The First Sermon.

Once, on a lovely day—it was in spring—1
I went to hear a splendid young divine2
Preach his first sermon. I had known the youth3
In a society of far renown,4
But liked him not, he held his head so high ;5
And ever and anon would sneer, and poogh !6
And cast his head all to one side, as if7
In perfect agony of low contempt8
At every thing he heard, however just.9
Men like not this, and poets least of all.10
Besides, there are some outward marks of men11
One scarcely can approve. His hair was red,12
Almost as red as German sealing-wax ;13
And then so curled—What illustrious curls !14
’Twas like a tower of strength !  O, what a head15
For Combe or Dr Spurzheim to dissect,16
After ’twas polled. His shoulders rather narrow,17
And pointed like two pins. And then there was18
A primming round the mouth, of odious cast,19
Bespeaking the proud vacancy within.20
Well, to the Old Grey Friars’ Church I went,21
And many more with me. The place was crowded !22
In came the beadle—then our hero follow’d23
With gown blown like a mainsail, flowing on24
To right and left alternate. The sleek beaver25
Down by his thigh keeping responsive time.26
O such a sight of graceful dignity27
Never astounded heart of youthful dame ;28
But I bethought me what a messenger29
From the world’s pattern of humility !30
The psalm was read with beauteous energy31
And sung. Then pour’d the prayer, from such a face32
Of simpering seriousness—it was a quiz—33
A mockery of all things deem’d divine.34
Some men such faces may have seen among35
The Methodists and Quakers—but I never.36
The eyes were closely shut—one cheek turn’d up ;37
The mouth quite long and narrow like a seam,38
Holding no fit a with the mouths39
gape with. Then the high curl’d hair40
With quiver and with shake, announced supreme41
The heart’s sincere devotion !  Unto whom ?42
Ask not—It is unfair !  Suppose to Heaven,43
To the fair maids around the gallery,44
Or to the gorgeous idol, Self-conceit.45
Glad was my heart at last to hear the word,46
That often long’d for and desired word,47
Which men yearn for as for the dinner bell,48
And now was beauteously pronounced, Ay-main !49
Now for the sermon. O ye ruling Powers50
Of Poesy Sublime, give me to sing51
The splendours of that sermon !  The bold hem !52
The look sublime that beam’d with confidence ;53
The three wipes with the cambric handkerchief ;54
The strut—the bob—and the impressive thump55
Upon the holy Book !  No notes were there.56
No, not a scrap—All was intuitive,57
Pouring like water from a sacred fountain,58
With current unexhausted. Now the lips59
Protruded, and the eyebrows lower’d amain,60
Like Kean’s in dark Othello.—The red hair61
Shook like the wither’d juniper in wind.62
Twas grand—o’erpowering !— Such an exhibition63
No pen of poet can delineate !64
But now, Sir Bard, the sermon ?  Let us hear65
Somewhat of this same grand and promised sermon—66
Aha ! there comes the rub ! ’Twas made of scraps,67
Sketches from Nature, from old Johnson some,68
And some from Joseph Addison—John Logan—69
Blair—William Shakspeare—Young’s Night Thoughts—The
Gillespie on the Seasons—Even the plain71
Bold energy of Andrew Thomson here72
Was press’d into the jumble. Plan or system73
In it was not—no gleam of mind or aim—74
A thing of shreds and patches—yet the blare75
Went on for fifteen minutes, haply more.76
The hems ! and haws ! began to come more close ;77
Three at a time ! The cambric handkerchief78
Came greatly in request. The burly head79
Then pale—then blue—then to a heavy crimson !80
Gave over tossing. The fine cheek grew red—81
The beauteous dames around the galleries82
Began to look dismay’d ; their rosy lips83
Wide open’d ; and their bosoms heaving 80,84
You might have ween’d a rolling sea within.85
The gruff sagacious elders peered up,86
With one eye shut right knowingly, as if87
The light oppress’d it—but their features88
Shew’d restlessness and deep dissatisfaction.89
The preacher set him down—open’d the Bible,90
Gave half a dozen hems !  Arose again,91
Then half a dozen more—It would not do !92
In every line his countenance bespoke93
The loss of recollection ; all within94
Became a blank—a chaos of confusion,95
Producing nought but agony of soul.96
His long lip quiver’d, and his shaking hand97
Of the trim beaver scarcely could make seizure,98
When, stooping, floundering, plaiting at the knees,99
He—made his exit. But how I admired100
The Scottish audience ! There was neither laugh101
Nor titter; but a soften’d sorrow102
Pourtray’d in every face. As for myself,103
I laugh’d till I was sick, went home to dinner,104
Drank the poor preacher’s health, and laugh’d again.105
But otherwise it fared with him ; for he106
Went home to his own native kingdom—Fife,107
Pass’d to his father’s stable—seized a pair108
Of strong plough-bridle reins, and hang’d himself.109
And I have oft bethought me it were best110
Since that outrageous scene, for young beginners111
To have a sermon, either of their own112
Or other man’s. If printed, or if written,113
It makes small difference—but have it there114
At a snug opening of the blessed book115
Which any time will open there at will,116
And save your credit. While the consciousness117
That there it is, will nerve your better part,118
And bear you through the ordeal with acclaim.119