The Reigning Vice. Book VII.


Education, when properly conducted, the greatest earthly corrective of Selfish-
ness—Where it has failed of a beneficial effect, every man must commence a course
of discipline for himself.—Self-knowledge must precede reformation.—It will shew
us that there is a great moral fault in the constitution of our nature.—As a motive
to correct this, we must consider how incompatible it is with our situation in the
universe, and with our duties to God and man.
As, lured by wealth, the trembling miner braves1
The grave-like perils of unfathom’d caves, 2
With feeble lamp the dark’ning depth explores, 3
Or hails the gleam of unexpected ores ; 4
From noisome vapours panting turns away, 5
And now with joy returns to upper day ; 6
So I with anxious toil my paths have wrought 7
Through the long veins an foe of thought ; 8
So, tired with evil’s noxious breath, I rise 9
To purer air, and bless the opening skies.10
Oh, do not think my satire lends its aid 11
God’s noblest work to lessen and degrade ! 12
Who dares to write on such an impious plan, 13
Himself deserves not to be rank’d as man, 14
No !  To exalt his nature I would try, 15
Shew the disf to point the remedy, 16
And but expose the deeply-seated ill, 17
To prove it cureless by all mortal skill ! 18
Nor think I seek Religion’s aid sublime 19
To swell the cadence of a sounding rhyme ; 20
If poetry be fiction, I disclaim 21
The worthless glory of a poet’s name. 22
But Poetry is Truth. Her piercing eye 23
Sees all things in their primal essence lie. 24
Ere one bright world in yonder concave glow’d 25
Her voice in still communion dwelt with God ; 26
When Light and Order rose from chaos dim, 27
Raptured she sung Creation’s morning hymn. 28
And, when the night of all things darkens round, 29
Her solemn close shall Nature’s requiem sound. 30
Then who shall dare confound her awful power 31
With the light meteor of an idle hour ? 32
If she deceive, all Nature is deceit, 33
And Truth exists not, if she prove a cheat.34
O Education ! Destiny below, 35
Stamp of the soul, decree of joy or woe, 36
What grief were spared, didst thou conspire to bless, 37
Not join in league with early selfishness ! 38
Forth from ourselves, while new-born reason sleeps, 39
Like Eve of old, Temptation smiling creeps, 40
And, scarce contented with our native stain, 41
In childhood’s Eden ruins us again. 42
Ah, then, when Reason first begins to wake, 43
And feel the fetters that she cannot break, 44
Queen of a realm, all anarchy, all storm, 45
A wild dominion that she did not form, 46
How sad the scene that asks her stern control ! 47
Gigantic Habit lords it o’er the soul ;48
Here a rude passion, there a rooted vice, 49
Pride, the worst slave, and blind dull Prejudice. 50
Then, if she look not for superior aid 51
From Him, whose voice the winds and waves obey’d, 52
She but ascends her tottering throne too late, 53
Like Rome’s last monarchs, crown’d in empty state. 54
Oh, then ! if manhood’s sad and sober truth 55
Must quite unteach the lessons of our youth, 56
If all the future must unlive the past, 57
And slow unravel what was twined in haste, 58
If, on the soul, of images imprest 59
The first be deepest, timely stamp the best ! 60
Say, in a home, where heavenly Wisdom guides, 61
Where Duty regulates, and Love presides,— 62
Where by no heart a selfish joy is known, 63
And all weep most for sorrows not their own,— 64
Where thorns and roses form one wreath, to dress 65
The brow of calm domestic Happiness, 66
Could base Self-love an air congenial find, 67
Or, as she now enslaves, enslave the mind ? 68
From the dove’s nest can birds of prey take wing, 69
Or Winter follow on the steps of Spring ? 70
But thou, whose course from youth has been awry, 71
Rouse all thy powers,—To yield were but to die ! 72
For thee, though harsher discipline remains, 73
More glorious wreaths shall crown thy sterner pains. 74
Wouldst thou rebuild thy heart, all pride o’erthrown, 75
First lay Self-knowledge as the corner-stone. 76
Of things above thee, what can be reveal’d, 77
If all within thee be a world conceal’d ? 78
His bosom’s eye shall vainly lifted be 79
To see his God, himself who cannot see. 80
Why shrink from deeper scrutiny within, 81
If not from trembling consciousness of sin ? 82
If man’s pure soul were Virtue’s genial soil, 83
To trace her myriad paths were pleasant toil, 84
To range her flowers, her thousand fruits partake, 85
