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Of Active and Retired Life.

AN EPISTLE to  H. C. Esq;

Meo quidem judicio neuter culpandus, alter dum expetitdebitos titulos, dum alter mavult videri contempsisse.
Plin. Ep.
[ed.] Pliny the Younger, Letters 9.19. (AH)

First printed in the Year MDCCXXXV.

1 YES, you condemn those sages too refin'd,
2 That gravely lecture ere they know mankind;
3 Who whilst ambition's fiercer fires they blame,
4 Would damp each useful spark that kindles fame.
5 'Tis in false estimates the folly lies;
6 The passion's blameless, when the judgment's wise.
7 In vain philosophers with warmth contest,
8 Life's secret shade, or open walk is best:
9 Each has its separate joys, and each its use:
10 This calls the patriot forth, and that the muse.
11 Hence not alike to all the species, heav'n
12 An equal thirst of publick fame has given:
13 Patrius it forms to shine in action great;
14 While Decio's talents best adorn retreat.
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15 If where Pierian maids delight to dwell,
16 The haunts of silence, and the peaceful cell,
17 Had, fair Astraea! been thy Talbot's choice,
18 Could list'ning crowds now hang upon his voice?
19 And thou, blest maid, might'st long have wept in vain
20 The distant glories of a second reign,
21 In exile doom'd yet ages to complain.
22 Were high ambition still the power confess'd
23 That rul'd with equal sway in every breast,
24 Say where the glories of the sacred nine?
25 Where Homer's verse sublime, or, Milton, thine?
26 Nor thou, sweet bard! who "turn'd the tuneful art,
27 "From sound to sense, from fancy to the heart. "
28 Thy lays instructive to the world hadst giv'n,
29 Nor greatly justified the laws of heav'n.
30 Let satire blast with ev'ry mark of hate,
31 The vain aspirer, or dishonest great,
32 Whom love of wealth, or wild ambition's sway
33 Push forward, still regardless of the way;
34 High and more high who aim with restless pride,
35 Where neither reason, nor fair virtue guide:
36 And him, the wretch, who labors on with pain,
37 For the low lucre of an useless gain,
38 (Wise but to get, and active but to save)
39 May scorn deserv'd still follow to the grave.
40 But he who fond to raise a splendid name,
41 On life's ambitious height would fix his fame,
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42 In active arts, or vent'rous arms would shine,
43 Yet shuns the paths which virtue bids decline;
44 Who dignifies his wealth by gen'rous use,
45 To raise th' oppress'd, or merit to produce
46 Shall reason's voice impartial e'er condemn
47 The glorious purpose of so wise an aim?
48 Where virtue regulates this just desire,
49 'Twere dang'rous folly to suppress its fire.
50 Say, whence could fame supply, (its force unknown)
51 Her roll illustrious of fair renown?
52 What laurels prompt the hero's useful rage?
53 What prize the patriot's weighty toils engage?
54 Each publick passion bound to endless frost,
55 Each deed of social worth for ever lost.
56 O! may the Muse inspire the love of praise,
57 Raise the bright passion, but with judgment raise!
58 For this she oft has tun'd her sacred voice,
59 Call'd forth the patriot, and approv'd his choice;
60 Bid him the steep ascent to honor take,
61 Nor till the summit gain'd, her paths forsake.
62 Yet not success alone true fame attends;
63 He too shall reach it who but well intends.
64 See 'midst the vanquish'd virtuous,
a He was killed in the civil wars: see his character at large in Clarendon's history.
Falkland lies;
65 His gen'rous efforts vain, and vain his sighs;
66 Yet true to merit faithful records tell,
67 To distant ages how the patriot fell:
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68 Blest youth! insur'd the sweetest voice of praise,
69 Who lives approv'd in Pope's unrival'd lays.
70 Grave precepts fleeting notions may impart,
71 But bright example best instructs the heart:
72 Then look on Patrius, let his conduct shew
73 From active life what various blessings flow.
74 In him a just ambition stands confess'd;
75 It warms, but not inflames, his equal breast.
76 See him in senates act the patriot's part,
77 Truth on his lips, the publick at his heart;
78 There neither fears can awe, nor hopes controul,
79 The honest purpose of his steady soul.
80 No mean attachments e'er seduced his tongue
81 To gild the cause his heart suspected wrong;
82 But deaf to envy, faction, spleen, his voice
83 Joins here or there, as reason guides his choice.
84 To one great point his faithful labors tend,
85 And all his toils in Britain's interest end.
86 To him each neighbour safe refers his claim,
87 The right he settles, and abates the flame.
88 Nor arts nor worth to Patrius sue in vain,
89 Nor unreliev'd the injur'd e'er complain.
90 For him the hand unseen, are pray'rs prefer'd,
91 And grateful vows in distant temples heard;
92 Like nature's blessings to no part confin'd,
93 His well-pois'd bounty reaches all mankind,
94 That insolence of wealth, the pomp of state
95 Which crowds the mansions of the vainly great,
