The PICTURE of HUMAN LIFE.
Translated from the GREEK of CEBES the THEBAN.
Et vitae monstrata via est. HOR.
1 WHILE Saturn'sa
a This temple was probably in the city of Thebes, for Cebes was a Theban.fane with solemn step we trod,
2 And view'd theb[Page 101]
b Devout offerings, for the most part in discharge of vows.votive honours of the God,
3 A pictur'd tablet, o'er the portal rais'd,
4 Attach'd our eye: in wonder lost, we gaz'd.
5 The pencil there some strange device had wrought,
6 And fables, all its own, disguis'd the thought.
7 Nor camp it seem'd, nor city: the design,
8 Whose moral mock'd our labour to divine,
9 Was a wall'd court, where rose another bound,
10 And, higher still, a third still less'ning ground.
11 The nether area open'd, at a gate
12 Where a vast crowd impatient seem'd to wait.
13 Within, a group of female figures stood,
14 In motley dress, a sparkling multitude.
15 Without, in station at the porch, was seen
16 A venerable form, in act and mien
17 Like some great teacher who with urgent tongue,
18 Authoritative, warn'd the rushing throng.
19 From doubt to doubt we wander'd; when appear'd
20 A sire, who thus the hard solution clear'd.
21 Strangers, that allegoric scene, I guess,
22 Conquers your skill, our home-born wits no less.
23 A foreigner, long since, whose nobler mind
24 Learning's best culture to strong genius join'd,
25 Here liv'd, convers'd, and shew'd th' admiring age
26 Another Samian or Elean sage.
27 He rear'd this dome to Saturn's aweful name,
28 And gave that portrait to eternal same.
29 He reason'd much, high argument he chose,
30 High as his theme his great conceptions rose.[Page 102]
31 Such wisdom flowing from a mouth but young
32 I heard astonish'd, and enjoy'd it long:
33 Him oft I heard this moral piece expound,
34 With nervous eloquence and sense profound.
35 Father, if leisure with thy will conspire,
36 Yield, yield that comment to our warm desire.
37 Free to bestow, I warn you first, beware:
38 Danger impends, which summons all your care.
39 Wise, virtuous, blest, whose heart our precepts gain,
c The Caselian and Salmasian editions read〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉wicked, instead of〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉bitter. JOHNSON.Abandon'd, blind, and wretched, who disdain.
