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[THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.]

ARGUMENT of the SECOND BOOK.

Which opens with reflections suggested by the conclusion of the former. Peace among the nations recommended on the ground of their common fellowship in sorrow. Prodigies enumerated. Sicilian earthquakes Man rendered obnoxious to these calamities by sin. God the agent in them. The philosophy that stops at secondary causes, reproved. Our own late miscarriages accounted for. Satyrical notice taken of our trips to Fontainbleau But the pulpit, not satire, the proper engine of reformation. The Reverend Advertiser of engraved sermons. Petit maitre parson. The good preacher. Picture of a theatrical clerical coxcomb. Story-tellers and jesters in the pulpit reproved. Apostrophé to popular applause. Retailers of ancient philosophy expostulated with. Sum of the whole matter. Effects of sacerdotal mismanagement on the laity. Their folly and extravagance. The mischiefs of profusion. Profusion itself, with all its consequent evils, ascribed as to its principal cause, to the want of discipline in the Universities.

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BOOK II.

THE TIME-PIECE.

1 OH for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
2 Some boundless continguity of shade,
3 Where rumour of oppression and deceit,
4 Of unsuccessful or successful war
5 Might never reach me more. My ear is pain'd,
6 My soul is sick with ev'ry day's report
7 Of wrong and outrage with which earth is fill'd.
8 There is no flesh in man's obdurate heart,
9 It does not feel for man. The nat'ral bond
10 Of brotherhood is sever'd as the flax
11 That falls asunder at the touch of fire.
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12 He finds his fellow guilty of a skin
13 Not colour'd like his own, and having pow'r
14 T' inforce the wrong, sor such a worthy cause
15 Dooms and devotes him as his lawful prey.
16 Lands intersected by a narrow frith
17 Abhor each other. Mountains interposed,
18 Make enemies of nations who had else
19 Like kindred drops been mingled into one.
20 Thus man devotes his brother, and destroys;
21 And worse than all, and most to be deplored
22 As human nature's broadest, foulest blot,
23 Chains him, and tasks him, and exacts his sweat
24 With stripes, that mercy with a bleeding heart
25 Weeps when she sees inflicted on a beast.
26 Then what is man? And what man seeing this,
27 And having human feelings, does not blush
28 And hang his head, to think himself a man?
29 I would not have a slave to till my ground,
30 To carry me, to fan me while I sleep,
31 And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth
32 That sinews bought and sold have ever earn'd.
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33 No: dear as freedom is, and in my heart's
34 Just estimation priz'd above all price,
35 I had much rather be myself the slave
36 And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him.
37 We have no slaves at home. Then why abroad?
38 And they themselves once ferried o'er the wave
39 That parts us, are emancipate and loos'd.
40 Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
41 Receive our air, that moment they are free,
42 They touch our country and their shackles fall.
43 That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud
44 And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then,
45 And let it circulate through ev'ry vein
46 Of all your empire. That where Britain's power
47 Is felt, mankind may feel her mercy too.
48 Sure there is need of social intercourse,
49 Benevolence and peace and mutual aid
50 Between the nations, in a world that seems
51 To toll the death-bell of its own decease,
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52 And by the voice of all its elements
53 To preach the gen'ral doom.
* Alluding to the late calamities at Jamaica.
When were the winds
54 Let slip with such a warrant to destroy,
55 When did the waves so haughtily o'erleap
56 Their ancient barriers, deluging the dry?
57 Fires from beneath, and meteors
August 18, 1783.
from above
58 Portentous, unexampled, unexplained,
59 Have kindled beacons in the skies, and th' old
60 And crazy earth has had her shaking fits
61 More frequent, and foregone her usual rest.
62 Is it a time to wrangle, when the props
63 And pillars of our planet seem to fail,
64 And Nature
Alluding to the fog that covered both Europe and Asia during the whole summer of 1783.
with a dim and sickly eye
65 To wait the close of all? But grant her end
66 More distant, and that prophecy demands
67 A longer respite, unaccomplished yet;
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68 Still they are frowning signals, and bespeak
69 Displeasure in his breast who smites the earth
70 Or heals it, makes it languish or rejoice.
71 And 'tis but seemly, that where all deserve
72 And stand exposed by common peccancy
73 To what no few have felt, there should be peace,
74 And brethren in calamity should love.
75 Alas for Sicily! rude fragments now
76 Lie scatter'd where the shapely column stood.
77 Her palaces are dust. In all her streets
78 The voice of singing and the sprightly chord
79 Are silent. Revelry and dance and show
80 Suffer a syncope and solemn pause,
81 While God performs upon the trembling stage
82 Of his own works, his dreadful part alone.
83 How does the earth receive him? With what signs
84 Of gratulation and delight, her king?
85 Pours she not all her choicest fruits abroad,
86 Her sweetest flow'rs, her aromatic gums,
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87 Disclosing paradise where'er he treads?
