[Page]

CONVERSATION.

Nam ne{que} me tantum venientis sibilus austri,
Nec percussa juvant fluctû tam litora, nec quae
Saxosas inter decurrunt flumina valles.
VIRG. ECL. 5.
1 THOUGH nature weigh our talents, and dispense
2 To ev'ry man his modicum of sense,
3 And Conversation in its better part,
4 May be esteemed a gift and not an art,
5 Yet much depends, as in the tiller's toil,
6 On culture, and the sowing of the soil.
7 Words learn'd by rote, a parrot may rehearse,
8 But talking is not always to converse,
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9 Not more distinct from harmony divine
10 The constant creaking of a country sign.
11 As alphabets in ivory employ
12 Hour after hour the yet unletter'd boy,
13 Sorting and puzzling with a deal of glee
14 Those seeds of science called his ABC,
15 So language in the mouths of the adult,
16 Witness its insignificant result,
17 Too often proves an implement of play,
18 A toy to sport with, and pass time away.
19 Collect at evening what the day brought forth,
20 Compress the sum into its solid worth,
21 And if it weigh th' importance of a fly,
22 The scales are false or Algebra a lie.
23 Sacred interpreter of human thought,
24 How few respect or use thee as they ought!
25 But all shall give account of ev'ry wrong
26 Who dare dishonour or defile the tongue,
27 Who prostitute it in the cause of vice,
28 Or sell their glory at a market-price,
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29 Who vote for hire, or point it with lampoon,
30 The dear-bought placeman, and the cheap buffoon.
31 There is a prurience in the speech of some,
32 Wrath stays him, or else God would strike them dumb;
33 His wise forbearance has their end in view,
34 They fill their measure and receive their due.
35 The heathen law-givers of antient days,
36 Names almost worthy of a Christian praise,
37 Would drive them forth from the resort of men,
38 And shut up ev'ry satyr in his den.
39 Oh come not ye near innocence and truth,
40 Ye worms that eat into the bud of youth!
41 Infectious as impure, your blighting pow'r
42 Taints in its rudiments the promised flow'r,
43 Its odour perish'd and its charming hue,
44 Thenceforth 'tis hateful for it smells of you.
45 Not ev'n the vigorous and headlong rage
46 Of adolescence or a firmer age,
47 Affords a plea allowable or just,
48 For making speech the pamperer of lust;
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49 But when the breath of age commits the fault,
50 'Tis nauseous as the vapor of a vault.
51 So wither'd stumps disgrace the sylvan scene,
52 No longer fruitful and no longer green,
53 The sapless wood divested of the bark,
54 Grows fungous and takes fire at ev'ry spark.
55 Oaths terminate, as Paul observes, all strife
56 Some men have surely then a peaceful life,
57 Whatever subject occupy discourse,
58 The feats of Vestris or the naval force,
59 Asseveration blust'ring in your face
60 Makes contradiction such an hopeless case;
61 In ev'ry tale they tell, or false or true,
62 Well known, or such as no man ever knew,
63 They fix attention, heedless of your pain,
64 With oaths like rivets forced into the brain,
65 And ev'n when sober truth prevails throughout,
66 They swear it, 'till affirmance breeds a doubt.
67 A Persian, humble servant of the sun,
68 Who though devout yet bigotry had none,
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69 Hearing a lawyer, grave in his address,
70 With adjurations ev'ry word impress,
71 Supposed the man a bishop, or at least,
72 God's name so much upon his lips, a priest,
73 Bowed at the close with all his graceful airs,
74 And begg'd an int'rest in his frequent pray'rs.
75 Go quit the rank to which ye stood preferred,
76 Henceforth associate in one common herd,
77 Religion, virtue, reason, common sense
78 Pronounce your human form a false pretence,
79 A mere disguise in which a devil lurks,
80 Who yet betrays his secret by his works.
81 Ye pow'rs who rule the tongue, if such there are,
82 And make colloquial happiness your care,
83 Preserve me from the thing I dread and hate,
84 A duel in the form of a debate:
85 The clash of arguments and jar of words
86 Worse than the mortal brunt of rival swords,
87 Decide no question with their tedious length,
88 For opposition gives opinion strength,
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89 Divert the champions prodigal of breath,
90 And put the peaceably-disposed to death.
91 Oh thwart me not, Sir Soph. at ev'ry turn,
92 Nor carp at ev'ry flaw you may discern,
93 Though syllogisms hang not on my tongue,
94 I am not surely always in the wrong;
95 'Tis hard if all is false that I advance,
96 A fool must now and then be right, by chance.
97 Not that all freedom of dissent I blame,
98 No there I grant the privilege I claim.
99 A disputable point is no man's ground,
100 Rove where you please, 'tis common all around,
101 Discourse may want an animated No
102 To brush the surface and to make it flow,
103 But still remember if you mean to please,
104 To press your point with modesty and ease.
105 The mark at which my juster aim I take,
106 Is contradiction for its own dear sake;
107 Set your opinion at whatever pitch,
108 Knots and impediments make something hitch,
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109 Adopt his own, 'tis equally in vain,