41 For know, our purpos'd theme resembles best
42 The fam'd Enigma of the Theban pest:
43 Th' interpreter a plighted crown enjoy'd,
44 The stupid perish'd, by the Sphinx destroy'd.
45 Count folly as a Sphinx to all mankind,
46 Her problem, How is Good and Ill defin'd?
47 Misjudging here, by Folly's law we die,
48 Not instant victims of her cruelty;
49 From day to day our reasoning part she wounds,
50 Devours its strength, its noblest pow'rs confounds:
51 Awakes the lash ofd
d Vid. v. 186.Punishment, and tears
52 The mind with pangs which guilty life prepares,
53 With opposite effect, where thoughtful skill
54 Discerns the boundaries of Good and Ill,
55 Folly must perish; and th' illumin'd breast
56 To Virtue sav'd, is like th' immortals blest.[Page 103]
57 Give audience, then, with no unheeding ear.
58 O haste, no heedless auditors stand here,
59 With strong desire, in dread suspence we wait,
60 So great the blessing, and the bane so great.
61 Instant, he rais'd his oratorial hand,
62 And said (our eye he guided with a wand)
63 Behold life's pencil'd scene, the natal gate,
64 The numbers thronging into mortal state.
65 Which danger's path, and which to safety bears,
66 That ancient, Genius of mankind, declares.
67 See him aloft, benevolent he bends,
68 One hand is pointing, one a roll extends
69 Reason's imperial code; by heav'n imprest
70 In living letters on the human breast.
71 Oppos'd to him, Delusion plies her part,
72 With skin of borrow'd snow, and blush of art,
73 With hypocritic fawn, and eyes askance
74 Whence soft infection steals in every glance,
75 Her faithless hand presents a crystal bowl,
76 Whose pois'nous draught intoxicates the soul.
77 Error and ignorance infus'd, compose
78 The fatal beverage which her fraud bestows.
79 Is that the hard condition of our birth?
80 Must all drink Error who appear on earth?
81 All; yet in some their measure drowns the mind,
82 Others but taste, less erring and less blind.
c The first court, or the sensual life.Th' Opinions, and Desires, and Pleasures rise
