The Complaint: or Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality/Night V
NIGHT V. THE RELAPSE.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL OF LICHFIELD.
LORENZO ! to recriminate is just. Fondness for fame is avarice of air. I grant the man is vain who writes for praise. Praise no man e'er deserv'd, who sought no more. As just thy second charge. I grant the muse
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Has often blusht at her degen'rate sons,
Retain'd by sense to plead her filthy cause ;
To raise the low, to magnify the mean,
And subtilize the gross into refin'd :
As if to magic numbers' powerful charm
'Twas given, to make a civet of their song
Obscene, and sweeten ordure to perfume.
Wit, a true pagan, deifies the brute,
And lifts our swine-enjoyments from the mire.
The fact notorious, nor obscure the cause. We wear the chains of pleasure and of pride. These share the man ; and these distract him too ; Draw diff'rent ways, and clash in their commands. Pride, like an eagle, builds among the stars ; But pleasure, lark-like, nests upon the ground. Joys shar'd by brute-creation, pride resents ; Pleasure embraces : man would both enjoy, And both at once : a point so hard how gain ! But, what can't wit, when stung by strong desire ?
Wit dares attempt this arduous enterprise. Since joys of sense can't rise to reason's taste ; In subtle sophistry's laborious forge, Wit hammers out a reason new, that stoops To sordid scenes, and meets them with applause. Wit calls the graces the chaste zone to loose ; Nor less than a plump god to fill the bowl : A thousand phantoms, and a thousand spells, A thousand opiates scatters, to delude, To fascinate, inebriate, lay asleep, And the fool'd mind delightfully confound. Thus that which shock'd the judgment, shocks no
That which gave pride offence, no more offends. Pleasure and pride, by nature mortal foes,
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At war eternal, which in man shall reign, By wit's address, patch up a fatal peace, And hand in hand lead on the rank bebauch, From rank refin'd to delicate and gay. Art, cursed art ! wipes off th' indebted blush From nature's cheek, and bronzes ev'ry shame. Man smiles in ruin, glories in his guilt, And infamy stands candidate for praise.
All writ by man in favour of the soul, These sensual ethics far, in bulk, transcend. The flowers of eloquence, profusely pour'd O'er spotted vice, fill half the letter'd world. Can pow'rs of genius exorcise their page, And consecrate enormities with song ?
But let not these inexpiable strains Condemn the muse that knows her dignity; Nor meanly stops at time, but holds the world As 'tis, in nature's ample field, a point, A point in her esteem ; from whence to start, And run the round of universal space, To visit being universal there, And being's source, that utmost flight of mind ! Yet, spite of this so vast circumference, Well knows, but what is moral, nought is great : Sing syrens only ? Do not angels sing ? There is in poesy a decent pride, Which well becomes her when she speaks to prose, Her younger sister; haply, not more wise.
Think'st thou, Lorenzo ! to find pastimes here ? No guilty passion blown into a flame, "No foible flatter'd, dignity disgrac'd, No fairy field of fiction, all on flow'r, No rainbow colours, here, or silken tale : But solemn counsels, images of awe,
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Truths, which eternity lets fall on man
With double weight, thro' these revolving- spheres,
This death-deep silence, and incumbent shade :
Thoughts, such as shall revisit your last hour ;
Visit uncall'd, and live when life expires ;
And thy dark pencil, midnight ! darker still
In melancholy dipt, embrowns the whole.
Yet this, ev'n this, my laughter-loving friends ! Lorenzo ! and thy brothers of the smile ! If, what imports you most, can most engage, Shall steal your ear, and chain you to my song. Or if you fail me, know, the wise shall taste The truths I sing ; the truths I sing shall feel ; And, feeling, give assent ; and their assent Is ample recompense ; is more than praise. But chiefly thine, O Lichfield ! nor mistake ; Think not unintroduc'd I force my way ; Narcissa, not unknown, not unallied, By virtue, or by blood, illustrious youth ! To thee, from blooming amaranthine bow'rs, Where all the language harmony, descends Uncall'd, and asks admittance for the muse : A muse that will not pain thee with thy praise ; Thy praise she drops, by nobler still inspir'd.
O thou ! blest spirit ! whether the supreme, Great antemundane father ! in whose breast Embryo creation, unborn being, dwelt, And all its various revolutions roll'd Present, tho' future ; prior to themselves ; Whose breath can blow it into nought again ; Or, from his throne some delegated pow'r, Who, studious of our peace, dost turn the thought From vain and vile, to solid and sublime ! Unseen thou lead'st me to delicious draughts
V. 8 1
Of inspiration, from a purer stream,
And fuller of the god, than that Avliich burst
From fam'd Castalia : nor is yet allay 'd My sacred thirst ; tho' long my soul has rang'd Thro' pleasing paths of moral, and divine, By thee sustain'd, and lighted by the stars.
By them best lighted are the paths of thought : Nights are their days, their most illumin'd hours. By day, the soul, o'erborne by life's career, Stunn'd by the din, and giddy with the glare, Reels far from reason, jostled by the throng-. By day the soul is passive, all her thoughts Impos'd, precarious, broken ere mature. By night, from objects free, from passion cool, Thoughts uncontrol'd, and unimpress'd, the births Of pure election, arbitrary range, Not to the limits of one world confin'd ; But from ethereal travels light on earth, As voyagers drop anchor, for repose.