88 She quakes at his approach. Her hollow womb
89 Conceiving thunders, through a thousand deeps
90 And fiery caverns roars beneath his foot.
91 The hills move lightly and the mountains smoke,
92 For he has touch'd them. From th' extremest point
93 Of elevation down into th' abyss,
94 His wrath is busy and his frown is felt.
95 The rocks fall headlong and the vallies rise,
96 The rivers die into offensive pools,
97 And charged with putrid verdure, breathe a gross
98 And mortal nuisance into all the air.
99 What solid was, by transformation strange
100 Grows fluid, and the fixt and rooted earth
101 Tormented into billows heaves and swells,
102 Or with vortiginous and hideous whirl
103 Sucks down its prey insatiable. Immense
104 The tumult and the overthrow, the pangs
105 And agonies of human and of brute
106 Multitudes, fugitive on ev'ry side,
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107 And fugitive in vain. The sylvan scene
108 Migrates uplifted, and with all its soil
109 Alighting in far distant fields, finds out
110 A new possessor, and survives the change.
111 Ocean has caught the frenzy, and upwrought
112 To an enormous and o'erbearing height,
113 Not by a mighty wind, but by that voice
114 Which winds and waves obey, invades the shore
115 Resistless. Never such a sudden flood,
116 Upridged so high, and sent on such a charge,
117 Possess'd an inland scene. Where now the throng
118 That press'd the beach and hasty to depart
119 Look'd to the sea for safety? They are gone,
120 Gone with the refluent wave into the deep,
121 A prince with half his people. Ancient tow'rs,
122 And roofs embattled high, the gloomy scenes
123 Where beauty oft and letter'd worth consume
124 Life in the unproductive shades of death,
125 Fall prone; the pale inhabitants come forth,
126 And happy in their unforeseen release
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127 From all the rigors of restraint, enjoy
128 The terrors of the day that sets them free.
129 Who then that has thee, would not hold thee fast
130 Freedom! whom they that lose thee, so regret,
131 That ev'n a judgment making way for thee,
132 Seems in their eyes, a mercy, for thy sake.
133 Such evil sin hath wrought; and such a flame
134 Kindled in heaven, that it burns down to earth,
135 And in the furious inquest that it makes
136 On God's behalf, lays waste his fairest works.
137 The very elements, though each be meant
138 The minister of man, to serve his wants,
139 Conspire against him. With his breath, he draws
140 A plague into his blood. And cannot use
141 Life's necessary means, but he must die.
142 Storms rise t' o'erwhelm him: or if stormy winds
143 Rise not, the waters of the deep shall rise,
144 And needing none assistance of the storm,
145 Shall roll themselves ashore, and reach him there.
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146 The earth shall shake him out of all his holds,
147 Or make his house his grave. Nor so content,
148 Shall counterfeit the motions of the flood,
149 And drown him in her dry and dusty gulphs.
150 What then were they the wicked above all,
151 And we the righteous, whose fast-anchor'd isle
152 Moved not, while their's was rock'd like a light skiff,
153 The sport of ev'ry wave? No: none are clear,
154 And none than we more guilty. But where all
155 Stand chargeable with guilt, and to the shafts
156 Of wrath obnoxious, God may chuse his mark.
157 May punish, if he please, the less, to warn
158 The more malignant. If he spar'd not them,
159 Tremble and be amazed at thine escape
160 Far guiltier England, lest he spare not thee.
161 Happy the man who sees a God employed
162 In all the good and ill that checquer life!
163 Resolving all events with their effects
164 And manifold results, into the will
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165 And arbitration wise of the Supreme.
166 Did not his eye rule all things, and intend
167 The least of our concerns (since from the least
168 The greatest oft originate) could chance
169 Find place in his dominion, or dispose
170 One lawless particle to thwart his plan,
171 Then God might be surprized, and unforeseen
172 Contingence might alarm him, and disturb
173 The smooth and equal course of his affairs.
174 This truth, philosophy, though eagle-eyed
175 In nature's tendencies, oft overlooks,
176 And having found his instrument, forgets
177 Or disregards, or more presumptuous still
178 Denies the pow'r that wields it. God proclaims
179 His hot displeasure against foolish men
180 That live an atheist life. Involves the heav'n
181 In tempests, quits his grasp upon the winds
182 And gives them all their fury. Bids a plague
183 Kindle a fiery boil upon the skin,
184 And putrify the breath of blooming health.
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185 He calls for famine, and the meagre fiend