110 Your thread of argument is snapt again;
111 The wrangler, rather than accord with you,
112 Will judge himself deceiv'd, and prove it too.
113 Vociferated logic kills me quite,
114 A noisy man is always in the right,
115 I twirl my thumbs, fall back into my chair,
116 Fix on the wainscot a distressful stare,
117 And when I hope his blunders are all out,
118 Reply discreetly to be sure no doubt.
119 DUBIUS is such a scrupulous good man
120 Yes you may catch him tripping if you can.
121 He would not with a peremptory tone
122 Assert the nose upon his face his own;
123 With hesitation admirably slow,
124 He humbly hopes, presumes it may be so.
125 His evidence, if he were called by law,
126 To swear to some enormity he saw,
127 For want of prominence and just relief,
128 Would hang an honest man and save a thief.
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129 Through constant dread of giving truth offence,
130 He ties up all his hearers in suspense,
131 Knows what he knows as if he knew it not,
132 What he remembers seems to have forgot,
133 His sole opinion, whatsoe'er befall,
134 Cent'ring at last in having none at all.
135 Yet though he teaze and baulk your list'ning ear,
136 He makes one useful point exceeding clear;
137 Howe'er ingenious on his darling theme,
138 A sceptic in philosophy may seem,
139 Reduced to practice, his beloved rule,
140 Would only prove him a consummate fool,
141 Useless in him alike both brain and speech,
142 Fate having placed all truth above his reach;
143 His ambiguities his total sum,
144 He might as well be blind and deaf and dumb.
145 Where men of judgment creep and feel their way,
146 The Positive pronounce without dismay,
147 Their want of light and intellect supplied
148 By sparks absurdity strikes out of pride:
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149 Without the means of knowing right from wrong,
150 They always are decisive, clear and strong;
151 Where others toil with philosophic force,
152 Their nimble nonsense takes a shorter course,
153 Flings at your head conviction in the lump,
154 And gains remote conclusions at a jump:
155 Their own defect invisible to them,
156 Seen in another they at once condemn,
157 And though self-idolized in ev'ry case,
158 Hate their own likeness in a brother's face.
159 The cause is plain and not to be denied,
160 The proud are always most provok'd by pride,
161 Few competitions but engender spite,
162 And those the most, where neither has a right.
163 The point of honour has been deemed of use,
164 To teach good manners and to curb abuse;
165 Admit it true, the consequence is clear,
166 Our polished manners are a mask we wear,
167 And at the bottom, barb'rous still and rude,
168 We are restrained indeed, but not subdued;
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169 The very remedy, however sure,
170 Springs from the mischief it intends to cure,
171 And savage in its principle appears,
172 Tried, as it should be, by the fruit it bears.
173 'Tis hard indeed if nothing will defend
174 Mankind from quarrels but their fatal end,
175 That now and then an hero must decease,
176 That the surviving world may live in peace.
177 Perhaps at last, close scrutiny may show
178 The practice dastardly and mean and low,
179 That men engage in it compelled by force,
180 And fear not courage is its proper source,
181 The fear of tyrant custom, and the fear
182 Lest fops should censure us, and fools should sneer;
183 At least to trample on our Maker's laws,
184 And hazard life, for any or no cause,
185 To rush into a fixt eternal state,
186 Out of the very flames of rage and hate,
187 Or send another shiv'ring to the bar
188 With all the guilt of such unnat'ral war,
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189 Whatever use may urge or honour plead,
190 On reason's verdict is a madman's deed.
191 Am I to set my life upon a throw
192 Because a bear is rude and surly? No
193 A moral, sensible and well-bred man
194 Will not affront me, and no other can.
195 Were I empow'rd to regulate the lists,
196 They should encounter with well-loaded fists,
197 A Trojan combat would be something new,
198 Let DARES beat ENTELLUS black and blue,
199 Then each might show to his admiring friends
200 In honourable bumps his rich amends,
201 And carry in contusions of his scull,
202 A satisfactory receipt in full.
203 A story in which native humour reigns
204 Is often useful, always entertains,
205 A graver fact enlisted on your side,
206 May furnish illustration, well applied;
207 But sedentary weavers of long tales,
208 Give me the fidgets and my patience fails.
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209 'Tis the most asinine employ on earth,