84 Behind the gate, thick-glitt'ring on our eyes;
85 Thick as bright atoms in the solar ray,
86 Diverse their drap'ry and profusely gay.
87 These tempting forms, each like a mistress drest,
88 Our early steps with powerful charms arrest:
89 Soon as we enter life, with various art
90 Of dalliance they assail th' unguarded heart.
91 All promise joy, we rush to their embrace;
92 To bliss or ruin here begins our race.
93 Happy, thrice happy, who intrust their youth
94 To right Opinions, and ascend to Truth:
95 Whom Wisdom tutors, whom the Virtues hail,
96 And with their own substantial feast regale.
97 The rest are harlots: by their flatt'ries won,
98 In chase of empty sciences we run:
99 Or Fortune's vanities pursue, and stray
100 With sensual Pleasure in more dang'rous way.
101 See the mad rounds their giddy followers tread,
102 Delusion's cup strong-working in their head.
103 Fast as one shoal of fools have delug'd thro',
104 Succeeding shoals the busy farce renew.
105 Who on that globe stands stretching to her flight?
106 Wild seems her aspect, and bereav'd of sight.
107 Fortune, blind, frantic, deaf. With restless wings
108 The world she ranges, and her favours flings:[Page 105]
109 Flings and resumes, and plunders and bestows,
110 Caprice divides the blessings and the woes.
111 Her grace unstable as her tott'ring ball,
112 Whene'er she smiles she meditates our fall.
113 When most we trust her, we are cheated most,
114 In desolating loss we mourn our boast:
115 Her cruel blast invades our hasty fruit,
116 And withers all our glory at the root.
117 What mean those multitudes around her? Why
118 Such motley attitudes perplex our eye?
119 Some, in the act of wildest rapture, leap,
120 In agony some wring their hands, and weep.
121 Th' unreas'ning crowd; to passion's sequel blind,
122 By passion fir'd and impotent of mind:
123 Competitors in clamorous, suit to share
124 The toys she tosses with regardless air;
125 Trifles, for solid worth by most pursu'd,
126 Bright-colour'd vapours and fantastic good:
127 The pageantry of wealth, the blaze of fame,
128 Titles, an offspring to extend the name,
129 Huge strength, or beauty which the strong obey,
130 The victor's laurel, and despotic sway.
131 These, humour'd in their vows, with lavish praise
132 The glory of the gracious goddess raise:
133 Those other, losers in her chance full game,
134 Shorn of their all, or frustrate in their aim,
135 In murmurs of their hard mishap complain,
136 And curse her partial and malignant reign.
137 Now, further still in this low sensual ground,
138 Traverse yon flow'ry mount's sequester'd bound.
139 In the green center of those citron shades,
140 'Mong gardens, fountains, bow'ry walks, and glades,
141 Voluptuous Sin her pow'rful spells employs,
142 Souls to seduce, seducing she destroys.
143 See! Lewdness, loosely zon'd, her bosom bares,
144 See! Riot her luxurious bowl prepares:
145 There stands Avidity, with ardent eye,
146 There dimpling Adulation smooths her lye.
147 There station'd to what end?
147 In watch for prey,
148 Fortune's infatuate favourites of a day.
149 These they caress, they flatter, they entreat
150 To try the pleasures of their soft retreat,
151 Life disencumber'd, frolicksom, and free,
152 All ease, all mirth, and high felicity.
153 Whome'er by their inveigling arts they win
154 To tread that magic paradise of Sin,
155 In airy dance his jocund hours skim round,
156 Sparkles the bowl, the festal songs resound:
157 His blood ferments, fir'd by the wanton glance,
158 And his loose soul dissolves in am'rous trance.
159 While circulating joys to joys succeed,
160 While new delights the sweet delirium feed;
161 The prodigal, in raptur'd fancy, roves
162 O'er fairy fields and thro' Elysian groves:[Page 107]
163 Sees glitt'ring visions in succession rise,
164 And laughs at Socrates the chaste and wise.
165 'Till, sober'd by distress, awake, confus'd,
166 Amaz'd, he knows himself a wretch abus'd;
167 A short illusion his imagin'd feast,
168 Himself the game, himself the slaughter'd beast.
169 Now, raving for his squander'd wealth in vain,
170 Slave to those tyrant jilts he drags their chain:
171 Compell'd to suffer hard and hungry need,
172 Compell'd to dare each foul and desp'rate deed.
173 Villain, or knave, he joins the sharping tribe,
174 Robs altars, or is perjur'd for a bribe:
175 Stabs for a purse, his country pawns for gold,
176 To every crime of blackest horror sold.
177 Shiftless at length, of all resource bereft,
178 In the dire gripe of Punishment he's left.
179 Observe this strait-mouth'd cave: th' unwilling light
180 Just shews the dismal deep descent to night.
181 In centry see these haggard crones, whose brows
182 Rude locks o'erhang, a frown their forehead plows:
183 Swarthy and foul their shrivell'd skin behold,
184 And flutt'ring shreds their vile defence from cold.
185 High-brandishing her lash, with stern regard,
186 Stands Punishment, an ever-waking ward;
187 While sullen Melancholy mopes behind,
188 Fix'd, with her head upon her knees reclin'd:
189 And, frantic with remorseful fury, there
190 Fierce Anguish stamps, and rends her shaggy hair.[Page 108]
191 Who that ill-featur'd spectre of a man,
192 Shiv'ring in nakedness, so spare and wan?
193 And she, whose eye aghast with horror stares,
194 Whose meagre form a sister's likeness bears?
195 Loud Lamentation, wild Despair. All these,
196 Fell vulturs, the devoted caitiff seize.
197 Ah dreadful durance! with these fiends to dwell!
198 What tongue the terrors of his soul can tell?
199 Worry'd by these foul fiends, the wretch begins
200 Sharp penance, wages of remember'd sins:
201 Then deeper sinks, plung'd in the pit of Woe,
202 Worse suff'rings in worse hell to undergo:
203 Unless, rare guest, Repentance o'er the gloom
204 Diffuse her radiance, and repeal his doom.
205 She comes! meek-ey'd, array'd in grave attire,
206 See Right Opinion, join'd with Good Desire,
207 Handmaids of Truth: with those, an adverse pair
208 (False Wisdom's minions, that deceiving fair)
209 Attend her solemn step: the furies flee.
210 Come forth, she calls, come forth to liberty,
211 Guilt-harrass'd thrall: thy future lot decide,
212 And, pond'ring well, elect thy future guide.
213 Momentous option! chusing right he'll find
214 A sov'reign med'cine for his ulcer'd mind;
215 Led to True Wisdom, whose cathartic bowl
216 Recovers and beatifies the soul.
217 Misguided else, a counterfeit he'll gain,
218 Whose art is only to amuse the brain:[Page 109]
219 From vice to studious folly now he flies,
220 From bliss still erring, still betray'd by lies.
221 O heavens! where end the risks we mortals run?
222 How dreadful this, and yet how hard to shun!
223 Say, father, what distinctive marks declare
224 That counterfeit of Wisdom?
f The second court, or the studious life.View her there.