186 Blows mildew from between his shrivel'd lips,
187 And taints the golden ear. He springs his mines,
188 And desolates a nation at a blast.
189 Forth steps the spruce philosopher, and tells
190 Of homogeneal and discordant springs
191 And principles; of causes how they work
192 By necessary laws their sure effects,
193 Of action and re-action. He has found
194 The source of the disease that nature feels,
195 And bids the world take heart and banish fear.
196 Thou fool! will thy discov'ry of the cause
197 Suspend th' effect or heal it? Has not God
198 Still wrought by means since first he made the world,
199 And did he not of old employ his means
200 To drown it? What is his creation less
201 Than a capacious reservoir of means
202 Form'd for his use, and ready at his will?
203 Go, dress thine eyes with eye-salve, ask of him,
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204 Or ask of whomsoever he has taught,
205 And learn, though late, the genuine cause of all.
206 England, with all thy faults, I love thee still
207 My country! and while yet a nook is left
208 Where English minds and manners may be found,
209 Shall be constrain'd to love thee. Though thy clime
210 Be fickle, and thy year, most part, deform'd
211 With dripping rains, or wither'd by a frost,
212 I would not yet exchange thy sullen skies
213 And fields without a flower, for warmer France
214 With all her vines; nor for Ausonias groves
215 Of golden fruitage and her myrtle bow'rs.
216 To shake thy senate, and from heights sublime
217 Of patriot eloquence to flash down fire
218 Upon thy foes, was never meant my task;
219 But I can feel thy fortunes, and partake
220 Thy joys and sorrows with as true a heart
221 As any thund'rer there. And I can feel
222 Thy follies too, and with a just disdain
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223 Frown at effeminates, whose very looks
224 Reflect dishonor on the land I love.
225 How, in the name of soldiership and sense,
226 Should England prosper, when such things, as smooth
227 And tender as a girl, all essenced o'er
228 With odors, and as profligate as sweet,
229 Who sell their laurel for a myrtle wreath,
230 And love when they should fight; when such as these
231 Presume to lay their hand upon the ark
232 Of her magnificent and awful cause?
233 Time was when it was praise and boast enough
234 In ev'ry clime, and travel where we might,
235 That we were born her children. Praise enough
236 To fill th' ambition of a private man,
237 That Chatham's language was his mother tongue,
238 And Wolfe's great name compatriot with his own.
239 Farewell those honors, and farewell with them
240 The hope of such hereafter. They have fall'n
241 Each in his field of glory: One in arms,
242 And one in council. Wolfe upon the lap
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243 Of smiling victory that moment won,
244 And Chatham, heart-sick of his country's shame.
245 They made us many soldiers. Chatham still
246 Consulting England's happiness at home,
247 Secured it by an unforgiving frown
248 If any wrong'd her. Wolf, where'er he fought,
249 Put so much of his heart into his act,
250 That his example had a magnet's force,
251 And all were swift to follow whom all loved.
252 Those suns are set. Oh rise some other such!
253 Or all that we have left, is empty talk
254 Of old atchievements, and despair of new.
255 Now hoist the sail, and let the streamers float
256 Upon the wanton breezes. Strew the deck
257 With lavender, and sprinkle liquid sweets,
258 That no rude savour maritime invade
259 The nose of nice nobility. Breathe soft
260 Ye clarionets, and softer still ye flutes,
261 That winds and waters lull'd by magic sounds
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262 May bear us smoothly to the Gallic shore.
263 True, we have lost an empire let it pass.
264 True, we may thank the perfidy of France
265 That pick'd the jewel out of England's crown,
266 With all the cunning of an envious shrew.
267 And let that pass 'twas but a trick of state.
268 A brave man knows no malice, but at once
269 Forgets in peace, the injuries of war,
270 And gives his direst foe a friend's embrace.
271 And shamed as we have been, to th' very beard
272 Braved and defied, and in our own sea proved
273 Too weak for those decisive blows, that once
274 Insured us mast'ry there, we yet retain
275 Some small pre-eminence, we justly boast
276 At least superior jockeyship, and claim
277 The honors of the turf as all our own.
278 Go then, well worthy of the praise ye seek,
279 And show the shame ye might conceal at home,
280 In foreign eyes! be grooms, and win the plate,
281 Where once your nobler fathers won a crown!
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282 'Tis gen'rous to communicate your skill
283 To those that need it. Folly is soon learn'd.
284 And under such preceptors, who can fail.
285 There is a pleasure in poetic pains
286 Which only poets know. The shifts and turns,
287 Th' expedients and inventions multiform
288 To which the mind resorts, in chace of terms
289 Though apt, yet coy, and difficult to win
290 T' arrest the fleeting images that fill
291 The mirror of the mind, and hold them fast,
292 And force them sit, 'till he has pencil'd off
293 A faithful likeness of the forms he views;
294 Then to dispofe his copies with such art
295 That each may find its most propitious light,
296 And shine by situation, hardly less,
297 Than by the labor and the skill it cost,
298 Are occupations of the poet's mind
299 So pleasing, and that steal away the thought
300 With such address, from themes of sad import,
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301 That lost in his own musings, happy man!
