THE PROGRESS OF ERROR.
Si quid loquar audiendum. HOR. LIB. 4. OD. 2.
1 SING muse (if such a theme, so dark, so long,
2 May find a muse to grace it with a song)
3 By what unseen and unsuspected arts
4 The serpent error twines round human hearts,
5 Tell where she lurks, beneath what flow'ry shades,
6 That not a glimpse of genuin light pervades,
7 The pois'nous, black, insinuating worm,
8 Successfully conceals her loathsome form.[Page 42]
9 Take, if ye can, ye careless and supine!
10 Counsel and caution from a voice like mine;
11 Truths that the theorist could never reach,
12 And observation taught me, I would teach.
13 Not all whose eloquence the fancy fills,
14 Musical as the chime of tinkling rills,
15 Weak to perform, though mighty to pretend,
16 Can trace her mazy windings to their end,
17 Discern the fraud beneath the specious lure,
18 Prevent the danger, or prescribe the cure.
19 The clear harangue, and cold as it is clear,
20 Falls soporific on the listless ear,
21 Like quicksilver, the rhet'ric they display,
22 Shines as it runs, but grasp'd at slips away.
23 Plac'd for his trial on this bustling stage,
24 From thoughtless youth to ruminating age,
25 Free in his will to chuse or to refuse,
26 Man may improve the crisis, or abuse.
27 Else, on the fatalists unrighteous plan,
28 Say, to what bar amenable were man?[Page 43]
29 With nought in charge, he could betray no trust,
30 And if he fell, would fall because he must;
31 If love reward him, or if vengeance strike,
32 His recompence in both, unjust alike.
33 Divine authority within his breast
34 Brings every thought, word, action to the test,
35 Warns him or prompts, approves him or restrains,
36 As reason, or as passion, takes the reins.
37 Heav'n from above, and conscience from within,
38 Cry in his startled ear, abstain from sin.
39 The world around solicits his desire,
40 And kindles in his soul a treach'rous fire,
41 While all his purposes and steps to guard,
42 Peace follows virtue as its sure reward,
43 And pleasure brings as surely in her train,
44 Remorse and sorrow and vindictive pain.
45 Man thus endued with an elective voice,
46 Must be supplied with objects of his choice.
47 Where'er he turns, enjoyment and delight,
48 Or present, or in prospect, meet his sight;[Page 44]
49 These open on the spot their honey'd store,
50 Those call him loudly to pursuit of more.
51 His unexhausted mine, the sordid vice
52 Avarice shows, and virtue is the price.
53 Here, various motives his ambition raise,
54 Pow'r, pomp, and splendor, and the thirst of praise;
55 There beauty woes him with expanded arms,
56 E'en Bacchanalian madness has its charms,
57 Nor these alone, whose pleasures less refin'd,
58 Might well alarm the most unguarded mind,
59 Seek to supplant his unexperienced youth,
60 Or lead him devious from the path of truth,
61 Hourly allurements on his passions press,
62 Safe in themselves, but dang'rous in th' excess.
63 Hark! how it floats upon the dewy air,
64 O what a dying, dying close was there!
65 'Tis harmony from yon sequester'd bow'r,
66 Sweet harmony that sooths the midnight hour;
67 Long e'er the charioteer of day had run
68 His morning course, th' enchantment was begun,[Page 45]
69 And he shall gild yon mountains height again,
70 E'er yet the pleasing toil becomes a pain.
71 Is this the rugged path, the steep ascent
72 That virtue points to? Can a life thus spent
73 Lead to the bliss she promises the wise,
74 Detach the soul from earth, and speed her to the skies?
75 Ye devotees to your ador'd employ,
76 Enthusiasts, drunk with an unreal joy,
77 Love makes the music of the blest above,
78 Heav'ns harmony is universal love;
79 And earthly sounds, though sweet and well combin'd,
80 And lenient as soft opiates to the mind,
81 Leave vice and folly unsubdu'd behind.
82 Grey dawn appears, the sportsman and his train
83 Speckle the bosom of the distant plain,
84 'Tis he, the Nimrod of the neighb'ring lairs,
85 Save that his scent is less acute than their's,
86 For persevering chace, and headlong leaps,
87 True beagle as the staunchest hound he keeps.
88 Charg'd with the folly of his life's mad scene,
89 He takes offence, and wonders what you mean;[Page 46]
90 The joy, the danger and the toil o'erpays,
91 'Tis exercise, and health and length of days,
92 Again impetuous to the field he flies,
93 Leaps ev'ry fence but one, there falls and dies;