Let Indians, and the gay, like Indians, fond Of feather'd fopperies, the sun adore : Darkness has more divinity for me ; It strikes thought inward ; it drives back the soul To settle on herself, our point supreme ! There lies our theatre ! there sits our judge. Darkness the curtain drops o'er life's dull scene ; Tis the kind hand of providence stretcht out 'Twixt man and vanity ; 'tis reason's reign,
- And virtue's too ; these tutelary shades
Are man's asylum from the tainted throng. Night is the good man's friend, and guardian too; It no less rescues virtue, than inspires.
Virtue, for ever frail, as fair, below, Her tender nature suffers in the crowd,
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82 THE COMPLAINT.
Nor touches on the world, without a stain : , The world's infectious ; few bring- back at eve, Immaculate, the manners of the morn. Something we thought, is blotted ; we resolv'd, Is shaken ; we renounced, returns again. Each salutation may slide in a sin Unthought before, or fix a former flaw. Nor is it strange : light, motion, concourse, noise, All, scatter us abroad ; thought outward-bound, Neglectful of our home affairs, flies off In fume and dissipation, quits her charge, And leaves the breast unguarded to the foe.
Present example gets within our guard, And acts with double force, by few repell'd. Ambition fires ambition ; love of gain Strikes, like a pestilence, from breast to breast ; Puot, pride, perfidy, blue vapours breathe ; And inhumanity is caught from man, From smiling man. A slight, a single glance, And shot at random, often has brought home A sudden fever, to the throbbing heart, Of envy, rancour, or impure desire. We see, we hear, with peril ; safety dwells Remote from multitude ; the world's a school Of wrong, and what proficients swarm around ! We must, or imitate, or disapprove ; Must list as their accomplices, or foes ; That stains our innocence ; this wounds our peace. From nature's birth, hence, wisdom has been smit With sweet recess, and languisht for the shade.
This sacred shade, and solitude, what is it ? 'Tis the felt presence of the deity. Few are the faults we flatter when alone. Vice sinks in her allurements, is ungilt,
NIGHT V. 83
And looks, like other objects, black by night. By night an atheist half-believes a God.
Night is fair virtue's immemorial friend ; The conscious moon, through ev'ry distant age, Has held a lamp to wisdom, and let fall, On contemplation's eye, her purging ray. The fam'd Athenian, he who woo'd from heaven Philosophy the fair, to dwell with men, And form their manners, not inflame their pride, While o'er his head, as fearful to molest His lab'ring mind, the stars in silence slide, And seem all gazing on their future guest, See him soliciting his ardent suit In private audience : all the live-long night, Rigid in thought, and motionless, he stands ; Nor quits his theme, or posture, till the sun (Rude drunkard rising rosy from the main !) Disturbs his nobler intellectual beam, And gives him to the tumult of the world. Hail, precious moments ! stol'n from the black
Of murder'd time ! Auspicious midnight ! hail ! The world excluded, ev'ry passion hush'd, And open'd a calm intercourse with heaven, Here the soul sits in council ; ponders past, Predestines future action ; sees, not feels, Tumultuous life, and reasons with the storm ; All her lies answers, and thinks down her charms.
What awful joy ! what mental liberty ! I am not pent in darkness ; rather say (If not too bold) in darkness I'm embower'd. Delightful gloom ! the clust'ring thoughts around Spontaneous rise, and blossom in the shade ; But droop by day, and sicken in the sun
Thought borrows light elsewhere ; from that first
Fountain of animation ! whence descends [fii'e,
Urania, my celestial guest ! who deigns
Nightly to visit me, so mean ; and now
Conscious how needful discipline to man,
From pleasing dalliance with the charms of night
My wand'ring thought recalls, to what excites
Far other beat of heart ! Narcissa's tomb !
Or is it feeble nature calls me back,
And breaks my spirit into grief again ?
Ts it a Stygian vapour in my blood ?
A cold, slow puddle, creeping thro' my veins?
Or is it thus with all men ? Thus with all.
What are we ? How unequal ! Now we soar,
And now we sink ; to be the same, transcends
Our present prowess. Dearly pays the soul
For lodging ill ; too dearly rents her clay.
Reason, a baffled counsellor ! but adds
The blush of weakness to the bane of woe.
The noblest spirit fighting her hard fate,
In this damp, dusky region, charg'd with storms,
But feebly flutters, yet untaught to fly ;
Or, flying, short her flight, and sure her fall.
Our utmost strength, when down, to rise again ;
And not to yield, tho' beaten, all our praise.
Tis vain to seek in men for more than man. Tho' proud in promise, big in previous thought, Experience damps our triumph. I, who late, Emerging from the shadows of the grave, Where grief detain'd me prisoner, mounting high, Threw wide the gates of everlasting day, And call'd mankind to glory, shook off pain, Mortality shook off, in ether pure, And struck the .stars; now feel my spirits fail;
They drop me from the zenith ; down I rush, Like him whom fable fledg'd with waxen wings, In sorrow drown'd but not in sorrow lost. How wretched is the man who never mourn'd ! I dive for precious pearl in sorrow's stream : Not so the thoughtless man that only grieves ; Takes all the torment, and rejects the gain ; (Inestimable gain !) and gives heaven leave To make him but more wretched, not more wise.
If wisdom is our lesson (and what else Ennobles man ? What else have angels learnt ?) Grief! more proficients in thy school are made, Than genius, or proud learning, e'er could boast. Voracious learning*, often over-fed, Digests not into sense her motley meal. This book-case, which dark booty almost burst, This forager on others' wisdom leaves Her native farm, her reason, quite untill'd. With mixt manure she surfeits the rank soil, Dung'd, but not drest; and rich to beggary. A pomp untameable of weeds prevails. Her servant's wealth, incumber'd wisdom mourns.