302 He feels th' anxieties of life, denied
303 Their wonted entertainment, all retire.
304 Such joys has he that sings. But ah! not such,
305 Or seldom such, the hearers of his song.
306 Fastidious, or else listless, or perhaps
307 Aware of nothing arduous in a task
308 They never undertook, they little note
309 His dangers or escapes, and haply find
310 There least amusement where he found the most.
311 But is amusement all? studious of song,
312 And yet ambitious not to sing in vain,
313 I would not trifle merely, though the world
314 Be loudest in their praise who do no more.
315 Yet what can satire, whether grave or gay?
316 It may correct a foible, may chastise
317 The freaks of fashion, regulate the dress,
318 Retrench a sword-blade, or displace a patch;
319 But where are its sublimer trophies found?
320 What vice has it subdued? whose heart reclaim'd
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321 By rigour, or whom laugh'd into reform?
322 Alas! Leviathan is not so tamed.
323 Laugh'd at, he laughs again; and stricken hard,
324 Turns to the stroke his adamantine scales,
325 That fear no discipline of human hands.
326 The pulpit therefore (and I name it, fill'd
327 With solemn awe, that bids me well beware
328 With what intent I touch that holy thing)
329 The pulpit (when the sat'rist has at last,
330 Strutting and vap'ring in an empty school,
331 Spent all his force and made no proselyte)
332 I say the pulpit (in the sober use
333 Of its legitimate peculiar pow'rs)
334 Must stand acknowledg'd, while the world shall stand,
335 The most important and effectual guard,
336 Support and ornament of virtue's cause.
337 There stands the messenger of truth. There stands
338 The legate of the skies. His theme divine,
339 His office sacred, his credentials clear.
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340 By him, the violated law speaks out
341 Its thunders, and by him, in strains as sweet
342 As angels use, the gospel whispers peace.
343 He stablishes the strong, restores the weak,
344 Reclaims the wand'rer, binds the broken heart,
345 And arm'd himself in panoply complete
346 Of heav'nly temper, furnishes with arms
347 Bright as his own, and trains by ev'ry rule
348 Of holy discipline, to glorious war,
349 The sacramental host of God's elect.
350 Are all such teachers? would to heav'n all were!
351 But hark the Doctor's voice fast wedg'd between
352 Two empirics he stands, and with swoln cheeks
353 Inspires the news, his trumpet. Keener far
354 Than all invective is his bold harrangue,
355 While through that public organ of report
356 He hails the clergy; and defying shame,
357 Announces to the world his own and theirs.
358 He teaches those to read, whom schools dismiss'd,
359 And colleges untaught; sells accent, tone,
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360 And emphasis in score, and gives to pray'r
361 Th' adagio and andante it demands.
362 He grinds divinity of other days
363 Down into modern use; transforms old print
364 To zig-zag manuscript, and cheats the eyes
365 Of gall'ry critics by a thousand arts.
366 Are there who purchase of the Doctor's ware!
367 Oh name it not in Gath! it cannot be,
368 That grave and learned Clerks should need such aid.
369 He doubtless is in sport, and does but droll,
370 Assuming thus a rank unknown before,
371 Grand caterer and dry-nurse of the church.
372 I venerate the man, whose heart is warm,
373 Whose hands are pure, whose doctrine and whose life
374 Coincident, exhibit lucid proof
375 That he is honest in the sacred cause.
376 To such I render more than mere respect,
377 Whose actions say that they respect themselves.
378 But loose in morals, and in manners vain,
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379 In conversation frivolous, in dress
380 Extreme, at once rapacious and profuse,
381 Frequent in park, with lady at his side,
382 Ambling and prattling scandal as he goes,
383 But rare at home, and never at his books
384 Or with his pen, save when he scrawls a card;
385 Constant at routs, familiar with a round
386 Of ladyships, a stranger to the poor;
387 Ambitious of preferment for its gold,
388 And well prepared by ignorance and sloth,
389 By infidelity and love o' th' world
390 To make God's work a sinecure; a slave
391 To his own pleasures and his patron's pride.
392 From such apostles, Oh ye mitred heads
393 Preserve the church! and lay not careless hands
394 On sculls that cannot teach, and will not learn.
395 Would I describe a preacher, such as Paul
396 Were he on earth, would hear, approve, and own,
397 Paul should himself direct me. I would trace
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398 His master-strokes, and draw from his design.
399 I would express him simple, grave, sincere;
400 In doctrine uncorrupt; in language plain;
401 And plain in manner. Decent, solemn, chaste,
402 And natural in gesture. Much impress'd
403 Himself, as conscious of his awful charge,
404 And anxious mainly that the flock he feeds
405 May feel it too. Affectionate in look,
406 And tender in address, as well becomes
407 A messenger of grace to guilty men.
408 Behold the picture! Is it like? Like whom?
409 The things that mount the rostrum with a skip
410 And then skip down again. Pronounce a text,
411 Cry, hem; and reading what they never wrote
412 Just fifteen minutes, huddle up their work,
413 And with a well bred whisper close the scene.
414 In man or woman, but far most in man,
415 And most of all in man that ministers
416 And serves the altar, in my soul I loath
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417 All affectation. 'Tis my perfect scorn;