210 To hear them tell of parentage and birth,
211 And echo conversations dull and dry,
212 Embellished with, he said, and so said I.
213 At ev'ry interview their route the same,
214 The repetition makes attention lame,
215 We bustle up with unsuccessful speed,
216 And in the saddest part cry droll indeed!
217 The path of narrative with care pursue,
218 Still making probability your clue,
219 On all the vestiges of truth attend,
220 And let them guide you to a decent end.
221 Of all ambitions man may entertain,
222 The worst that can invade a sickly brain,
223 Is that which angles hourly for surprize,
224 And baits its hook with prodigies and lies.
225 Credulous infancy or age as weak
226 Are fittest auditors for such to seek,
227 Who to please others will themselves disgrace,
228 Yet please not, but affront you to your face.
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229 A great retailer of this curious ware,
230 Having unloaded and made many stare,
231 Can this be true? an arch observer cries
232 Yes, rather moved, I saw it with these eyes.
233 Sir! I believe it on that ground alone,
234 I could not, had I seen it with my own.
235 A tale should be judicious, clear, succinct,
236 The language plain, and incidents well-link'd,
237 Tell not as new what ev'ry body knows,
238 And new or old, still hasten to a close,
239 There centring in a focus, round and neat,
240 Let all your rays of information meet:
241 What neither yields us profit or delight,
242 Is like a nurse's lullaby at night,
243 Guy Earl of Warwick and fair Eleanore,
244 Or giant-killing Jack would please me more.
245 The pipe with solemn interposing puff,
246 Makes half a sentence at a time enough;
247 The dozing sages drop the drowsy strain,
248 Then pause, and puff and speak, and pause again.
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249 Such often like the tube they so admire,
250 Important trifles! have more smoke than fire.
251 Pernicious weed! whose scent the fair annoys
252 Unfriendly to society's chief joys,
253 Thy worst effect is banishing for hours
254 The sex whose presence civilizes ours:
255 Thou art indeed the drug a gard'ner wants,
256 To poison vermin that infest his plants,
257 But are we so to wit and beauty blind,
258 As to despise the glory of our kind,
259 And show the softest minds and fairest forms
260 As little mercy, as he, grubs and worms?
261 They dare not wait the riotous abuse,
262 Thy thirst-creating steams at length produce,
263 When wine has giv'n indecent language birth,
264 And forced the flood-gates of licentious mirth;
265 For sea-born Venus her attachment shows
266 Still to that element from which she rose,
267 And with a quiet which no fumes disturb,
268 Sips meek infusions of a milder herb.
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269 Th' emphatic speaker dearly loves t' oppose
270 In contact inconvenient, nose to nose,
271 As if the gnomon on his neighbour's phiz,
272 Touched with a magnet had attracted his.
273 His whisper'd theme, dilated and at large,
274 Proves after all a wind-gun's airy charge,
275 An extract of his diary no more,
276 A tasteless journal of the day before.
277 He walked abroad, o'ertaken in the rain
278 Called on a friend, drank tea, stept home again,
279 Resumed his purpose, had a world of talk
280 With one he stumbled on, and lost his walk.
281 I interrupt him with a sudden bow,
282 Adieu dear Sir! lest you should lose it now.
283 I cannot talk with civet in the room,
284 A fine puss-gentleman that's all perfume;
285 The sight's enough no need to smell a beau
286 Who thrusts his nose into a raree-show?
287 His odoriferous attempts to please,
288 Perhaps might prosper with a swarm of bees,
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289 But we that make no honey though we sting,
290 Poets, are sometimes apt to mawl the thing.
291 'Tis wrong to bring into a mixt resort,
292 What makes some sick, and others a-la-mort,
293 An argument of cogence, we may say,
294 Why such an one should keep himself away.
295 A graver coxcomb we may sometimes see,
296 Quite as absurd though not so light as he:
297 A shallow brain behind a serious mask,
298 An oracle within an empty cask,
299 The solemn fop; significant and budge;
300 A fool with judges, amongst fools a judge.
301 He says but little, and that little said
302 Owes all its weight, like loaded dice, to lead.
303 His wit invites you by his looks to come,
304 But when you knock it never is at home:
305 'Tis like a parcel sent you by the stage,
306 Some handsome present, as your hopes presage,
307 'Tis heavy, bulky, and bids fair to prove
308 An absent friend's fidelity and love,
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309 But when unpack'd your disappointment groans
310 To find it stuff'd with brickbats, earth and stones.
311 Some men employ their health, an ugly trick,
312 In making known how oft they have been sick,
313 And give us in recitals of disease
314 A doctor's trouble, but without the fees:
315 Relate how many weeks they kept their bed,
316 How an emetic or cathartic sped,
317 Nothing is slightly touched, much less forgot,
318 Nose, ears, and eyes seem present on the spot.
319 Now the distemper spite of draught or pill
320 Victorious seem'd, and now the doctor's skill;
321 And now alas for unforeseen mishaps!
322 They put on a damp night-cap and relapse;
323 They thought they must have died they were so bad,
324 Their peevish hearers almost wish they had.
325 Some fretful tempers wince at ev'ry touch,
326 You always do too little or too much:
327 You speak with life in hopes to entertain,
328 Your elevated voice goes through the brain;
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329 You fall at once into a lower key,
