AN ESSAY ON CONVERSATION.
1 THE art of converse, how to sooth the soul
2 Of haughty man, his passions to controul,
3 His pride at once to humble and to please,
4 And join the dignity of life with ease,
5 Be now my theme. O thou, whom Nature's hand
6 Fram'd for this best, this delicate command,
7 And taught when lisping, without reason's aid,
8 At the same time to speak and to persuade,
9 WYNDHAM, with diligence awhile attend,
10 Nor scorn th' instructions of an older friend;
11 Who when the world's great commerce shall have join'd
12 The deep reflection, and the strengh of mind,[Page 299]
13 To the bright talents of thy youthful state,
14 In turn shall on thy better lessons wait.
15 Whence comes it, that in every art we see
16 Many can rise to a supreme degree;
17 Yet in this art, for which all seem design'd
18 By nature, scarcely one compleat we find?
19 You'll say, perhaps, we think, we speak, we move,
20 By the strong springs alone of selfish love:
21 Yet among all the species, is there one,
22 Whom with more caution than ourselves, we shun?
23 What is it fills a puppet-show or court?
24 Go none but for the profit or the sport?
25 If so, why comes each soul fatigu'd away,
26 And curses the dull puppets same dull play;
27 Yet, unconvinc'd, is tempted still to go?
28 'Tis that we find at home our greatest foe.
29 And reason good why solitude we flee;
30 Can wants with self-sufficiency agree?
31 Yet, such our inconsistency of mind,
32 We court society, and hate mankind.
33 With some we quarrel, for they're too sincere:
34 With others, for they're close, reserv'd and queer:
35 This is too learn'd, too prudent, or too wise;
36 And that we for his ignorance despise:
37 A voice perhaps our ear shall harshly strike,
38 Then strait ev'n wit itself shall raise dislike;
39 Our eye may by some feature be annoy'd,
40 Behold at once a character destroy'd:[Page 300]
41 One's so good-natur'd, he's beyond all bearing,
42 He'll ridicule no friend, tho' out of hearing:
43 Another warm'd with zeal, offends our eyes,
44 Because he holds the mirror up to vice.
45 No wonder then, since fancies wild as these
46 Can move our spleen, that real faults displease.
47 When Maevius, spite of dullness, will be bright,
48 And teach ABGYLL to speak, and SWIFT to write;
49 When Flavia entertains us with her dreams,
50 And Macer with his no less airy schemes;
51 When peevishness, and jealousy and pride,
52 And int'rest that can brother hearts divide,
53 In their imagin'd forms our eyesight hit,
54 Of an old maid, a poet, peer or cit;
55 Can then, you'll say, philosophy refrain,
56 And check the torrent of each boiling vein?
57 Yes. She can still do more; view passion's slave
58 With mind serene, indulge him, and yet save.
59 But self-conceit steps in, and with strict eye
60 Scans every man, and every man awry;
61 That reigning passion, which thro' every stage
62 Of life, still haunts us with unceasing rage.
63 No quality so mean, but what can raise
64 Some drudging driveling candidate for praise;
65 Ev'n in the wretch, who wretches can despise,
66 Still self-conceit will find a time to rise.
67 Quintus salutes you with forbidding face,
68 And thinks he carries his excuse in lace:[Page 301]
69 You ask, why Clodius bullies all he can?
70 Clodius will tell you, he's a gentleman:
71 Myrtilla struts and shudders half the year,
72 With a round cap, that shews a fine turn'd ear:
73 The lowest jest makes Delia laugh to death;
74 Yet she's no fool, she has only handsome teeth.
75 Ventoso lolls, and scorns all human kind
76 From the gilt coach with four lac'd slaves behind;
77 Does all this pomp and state proceed from merit?
78 Mean thought! he deems it nobler to inherit:
79 While Fopling from some title draws his pride,
80 Meanless, or infamous, or misapply'd;
81 Free-mason, rake or wit, 'tis just the same,
82 The charm is hence, he has gain'd himself a name.
83 Yet, spite of all the fools that pride has made,
84 'Tis not on man an useless burthen laid;
