The Reigning Vice. Book VIII.


The future Destiny of Man considered.—His usual objects of interest contrasted
with it.—The necessity of an entire change of principle insisted upon,—The means
of that change.
Life’s duties known, with firmer step proceed1
To trace the glorious future where they lead ;2
Of all thy powers the scope and meaning see,3
And let this Now be mirror of To Be.4
Can such beginnings end with parting breath,5
So rich a scheme be poorly lost in death ?6
No !— Prodigal of proof, Heaven gives the soul7
A thousand voices to proclaim her goal ;8
Through earth’s disguise still vindicates the sky,9
And wraps us round with immortality,10
Is there a breast, in which is never heard11
A piercing cry for innocence restored ?12
’Tis the soul’s instinct, Nature’s heart-wrung prayer,—13
We pant, we die, to be as once we were.14
’Twas innocence round youth a glory cast,15
And makes it seem the Eden of the past.16
Dost thou ne’er seem, in thought, thyself to see17
An infant kneeling at thy mother’s knee ?18
That thought is the Simoom. Thy bursting heart19
Throbs out a prayer to be as once thou wert,20
And longs to plunge into some freshening fount,21
Thence, like the fabled bird, anew to mount.22
Can God have given these restless thoughts in vain,23
Mere curious instruments of futile pain ?24
Does joy e’er seem to reach its perfect height ?25
When bliss comes next, we promise full delight :26
It comes. Still lurks behind a bliss uncaught,27
Beyond our powers, but not beyond our thought.28
Observe the sources of our deepest joys29
Concealment decks, Reality destroys.30
The hollow clouds, that helm the mountain’s head,31
And down its steepy sides their shadows spread ;32
The gloomy trees that thwart the falling stream,33
Or veil the richness of an evening beam ;34
The mists that tremble o’er the waters smooth,35
Give more to fancy than they take from truth36
The mind, half-conscious of its mighty dower,37
Is raptured with its own creative power.38
Our nature is a promise, and we view,39
Best pleased, the joy that is a promise too.40
See man athirst for bliss, yet never blest,41
His restless schemes, yet cherish’d hopes of rest ;42
The fond desire of home, the wish to range,43
The love of novelty, yet hate of change :44
For change is sorrow ; custom still endears,45
And makes the past the fountain of our tears.46
Change points regret, when falls a tree we loved,47
And swells our anguish when a friend’s removed.48
See with what zeal we labour from our birth49
To make an immortality on earth ;50
Strive to give longer date to ev’n a flower,51
Grasp every toy, and cling to every hour.52
See o’er the lost how full our sorrows swell,53
And “ gone for ever !” is life’s dreariest knell.54
This aim to stamp eternity on time,—55
This cry for innocence from gulfs of crime,—56
This quenchless hope to find the lost again,—57
This quest of happiness through ceaseless pain,—58
All points to Heaven, where guilt and death shall cease,59
And all be ecstasy, yet all be peace.60
Bound down by sin, wrapt round with earthly weeds,61
Alas ! how vainly the immortal pleads !62
In vain created with prospective eyes,63
We stop far short of our predestined skies.64
Each looks to’some fond future of his own,65
To various minds at various distance shewn.66
While Hope’s horizon, as we forward pass,67
Itself retreats, and still is where it was,68
Death drops on all the curtain, soon or late,69
Then what to us the futures we create ?70
Ah ! what avails that Man’s superior soul71
Outruns himself, and seeks some distant goal ?72
Less wise than Nature’s tribes of earth or air,73
His proper future never claims his care.74
The ant prepares her treasure-house, and home,75
The bee her cell, the worm its silken tomb ;76
God, our true Good, our proper future Heaven,77
To earth our hearts, to time our thoughts are given.78
Infatuate mortal ! thus thy labours miss,79
Not only future, but immediate bliss.80
Does Pleasure, lowest sorcery of earth,81
Beguile thy soul ? Go, chase her wildest mirth,82
Sing, shout—while Reason gives a mournful smile83
To hear thee laugh, and see thee weep the while.84