94 Like a slain deer, the tumbril brings him home,
95 Unmiss'd but by his dogs and by his groom.
96 Ye clergy, while your orbit is your place,
97 Lights of the world, and stars of human race —
98 But if eccentric yc forsake your sphere,
99 Prodigious, ominous, and view'd with fear.
100 The comets baneful influence is a dream,
101 Your's real, and pernicious in th' extreme.
102 What then — are appetites and lusts laid down,
103 With the same ease the man puts on his gown?
104 Will av'rice and concupiscence give place,
105 Charm'd by the sounds, your rev'rence, or your grace?
106 No. But his own engagement binds him fast,
107 Or if it does not, brands him to the last
108 What atheists call him, a designing knave,
109 A mere church juggler, hypocrite and slave.[Page 47]
110 Oh laugh, or mourn with me, the rueful jest,
111 A cassock'd huntsman, and a fiddling priest;
112 He from Italian songsters takes his cue,
113 Set Paul to music, he shall quote him too.
114 He takes the field, the master of the pack
115 Cries, well done Saint — and claps him on the back.
116 Is this the path of sanctity? Is this
117 To stand a way-mark in the road to bliss?
118 Himself a wand'rer from the narrow way,
119 His silly sheep, what wonder if they stray?
120 Go, cast your orders at your Bishop's feet,
121 Send your dishonour'd gown to Monmouth Street,
122 The sacred function, in your hands is made,
123 Sad sacrilege! No function but a trade.
124 Occiduus is a pastor of renown,
125 When he has pray'd and preach'd the sabbath down,
126 With wire and catgut he concludes the day,
127 Quav'ring and semiquav'ring care away.
128 The full concerto swells upon your ear;
129 All elbows shake. Look in, and you would swear[Page 48]
130 The Babylonian tyrant with a nod
131 Had summon'd them to serve his golden God.
132 So well that thought th' employment seems to suit,
133 Psalt'ry and sackbut, dulcimer, and flute.
134 Oh fie! 'Tis evangelical and pure,
135 Observe each face, how sober and demure,
136 Extasy sets her stamp on ev'ry mien,
137 Chins fall'n, and not an eye-ball to be seen.
138 Still I insist, though music heretofore
139 Has charm'd me much, not ev'n Occiduus more,
140 Love, joy and peace make harmony, more meet
141 For sabbath evenings, and perhaps as sweet.
142 Will not the sickliest sheep of ev'ry flock,
143 Resort to this example as a rock,
144 There stand and justify the foul abuse
145 Of sabbath hours, with plausible excuse?
146 If apostolic gravity be free
147 To play the fool on Sundays, why not we?
148 If he, the tinkling harpsichord regards
149 As inoffensive, what offence in cards?[Page 49]
150 Strike up the fiddles, let us all be gay,
151 Laymen have leave to dance, if parsons play.
152 Oh Italy! Thy sabbaths will be soon
153 Our sabbaths, clos'd with mumm'ry and buffoon.
154 Preaching and pranks will share the motley scene,
155 Our's parcell'd out, as thine have ever been,
156 God's worship and the mountebank between.
157 What says the prophet? Let that day be blest
158 With holiness and consecrated rest.
159 Pastime and bus'ness both it should exclude,
160 And bar the door the moment they intrude,
161 Nobly distinguish'd above all the six,
162 By deeds in which the world must never mix.
163 Hear him again. He calls it a delight,
164 A day of luxury, observ'd aright,
165 When the glad soul is made heav'ns welcome guest,
166 Sits banquetting, and God provides the feast.
167 But triflers are engag'd and cannot come;
168 Their answer to the call is — Not at home.
169 Oh the dear pleasures of the velvet plain,
170 The painted tablets, dealt and dealt again.[Page 50]
171 Cards with what rapture, and the polish'd die,
172 The yawning chasm of indolence supply!
173 Then to the dance, and make the sober moon
174 Witness of joys that shun the sight of noon.
175 Blame cynic, if you can, quadrille or ball,
176 The snug close party, or the splendid hall,
177 Where night down-stooping from her ebon throne,
178 Views constellations brighter than her own.
179 'Tis innocent, and harmless and refin'd,
180 The balm of care, elysium of the mind.
181 Innocent! Oh if venerable time
182 Slain at the foot of pleasure, be no crime,
183 Then with his silver beard and magic wand,
184 Let Comus rise Archbishop of the land,
185 Let him your rubric and your feasts prescribe,
186 Grand metropolitan of all the tribe.
187 Of manners rough, and coarse athletic cast,