330 That's worse the drone-pipe of an humble bee.
331 The southern sash admits too strong a light,
332 You rise and drop the curtain now its night.
333 He shakes with cold you stir the fire and strive
334 To make a blaze that's roasting him alive.
335 Serve him with ven'son and he chuses fish,
336 With soal that's just the sort he would not wish,
337 He takes what he at first profess'd to loath,
338 And in due time feeds heartily on both;
339 Yet still o'erclouded with a constant frown,
340 He does not swallow but he gulps it down.
341 Your hope to please him, vain on ev'ry plan,
342 Himself should work that wonder if he can
343 Alas! his efforts double his disttess,
344 He likes yours little and his own still less,
345 Thus always teazing others, always teazed,
346 His only pleasure is to be displeas'd.
347 I pity bashful men, who feel the pain
348 Of fancied scorn and undeserv'd disdain,
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349 And bear the marks upon a blushing face
350 Of needless shame and self-imposed disgrace.
351 Our sensibilities are so acute,
352 The fear of being silent makes us mute.
353 We sometimes think we could a speech produce
354 Much to the purpose, if our tongues were loose,
355 But being tied, it dies upon the lip,
356 Faint as a chicken's note that has the pip:
357 Our wasted oil unprofitably burns
358 Like hidden lamps in old sepulchral urns.
359 Few Frenchmen of this evil have complained,
360 It seems as if we Britons were ordained
361 By way of wholesome curb upon our pride,
362 To fear each other, fearing none beside.
363 The cause perhaps enquiry may descry,
364 Self-searching with an introverted eye,
365 Concealed within an unsuspected part,
366 The vainest corner of our own vain heart:
367 For ever aiming at the world's esteem,
368 Our self-importance ruins its own scheme,
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369 In other eyes our talents rarely shown,
370 Become at length so splendid in our own,
371 We dare not risque them into public view,
372 Lest they miscarry of what seems their due.
373 True modesty is a discerning grace,
374 And only blushes in the proper place,
375 But counterfeit is blind, and skulks through fear,
376 Where 'tis a shame to be ashamed t' appear;
377 Humility the parent of the first,
378 The last by vanity produced and nurst.
379 The circle formed we sit in silent state,
380 Like figures drawn upon a dial-plate,
381 Yes ma'am, and no ma'am, utter'd softly, show
382 Ev'ry five minutes how the minutes go;
383 Each individual suffering a constraint
384 Poetry may, but colours cannot paint,
385 As if in close committee on the sky,
386 Reports it hot or cold, or wet or dry;
387 And finds a changing clime, an happy source
388 Of wise reflection and well-timed discourse.
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389 We next enquire, but softly and by stealth,
390 Like conservators of the public health,
391 Of epidemic throats if such there are,
392 And coughs and rheums and phtisic and catarrh.
393 That theme exhausted, a wide chasm ensues,
394 Filled up at last with interesting news,
395 Who danced with whom, and who are like to wed,
396 And who is hanged, and who is brought to bed,
397 But fear to call a more important cause,
398 As if 'twere treason against English laws.
399 The visit paid, with extasy we come
400 As from a seven years transportation, home,
401 And there resume an unembarrass'd brow,
402 Recov'ring what we lost we know not how,
403 The faculties that seem'd reduc'd to nought,
404 Expression and the privilege of thought.
405 The reeking roaring hero of the chase,
406 I give him over as a desp'rate case.
407 Physicians write in hopes to work a cure,
408 Never, if honest ones, when death is sure;
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409 And though the fox he follows may be tamed,
410 A mere fox-follower never is reclaimed.
411 Some farrier should prescribe his proper course,
412 Whose only fit companion is his horse,
413 Or if deserving of a better doom
414 The noble beast judge otherwise, his groom.
415 Yet ev'n the rogue that serves him, though he stand
416 To take his honour's orders cap in hand,
417 Prefers his fellow-grooms with much good sense,
418 Their skill a truth, his master's a pretence.
419 If neither horse nor groom affect the squire,
420 Where can at last his jockeyship retire?
421 Oh to the club, the scene of savage joys,
422 The school of coarse good fellowship and noise;
423 There in the sweet society of those
424 Whose friendship from his boyish years he chose,
425 Let him improve his talent if he can,
426 'Till none but beasts acknowledge him a man.
427 Man's heart had been impenetrably sealed,
428 Like theirs that cleave the flood or graze the field,
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429 Had not his Maker's all-bestowing hand
430 Giv'n him a soul and bade him understand.
431 The reas'oning pow'r vouchsafed of course inferred
432 The pow'r to cloath that reason with his word,
433 For all is perfect that God works on earth,
434 And he that gives conception, adds the birth.
435 If this be plain, 'tis plainly understood
436 What uses of his boon the Giver would.
437 The mind dispatched upon her busy toil
438 Should range where Providence has blest the soil,
439 Visiting ev'ry flow'r with labour meet,
440 And gathering all her treasures sweet by sweet,
441 She should imbue the tongue with what she sips,
442 And shed the balmy blessing on the lips,
443 That good diffused may more abundant grow,
444 And speech may praise the pow'r that bids it flow.
445 Will the sweet warbler of the live-long night
446 That fills the list'ning lover with delight,
447 Forget his harmony with rapture heard,
448 To learn the twitt'ring of a meaner bird,
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449 Or make the parrot's mimickry his choice,