225 At yonder gate, with decent port, she stands,
226 Her spotless form that second court commands:
227 Styl'd Wisdom by the crowd, the thinking few
228 Know her disguise, the phantom of the true:
229 Skill'd in all learning, skill'd in ev'ry art
230 To grace the head, not meliorate the heart.
231 The sav'd, who meditate their noble flight
232 From a bad world, to Wisdom's lofty height,
233 Just touching at this inn, for short repast,
234 Then speed their journey forward to its last.
235 This the sole path?
235 Another path there lies,
236 The plain man's path, without proud Science wise.
237 Who they, which traverse this deluder's bound?
238 A busy scene, all thought or action round.
239 Her lovers, whom her specious beauty warms,
240 Who grasp, in vision, Truth's immortal charms,
241 Vain of the glory of a false embrace:
242 Fierce syllogistic tribes, a wrangling race,[Page 110]
243 Bards rapt beyond the moon on Fancy's wings,
244 And mighty masters of the vocal strings:
245 Those who on labour'd speeches waste their oil,
246 Those who in crabbed calculations toil,
247 Who measure earth, who climb the starry road,
248 And human fates by heav'nly signs forebode,
249 Pleasure's philosophers, Lyceum's pride,
250 Disdainful soaring up to heights untry'd.
251 All who in learned trifles spin their wit,
252 Or comment on the works by triflers writ.
253 Who are yon active females, like in face
254 To the lewd harlots, in the nether space,
255 Vile agents of voluptuous Sin?
255 The same.
256 Admitted here?
256 Ev'n here, eternal shame!
257 They boast some rarer less ignoble spoils,
258 Art, wit, and reason, tangled in their toils.
259 And Fancy, with th' Opinions in her rear,
260 Enjoys these studious walks, no stranger here:
261 Where wild hypothesis, and learn'd romance
262 Too oft lead up the philosophic dance.
263 Still these ingenious heads alas! retain
264 Delusion's dose, still the vile dregs remain
265 Of ignorance with madding folly join'd,
266 And a foul heart pollutes th' embellish'd mind.
267 Nor will presumption from their souls recede,
268 Nor will they from one vicious plague be freed,[Page 111]
269 'Till, weary of these vanities, they've found
270 Th' exalted way to Truth's enlighten'd ground,
271 Quaff'd her cathartic, and all cleans'd within,
272 By that strong energy, from pride and sin,
273 Are heal'd and sav'd. But loit'ring here they spend
274 Life's precious hours in thinking to no end:
275 From science up to science let them rise,
276 And arrogate the swelling style of wise,
277 Their wisdom's folly, impotent and blind,
278 Which cures not one distemper of the mind.
279 Enough. Discover now the faithful road,
280 Which mounts us to the joys of Truth's abode.
281 Survey this solitary waste, which rears
282 Nor bush nor herb, nor cottage there appears.
283 At distance see yon strait and lonely gate
284 (No crowds at the forbidding entrance wait)