188 The rank debauch suits Clodio's filthy taste.
189 Rufillus, exquisitely form'd by rule,
190 Not of the moral, but the dancing school,[Page 51]
191 Wonders at Clodio's follies, in a tone
192 As tragical, as others at his own.
193 He cannot drink five bottles, bilk the score,
194 Then kill a constable, and drink five more;
195 But he can draw a pattern, make a tart,
196 And has the ladies etiquette by heart.
197 Go fool, and arm in arm with Clodio, plead
198 Your cause, before a bar you little dread;
199 But know, the law that bids the drunkard die,
200 Is far too just to pass the trifler by.
201 Both baby featur'd and of infant size,
202 View'd from a distance, and with heedless eyes,
203 Folly and innocence are so alike,
204 The diff'rence, though essential, fails to strike.
205 Yet folly ever has a vacant stare,
206 A simp'ring count'nance, and a trifling air;
207 But innocence, sedate, serene, erect,
208 Delights us, by engaging our respect.
209 Man, nature's guest by invitation sweet,
210 Receives from her, both appetite and treat,[Page 52]
211 But if he play the glutton and exceed,
212 His benefactress blushes at the deed.
213 For nature, nice, as lib'ral to dispense,
214 Made nothing but a brute the slave of sense.
215 Daniel ate pulse by choice, example rare!
216 Heav'n bless'd the youth, and made him fresh and fair.
217 Gorgonius sits abdominous and wan,
218 Like a fatsquab upon a Chinese fan.
219 He snuffs far off th' anticipated joy,
220 Turtle and ven'son all his thoughts employ,
221 Prepares for meals, as jockeys take a sweat,
222 Oh nauseous! an emetic for a whet —
223 Will providence o'erlook the wasted good?
224 Temperance were no virtue if he cou'd.
225 That pleasures, therefore, or what such we call,
226 Are hurtful, is a truth confess'd by all.
227 And some that seem to threaten virtue less,
228 Still hurtful, in th' abuse, or by th' excess.
229 Is man then only for his torment plac'd,
230 The center of delights he may not taste?[Page 53]
231 Like fabled Tantalus condemn'd to hear
232 The precious stream still purling in his ear,
233 Lip-deep in what he longs for, and yet curst
234 With prohibition and perpetual thirst?
235 No, wrangler — destitute of shame and sense,
236 The precept that injoins him abstinence,
237 Forbids him none but the licentious joy,
238 Whose fruit, though fair, tempts only to destroy.
239 Remorse, the fatal egg by pleasure laid
240 In every bosom where her nest is made,
241 Hatch'd by the beams of truth denies him rest,
242 And proves a raging scorpion in his breast.
243 No pleasure? Are domestic comforts dead?
244 Are all the nameless sweets of friendship fled?
245 Has time worn out, or fashion put to shame
246 Good sense, good health, good conscience, and good fame?
247 All these belong to virtue, and all prove
248 That virtue has a title to your love.
249 Have you no touch of pity, that the poor
250 Stand starved at your inhospitable door?[Page 54]
251 Or if yourself too scantily supplied
252 Need help, let honest industry provide.
253 Earn, if you want, if you abound, impart,
254 These both are pleasures to the feeling heart.
255 No pleasure? Has some sickly eastern waste
256 Sent us a wind to parch us at a blast?
257 Can British paradise no scenes afford
258 To please her sated and indiff'rent lord?
259 Are sweet philosophy's enjoyments run
260 Quite to the lees? And has religion none?
261 Brutes capable, should tell you 'tis a lye,
262 And judge you from the kennel and the sty.
263 Delights like these, ye sensual and profane,
264 Ye are bid, begg'd, besought to entertain;
265 Call'd to these crystal streams, do ye turn off
266 Obscene, to swill and swallow at a trough?
267 Envy the beast then, on whom heav'n bestows
268 Your pleasures, with no curses in the close.
269 Pleasure admitted in undue degree,
270 Enslaves the will, nor leaves the judgment free.[Page 55]
271 'Tis not alone the grapes enticing juice,
272 Unnerves the moral pow'rs, and marrs their use,
273 Ambition, av'rice, and the lust of fame,
274 And woman, lovely woman, does the same.
275 The heart, surrender'd to the ruling pow'r
276 Of some ungovern'd passion ev'ry hour,
277 Finds by degrees, the truths that once bore sway,
278 And all their deep impression wear away.
279 So coin grows smooth, in traffic current pass'd,
280 'Till Caesar's image is effac'd at last.
