strangers to thy native soil and thee,
No strangers to thy love could be,
Whose bounds were wide as all mortality.
Thy heart no island was, disjoined
(Like thine own nation) from all human kind;
But 'twas a continent to other countries fixed
As firm by love, as they by earth annexed.
Thou scornedst the map should thy affection guide,
Like theirs who love by dull geography,
Friends but to whom by soil they are allied:
Thine reached to all beside,
To every member of the world's great family.
Heaven’s kindness only claims a name more general,
Which we the nobler call,
Because 'tis common, and vouchsafed to all.
Thou seemedst corrupted with the very power to please.
Only to let thee gratify.
At once did bribe and pay thy courtesy.
Thy kindness by acceptance might be bought,
It for no other wages sought,
But would its own be thought.
No suitors went unsatisfied away
But left thee more unsatisfied than they.
Brave Titus! thou mightst here thy true portraiture find.
And view thy rival in a private mind.
Thou heretofore deservedst such praise,
When acts of goodness did compute thy days,
Measured not by the sun's, but thine own kinder rays.
Thou thoughtest each hour out of life's journal lost,
Which could not some fresh favour boast,
And reckonedst bounties thy best Clepsydras.
Deflower their largess with too slow a grant:
Where the deluded suitor dearly buys
What hardly can defray
The expense of importunities,
Or the suspense of torturing delay.
Here was no need of tedious prayers to sue.
Or thy too backward kindness woo.
It movèd with no formal state,
Like theirs whose pomp does for entreaty wait:
But met the swift'st desires half way.
And wishes did well-nigh anticipate;
And then as modestly withdrew,
Nor for its due reward of thanks would stay.
Somewhat was to the miserable due,
Which they might justly challenge too.
Whate'er mishap did a known heart oppress,
The same did thine as wretched make;
Like yielding wax, thine did the impression take,
And paid its sadness in as lively dress.
Thou couldst afflictions from another breast translate,
And foreign grief impropriate;
Oft-times our sorrows thine so much have grown,
They scarce were more our own;
Who seemed exempt, thou sufferedst all alone.
But made thee give in alms a tear;
And when our hearts breathed their regret in sighs,
As a just tribute to their miseries,
Thine with their mournful airs did symbolize,
Like throngs of sighs did for its fibres crowd,
And told thy grief from our each grief aloud:
Such is the secret sympathy
We may betwixt two neighbouring lutes descry,
If either, by unskilful hand too rudely bent,
Its soft complaint in pensive murmurs vent,
As if it did that injury resent,
Untouched, the other straight returns the moan,
And gives an echo to each groan;
From its sweet bowels a sad note's conveyed,
Like those which to condole are made,
As if its bowels too a kind compassion had.
Or in such narrow limits pent.
Let female frailty in fond tears distill,
Who think that moisture which they spill
Can yield relief,
Or shrink the current of another's grief,
Who hope that breath which they in sighs convey
Should blow calamities away;
Thine did a manlier form express,
And scorned to whine at an unhappiness;
Thou thoughtst it still the noblest pity to redress.
So friendly angels their relief bestow
On the unfortunate below,
For whom those purer minds no passion know:
Such nature in that generous plant is found,
Whose every breach does with a salve abound.
And wounds itself to cure another's wound.
In pity to mankind it sheds its juice,
Glad with expense of blood to serve their use:
First, with kind tears our maladies bewails,
And after heals;
And makes those very tears the remedy produce.
(If there were any durst that title wear,)
They could not offer wrongs so fast.
But what were pardoned with like haste;
And by thy acts of amnesty defaced.
Had he who wished the art how to forget,
Discovered its new worth in thee,
He had a double value on it set.
And justly scorned the ignobler art of memory.
No wrongs could thy great soul to grief expose,
'Twas placed as much out of the reach of those.
As of material blows.
No injuries could thee provoke.
Thy softness always damped the stroke:
As flints on feather-beds are easiest broke.
Affronts could ne'er thy cool complexion heat,
Or chase thy temper from its settled state:
But still thou stoodst unshocked by all,
As if thou hadst unlearned the power to hate,
Or, like the dove, were born without a gall.