285 Its avenue a rugged rocky soil,
286 Travell'd with painful step and tedious toil.
287 Beyond the wicket, tow'ring in the skies
288 See Difficulty's cragged mountain rise,
289 Narrow and sharp th' ascent; each edge a brink,
290 Whence to vast depth dire precipices sink.
291 Is that the way to Wisdom? Dreadful way!
292 The landskip frowns with danger and dismay.
293 Yet higher still, around the mountain's brow
294 Winds yon huge rock, whose steep smooth sides allow
295 No track. Its top two sister figures grace,
296 Health's rosy habit glowing in their face.[Page 112]
297 With arms protended o'er the verge they lean,
298 The promptitude of friendship in their mien.
299 The pow'rs of Continence and Patience, there
300 Station'd by Wisdom, her commission bear
301 To rouze the spirit of her fainting son
302 Thus far advanc'd, and urge and urge him on.
303 Courage! they call, the coward's sloth disdain,
304 Yet, yet awhile, the noble toil sustain:
305 A lovely path soon opens to your sight.
306 But ah! how climb'd that rock's bare slipp'ry height?
307 These generous guides, who Virtue's course befriend,
308 In succour of her pilgrim, swift descend,
309 Draw up their trembling charge; then, smiling, greet
310 With kind command to rest his weary feet,
311 With their own force his panting breast they arm,
312 And with their own intrepid spirit warm:
313 Next, plight their guidance in his future way
314 To Wisdom, and in rapt'rous view display
315 The blissful road (there it invites your eyes)
316 How smooth and easy to the foot it lies,
317 Through beauteous land, from all annoyance clear,
318 Of thorny evil and perplexing fear.
g The third court, or the virtuous life.Yon lofty grove's delicious bow'rs to gain,
