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In vain she deemed in this sequestered seat
To fix a refuge for her wandering feet;
To mark one altar sacred to her fame,
And save the ruins of the human name.
Lo! Britain bended to the servile yoke,
Her fire extinguished, and her spirit broke,
Beneath the pressure of [a tyrant's] sway,
Herself at once the spoiler and the prey,
Detest[s] the virtues she can boast no more
And envies every right to every shore!
At once to nature and to pity blind,
Wages abhorrèd war with humankind;
And wheresoe'er her ocean rolls his wave,
Provokes an enemy, or meets a slave.
But free-born minds inspired with noble flame,
Attest their origin, and scorn the claim.
Beyond the sweets of pleasure and of rest,
The joys which captivate the vulgar breast;
Beyond the dearer ties of kindred blood;
Or brittle life's too transitory good;
The sacred charge of liberty they prize,
That last, and noblest, present of the skies.
Yet, gracious Heaven! though clouds may intervene,
And transitory horrors shade the scene;
Though for an instant virtue sink depressed,
While vice exulting rears her bloody crest;
Thy sacred truth shall still inspire my mind,
To cast the terrors of my fate behind !
Thy power which nature's utmost bound pervades,
Beams through the void, and cheers destruction's shades,
Can blast the laurel on the victor's head,
And smooth the good man's agonizing bed,
To songs of triumph change the captive's groans,
And hurl the powers of darkness from their thrones !
When the sad soul, by care and grief oppressed,
Looks round the world, but looks in vain for rest;
When every object that appears in view,
Partakes her gloom and seems dejected too;
Where shall affliction from itself retire ?
Where fade away and placidly expire ?
Alas! we fly to silent scenes in vain;
Care blasts the honours of the flowery plain:
Care veils in clouds the sun's meridian beam,
Sighs through the grove, and murmurs in the stream;
For when the soul is labouring in despair,
In vain the body breathes a purer air.
Here come the grieved, a change of thought to find;
The curious here, to feed a craving mind;
Here the devout their peaceful temple choose;
And here the poet meets his fav’ring Muse.
With awe, around these silent walks I tread;
These are the lasting mansions of the dead :-
'The dead!' methinks a thousand tongues reply,
These are the tombs of such as cannot die!
Crowned with eternal fame, they sit sublime,
And laugh at all the little strife of time.'
Lo! all in silence, all in order stand,
And mighty folios first, a lordly band;
Then quartos their well-ordered ranks maintain,
And light octavos fill a spacious plain:
See yonder, ranged in more frequented rows,
A humbler band of duodecimos;
While undistinguished trifles swell the scene,
The last new play and frittered magazine.
But who are these, a tribe that soar above,
And tell more tender tales of modern love?
A novel train! the brood of old Romance,
Conceived by Folly on the coast of France,
That now with lighter thought and gentler fire,
Usurp the honours of their drooping sire;
And still fantastic, vain, and trifling, sing
Of many a soft and inconsistent thing,
Of rakes repenting, clogged in Hymen's chain,
Of nymph reclined by unpresuming swain,
Of captains, colonels, lords, and amorous knights,
That find in humbler nymphs such chaste delights,
Such heavenly charms, so gentle, yet so gay,
That all their former follies fly away:
Honour springs up, where'er their looks impart
A moment's sunshine to the hardened heart;
A virtue, just before the rover's jest,
Grows like a mushroom in his melting breast.
Much too they tell of cottages and shades,
Of balls, and routs, and midnight masquerades,
Where dangerous men and dangerous mirth reside,
And Virtue goes
on purpose to be tried.
These are the tales that wake the soul to life,
That charm the sprightly niece and forward wife,
That form the manners of a polished age,
And each pure easy moral of the stage.
The village life, and every care that reigns
O’er youthful peasants and declining swains;
What labour yields, and what, that labour past,
Age, in its hour of languor, finds at last;
What form the real picture of the poor,
Demand a song—the Muse can give no more.
Fled are those times when, in harmonious strains,
The rustic poet praised his native plains;
No shepherds now, in smooth alternate verse,
Their country's beauty or their nymphs' rehearse:
Yet still for these we frame the tender strain;
Still in our lays fond Corydons complain,
And shepherds' boys their amorous pains reveal-
The only pains, alas! they never feel.
On Mincio's banks, in Cæsar's bounteous reign, If Tityrus found the Golden Age again, Must sleepy bards the flattering dream prolong, Mechanic echoes of the Mantuan song ? From Truth and Nature shall we widely stray, Where Virgil, not where Fancy, leads the way? Yes, thus the Muses sing of happy swains, Because the Muses never knew their pains. They boast their peasants' pipes; but peasants now Resign their pipes and plod behind the plough, And few amid the rural tribe have time To number syllables and play with rhyme: Save honest Duck, what son of verse could share The poet's rapture and the peasant's care, Or the great labours of the field degrade With the new peril of a poorer trade?
From this chief cause these idle praises springThat themes so easy few forbear to sing, For no deep thought the trifling subjects ask; To sing of shepherds is an easy task: The happy youth assumes the common strain, A nymph his mistress, and himself a swain; With no sad scenes he clouds his tuneful prayer, But all, to look like her, is painted fair.
I grant indeed that fields and flocks have charms
For him that grazes or for him that farms;
But when amid such pleasing scenes I trace
The poor laborious natives of the place,
And see the mid-day sun with fervid ray
On theif bare heads and dewy temples play,
While some, with feebler heads and fainter hearts
Deplore their fortune yet sustain their parts,
Then shall I dare these real ills to hide
In tinsel trappings of poetic pride?
No; cast by Fortune on a frowning coast,
Which neither groves nor happy valleys boast;
Where other cares than those the Muse relates,
And other shepherds dwell with other mates;
By such examples taught, I paint the cot
As Truth will paint it and as bards will not.
Nor you, ye poor, of lettered scorn complain:
To you the smoothest song is smooth in vain;
O’ercome by labour and bowed down by time,
Feel you the barren flattery of a rhyme?
Can poets soothe you, when you pine for bread,
By winding myrtles round your ruined shed ?
Can their light tales your weighty griefs o'erpower,
Or glad with airy mirth the toilsome hour?
Lo! where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er,
Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor;
From thence a length of burning sand appears,
Where the thin harvest waves its withered ears;
Rank weeds, that every art and care defy,
Reign o'er the land and rob the blighted rye:
There thistles stretch their prickly arms afar,
And to the ragged infant threaten war;
There poppies nodding, mock the hope of toil;
There the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil;
Hardy and high, above the slender sheaf,
The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf;
O’er the young shoot the charlock throws a shade,
And clasping tares cling round the sickly blade;
With mingled tints the rocky coasts abound,
And a sad splendour vainly shines around.
Here, wandering long, amid these frowning fields,
I sought the simple life that Nature yields:
Rapine and Wrong and Fear usurped her place,
And a bold, artful, surly, savage race;
Who, only skilled to take the finny tribe,
The yearly dinner, or septennial bribe,
Wait on the shore, and, as the waves run high,
On the tossed vessel bend their eager eye,
Which to their coast directs its venturous way;
Theirs or the ocean's miserable prey.
As on their neighbouring beach yon swallows stand,
And wait for favouring winds to leave the land;
While still for flight the ready wing is spread:
So waited I the favouring hour, and fled;
Fled from these shores where guilt and famine reign,
And cried, “Ah! hapless they who still remain:
Who still remain to hear the ocean roar,
Whose greedy waves devour the lessening shore;