85 Pride has ennobled some, and some disgrac'd;
86 It hurts not in itself, but as 'tis plac'd;
87 When right, its view knows none but virtue's bound;
88 When wrong, it scarcely looks one inch around.
89 Mark! with what care the fair one's critic eye
90 Scans o'er her dress, nor let's a fault slip by;
91 Each rebel hair must be reduc'd to place
92 With tedious skill, and tortur'd into grace;
93 Betty must o'er and o'er the pins dispose,
94 'Till into modish folds the drapery flows,
95 And the whole frame is fitted to express
96 The charms of decency and nakedness.[Page 302]
97 Why all this art, this labour'd ornament;
98 To captivate, you'll cry no doubt, 'tis meant.
99 True. But let's wait upon this fair machine
100 From the lone closet to the social scene;
101 There view her loud, affected, scornful, sour,
102 Paining all others, and herself still more.
103 What means she, at one instant to disgrace,
104 The labour of ten hours, her much-lov'd face?
105 Why, 'tis the self-same passion gratify'd;
106 The work is ruin'd, that was rais'd by pride.
107 Yet of all tempers, it requires least pain,
108 Could we but rule ourselves, to rule the vain.
109 The prudent is by reason only sway'd,
110 With him each sentence and each word is weigh'd;
111 The gay and giddy can alone be caught
112 By the quick lustre of a happy thought;
113 The miser hates, unless he steals your pelf;
114 The prodigal, unless you rob yourself;
115 The lewd will shun you, if your wife prove chaste;
116 The jealous, if a smile on his be cast;
117 The steady or the whimsical will blame,
118 Either, because you're not, or are the same;
119 The peevish, sullen, shrewd, luxurious, rash,
120 Will with your virtue, peace, or interest, clash;
121 But mark the proud man's price, how very low!
122 'Tis but a civil speech, a smile, or bow.