320 You cross th' expanse of this enamell'd plain;
321 A meadow with eternal beauty bright,
322 Beneath a purer heav'n, o'erflow'd with light.[Page 113]
323 Full in the center of the plain, behold
324 A court far-flaming with its wall of gold
325 And gate of diamond, where the righteous rest;
326 This clime their home, the country of the blest:
327 Here all the Virtues dwell, communion sweet!
328 With Happiness, who rules the peaceful seat.
329 In station at th' effulgent portal, see
330 A beauteous form of mildest majesty.
331 Her eyes how piercing! how sedate her mien!
332 Mature in life, her countenance serene:
333 Spirit and solid thought each feature shows,
334 And her plain robe with state unstudy'd flows.
335 She stands upon a cube of marble, fix'd
336 As the firm rock, two lovely nymphs betwixt,
337 Her daughters, copies of her looks and air,
338 Here candid Truth, and sweet Persuasion there:
339 She, she is Wisdom. In her stedfast eye
340 Behold th' oppressive type of certainty:
341 Certain her way, and permanent the deed
342 Of gift substantial to her friends decreed.
343 She gives the confidence erect and clear,
344 She gives magnanimous contempt of fear,
345 And bids th' invulnerable mind to know
346 Her safety from the future shafts of woe.
347 O treasure, richer than the sea or land!
348 But why without the walls her destin'd stand?
349 There standing, she presents her potent bowl,
350 Divine cathartic, which restores the soul.[Page 114]
351 This asks a comment.
351 In some dire disease,
352 Machaon's skill first purges off the lees:
353 Then clear and strong the purple current flows,
354 And life renew'd in every member glows:
355 But if the patient all controul despise,
356 Just victim of his stubborn will he dies.
357 So Wisdom, by her rules, with healing art
358 Expells Delusion's mischiefs from the heart;
359 Blindness, and error, and high-boasting pride,
360 Intemp'rance, lust, fierce wrath's impetuous tide,
361 Hydropic avarice, all the plagues behind
362 Which in the first mad court oppress'd the mind.
363 Thus purg'd, her pupil thro' the gate she brings,
364 The Virtues hail their guest, the guest enraptur'd sings.
365 Behold the spotless band, celestial charms!
366 Scene that with awe chastises whom it warms:
367 No harlotry, no paint, no gay excess,
368 But beauty unaffected as their dress.
369 See Knowledge grasping a refulgent star,
370 See Fortitude in panoply of war:
371 Justice her equal scale aloft displays,
372 And rights both human and divine she weighs.
373 There Moderation, all the pleasures bound
374 In brazen chains her dreaded feet surround.
375 There bounteous Liberality expands
376 To want, to worth, her ever-loaded hands.[Page 115]
377 The florid hue of Temperance, her side
378 Adorn'd by Health, a nymph in blooming pride.
379 Lo, soft-ey'd Meekness holds a curbing rein,
380 Anger's high-mettled spirit to restrain:
381 While Moral Order tunes her golden lyre,
382 And white-rob'd Probity compleats the choir.
383 O fairest of all fair! O blissful state!
384 What hopes sublime our ravish'd soul dilate!
385 Substantial hopes, if by the doctrine taught,
386 The fashion'd manners are to habit wrought.
387 Yes, 'tis resolv'd. We'll every nerve employ.
388 Live, then, restor'd; and reap the promis'd joy.
389 But whither do the Virtues lead their trust?
390 To Happiness, rewarder of the just.
391 Look upward to the hill beyond the grove,
392 A sovereign pile extends its front above:
393 Stately and strong, the lofty castle stands,
394 Its boundless prospect all the courts commands.
395 Within the porch, high on a jasper throne,
396 Th' Imperial Mother by her form is known;
397 Bright as the morn, when smiling on the hills
398 Earth, air, and sea with vernal joy she fills.
399 Rich without lavish cost her vest behold
400 In colours of the sky, and fring'd with gold:
401 A tiar, wreath'd with every flow'r that blows
402 Of liveliest tints, around her temples glows:
403 Eternal bloom her snowy temples binds,
404 Fearless of burning suns and blasting winds.[Page 116]
405 Now, with a crown of wond'rous pow'r, her hand
406 (Assistant, round her, all the Virtues stand)
