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An EPISTLE.

1 THro' the wild maze of life's still varying plan,
2 Bliss is alone th' important task of man.
3 All else is trifling, whether grave or gay,
4 A Newton's labours, or an infant's play;
5 Whether this vainly wastes th' unheeded sun,
6 Or those more vainly mark the course it run;
7 For of the two, sure smaller is the fault,
8 To err unthinking, than to err with thought;
9 But if, like them, we still must trifles use,
10 Harmless at least, like theirs, be those we chuse.
11 Enough it is that reason blames the choice,
12 Join not to her's the wretch's plaintive voice;
13 Be folly free from guilt: let foplings play,
14 Or write, or talk, or dress, or die away.
15 Let those, if such there be, whose giant-mind
16 Superior tow'rs above their pigmy kind,
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17 Unaided and alone, the realms explore,
18 Where hail and snow renew their treasur'd store.
* Joh, chap. xxxviii.
19 Lo! heav'n spreads all its stars; let those explain,
20 What balanc'd pow'rs the rolling orb sustain;
21 Nor in more humble scales, pernicious weigh
22 Sense, justice, truth, against seducing pay.
23 So distant regions shall employ their thought,
24 And spotless senates here remain unbought.
25 Well had great
Charles V. Emperor of Germany, who in his retirement amus'd himself with puppets. See Strada de bello Belgico.
Charles, by early want inspir'd,
26 With warring puppets, guiltless praise acquir'd;
27 So wou'd that flame have mimick fights engag'd,
28 Which fann'd by pow'r, o'er wasted nations rag'd.
29 Curs'd be the wretch, should all the mouths of fame
30 Wide o'er the world his deathless deeds proclaim,
31 Who like a baneful comet spreads his blaze,
32 While trembling crowds in stupid wonder gaze;
33 Whose potent talents serve his lawless will,
34 Which turns each virtue to a publick ill,
35 With direful rage perverted might employs,
36 And heav'n's great ends with heav'n's best means destroys.
37 The praise of power is his, whose hand supplies
38 Fire to the bold, and prudence to the wise;
39 While man this only real merit knows,
40 Fitly to use the gifts which heaven bestows:
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41 If savage valour be his vaunted fame,
42 The mountain-lion shall dispute his claim:
43 Or, if perfidious wiles deserve applause,
44 Thro' slighted vows, and violated laws;
45 The subtle plotter's title stands confess'd,
46 Whose dagger gores the trusting tyrant's breast.
47 And sure the villain less deserves his fate,
48 Who stabs one wretch, than he who stabs a state.
49 Now, mighty hero! boast thy dear delights,
50 The price of toilsome days and sleepless nights;
51 Say, canst thou aught in purple grandeur find,
52 Sweet as the slumbers of the lowly hind?
53 Better are ye, the youthful and the gay,
54 Who jocund rove thro' pleasure's flow'ry way!
55 Yet seek not there for bliss! your toil were vain,
56 (And disappointed toil is double pain)
57 Tho' from the living fount your nectar-bowls
58 Pour the soft balm upon your thirsty souls;
59 Tho' pure the spring, tho' every draught sincere,
60 By pain unbitter'd, and unpall'd by fear;
61 Tho' all were full as high as thought can soar,
62 Till fancy fires, and wishes crave no more:
63 Let lovely woman artless charms display,
64 Where truth and goodness bask in beauty's ray;
65 Let heavn'ly melody luxuriant float
66 In swelling sounds, and breathe the melting note;
67 Let gen'rous wines enliv'ning thoughts inspire,
68 While social converse sooths the genial fire:
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69 If aught can yet more potent charms dispense,
70 Some stronger rapture, some sublimer sense;
71 Be these enjoy'd. Then from the crowd arise
72 Some chief, in life's full pride maturely wise.
73 Ev'n you, my Lord, with titles, honours grac'd,
74 And higher still by native merit plac'd;
75 By stinted talents to no sphere confin'd,
76 Free ranging every province of the mind:
77 Equally fit, a nation's weight to bear,
78 Or shine in circles of the young and fair;
79 In grave debates instructed senates move,
80 Or melt the glowing dame to mutual love.
81 To heighten these, let conscious worth infuse
82 Sweet ease, and smiling mirth th' inspiring Muse.
83 Then answer, thou of ev'ry gift possess'd,
84 Say, from thy soul, art thou sincerely blest!
85 To various subjects wherefore dost thou range?
86 Pleasure must cease, ere man can wish to change.
87 Hast thou not quitted Flaccus' sacred lay,
88 To talk with Bavius, or with Flavia play;
89 When wasted nature shuns the large expence
90 Of deep attention to exalted sense!
91 Precarious bliss! which soon, which oft must cloy,
92 And which how few, how very few enjoy!
93 Say, is there aught, on which, completely blest,
94 Fearless and full the raptur'd mind may rest?
95 Is there aught constant? Or, if such there be,
96 Can varying man be pleas'd with constancy?
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97 Mark then what sense the blessing must employ!