123 Ye who push'd on by noble ardour, aim
124 In social life to gain immortal fame,[Page 303]
125 Observe the various passions of mankind,
126 General, peculiar, single or combin'd:
127 How youth from manhood differs in its views,
128 And how old age still other paths pursues;
129 How zeal in Priscus nothing more than heats,
130 In Codex burns, and ruins all it meets;
131 How freedom now a lovely face shall wear,
132 Now shock us in the likeness of a bear;
133 How jealousy in some resembles hate,
134 In others, seems but love grown delicate;
135 How modesty is often pride refin'd,
136 And virtue but the canker of the mind;
137 How love of riches, grandeur, life, and fame,
138 Wear different shapes, and yet are still the same.
139 But not our passions only disagree,
140 In taste is found as great variety:
141 Sylvius is ravish'd when he hears a hound,
142 His lady hates to death the odious sound:
143 Yet both love music, tho' in different ways;
144 He in a kennel, she at opera's.
145 A florist shall, perhaps, not grudge some hours,
146 To view the colours in a bed of flowers;
147 Yet, shew him TITIAN'S workmanship divine,
148 He passes on, and only cries, 'tis fine.
149 A rusty coin, an old worm-eaten post,
150 The mouldy fragment of an author lost,
151 A butterfly, an equipage, a star,
152 A globe, a fine lac'd head, a china jar,[Page 304]
153 A mistress, or a fashion, that is new,
154 Have each their charms, tho' felt but by a few.
155 Then study each man's passion and his taste,
156 The first to soften, and indulge the last:
157 Not like the wretch, who beats down virtue's fence,
158 And deviates from the paths of common sense;
159 Who daubs with fulsome flattery, blind and bold,
160 The very weakness we with grief behold.
161 Passions are common to the fool and wise,
162 And all would hide them under art's disguise;
163 For so avow'd, in others, is their shame,
164 None hates them more, than he who has the same.
165 But taste seems more peculiarly our own,
166 And every man is fond to make his known;
167 Proud of a mark he fancies is design'd
168 By nature to advance him o'er his kind;
169 And where he sees that character impress'd,
170 With joy he hugs the favourite to his breast.
171 But the main stress of all our cares must lie,
172 To watch ourselves with strict and constant eye:
173 To mark the working mind, when passion's course
174 Begins to swell, and reason still has force;
175 Or, if she's conquer'd by the stronger tide,
176 Observe the moments when they first subside;
177 For he who hopes a victory to win
178 O'er other men, must with himself begin;
179 Else like a town by mutiny oppress'd,
180 He's ruin'd by the foe within his breast;[Page 305]
181 And they alone, who in themselves oft view
182 Man's image, know what method to pursue.
183 All other creatures keep in beaten ways,
184 Man only moves in an eternal maze:
185 He lives and dies, not tam'd by cultivation,
186 The wretch of reason, and the dupe of passion;
187 Curious of knowing, yet too proud to learn;
188 More prone to doubt, than anxious to discern:
189 Tir'd with old doctrines, prejudic'd at new;
190 Mistaking still the pleasing for the true;
191 Foe to restraints approv'd by gen'ral voice,
192 Yet to each fool-born mode a slave by choice:
193 Of rest impatient, yet in love with ease;
194 When most good-natur'd, aiming how to teaze:
195 Disdaining by the vulgar to be aw'd,
196 Yet never pleas'd but when the fools applaud:
197 By turns severe, indulgent, humble, vain;
198 A trifle serves to lose him or to gain.
199 Then grant this trifle, yet his vices shun,
200 Not like to CATO or toa
a Alcibiades.CLINIAS' son:
201 This for each humour every shape could take,
202 Ev'n virtue's own, tho' not for virtue's sake;
203 At Athens rakish, thoughtless, full of fire,
204 Severe at Sparta, as a Chartreux fryar;
205 In Thrace, a bully, drunken, rash, and rude;
206 In Asia gay, effeminate and lewd;[Page 306]
207 While the rough Roman, virtue's rigid friend,
208 Cou'd not to save the cause he dy'd for bend:
209 In him 'twas scarce an honour to be good,
210 He more indulg'd a passion than subdu'd.
211 See how the skilful lover spreads his toils,
212 When eager in pursuit of beauty's spoils!
213 Behold him bending at his idol's feet;
214 Humble, not mean; disputing, and yet sweet;
215 In rivalship not fierce, nor yet unmov'd;
216 Without a rival studious to be lov'd;
217 For ever fearful, tho' not always witty,
218 And never giving cause for hate or pity:
219 These are his arts, such arts as must prevail,
220 When riches, birth, and beauty's self will fail:
221 And what he does to gain a vulgar end,
222 Shall we neglect, to make mankind our friend?
223 Good sense and learning may esteem obtain;
224 Humour and wit a laugh, if rightly ta'en:
225 Fair virtue admiration may impart;
226 But 'tis good-nature only wins the heart:
227 It molds the body to an easy grace,
228 And brightens every feature of the face:
229 It smooths th' unpolish'd tongue with eloquence,
230 And adds persuasion to the finest sense.
231 Yet this, like every disposition, has
232 Fixt bounds, o'er which it never ought to pass;
233 When stretch'd too far, its honour dies away,
234 Its merit sinks, and all its charms decay;[Page 307]
235 Among the good it meets with no applause,
236 And to its ruin the malicious draws,
237 A slave to all, who force it, or entice,
238 It falls by chance in virtue or in vice,
239 'Tis true, in pity for the poor it bleeds,
240 It cloaths the naked, and the hungry feeds;
241 It cheers the stranger, nay its foes defends,
242 But then as oft it injures its best friends.
243 Study with care Politeness, that must teach
244 The modish forms of gesture and of speech:
245 In vain Formality, with matron mien,
246 And Pertness apes her with familiar grin:
247 They against nature for applauses strain,
248 Distort themselves, and give all others pain:
249 She moves with easy, tho' with measur'd pace,
250 And shews no part of study, but the grace.
251 Yet ev'n by this man is but half refin'd,
252 Unless philosophy subdues the mind:
253 'Tis but a varnish that is quickly tost,
254 Whene'er the soul in passion's sea is lost.
255 Wou'd you both please and be instructed too,
256 Watch well the rage of shining to subdue;
257 Hear every man upon his fav'rite theme,
258 And ever be more knowing than you seem.
259 The lowest genius will afford some light,
260 Or give a hint that had escap'd your sight.
261 Doubt, till he thinks you on conviction yield,
262 And with fit questions let each pause be fill'd:[Page 308]
263 And the most knowing will with pleasure grant,
264 You're rather much reserv'd, than ignorant.
265 The rays of wit gild wheresoe'er they strike,
266 But are not therefore fit for all alike;
267 They charm the lively, but the grave offend,
268 And raise a foe as often as a friend;
269 Like the resistless beams of blazing light,
270 That cheer the strong, and pain the weakly sight.
271 If a bright fancy therefore be your share,
272 Let judgment watch it with a guardian's care;
273 'Tis like a torrent apt to overflow,
274 Unless by constant government kept low;
275 And ne'er inefficacious passes by,
276 But overturns or gladens all that's nigh.
277 Or else, like trees, when suffer'd wild to shoot,
278 That put forth much, but all unripen'd fruit;
279 It turns to affectation and grimace,
280 As like to wit, as dullness is to grace.
281 How hard soe'er it be to bridle wit,
282 Yet mem'ry oft no less requires the bit:
283 How many, hurried by its force away,
284 For ever in the land of gossips stray?
285 Usurp the province of the nurse to lull,
286 Without her privilege for being dull?
287 Tales upon tales they raise ten stories high,
288 Without regard to use or symmetry:
289 So R—, till his destin'd space is fill'd,
290 Heaps bricks on bricks, and fancies 'tis to build.[Page 309]
291 A story should, to please, at least seem true,
292 Be à propos, well told, concise, and new:
293 And whensoe'er it deviates from these rules,
294 The wise will sleep, and leave applause to fools.
295 But others, more intolerable yet,
296 The waggeries, that they've said, or heard, repeat;
297 Heavy by mem'ry made, and what's the worst,
298 At second-hand, as often as at first.
299 And can even patience hear, without disdain,
300 The maiming register of sense once slain?
301 While the dull features, big with archness, strive
302 In vain, the forc'd half-smile to keep alive.
303 Some know no joy like what a word can raise,
304 Haul'd thro' a language's perplexing maze;
305 Till on a mate, that seems t' agree, they light,
306 Like man and wise, that still are opposite;
307 Not lawyers at the bar play more with sense,
308 When brought to the last trope of eloquence,
309 Than they on ev'ry subject, great or small,
310 At clubs, or councils, at a church, or ball;
311 Then cry we rob them of their tributes due:
312 Alas! how can we laugh and pity too?
313 While others to extremes as wild will run,
314 And with four face anatomize a pun:
315 When the brisk glass to freedom does intice,
316 And rigid wisdom is a kind of vice.