450 That odious libel on an human voice?
451 No nature unsophisticate by man,
452 Starts not aside from her Creator's plan,
453 The melody that was at first design'd
454 To cheer the rude forefathers of mankind,
455 Is note for note deliver'd in our ears,
456 In the last scene of her six thousand years:
457 Yet Fashion, leader of a chatt'ring train,
458 Whom man for his own hurt permits to reign,
459 Who shifts and changes all things but his shape,
460 And would degrade her vot'ry to an ape,
461 The fruitful parent of abuse and wrong,
462 Holds an usurp'd dominion o'er his tongue:
463 There sits and prompts him with his own disgrace,
464 Prescribes the theme, the tone and the grimace,
465 And when accomplished in her wayward school,
466 Calls gentleman whom she has made a fool.
467 'Tis an unalterable fixt decree
468 That none could frame or ratify but she,
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469 That heav'n and hell and righteousness and sin,
470 Snares in his path and foes that lurk within,
471 God and his attributes (a field of day
472 Where 'tis an angel's happiness to stray)
473 Fruits of his love and wonders of his might,
474 Be never named in ears esteemed polite.
475 That he who dares, when she forbids, be grave,
476 Shall stand proscribed, a madman or a knave,
477 A close designer not to be believed,
478 Or if excus'd that charge, at least deceived.
479 Oh folly worthy of the nurse's lap,
480 Give it the breast or stop its mouth with pap!
481 Is it incredible, or can it seem
482 A dream to any except those that dream,
483 That man should love his Maker, and that fire
484 Warming his heart should at his lips transpire?
485 Know then, and modestly let fall your eyes,
486 And vail your daring crest that braves the skies,
487 That air of insolence affronts your God,
488 You need his pardon, and provoke his rod,
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489 Now, in a posture that becomes you more
490 Than that heroic strut assumed before,
491 Know, your arrears with ev'ry hour accrue,
492 For mercy shown while wrath is justly due.
493 The time is short, and there are souls on earth,
494 Though future pain may serve for present mirth,
495 Acquainted with the woes that fear or shame
496 By fashion taught, forbade them once to name,
497 And having felt the pangs you deem a jest,
498 Have prov'd them truths too big to be express'd:
499 Go seek on revelation's hallow'd ground,
500 Sure to succeed, the remedy they found,
501 Touch'd by that pow'r that you have dared to mock,
502 That makes seas stable and dissolves the rock,
503 Your heart shall yield a life-renewing stream,
504 That fools, as you have done, shall call a dream.
505 It happened on a solemn even-tide,
506 Soon after He that was our surety died,
507 Two bosom-friends each pensively inclined,
508 The scene of all those sorrows left behind,
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509 Sought their own village, busied as they went
510 In musings worthy of the great event:
511 They spake of him they loved, of him whose life
512 Though blameless, had incurred perpetual strife,
513 Whose deeds had left, in spite of hostile arts,
514 A deep memorial graven on their hearts;
515 The recollection like a vein of ore,
516 The farther traced enrich'd them still the more,
517 They thought him, and they justly thought him one
518 Sent to do more than he appear'd to have done,
519 T' exalt a people, and to place them high
520 Above all else, and wonder'd he should die.
521 E're yet they brought their journey to an end,
522 A stranger joined them, courteous as a friend,
523 And asked them with a kind engaging air,
524 What their affliction was, and begged a share.
525 Informed, he gather'd up the broken thread,
526 And truth and wisdom gracing all he said,
527 Explained, illustrated and searched so well
528 The tender theme on which they chose to dwell,
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529 That reaching home, the night, they said, is near,
530 We must not now be parted, sojourn here
531 The new acquaintance soon became a guest,
532 And made so welcome at their simple feast,
533 He blessed the bread, but vanish'd at the word,
534 And left them both exclaiming, 'twas the Lord!
535 Did not our hearts feel all he deigned to say,
536 Did they not burn within us by the way?
537 Now theirs was converse such as it behoves
538 Man to maintain, and such as God approves;
539 Their views indeed were indistinct and dim,
540 But yet successful being aimed at him.
541 Christ and his character their only scope,
542 Their object and their subject and their hope,
543 They felt what it became them much to feel,
544 And wanting him to loose the sacred seal,
545 Found him as prompt as their desire was true,
546 To spread the new-born glories in their view.
547 Well what are ages and the lapse of time
548 Matched against truths as lasting as sublime?
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549 Can length of years on God himself exact,
550 Or make that fiction which was once a fact?
551 No marble and recording brass decay,
552 And like the graver's mem'ry pass away;
553 The works of man inherit, as is just,
554 Their authors frailty and return to dust;
555 But truth divine for ever stands secure,
556 Its head as guarded as its base is sure,
557 Fixt in the rolling flood of endless years
558 The pillar of th' eternal plan appears,
559 The raving storm and dashing wave defies,
560 Built by that architect who built the skies.
561 Hearts may be found that harbour at this hour,
562 That love of Christ in all its quick'ning pow'r,
563 And lips unstained by folly or by strife,
564 Whose wisdom drawn from the deep well of life,
565 Tastes of its healthful origin, and flows
566 A Jordan for th' ablution of our woes.
567 Oh days of heav'n and nights of equal praise,
568 Serene and peaceful as those heav'nly days,
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569 When souls drawn upward in communion sweet,