98 The senses change, and loath accustom'd joy:
99 Eden in vain immortal sweets displays,
100 If the taste sickens, or our frame decays.
101 The range of life contracted limits bound;
102 Yet more confin'd is pleasure's faithless round:
103 Fair op'ning to the sight, when first we run,
104 But, ah! how alter'd, when again begun!
105 When tir'd we view the same known prospect o'er,
106 And lagging, tread the steps we trod before.
107 Now clogg'd with spleen, the lazy current flows,
108 Thro' doubts, and fears, and self-augmenting woes;
109 Till sated, loathing, hopeless here of bliss,
110 Some plunge to seek it into death's abyss.
111 Of all superfluous wealth's unnumber'd stings,
112 The sharpest is that knowledge which it brings;
113 Enjoyment purchas'd makes its object known,
114 And then, alas! each soft illusion's flown:
115 Love's promis'd sweet, ambition's lofty scheme,
116 The painter's image, and the poet's theme.
117 These, in perspective fair exalted high,
118 Attract with seeming charms the distant eye;
119 But when by envious Fortune plac'd too near,
120 Mis-shapen forms, and grosser tints appear:
121 Where lovely Venus led her beauteous train,
122 Some fiend gigantic holds her monstrous reign;
123 Crowns, scepters, laurels are confus'dly strow'd,
124 A wild, deform'd, unmeaning, heavy load.
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125 Some pleasures here with sparing hand are giv'n,
126 That sons of earth should taste their promis'd heav'n:
127 But what was meant to urge us to the chace,
128 Now stops, or sideway turns our devious race:
129 Tho' still to make the destin'd course more plain,
130 Thick are our erring paths beset with pain;
131 Nor has one object equal charms to prove
132 The fitting center of our restless love.
133 And when the great Creator's will had join'd,
134 Unequal pair! the body and the mind,
135 Lest the proud spirit should neglect her clay,
136 He bad corporeal objects thought convey;
137 Each strong sensation to the soul impart
138 Ecstatic transport or afflicting smart:
139 By that entic'd, the useful she enjoys;
140 By this deterr'd, she flies whate'er destroys:
141 Hence from the dagger's point sharp anguish flows,
142 And the soft couch is spread with sweet repose.
143 In something frail, tho' gen'ral this design,
144 For some exceptions ev'ry rule confine:
145 Yet few were they, while nature's genuine store
146 Supply'd our wants, nor man yet sought for more;
147 Ere diff'rent mixtures left no form the same,
148 And vicious habits chang'd our sickly frame.
149 Now subtle art may gild the venom'd pill,
150 And bait with soothing sweets destructive ill.
151 To narrow self heav'n's impulse unconfin'd
152 Diffusive reigns, and takes in all our kind.
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153 The smile of joy reflected joy imparts;