418 Object of my implacable disgust.
419 What! will a man play tricks; will he indulge
420 A silly fond conceit of his fair form
421 And just proportion, fashionable mien
422 And pretty face in presence of his God?
423 Or will he seek to dazzle me with tropes,
424 As with the di'mond on his lily hand,
425 And play his brilliant parts before my eyes
426 When I am hungry for the bread of life?
427 He mocks his Maker, prostitutes and shames
428 His noble office, and instead of truth
429 Displaying his own beauty, starves his flock.
430 Therefore avaunt! all attitude and stare
431 And start theatric, practised at the glass.
432 I seek divine simplicity in him
433 Who handles things divine; and all beside,
434 Though learn'd with labor, and though much admir'd
435 By curious eyes and judgments ill-inform'd,
436 To me is odious as the nasal twang
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437 At conventicle heard, where worthy men
438 Misled by custom, strain celestial themes
439 Through the prest nostril, spectacle-bestrid.
440 Some, decent in demeanor while they preach,
441 That task perform'd, relapse into themselves,
442 And having spoken wisely, at the close
443 Grow wanton, and give proof to ev'ry eye
444 Whoe'er was edified, themselves were not.
445 Forth comes the pocket mirror. First we stroke
446 An eye-brow; next, compose a straggling lock;
447 Then with an air, most gracefully perform'd,
448 Fall back into our seat; extend an arm
449 And lay it at its ease with gentle care,
450 With handkerchief in hand, depending low.
451 The better hand more busy, gives the nose
452 Its bergamot, or aids th' indebted eye
453 With op'ra glass to watch the moving scene,
454 And recognize the slow-retiring fair.
455 Now this is fulsome; and offends me more
456 Than in a churchman slovenly neglect
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457 And rustic coarseness would. An heav'nly mind
458 May be indiff'rent to her house of clay,
459 And slight the hovel as beneath her care;
460 But how a body so fantastic, trim,
461 And queint in its deportment and attire,
462 Can lodge an heav'nly mind demands a doubt.
463 He that negotiates between God and man,
464 As God's ambassador, the grand concerns
465 Of judgment and of mercy, should beware
466 Of lightness in his speech. 'Tis pitiful
467 To court a grin, when you should wooe a soul;
468 To break a jest, when pity would inspire
469 Pathetic exhortation; and t' address
470 The skittish fancy with facetious tales,
471 When sent with God's commission to the heart.
472 So did not Paul. Direct me to a quip
473 Or merry turn in all he ever wrote,
474 And I consent you take it for your text,
475 Your only one, till sides and benches fail.
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476 No: he was serious in a serious cause,
477 And understood too well the weighty terms
478 That he had ta'en in charge. He would not stoop
479 To conquer those by jocular exploits,
480 Whom truth and soberness assail'd in vain.
481 Oh, popular applause! what heart of man
482 Is proof against thy sweet seducing charms?
483 The wisest and the best feel urgent need
484 Of all their caution in thy gentlest gales;
485 But swell'd into a gust who then, alas!
486 With all his canvass set, and inexpert
487 And therefore heedless, can withstand thy power?
488 Praise from the rivel'd lips of toothless, bald
489 Decrepitude; and in the looks of lean
490 And craving poverty; and in the bow
491 Respectful of the smutch'd artificer
492 Is oft too welcome, and may much disturb
493 The bias of the purpose. How much more
494 Pour'd forth by beauty splendid and polite,
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495 In language soft as adoration breathes?
496 Ah spare your idol! think him human still.
497 Charms he may have, but he has frailties too,
498 Doat not too much, nor spoil what ye admire.
499 All truth is from the sempiternal source
500 Of light divine. But Egypt, Greece, and Rome
501 Drew from the stream below. More favor'd we
502 Drink, when we chuse it, at the fountain head.
503 To them it flow'd much mingled and defiled
504 With hurtful error, prejudice, and dreams
505 Illusive of philosophy, so call'd,
506 But falsely. Sages after sages strove
507 In vain, to filter off a chrystal draught
508 Pure from the lees, which often more enhanced
509 The thirst than slaked it, and not seldom bred
510 Intoxication and delirium wild.
511 In vain they push'd enquiry to the birth
512 And spring-time of the world, ask'd, whence is man?
513 Why form'd at all? And wherefore as he is?
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514 Where must he find his Maker? With what rites
515 Adore him? Will he hear, accept, and bless?
516 Or does he sit regardless of his works?
517 Has man within him an immortal seed?
518 Or does the tomb take all? If he survive
519 His ashes, where? and in what weal or woe?
520 Knots worthy of solution, which alone
521 A Deity could solve. Their answers vague
522 And all at random, fabulous and dark,
523 Left them as dark themselves. Their rules of life
524 Defective and unsanction'd, proved too weak
525 To bind the roving appetite, and lead
526 Blind nature to a God not yet reveal'd.
527 'Tis Revelation satisfies all doubts,
528 Explains all mysteries, except her own,
529 And so illuminates the path of life,
530 That fools discover it, and stray no more.
531 Now tell me, dignified and sapient sir,
532 My man of morals, nurtur'd in the shades
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533 Of Academus, is this false or true?