407 Adorns her hero, honourable meed
408 Of conquests won by many a valiant deed.
409 What conquests?
409 Formidable beasts subdu'd:
410 Lab'ring he fought, he routed, he pursu'd.
411 Once, a weak prey, beneath their force he cowr'd,
412 O'erthrown, and worry'd, and well-nigh devour'd:
413 Till rouz'd from his inglorious sloth, possest
414 With generous ardour kindling in his breast,
415 Lord of himself, the victor now constrains
416 Those hostile monsters in his pow'rful chains.
417 Explain those savage beasts at war with man.
418 Error and Ignorance, which head the van,
419 Heart-gnawing Grief, and loud-lamenting Woe,
420 Incontinence, a wild-destroying foe,
421 Rapacious Avarice; cruel numbers more:
422 O'er all he triumphs now, their slave before.
423 O great atchievements! more illustrious far
424 These triumphs, than the bloody wreaths of war.
425 But, say; what salutary pow'r is shed
426 By the fair crown, which decks the hero's head?
427 Most beatific. For possessing this
428 He lives, rich owner of man's proper bliss:
429 Bliss independent or on wealth or pow'r,
430 Fame, birth, or beauty, or voluptuous hour.[Page 117]
431 His hope's divorc'd from all exterior things,
432 Within himself the fount of pleasure springs;
433 Springs ever in the self-approving breast,
434 And his own honest heart's a constant feast.
435 Where, next, his steps?
435 He measures back his way,
436 Conducted by the Virtues, to survey
437 His first abode. The giddy crowd, below,
438 Wasting their wretched span in crime, they show;
439 How in the whirl of passions they are tost,
440 And, shipwreck'd on the lurking shelves, are lost:
441 Here fierce Ambition haling in her chain
442 The mighty, there a despicable train
443 Impure in Lust's inglorious setter bound,
444 And slaves of Avarice rooting up the ground:
445 Thralls of Vain-glory, thralls of swelling Pride,
446 Unnumber'd fools, unnumber'd plagues beside.
447 All-pow'rless they to burst the galling band,
448 To spring aloft, and reach yon happy land,
449 Entangled, impotent the way to find,
450 The clear instruction blotted from their mind
451 Which the Good Genius gave; Guilt's gloomy fears
452 Becloud their suns and sadden all their years.
453 I stand convinc'd, but yet perplex'd in thought
454 Why to review a well-known scene he's brought.
455 Scene rudely knowh. Uncertain and confus'd,
456 His judgment by illusions was abus'd.[Page 118]
457 His evil was not evil, nor his good
458 Aught else but vanity misundestood.
459 Confounding good and evil, like the throng,
460 His life, like theirs, was action always wrong.
461 Enlighten'd now in the true bliss of man,
462 He shapes his alter'd course by Wisdom's plan:
463 And, blest himself, beholds with weeping eyes
464 The madding world an hospital of sighs.
465 This retrospection ended, where succeeds
466 His course?
466 Where'er his wise volition leads.
467 Where'er it leads, safety attends him still:
468 Not safer, should he on Apollo's hill,
469 Among the Nymphs, among the vocal Pow'rs,
470 Dwell in the Sanctum of Corycian bow'rs:
471 Honour'd by all, the friend of human kind,
472 Belov'd physician of the sin-sick mind;
473 Not Esculapius more, whose pow'r to save
474 Redeems his patient from the yawning grave.
475 But never more shall his old restless foes
476 Awake his fears, nor trouble his repose?
477 Never. In righteous habitude inur'd,
478 From Passion's baneful anarchy secur'd,
479 In each enticing scene, each instant hard,
480 That sovereign antidote his mind will guard:
481 Like him, who, of some virtuous drug possest,
482 Grasps the fell viper coil'd within her nest,[Page 119]
483 Hears her dire hissings, sees her terrors rise,
484 And, unappall'd, destruction's tooth defies.
485 Yon troops in motion from the mount explain,
486 Various to view; for there a goodly train,
487 With garlands crown'd, advance with comely pace,
488 Noble their port, and in each tranquil face
489 Joy sparkles: others, a bare-headed throng,
490 Batter'd and gash'd, drag their slow steps along,
491 Captives of some strange female crew.
491 The crown'd,
492 Long seeking, safe arriv'd at Wisdom's bound,
493 Exult in her imparted grace. h
h Apostates.The rest,
494 Those on whom Wisdom, unprevailing, prest
495 Her healing aid; rejected from her care,
496 In evil plight their wicked days they wear:
497 Those too, who Difficulty's hill had gain'd,
498 There basely stopp'd, by dastard sloth detain'd:
499 Apostate now, in thorny wilds they rove,
500 Pursuing furies scourge the caitiff drove;
501 Sorrows which gnaw, remorseful Thoughts which tear,
502 Blindness of mind, and heart-oppressing Fear,
503 With all the contumelious rout of Shame,
504 And every ill, and every hateful name.
505 Relaps'd to Lewdness, and her sensual Queen,
506 Unblushing at themselves, but drunk with spleen,
507 Wisdom's high worth their canker'd tongues dispraise,
508 Revile her children, and blaspheme her ways.[Page 120]
509 Deluded wretches, (thus their madness cries)
510 Dull mopes, weak dupes of philosophic lies,
511 Uncomforted, unjoyous, and unblest,
512 Lost from the pleasures here at large possest.
513 What pleasures boast they?
513 Pleasures of the stews,
514 Pleasures which Riot's frantic bowls infuse.
515 These high fruition their gross souls repute,
516 And man's chief good to sink into a brute.
517 But who that lovely bevy, blithe and gay,
518 So smoothly gliding down the hilly way?
i The distinction between Opinion and Knowledge.Those are th' Opinions, who have guided right