And what says genius ? " Let the dull be wise." Genius, too hard for right, can prove it wrong ; And loves to boast, where blush men less inspired. It pleads exemption from the laws of sense ; Considers reason as a leveller ; And scorns to share a blessing with the crowd. That wise it could be, thinks an ample claim To glory, and to pleasure gives the rest. Crassus but sleeps, Ardelio is undone. Wisdom less shudders at a fool, than wit.
But wisdom smiles, when humbled mortals weep. When sorrow wounds the breast, as ploughs the glebe,
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And hearts obdurate feel her soft'ning shower ; Her seed celestial, then, giad wisdom sows ; Her golden harvest triumphs in the soil. If so, Narcissa ! welcome my relapse ; I'll raise a tax on my calamity, And reap rich compensation from my pain. I'll range the plenteous intellectual field ; And gather every thought of sov'reign power To chase the moral maladies of man ; [skies,
Thoughts, which may bear transplanting to the Tho' natives of this coarse penurious soil ; Nor wholly wither there, where seraphs sing, Refin'd, exalted, not annull'd, in heaven. Reason, the sun that gives them birth, the same In either clime, tho' more illustrious there. These choicely cull'd, and elegantly rang'd, Shall form a garland for Narcissa's tomb ; And, peradventure, of no fading flowers.
Say on what themes shall puzzled choice descend ? \ " Th' importance of contemplating the tomb ; Why men decline it ; suicide's foul birth ; The various kind of grief; the faults of age ; And death's dread character invite my song."
And, first th' importance of our end survey 'd. Friends counsel quick dismission of our grief: Mistaken kindness ! our hearts heal too soon. Are they more kind than he, who struck the blow? Who bid it do his errand in our hearts, And banish peace, till nobler guests arrive, And bring it back, a true, and endless peace ? Calamities are friends : as glaring day Of these unnumber'd lustres robs our sight ; Prosperity puts out unnumber'd thoughts Of import high, and light divine, to man.
NIGHT V. 87
The man how blest, who, sick of gaudy scenes, (Scenes apt to thrust between us and ourselves !) Is led by choice to take his fav'rite walk, Beneath death's gloomy, silent, cypress shades, Unpierc'd by vanity's fantastic ray ; To read his monuments, to weigh his dust, Visit his vaults and dwell among the tombs ! Lorenzo ! rea< : vith me Narcissa's stone ; (Narcissa was tny fav'rite) let us read Her moral stone ; few doctors preach so well ; Few orators so tenderly can touch The feeling* heart. What pathos in the date ! Apt words can strike : and yet in them we see Faint
images of what we, here, enjoy.
What cause have we to build on length of life ? Temptations seize, when fear is laid asleep ; And ill foreboded is our strongest guard.
See from her tomb, as from an humble shrine Truth, radiant goddess ! sallies on my soul, And puts delusion's dusky train to flig'ht ; Dispels the mists our sultry passions raise, From objects low, terrestrial, and obscene ; And shows the real estimate of things ; Which no man, unafflicted, ever saw ; Pulls off the veil from virtue's rising charms ; Detects temptation in a thousand lies. Truth bids me look on men, as autumn leaves, And all they bleed for, as the summer's dust, Driven by the whirlwind : lighted by her beams, I widen my horizon, gain new powers, See things invisible, feel things remote, Am present with futurities ; think nought To man so foreign, as the joys possest ; Nought so much his, as those beyond the grave .
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No folly keeps its colour in her sight ; Pale worldly wisdom loses all her charms ; In pompous promise, from her schemes profound, If future fate she plans, 'tis all in leaves, Like sibyl, unsubstantial, fleeting bliss ! At the first blast it vanishes in air. Not so, celestial : Wouldst thou know, Lorenzo ! How differ worldly wisdom, and divine ? Just as the waning, and the waxing moon. More empty worldly wisdom ev'ry day ; And ev'ry day more fair her rival shines. When later, there's less time to play the fool. Soon our whole term for wisdom is expir'd (Thou know'st she calls no council in the grave) : And everlasting* fool is writ in fire, Or real wisdom wafts us to the skies.
As worldly schemes resemble sibyl's leaves, The good man's days to sibyl's books compare, (In ancient story read, thou know'st the tale) In price still rising, as in number less, Inestimable quite his final hour. For that who thrones can offer, offer thrones ; Insolvent worlds the purchase cannot pay. " O let me die his death !" all nature cries. " Then live his life." All nature falters there. Our great physician daily to consult, To commune with the grave, our only cure.
What grave prescribes the best? A friend's ;
From a friend's grave, how soon we disengage ? Ev'n to the dearest, as his marble, cold. Why are friends ravish t from us ? 'Tis to bind, By soft affection's ties, on human hearts, The thought of death, which reason, too supine,
NIGHT V. 89
Or misemploy'd, so rarely fastens there.
Nor reason, nor affection, no, nor both
Combin'd, can break the witchcrafts of the world.
Behold, th' inexorable hour at hand !
Behold, th' inexorable hour forgot !
And to forget it, the chief aim of life,
Tho' well to ponder it, is life's chief end.
Is death, that ever threat'ning, ne'er remote, That all-important, and that only sure, (Come when he will) an unexpected guest ? Nay, tho' invited by the loudest calls Of blind imprudence, unexpected still ? Tho' numerous messengers are sent before, To warn his great arrival. What the cause, The wondrous cause, of this mysterious ill? All heaven looks down astonish'd at the sight.