317 But let not such grave fops your laughter spoil;
318 Ne'er frown where sense may innocently smile.
319 Cramp not your language into logick rules,
320 To rostrums leave the pedantry of schools;
321 Nor let your learning always be discern'd,
322 But chuse to seem judicious more than learn'd.
323 Quote seldom, and then let it be, at least,
324 Some fact that's prov'd, or thought that's well express'd.
325 But lest, disguis'd, your eye it shou'd escape,
326 Know, pedantry can put on ev'ry shape:
327 For when we deviate into terms of art,
328 Unless constrain'd, we act the pedant's part.
329 Or if we're ever in the self-fame key,
330 No matter of what kind the subject be.
331 From laws of nations down to laws of dress,
332 For statesmen have their cant, and belles no less.
333 As good hear B—y dictate on epistles,
334 Or B—rm—n comment on the Grecian whistles;
335 As old Obesus preach upon his belly,
336 Or Philcunucha rant on Farinelli;
337 Flirtilla read a lecture on a fan,
338 Or W—d set forth the praise of Kouli-Kan.
339 But above all things raillery decline,
340 Nature but few does for that task design:
341 'Tis in the ablest hand a dang'rous tool,
342 But never fails to wound the medling fool:
343 For all must grant, it needs no common art
344 To keep men patient, when we make them smart.
345 Not wit alone, nor humour's self, will do,
346 Without good-nature, and much prudence too,[Page 311]
347 To judge aright of persons, place, and time;
348 For taste decrees what's low, and what's sublime:
349 And what might charm to-day, or o'er a glass,
350 Perhaps at court, or next day, wou'd not pass.
351 Then leave to low buffoons, by custom bred,
352 And form'd by nature to be kick'd and fed,
353 The vulgar and unenvied task, to hit
354 All persons right or wrong with random wit.
355 Our wise forefathers, born in sober days,
356 Resign'd to fools the tart and witty phrase;
357 The motley coat gave warning for the jest,
358 Excus'd the wound, and sanctify'd the pest:
359 But we from high to low all strive to sneer,
360 Will all be wits, and not the livery wear.
361 Of all the qualities that help to raise
362 In men the universal voice of praise,
363 Whether in pleasure or in use they end,
364 There's none that can with modesty contend.
365 'Tis a transparent veil that helps the sight,
366 And lets us look on merit with delight:
367 In others, 'tis a kindly light, that seems
368 To gild the worst defects with borrow'd beams.
369 Yet, 'tis but little that its form be caught,
370 Unless its origin be first in thought:
371 Else rebel nature will reveal the cheat,
372 And the whole work of art at once defeat.
373 Hold forth upon yourself on no pretence,
374 Unless invited, or in self-defence;[Page 312]
375 The praise you take, altho' it be your due,
376 Will be supected, if it come from you:
377 For each man, by experience taught, can tell
378 How strong a flatterer does within him dwell:
379 And if to self-condemning you incline,
380 In sober sadness, and without design,
381 (For some will slyly arrogate a vice,
382 That from excess of virtue takes its rise)
383 The world cries out, why does he hither come?
384 Let him do penance for his sins at home.
385 No part of conduct asks for skill more nice,
386 Tho' none more common, than to give advice:
387 Misers themselves in this will not be saving,
388 Unless their knowledge makes it worth the having,
389 And where's the wonder, when we will obtrude
390 An useless gift, it meets ingratitude?
391 Shun then, unask'd, this arduous task to try;
392 But if consulted, use sincerity;
393 Too sacred is the welfare of a friend,
394 To give it up for any selfish end.
395 But use one caution, sift him o'er and o'er,
396 To find if all be not resolv'd before,
397 If such the case, in spight of all his art,
398 Some word will give the soundings of his heart;
399 And why should you a bootless freedom use,
400 That serves him not, and may his friendship lose?
401 Yet still on truth bestow this mark of love,
402 Ne'er to commend the thing you can't approve.[Page 313]
403 Sincerity has such resistless charms,
404 She oft the fiercest of our foes disarms:
405 No art she knows, in native whiteness dress'd,
406 Her thoughts all pure, and therefore all express'd:
407 She takes from error its deformity;
408 And without her, all other virtues die.
409 Bright source of goodness! to my aid descend,
410 Watch o'er my heart, and all my words attend:
411 If still thou deign to set thy foot below,
412 Among a race quite polish'd into show,
413 Oh! save me from the jilt's dissembling part,
414 Who grants to all all favours, but her heart:
415 Perverts the end of charming, for the fame;
416 To fawn, her business; to deceive, her aim:
417 She smiles on this man, tips the wink on that,
418 Gives one a squeeze, another a kind pat;
419 Now jogs a foot, now whispers in an ear;
420 Here slips a letter, and there casts a leer;
421 Till the kind thing, the company throughout,
422 Distributes all its pretty self about;
423 While all are pleas'd, and wretched soon or late,
424 All but the wise, who see and shun the bait.
425 Yet if, as complaisance requires to do,
426 And rigid virtue sometimes will allow,
427 You stretch the truth in favour of a friend,
428 Be sure it ever aim at some good end;
429 To cherish growing virtue, vice to shame,
430 And turn to noble views the love of fame:[Page 314]
431 And not, like fawning parasites, unaw'd