Below the brutes to self-oblivion shrink,85
Man’s worst disgrace is, not to dare to think.86
Thought sleeps—the tenure of thy joys how slight !87
The lightest touch may break a sleep so light.88
Thought wakes—glides ghastly by in Pleasure’s bower,89
And glares upon thee in the lonely hour.90
Can riches tempt thee ? See yon vessel blaze !91
All crowd the boats, save one who plundering stays.92
Around his waist the gather’d gold he ties,93
Springs from the deck, encumber’d, sinks, and dies !94
Art thou more wise to risk repose and health,95
Eternal blessings for a moment’s wealth ?96
See Clodio’s park, the joy of half mankind,97
How blest must be the owner !— he is blind !98
Through Hope’s bright vista, lured by beckoning Fame,99
Behold the immortality of Name !100
When Mutius Scævola and Decius Mus101
Were consuls, Rome was ornamented thus.”102
When John and Samuel Briggs churchwardens were,103
The parish vestry underwent repair.”104
And this is Fame ! What matters it if shown105
Gilded on wood, or carved in Parian stone ?106
Perchance thy soul Ambition’s dream deludes107
Mount to her throne o’er trampled multitudes !108
Through darkest ways the glittering mischief seek,109
Slave to the strong, but tyrant to the weak !110
Yet, ere to vain pre-eminence thou soar,111
Read the sad record of departed Power !—112
Cordova’s Caliph, full in fortune’s rays,113
Reign’d fifty years, and lived but fourteen days.”114
Or dreams thy wily brain of state intrigue ?115
What aims are foil’d, when knayes are join’d in league !116
Where all are selfish, think how interests cross,117
How few can thrive, who gain by many’s loss !118
What is thy trust, where all deludes the view ;119
Where love’s a cheat, and only hatred true ?120
Thou seem’st to touch thy goal of hope ;— thou fool,121
Awake to find thyself thy worst foe’s tool !122
Or art thou one, who, seeking joy, still pores123
On musty tomes, black coins, or monstrous ores ?124
Who, for an old inscription, scours the globe,125
And, for a true Corregio, would disrobe ?126
Ah ! think what pangs thy curious soul await,127
When thy best Trajan’s proved a counterfeit !128
How vain the joy a troglodite bestows,129
While thy friend’s cabinet a rarer shows !130
How vain the store thy cautious care collects,131
When death shall scatter what thy life protects !132
Ah ! hurl a prescient glance beyond the tomb,133
See thy loved treasures grace the auction-room,134
While barbarous hands thy mystic drawers profane,135
And thy Corregio’s sold for five pounds ten !136
Or shall, in prospect, joys domestic please,137
The desk of science, or the chair of ease ?138
These may be blessings ; reason owns them true ;—139
But are they, therefore, to be won by you ?140
Or, if you win them, will they still delight ?141
The very search has pall’d the appetite !142
You fain would rest awhile ere lite be past,143
But death shall find thee restless to the last.144
Vapid and rayless, see thy hopes depart ;145
Where, where is‘all, that fired the glowing heart ?146
Flat as election’s morrow to the train,147
Who canvast as for endless joy or pain.148
Stale as a lottery puff, which, after date,149
Still tells you in three hours you’ll be too late.150
But grant thee blest, thy soul’s full purpose given,151
Thy joys must end ;— that thought would darken Heaven !152
Go then, the mighty ends of life obey,153
To love, to hate, to slander, and to-slay !154
To toys of straw confine thy piercing eye,155
Thou time-born nurseling of eternity !156
This framé of dust, this little span of earth,157
Thy place of destiny as well as birth !158
Still let thy hopes, thy fears, thy heart, thy all,159
Creep, toil, and jostle round this play-thing ball ;160
Load thyself thick with clay—heap throng on throng161
Of vainest vanities !— then ask—How long ?162
What thus can lead man’s darkling steps astray ?163
The fire of the immortal pent in clay !164
This peoples earth with turmoils, plots, complaints,165
This hath made heroes, and this should make saints,166
Religion must be centre of the breast ;167
What but the masterwheel can move the rest ?168