Is it, that life has sown her joys so thick, We can't thrust in a single care between ? Is it, that life has such a swarm of cares, The thought of death can't enter for the throng ? Is it, that time steals on with downy feet, Nor wakes indulgence from her golden dream ? To-day is so like yesterday, it cheats ; We take the lying sister for the same. Life glides away, Lorenzo ! like a brook ; For ever changing, unperceived the change. In the same brook none ever bath'd him twice : To the same life none ever twice awoke. We call the brook the same ; the same we think Our life, tho' still more rapid in its flow ; Nor mark the much, irrevocably laps'd, And mingled with the sea. Or shall we say (Retaining still the brook to bear us on) That life is like a vessel on the stream ?
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In life embark'd, we smoothly down the tide Of time descend, but not on time intent ; Amus'd, unconscious of the gliding wave ; Till on a sudden we perceive a shock ; We start, awake, look out ; what see we there? Our brittle bark is burst on Charon's shore.
Is this the cause death flies all human thought ? Or is it judgment, by the will struck blind, That domineering mistress of the soul ! Like him so strong, by Dalilah the fair ? Or is it fear turns startled reason back, From looking down a precipice so steep ? 'Tis dreadful ; and the dread is wisely plac'd By nature, conscious of the make of man. A dreadful friend it is, a terror kind, A flaming sword to guard the tree of life. By that unaw'd^ in life's most smiling hour, The good man would repine ; would suffer joys, And burn impatient for his promis'd skies. The bad, on each punctilious pique of pride, Or gloom of humour, would give rage the rein ; Bound o'er the barrier, rush into the dark, And mar the schemes of providence below.
What groan was that, Lorenzo ? Furies ! rise ; And drown in your less execrable yell, Britannia's shame. There took her gloomy flight, On wing impetuous, a black sullen soul, Blasted from hell, with horrid lust of death. Thy friend, the brave, the gallant Altamont, So call'd, so thought And then he fled the field. Less base the fear of death, than fear of life. O Britain, infamous for suicide ! An island in thy manners ! far disjoin'd From the whole world of rationals beside !
NIGHT V. 01
In ambient waves plunge thy polluted head, Wash the dire stain, nor shock the continent.
But thou be shock'd, while I detect the cause Of self-assault, expose the monster's birth, And bid abhorrence hiss it round the world. Blame not thy clime, nor chide the distant sun ; Tta sun is innocent, thy clime absolv'd : Immoral climes kind nature never made. The cause I sing, in Eden might prevail, And proves, it is thy folly, not thy fate.
The soul of man (let man in homage bow, Who names his soul), a native of the skies ! High-born, and free, her freedom should maintain, Unsold, unmortgag'd for earth's little bribes. Th' illustrious stranger, in this foreign land, Like strangers, jealous of her dignity, Studious of home, and ardent to return, Of earth suspicious, earth's inchanted cup With cool reserve light touching, should indulge, On immortality, her godlike taste ; There take large draughts ; make her chief ban- quet there.
But some reject this sustenance divine ; To beggarly vile appetites descend ; [ ven
Ask alms of earth, for guests that came from hea- Sink into slaves ; and sell, for present hire, Their rich reversion, and (what shares its fate) Their native freedom, to the prince who sways This nether world. And when his payments fail When his foul basket gorges them no more, Or their pall'd palates loath the basket full ; Are instantly, with wild demoniac rage, For breaking all the chains of providence, And bursting their confinement ; tho' fast barr'd
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By laws divine and human ; guarded strong With horrors doubled to defend the pass, The blackest, nature, or dire guilt can raise ; And moated round with fathomless destruction, Sure to receive, and whelm them in their fall.
Such, Britons ! is the cause, to you unknown, Or worse, o'erlook'd ; o'erlook'd by magistrates, Thus criminals themselves. I grant the deed Is madness ; but the madness of the heart. And what is that ? Our utmost bound of guilt. A sensual, unreflecting life, is big With monstrous births, and suicide, to crown The black infernal brood. The bold to break Heaven's law supreme, and desperately rush Thro' sacred nature's murder, on their own, Because they never think of death, they die. 'Tis equally man's duty, glory, gain, At once to shun, and meditate, his end. When by the bed of languishment we sit, (The seat of wisdom ! if our choice, not fate) Or, o'er our dying friends, in anguish hang, Wipe the cold dew, or stay the sinking head, Number their moments, and, in ev'ry clock, Start at the voice of an eternity ; See the dim lamp of life just feebly lift An agonizing beam, at us to gaze, Then sink again, and quiver into death, That most pathetic herald of our own ; How read we such sad scenes ? As sent to man In perfect vengeance ? No ; in pity sent, To melt him down, like wax, and then impress, Indelible, death's image on his heart ; Bleeding for others, trembling for himself. We bleed, we tremble, we forget, we smile.
The mind turns fool, before the cheek is dry.
Our quick-returning folly cancels all ;
As the tide rushing- rases what is writ
In yielding sands, and smooths the letter'd shore.
Lorenzo ! hast thou ever weigh'd a sigh ? Or studied the philosophy of tears ? (A science, yet unlectur'd in our schools !) Hast thou descended deep into the breast, And seen their source ? If not, descend with me, And trace these briny riv'lets to their springs.
Our funeral tears, from different causes, rise. As if from sep'rate cisterns in the soul, Of various kinds, they flow. From tender hearts, By soft contagion call'd, some burst at once, And stream obsequious to the leading 1 eye. Some ask more time, by curious art distill'd. Some hearts, in secret hard, unapt to melt, Struck by the magic of the public eye, Like Moses' smitten rock, gush out amain. Some weep to share the fame of the deceas'd, So high in merit, and to them so dear. They dwell on praises, which they think they share ; And thus, without a blush, commend themselves. Some mourn, in proof, that something they could
They weep not to relieve their grief, but show. Some weep in perfect justice to the dead, As conscious all their love is in arrear. Some mischievously weep, not unappris'd Tears, sometimes, aid the conquest
of an eye.