281 The breach, though small at first, soon op'ning wide,
282 In rushes folly with a full moon tide.
283 Then welcome errors of whatever size,
284 To justify it by a thousand lies.
285 As creeping ivy clings to wood or stone,
286 And hides the ruin that it feeds upon,
287 So sophistry, cleaves close to, and protects
288 Sin's rotten trunk, concealing its defects.
289 Mortals whose pleasures are their only care,
290 First wish to be impos'd on, and then are.[Page 56]
291 And lest the fulsome artifice should fail,
292 Themselves will hide its coarseness with a veil.
293 Not more industrious are the just and true
294 To give to virtue what is virtue's due,
295 The praise of wisdom, comeliness and worth,
296 And call her charms to public notice forth,
297 Than vice's mean and disingenuous race,
298 To hide the shocking features of her face.
299 Her form with dress and lotion they repair,
300 Then kiss their idol and pronounce her fair.
301 The sacred implement I now employ
302 Might prove a mischief or at best a toy,
303 A trifle if it move but to amuse,
304 But if to wrong the judgment and abuse,
305 Worse than a poignard in the basest hand,
306 It stabs at once the morals of a land.
307 Ye writers of what none with safety reads,
308 Footing it in the dance that fancy leads,
309 Ye novellists who marr what ye would mend,
310 Sniv'ling and driv'ling folly without end,[Page 57]
311 Whose corresponding misses fill the ream
312 With sentimental frippery and dream,
313 Caught in a delicate soft silken net
314 By some lewd Earl, or rake-hell Baronet;
315 Ye pimps, who under virtue's fair pretence,
316 Steal to the closet of young innocence,
317 And teach her unexperienc'd yet and green,
318 To scribble as you scribble at fifteen;
319 Who kindling a combustion of desire,
320 With some cold moral think to quench the fire,
321 Though all your engineering proves in vain,
322 The dribbling stream ne'er puts it out again;
323 Oh that a verse had pow'r, and could command
324 Far, far away, these flesh-flies of the land,
325 Who fasten without mercy on the fair,
326 And suck, and leave a craving maggot there.
327 Howe'er disguis'd th' inflammatory tale,
328 And covered with a fine-spun specious veil,
329 Such writers and such readers owe the gust
330 And relish of their pleasure all to lust.[Page 58]
331 But the muse eagle-pinion'd has in view
332 A quarry more important still than you,
333 Down down the wind she swims and sails away,
334 Now stoops upon it and now grasps the prey.
335 Petronius! all the muses weep for thee,
336 But ev'ry tear shall scald thy memory.
337 The graces too, while virtue at their shrine
338 Lay bleeding under that soft hand of thine,
339 Felt each a mortal stab in her own breast,
340 Abhorr'd the sacrifice, and curs'd the priest.
341 Thou polish'd and high finish'd foe to truth,
342 Gray beard corruptor of our list'ning youth,
343 To purge and skim away the filth of vice,
344 That so refin'd it might the more entice,
345 Then pour it on the morals of thy son
346 To taint his heart, was worthy of thine own.
347 Now while the poison all high life pervades,
348 Write if thou can'st one letter from the shades,
349 One, and one only, charg'd with deep regret,
350 That thy worst part, thy principles live yet;[Page 59]
351 One fad epistle thence, may cure mankind,
352 Of the plague spread by bundles left behind.
353 'Tis granted, and no plainer truth appears,
354 Our most important are our earliest years,
355 The mind impressible and soft, with ease
356 Imbibes and copies what she hears and sees,
357 And through life's labyrinth holds fast the clue
358 That education gives her, false or true.
359 Plants rais'd with tenderness are seldom strong,
360 Man's coltish disposition asks the thong,
361 And without discipline the fav'rite child,