534 Is Christ the abler teacher, or the schools?
535 If Christ, then why resort at ev'ry turn
536 To Athens or to Rome, for wisdom short
537 Of man's occasions, when in him reside
538 Grace, knowledge, comfort, an unfathom'd store?
539 How oft when Paul has serv'd us with a text,
540 Has Epictetus, Plato, Tully preach'd!
541 Men that if now alive, would sit content
542 And humble learners of a Saviour's worth,
543 Preach it who might. Such was their love of truth,
544 Their thirst of knowledge, and their candour too.
545 And thus it is. The pastor, either vain
546 By nature, or by flatt'ry made so, taught
547 To gaze at his own splendor, and t' exalt
548 Absurdly, not his office, but himself;
549 Or unenlighten'd, and too proud to learn,
550 Or vicious, and not therefore apt to teach,
551 Perverting often by the stress of lewd
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552 And loose example, whom he should instruct,
553 Exposes and holds up to broad disgrace
554 The noblest function, and discredits much
555 The brightest truths that man has ever seen.
556 For ghostly counsel, if it either fall
557 Below the exigence, or be not back'd
558 With show of love, at least with hopeful proof
559 Of some sincerity on the giver's part;
560 Or be dishonor'd in th' exterior form
561 And mode of its conveyance, by such tricks
562 As move derision, or by foppish airs
563 And histrionic mumm'ry, that let down
564 The pulpit to the level of the stage,
565 Drops from the lips a disregarded thing.
566 The weak perhaps are moved, but are not taught;
567 While prejudice in men of stronger minds
568 Takes deeper root, confirm'd by what they see.
569 A relaxation of religions hold
570 Upon the roving and untutor'd heart
571 Soon follows, and the curb of conscience snapt,
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572 The laity run wild. But do they now?
573 Note their extravagance, and be convinced.
574 As nations ignorant of God, contrive
575 A wooden one, so we, no longer taught
576 By monitors that mother church supplies,
577 Now make our own. Posterity will ask
578 (If e'er posterity see verse of mine)
579 Some fifty or an hundred lustrums hence,
580 What was a monitor in George's days?
581 My very gentle reader, yet unborn,
582 Of whom I needs must augur better things,
583 Since heav'n would sure grow weary of a world
584 Productive only of a race like us,
585 A monitor is wood. Plank shaven thin.
586 We wear it at our backs. There closely braced
587 And neatly fitted, it compresses hard
588 The prominent and most unsightly bones,
589 And binds the shoulders flat. We prove its use
590 Sov'reign and most effectual to secure
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591 A form not now gymnastic as of yore,
592 From rickets and distortion, else, our lot.
593 But thus admonish'd we can walk erect,
594 One proof at least of manhood; while the friend
595 Sticks close, a Mentor worthy of his charge.
596 Our habits costlier than Lucullus wore,
597 And by caprice as multiplied as his,
598 Just please us while the fashion is at full,
599 But change with ev'ry moon. The sycophant
600 That waits to dress us, arbitrates their date,
601 Surveys his fair reversion with keen eye;
602 Finds one ill made, another obsolete,
603 This fits not nicely, that is ill conceived,
604 And making prize of all that he condemns,
605 With our expenditure defrays his own.
606 Variety's the very spice of life
607 That gives it all its flavor. We have run
608 Through ev'ry change that fancy at the loom
609 Exhausted, has had genius to supply,
610 And studious of mutation still, discard
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611 A real elegance a little used
612 For monstrous novelty and strange disguise.
613 We sacrifice to dress, till houshold joys
614 And comforts cease. Dress drains our cellar dry,
615 And keeps our larder lean. Puts out our fires,
616 And introduces hunger, frost, and woe,
617 Where peace and hospitality might reign.
618 What man that lives and that knows how to live,
619 Would fail t' exhibit at the public shows
620 A form as splendid as the proudest there,
621 Though appetite raise outcries at the cost?
622 A man o' th' town dines late, but soon enough
623 With reasonable forecast and dispatch,
624 T' insure a side-box station at half price.
625 You think perhaps, so delicate his dress,
626 His daily fare as delicate. Alas!
627 He picks clean teeth, and busy as he seems
628 With an old tavern quill, is hungry yet.
629 The rout is folly's circle which she draws
630 With magic wand. So potent is the spell,
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631 That none decoy'd into that fatal ring,