520 The unexperienc'd to the plain of light:
521 Returning, new adventurers to bring,
522 The blessings of the last-arriv'd they sing.
523 Why ingress yielded to their favour'd ward
524 Among the Virtues, to themselves debarr'd?
525 Opinion's foot is never never found
526 Where Knowledge dwells, 'tis interdicted ground,
527 At Wisdom's gate th' Opinions must resign
528 Their charge, those limits their employ confine.
529 Thus trading barks, skill'd in the wat'ry road,
530 To distant climes convey their precious load,
531 Then turn their prow, light bounding o'er the main,
532 And with new traffic store their keels again.
533 Thus far is clear. But yet untold remains
534 What the Good Genius to the crowd ordains,[Page 121]
535 Just on the verge of life.
k The instructions of the Genius.He bids them hold
536 A spirit with erected courage bold.
537 Never (he calls) on Fortune's faith rely,
538 Nor grasp her dubious gifts as property.
539 Let not her smile transport, her frown dismay,
540 Nor praise, nor blame, nor wonder at her sway
541 Which reason never guides: 'tis fortune still,
542 Capricious chance and arbitrary will,
543 Bad bankers, vain of treasure not their own,
544 With foolish rapture hug the trusted loan:
545 Impatient, when the pow'rful bond demands
546 Its unremember'd cov'nant from their hands.
547 Unlike to such, without a sigh restore
548 What Fortune lends: anon she'll lavish more:
549 Repenting of her bounty snatch away,
550 Yea seize your patrimonial fund for prey.
551 Embrace her proffer'd boon, but instant rise,
552 Spring upward, and secure a lasting prize,
553 The gift which Wisdom to her sons divides;
554 Knowledge, whose beam the doubting judgment guides,
555 Scatters the sensual fog, and clear to view
556 Distinguishes false int'rest from the true.
557 Flee, flee to this, with unabating pace,
558 Nor parly for a moment at the place
559 Where Pleasure and her Harlots tempt, nor rest
560 But at False Wisdom's inn, a transient guest:[Page 122]
561 For short refection, at her table sit,
562 And taste what science may your palate hit:
563 Then wing your journey forward, till you reach
564 True Wisdom, aed imbibe the truths she'll teach.
565 Such is th' advice the friendly Genius gives,
566 He perishes who scorns, who follows lives.
567 And thus this moral piece instructs; if aught
568 Is mystic still, reveal your doubting thought.
569 Thanks, generous Sire; tell, then, the transient bait,
570 The Genius grants us at False Wisdom's gate.
l Natural knowledge, how far useful, and when unprofitable and hurtful.Whate'er in arts or sciences is found
572 Of solid use, in their capacious round,
573 These, Plato reasons, like a curbing rein,
574 Unruly youth from devious starts restrain.
575 Must we, solicitous our souls to save,
576 Assistance from these previous studies crave?
577 Necessity there's none. We'll not deny
578 Their merit in some less utility;
579 But they contribute, we aver, no part
580 To heal the manners and amend the heart.
581 An author's meaning, in a tongue unknown,
582 May glimmer thro' translation in our own:
583 Yet masters of his language, we might gain
584 Some trivial purposes by tedious pain.
585 So in the sciences, tho', rudely taught,
586 We may attain the little that we ought;[Page 123]
587 Yet, accurately known they might convey
588 More light not wholly useless in its way.
589 But Virtue may be reach'd, thro' all her rules,
590 Without the curious subtleties of schools.
591 How! not the learn'd excel the common shoal,
592 In pow'rful aids to meliorate the soul?
593 Blind as the crowd alas! to good and ill,
594 Intangled by the like corrupted will,
595 What boasts the man of letters o'er the rest?
596 Skill'd in all tongues, of all the arts possest,
597 What hinders but he sink into a sot,
598 A libertine, or villain in a plot,
599 Miser, or knave, or whatso'er you'll name
600 Of moral lunacy and reason's shame?
601 Scandals too rife!
601 How, then, for living right
602 Avail those studies, and their vaunted light
603 Beyond the vulgar?
603 Nothing. But disclose
604 The cause from whence this strange appearance grows.
605 Held by a potent charm in this retreat
606 They dwell, content with nearness to the seat
607 Of Virtuous Wisdom.
607 Near, methinks, in vain:
608 Since numbers, oft, from out the nether plain,
609 'Scap'd from the snares of Lewdness and Excess,
610 Undevious to her lofty station press,
611 Yet pass these letter'd clans.[Page 124]
611 What, then, are these
612 In moral things, advantag'd o'er the lees
613 Of human race? in moral things, we find
614 These duller or less tractable of mind.
615 Decypher that.
615 Pride, pride averts their eyes
616 From offer'd light: in self-sufficience wise,
617 Altho' unknowing, they presume to know:
618 Clogg'd with that vain conceit they creep below,
619 Nor can mount up to yon exalted bound,
620 True Wisdom's mansion, by the humble found.
621 Not found by these, till the vain visions spread,
622 By False Opinion, in the learned head,
623 Repentance scatter; and deceiv'd no more,
624 They own th' illusion which deceiv'd before,
625 That for True Wisdom they embrac'd her shade,
626 And hence the healing of their souls delay'd.
627 Strangers, these lessons, oft revolving, hold
628 Fast to your hearts, and into habit mould:
629 To this high scope life's whole attention bend,
630 Despise aught else as erring from your end.
631 Do thus, or unavailing is my care,
632 And all th' instruction dies away in air.
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About this text
Title (in Source Edition): The PICTURE of HUMAN LIFE. Translated from the GREEK of CEBES the THEBAN.
Author: Thomas Scott
Themes: mythology; philosophical enquiry; fate; fortune; providence
Genres: heroic couplet; imitation; translation; paraphrase
References: DMI 27833
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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.