362 Like a neglected forrester runs wild.
363 But we, as if good qualities would grow
364 Spontaneous, take but little pains to sow,
365 We give some latin and a smatch of greek,
366 Teach him to fence and figure twice a week,
367 And having done we think, the best we can,
368 Praise his proficiency and dub him man.
369 From school to Cam or Isis, and thence home,
370 And thence with all convenient speed to Rome,[Page 60]
371 With rev'rend tutor clad in habit lay,
372 To teaze for cash and quarrel with all day,
373 With memorandum-book for ev'ry town,
374 Aud ev'ry post, and where the chaise broke down:
375 His stock, a few French phrases got by heart,
376 With much to learn, but nothing to impart,
377 The youth obedient to his sire's commands,
378 Sets off a wand'rer into foreign lands:
379 Surpriz'd at all they meet, the goslin pair
380 With aukward gait, stretch'd neck, and silly stare,
381 Discover huge cathedrals built with stone,
382 And steeples tow'ring high much like our own,
383 But show peculiar light by many a grin
384 At Popish practices observ'd within.
385 E'er long some bowing, smirking, smart Abbé
386 Remarks two loit'rers that have lost their way,
387 And being always primed with politesse
388 For men of their appearance and andress,
389 With much compassion undertakes the task,
390 To tell them more than they have wit to ask.[Page 61]
391 Points to inscriptions wheresoe'er they tread,
392 Such as when legible were never read,
393 But being canker'd now, and half worn out,
394 Craze antiquarian brains with endless doubt:
395 Some headless hero or some Caesar shows,
396 Defective only in his Roman nose;
397 Exhibits elevations, drawings, plans,
398 Models of Herculanean pots and pans,
399 And sells them medals, which if neither rare
400 Nor antient, will be so, preserv'd with care.
401 Strange the recital! from whatever cause
402 His great improvement and new lights he draws,
403 The 'Squire once bashful is shame-fac'd no more,
404 But teems with pow'rs he never felt before:
405 Whether encreas'd momentum, and the force
406 With which from clime to clime he sped his course,
407 As axles sometimes kindle as they go,
408 Chaf'd him and brought dull nature to a glow;
409 Or whether clearer skies and softer air
410 That make Italian flow'rs so sweet and fair,[Page 62]
411 Fresh'ning his lazy spirits as he ran,
412 Unfolded genially and spread the man,
413 Returning he proclaims by many a grace,
414 By shrugs and strange contortions of his face,
415 How much a dunce that has been sent to roam,
416 Excels a dunce that has been kept at home.
417 Accomplishments have taken virtue's place,
418 And wisdom falls before exterior grace;
419 We slight the precious kernel of the stone,
420 And toil to polish its rough coat alone.
421 A just deportment, manners grac'd with ease
422 Elegant phrase, and figure form'd to please,
423 Are qualities that seem to comprehend
424 Whatever parents, guardians, schools intend;
425 Hence an unfurnish'd and a listless mind,
426 Though busy, trifling; empty, though refin'd,
427 Hence all that interferes, and dares to clash
428 With indolence and luxury, is trash;
429 While learning, once the man's exclusive pride,
430 Seems verging fast towards the female side.[Page 63]
431 Learning itself receiv'd into a mind
432 By nature weak, or viciously inclin'd,
433 Serves but to lead philosophers astray
434 Where children would with ease discern the way.
435 And of all arts sagacious dupes invent
436 To cheat themselves and gain the world's assent
437 The worst is scripture warp'd from it's intent.
438 The carriage bowls along and all are pleas'd
439 If Tom be sober, and the wheels well greas'd,
440 But if the rogue have gone a cup too far,
441 Left out his linch-pin or forgot his tar,