With what address the soft Ephesians draw Their sable net-work o'er entangled hearts ! As seen thro' crystal, how their roses glow, While liquid pearl runs trickling down their cheek ?
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Of hers not prouder Egypt's wanton queen, Carousing' gems, herself dissolv'd in love. Some weep at death, abstracted from the dead, And celebrate, like Charles, their own decease. By kind construction some are deem'd to weep, Because a decent veil conceals their joy.
Some weep in earnest, and yet weep in vain ; As deep in indiscretion, as in woe. Passion, blind passion ! impotently pours Tears, that deserve more tears ; while reason Jueps ; Or gazes like an idiot, unconcern'd ; Nor comprehends the meaning of the storm ; Knows not it speaks to her, and her alone. Irrationals all sorrow are beneath, That noble gift ! that privilege of man ! From sorrow's pang, the birth of endless joy. But these are barren of that birth divine : They weep impetuous, as the summer storm, And full as short ! The cruel grief soon tam'd, They make a pastime of the stingless tale ; Far as the deep resounding knell, they spread The dreadful news, and hardly feel it more. No grain of wisdom pays them for their woe.
Half-round the globe, the tears pumpt up by
Are spent in wat'ring vanities of life ; In making folly flourish still more fair. When the sick soul, her wonted stay withdrawn, Reclines on earth, and sorfows in the dust ; Instead of learning, there, her true support, Tho' there thrown down her true support to learn, Without heaven's aid, impatient to be blest, She crawls to the next shrub, or bramble vile, Tho' from the stately cedar's arms she fell ;
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With stale, forsworn embraces, clings anew, The stranger weds, and blossoms, as before, In all the fruitless fopperies of life : Presents her weed, well-fancied, at the ball, And raffles for the death's-head on the ring.
So wept Aurelia, till the destin'd youth Stept in, with his receipt for making smiles, And blanching sables into bridal bloom. So wept Lorenzo fair Clarissa's fate ; Who gave that angel boy, on whom he dotes; And died to give him, orphan'd in his birth ! Not such, Narcissa, my distress for thee. I'll make an altar of thy sacred tomb, To sacrifice to wisdom. What wast thou ? " Young, gay, and fortunate !" Each yields atheme. I'll dwell on each, to shun thought more severe ; (Heaven knows I labour with severer still !) I'll dwell on each, and quite exhaust thy death. A soul without reflection, like a pile Without inhabitant, to ruin runs.
And, first, thy youth. What says it to gray hairs ! Narcissa, I'm become thy pupil now Early, bright, transient, chaste, as morning dew, She sparkled, was exhal'd, and went to heaven. Time on this head has snow'd ; yet still 'tis borne Aloft ; nor thinks but on another's grave. Cover'd with shame I speak it, age severe Old worn-out vice sets down for virtue fair ; With graceless gravity, chastising youth, That youth chastis'd surpassing in a fault, Father of all, forgetfulness of death : As if, like objects pressing on the sight, Death had advanc'd too near us to be seen : Or that life's loan time ripen'd into right ;
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And men might plead prescription from the grave ; Deathless, from repetition of reprieve. Deathless ? far from it ! such are dead already ; Their hearts are buried, and the world their grave .
Tell me, some god ! my guardian angel! tell, What thus infatuates ? what inchantrnent plants The phantom of an age 'twixt us, and death Already at the door ? He knocks, we hear him, And yet we will not hear. What mail defends Our untouch'd hearts ? What miracle turns off The pointed thought, which from a thousand quivers Is daily darted, and is daily shunn'd ? We stand, as in a battle, throngs on throngs Around us falling ; wounded oft ourselves ; Tho' bleeding with our wounds, immortal still ! We see time's furrows on another's brow, And death intrench'd, preparing his assault ; How few themselves, in that just mirror, see ! Or, seeing, draw their inference as strong J There death is certain ; doubtful here : he must, And soon ; we may, within an age, expire. Tho' gray our heads, our thoug-hts and aims arc
Like damag'd clocks, whose hand and bell dissent; Folly sings six, while nature points at twelve.
Absurd longevity ! More, more, it cries : More life, more wealth, more trash of ev'ry kind. And wherefore mad for more, when relish fails ? Object, and appetite, must club for joy; Shall folly labour hard to mend the bow, Baubles, I mean, that strike us from without, While nature is relaxing ev'ry string ? Ask thought for joy ; grow rich, and hoard within. Think you the soul, when this life's rattles cease,
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Has nothing 1 of more manly to succeed ? j
Contract the taste immortal ; learn ev'n now To relish what alone subsists hereafter. Divine, or none, henceforth your joys for ever. Of age the glory is, to wish to die. That wish is praise, and promise ; it applauds Past life, and promises our future bliss. What weakness see not children in their sires ? Grand-climacterical absurdities ! Gray-hair'd authority, to faults of youth, How shocking' : it makes folly thrice a fool ; And our first childhood might our last despise. Peace and esteem is all that age can hope.
- Nothing but wisdom gives the first ; the last,
Nothing but the repute of being* wise. Folly bars both ; our age is quite undone.
What folly can be ranker ? Like our shadows, Our wishes lengthen, as our sun declines. No Avish should loiter, then, this side the grave. Our hearts should leave the world, before the knell Calls for our carcasses to mend the soil. Enough to live in tempest, die in port ; Age should fly concourse, cover in retreat Defects of judgment ; and the will's subdue ; Walk thoughtful on the silent, solemn shore Of that vast ocean it must sail so soon ; And put good-works on board ; and wait the wind That shortly blows us into worlds unknown ; If unconsider'd too, a dreadful scene !