And own no passions to resent offence,
May pass it by with unconcerned neglect,
And virtue on those principles erect,
Where 'tis not a perfection, but defect.
Let these themselves in a dull patience please,
Which their own statues may possess,
And they themselves when carcasses.
Thou only couldst to that high pitch arrive,
To court abuses, that thou mightst forgive:
Wrongs thus in thy esteem seemed courtesy,
And thou the first was e'er obliged by injury.
Could stand in need of votaries,
Which heretofore had challenged sacrifice.
Each assignation, each converse
Gained thee some new idolaters.
Thy sweet obligingness could supple hate,
And out of it, its contrary create.
Its powerful influence made quarrels cease,
And feuds dissolved into a calmer peace.
Envy resigned her force, and vanquished spite
Became thy speedy proselyte.
Malice could cherish enmity no more;
And those which were thy foes before,
Now wished they might adore.
Cæsar may tell of nations took,
And troops by force subjected to his yoke:
We read as great a conqueror in thee,
Who couldst by milder ways all hearts subdue,
The nobler conquest of the two;
Thus thou whole legions mad'st thy captives be,
And, like him too, couldst look, and speak thy victory.
Thou didst express
To all, whom thou didst with thy friendship bless.
To think of passion by new mothers bore
To the young offspring of their womb,
Or that of lovers to what they adore,
Ere duty it become:
We should too mean ideas frame,
Of that which thine might justly claim,
And injure it by a degrading name:
Conceive the tender care
Of guardian angels to their charge assigned,
Or think how dear
To heaven expiring martyrs are;
These are the emblems of thy mind,
The only types to show how thou wast kind.
'Twas lasting as eternity,
And firm as the unbroken chain of destiny.
Embraces would feint shadows of your union show,
Unless you could together grow.
That union which is from alliance bred,
Does not so fastly wed,
Though it with blood be cemented:
That link wherewith the soul and body's joined,
Which twists the double nature in mankind,
Only so close can bind.
That holy fire which Romans to their Vesta paid,
Which they immortal as the goddess made,
Thy noble flames most fitly parallel;
For thine were just so pure, and just so durable.
Those feignèd pairs of faithfulness, which claim
So high a place in ancient fame,
Had they thy better pattern seen,
They'd made their friendship more divine,
And strove to mend their characters by thine.
Unless 'twere exercised within;
What did thy love to other objects tie,
The same made thy own powers agree,
And reconciled thyself to thee.
No discord in thy soul did rest,
Save what its harmony increased.
Thy mind did with such regular calmness move,
As held resemblance with the greater mind above,
Reason there fixed its peaceful throne,
And reigned alone.
The will its easy neck to bondage gave,
And to the rulmg faculty became a slave.
The passions raised no civil wars,
Nor discomposed thee with intestine jars:
All did obey,
And paid allegiance to its rightful sway.
All threw their resty tempers by,
And gentler figures drew,
Gentle as nature in its infancy,
As when themselves in their first beings grew.
As if humanity were lulled asleep;
So gentle was thy pilgrimage beneath,
Time's unheard feet scarce make less noise,
Or the soft journey which a planet goes;
Life seemed all calm as its last breath,
A still tranquillity so hushed thy breast,
As if some Halcyon were its guest,
And there had built her nest;
It hardly now enjoys a greater rest.
As that smooth sea which wears the name of peace,
Still with one even face appears,
And feels no tides to change it from its place,
No waves to alter the fair form it bears:
As that unspotted sky,
Where Nile does want of rain supply,
Is free from clouds, from storms is ever free:
So thy unvaried mind was always one,
And with such clear serenity still shone,
As caused thy little world to seem all temperate zone.
And greatness, which no travail, but their mother's cost;
Let them extol a swelling name,
Which theirs by will and testament became—
At best but mere inheritance,
As oft the spoils, as gift, of chance;
Let some ill-placed repute on scutcheons rear,
As fading as the colours which those bear,
And prize a painted field,
Which wealth as soon as fame can yield;
Thou scornedst at such low rates to purchase worth,
Nor couldst thou owe it only to thy birth,
Thy self-born greatness was above the power
Of parents to entail, or fortune to deflower.