632 Unless by heaven's peculiar grace, escape.
633 There we grow early grey, but never wise.
634 There form connexions, and acquire no friend.
635 Solicit pleasure hopeless of success;
636 Waste youth in occupations only fit
637 For second childhood, and devote old age
638 To sports which only childhood could excuse.
639 There they are happiest who dissemble best
640 Their weariness; and they the most polite
641 Who squander time and treasure with a smile
642 Though at their own destruction. She that asks
643 Her dear five hundred friends, contemns them all,
644 And hates their coming. They, what can they less?
645 Make just reprisals, and with cringe and shrug
646 And bow obsequious, hide their hate of her.
647 All catch the frenzy, downward from her Grace
648 Whose flambeaux flash against the morning skies,
649 And gild our chamber cielings as they pass,
650 To her who frugal only that her thrift.
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651 May feed excesses she can ill afford,
652 Is hackney'd home unlacquey'd. Who in haste
653 Alighting, turns the key in her own door,
654 And at the watchman's lantern borrowing light,
655 Finds a cold bed her only comfort left.
656 Wives beggar husbands, husbands starve their wives,
657 On fortune's velvet altar off'ring up
658 Their last poor pittance. Fortune most severe
659 Of goddesses yet known, and costlier far
660 Than all that held their routs in heathen heav'n
661 So fare we in this prison-house the world.
662 And 'tis a fearful spectacle to see
663 So many maniacs dancing in their chains.
664 They gaze upon the links that hold them fast
665 With eyes of anguish, execrate their lot,
666 Then shake them in despair, and dance again.
667 Now basket up the family of plagues
668 That waste our vitals. Peculation, sale
669 Of honor, perjury, corruption, frauds
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670 By forgery, by subterfuge of law,
671 By tricks and lies as num'rous and as keen
672 As the necessities their authors feel;
673 Then cast them closely bundled, ev'ry brat
674 At the right door. Profusion is its sire.
675 Profusion unrestrain'd, with all that's base
676 In character, has litter'd all the land,
677 And bred within the mem'ry of no few
678 A priesthood such as Baal's was of old,
679 A people such as never was 'till now.
680 It is a hungry vice: it eats up all
681 That gives society its beauty, strength,
682 Convenience, and security, and use.
683 Makes men mere vermin, worthy to be trapp'd
684 And gibbetted as fast as catchpole claws
685 Can seize the slipp'ry prey. Unties the knot
686 Of union, and converts the sacred band
687 That holds mankind together, to a scourge.
688 Profusion deluging a state with lusts
689 Of grossest nature and of worst effects,
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690 Prepares it for its ruin. Hardens, blinds,
691 And warps the consciences of public men
692 Till they can laugh at virtue; mock the fools
693 That trust them; and in th' end, disclose a face
694 That would have shock'd credulity herself
695 Unmask'd, vouchsafing this their sole excuse,
696 Since all alike are selfish why not they?
697 This does Profusion, and th' accursed cause
698 Of such deep mischief, has itself a cause.
699 In colleges and halls, in ancient days,
700 When learning, virtue, piety and truth
701 Were precious, and inculcated with care,
702 There dwelt a sage call'd Discipline. His head
703 Not yet by time completely silver'd o'er,
704 Bespoke him past the bounds of freakish youth,
705 But strong for service still, and unimpair'd.
706 His eye was meek and gentle, and a smile
707 Play'd on his lips, and in his speech was heard
708 Paternal sweetness, dignity, and love.
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709 The occupation dearest to his heart
710 Was to encourage goodness. He would stroke
711 The head of modest and ingenuous worth
712 That blush'd at its own praise, and press the youth
713 Close to his side that pleas'd him. Learning grew
714 Beneath his care, a thriving vig'rous plant;
715 The mind was well inform'd, the passions held
716 Subordinate, and diligence was choice.
717 If e'er it chanced, as sometimes chance it must,
718 That one among so many overleap'd
719 The limits of controul, his gentle eye
720 Grew stern, and darted a severe rebuke;
721 His frown was full of terror, and his voice
722 Shook the delinquent with such fits of awe
723 As left him not, till penitence had won
724 Lost favor back again, and closed the breach.
725 But discipline, a faithful servant long,
726 Declined at length into the vale of years;
727 A palsy struck his arm, his sparkling eye
728 Was quench'd in rheums of age, his voice unstrung
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729 Grew tremulous, and moved derision more