All should be prophets to themselves ; foresee Their future fate ; their future fate foretaste ; This art would waste the bitterness of death. The thought of death alone, the fear destroys. A disaffection to that precious thought
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98 THE COMPLAINT.
Is more than midnight darkness on the soul, Which sleeps beneath it, on a precipice, Puff 'd off by the first blast, and lost for ever.
Dost ask, Lorenzo, why so warmly prest, By repetition hammer'd on thine ear, The thought of death ? That thought is the machine, The grand machine ! that heaves us from the dust, And rears us into men. That thought, plied home, Will soon reduce the ghastly precipice O'er-hanging hell, will soften the descent, And gently slope our passage to the grave; How warmly to be wisht ! What heart of flesh Would trifle with tremendous ? dare extremes ? Yawn o'er the fate of infinite ? What hand, Beyond the blackest brand of censure bold, (To speak a language too well known to thee) Would at a moment give its all to chance, And stamp the die for an eternity ?
Aid me, Narcissa ! aid me to keep pace With destiny ; and ere her scissars cut My thread of life, to break this tougher thread Of moral death, that ties me to the world. Sting thou my slumb'ring reason to send forth A thought of observation on the foe ; To sally ; and survey the rapid march Of his ten thousand messengers to man ; Who, Jehu-like, behind him turns them all. All accident apart, by nature sign'd, My warrant is gone out, tho' dormant yet ; Perhaps behind one moment lurks my fate.
Must I. then forward only look for death ? Backward I turn mine eye, and find him there. Man is a self-survivor ev'ry year. Man, like a stream, is in perpetual flow.
NIGHT V. 99
Death's a destroyer of quotidian prey. My youth, my noon-tide, his ; my yesterday ; The bold invader shares the present hour. Each moment on the former shuts the grave, While man is growing-, life is in decrease ; And cradles rock us nearer to the tomb. Our birth is nothing but our death begun ; As tapers waste, that instant they take fire.
Shall we then fear, lest that should come to pass, Which comes to pass each moment of our lives ? If fear we must, let that death turn us pale, Which murders strength and ardour ; what remains Should rather call on death, than dread his call. Ye partners of my fault, and my decline ! Thoughtless of death, but when your neighbour's
(Rude visitant !) knocks hard at your dull sense, And with its thunder scarce obtains your ear ! Be death your theme, in ev'ry place and hour ; Nor longer want, ye monumental sires ! A brother tomb to tell you you shall die. That death you dread (so great is nature's skill !) Know, you shall court before you shall enjoy.
But you are learn'd ; in volumes, deep you sit ; In wisdom, shallow : Pompous ignorance ! Would you be still more learned than the learn'd ? Learn well to know how much need not be known, And what that knowledge, which impairs your sense. Our needful knowledge, like our needful food, Unhedg'd, lies open in life's common field; And bids all welcome to the vital feast. You scorn what lies before you in the page Of nature, and experience, moral truth ; Of indispensable, eternal fruit ;
100 THE COMPLAINT.
Fruit, on which mortals feeding*, turn to gods : And dive in science for distinguisht names, Dishonest fomentation of your pride ; Sinking in virtue, as you rise in fame. Your learning, like the lunar beam, affords Light, but not heat ; it leaves you undevout, Frozen at heart, while speculation shines. Awake, ye curious indagators ! fond Of knowing all, but what avails
If you would learn death's character, attend. All casts of conduct, all degrees of health, All dies of fortune, and all dates of age, Together shook in his impartial urn, Come forth at random : or, if choice is made, The choice is quite sarcastic, and insults All bold conjecture, and fond hopes of man. What countless multitudes not only leave, But deeply disappoint us, by their deaths ! Tho' great our sorrow, greater our surprise.
Like other tyrants, death delights to smite, What, smitten, most proclaims the pride of power, And arbitrary nod. His joy supreme, To bid the wretch survive the fortunate ; The feeble wrap th' athletic in his shroud ; And weeping fathers build their children's tomb : Me thine, Narcissa ! What tho' short thy date ? Virtue, not rolling suns, the mind matures. That life is long, which answers life's great end. The time that bears no fruit, deserves no name ; The man of wisdom is the man of years. In hoary youth Methusalems may die ; O how misdated on their flatt'ring tombs !
Narcissa's youth has lectur'd me thus far And can her gaiety give counsel too ?
NIGHT V. 101
That, like the Jews' fam'd oracle of gems, Sparkles instruction ; such as throws new light, And opens more the character of death ; 111 known to thee, Lorenzo ! This thy vaunt: " Give death his due, the wretched, and the old ; Ev'n let him sweep his rubbish to the grave ; Let him not violate kind nature's laws, But own man born to live as well as die." Wretched and old thou giv'st him ; young and gay He takes ; and plunder is a tyrant's joy. What if I prove, " The farthest from the fear, Are often nearest to the stroke of Fate ?"
All, more than common, menaces an end. A blaze betokens brevity of life : As if bright embers should emit a flame, Glad spirits sparkled from Narcissa's eye, And made youth younger, and taught life to live, As nature's opposites wage endless war, For this offence, as treason to the deep Inviolable stupor of his reign, Where lust, and turbulent ambition, sleep, Death took swift vengeance. As he life detests More life is still more odious ; and, reduc'd By conquest, aggrandizes more his power. But wherefore aggrandiz'd ? By heaven's decree, To plant the soul on her eternal guard, In awful expectation of our end. [so,
Thus runs death's dread commission: " Strike, but As most alarms the living by the dead." Hence stratagem delights him, and surprise, And cruel sport with man's securities. Not simple conquest, triumph is his aim ; [most. And, where least fear'd, there conquest triumphs This proves my bold assertion not too bold.