96 Flies far the limits of his modest gate.
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97 Just what is elegantly useful's there;
98 Of aught beyond he scorns th' unworthy care;
99 Nor wou'd, for all the trim that pride can show,
100 One single act of social aid forego;
101 For this he labors to improve his store,
102 For this he wishes to enlarge his pow'r;
103 This is his life's great purpose, end, and aim:
104 Such true ambition is, and worthy fame.
105 How different Rapax spent his worthless hour!
106 With treasure indigent, a slave with pow'r:
107 Large sums o'erlooking, still intent on more,
108 He wasted, not enjoy'd, his tasteless store.
109 His growing greatness rais'd his hopes the high'r.
110 And fan'd his restless pride's increasing fire,
111 'Twas thus amidst prosperity he pin'd;
112 For what can fill the false-ambitious mind?
113 With all the honors that his prince cou'd give,
114 With all the wealth his av'rice cou'd receive,
115 'Midst outward opulence, but inward care,
116 Reproach and want was all he left his heir.
117 'Tis true, the patriot well deserves his fame,
118 And from his country just applause may claim.
119 But what avails it to the world beside,
120 That Brutus bravely stab'd, or Curtius dy'd?
121 While Tully's merit, unconfin'd to place,
122 Diffuses blessings down thro' all our race;
123 Remotest times his learned labors reach,
124 And Rome's great moralist e'en now shall teach.
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125 Averse to publick noise, ambition's strife,
126 And all the splendid ills of busy life,
127 Thro' latent paths, unmark'd by vulgar eye,
128 Are there who wish to pass unheeded by?
129 Whom calm retirement's sacred pleasures move,
130 The hour contemplative, or friend they love;
131 Yet not by spleen, or superstition led,
132 Forbear ambition's giddy heights to tread;
133 Who not inglorious spend their peaceful day,
134 Whilst science, lovely star! directs their way?
135 Flows there not something good from such as these?
136 No useful product from the men of ease?
137 And shall the Muse no social merit boast?
138 Are all her vigils to the publick lost?
139 Tho' noisy pride may scorn her silent toil,
140 Fair are the fruits which bless her happy soil:
141 There every plant of useful produce grows,
142 There science sprang, and thence instruction flows;
143 There true philosophy erects her school,
144 There plans her problem, and there forms her rule;
145 There every seed of every art began,
146 And all that eases life, and brightens man.
147 'Twas hence great Newton, mighty genius! soar'd,
148 And all creation's wond'rous range explor'd.
149 Far as th' Almighty stretch'd his utmost line,
150 He pierc'd in thought, and view'd the vast design.
151 Too long had darker ages sought in vain
152 The secret scheme of nature to explain;
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153 Too long had truth escap'd each sage's eye,
154 Or faintly shone thro' vain philosophy.
155 Each shapely offspring of her feeble thought,
156 A darker veil o'er genuine science brought;
157 Still stubborn facts o'erthrew their fruitless toil;
158 For truth and fiction who shall reconcile?
159 But Britain's sons a surer guide pursue;
160 Tread safe the maze, since Newton gave the clue.
161 Where-e'er he turn'd true Science rear'd her head,
162 While far before her puzzled Ign'rance fled:
163 From each blest truth these noble ends he draws,
164 Use to mankind, and to their God applause.
165 Taught by his rules secure the merchant rides,
166 When threat'ning seas roll high their dreadful tides;
167 And either India speeds her precious stores,
168 'Midst various dangers safe to Britain's shores.
169 Long as those orbs he weigh'd shall shed their rays,
170 His truth shall guide us, and shall last his praise.
171 Yet if so just the fame, the use so great,
172 Systems to poise, and spheres to regulate;
173 To teach the secret well-adapted force,
174 That steers of countless orbs th' unvaried course;
175 Far brighter honors wait the nobler part,
176 To balance manners, and conduct the heart.
177 Order without us, what imports it seen,
178 If all is restless anarchy within?
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179 Fir'd by this thought great Ashley, gen'rous sage,
180 Plan'd in sweet leisure his
a See the Characteristicks, particularly the enquiry concerning Virtue and the Moralists.
instructive page.
181 Not orbs he weighs, but marks, with happier skill,
182 The scope of actions and the poise of will:
183 In fair proportion here describ'd we trace
184 Each mental beauty, and each moral grace;
185 Each useful passion taught, its tone design'd
186 In the nice concord of a well-tun'd mind.
187 Does mean self-love contract each social aim?
188 Here publick transports shall thy soul inflame.
189 Virtue and Deity supremely fair,
190 Too oft delineated with looks severe,
191 Resume their native smiles and graces here:
192 Sooth'd into love relenting foes admire,
193 And warmer raptures every friend inspire.