154 The wretch's groans pierce sympathizing hearts.
155 Yet not alike are all conjoin'd with all,
156 Nor throng with rival heat to nature's call:
157 By varying instinct different ties are known,
158 While love superior points to each his own;
159 Those next the reach of our assisting hands,
160 And those to whom we're link'd by kindred bands;
161 Those who most want, and best deserve our care,
162 In warmer streams the sacred influence share;
163 Ambrosial sweets her infant's lip distils,
164 While through the mother's heart quick rapture thrills.
165 The social fires friend, servant, neighbour claim,
166 Which blaze collected in the patriot's flame:
167 Hence Britain throbs superior in thy soul,
168 Nor idly wak'st thou for the distant pole.
169 Yet farther still the saving instinct moves,
170 And to the future wide extends our loves;
171 Glows in our bosom for an unborn race,
172 And warms us mutual to the kind embrace,
173 For this, to man was giv'n the graceful air;
174 For this, was woman form'd divinely fair.
175 But now to pleasure sensual views confin'd,
176 Reach not the use, for which it was design'd;
177 To this one point our hopes, our wishes tend,
178 And thus mistake the motive for the end.
179 Whate'er sensations from enjoyment flow,
180 Our erring thought to matter's force would owe;
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181 To that ascribe our pleasures and our pains,
182 And blindly for the cause mistake the means;
183 In od'rous meads the vernal gale we praise,
184 Or dread the storm, that blows the wintry seas;
185 While he's unheeded, who alone can move,
186 Claims all our fears, and merits all our love;
187 Alone to souls can sense and thought convey,
188 Thro' the dark mansions of surrounding clay.
189 Man, part from heav'n, and part from humble earth,
190 A motley substance, takes his various birth;
191 Close link'd to both, he hangs in diff'rent chains,
192 The pliant fetter length'ning as he strains.
193 If, bravely conscious of her native fires,
194 To the bold height his nobler frame aspires;
195 Near as she soars to join th' approaching skies,
196 Our earth still lessens to her distant eyes.
197 But if o'erpois'd she sinks, her downward course
198 Each moment weighs, with still augmenting force;
199 Low and more low, the burden'd spirit bends,
200 While weaker still each heav'nly link extends;
201 Till prostrate, grov'ling, fetter'd to the ground,
202 She lies in matter's heap o'erwhelm'd and bound.
203 Wrapt in the toils of sin, just heav'n employs
204 What caus'd her guilt, to blast her lawless joys:
205 Love, potent guardian of our length'ning race,
206 Unnerves the feeble lecher's cold embrace;
207 And appetite, by nature giv'n to save,
208 Sinks the gorg'd glutton in his early grave.
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209 What sends yon fleet o'er boist'rous seas to roll,
210 Beneath the burning line, and frozen pole?
211 Why ravage men the hills, the plains, the woods?
212 Why spoil all nature, earth, and air, and floods?
213 Seek they some prize to help a sinking state,
214 No! this must all be done, ere
* A Frenchman render'd famous by a most extravagant expence in eating.
Bernard eat.
215 Tell it some untaught savage! with surprize
216 He asks, "How vast must be that giant's size!
217 "How great his pow'r, who thousands can employ?
218 "How great his force, who millions can destroy?"
219 But if the savage would, more curious, know
220 What potent virtues from such viands flow,
221 What blest effects they cause consult with Sloane,
222 Let him explain the colick, gout, and stone!
223 Pleasure's for use; it differs in degree,
224 Proportion'd to the thing's necessity.
225 Hence various objects variously excite,
226 And diff'rent is the date of each delight;
227 But when th' allotted end we once attain,
228 Each step beyond it, is a step to pain.
229 Nor let us murmur. Hath not earth a store
230 For ev'ry want? it was not meant for more.
231 Blest is the man, as far as earth can bless,
232 Whose measur'd passions reach no wild excess;
233 Who, urg'd by nature's voice, her gifts enjoys,
234 Nor other means, than nature's force, employs.
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235 While warm with youth the sprightly current flows,
236 Each vivid sense with vig'rous rapture glows;
237 And when he droops beneath the hand of age,
238 No vicious habit stings with fruitless rage;
239 Gradual, his strength, and gay sensations cease,
240 While joys tumultuous sink in silent peace.
241 Far other is his lot, who, not content
242 With what the bounteous care of nature meant,
243 With labour'd skill would all her joys dilate,
244 Sublime their sense, and lengthen out their date;
245 Add, blend, compose, each various mixture try,
246 And wind up appetite to luxury.
247 Thus guilty art unknown desires implants,
248 And viler arts must satisfy their wants;
249 When to corruption by himself betray'd,
250 Gold blinds the slave, whom luxury has made.
251 The hand, that form'd us, must some use intend,
252 It gives us pow'rs proportion'd to that end;
253 And happiness may justly be defin'd,
254 A full attainment of the end design'd.
255 Virtue and wisdom this alike implies,
256 And blest must be the virtuous and the wise.
257 Bliss is ordain'd for all, since heav'n intends
258 All beings should attain their destin'd ends:
259 For this the fair idea shines confess'd
260 To ev'ry mind, and glows in ev'ry breast.
261 Compar'd with this, all mortal joys are vain;
262 Inspir'd by this, we restless onward strain.
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263 High tho' we mount, the objects mount more high,