102 THE COMPLAINT.
What are his arts to lay our fears asleep ? Tiberian arts his purposes wrap up In deep dissimulation's darkest night. Like princes unconfest in foreign courts, Who travel under cover, death assumes The name and look of life, and dwells among us. He takes all shapes that serve his black designs : Tho' master of a wider empire far Than that, o'er which the Roman eagle flew. Like Nero, he's a fiddler, charioteer, Or drives his phaeton, in female guise ; Quite unsuspected, till, the wheel beneath, His disarray 'd oblation he devours.
He most affects the forms least like himself, His slender self. Hence burly corpulence Is his familiar wear, and sleek disguise. Behind the rosy bloom he loves to lurk, Or ambush in a smile ; or wanton dive In dimples deep ; love's eddies, which draw in Unwary hearts, and sink them in despair. Such, on Narcissa's couch he loiter'd long- Unknown ; and, when detected, still was seen To smile ; such peace has innocence in death ! Most happy they ! whom least his arts deceive. One eye on death, and one full fix'd on heaven, Becomes a mortal, and immortal man. Long on his wiles a piqu'd and jealous spy, I've seen, or dreamt I saw, the tyrant dress ; Lay by his horrors, and put on his smiles. Say, muse, for thou remember'st, call it back, And show Lorenzo the surprising scene ; If 'twas a dream, his genius can explain.
'Twas in a circle of the gay I stood. Death would have enter'd ; Nature pusht him back ;
NIGHT v, 103
Supported by a doctor of renown,
His point he gain'd. Then artfully dismist
The sage ; for death design'd to be conceal'd.
He gave an old vivacious usurer
His meagre aspect, and his naked bones ;
In gratitude for plumping up his prey,
A pamper'd spendthrift ; whose fantastic air,
Well-fashion'd figure, and cockaded brow,
He took in change, and underneath the pride
Of costly linen, tuck'd his filthy shroud.
His crooked bow he straighten'd to a cane ;
And hid his deadly shafts in Myra's eye.
The dreadful masquerader, thus equipt, Out-sallies on adventures. Ask you where ? Where is he not ? For his peculiar haunts, Let this suffice ; sure as night follows day, Death treads in pleasure's footsteps round the world, When pleasure treads the paths, which reason shuns. When, against reason, riot shuts the door, And gaiety supplies the place of sense, Then, foremost at the banquet, and the ball, Death leads the dance, or stamps the deadly die ; Nor ever fails the midnight bowl to crown. Gaily carousing to his gay compeers, Inly he -laughs, to see them laugh at him, As absent far : And when the revel burns, When fear is banisht, and triumphant thought, Calling for all the joys beneath the moon, Against him turns the key ; and bids him sup With their progenitors He drops his mask ; Frowns out at full ; they start, despair, expire.
Scarce with more sudden terror and surprise, From his black masque of nitre, touch'd by fire, He bursts, expands, roars, blazes, and devours.
104 THE COMPLAINT.
And is not this triumphant treachery,
And more than simple conquest, in the fiend ? And now, Lorenzo, dost thou wrap thy soul
In soft security, because unknown
Which moment is commission'd to destroy ?
In death's uncertainty thy danger lies.
Is death uncertain ? Therefore thou be fixt ;
Fixt as a centinel, all eye, all ear,
All expectation of the coming- foe.
Rouse, stand in arms, nor lean against thy spear ;
Lest slumber steal one moment o'er thy soul,
And fate surprise thee nodding-. Watch, be strong;
Thus give each day the merit, and renown, Of dying well ; tho' doom'd but once to die. Nor let life's period hidden (as from most) Hide too from thee the precious use of life.
Early, not sudden, was Narcissa's fate. Soon, not surprising, death his visit paid. Her thought went forth to meet him on his way, Nor gaiety forgot it was to die : Tho' fortune too (our third and final theme), As an accomplice, play'd her gaudy plumes, And ev'ry glitt'ring gewgaw, on her sight, To dazzle, and debauch it from its mark. Death's dreadful advent is the mark of man ; And ev'ry thought that misses it, is blind. Fortune, with youth and gaiety, conspir'd To weave a triple wreath of happiness (If happiness on earth) to crown her brow. And could death charge thro' such a shining shield ?
That shining shield invites the tyrant's spear, As if to damp our elevated aims, And strongly preach humility to man. O how portentous is prosperity !
NIGHT v. 105
How, comet-like, it threatens, while it shines ! Few years but yield us proof of death's ambition, To cull his victims from the fairest fold, And sheath his shafts in all the pride of life. When flooded with abundance, purpled o'er With recent honours, bloom'd with ev'ry bliss, Set up in ostentation, made the gaze, The gaudy centre, of the public eye, j^
When fortune thus has toss'd her child in air, Snatcht from the covert of an humble state, How often have I seen him dropt at once, Our morning's envy ! and our evening's sigh ! As if her bounties were the signal giv'n, The flow'ry wreath to mark the sacrifice, And call death's arrows on the destin'd prey.
High fortune seems in cruel league with fate Ask you for what ? To give his war on man The deeper dread, and more illustrious spoil ; Thus to keep daring mortals more in awe. And burns Lorenzo still for the sublime Of life ? to hang his airy nest on high, On the slight timber of the topmost bough, Rockt at each breeze, and menacing a fall ? Granting grim death at equal distance there ; Yet peace begins just where ambition ends. What makes man wretched ? Happiness denied ? Lorenzo ! no : Tis happiness disdain'd.