Without one fear the lurking asp to wake. 86
How oft for this we lonely hours should spend, 87
Shut out the world, exclude our dearest friend, 88
Turn with dull ear from Flattery’s sweetest lays, 89
To listen to our heart’s sincerer praise, 90
Forsake the sciences, ourselves to scan, 91
And shut our books to read the inward man !92
Thou, who to mortals art as truth sincere, 93
Bold as the ocean, fetterless as air, 94
If to explore thyself thou art not brave, 95
I brand thee coward, hypocrite, and slave ! 96
Coward, who dar’st not face the worst within ; 97
Slave—to thy passions and thy ruling sin ; 98
Hypocrite—smiling o’er thy bosom’s load, 99
‘Thou deep dissembler to thyself and God ! 100
Eternal contradiction, living lie, 101
Whose words confess what all thy deeds deny ! 102
Thy heart still blinded, while thy lips allow 103
That life’s prime wisdom is thyself to know ! 104
Wherefore distinguish’d at so rich expense 105
From brutes, by forethought, reason, judgment, sense, 106
If, with all powers to know, decide, discern, 107
Thou canst not meditate, and wilt not learn ?108
Be, then, a man !  Thy inmost heart dissect ! 109
—What law shall fix us, or what light direct ?110
Shall godlike Wisdom for our guide be had ? 111
One touch of Passion sends her raving mad. 112
Morality ?— Alas ! the doting sage 113
Is almost grown inaudible from age ! 114
Philosophy ?— Behold, to thread the maze, 115
A thousand Mentors point a thousand ways ! 116
Let spiders veil thy philosophic shelf ; 117
Each sage’s system but reflects himself ! 118
If what thou shouldst be Solitude impart, 119
Society shall shew thee what thou art ; 120
Headlong in action, though in reas’ning cool, 121
Wise in the closet, in the world a fool. 122
Thy rule of life shall self-indulgence be ?— 123
Is that a rule which veers with all we see ? 124
How ready thou to cry— “ I’m fix’d as fate 125
To love eternal, or eternal hate !” 126
A week’s eternity your passions prove, 127
Then love is hatred, hatred turns to love. 128
You hunt an insect for its crimson hue, 129
And, when ’tis caught, you weep it is not blue. 130
How vain, how mutable, is that which draws 131
Its laws from will, and not its will from laws ! 132
Shall the world lead us ?— What ! vile custom’s slave ! 133
That moon, that weathercock, that dancing wave ? 134
Which shifts from age to age with a caprice, 135
The reigning virtue, or the modish vice ? 136
See Sparta deck her cunning thieves with fame, 137
The sot and lecher she consigns to shame ; 138
We hang the thief, and call him all that’s base, 139
While sots and lechers strut abroad in lace ! 140
Shall that teach us, which still untaught appears 141
By the hard schooling of six thousand years ? 142
What, then, shall guide us on our devious road ?— 143
The everlasting oracles of God ! 144
These, these alone, ne’er gloss the front of vice, 145
Descend to pride, or warp to prejudice ; 146
To human passions make no fond appeal, 147
Flatter no frailty, and no truth conceal, 148
Strip off impartial all exterior things, 149
Addressing men as men, not clowns, or kings ; 150
To whose straight rule all mortal deeds brought near 151
Must bend, or break, or shew how wide they err ; 152
Be these thy path, thy guide, thy lamp, thy test, 153
Thence turn the day upon thy darkling breast. 154
As air, within a half-enlighten’d room, 155
Seems pure till sunbeams penetrate the gloom, 156
Then, where the rays in pencill’d columns stream, 157
A thousand atoms mingle in the beam, 158
So pure may seem thy bosom’s atmosphere ; 159
Let in Truth’s lustre—Lo ! what specks appear ! 160
That faults you have, you haply, then, allow, 161
But yet canst guess not whence they come, or how ; 162
You view them simply in themselves as sin, 163
And not as signs of something worse within. 164
Go then, thy lust, thy avarice, remove, 165
Extinguish all—yet leave behind Self-love ; 166
By partial reformation only fed, 167
The master-sin still rears its monstrous head. 168
How vain to pluck away the deadly fruit, 169
Or prune the branches, while untouch’d the root !170
The quivering pangs that all the frame convulse, 171
The fluttering breath, flush’d cheek, or failing pulse, 172
What skill’d physician will begin with these, 173
Nor pierce at once the seat of the disease ? 174
What ! shall we thus the body’s ills explore 175
Nor probe the soul’s diseases to their core ; 176
To blind dull chance the spirit’s welfare trust, 177