442 It suffers interruption and delay,
443 And meets with hindrance in the smoothest way.
444 When some hypothesis absurd and vain
445 Has fill'd with all its fumes a critic's brain,
446 The text that sorts not with his darling whim,
447 Though plain to others, is obscure to him.
448 The will made subject to a lawless force,
449 All is irregular, and out of course,
450 And judgment drunk, and bribed to lose his way,
451 Winks hard, and talks of darkness at noon day.[Page 64]
452 A critic on the sacred book, should be
453 Candid and learn'd, dispassionate and free;
454 Free from the wayward bias bigots feel,
455 From fancy's influence, and intemp'rate zeal.
456 But above all (or let the wretch refrain,
457 Nor touch the page he cannot but profane)
458 Free from the domineering pow'r of lust,
459 A lewd interpreter is never just.
460 How shall I speak thee, or thy pow'r address,
461 Thou God of our idolatry, the press?
462 By thee, religion, liberty and laws
463 Exert their influence, and advance their cause,
464 By thee, worse plagues than Pharaoh's land befel,
465 Diffus'd, make earth the vestibule of hell:
466 Thou fountain, at which drink the good and wise,
467 Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies,
468 Like Eden's dread probationary tree,
469 Knowledge of good and evil is from thee.
470 No wild enthusiast ever yet could rest,
471 Till half mankind were like himself possess'd.[Page 65]
472 Philosophers, who darken and put out
473 Eternal truth by everlasting doubt,
474 Church quacks, with passions under no command,
475 Who fill the world with doctrines contraband,
476 Discov'rers of they know not what, confin'd
477 Within no bounds, the blind that lead the blind,
478 To streams of popular opinion drawn,
479 Deposit in those shallows, all their spawn.
480 The wriggling fry soon fill the creeks around,
481 Pois'ning the waters where their swarms abound;
482 Scorn'd by the nobler tenants of the flood,
483 Minnows and gudgeons gorge th' unwholesome food.
484 The propagated myriads spread so fast,
485 E'en Leuwenhoek himself would stand aghast,
486 Employ'd to calculate th' enormous sum,
487 And own his crab-computing pow'rs o'ercome.
488 Is this Hyperbole? The world well known,
489 Your sober thoughts will hardly find it one.
490 Fresh confidence the speculatist takes
491 From ev'ry hare-brain'd proselyte he makes,[Page 66]
492 And therefore prints. Himself but half-deceiv'd,
493 'Till others have the soothing tale believ'd.
494 Hence comment after comment, spun as fine
495 As bloated spiders draw the flimsy line.
496 Hence the same word that bids our lusts obey,
497 Is misapplied to sanctify their sway.
498 If stubborn Greek refuse to be his friend,
499 Hebrew or Syriac shall be forc'd to bend;
500 If languages and copies all cry, No —
501 Somebody prov'd it centuries ago.
502 Like trout pursued, the critic in despair
503 Darts to the mud and finds his safety there.
504 Women, whom custom has forbid to fly
505 The scholar's pitch (the scholar best knows why)
506 With all the simple and unletter'd poor,
507 Admire his learning, and almost adore.
508 Whoever errs, the priest can ne'er be wrong,
509 With such fine words familiar to his tongue.
510 Ye ladies! (for, indiff'rent in your cause,
511 I should deserve to forfeit all applause)[Page 67]
512 Whatever shocks, or gives the least offence
513 To virtue, delicacy, truth or sense,
514 (Try the criterion, 'tis a faithful guide)
515 Nor has, nor can have scripture on its side.
516 None but an author knows an author's cares,
517 Or fancy's fondness for the child she bears.
518 Committed once into the public arms,
519 The baby seems to smile with added charms.
520 Like something precious ventur'd far from shore,
521 'Tis valued for the dangers sake the more.