264 Eludes our grasp, and mingles with the sky.
265 With nothing less th' aspiring soul's content,
266 For nothing less her gen'rous flame was meant;
267 Th' unerring rule, which all our steps should guide,
268 The certain test, by which true good is try'd.
269 Blest when we reach it, wretched while we miss,
270 Our joys, our sorrows prove, there must be bliss.
271 Nor can this be some visionary dream,
272 Where heated fancy forms the flatt'ring scheme.
273 There sure is bliss else, why by all desir'd?
274 What guileful pow'r has the mad search inspir'd?
275 Could accident produce in all the same,
276 Or a vain shadow raise a real flame?
277 When nature in the world's distended space,
278 Or fill'd, or almost fill'd each smaller place;
279 Careful in meanest matter to produce
280 Each single motion for some certain use;
281 Hard was the lot of her first fav'rite, man,
282 Faulty the scheme of his contracted span,
283 If that alone must know an useless void,
284 And he feel longings ne'er to be enjoy'd.
285 That only can produce consummate joy,
286 Which equals all the pow'rs it would employ;
287 Such fitting object to each talent giv'n,
288 Earth cannot fit what was design'd for heav'n.
289 Why then is man with gifts sublimest fraught,
290 And active will and comprehensive thought?
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291 For what is all this waste of mental force?
292 What! for a house, a coach, a dog, a horse?
293 Has nature's lord inverted nature's plan?
294 Is man now made for what was made for man?
295 There must be pleasures past the reach of sense,
296 Some nobler source must happiness dispense:
297 Reason, arise! and vindicate thy claim,
298 Flash on our minds the joy-infusing flame;
299 Pour forth the fount of light, whose endless store
300 Thought drinks insatiate, while it thirsts for more.
301 And thou, seraphick flame! who would'st inspire
302 The prophet's voice, and wrap his soul in fire;
303 Ray of th' eternal beam! who canst pervade
304 The distant past, and future's gloomy shade;
305 While trembling reason tempts heav'n's dazzling height,
306 Sublime her force, and guide her dubious flight;
307 Strengthen'd by thee, she bears the streaming blaze,
308 And drinks new light from truth's immortal rays.
309 Great, only evidence of things divine!
310 By thee reveal'd, the mystick wonders shine!
311 What puzzled sophists vainly would explore,
312 What humbled pride in silence must adore,
313 What plainly mark'd in heav'n's deliver'd page,
314 Makes the taught hind more wise than Greece's sage.
315 Yet reason proves thee in her low degree,
316 And owns thy truths, from their necessity.
317 Conspicuous now is happiness display'd,
318 Possessing him for whom alone we're made.
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319 For he alone all human bliss compleats,
320 To him alone th' expanding bosom beats;
321 Who fills each faculty, each pow'r can move,
322 Exerts all thought, and deep absorbs all love;
323 Whose ceaseless being years would tell in vain,
324 Whose attributes immense all bounds disdain.
325 No sickly taste the heav'nly rapture cloys,
326 Nor wearied senses sink in whelming joys
327 While, rais'd above low matter's grosser frame,
328 Pure spirit blazes in his purer flame.
329 Such are th' immortal blessings that attend
330 The just and good, the patriot and the friend.
331 Nor such alone in distant prospect cheer,
332 They taste heav'n's joys anticipated here.
333 These in the smiling cups of pleasure flow,
334 Or, mingling, sooth the bitter stream of woe;
335 These pay the loss of honours, and of place,
336 And teach that guilt alone is true disgrace;
337 These with the glorious exile cheerful rove,
338 And, far from courts, fresh bloom in Curio's grove.
339 Long may such bliss, by such enjoy'd, attest,
340 The greatly virtuous are the greatly blest!
341 Enough there are amidst yon gorgeous train,
342 Who, wretched, prove all other joys are vain.
343 So shines the truth these humble lines unfold,
344 "Fair virtue ever is unwisely sold."
345 Too mean a price sublimest fortune brings,
346 Too mean the wealth, the smiles, the crowns of kings
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347 For rais'd o'er these, she makes our bliss secure,
348 The present pleasing, and the future sure.
349 While prosp'rous guilt a sad reverse appears,
350 And in the tasteless now, the future fears.

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    About this text

    Title (in Source Edition): An EPISTLE.
    Themes: advice; moral precepts; virtue; vice
    Genres: heroic couplet; epistle
    References: DMI 22415

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    A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. II. London: printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1763 [1st ed. 1758], pp. 185-198. 6v.: music; 8⁰. (ESTC T131163; OTA K104099.002)

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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.