Yet weigh each atom of this heap of dust ; 178
Pore with minutest eye on vein and skin, 179
Nor turn the mental microscope within ! 180
Think not, though milder symptoms cheat the sight, 181
If slight the tokens, the disease is slight. 182
The soul’s o’erflowings only serve to shew 183
The fountain’s fulness, not its depth below, 184
Say, can the weeds, that mark the billows’ line, 185
Fathom the ocean, or its power confine ? 186
Though halcyon Peace now walk the charmëd waves, 187
Their calmness smiles above a thousand graves. 188
Know ye, if once the elements engage, 189
What awful ruin waits upon their rage ? 190
Shall the sheathed sword its scabbard ever keep, 191
Or judge ye Passion’s waking from her sleep ? 192
Has not, at times, when fierce temptation fired, 193
And treacherous opportunity conspired, 194
A flash just trembled o’er thy passion’s source, 195
And darkly hinted at its fearful force ?196
No longer, then, the outward signs correct, 197
But reach the very heart of the defect. 198
Seek arms against Self-love. Devoutly scan 199
Thy proper part in Heaven’s stupendous plan, 200
And, in the mirror of thy soul, descry 201
Thy present use, thy future destiny.202
Void of self-knowledge, every mortal sees 203
Objects proportion’d in inverse degrees. 204
Self is the hugest thing in heaven or earth;— 205
What line can take its height, its depth, its girth ? 206
That vast eclipse, that mountain, which upsprings 207
To raise the soul and dwarf all other things, 208
To which creation seems an idle thought, 209
Archangels atoms, and the Godhead naught. 210
Impious !— Reverse the scheme ! Let God be all ! 211
Down, down, thyself—to dust, to nothing fall ! 212
Still we forget that objects, which appear 213
Small in the distance, may be vast when near, 214
That, seen afar no bigger than an ant, 215
An elephant is still an elephant. 216
With all Self-love’s false logic we discuss 217
What the relation objects bear to us ; 218
But what relation we to them may bear 219
Ne’er tasks our judgment, never claims our care. 220
Where’er we move, to our deluded view, 221
Still with us moves the world’s horizon too, 222
And to himself, each, like a ship at sea, 223
Seems the sole centre of infinity. 224
Important fool ! and does thy dulness dream 225
All creatures made for thee, not thou for them ? 226
Dost thou, between the cradle and the hearse, 227
Colossus-like, bestride the universe ? 228
From Nature’s boundless system shouldst thou drop, 229
Think’st thou, vain dust, Creation’s wheels will stop ?230
Behold yon anthill ! See the living soil 231
Swarm thick, and ferment with unceasing toil ! 232
What’s this to me ?” you cry, and view with scorn 233
The tiny heroes of a grain of corn—— 234
To angel eyes, if such our ball behold, 235
Seem we, who strive for sceptres, scarfs, and gold. 236
Subtract an emmet from yon countless heap237
Say, cease the rest to bustle, toil, and creep ? 238
Poor breathing speck, as little thou’lt be miss’d, 239
When thou and thine are struck from Being’s list ! 240
Come forth ! Come forth ! diffuse thyself abroad ! 241
Scan air, earth, ocean, all the works of God ! 242
All insect life, all bestial, human see, 243
Go, finite being, grasp infinity ! 244
Survey the midnight Heaven ! In Fancy’s car 245
Pass every planet, every fixëd star : 246
Yet farther, farther still advance thy powers, 247
Where what seem clouds are systems vast as ours ; 248
Proceed, till all we see has left thy sight ;— 249
Then through new systems wheel thy endless flight ! 250
See boundless space uncounted worlds unfold, 251
See countless worlds unnumber’d tribes uphold ! 252
Then drop to earth, and ask thy single soul 253
Its due proportion to the mighty whole !254
Sure Angels laugh, if heavenly beings can, 255
To see the pompous nothingness of man. 256
The Earth !— ridiculous and monstrous pride ! 257
As if there were no other earth beside ! 258
The World !— as if the only world it were, 259
That spins in space, or claims its Maker’s care ! 260
Our System !— Grant the moon is all our own, 261
Were sun, stars, planets, made for us alone ? 262
Our System !— Let the spiders on a beam 263
Boast house and furniture all made for them ! 264
Pry through thy wondrous tubes—in vision rise 265
A few leagues nearer to the peopled skies ! 266
Discover a new star ! To thee ’tis new ! 267
And thou mayst think thou didst create it too ! 268
View and review it—Art thou now more wise ? 269