522 He views it with complacency supreme,
523 Solicits kind attention to his dream,
524 And daily more enamour'd of the cheat,
525 Kneels, and asks heav'n to bless the dear deceit.
526 So one, whose story serves at least to show
527 Men lov'd their own productions long ago,
528 Wooed an unfeeling statue for his wife,
529 Nor rested till the Gods had giv'n it life.
530 If some mere driv'ler suck the sugar'd fib,
531 One that still needs his leading string and bib,[Page 68]
532 And praise his genius, he is soon repaid
533 In praise applied to the same part, his head.
534 For 'tis a rule that holds for ever true,
535 Grant me discernment, and I grant it you.
536 Patient of contradiction as a child,
537 Affable, humble, diffident and mild,
538 Such was Sir Isaac, and such Boyle and Locke,
539 Your blund'rer is as sturdy as a rock.
540 The creature is so sure to kick and bite,
541 A muleteer's the man to set him right.
542 First appetite enlists him truth's sworn foe,
543 Then obstinate self-will confirms him so.
544 Tell him he wanders, that his error leads
545 To fatal ills, that though the path he treads
546 Be flow'ry, and he see no cause of fear,
547 Death and the pains of hell attend him there;
548 In vain; the slave of arrogance and pride,
549 He has no hearing on the prudent side.
550 His still refuted quirks he still repeats,
551 New rais'd objections with new quibbles meets,[Page 69]
552 'Till sinking in the quicksand he defends,
553 He dies disputing, and the contest ends;
554 But not the mischiefs: they still left behind,
555 Like thistle-seeds are sown by ev'ry wind.
556 Thus men go wrong with an ingenious skill,
557 Bend the strait rule to their own crooked will,
558 And with a clear and shining lamp supplied,
559 First put it out, then take it for a guide.
560 Halting on crutches of unequal size,
561 One leg by truth supported, one by lies,
562 They sidle to the goal with aukward pace,
563 Secure of nothing, but to lose the race.
564 Faults in the life breed errors in the brain,
565 And these, reciprocally, those again.
566 The mind and conduct mutually imprint
567 And stamp their image in each other's mint.
568 Each, sire and dam, of an infernal race,
569 Begetting and conceiving all that's base.
570 None sends his arrow to the mark in view,
571 Whose hand is feeble, or his aim untrue.[Page 70]
572 For though e'er yet the shaft is on the wing,
573 Or when it first forsakes th' elastic string,
574 It err but little from th' intended line,
575 It falls at last, far wide of his design.
576 So he that seeks a mansion in the sky,
577 Must watch his purpose with a stedfast eye,
578 That prize belongs to none but the sincere,
579 The least obliquity is fatal here.
580 With caution taste the sweet Circaean cup,
581 He that sips often, at last drinks it up.
582 Habits are soon assum'd, but when we strive
583 To strip them off, 'tis being flay'd alive.
584 Call'd to the temple of impure delight,
585 He that abstains, and he alone does right.
586 If a wish wander that way, call it home,
587 He cannot long be safe, whose wishes roam.
588 But if you pass the threshold, you are caught,
589 Die then, if pow'r Almighty save you not.
590 There hard'ning by degrees, 'till double steel'd,
591 Take leave of nature's God, and God reveal'd,[Page 71]
592 Then laugh at all you trembl'd at before,
593 And joining the free-thinkers brutal roar,
594 Swallow the two grand nostrums they dispense,
595 That scripture lies, and blasphemy is sense:
596 If clemency revolted by abuse
597 Be damnable, then, damn'd without excuse.
598 Some dream that they can silence when they will
599 The storm of passion, and say, Peace, be still;
600 But "Thus far and no farther, "when address'd
601 To the wild wave, or wilder human breast,
602 Implies authority that never can,
603 That never ought to be the lot of man.
604 But muse forbear, long flights forebode a fall,
605 Strike on the deep-toned chord the sum of all.
606 Hear the just law, the judgment of the skies!
607 He that hates truth shall be the dupe of lies.
608 And he that will be cheated to the last,
609 Delusions, strong as hell, shall bind him fast.
610 But if the wand'rer his mistake discern,
611 Judge his own ways, and sigh for a return,[Page 72]
612 Bewilder'd once, must he bewail his loss
613 For ever and for ever? No — the cross.
614 There and there only (though the deist rave,
615 And atheist, if earth bear so base a slave)
616 There and there only, is the pow'r to save.
617 There no delusive hope invites despair,
618 No mock'ry meets you, no deception there.
619 The spells and charms that blinded you before,
620 All vanish there, and fascinate no more.
621 I am no preacher, let this hint suffice,
622 The cross once seen, is death to ev'ry vice:
623 Else he that hung there, suffer'd all his pain,
624 Bled, groan'd and agoniz'd, and died in vain.
About this text
Title (in Source Edition): THE PROGRESS OF ERROR.
Author: William Cowper
Themes: God; religion; virtue; vice
Genres: heroic couplet; essay; satire
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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.
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