Thy soul, which, like the sun, heaven moulded bright.
Disdained to shine with borrowed light:
Thus from himself the eternal being grew,
And from no other cause his grandeur drew.
Rather in souls than in the blood does lie:
If from thy better part we measures take,
And that the standard of our value make,
Jewels and stars become low heraldry
To blazon thee.
Thy soul was big enough to pity kings,
And looked on empires as poor humble things;
Great as his boundless mind,
Who thought himself in one wide globe confined,
And for another pined;
Great as that spirit whose large powers roll
Through the vast fabric of this spacious bowl,
And tell the world as well as man can boast a soil.
Or thee above the common level set.
Pride, whose alloy does best endowments mar,
(As things most lofty smaller still appear)
With thee did no alliance bear.
Low merits oft are by too high esteem belied,
Whose owners lessen while they raise their price;
Thine were above the very guilt of pride,
Above all others, and thy own hyperbole:
In thee the widest extremes were joined,
The loftiest, and the lowliest mind.
Thus though some part of heaven's vast round
Appear but low, and seem to touch the ground,
Yet 'tis well known almost to bound the spheres,
'Tis truly held to be above the stars.
Thou stoodst at once secure
From all the flattery and obloquy of fame,
Its rough and gentler breath were both to thee the same:
Nor this could thee exalt, nor that depress thee lower;
But thou, from thy great soul, on both lookedst down,
Without the small concernment of a smile or frown.
Heaven less dreads that it should fired be
By the weak flitting sparks that upwards fly,
Less the bright goddess of the night
Fears those loud howlings that revile her light,
Than thou malignant tongues thy worth could I blast,
Which was too great for envy's cloud to overcast.
'Twas thy brave method to despise contempt,
And make what was the fault the punishment,
What more assaults could weak detraction raise,
When thou couldst saint disgrace,
And turn reproach to praise.
So clouds which would obscure the sun, oft gilded be,
And shades are taught to shine as bright as he;
So diamonds, when envious night
Would shroud their splendour, look most bright,
And from its darkness seem to borrow light.
Free from contagion as thy soul or fame:
Could virtue been but proof against death's arms,
Thou hadst stood unvanquished by these harms,
Safe in a circle made by thy own charms.
Fond pleasure, whose soft magic oft beguiles
Raw inexperienced souls,
And with smooth flattery cajoles,
Could ne'er ensnare thee with her wiles,
Or make thee captive to her soothing smiles.
In vain that pimp of vice essayed to please,
In hope to draw thee to its rude embrace.
Thy prudence still that syren past
Without being pinioned to the mast :
All its attempts were ineffectual found;
Heaven fenced thy heart with its own mound.
And forced the tempter still from that forbidden ground.
Could ne'er in the same frenzy thee engage;
But moved thee rather with a generous rage.
Gallants, who their high breeding prize,
Known only by their gallanture and vice,
Whose talent is to court a fashionable sin,
And act some fine transgression with a jaunty mien,
May by such methods hope the vogue to win.
Let those gay fops who deem
Their infamies accomplishment,
Grow scandalous to get esteem,
And by disgrace strive to be eminent.
Here thou disdainest the common road,
Nor wouldst by might be wooed
To wear the vain iniquities of the mode.
Vice with thy practice did so disagree,
Thou scarce couldst bear it in thy theory.
Thou didst such ignorance above knowledge prize,
And here to be unskilled, is to be wise.
Such the first founders of our blood,
While yet untempted, stood
Contented only to know good.
Thou by no other card thy life didst steer:
No sly decoy would serve,
To make thee from her rigid dictates swerve;
Thy love ne'er thought her worse
Because thou hadst so few competitors;
Thou couldst adore her when adored by none,
Content to be her votary alone;
When 'twas proscribed the unkind world,
And to blind cells, and grottos hurled,
When thought the phantom of some crazy brain,
Fit for grave anchorets to entertain,
A thin chimera, whom dull gown-men frame
To gull deluded mortals with an empty name.