730 Than rev'rence, in perverse rebellious youth.
731 So colleges and halls neglected much
732 Their good old friend, and Discipline at length
733 O'erlook'd and unemploy'd, fell sick and died.
734 Then study languish'd, emulation slept,
735 And virtue fled. The schools became a scene
736 Of solemn farce, where ignorance in stilts,
737 His cap well lined with logic not his own,
738 With parrot tongue perform'd the scholar's part,
739 Proceeding soon a graduated dunce.
740 Then compromise had place, and scrutiny
741 Became stone-blind, precedence went in truck,
742 And he was competent whose purse was so.
743 A dissolution of all bonds ensued,
744 The curbs invented for the muleish mouth
745 Of head-strong youth were broken; bars and bolts
746 Grew rusty by disuse, and massy gates
747 Forgot their office, op'ning with a touch;
748 'Till gowns at length are found mere masquerade;
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749 The tassell'd cap and the spruce band a jest,
750 A mock'ry of the world. What need of these
751 For gamesters, jockies, brothellers impure,
752 Spendthrifts and booted sportsmen, oft'ner seen
753 With belted waist and pointers at their heels,
754 Than in the bounds of duty? what was learn'd,
755 If aught was learn'd in childhood, is forgot,
756 And such expence as pinches parents blue,
757 And mortifies the lib'ral hand of love,
758 Is squander'd in pursuit of idle sports
759 And vicious pleasures. Buys the boy a name,
760 That sits a stigma on his father's house,
761 And cleaves through life inseparably close
762 To him that wears it. What can atter-games
763 Of riper joys, and commerce with the world,
764 The lewd vain world that must receive him soon,
765 Add to such erudition thus acquir'd
766 Where science and where virtue are profess'd?
767 They may confirm his habits, rivet fast
768 His folly, but to spoil him is a task
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769 That bids defiance to th' united pow'rs
770 Of fashion, dissipation, taverns, stews.
771 Now, blame we most the nurselings or the nurse?
772 The children crook'd and twisted and deform'd
773 Through want of care, or her whose winking eye
774 And slumb'ring oscitancy marrs the brood?
775 The nurse no doubt. Regardless of her charge
776 She needs herself correction. Needs to learn
777 That it is dang'rous sporting with the world,
778 With things so sacred as a nation's trust,
779 The nurture of her youth, her dearest pledge.
780 All are not such. I had a brother once.
781 Peace to the mem'ry of a man of worth;
782 A man of letters, and of manners too.
783 Of manners sweet as virtue always wears,
784 When gay good-nature dresses her in smiles.
785 He graced a college
* Ben'et Coll. Cambridge.
in which order yet
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786 Was sacred, and was honor'd, lov'd and wept
787 By more than one, themselves conspicuous there.
788 Some minds are temper'd happily, and mixt
789 With such ingredients of good sense and taste
790 Of what is excellent in man, they thirst
791 With such a zeal to be what they approve,
792 That no restraints can circumscribe them more,
793 Than they themselves by choice, for wisdom's sake.
794 Nor can example hurt them. What they see
795 Of vice in others but enhancing more
796 The charms of virtue in their just esteem.
797 If such escape contagion, and emerge
798 Pure, from so foul a pool, to shine abroad,
799 And give the world their talents and themselves,
800 Small thanks to those whose negligence or sloth
801 Exposed their inexperience to the snare,
802 And left them to an undirected choice.
803 See then! the quiver broken and decay'd
804 In which are kept our arrows. Rusting there
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805 In wild disorder and unfit for use,
806 What wonder if discharged into the world
807 They shame their shooters with a random flight,
808 Their points obtuse, and feathers drunk with wine.
809 Well may the church wage unsuccessful war
810 With such artill'ry arm'd. Vice parries wide
811 Th' undreaded volley with a sword of straw,
812 And stands an impudent and fearless mark.
813 Have we not track'd the felon home, and found
814 His birth-place and his dam? the country mourns,
815 Mourns, because ev'ry plague that can infest
816 Society, and that saps and worms the base
817 Of th' edifice that policy has raised,
818 Swarms in all quarters; meets the eye, the ear,
819 And suffocates the breath at ev'ry turn.
820 Profusion breeds them. And the cause itself
821 Of that calamitous mischief has been found.
822 Found too where most offensive, in the skirts
823 Of the robed paedagogue. Else, let the arraign'd
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824 Stand up unconscious and refute the charge.
825 So when the Jewish Leader stretched his arm
826 And waved his rod divine, a race obscene
827 Spawn'd in the muddy beds of Nile, came forth
828 Polluting Aegypt. Gardens, fields, and plains
829 Were cover'd with the pest. The streets were fill'd;
830 The croaking nuisance lurk'd in ev'ry nook,
831 Nor palaces nor even chambers 'scaped,
832 And the land stank, so num'rous was the fry.

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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK II.
Themes: domestic life; rural life; patriotism
Genres: blank verse; narrative verse; georgic; philosophic poetry

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Source edition

The task: a poem, in six books. By William Cowper, ... To which are added, by the same author, An epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq. ... To which are added, ... an epistle ... and the history of John Gilpin. London: printed for J. Johnson, 1785, pp. [42]-88. [8],359,[1]p. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T14896; OTA K027776.000)

Editorial principles

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.

Secondary literature

  • Griffin, Dustin. Redefining Georgic: Cowper's Task. ELH 57 (1990): 565-79. Print.
  • Matheson, Ann. The Influence of Cowper's The Task on Coleridge's Conversational Poems. Sultana, Donald, ed. New Approaches to Coleridge. London: Vision, 1981. 137-50. Print.
  • Priestman, Martin. Cowper's Task: Structure and Influence. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Print.

Other works by William Cowper