If for a wheel of meaner force exchanged,169
How soon the whole machine would be deranged !170
’Tis not enough it bear a part in thee,171
Thy every deed a part of this must be.172
Yet thy soul’s heart is fame, is sensual bliss,173
Gold, science, friendship—any thing but this !174
And thus Creation’s jarring note thou art,175
A river lost in sands, an aimless dart,176
A blot, an accident, a strange disease,177
Midst nature’s healthful fair contrivances.178
Turn then to this with only half the zeal179
Which for earth’s toys earth’s wayward children feel ;180
Here point ambition, here give reins to joy,181
Be miser here of immortality !182
Here only fear no fall. Give fancy scope,183
For here enjoyment must eclipse all hope.184
Here only constancy is surely blest ;185
Here warfare leads to conquest, toil to rest.186
Wouldst thou be learn’d, though barr’d from learning’s spring,187
King without subjects, subject without king,188
Great without titles, rich without a store,189
Wise Ali said— “ Serve God, and sin no more.”190
Gain but religion’s vantage-ground, and life191
Will seem scarce worth a thought, much less a strife.192
The ship, that down some river nobly steers,193
Lost in mid ocean, but a speck appears.194
Thus fades our being to th’ expanded eye,195
That sweeps the ocean of eternity.196
Faintly I plead—a bolder course be trod !197
Ere Heaven be thine, ’tis thou must change—or God.198
Learn to regard thine hour of parting breath,199
As life less alter’d, than prolong’d by death.200
No sudden change fix’d nature’s laws produce,201
All speaks its future in its present use.202
In endless circles Being’s wheel revolves,203
Each atom reappears as it dissolves,204
Nor lost, nor wholly changed. The wings that form205
The butterfly were folded in the worm :206
The acorn’s juices in the oak endure,—207
And thus the mind is its own miniature.208
Each infant power, each embryo passion’s root,209
Shall spring, shall bud, shall blossom, shall bear fruit.210
Judge then thy future from thy present state ;211
As now, hereafter, thou wilt love or hate.212
Would Heaven unfold for thee a blest abode ?213
Nor fame nor wealth is there ;— but only God !214
Think of the time, when evil woke within,215
And thy young soul yet shudder’d, new to sin ;216
Now thou canst sin, and tremble not. Take heed !217
Think you a downward path to Heaven can lead ?218
Can self-repose to joy celestial tend,219
Or selfish acts in heavenly glory end ?220
Heaven’s et prize to heavenly love is due ;221
Is it adjudged to mean self-love and you ?222
From mortal motives sprung, the purest deed223
In mortal rapture finds its proper meed.224
When Brutus triumph’, deaf to nature’s cries,225
Fame drest the shrine, fame soothed the sacrifice.226
Sublime the action, and in noble thought227
It found the lofty recompense it sought.228
And canst thou boast a title as secure229
To bliss as lofty, or reward as pure ?230
For heavenly rest thy empty clamours cease ;231
Thy aim, thy end, thy Heaven, is earthly peace !232
From pleased self-love thy every joy proceeds,233
To self-content thy every action leads,234
What, then, can happiness be safely built235
On the great base of mortal woe and guilt ?236
See through all nature reign two only Wills,237
Of good and bad mysterious principles.238
Obeying one, you slight the other’s sway ;239
isting one, the other you obey.240
Though now on dubious thrones they seem to reign241
Discordant, and pa etual strife maintain,242
That shall prevail, this crush’d and quell’d retreat,243
And thou must share the triumph, or defeat.244
Reach one sure truth by reason’s plainest road245
Thy own self-will is not the will of God :246
Confess then, man, thy unsubdued self-will247
Is but the opposing principle of ill.248
Go then, rash fool, th’ Omnipotent resist,249
Refute the All-wise, thou daring blasphemist !250
While to one Will the universe conforms,251
And views amazed the anarchy of worms,252
While angels shudder at th’ enormous fault,253
And ev’n Hell trembles at thy bold revolt,254
Go, thou, who never tremblest for thyself,255
Sport, thing insane, upon destruction’s shelf,256