194 Such are the fruits which from retirement spring;
195 These blessings ease and learned leisure bring.
196 Yet of the various tasks mankind employ,
197 'Tis sure the hardest, leisure to enjoy.
198 For one who knows to taste this godlike bliss,
199 What countless swarms of vain pretenders miss?
200 Tho' each dull plodding thing, to ape the wise,
201 Ridiculously grave, for leisure sighs,
202 (His boasted wish from busy scenes to run)
203 Grant him that leisure, and the fool's undone.
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204 The gods, to curse poor Demea, heard his vow,
205 And business now no more contracts his brow:
206 Nor real cares, 'tis true, perplex his breast,
207 But thousand fancied ills his peace molest:
208 The slightest trifles solid sorrows prove,
209 And the long ling'ring wheel of life scarce seems to move.
210 Useless in business, yet unfit for ease,
211 Nor skill'd to mend mankind, nor form'd to please,
212 Such spurious animals of worthless race
213 Live but the publick burthen and disgrace:
214 Like mean attendants on life's stage are seen,
215 Drawn forth to fill, but not conduct the scene.
216 The mind not taught to think, no useful store
217 To fix reflection, dreads the vacant hour.
218 Turn'd on its self its num'rous wants are seen,
219 And all the mighty void that lies within
220 Yet cannot wisdom stamp our joys complete;
221 'Tis conscious virtue crowns the blest retreat.
222 Who feels not that, the private path must shun.
223 And fly to publick view t' escape his own;
224 In life's gay scenes uneasy thoughts suppress,
225 And lull each anxious care in dreams of peace.
226 'Midst foreign objects not employ'd to roam,
227 Thought, sadly active, still corrodes at home:
228 A serious moment breaks the false repose,
229 And guilt in all its naked horror shows.
230 He who would know retirement's joy refin'd
231 The fair recess must seek with cheerful mind:
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232 No Cynick's pride, no bigot's heated brain,
233 No frustrate hope, nor love's fantastick pain,
234 With him must enter the sequester'd cell,
235 Who means with pleasing solitude to dwell;
236 But equal passions let his bosom rule,
237 A judgment candid, and a temper cool,
238 Enlarg'd with knowledge, and in conscience clear,
239 Above life's empty hopes, and death's vain fear.
240 Such he must be who greatly lives alone;
241 Such Portio is, in crowded scenes unknown.
242 For publick life with every talent born,
243 Portio far off retires with decent scorn;
244 Tho' without business never unemploy'd,
245 And life, as more at leisure, more enjoy'd:
246 For who like him can various science taste,
247 His mind shall never want an endless feast,
248 In his blest ev'ning walk may'st thou, may I,
249 Oft friendly join in sweet society;
250 Our lives like his in one smooth current flow,
251 Nor swell'd with tempest, nor too calmly slow,
252 Whilst he like some great sage of Rome or Greece,
253 Shall calm each rising doubt and speak us peace,
254 Correct each thought, each wayward wish controul,
255 And stamp with every virtue all the soul.
256 Ah! how unlike is Umbrio's gloomy scene,
257 Estrang'd from all the cheerful ways of men!
258 There superstition works her baneful pow'r,
259 And darkens all the melancholy hour.
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260 Unnumber'd fears corrode and haunt his breast,
261 With all that whim or ign'rance can suggest.
262 In vain for him kind nature pours her sweets;
263 The visionary saint no joy admits,
264 But seeks with pious spleen fantastick woes,
265 And for heav'n's sake heav'n's offer'd good foregoes.
266 Whate'er's our choice we still with pride prefer,
267 And all who deviate, vainly think must err:
268 Clodio in books and abstract notions lost,
269 Sees none but knaves and fools in honor's post;
270 Whilst Syphax, fond on fortune's sea to sail,
271 And boldly drive before the flatt'ring gale,
272 (Forward her dang'rous ocean to explore,)
273 Condemns as cowards those who make the shore.
274 Not so my friend impartial, man he views
275 Useful in what he shuns as what pursues;
276 Sees different turns to gen'ral good conspire,
277 The hero's passion and the poet's fire;
278 Each figure plac'd in nature's wise design,
279 With true proportion and exactest line:
280 Sees lights and shades unite in due degree,
281 And form the whole with fairest symmetry.


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    About this text

    Title (in Source Edition): Of Active and Retired Life. AN EPISTLE to  H. C. Esq;
    Themes: retirement; patriotism; glory of the British nation; ambition
    Genres: heroic couplet; epistle
    References: DMI 22223

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    Source edition

    A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. I. London: printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1763 [1st ed. 1758], pp. 203-213. 6v.: music; 8⁰. (ESTC T131163)

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