She comes too meanly drest to win our smile ; \ j^JU
And calls herself Content, a homely name ! V*** "
Our flame is transport, and content our scorn. ^ V " Ambition turns, and shuts the door against her, And weds a toil, a tempest, in her stead ; A tempest to warm transport near of kin. Unknowing what our mortal state admits,
106 THE COMPLAINT.
Life's modest joys we ruin, while we raise ; And all our ecstasies are wounds to peace ; Peace, the full portion of mankind below.
And since thy peace is dear, ambitious youth ! Of fortune fond ! as thoughtless of thy fate ! As late I drew death's picture, to stir up Thy wholesome fears ; now, drawn in contrast, see Gay fortune's, thy vain hopes to reprimand. See, high in air, the sportive goddess hangs, Unlocks her casket, spreads her glittering ware, And calls the giddy winds to puff abroad Her random bounties o'er the gaping throng. All rush rapacious ; friends o'er trodden friends ; Sons o'er their fathers, subjects o'er their kings, Priests o'er their gods, and lovers o'er the fair, (Still more ador'd) to snatch the golden show'r.
Gold glitters most, where virtue shines no more ; As stars from absent suns have leave to shine. O what a precious pack of votaries Unkennell'd from the prisons, and the stews, Pour in, all op'ning in their idol's praise ; All, ardent, eye each wafture of her hand, And, wide-expanding their voracious jaws,
Morsel en morsel swallow down unchew'd, Untasted, thro' mad appetite for more ; Gorg'd to the throat, yet lean and rav'nous still. Sagacious all, to trace the smallest game, And bold to seize the greatest. If (blest chance !) Court-zephyrs sweetly breathe, they launch, they fly, O'er just, o'er sacred, all-forbidden ground, Drunk with the burning scent of place or pow'r, Staunch to the foot of lucre, till they die.
Or, if for men you take them, as I mark Their manners, thou their various fates survey.
NIGHT v. 107
With aim mis-measur'd, and impetuous speed, Some darting-, strike their ardent wish far off, Thro' fury to possess it : Some succeed, But stumble, and let fall the taken prize. From some, by sudden blasts, 'tis whirl'd away, And lodg'd in bosoms that ne'er dreamt of gain. To some it sticks so close, that, when torn off, Torn is the man, and mortal is' the wound. Some, o'er-enamour'd of their bags, run mad, Groan under g'old, yet weep for want of bread. Tog-ether some (unhappy rivals !) seize, And rend abundance into poverty ; Loud croaks the raven of the law, and smiles : Smiles too the goddess ; but smiles most at those, (Just victims of exorbitant desire !) Who perish at their own request, and, whelm'd Beneath her load of lavish grants, expire. Fortune is famous for her numbers slain, The number small, which happiness can bear. Tho' various for a while their fates ; at last One curse involves them all : At death's approach, All read their riches backward into loss, And mourn, in just proportion to their store. . And death's approach (if orthodox my song) Is hasten'd by the lure of fortune's smiles. And art thou still a glutton of bright gold? And art thou still rapacious of thy ruin ? Death loves a shining mark, a signal blow ; A blow, which, while it executes, alarms ; And startles thousands with a single fall. As when some stately growth of oak, or pine, Which nods aloft, and proudly spreads her shade, The sun's defiance, and the flock's defence ; By the strong strokes of lab'ring hinds subdu'd,
108 THE COMPLAINT.
Loud groans her last, and, rushing- from her height. In cumbrous ruin, thunders to the ground : The conscious forest trembles at the shock, And hill, and stream, and distant dale, resound.
These high-aim'd darts of death, and these alone, Should I collect, my quiver would be full. A quiver, which, suspended in mid-air, Or near heaven's archer, in the zodiac, hung, (So could it be) should draw the public eye, The gaze and contemplation of mankind ! A constellation awful, yet benign, To guide the gay through life's tempestuous wave ; Nor suffer them to strike the common rock, " From greater danger to grow more secure, And, wrapt in happiness, forget their fate."
Lysander, happy past the common lot, Was warn'd of danger, but too gay to fear. He woo'd the fair Aspasia : she was kind : In youth, form, fortune, fame, they both were blest : All who knew, envied ; yet in envy lov'd : Can fancy form more fmish'd happiness ? Fix'd was the nuptial hour. Her stately dome Rose on the sounding beach. The glittering spires Float in the wave, and break against the shore : So break those glitt'ring shadows, human joys. The faithless morning smil'd : he takes his leave, To re-embrace, in ecstasies, at eve. The rising storm forbids. The news arrives : Untold, she saw it in her servant's eye. She felt it seen (her heart was apt to feel) ; And, drown'd, without the furious ocean's aid In suffocating sorrows, shares his tomb. Now, round the sumptuous, bridal monument, The guilty billows innocently roar ;
And the rough sailor passing', drops a tear. A tear ? Can tears suffice ? But not for me. How vain our efforts ! and our arts, how vain ! The distant train of thought I took, to shun, Has thrown me on my fate These died together; Happy in ruin ! undivorc'd by death ! Or ne'er to meet, or ne'er to part, is peace Narcissa ! Pity bleeds at thought of thee. Yet thou wast only near me ; not myself. Survive myself? That cures all other woe. Narcissa lives ; Philander is forgot. O the soft commerce ! O the tender ties, Close-twisted with the fibres of the heart ! Which, broken, break them; and drain off the soul Of human joy ; and make it pain to live And is it then to live ? When such friends part, 'Tis the survivor dies My heart, no more.