From thy own death an idiot rapture quaff,257
And o’er thy dread rebellion frantic laugh !258
Know, all the blessings Heav’n on man bestow’d259
Lie in these words— “ Renounce thyself for God !”260
Thy heart’s contracted gates wide open throw,261
Abase the lofty, and exalt the low,262
And make a highway for thy God alone263
Supreme to enter and reclaim his own.264
Renounce thyself! ’Tis Life’s prime wisdom—this265
Thy truest dignity, thy proper bliss.266
Self-love has marr’d thy being’s great design,267
To this thou art restored by love divine ;268
Self-love, which lifts thee to the skies in thought,269
In very deed, is that which makes thee nought.270
One moment stoop, eternally to rise,271
Confess thy folly, and be greatly wise.272
Wouldst thou be blest ? Renounce that idle self,273
Which sighs for titles, or which pines for pelf;274
Self, that uneasy, restless, aching thing,275
Of every woe at once the smart and sting,276
Goaded with malice, piqued into disdain,277
The fool of pleasure and the slave of pain,278
Which fears, plots, hates, revenges, trembles, glows,279
Or sinks and rots away in dull repose :280
What joy is thine, what animated rest,281
When that base tenant is expell’d thy breast !282
This hour begin. To shrink from Duty’s face283
Is to draw backward from a concave glass :284
The growing shade the frighten’d infant foils,285
More monstrous still the farther he recoils,286
But thou mayst ask me, if self-love can die,287
Law of all being, nay of Deity ?288
It does not perish, ’tis but purified !289
From things below, ’tis turn’d to things above,290
From dark to light, from false to real love.291
No more it seeks some transient joy to share,292
Our lasting good becomes its nobler care.293
It warns, chastises, with such holy zeal-294
As tenderest mothers for their offspring feel ;295
A blind brute force no more it roams abroad,296
But moves harmonious on the will of God.297
For coward Sloth a holy peace is given,298
For Self-content a conscience knit to heaven.299
Short of this change thou canst not, must not rest,300
Or dies thy labour futile and unblest.301
The mortal strength which promises relief,302
Fails with the weight of unexpected grief,303
But Faith can bridge the torrent of our woes,304
And, like an arch, more press’d, still firmer grows.305
Leave moralists external truth to teach,306
And point the summit which they never reach ;307
Seek thou a mightier power, a costlier art,308
To heal the bitter waters of the heart.309
Culld from celestial Truth’s unfading bower,310
Cast in a branch of purifying power !311
Like Marah’s spring, amid the scorching waste,312
The gall turns sweetness to the wondering taste.313
Then, as the fountain, so the mighty stream314
Reforms alike its nature and its name :315
Tis love to God, where late Self-love it ran,316
And Selfishness flows Charity to man.317
Oh, consummation of serenest joy,318
How shall we grasp thee, how the past destroy ?319
What wondrous force, beyond our mortal range,320
Shall pierce our being and our essence change ?321
The universe shall answer ; air and sea322
Shall thunder forth the mystic Agency ;323
And every beam of monitory light324
On earth’s great volume shall the secret write.325
Dive deep in Nature, lo, material things326
Are but Creation’s wheels, and not her springs.327
An immaterial Power still lurks behind,328
Which bafiles all the searchings of the mind :329
A second cause alone our aims detect.330
We reach th’ Invisible, and there are check’d.331
Go, babble well of Fate, and Nature’s laws ;—332
Laws speak a lawgiver, effects a cause333
Tell how attraction guides the planets’ course,334
Prate of centrifugal, magnetic force,335
Give life to matter, motion to the clod ;336
Attraction, gravity, are only God.337
Th’ expanding spring may move the dial’s hand338
What gives the spring its impulse to expand ?339
The sap fermenting bursts in vernal leaves ;340
What to the sap its mounting instinct gives ?341
What calls the magnet’s prompt affection forth,342
When the touch’d needle trembles to its North ?343
Say, what, thou masterpiece of all, explains344
Thy body’s growth, the current of thy veins ?345