432 By sense or truth, be ev'ry passion's bawd.
433 Be rarely warm in censure, or in praise;
434 Few men deserve our passion either ways:
435 For half the world but floats 'twixt good and ill,
436 As chance disposes objects, these the will:
437 'Tis but a see-saw game, where virtue now
438 Mounts above vice, and then sinks down as low.
439 Besides the wise still hold it for a rule,
440 To trust that judgment most, that seems most cool:
441 For all that rises to hyperbole,
442 Proves that we err, at least in the degree.
443 But if your temper to extremes should lead,
444 Always upon th' indulging side exceed;
445 For tho' to blame most lend a willing ear,
446 Yet hatred ever will attend on fear:
447 And when a neighbour's dwelling blazes out,
448 The world will think 'tis time to look about.
449 Let not the curious from your bosom steal
450 Secrets, where Prudence ought to set her seal;
451 Yet be so frank and plain, that at one view,
452 In other things, each man may see you thro':
453 For if the mask of policy you wear,
454 The honest hate you, and the cunning fear.
455 Wou'd you be well receiv'd where-e'er you go,
456 Remember each man vanquish'd is a foe.
457 Resist not, therefore, with your utmost might,
458 But let the weakest think he's sometimes right;[Page 315]
459 He, for each triumph you shall thus decline,
460 Shall give ten opportunities to shine:
461 He sees, since once you own'd him to excel,
462 That 'tis his interest you should reason well;
463 And tho' when roughly us'd, he's full of choler,
464 As blust'ring B—y to a brother scholar,
465 Yet by degrees, inure him to submit,
466 He's tame, and in his mouth receives the bit.
467 But chiefly against trifling contests guard,
468 'Tis here submission seems to man most hard:
469 Nor imitate that resolute old foolb
470 Who undertook to kick against his mule.
471 But those who will not by instruction learn,
472 How fatal trifles prove, let story warn.
473 Panthus and Euclio, link'd by friendship's tie,
474 Liv'd each for each, as each for each wou'd die;
475 Like objects pleas'd them, and like objects pain'd;
476 'Twas but one soul that in two bodies reign'd.
477 One night, as usual 'twas their nights to pass,
478 They ply'd the cheerful, but still temp'rate glass,
479 When lo! a doubt is rais'd about a word:
480 A doubt that must be ended by the sword:
481 One falls a victim, mark, O man, thy shame,
482 Because their glossaries were not the same.
483 Cou'd Ba—l—y's self more tenderness have shown
484 For his two tomes of words, tho' half his own?
485 For what remains of failings without end,
486 Morals must some, and some the laws must mend.
487 While others in such monstrous forms appear,
488 As tongue-ty'd sourness, sly suspicion's leer,
489 Free-fisted rudeness, dropsical pretence,
490 Proteus' caprice, and elbowing insolence;
491 No caution to avoid them they demand,
492 Like wretches branded by the hangman's hand.
493 If faith to some philosophers be given,
494 Man, that great lord of earth, that heir of heav'n,
495 Savage at first, inhabited the wood,
496 And scrambled with his fellow-brutes for food;
497 No social home he knew, no friendship's tie,
498 Selfish in good, in ill without ally;
499 Till some in length of time, of stronger nerve,
500 And greater cunning, forc'd the rest to serve
501 One common purpose, and, in nature's spite,
502 Brought the whole jarring species to unite.
503 But might we not with equal reason say,
504 That ev'ry single particle of clay,
505 Which forms our body, was at first design'd
506 To lie for ever from the rest disjoin'd?
507 Can this be said, and can it be allow'd
508 'Twas with its powers for no one end endow'd?
509 If so; we own that man, at first, by art
510 Was sooth'd to act in social life a part.
511 'Tis true, in some the seeds of discord seem
512 To contradict this all-uniting scheme:[Page 317]
513 But that no more hurts nature's general course,
514 Than matter found with a repelling force.
515 Turn we awhile on lonely man our eyes,
516 And see what frantick scenes of folly rise:
517 In some dark monastery's gloomy cells,
518 Where formal self-presuming Virtue dwells,
519 Bedoz'd with dreams of grace-distilling caves,
520 Of holy puddles, unconsuming graves,
521 Of animated plaister, wood, and stone,
522 And mighty cures by sainted sinners done.
523 Permit me, Muse, still farther to explore,
524 And turn the leaves of superstition o'er;
525 Where wonders upon wonders ever grow,
526 Chaos of zeal and blindness, mirth and woe;
c St. Dominick, vide Jansenius (Nic.)Visions of devils into monkeys turn'd,
528 That hot from hell roar at a finger burn'd;
d Of our Saviour and others, vide Ferrand.Bottles of precious tears that saints have wept,
e Of Joseph, vide Molinaeum.And breath a thousand years in phials kept;
f St. Cathro's, vide Colganum.Sun-beams sent down to prop one friar's staff,
532 g[Page 318]
g St Anthony.And hell broke loose to make another laugh;
h Vide life of St. Colman by Colganus.Obedient fleas, andi
i The same life by the same author.superstitious mice;
k Vide speculum vitae sancti Francisci.Confessing wolves, andl
l St. Munnu gathered those that dropt from him, and put them in their place again, vide Act. Sanctorum.sanctifying lice;
m From St. Firman to St. Columba, vide Colganum. Chapel of Loretto.Letters and houses by an angel carried;
n Maria de la Visitation, vide her life by Lusignam.And, wondrous! virgin nuns to JESUS married.