Whose horror might thy blood affright,
And force it to its known retreat.
While the pale cheeks do penance in their white,
And tell that blushes are too weak to expiate;
Thy faults might all be on thy forehead wore,
And the whole world thy confessor.
Conscience within still kept assize,
To punish and deter impieties:
That inbred judge such strict inspection bore,
So traversed all thy actions o'er,
The Eternal Judge could scarce do more:
Those little escapades of vice,
Which pass the cognizance of most,
In the crowd of following sins forgot and lost,
Could ne'er its sentence or arraignment miss:
Thou didst prevent the young desires of ill,
And them in their first motions kill:
The very thoughts, in others unconfined
And lawless as the wind,
Thou couldst to rule and order bind;
They durst not any stamp but that of virtue bear,
And free from stain, as thy most public actions, were.
Let wild debauchees hug their darling vice,
And court no other paradise,
Till want of power
Bids them discard the stale amour,
And when disabled strength shall force
A short divorce,
Miscall that weak forbearance abstinence,
Which wise morality, and better sense,
Styles but, at best, a sneaking impotence.
Thine a far nobler pitch did fly,
'Twas all free choice, nought of necessity.
Thou didst that puny soul disdain
Whose half-strain virtue only can restrain;
Nor wouldst that empty being own,
Which springs from negatives alone,
But truly thoughtst it always virtue's skeleton.
Who virtue only for its dowry love;
Unbribed thou didst her sterling self espouse,
Nor wouldst a better mistress choose.
Thou couldst affection to her bare idea pay,
The first that e'er caressed her the Platonic way.
To see her in her own attractions dressed,
Did all thy love arrest,
Nor lacked there new efforts to storm thy breast.
Thy generous loyalty
Would ne'er a mercenary be,
But chose to serve her still without a livery.
Yet wast thou not of recompense debarred,
But countedst honesty its own reward;
Thou didst not wish a greater bliss to accrue,
For to be good to thee was to be happy too;
That secret triumph of thy mind,
Which always thou in doing well didst find,
Were heaven enough, were there no other heaven designed.
In gross could thee their owner call;
They all did in thy single circle fall.
Thou wast a living system where were wrote
All those high morals which in books are sought.
Thy practice did more virtues share
Than heretofore the learnèd porch e'er knew,
Or in the Stagyrite's scant ethics grew:
Devout thou wast as holy hermits are,
Which share their time 'twixt ecstasy and prayer;
Modest as infant roses in their bloom,
Which in a blush their lives consume;
So chaste, the dead are only more,
Who lie divorced from objects, and from power;
So pure, that if blest saints could be
Taught innocence, they'd gladly learn of thee.
Thy virtue's height in heaven alone could grow,
Nor to aught else would for accession owe:
It only now's more perfect than it was below.
Yet heaven alone its thoughts did share;
It owned no home, but in the active sphere.
Its motions always did to that bright centre roll,
And seemed to inform thee only on parole.
Look how the needle does to its dear north incline,
As, wer't not fixed, 'twould to that region climb;
Or mark what hidden force
Bids the flame upwards take its course,
And makes it with that swiftness rise,
As if 'twere winged by the air through which it flies.
Such a strong virtue did thy inclinations bend,
And made them still to the blest mansions tend.
That mighty slave, whom the proud victor's rage
Shut prisoner in a golden cage,
Condemned to glorious vassalage,
Ne'er longed for dear enlargement more,
Nor his gay bondage with less patience bore,
Than this great spirit brooked its tedious stay,
While fettered here in brittle clay,
And wished to disengage and fly away.
It vexed and chafed, and still desired to be
Released to the sweet freedom of eternity.
Fate soon at its desire appeared,
And straight for an assault prepared.
A sudden and a swift disease
First on thy heart, life's chiefest fort, does seize,
And then on all the suburb-vitals preys:
Next it corrupts thy tainted blood,
And scatters poison through its purple flood.
Sharp achès in thick troops it sends,
And pain, which like a rack the nerves extends.
Anguish through every member flies,
And all those inward gemonies
Whereby frail flesh in torture dies.