’Tis but a silver spangle in thine eyes ! 270
Give it a title, yea, a monarch’s name ; 271
Think you it shines more bright with conscious fame ?272
Yet stop not here ; ’tis not enough to view 273
Thy littleness—observe thy grandeur too ! 274
Thyself as mortal, as immortal, scan, 275
And learn the meanness, majesty of man ! 276
As the small pool reflects the boundless sky, 277
Its depths impure th’ unsullied vault on high, 278
Thy breast, though mean, to God and Nature given, 279
Is capable to be a mirror’d Heaven. 280
Part of a mighty scheme thou still mayst be, 281
And, link’d to that, partake its dignity. 282
Wouldst thou be wise ?— Thy proper office learn ; 283
Glorious ?— Thy rank on peg scale discern ! 284
What in its sphere shines forth with brightest grace, 285
Is but a splendid error out of place. 286
The post of honour is thy native state, 287
Fulfilling life’s great purpose thou art great. 288
Ask you that purpose ?— To thyself attend, 289
Observe thy means, and thence deduce their end ;290
Do Nature’s bidding ; trace with careful eyes291
What best befits thy lofty faculties.292
Thou mine of wealth, thou treasure-house of power ! 293
Fraught with thine own and with Creation’s dower ! 294
Whose reason, like th’ imperial bird, can clasp 295
All Nature’s lightnings in its forceful grasp ! 296
Thou, who dost enter Life’s august abode, 297
Hung round with great memorials of thy God ! 298
If to some end the sacred thrift of Heaven, 299
To meanest things the meanest gift has given, 300
Think’st thou on thee her treasures so profuse 301
Were wildly lavish’d for thy own mean use, 302
Mere mortal toys of vanity or vice, 303
Slaves of thy will, and toys of thy caprice ? 304
Wilt thou than brutes no nobler office crave, 305
To get thy kind, and fertilize thy grave ? 306
For obvious ends thy body was design’d, 307
But to what purpose serves th’ immortal mind ? 308
Look where we may, all Nature’s wheels and springs 309
Employ their functions on congenial things. 310
With matter our material part must blend ; 311
To outward forms our outward senses tend. 312
To kindred objects let the spirit fly ! 313
Eternal—let it grasp Eternity ; 314
Invisible—converse with things unseen ; 315
An inward tenant—turn its gaze within ; 316
A Spirit—to the Fount of being tend, 317
And, born of Deity, to God ascend ! 318
Behold then, Man, thy proper station given, 319
A link between the universe and Heaven ! 320
See to their several spheres thy powers assign’d, 321
Thy heart to God, thy actions to mankind ! 322
Image of God, thy glorious lot fulfil, 323
To know and to obey th’ Eternal Will ! 324
Heir of the world, thy use, thy office know,— 325
Full, to impart, receiving, to bestow, 326
On man whate’er on thee the Heavens bestow’d, 327
On beasts protection—give back all to God. 328
An insulated thing, behold thee poor, 329
Rich, if thou swell and share the general store ; 330
Mean in thyself, not in relation mean, 331
The least link ’s glorious of the mighty chain ! 332
Die to thyself !  To others greatly live ! 333
And learn the lessons God and Nature give ! 334
See all things here to others’ good conduce, 335
Reflect their beauty, or impart their use : 336
Heaven drops the balmy rain ; the bounteous shower 337
Refreshes earth ; earth nourishes the flower ; 338
The flower perfumes the breeze that sweeps the lea ; 339
The breezes waft the fragrant bliss to thee ;— 340
Be thine to bid it from thy bosom rise, 341
In grateful incense to its native skies ! 342
All things below are like the dewdrop given, 343
Which, Heaven-descended, is exhaled to Heaven. 344
Shall God’s own image mar th’ eternal plan, 345
And all be liberal, all diffused, but Man ? 346
Say, is it fit, thou Heart of all we see, 347
That Nature’s circulation stop with thee ? 348
Rise, yield, adore, and thy unsealëd eye 349
Thy just gradation shall at length descry ;350
Nor only clearer as it inward bends, 351
But more far-seeing as it outward tends. 352
Self sinks diminish’d, others rise in view; 353
The motive changed, the object alters too.354
To common life these principles apply. 355
Nor rest content with barren theory. 356
God’s light-shall be thy guide, his Word thy rule ; 357
Events thy teachers, and the world thy school. 358
Behold, one solemn lesson these impart359
The silent self-denial of the heart. 360
To all, to each, the day revolving brings 361
Its hourly troubles and its insect stings ; 362
