AN ESSAY on VIRTUE.
To the Honourable PHILIP YORKE, Esq;
Atque ipsa utilitas justi prope mater et aequi. HOR.
1 THOU, whom nor honours, wealth, nor youth can spoil
2 With the least vice of each luxuriant soil,
3 Say, YORKE, (for sure, if any, you can tell)
4 What Virtue is, who practise it so well;
5 Say, where inhabits this Sultana queen;
6 Prais'd and ador'd by all, but rarely seen:
7 By what sure marks her essence can we trace,
8 When each religion, faction, age, and place[Page 176]
9 Sets up some fancy'd idol of its own,
10 A vain pretender to her sacred throne?
11 In man, too oft a well-dissembled part,
12 A self-denying pride in woman's heart,
13 In synods faith, and in the fields of fame
14 Valour usurps her honours, and her name.
15 Whoe'er their sense of Virtue cou'd express,
16 'Tis still by something they themselves possess.
17 Hence youth good-humour, frugal craft old age,
18 Warm politicians term it party-rage;
19 True churchmen zeal right orthodox; and hence
20 Fools think it gravity, and wits pretence;
21 To constancy alone fond lovers join it,
22 And maids unask'd to chastity confine it.
23 But have we then no law besides our will?
24 No just criterion fix'd to good and ill?
25 As well at noon we may obstruct our sight,
26 Then doubt if such a thing exists as light;
27 For no less plain wou'd nature's law appear,
28 As the meridian sun unchang'd, and clear,
29 Wou'd we but search for what we were design'd,
30 And for what end th' Almighty form'd mankind,
31 A rule of life we then should plainly see,
32 For to pursue that end must Virtue be.
33 Then what is that? not want of power, or fame,
34 Or worlds unnumber'd to applaud his name,
35 But a desire his blessings to diffuse,
36 And fear lest millions should existence lose;[Page 177]
37 His goodness only could his pow'r employ,
38 And an eternal warmth to propagate his joy.
39 Hence soul, and sense diffus'd thro' ev'ry place,
40 Make happiness as infinite as space;
41 Thousands of suns beyond each other blaze,
42 Orbs roll o'er orbs, and glow with mutual rays;
43 Each is a world, where form'd with wond'rous art,
44 Unnumber'd species live thro' every part:
45 In ev'ry tract of ocean, earth, and skies
46 Myriads of creatures still successive rise;
47 Scarce buds a leaf, or springs the vilest weed,
48 But little flocks upon its verdure feed;
49 No fruit our palate courts, or flow'r our smell,
50 But on its fragrant bosom nations dwell,
51 All form'd with proper faculties to share
52 The daily bounties of their Maker's care;
53 The great Creator from his heav'nly throne,
54 Pleas'd, on the wide-expanded joy looks down,
55 And his eternal law is only this,
56 That all contribute to the general bliss.
57 Nature so plain this primal law displays,
58 Each living creature sees it, and obeys;
59 Each, form'd for all, promotes thro' private care
60 The publick good, and justly tastes its share.
61 All understand their great Creator's will,
62 Strive to be happy, and in that fulfill;
63 Mankind excepted; lord of all beside,
64 But only slave to folly, vice, and pride;[Page 178]
65 'Tis he that's deaf to this command alone,
66 [Delights] in others' woe, and courts his own;