Continued motion speaks continued force ;346
Let the breeze stop, the vessel stops of course,347
The bursting blossom, the revolving sky348
All owns an ever-acting agency,349
Which still impels Creation’s meanest part,350
And urges each vibration of the heart,351
Were one fix’d law the guide of nature’s frame,352
All objects were, from age to age, the same ;353
But tell me, Man, what soul, what boundless power,354
Varies each leaf, each mind, each face, each flower ?355
Nor deem the world has worn this only robe ;356
Pierce deep the strata of the solid globe,—357
There trace the pattern of the things of old,358
Forms of which Nature has destroy’d the mould,359
Bodies prodigious to our mortal view,360
Which dwarf our dreams, and make chimeras true,361
O, Great First Cause! so distant, yet so near,362
So all-inscrutable, yet shewn so clear,—363
Must we scale Heaven, thy spirit’s light to find,364
Or dive to Hell ?— No, seek it in the Mind !365
Shall He, who harmonized primeval strife,366
And woke dull matter into glowing life367
The mighty Energy, who forceful hurl’d368
Swift into motion each rebellious world,369
Inert, unmoulded leave the mind alone,370
Whose essence is more kindred to His own ?371
If God be absent from the human breast,372
His omnipresence is a dream—a jest.373
He is around us, near us—though forgot,374
He is within us,—and we know it not.375
And vainly too, we call Him of our state,376
Creator, if he cannot re-create.377
The heart’s a shatter’d mirror; once it shew’d378
A full reflection, now a gleam of God ;379
The Almighty Maker can alone restore,380
And set it opposite his beams once more.381
Hark ! hark ! What mighty shout Creation rends ?382
Self-love, behold and die—A God descends !383
From what to what ?— Can thought the distance span ?—384
From Heaven to earth, from Deity to man !385
Emptied of Godhead, human pain to know,386
Sunk from celestial bliss to human woe,—387
From all Heaven’s radiance to earth’s meanest place,—388
From Heaven’s dominion to earth’s worst disgrace,—389
From sinlessness divine to sin’s dark load,—390
From God’s embraces to the wrath of God,—391
From immortality to death, and still392
A lower fall—from Nature’s throne to Hell,—393
All this, for whom ?— For rebels to the sky,394
Foes to his power !— Self-love, behold and die !395
Is yet in vain the great example given ?396
I claim thee, Mortal, as the right of Heaven !397
No more thou art thine own ;— Such love sublime,398
Hath made ingratitude a damning crime.399
When Heaven descends, shall earth retain her pride ?400
Dares man to live as if no God had died ?401
You own ’twere joy your tyrant will to shun ;402
Be His disciple, and the work is done !403
Are we not His ?” the astonish’d world may cry ;404
Alas! ye never knew Him!” I reply.405
If ye be His, some traits are surely like ;406
On closest search, does the resemblance strike ?407
From those we love we catch the voice’s tone,408
Their gestures, nay, their looks become our own.409
Oh ! is it so with thee ? Impartial ask !410
The Muse shall aid thee in th’ important task.411
Christ lived for others. Now an answer give412
For whom dost thou, oh Man of Pleasure, live ?413
Why dost thou flutter still in Folly’s train,414
Still chasing Pleasure half an inch from Pain ?415
Why dost thou hunt fame, honours, titles, pelf,416
The world’s applause ?— What, silent ?— For thyself !417
Christ wept for human guilt—Ah ! when hast thou ?418
Thine eyes are tearless, unabash’d thy brow.419
Christ was forgiving, lowly, patient, meek ;—420
Art thou all these ?— Thou canst not, dar’st not speak ;421
Thou art not His. Oh, wherefore art thou not ?422
Thou art not happy ! ’Tis thy chosen lot.423
Thou seekest happiness on thorny ground,424
Where it was never—never shall be found,425
Say, though amidst the maddening crowd awhile,426
The faithless tongue may jest, the false lip smile,427
Like the cold sparkling of eternal snow428
Conceal they not the wintry waste below ?429
Did ne’er in silence sigh thy sickening breast430
For something more than all it yet possest,431
Despise, abhor the selfish, sensual throng,432