570 Enjoy the stillness of some close retreat,
571 Discourse as if released and safe at home,
572 Of dangers past and wonders yet to come,
573 And spread the sacred treasures of the breast
574 Upon the lap of covenanted rest.
575 What always dreaming over heav'nly things,
576 Like angel-heads in stone with pigeon-wings?
577 Canting and whining out all day the word
578 And half the night? fanatic and absurd!
579 Mine be the friend less frequent in his pray'rs,
580 Who makes no bustle with his soul's affairs,
581 Whose wit can brighten up a wintry day,
582 And chase the splenetic dull hours away,
583 Content on earth in earthly things to shine,
584 Who waits for heav'n e'er he becomes divine,
585 Leaves saints t' enjoy those altitudes they teach,
586 And plucks the fruit plac'd more within his reach.
587 Well spoken, Advocate of sin and shame,
588 Known by thy bleating, Ignorance thy name.
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589 Is sparkling wit the world's exclusive right,
590 The fixt fee-simple of the vain and light?
591 Can hopes of heav'n, bright prospects of an hour
592 That comes to waft us out of sorrow's pow'r,
593 Obscure or quench a faculty that finds
594 Its happiest soil in the serenest minds?
595 Religion curbs indeed its wanton play,
596 And brings the trifler under rig'rous sway,
597 But gives it usefulness unknown before,
598 And purifying makes it shine the more.
599 A Christian's wit is inoffensive light,
600 A beam that aids but never grieves the sight,
601 Vig'rous in age as in the flush of youth,
602 'Tis always active on the side of truth,
603 Temp'rance and peace insure its healthful state,
604 And make it brightest at its latest date.
605 Oh I have seen (nor hope perhaps in vain
606 E'er life go down to see such sights again)
607 A vet'ran warrior in the Christian field,
608 Who never saw the sword he could not wield;
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609 Grave without dullness, learned without pride,
610 Exact yet not precise, though meek, keen-eyed,
611 A man that would have foiled at their own play,
612 A dozen would-be's of the modern day:
613 Who when occasion justified its use,
614 Had wit as bright as ready, to produce,
615 Could fetch from records of an earlier age,
616 Or from philosophy's enlighten'd page
617 His rich materials, and regale your ear
618 With strains it was a privilege to hear;
619 Yet above all his luxury supreme,
620 And his chief glory was the gospel theme;
621 There he was copious as old Greece or Rome,
622 His happy eloquence seem'd there at home,
623 Ambitious, not to shine or to excel,
624 But to treat justly what he lov'd so well.
625 It moves me more perhaps than folly ought,
626 When some green heads as void of wit as thought,
627 Suppose themselves monopolists of sense,
628 And wiser men's ability pretence.
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629 Though time will wear us, and we must grow old,
630 Such men are not forgot as soon as cold,
631 Their fragrant mem'ry will out last their tomb,
632 Embalmed for ever in its own perfume:
633 And to say truth, though in its early prime,
634 And when unstained with any grosser crime,
635 Youth has a sprightliness and fire to boast,
636 That in the valley of decline are lost,
637 And virtue with peculiar charms appears
638 Crown'd with the garland of life's blooming years;
639 Yet age by long experience well informed,
640 Well read, well temper'd, with religion warmed,
641 That fire abated which impells rash youth,
642 Proud of his speed to overshoot the truth,
643 As time improves the grape's authentic juice,
644 Mellows and makes the speech more fit for use,
645 And claims a rev'rence in its short'ning day,
646 That 'tis an honour and a joy to pay.
647 The fruits of age, less fair, are yet more sound,
648 Than those a brighter season pours around,
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649 And like the stores autumnal suns mature,
650 Through wintry rigours unimpaired endure.
651 What is fanatic frenzy, scorned so much,
652 And dreaded more than a contagious touch?
653 I grant it dang'rous, and approve your fear,
654 That fire is catching if you draw too near,
655 But sage observers oft mistake the flame,
656 And give true piety that odious name.
657 To tremble (as the creature of an hour
658 Ought at the view of an almighty pow'r)
659 Before his presence, at whose awful throne
660 All tremble in all worlds, except our own,
661 To supplicate his mercy, love his ways,
662 And prize them above pleasure, wealth or praise,
663 Though common sense allowed a casting voice,
664 And free from bias, must approve the choice,
665 Convicts a man fanatic in th' extreme,
666 And wild as madness in the world's esteem.
667 But that disease when soberly defin'd
668 Is the false fire of an o'erheated mind,
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669 It views the truth with a distorted eye,