If fairly met, they bring their own reward, 363
But pain pursues their selfish disregard. 364
Like noxious weeds, they wound the timid clasp, 365
But lose their, venom in a firmer grasp. 366
Face then the worst; no weak excuse pursue ; 367
One only standard set before thy view : 368
If on two sides a duty binding be, 369
Another’s negligence acquits not thee. 370
Nor seek from stoic pride relief to gain,— 371
You lose a pleasure in avoiding pain. 372
Where interest leagues with right, beware of wrong, 373
Guard most thy weakness where thou seem’st most strong ; 374
Where the carved lion frown’d, Amorium’s wall 375
Before the Saracen was first to fall.376
Wait not for high achievements ; if you hoard, 377
You rust the edge of Duty’s temper’d sword. 378
’Twere worse than madness trifles to despise, 379
Since but by faint degrees we sink or rise. 380
Small cares than great ’tis harder to sustain,— 381
If it be harder, ’tis more glorious then. 382
What makes most shew is rarely most of use, 383
As double blossoms cannot fruit produce. 384
Judge not of actions by their mere effect, 385
Dive to the centre and the cause detect. 386
Great deeds from meanest springs may take their course, 387
And smallest virtues from a mighty source. 388
False strength the soul from action’s fever draws, 389
Thrives on its own or on mankind’s applause ; 390
But he, who calmly smiling suffers here 391
The settled sorrow of the daily tear, 392
A silent sacrifice to man unknown, 393
Derives his energy from God alone. 394
True trial lies in patience ; death is less 395
Than the pale siege and Famine’s slow distress, 396
Ruin full oft is met with steady eye, 397
But who hath gazed untamed on poverty ? 398
He who resigns an empire, scarce may brave 399
The petty insults of the meanest slave. 400
’Tis magnanimity to greatly dare, 401
But ’tis a heavenly fortitude to bear ; 402
And all the force of self-devotement lies 403
Not in the first, but after sacrifice. 404
Yet veil thy strength, nor, save in trial, shew 405
The changeless wreaths Faith binds around thy brow. 406
Be, in prosperity, the rock unseen 407
With ivy crown, ’midst summer uplands green : 408
Be in adversity that rock betray’d 409
With ivy crown, when winter strips the shade.410
Kill not thy passions, nor too tightly rein, 411
Enlist them rather in fair Virtue’s train. 412
Be obstinate in good ; let generous pride 413
Disclose thy own, all other weakness hide ; 414
Against thyself let honest anger rise, 415
And noble envy emulate the skies.416
Judge none by thine own law, nor harshly bind 417
Another to the temper of thy mind, 418
Be free as light, diffusive as the air ;— 419
Has Nature but one form of good or fair ? 420
Has she not spread abroad a liberal feast, 421
And various sweets for every varied taste ? 422
There’s not a tree, a plant, a leaf, or flower, 423
But has its own peculiar beauty’s dower. 424
Then seize the treasures all around thee thrown, 425
Nor fret that blockheads stint themselves to one. 426
Nor those, who love not all you love, condemn, 427
The answering chord may not be found in them. 428
If Nature, Habit, Age, Event, Degree, 429
Build up the man, how various each must be ! 430
Think you the stranger, whom you lead around 431
The little plot of your paternal ground, 432
Will feel, like you, each tree and blossom raise 433
The dreams and sympathies of early days ? 434
Oft man with man in words not meaning fights, 435
A definition would set all to rights. 436
The self-same object is by each descried, 437
Each only sees it on a different side. 438
To yield in trifles is the art of life, 439
And truly conquer by declining strife. 440
A shameful prize is gain’d at too much cost, 441
He’s most the victor who concedes the most. 442
’Tis the wrong person we expect to bend, 443
Ourselves should learn to yield and to amend. 444
Besides, the man who fastest moves his tongue, 445
Must more than half suspect himself of wrong. 446
He talks so volubly, with outward din, 447
To drown the tedious monitor within. 448
With frailty and with folly learn to bear,— 449
These human nature’s chief ingredients are ; 450
Remember, Man, thou also hast thy share ! 451
If in thy neighbour’s face thou evil see, 452
Be it no triumph, but a glass to thee. 453
Fret not at weary time to others given ; 454
It is not lost, but register’d in Heaven. 455
’Tis not enough that thou no evil do, 456
Who lives for his own heart, must live for others too.457