Who dance with thee vain pleasure’s path along,433
And think, with anguish think, did sorrow rend,434
Did fortune fly thee, that thou hast no friend ?435
Alas, thy lonely bosom never proved436
The bliss of loving and of being loved.437
Behold the source and centre of thy woe !438
For love alone is happiness below.439
Not love of self—no, God himself hath shewn440
It was not good for man to be alone ;441
Not earthly love—that spark of grosser fire,442
Which glares to injure—shines but to expire ;443
But love, which in its holy round shall bind444
Domestic bliss—God, Nature, and Mankind.445
Love is to all most needful ;— lives there one446
Search every clime beneath the circling sun447
Who hath not, to himself perchance unknown,448
One thought that links some bosom to his own ?449
And, if cut off from every human tie,450
In Nature’s tribes we seek society.451
Mark the poor seepeer ess he, all day long452
Compell’d to watch the grazing fleecy throng,453
From the whole flock his favourite singles out,454
Who knows his voice and follows him about,—455
Takes from his proffer’d hand the choicest green,456
And slumbering on his knee its head will lean.457
See the lone captive : his affections bend458
To court a bird, or spider, as a friend ;459
Yes, He, who best must know what most will aid460
The happiness of those Himself hath made,461
Display’d his richest bounty, when his rod462
Inscribed the mandate, “ Thou shalt love thy God.”463
These simple words with deepest awe behold,464
Earth’s plainest surface hides the mine of gold :465
View them, as he who stands in solemn dream466
Beside the birth-place of some giant stream.467
See from their source all mortal blessings flow,468
See in their depths the cure of mortal woe !469
From Love we fell—Love only can restore470
The glorious image which at first we wore,471
And bring earth’s wanderers to their home above472
In God’s similitude—for God is love.473
To this His Spirit shall our spirit mould,474
While, touch’d by prayer, the gates of Heaven unfold.475
Fresh from the sun the light each morn is given ;476
Then let thy soul seek daily light from heaven.477
Sleep nightly doth the body’s strength repair ;478
Thus bathe thy spirit in the fount of prayer,479
And, while to God thy heart and knee shall bend,480
Let these poor words, or words like these, ascend.481
God ! Creator ! who didst frame mankind482
In the en likeness of thy reasoning Mind ;483
O God ! Preserver ! who thy life didst pour484
To lift our being whence it fell before ;485
O God ! Restorer ! whose serene control486
Renews the blotted legend of the soul ;487
Help me to lay my heart — thy shrine ;—488
Thus made, thus rescued, I am doubly thine !489
Nor led by fear, nor selfish hope of good,490
O’ercome by love, enthrall’d by gratitude,491
On all its powers my spirit fain would call,492
And to Thy service dedicate them all !493
Thy countless mercies, O may memory trace,494
And ever yield to Thee its dearest place !495
May Hope exulting wing to Thee her flight,496
Gaze on Thy face, and live amidst Thy light ;497
With Faith, who scorning all the wealth of kings,498
Draws more from shadows than the world from things.499
Let Reason mark the wonders of Thy power500
In every blade of grass, or bud, or flower.501
Love conquers Fear ; yet still let Fear attend,502
But only tremble lest my deeds offend !503
Bid Joy quaff rapture where her Source appears,504
And Grief dissolve in penitential tears !505
Oh, save me from myself !  A lurking foe506
Rebels within, and hurls my thoughts below!507
I cannot mount to Thee !  Debased, o’erthrown,508
All will, all power, I ask from Thee alone !509
The good Thou givest, in its birth confirm,510
And change my being in its inmost germ !511
Then let no thought ene come or part,512
But be Thyself the warder of my heart !513
From fancied clearness, purge my darkling sight ;514
And drag beguiling Selfishness to light !515
O, aid me hourly !  Lead my lingering mind516
From love of Thee to love of all mankind,517
Of Nature’s every tribe ;— Oh, bid me see518
Thyself in every thing, and all in Thee !”519
The End.