670 And either warps or lays it useless by,
671 'Tis narrow, selfish, arrogant, and draws
672 Its sordid nourishment from man's applause,
673 And while at heart sin unrelinqush'd lies,
674 Presumes itself chief fav'rite of the skies.
675 'Tis such a light as putrefaction breeds
676 In fly-blown flesh, whereon the maggot feeds,
677 Shines in the dark, but usher'd into day,
678 The stench remains, the lustre dies away.
679 True bliss, if man may reach it, is composed
680 Of hearts in union mutually disclosed:
681 And, farewell else all hope of pure delight,
682 Those hearts should be reclaim'd, renew'd, upright.
683 Bad men, profaning friendship's hallow'd name,
684 Form, in its stead, a covenant of shame,
685 A dark confed'racy against the laws
686 Of virtue, and religion's glorious cause.
687 They build each other up with dreadful skill,
688 As bastions set point-blank against God's will,
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689 Enlarge and fortify the dread redoubt,
690 Deeply resolv'd to shut a Saviour out,
691 Call legions up from hell to back the deed,
692 And curst with conquest, finally succeed:
693 But souls that carry on a blest exchange
694 Of joys they meet with in their heav'nly range,
695 And with a fearless confidence make known
696 The sorrows sympathy esteems its own,
697 Daily derive encreasing light and force
698 From such communion in their pleasant course,
699 Feel less the journey's roughness and its length,
700 Meet their opposers with united strength,
701 And one in heart, in int'rest and design,
702 Gird up each other to the race divine.
703 But Conversation, chuse what theme we may,
704 And chiefly when religion leads the way,
705 Should flow like waters after summer show'rs,
706 Not as if rais'd by mere mechanic pow'rs.
707 The Christian in whose soul, though now distress'd,
708 Lives the dear thought of joys he once possess'd,
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709 When all his glowing language issued forth
710 With God's deep stamp upon its current worth,
711 Will speak without disguise, and must impart
712 Sad as it is, his undissembling heart,
713 Abhors constraint, and dares not feign a zeal,
714 Or seem to boast a fire he does not feel.
715 The song of Sion is a tasteless thing,
716 Unless when rising on a joyful wing
717 The soul can mix with the celestial bands,
718 And give the strain the compass it demands.
719 Strange tidings these to tell a world who treat
720 All but their own experience as deceit!
721 Will they believe, though credulous enough
722 To swallow much upon much weaker proof,
723 That there are blest inhabitants of earth,
724 Partakers of a new aethereal birth,
725 Their hopes, desires and purposes estranged
726 From things terrestrial, and divinely changed,
727 Their very language of a kind that speaks
728 The soul's sure int'rest in the good she seeks,
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729 Who deal with scripture, its importance felt,
730 As Tully with philosophy once dealt,
731 And in the silent watches of the night,
732 And through the scenes of toil-renewing light,
733 The social walk, or solitary ride,
734 Keep still the dear companion at their side?
735 No shame upon a self-disgracing age,
736 God's work may serve an ape upon a stage,
737 With such a jest as fill'd with hellish glee
738 Certain invisibles as shrewd as he,
739 But veneration or respect finds none,
740 Save from the subjects of that work alone.
741 The world grown old, her deep discernment shows,
742 Claps spectacles on her sagacious nose,
743 Peruses closely the true Christian's face,
744 And finds it a mere mask of sly grimace,
745 Usurps God's office, lays his bosom bare,
746 And finds hypocrisy close-lurking there,
747 And serving God herself through mere constraint,
748 Concludes his unfeign'd love of him, a feint.
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749 And yet God knows, look human nature through,
750 (And in due time the world shall know it too)
751 That since the flow'rs of Eden selt the blast,
752 That after man's defection laid all waste,
753 Sincerity towards th' heart-searching God,
754 Has made the new-born creature her abode,
755 Nor shall be found in unregen'rate souls,
756 Till the last fire burn all between the poles.
757 Sincerity! Why 'tis his only pride,
758 Weak and imperfect in all grace beside,
759 He knows that God demands his heart entire,
760 And gives him all his just demands require.
761 Without it, his pretensions were as vain,
762 As having it, he deems the world's disdain;
763 That great defect would cost him not alone
764 Man's favourable judgment, but his own,
765 His birthright shaken and no longer clear,
766 Than while his conduct proves his heart sincere.
767 Retort the charge, and let the world be told
768 She boasts a confidence she does not hold,
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769 That conscious of her crimes, she feels instead,
770 A cold misgiving, and a killing dread:
771 That while in health, the ground of her support
772 Is madly to forget that life is short,
773 That fick, she trembles, knowing she must die,
774 Her hope presumption, and her faith a lie.
775 That while she doats and dreams that she believes,
776 She mocks her maker and herself deceives,
777 Her utmost reach, historical assent,
778 The doctrines warpt to what they never meant.
779 That truth itself is in her head as dull
780 And useless as a candle in a scull,
781 And all her love of God a groundless claim,
782 A trick upon the canvass, painted flame.
783 Tell her again, the sneer upon her face,
784 And all her censures of the work of grace,
785 Are insincere, meant only to conceal
786 A dread she would not, yet is forc'd to feel,
787 That in her heart the Christian she reveres,
788 And while she seems to scorn him, only fears.
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789 A poet does not work by square or line,