67 Racks and destroys with tort'ring steel and flame,
68 For lux'ry brutes, and man himself for fame:
69 Sets Superstition high on Virtue's throne,
70 Then thinks his Maker's temper like his own:
71 Hence are his altars stain'd with reeking gore,
72 As if he could atone for crimes by more:
73 Hence whilst offended heav'n he strives in vain
74 T' appease by fasts, and voluntary pain,
75 Ev'n in repenting he provokes again.
76 How easy is our yoke! how light our load!
77 Did we not strive to mend the laws of God:
78 For his own sake no duty he can ask,
79 The common welfare is our only task;
80 For this sole end his precepts, kind as just,
81 Forbid intemp'rance, murder, theft, and lust,
82 With ev'ry act injurious to our own
83 Or others' good, for such are crimes alone:
84 For this are peace, love, charity, enjoin'd,
85 With all that can secure and bless mankind.
86 Thus is the publick safety Virtue's cause,
87 And happiness the end of all her laws;
88 For such by nature is the human frame,
89 Our duty and our int'rest are the same.
90 But hold, cries out some Puritan divine,
91 Whose well-stuff'd cheeks with ease and plenty shine,[Page 179]
92 Is this to fast, to mortify, refrain,
93 And work salvation out with fear and pain?
94 We own, the rigid lessons of their schools
95 Are widely diff'rent from these easy rules;
96 Virtue, with them, is only to abstain
97 From all that nature asks, and covet pain;
98 Pleasure and vice are ever near a-kin,
99 And, if we thirst, cold water is a sin:
100 Heav'n's path is rough and intricate, they say,
101 Yet all are damn'd that trip, or miss their way;
102 God is a being cruel and severe,
103 And man a wretch, by his command plac'd here,
104 In sun-shine for awhile to take a turn,
105 Only to dry and make him fit to burn.
106 Mistaken men, too piously severe!
107 Thro' craft misleading, or misled by fear;
108 How little they God's counsels comprehend,
109 Our universal parent, guardian, friend!
110 Who, forming by degrees to bliss mankind,
111 This globe our sportive nursery assign'd,
112 Where for awhile his fond paternal care
113 Feasts us with ev'ry joy our state can bear:
114 Each sense, touch, taste, and smell dispense delight,
115 Musick our hearing, beauty charms our sight;
116 Trees, herbs, and flow'rs to us their spoils resign,
117 Its pearl the rock presents, its gold the mine;
118 Beasts, fowl, and fish their daily tribute give
119 Of food and cloaths, and die that we may live:[Page 180]
120 Seasons but change, new pleasures to produce,
121 And elements contend to serve our use:
122 Love's gentle shafts, ambition's tow'ring wings,
123 The pomps of senates, churches, courts, and kings,
124 All that our rev'rence, joy, or hope create,
125 Are the gay play-things of this infant state.
126 Scarcely an ill to human life belongs,
127 But what our follies cause, or mutual wrongs;
128 Or if some stripes from Providence we feel,
129 He strikes with pity, and but wounds to heal;
130 Kindly perhaps sometimes afflicts us here,
131 To guide her views to a sublimer sphere,
132 In more exalted joys to fix our taste,
133 And wean us from delights that cannot last.
134 Our present good the easy task is made,
135 To earn superior bliss, when this shall fade;
136 For, soon as e'er these moral pleasures cloy,
137 His hand shall lead us to sublimer joy;
138 Snatch us from all our little sorrows here,
139 Calm every grief, and dry each childish tear;
140 Waft us to regions of eternal peace,
141 Where bliss and virtue grow with like increase;
142 From strength to strength our souls for ever guide,
143 Thro' wond'rous scenes of being yet untry'd,
144 Where in each stage we shall more perfect grow,
145 And new perfections, new delights bestow.
146 Oh! would mankind but make these truths their guide,
147 And force the helm from prejudice and pride,[Page 181]
148 Were once these maxims fix'd, that God's our friend,
149 Virtue our good, and happiness our end,
150 How soon must reason o'er the world prevail,
151 And error, fraud, and superstition fail!
152 None wou'd hereafter then with groundless fear
153 Describe th' Almighty cruel and severe,
154 Predestinating some without pretence
155 To heav'n, and some to hell for no offence;
156 Inflicting endless pains for transient crimes,
157 And fav'ring sects or nations, men or times.
158 To please him, none would foolishly forbear
159 Or food, or rest, or itch in shirts of hair,
160 Or deem it merit to believe, or teach,
161 What reason contradicts, or cannot reach;
162 None wou'd fierce zeal for piety mistake,
163 Or malice for whatever tenet's sake,
164 Or think salvation to one sect confin'd,
165 And heav'n too narrow to contain mankind.
166 No more then nymphs, by long neglect grown nice,
167 Wou'd in one female frailty sum up vice,
168 And censure those, who, nearer to the right,
169 Think Virtue is but to dispense delight.
170 No servile tenets wou'd admittance find,
171 Destructive of the rights of human-kind;
172 Of pow'r divine, hereditary right,
173 And non-resistance to a tyrant's might:
174 For sure that all shou'd thus for one be curs'd,
175 Is but great nature's edict just revers'd.
176 No moralists then, righteous to excess,
177 Wou'd show fair Virtue in so black a dress,
178 That they, like boys, who some feign'd spright array,
179 First from the spectre fly themselves away:
180 No preachers in the terrible delight,
181 But chuse to win by reason, not affright;
182 Not conjurers like, in fire and brimstone dwell,
183 And draw each moving argument from hell.
184 No more our sage interpreters of laws,
185 Wou'd fatten on obscurities, and flaws,
186 But rather nobly careful of their trust,
187 Strive to wipe off the long-contracted dust,
188 And be, like HARDWICKE, guardians of the just.
189 No more applause wou'd on ambition wait,
190 And laying waste the world be counted great,
191 But one good-natur'd act more praises gain,
192 Than armies overthrown, and thousands slain;
193 No more wou'd brutal rage disturb our peace,
194 But envy, hatred, war, and discord cease;
195 Our own and others' good each hour employ,
196 And all things smile with universal joy;
197 Virtue with Happiness her consort join'd,
198 Wou'd regulate and bless each human mind,
199 And man be what his Maker first design'd.
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About this text
Title (in Source Edition): AN ESSAY on VIRTUE. To the Honourable PHILIP YORKE, Esq;
Author: Soame Jenyns
Themes: virtue; vice
Genres: heroic couplet; essay; address
References: DMI 22683
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