All the staid glories of thy face,
Where sprightly youth lay checked with manly grace,
Are now impaired,
And quite by the rude hand of sickness marred.
Thy body, where due symmetry
In just proportions once did lie,
Now hardly could be known,
Its very figure out of fashion grown;
And should thy soul to its old seat return,
And life once more adjourn,
'Twould stand amazed to see its altered frame,
And doubt (almost) whether its own carcass were the same.
Both for thy virtue and our praise;
'Twas here thy picture looked most neat,
When deep'st in shades 'twas set,
Thy virtues only thus could fairer be
Advantaged by the foil of misery.
Thy soul, which hastened now to be enlarged,
And of its grosser load discharged,
Began to act above its wonted rate,
And gave a prelude of its next unbodied state.
So dying tapers near their fall,
When their own lustre lights their funeral,
Contract their strength into one brighter fire,
And in that blaze triumphantly expire;
So the bright globe that rules the skies,
Though he gild heaven with a glorious rise,
Reserves his choicest beams to grace his set;
And then he looks most great,
And then in greatest splendour dies.
And still thy looks so unconcerned didst wear,
Beholders seemed more indisposed than thee;
For they were sick in effigy.
Like some well-fashioned arch thy patience stood,
And purchased firmness from its greater load.
Those shapes of torture, which to view in paint
Would make another faint,
Thou couldst endure in true reality,
And feel what some could hardly bear to see.
Those Indians who their kings by tortures chose,
Subjecting all the royal issue to that test,
Could ne'er thy sway refuse,
If he deserves to reign that suffers best.
Had those fierce savages thy patience viewed,
Thou'dst claimed their choice alone;
They with a crown had paid thy fortitude,
And turned thy death-bed to a throne.
Whose zeal to truth made them its sacrifice:
Those nobler Scævolas, whose holy rage
Did their whole selves in cruel flames engage,
Who did amidst their force unmoved appear,
As if those fires but lambent were,
Or they had found their empyreum there;
Might these repeat again their days beneath,
They'd seen their fates out-acted by a natural death,
And each of them to thee resign his wreath.
In spite of weakness and harsh destiny,
To relish torment, and enjoy a misery:
So to caress a doom,
As makes its sufferings delights become:
So to triumph o'er sense and thy disease,
As amongst pains to revel in soft ease:
These wonders did thy virtue's worth enhance,
And sickness to high martyrdom adyance.
Or make 't without the dart.
Only she paused awhile, with wonder strook,
Awhile she doubted if that destiny was thine,
And turnèd o'er again the dreadful book,
And hoped she had mistook;
And wished she might have cut another line.
But dire necessity
Soon cried 'twas thee,
And bade her give the fatal blow.
Straight she obeys, and straight the vital powers grow
Too weak to grapple with a stronger foe,
And now the feeble strife forego.
Life's sapped foundation every moment sinks,
And every breath to lesser compass shrinks;
Last panting gasps grow weaker each rebound,
Like the feint tremblings of a dying sound:
And doubtful twilight hovers o'er the light,
Ready to usher in eternal night.
All the slight horrors of the grave:
Pale death's arrest
Ne'er shocked thy breast;
Nor could it in the dreadfullest figure dressed.
That ugly skeleton may guilty spirits daunt,
Whom the dire ghosts of crimes departed haunt;
Armed with bold innocence thou couldst that mormo dare,
And on the barefaced King of Terrors stare,
As free from all effects as from the cause of fear.
Thy soul so willing from thy body went,
As if both parted by consent,
No murmur, no complaining, no delay.
Only a sigh, a groan, and so away.
Death seemed to glide with pleasure in.
As if in this sense too 't had lost her sting.
Like some well-acted comedy, life swiftly passed,
And ended just so still and sweet at last.
Thou, like its actors, seemedst in borrowed habit here beneath,
And couldst, as easily
As they do that, put off mortality.
Thou breathedst out thy soul as free as common breath,
As unconcerned as they are in a feignèd death.