790 As smiths and joiners perfect a design,
791 At least we moderns, our attention less,
792 Beyond th' example of our sires, digress,
793 And claim a right to scamper and run wide,
794 Wherever chance, caprice, or fancy guide.
795 The world and I fortuitously met,
796 I ow'd a trifle and have paid the debt,
797 She did me wrong, I recompens'd the deed,
798 And having struck the balance, now procecd.
799 Perhaps, however, as some years have pass'd
800 Since she and I conversed together last,
801 And I have liv'd recluse in rural shades,
802 Which seldom a distinct report pervades,
803 Great changes and new manners have occurr'd,
804 And blest reforms that I have never heard,
805 And she may now be as discreet and wise,
806 As once absurd in all discerning eyes.
807 Sobriety perhaps may now be found,
808 Where once intoxication press'd the ground,
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809 The subtle and injurious may be just,
810 And he grown chaste that was the slave of lust;
811 Arts once esteem'd may be with shame dismiss'd,
812 Charity may relax the miser's fist,
813 The gamester may have cast his cards away,
814 Forgot to curse and only kneel to pray.
815 It has indeed been told me (with what weight,
816 How credibly, 'tis hard for me to state)
817 That fable's old that seem'd for ever mute,
818 Reviv'd, are hast'ning into fresh repute,
819 And gods and goddesses discarded long,
820 Like useless lumber or a stroller's fong,
821 Are bringing into vogue their heathen train,
822 And Jupiter bids fair to rule again.
823 That certain feasts are instituted now,
824 Where Venus hears the lover's tender vow,
825 That all Olympus through the country roves,
826 To consecrate our few remaining groves,
827 And echo learns politely to repeat,
828 The praise of names for ages obsolete,
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829 That having proved the weakness, it should seem,
830 Of revelation's ineffectual beam,
831 To bring the passions under sober sway,
832 And give the moral springs their proper play,
833 They mean to try what may at last be done
834 By stout substantial gods of wood and stone,
835 And whether Roman rites may not produce
836 The virtues of old Rome for English use.
837 May much success attend the pious plan,
838 May Mercury once more embellish man,
839 Grace him again with long forgotten arts,
840 Reclaim his taste and brighten up his parts,
841 Make him athletic as in days of old,
842 Learn'd at the bar, in the paloestra bold,
843 Divest the rougher sex of female airs,
844 And teach the softer not to copy theirs.
845 The change shall please, nor shall it matter aught
846 Who works the wonder if it be but wrought.
847 'Tis time, hoewever, if the case stand thus,
848 For us plain folks and all who side with us,
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849 To build our altar, confident and bold,
850 And say as stern Elijah said of old,
851 The strife now stands upon a fair award,
852 If Is'rael's Lord be God, then serve the Lord
853 If he be silent, faith is all a whim,
854 Then Baal is the God and worship him.
855 Digression is so much in modern use,
856 Thought is so rare, and fancy so profuse,
857 Some never seem so wide of their intent,
858 As when returning to the theme they meant.
859 As mendicants whose business is to roam,
860 Make ev'ry parish but their own, their home
861 Though such continual zigzags in a book,
862 Such drunken reelings have an aukward look,
863 And I had rather creep to what is true,
864 Than rove and stagger with no mark in view,
865 Yet to consult a little, seem'd no crime,
866 The freakish humour of the present time.
867 But now, to gather up what seems dispers'd,
868 And touch the subject I design'd at first,
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869 May prove, though much beside the rules of art,
870 Best for the public, and my wisest part.
871 And first let no man charge me that I mean
872 To cloath in sables every social scene,
873 And give good company a face severe
874 As if they met around a father's bier;
875 For tell some men that pleasure all their bent,
876 And laughter all their work, is life mispent,
877 Their wisdom bursts into this sage reply,
878 Then mirth is sin, and we should always cry.
879 To find the medium asks some share of wit,
880 And therefore 'tis a mark fools never hit.
881 But though life's valley be a vale of tears,
882 A brighter scene beyond that vale appears,
883 Whose glory with a light that never fades,
884 Shoots between scattered rocks and opening shades,
885 And while it shows the land the soul desires,
886 The language of the land she seeks, inspires.
887 Thus touched, the tongue receives a sacred cure
888 Of all that was absurd, profane, impure,
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889 Held within modest bounds the tide of speech
890 Pursues the course that truth and nature teach,
891 No longer labours merely to produce
892 The pomp of sound, or tinkle without use,
893 Where'er it winds, the salutary stream
894 Sprightly and fresh, enriches ev'ry theme,
895 While all the happy man possess'd before,
896 The gift of nature or the classic store,
897 Is made subservient to the grand design
898 For which heav'n form'd the faculty divine.
899 So should an ideot while at large he strays,
900 Find the sweet lyre on which an artist plays,
901 With rash and aukward force the chords he shakes,
902 And grins with wonder at the jar he makes;
903 But let the wise and well-instructed hand,
904 Once take the shell beneath his just command,
905 In gentle sounds it seems as it complained
906 Of the rude injuries it late sustained,
907 'Till tun'd at length to some immortal song,
908 It sounds Jehovah's name, and pours his praise along.

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Title (in Source Edition): CONVERSATION.
Themes: communication
Genres: heroic couplet; essay

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Source edition

Poems: by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq. London: printed for J. Johnson, 1782, pp. []-257. [4],367,[1]p. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T14895; OTA K027775.000)

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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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