537 One monk, not knowing how to spend his time,
538 Sits down to find out some unheard-of crime;
539 Increases the large catalogue of sins,
540 And where the sober finish, there begins.
541 Of death eternal his decree is past,
542 For the first crime, as fix'd as for the last.
543 While that, as idle, and as pious too,
544 Compounds with false religion for the true;
545 He, courtly usher to the blest abodes,
546 Weighs all the niceties of forms and modes;
547 And makes the rugged paths so smooth and even,
548 None but an ill-bred man can miss of heav'n.
549 One heav'n-inspir'd invents a frock, or hood:
550 The taylor now cuts out, and men grow good.
551 Another quits his stockings, breeches, shirt,
552 Because he fancies virtue dwells with dirt:[Page 319]
553 While all concur to take away the stress
554 From weightier points, and lay it on the less.
555 Anxious each paltry relique to preserve
556 Of him, whose hungry friends they leave to starve,
557 Harrass'd by watchings, abstinence, and chains;
558 Strangers to joys, familiar grown with pains;
559 To all the means of virtue they attend
560 With strictest care, and only miss the end.
561 Can scripture teach us, or can sense persuade,
562 That man for such employments e'er was made?
563 Far be that thought! but let us now relate
564 A character as opposite, as great,
565 In him, who living gave to Athens fame,
566 And, by his death, immortaliz'd her shame.
567 Great scourge of sophists! he from heaven brought down,
568 And plac'd true wisdom on th' usurper's throne:
569 Philosopher in all things, but pretence;
570 He taught what they neglected, common sense.
571 They o'er the stiff Lyceum form'd to rule;
572 He, o'er mankind; all Athens was his school.
573 The sober tradesman, and smart petit-maitre,
574 Great lords, and wits, in their own eyes still greater,
575 With him grew wise; unknowing they were taught;
576 He spoke like them, tho' not like them he thought:
577 Nor wept, nor laugh'd, at man's perverted state;
578 But left to women this, to ideots that.
579 View him with sophists fam'd for fierce contest,
580 Or crown'd with roses at the jovial feast;[Page 320]
581 Insulted by a peevish, noisy wife,
582 Or at the bar foredoom'd to lose his life;
583 What moving words flow from his artless tongue,
584 Sublime with ease, with condescension strong!
585 Yet scorn'd to flatter vice, or virtue blame;
586 Nor chang'd to please, but pleas'd because the same;
587 The same by friends caress'd, by foes withstood,
588 Still unaffected, cheerful, mild, and good.
589 Behold one pagan, drawn in colours faint,
590 Outshine ten thousand monks, tho' each a saint!
591 Here let us fix our foot, hence take our view,
592 And learn to try false merit by the true.
593 We see, when reason stagnates in the brain,
594 The dregs of fancy cloud its purest vein;
595 But circulation betwixt mind and mind
596 Extends its course, and renders it refin'd.
597 When warm with youth we tread the flow'ry way,
598 All nature charms, and ev'ry scene looks gay;
599 Each object gratifies each sense in turn,
600 Whilst now for rattles, now for nymphs we burn;
601 Enslav'd by friendship's or by love's soft smile,
602 We ne'er suspect, because we mean no guile:
603 Till, flush'd with hope from views of past success,
604 We lay on some main trifle all our stress;
605 When lo! the mistress or the friend betrays,
606 And the whole fancied cheat of life displays:
607 Stun'd with an ill that from ourselves arose;
608 For instinct rul'd, when reason should have chose;[Page 321]
609 We fly for comfort to some lonely scene,
610 Victims henceforth of dirt, and drink, and spleen.
611 But let no obstacles that cross our views,
612 Pervert our talents from their destin'd use;
613 For, as upon life's hill we upwards press,
614 Our views will be obstructed less and less.
615 Be all false delicacy far away,
616 Lest it from nature lead us quite astray;
617 And for th' imagin'd vice of human race,
618 Destroy our virtue, or our parts debase;
619 Since God with reason joins to make us own,
620 That 'tis not good for man to be alone.
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About this text
Title (in Source Edition): AN ESSAY ON CONVERSATION.
Author: Benjamin Stillingfleet
Themes: manners; communication
Genres: heroic couplet; essay
References: DMI 22222
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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.