Joyful to shine with thy bright company:
Go, mount the spangled sphere,
And make it brighter by another star:
Yet stop not there, till thou advance yet higher,
Till thou art swallowed quite
In the vast unexhausted ocean of delight:
Delight, which there alone in its true essence is,
Where saints keep an eternal carnival of bliss;
Where the regalios of refinèd joy,
Which fill, but never cloy;
Where pleasure's ever growing, ever new,
Immortal as thyself, and boundless too;
There mayst thou learnèd by compendium grow,
For which in vain below
We so much time, and so much pains bestow.
There mayst thou all ideas see,
All wonders which in knowledge be,
In that fair beatific mirror of the deity.
And puts on sables for its tender trust.
Though dead, it yet retains some untouched grace,
Wherein we may thy soul's fair footsteps trace,
Which no disease can frighten from its wonted place:
Even its deformities do thee become,
And only serve to consecrate thy doom.
Those marks of death which did its surface stain,
Now hallow, not profane.
Each spot does to a ruby turn;
What soiled but now, would now adorn.
Those asterisks, placed in the margin of thy skin,
Point out the nobler soul that dwelt within:
Thy lesser, like the greater, world appears
All over bright, all over stuck with stars.
So Indian luxury, when it would be trim,
Hangs pearls on every limb.
Thus, amongst ancient Picts, nobility
In blemishes did lie;
Each by his spots more honourable grew,
And from their store a greater value drew:
Their kings were known by the royal stains they bore,
And in their skins their ermine wore.
Whose purple seemed the badge of tyrant fate,
And all thy body o'er
Its ruling colours bore:
That which infected with the noxious ill,
But lately helped to kill,
Whose circulation fatal grew,
And through each part a swifter ruin threw,
Now conscious, its own murder would arraign,
And throngs to sally out at every vein.
Each drop a redder than its native dye puts on,
As if in its own blushes 'twould its guilt atone.
A sacred rubric does thy carcass paint,
And death in every member writes the saint.
So Phœbus clothes his dying rays each night,
And blushes he can live no longer to give light.
Like their own carcasses, a grave,
Let them with vain expense adorn
Some costly urn,
Which shortly, like themselves, to dust shall turn.
Here lacks no Carian sepulchre,
Which ruin shall ere long in its own tomb inter;
No fond Egyptian fabric built so high
As if 'twould climb the sky,
And thence reach immortality.
Thy virtues shall embalm thy name,
And make it lasting as the breath of fame.
When frailer brass
Shall moulder by a quick decrease;
When brittle marble shall decay,
And to the jaws of time become a prey;
Thy praise shall live, when graves shall buried lie,
Till time itself shall die,
And yield its triple empire to eternity.
- This is the earliest poem that can be traced to a date. It was written in 1675, when Oldham was twenty years of age, and published in his Remains, four years after his death. It is carefully constructed on the models then in vogue, and shows considerable skill in the exhaustive process of extravagant panegyric. The germs of future excellence strike root boldly in this piece, which is remarkable for variety and fertility of illustration, and has many passages of sweetness and beauty. Pope considered this ode one of the best of Oldham's compositions, and noted it on a fly-leaf of a copy in his possession, for special commendation, together with the Fourth Satire on the Jesuits, the Satire on Virtue, the translation of Horace's Art of Poetry, and the Impertinent from Horace. This note of Pope's was communicated to Captain Thompson by Mr. Wilkes.
- In this stanza, Oldham appears to have closely imitated Dryden's lines on the death of Lord Hastings. Thus Dryden:—
So many spots, like næves on Venus' soil,
One Jewel set off with so many a foil. . . . .
Or were these gems sent to adorn his skin,
The cabinet of a richer soul within?
No comet need foretel his change drew on,
Whose corpse might seem a constellation.'
It is not a little remarkable that this was also Dryden's first poem, written in his seventeenth year, on a similar occasion. Oldham appears to considerable advantage in comparison. His ode is a more elaborate and correct composition, abounding quite as much in conceits, but with this difference, that Dryden's are for the most part forced and preposterous, and huddled together, while Oldham's have a certain kind of dignity and appropriateness, and are usually kept clear of inconsistency and confusion. Dryden's versification suffers equally by contrast. Oldham seems to have taken particular pains with this piece.